The Inexpressible

August 24, 2011

Sitting on the floor around a low table with friends visiting from Tokyo, eating fresh produce from the garden not ten metres away. Spirits enlivened with a light buzz from the mugwort homebrew.

During the course of the evening the conversation inevitably turns to Fukushima and, like a dark storm cloud filling a summer sky, a heaviness descends on the gathering. Voices are lowered, sentences punctuated with long silences as we each struggle to find the words.

One of our friends is from Fukushima prefecture, her parents still living there. They are a “safe” distance away but not saying it aloud we all know in Fukushima there are no safe distances. There is much that is not said aloud, it doesn’t need to be, our facial expressions and body language show what we are all thinking or trying not to think.

What should we say to the large numbers of people living there? The government’s reassurances are disingenuous at best and often just blatant lies. Arising in Fukushima is a sort of prefectural patriotism where overt concern is scorned, the worried considered hysterical. The reaction of a traumatized population that cannot leave.

Compensation is being offered only to those that were living inside the official evacuation zone, a 30km radius around Fukushima Daiichi. Considered grossly inadequate by all international observers and non-government/industry affiliated experts in Japan, such a small evacuation zone certainly eases the financial burden on TEPCO, the nuclear plants operator, and the government. What this decision means is that hundreds of thousands of residents are unable to leave. Unable to sell their houses and with no hope of assistance from the government or TEPCO they believe they are condemned to remain. Denial their only defence against the invisible threat.

The danger they face is amplified by the shameful response of the government. One of the latest examples of reprehensible (in)action by the Japanese government regards the burning of contaminated rubble. Materials so highly radioactive that in other countries they would be subject to the strict controls of radioactive waste and disposed of in secure underground facilities are being burnt in Fukushima, releasing even more radioactive material into the atmosphere and re-contaminating sites, such as school playgrounds, that have been stripped of their topsoil already in efforts to lower radioactivity. [For more on this see the second half of this video issued by Fairewinds]

To say the unspeakable: Like a human sacrifice offered to the gods of industrial civilization the people of Fukushima and surrounding prefectures are offered up by their government to pay the price of our collective madness.

And the madness runs deep indeed. The young parents of a Fukushima family state in an interview that they are remaining in an area known to be highly contaminated because of their jobs! The “security” of a job trumps the health of their children. Obviously not an isolated case as the school the children attend appears to still have a substantial number of students, masked, in long sleeves and pants during the heat of summer.

Whether one views the modern world as insane or not may even be a criterion of one’s own sanity. – Masanobu Fukuoka

In the local supermarket of our Tokyo friends leafy vegetables from prefectures bordering Fukushima are still being sold. Whilst Japanese scientists are pleading for all food grown in Japan to be tested for radiatioactivity before going to market the most vulnerable types of vegetables grown dangerously close to the site of the multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns are still finding their way onto the shelves of Tokyo stores. There are not enough facilities to expand current testing, apparently, and there are no signs of any action being taken to remedy this situation.

I could go on and on…a screed of words borne of anger and frustration…but, beneath the anger, deeper than the place from where the rage stirs there is a pain for which I cannot find words, an inexpressible sorrow…What have we become? What are we doing?


15 Responses to “The Inexpressible”

  1. Joc' Says:

    I remember as a teenager becoming hysterical as the French tested yet another bomb in the Pacific… even then I knew the madness. Now all I can do is weep and what use is that…. what can I do which would be ‘of use’. I honor your choice to be there and ask you take what care you can…. I love you both deeply.

  2. kenelwood Says:

    Hi dion, nice blog and beautiful looking landbase ! On Nuclear culture in Japan, I think the best strategy is to stay out of the way of the stubborn people, and try to organize the adaptable people and an Ark of a Landbase.

    Cheers and Good luck,


    • dion Says:

      Thanks Ken,
      problem is the stubborn ones, in stubbornly pursuing their warped vision, are doing some serious damage. It’ll get them eventually but in the meantime it is getting around two hundred species per day. There may not be much left to work with. I do agree that we will have more success spreading a life affirming vision amongst “adaptable” people (like regenerating a forest its always more successful when you work out from the edges of existing forest rather than planting trees in the middle of a field) but I think that confronting the most objectionable practices head-on is also called for.

      • kenelwood Says:

        Right, of course it’s not the only “strategy”, but just one of many. I personally don’t like the head-on strategy, because it’s not for me — I’d rather spend years being a steward of land, making it much more alive and in synergy with the region and the biosphere, than it would have been without me, than spend time in the streets trying to persuade every consumer in the world that they’re on a doomed quest to kill stuff.


  3. kenelwood Says:

    BTW, please understand where I’m writing from: Lowland Japan which was totally de-forested hundreds of years ago, so I’ve got but my own plantings to watch grow.


    • dion Says:

      Ken, I made a bit of an unexplained leap in my first reply so let me back track a bit to make sure we’re on the same page here.
      As I see it the “stubborn ones,” at least the stubborn ones we need to be concerned with, are not your regular folk (at the risk of sounding condescending, I would say they are less stubborn and more sheep-like, ignorant, misinformed, because heavily propagandized (to coin a word), colonized minds you might say). No, the stubborn ones we need to worry about represent a minority of the population. They are the heads of the corporations and “our representatives” in the political apparatus that is designed to ensure we play along with the corporates game (or civilization, if you want to go deeper). And, I think the chances of reasoning with them are roughly zero.
      We can run to the hills (or the lowlands) and reafforest the land, grow all of our food, even build communities but when the nearest nuclear power plant blows up you’re fucked.
      I believe in withdrawing from the system that is destroying the world, inventing another way of living here and now AND I believe in engaging with that system to halt its most destructive practices.
      While we need to be doing everything, personally I believe “taking to the streets” is one of the least useful things to be doing (unless you’re prepared to stay there). It is the place where energy can most easily be sapped with defeatism. Even in its most vaunted moments, such as the Arab spring, the aftermath is hardly encouraging.
      And symbolic actions are completely insufficient to the task. Its far too critical for that.
      But, like I said, I really think we need to be doing everything. And lots of it.
      Getting back to the regular folks, I actually feel that many people, especially young ones, are totally ripe for change but they struggle to see how things can be different from how they are. If they could see it they’d start jumping ship like crazy. Its like when Captain Bligh’s men saw life in Tahiti. Go back to grimey, overcrowded, poverty ravished England? Not a chance. (Although hopefully we would do better than those mutineers for they immediately set about recreating all the causes of the misery they were running away from).
      Our society will change when we have a new vision. Vision arises from how we live. Invent new lifeways and we will bring into being new visions.

      • kenelwood Says:

        Hi again Dion,

        Yep, we are on the same page.

        10 years ago I scratched school with no debt, and started learning skills. You know the saying: get a fish, eat for a day; learn to fish, eat for a lifetime. I noticed that I didn’t like work and that I have to do it because I need money. I learned skills and slowly dropped out. I reduced expenses, reduced my hours, and got more free time, in which I learned more techniques of self-sufficiency and established a sense of identity not dependent on where I got my money. Then I switched to a low-status low-stress job here in japan ( 7 years ago) working as a T-shirt peddler for a small Japanese company and, then to a part-time job teaching English a few hours a week, that gave me even more room to get outside the system mentally. And so on, until I’d changed my friends, my values, the landbase and my whole life.

        While everyone’s trying to figure out how to save the whole of Japan, so long as nuclear electricity and central bankers demand more respect than the Yakuza or your neighbors, I say we can’t do shit. And I’m a woo-woo optimist. I think that in all possible futures, dandelions will grow through ruined Aeon parking lots, skiffs and row boats will navigate rivers once again, and people will get on with getting on. But within this optimism, I see room for epic failures. And some failures are now so far along that “what can we do to stop it ?” or “how can we be more eco ?” are the wrong questions, and the right question is “what can I do to survive it, to help others survive it, to minimize suffering and prepare for re-covery (of the landbase)?”

        It occurs to me Japanese agri-culture can not be fixed or saved, because the fixers and savers are on a doomed quest to nail the problem down, by drawing our attention to a narrow sub-world of repeatable numbers and reasons where we all see things the same — with researchers focused either on propping up the official story or knocking it down, few people have stepped back far enough to see the deep unsolvability at the heart of the event. It’s the stuff that makes you believe what you already believe even more strongly: that en-masse { in Japan } we are getting it wrong because we aren’t considering the obscurities that render our current agri-culture, so it’s a good idea to be the change you want to see in your immediate world because YOU are the future of agriculture, right now. And because the “representatives” don’t get it either.

        I reckon there’ll continue to be yakuza, slavery, war, starvation, ecocide, disease, rising and or lowering sea levels. But there may also be prosperous small cities, factories, garten communities, and nomadic groups that survive mostly by foraging and hunting — though they’re more likely to use battered MontBell products and used fishing poles than animal skins and stone arrowheads. Given this much diversity, if you have enough mobility, adaptability, and leadership, you can pretty much choose your own apocalypse, no matter what the propaganda tells you.

        I abandoned the notion that “if we can somehow change every consumer in Japans` vision, things might be OK”, a long. long time ago.



  4. dion Says:

    Yes , yes. I think James Howard Kunstler put it well when in paraphrasing Obama’s campaign slogan (or was he mocking, for that would certainly be appropriate) he said “Change you don’t have to believe in.” The times are a changin’ whether we like it or not. This is good, for things must change. After all, we are flaunting natural laws and that puts our species (along with the tens of thousands of others we’ll take along the way) on the path to extinction. Oh, I forgot, we’re so smart natural selection no longer applies to us.

    99% of the “solutions” are at best ways of drawing out the catastrophe because they refuse to acknowledge, or simply misidentify the root cause: Civilization. (“Yakuza, slavery, war, starvation, ecocide…” are symptoms of civilization, after all.) Fix agriculture? But agriculture is the very thing that pulled us into this mess! Abandon agriculture and forest garden our way back to a non-civilized way of living. Slowly.

    And stop the building of nuke plants, the removal of mountain tops, the extraction of oil from tar sands, the building of dams, or covering the planet in solar panels and wind turbines.

  5. kenelwood Says:

    Yes, nice reply. And good point about the kind of agri-culture that people are even thinking about fixing or prolonging. What are we (not they, WE) thinking, eh ? However, I don’t think that a culture of agri – this would include woodland gardening – was what pulled us into the mess we are in today. I can’t pin it on that alone. Really, in the strictest sense, “agri-culture” is a people who discuss food production together.

    Anyway, good going there !


    • dion Says:

      Agriculture: “tillage of a field.” Agri from ager, “a field,” culture from “cultivation.” Without agriculture we wouldn’t have had a population explosion, we wouldn’t have cities, or states, in other words we wouldn’t have civilization (coming from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to civis, meaning citizen and civitas meaning city or city-state).
      Before the so-called “agricultural revolution” there were many gardeners but their horticulture would never have led to civilization because it didn’t produce large surpluses of storable grains.
      I think if we look carefully we will see many of our current problems have origins in a shift in vision that occurred around ten thousand years ago with the appearance of agriculture.

      • kenelwood Says:

        Nice, got it. I like your persistence, and I’m enjoying this exchange. I’m still not going to pin it on agri-culture alone. Especially of that 10,000 years ago. Perhaps along the way, perchance over the past 200 years, things like the “industrial revolution” and the “green revolution” and “petro-wonder-technologies” have tainted agricultures` original social status; led to its demise; et cetera.

        Originally, agri-culture took place alongside big rivers like the Nile and the Tigris, and people didn’t even have to plow (floods deposited the nutrients on top), and it was actually easier to grow annuals there than in the gardens which were much more labor intensive than agriculture. Also, think terraced rice paddies – which is fundamentally the same technology as riverside agriculture. This stuff (agraian economies) ticked along for thousands of years in a less environmentally damaging way than what we see today, but since what we see today is that of a death-ship agriculture, I think we immediately try to pin it down as the fat elephant that’s been standing in the room since the tribes made villages and the villages made hamlets and the hamlets made bergs and so on and so forth until today.

        There’s just so much more to it, I think.

        Fast forward to present Japan:

        I see the big systems committing to a pattern of making very expensive patches for various problems, instead of making fundamental changes, thus guaranteeing the ongoing bumpy collapse (In the natural world too, of course { the furry and feathered, etc.}). Yes, I am a soft doomer. .

        I see only three ways out: human extinction, a change in human nature so we no longer enjoy turning power into greater power, or an enduring Japanese system with negative feedback for too much power, i.e. you kill too many maguro, maguro kill you.

        But everything I just said is bull slap, because in the strictest sense, we’ve only ever been good at partially suiciding ourselves, partially living saner, and doing most of the dirty stuff in someone elses’ backyard. We’re not even good at screwing ourselves !

        So, I think the institution, hammered by catastrophes and disasters, will muddle along for decades on inertia. Just like it’s doing now. It’s like a huge mass of habit that can absorb hard blows and channel them into many slow changes.

        I do see new cultures growing through the cracks of the old, and that’s what I consider myself and my kin.

        The Transition Movement often mentions that for a sea-change there needs to be Ideas on paper before a catastrophe, so therefore the ideas can be swiftly set into motion in the wake of catastrophe. I say to that, this:

        The system is not fragile because it breathes inertia, like a dragon spits fire. Many of us would have predicted that the triple-whammy of Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear disaster that destroyed the North and crippled factory lines and transportation routes and central electric, plus some refineries, would have sparked economic Armageddon, or totally collapsed Japan. But really, all it did was move us a few spaces forward in the long, slow crash that’s been going on for years.



        • dion Says:

          Ken, very much enjoying the exchange too. I’m going to continue my persistence on the agriculture point a bit longer because I feel this is very important. For many (permaculturalists, transition towners and the like included) this is sacred ground: the golden age of idyllic agrarian life.
          The argument against agriculture is so strong its actually hard to know where to start…
          Are we looking for root causes or the signs of distress, the effects? I would argue that the “industrial revolution, ”the “green revolution” and “petro-wonder-technologies” are actually effects, patterns of thinking the origin of which coincides with the emergence of a particular form of agriculture. It is the vision, the way of viewing the world around us, that changed with the arrival of agriculture. People went from seeing themselves as part of an interdependent community of life to believing they could control life (and in eating from the tree of knowledge they were banished from paradise). This way of thinking, arising with the particular style of agriculture that began to be practised in the near East around ten thousand years ago, quickly led, as you put it, to “villages and the villages made hamlets and the hamlets made bergs and so on and so on.” But hold on, what exactly is the so on and so on? It is division of labour, rulers, slavery, wars of conquest, over population and environmental ruin.
          Agriculture and population explosions are inextricably connected. Its a basic biological reality that the more food made available to a particular species the more that species will reproduce. It will continue to increase population as long as there is food to feed the increased numbers. In agriculture we have a positive feedback loop. More food = more people = more food = more people…. Any type of agriculture that endlessly pursues increased yields, whether by “improvement” of plants or expansion of the land under cultivation, injections of cheap energy, or by global trade, is dangerous.
          In terms of the detrimental impacts of agricultures on the environment, certainly they are not all created equal. The terraced paddy systems of East Asia have been far more sustainable than the widespread grazing of animals in the Mediterranean, for instance. But the relative sustainability of a system does not make it inherently sustainable or socially desirable.
          Okay, I’ll leave the case against agriculture at that for now. The other 100 points against it can wait for another time.

          I largely agree with your analysis of the situation in Japan. But I would strongly disagree that we need a change in human nature to get out of this mess. We, those belonging to the cultures doing the damage are NOT humanity. Do the Indians in the Amazon need to change their nature too? Because many tribes have lived the way they currently live for tens of thousands of years and there is every reason to believe that (if left alone and not kicked off their landbase) they would have continued for tens of thousands more. In fact, the human species has a track record of three million or so years of living rather well, treating each other and all other species with respect and dignity until about ten thousand years ago (look at that, there goes that date again)… I am not suggesting that people were perfect but whatever problems arose were kept in check by the tribe for the greater good of the tribe. I suspect the idea that they were somehow flawed would strike a “primitive” as profoundly absurd. The problem is not our nature it is our culture. And our culture is driven by the vision we hold.

          We both agree that inventing new ways of living in the here and now are necessary. That is how a new cultural vision will arise. But that’s not to say it will stop the death march of the dominant culture. I agree too that we’re likely in for a long slow ride to the bottom cause I don’t see any of the power players taking this shit seriously. In fact, it is highly likely that the next president of the US will be a climate change denier, as most of the Republican candidates are.

  6. Dion this entry is beautifully written and very disturbing. In the news here we heard about spinach perhaps containing radiation but there hasn’t been many other reports. The most stressful thing must be not knowing if the food you eat and the air you breathe is slowing killing you. Here is a headline from a news story yesterday.

    Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair: Events Like Fukushima Too Rare to Require Immediate Changes

    People’s lives are expendable so the big machine can keep running.

    • dion Says:

      Thanks Lin. Keep in mind too that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an autonomous organization associated with the United Nations “monitoring” the safety of nuclear power, is actually mandated to facilitate the dissemination of nuclear power. An arrangement with the World Health Organization gives the IAEA control over the studies on the health effects of nuclear accidents that are reported to the UN. Obviously it is in the IAEA’s interests to minimize the health effects and environmental cost of nuclear accidents (as well as regular operations) and that is exactly what they do. Every time.
      If we look at the non-IAEA sponsored studies of the health effects of, say, the Chernobyl disaster, we see the cost to human health is very high indeed. So, as a society are we saying that we are willing to sacrifice large numbers of human lives or well being for the sake of economic growth? Presently the answer is yes, we are willing to do that. Just as we are also saying yes, we are willing to sacrifice the health of vital eco-systems for economic growth. Who needs a planet when you’ve got money!
      I think we might want to consider re-prioritizing our society.

      • linoleum11 Says:

        You can’t eat money, and you certainly don’t want to eat the genetically engineered frankenfood that is overtaking our system here. No controls, no testing, no labeling, it’s really scary.

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