The Assassination of Shinzō Abe
I found out this morning that the former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, was assassainated while giving a speech in Nara. I've found myself reeling more than I myself expected, and I'm using this space to explore why that is. Immediately, I think this is in part because of how unexpected something like this is in Japan. The same Japan where things just work, where people are civilized, where people make under-the-table jokes about Americans and their gun laws. In some sense, the assassination is made all the more terrifying and perverse by the fact that Japan has incredibly strict gun laws, and the veteren who shot Abe did so with a homemade gun. The instinct to kill was so feral that if he couldn't find a way to get a gun, he would simply conjure one out of thin air.
But this isn't the main reason. The main reason I'm so rattled is because it lays bare how little humanity changes over centuries. I think before this, I felt like humans today were qualitatively different to our great-grandparents who lived through two world-wars. Somehow, the technology of our time -- in my mind -- went hand in hand with some modicum of civilisation that our great grandparents simply hadn't evolved. It's not crazy of me to have thought this -- even with nuclear weapons on the planet, the largest wars in my lifetime (Syria, Iraq) have claimed less lives than car accidents do every year, a far cry from the slaughter that was the second world war and the barbarism we learn about in history classrooms when learning about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The event, in my mind, immediately stands as a parallel to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Yes -- that event of middle school history exams -- that event that set the stage for the first world war. I'm not claiming a third world war is on the precipice at all, but couple the symbolism of this event with the context of the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine -- which one cannot help but instinctively compare to the German invasion of Poland almost a century ago -- and with the 2019 Coronavirus pandemic (which one cannot help but analogize to the 1918 Spanish Flu), startling similarities begin to emerge across the years 1915-1930 and 2015-2030.
This is made all the more jarring because the generation born alongside me in the 2000s was taught to see these historic events as nothing more than text emblazened atop covers of history textbooks. Our history was that of iPhones and supercomputers, of the United Nations and interplanetary trips. One could not help but associate the might of our technology with the relative peace and prosperity of our times, least of all the young and impressionable middle schoolers that we once were. It's one thing to grow to see history as an abstract concept worthy of study for the sake of admiring (and mocking) one's ancestors under the pretense of "learning from the past," and quite another to be taught (brutally, on a global, era-defining stage) that history is shaped by humans who are very much alive and imperfect. And in the last three years, I have seen everything I held up as a symbol of our (moderns) prosperity and moral progress crumble and be shown to be demonstrably false -- government institutions like public healthcare, biotechnology, broad international agreements; and today, the untouchability of world leaders and what they stand for.
This conclusion has much to do with Tocqueville, whom I argue (in that essay) outlines the United States as being a beacon of hope that illustrates how progress in government is indeed possible on the big stage. The assassination of Abe serves as the final straw forcing me to accept that technological progress and moral progress are not quite as intertwined as I once believed, and that scientifically backwards societies can choose to live by certain principles that make them, in some senses, morally superior to their technophilic counterparts. I no longer see myself and my modern counterparts as occupying a position of superiority over our ancestors, both near and far, just because of our taming of information and energy through technology. Nassim Taleb's musings -- that came off as small-minded at the time -- serve as a reminder that modern technology reduces frequency of catastrophe, but increases downside of it when it happens. Those musings also serve to remind us that humans today are not qualitatively different from those that walked the streets of Rome, stand out in my mind as particularly timely in light of this news.
Overall, I am disappointed by what the assassination of Shinzō Abe reveals about us modern humans, and how little we differ from our great-grandparents. But even more so, I am disappointed by how I subtly deluded myself into once believing that the tools and science we have built had somehow wove us into beings cut from a different cloth from that of our ancestors.