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6
Nov

Disparity

There is disparity in this world. The English language and my position on this planet afford me the opportunity to refer to the largest-scale, globally encompassing, heart-wrenching, should-be-apoplectic, kick-you-in-the-balls obstruction in a tight, succinct six words. Polonius said that, “brevity is the soul of wit,” but in a civilization of complexity, the terse can be irresponsible at best, incendiary at its most violent worst.

I went to a bar with some American friends one night a few days ago. Down a few flights of stairs, below the well-trafficked streets of Shibuya, an entertainment district in Central Tokyo, I stuffed myself in a booth with four guys and slowly sipped a beer as I told dirty jokes and ate complimentary popcorn. In time they coaxed a few Japanese girls to our table, and soon our party had ballooned to nearly twenty.

I laughed loudly and exchanged meaningless jibber jabber in between my attempts to understand a few more points of Japanese culture, asking a girl that sat across from me about marriage and racism and social structures. As often happens with large groups, it took some time for us to collectively stumble back into the October Saturday night, only after I paid 800 yen for my 300 yen beer to cover what wasn’t left by the rest.

It was just before the night’s final train, after 12am. As they stuttered and rambled through a group discussion of where to go next, I held a post on the corner of the street, looking at what was around me. This, some might say, was the splendor of an advanced economy.

Ahead of me sat a group of young men and women, wearing bright colors and designer labels, their heads ornately decorated with wildly styled hair. Band members appeared to be cleaning up after a show in a small club as they poured out of a narrow doorway with anonymous-looking black instrument cases, casually avoiding two wildly swerving, wholly intoxicated men in business suits, alternately tossing their heads back, cackling and smiling so widely I could only assume they were competing for size.

They click-clacked passed a girl on one knee, her presumably alcohol-induced nausea hidden by her long, stringy dark hair that would have been held back by her friend had she, too, not been too drunk to stop laughing, too drunk to remember. Behind them was a long bearded, heavily-clothed man whose jacket was so dirty it had forgotten its color, his eyes dispassionate and his body weary from too many yesterdays.

Japan is a developed nation of wealth and Tokyo is its crowning glory. Is this to what the so-labeled developing countries of the world should look forward? Economies and democracies stable enough to allow for citizens to forget about them altogether? Political upheaval is a sign of instability or democratic nascence, which often operate conterminously. Social innovation, the creation of societal diversions, is a sign of the combination of stability and relative freedom, which rarely operate conterminously.

There are large international organizations with necktied diplomats and fancy formulas to tell us after what countries other states should model themselves, gross domestic product per capita and human development index ratings. Maybe I am not smart enough to understand all of that.

It appears to me that all they’re really saying is that the drunker your population is on Saturday night without currency devaluation come Monday, the better off your country is. There isn’t a government on this planet who wouldn’t take the opportunity to have control over a state secure enough that its population can choose to forget. Autocracy is a vice for the terrified.

But this can’t be the end. The height of the nation-state can’t be an indifferent electorate, can it? Denizens able to spend money on dog grooming or spend time by club-hopping or hair styling. Did we establish market economies or iron-fisted dictatorships or liberal democracies so we could forget? Indifference becomes ironically uniting, the level of political activism subscribed to by those living too poorly to have hope and those living too comfortably to care.

The American dream becomes one of granting all people the opportunity to have a democracy stable enough to ignore. Japan has realized that dream. It is there in Shibuya. The disparity of the world can be ignored thanks to success. That gray-bearded man whose coat no longer knows its color and those drunken business men together unite in apathy. There are more important and far more entertaining things to be done.

Traveling forces me to think about these topics. Topics too complicated for my young mind to take on, their solutions laughably unapproachable. It hurts my head. Sometimes I find myself lagging in dismal self-reproach, trying to teach myself how to ride my bicycle without hands, trying to teach myself to forget, to pursue indifference and have fun. To forget that there is disparity in this world. If we were all given the opportunity to forget about disparity, I suppose there wouldn’t be any disparity to forget about anyway.

Jaa ne,
Christopher

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