coexistence of development and disaster

This morning I met Akhilesh. He’s studying disaster management at the Kyoto Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies in Japan, which is prone to every known natural disaster except drought. Istanbul just hosted a disaster management conference because it is also quite prone to earthquakes but its disaster preparedness is devastatingly low. Yesterday they commemorated the 1999 Izmit earthquake that killed approximately 7000 people and destroyed at least 300,000 homes, registered 7.4 and displaced a million people. Apparently, seismic activity occurs here &emdash; on average &emdash; every five years, but the level of individual awareness and preparation is so low authorities are concerned that individuals and families may not be able to sustain themselves for even a week if another large quake occurs.
I don’t know about the emergency management preparedness of India (Akhilesh intends to return home to central India), but the cultural contrasts between Japan and India are incredible. Akhilesh described them well. 🙂 There are similarities between Turks and Indians in regards to law (watch for an upcoming post on Turkish driving). Akhilesh says Indians’ attitude towards the law is essentially contrary. “If there is a sign that says “No Smoking,” I might light up a cigarette just for the thrill.” But in Japan, no one questions it. “There is no resistance. Not even an abberation! If the government says, “reinforce this building,” they reinforce the building. In Turkey, they will pursue all the proper documentation and certifications to show their building is ok, but in actuality…”
This reminds me of my favorite retired ambassador explaining about the fantastic new highways that have been built on the Asian side, which are technologically perfect. But administratively? Several signs were posted incorrectly, causing drivers to follow misdirections for months! Even now, over a year later, one sign (at least) has still not been properly located. “It’s incredible! No one cares!”
Akhilesh’s scope is wide, considering how it is that Japan is among the upper echelon of developed countries while being faced with constant geological and climatological disasters. He notes that Japan is an island, therefore doesn’t have any border/immigration problems like India (with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc) or the US (Mexico). Japan has regional tensions with China but they are not as hostile as India’s with Pakistan. I wondered about the representations of social values in language use about preparedness and how being prepared is linked to development. (One must know Japanese to identify these cultural nuances.) Overall, Akhilesh is still puzzling on the degree of conformity. Obviously, given his characterization of Indian attitudes toward the law (not to mention its vast cultural variety (regional, linguistic, etc) what was been effective in Japan will require much modification.
If I were to go out on a thin limb of speculation, I’d muse that the high level of individual conformity and collective acquiescence is, in fact, directly correlated to the high level of risk of death and social instability. The more insecure the exterior environment, the more humans seem to require stability of the interior and social relationships . . . the narrower and more rigid (?) become the avenues for the semblance of control. The discipline of doing what one is told &emdash; hence, of acting on the basis of essential trust in the authority, intentions, and reasons of the ‘teller’ &emdash; performs positive psychological and sociological functions. As long as the authorities live up to this trust, a high degree of functional performance can result, strengthening the fabric of civil society.
This is a clear benefit of homogeneity. (A cost is the reduced range of expression for individual variation along a continuum of repression to oppression.) It does help one understand the driving impetus behind ideological nationalisms and religiosity. If one manages perceptual input through pre-established frames, and limits interaction to those who are similar, one can (hope to) establish a groundwork for maintaining sanity: one can (seek to) predetermine (to varying extents) the path of one’s life, to feel as if one is in control.

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