A Yale professor suggested mass suicide for old people in Japan. What did he mean?

His statements could hardly sound more drastic.

In interviews and public appearances, Yusuke Narita, assistant professor of economics at Yale, has addressed the question of how to deal with the burdens of Japan’s rapidly aging society.

“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” he said during one on-line News program late 2021. “Isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly in the end?” Seppuku is an act of ritual disembowelment that was code among disgraced samurai in the 19th century.

Last yearas dr Narita was asked by a school-age boy to explain his mass seppuku theories, Dr. Narita demonstrated to a group of assembled students a scene from Midsommar, a 2019 horror film in which a Swedish sect sends one of its oldest members to commit suicide by jumping off a cliff.

“Whether that’s good or not, that’s a harder question to answer,” said Dr. Narita the questioner while he was busily taking notes. “So if you think that’s good, then maybe you can work hard to create such a society.”

At other times he has raised the issue of euthanasia. “The possibility of making it mandatory in the future,” he said in an interview, “will come up for discussion.”

dr Narita, 37, said his remarks were “taken out of context” and that he was primarily concerned with the growing effort to oust the highest executives from leadership positions in business and politics – to make room for younger generations. Still, he pushed the hottest button in Japan with his comments on euthanasia and social security.

Although he is virtually unknown even in academic circles in the United States, his extreme positions have made him successful Hundreds of thousands of followers on social media in Japan among frustrated youth who believe their economic progress has been stunted by a gerontocratic society.

dr Narita often appears on Japanese online shows in t-shirts, hoodies, or casual jackets, and wears signature glasses with one round and one square lens. dr Narita leans into his Ivy League pedigree while promoting a nerdy shock jock impression. He is one of the few Japanese provocateurs who have found an eager audience by gleefully breaking social taboos. Be Twitter bio: “The things you are told not to say are usually true.”

Last month, several commentators spotted Dr. Narita’s most inflammatory statements and began circulating them on social media. During a panel discussion on a popular internet talk show with academics and journalists, Yuki Honda, a sociologist at the University of Tokyo, described his remarks as “hatred of the weak.”

A growing group of critics are warning that the popularity of Dr. Narita could unduly influence public order and social norms. With Japan’s low birth rate and the highest level of public debt in the developed world, policymakers are increasingly concerned about how to fund Japan’s growing pension obligations. The country is also grappling with a growing number of older people suffering from dementia or dying alone.

In written responses to emailed questions, Dr. Narita said he was “primarily concerned about the phenomenon in Japan, where the same tycoons will continue to dominate the world of politics, traditional industries and media/entertainment/journalism for many years to come.”

The phrases “mass suicide” and “mass seppuku,” he wrote, are “an abstract metaphor.”

“I should have been more careful about their possible negative connotations,” he added. “After some self-reflection, I stopped using the words last year.”

His critics say his repeated comments on the subject have already spread dangerous ideas.

“It’s irresponsible,” said Masaki Kubota, a journalist who did it written about dr Narita. People panicking at the burdens of an aging society “may think, ‘Oh, my grandparents are the ones who are living longer,'” said Mr. Kubota, “‘and we should just get rid of them.'”

Masato Fujisaki, a columnist, argued News Week Japan that the professor’s statements “should not be taken simply as a ‘metaphor’.” Narita’s fans, Mr. Fujisaki said, are people “who think old people should just die and welfare should be cut.”

Despite a culture of deference to older generations, ideas to kill them have emerged earlier in Japan. A decade ago, Taro Aso – then finance minister and now a leader in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – suggested that old people “hurry up and die.”

Last year, Japanese filmmaker Chie Hayakawa’s dystopian film, Plan 75, envisioned merry vendors courting retirees for state-sponsored euthanasia. In Japanese folklore, families carry elderly relatives to the tops of mountains or to remote corners of forests and leave them to die there.

dr Narita’s language, particularly when he mentions “mass suicide,” stirs historical sensitivities in a country where young men were sent to their deaths as kamikaze pilots during World War II and Japanese soldiers ordered thousands of Okinawa families to commit suicide rather than give up .

Critics fear his comments could evoke the kind of feelings that prompted Japan to pass a eugenics law in 1948, under which doctors forcibly sterilized thousands of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or genetic disorders. In 2016, a man who believed people with disabilities should be put to sleep murdered 19 people at a nursing home outside of Tokyo.

In his daily work, Dr. Narita technical research on computer-aided algorithms used in education and health policy. But as a regular presence on numerous internet platforms and on television in Japan, he gained popularity, appearing on magazine covers, comedy shows and in an energy drink advertisement. He even spawned one Copycats on TikTok.

He often appears with Gen X rabble-rousers like Hiroyuki Nishimura, a prominent entrepreneur and owner of 4chan, the online message board where some of the internet’s most toxic ideas flourish, and Takafumi Horie, a trash-talking entrepreneur who once securities fraud went to jail.

Sometimes he pushed the boundaries of taste. At a blackboard Hosted by Globis, a Japanese graduate business school, said Dr. Narita to the audience: “If this can become a Japanese society where people like you all commit seppuku one by one, it would not only be a social security policy, but it would be one of the best Cool Japan policies.” Cool Japan is a government program to promote the cultural products of the country.

Shocking or not, some lawmakers say Dr. Narita’s ideas open the door to much-needed policy talks about pension reforms and welfare changes. “There is criticism that older people get too much pension money and the young people support all old people, including the wealthy,” said Shun Otokita, 39, a member of the upper house of parliament with Nippon Ishin no Kai, a right-wing party.

However, critics say that Dr. Narita highlights the burdens of an aging population without proposing realistic measures that could alleviate some of the burdens.

“It doesn’t focus on helpful policies like better access to daycare, or wider inclusion of women in the workforce, or wider inclusion of immigrants,” he said Alexis Duden, a historian at the University of Connecticut studying modern Japan. “Things that could actually liven up Japanese society.”

On the subject of euthanasia, Dr. Narita spoke publicly about his mother who had an aneurysm at the age of 19. In an interview with a website that families can use to search for foster homes, Dr described caring for his mother cost him 100,000 yen — or about $760 — a month.

Some polls in Japan have shown that a majority of the public supports the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. But Mr. Narita’s reference to a mandatory practice scares ethicists. Currently, every country that has legalized the practice only allows it “if the person wants it themselves,” said Fumika Yamamoto, a professor of philosophy at Tokyo City University.

In his email replies, Dr. Narita that “euthanasia (either voluntary or involuntary) is a complex, nuanced issue.”

“I am not advocating its introduction,” he added. “I assume it will be discussed more broadly.”

At Yale, Dr. Narita courses in probability, statistics, econometrics, and economics of education and labor.

Neither Tony Smith, the economics professor, nor a Yale spokesman responded to requests for comment.

Josh Angrytwho received the Nobel Prize in Economics and one of Dr. Narita’s PhD supervisor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said his former student was a “talented scholar” with a “quirky sense of humor.”

“I would like to see Yusuke continue a very promising career as a scholar,” said Dr. attack. “So my main concern in a case like his is that he gets distracted with other things, and that’s kind of a shame.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/12/world/asia/japan-elderly-mass-suicide.html A Yale professor suggested mass suicide for old people in Japan. What did he mean?


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