On February 10th, Professor Takahiro Nakajima delivered an online lecture titled “The Light and Shadow of Democracy and Capitalism.”
Professor Nakajima began the speech with a review on the pandemic. According to him, one major impact of the pandemic is that it makes people reflect on the traditional dichotomy of democratic and non-democratic states. The bad performances of most so-called democratic countries during covid cast doubts on the advantages usually attributed to this modern system. However, Professor Nakajima reminded us of the short-sightedness of dividing countries according to simple binary oppositions. In the case of Japan, while it is a mature democracy, democratic practices by the people in recent years are far from satisfactory with low voter turnouts and malfunctioning local self-governance. This is caused by a variety of reasons such as the division of local districts and the overall design of the voting system. To make things worse, new challenges have emerged especially in the field of internet. Big IT companies, represented by GAFA, control public information but do little to contribute to the public interest. Not everyone enjoys the same right of access and people’s democratic rights are thus infringed. Based on these observations, Professor Nakajima a new understanding of capitalism and democracy that takes into consideration the actual needs and desires of each individual.
This speech resonates with current academic trends that try to find new ways to analyze capitalistic societies. In Japan in particular, researchers like Kohei Saito with his concept of “Das Kapital im Anthropozan” inspired a lot of discussion. Their main argument is that attempts to create more eco-friendly ways of production could not completely change the current situation. What we need is to transform the capitalistic system. Ideas like growth and marketization should be given new interpretations as the first step toward the realization of that vision. Professor Nakajima in his speech pointed out a practical aspect. He reminded us that we need to pay more attention to the inter communications of disciplines as well as the cooperation between universities and the business community, for this is the only way to challenge the established boundaries and make a difference in the real world.
Due to the limited time of the event, Professor Nakajima could not cover all aspects of this issue. For instance, in his discussion of big IT companies, his main concern was how they restricted people’s access to the public sphere. However, in recent years, we also witnessed the rise of internet populism. In this case, the problem seems not to be the lack of citizens’ participation in politics but their excess, especially those based on mis information. What roles should the IT industry play and how they could bring about the future envisioned by scholars are questions that deserve further consideration. We should not only aim for a return to normal after the covid pandemic, but also question what and look for new possibilities.
Reported by HUANG Qiuyuan (EAA Research Assistant)