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Yale Professor Sparks Fury With Shocking Aging Remarks

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Yale Professor Sparks Fury With Shocking Aging Remarks
October 13, 2023
Natasha Dixon - LA Post

The inflammatory remarks of Yusuke Narita, a Japanese economics professor at Yale, have stirred heated debate in his home country.

In recent interviews and public appearances, the 37-year-old Narita proposed shocking measures for dealing with Japan's aging population, such as mass suicide or ritual disembowelment of the elderly. When prodded by a student to elaborate on these disturbing ideas, Narita graphically described a fictional scene of elderly suicide.

Critics have responded angrily to Narita's remarks, accusing him of encouraging hate and violence. Narita maintains he was using a metaphor, but his comments could have serious consequences in a country like Japan that is facing the difficulties of an aging population.

While Narita's views resonate with some younger Japanese who feel constrained by a gerontocracy, giving a platform to such extreme proposals also raises ethical concerns. His growing celebrity fuels worries that he could sway policy based on the notion that the elderly are expendable.

At the same time, free speech advocates argue that provocative ideas - however distasteful - can spur meaningful public debate. And Narita is hardly the first public figure to suggest radical measures for cutting costs in a rapidly graying Japan.

Still, in a country haunted by a history of forced suicide, Narita's rhetoric seems uniquely inflamed. And his focus on reducing the burden of the aged ignores constructive solutions like increased immigration and workplace participation by women.

In his academic work Narita takes a more measured tone, conducting technical research far removed from his public persona. But the professor's incendiary language has already left its mark, shifting Japan's conversation on pensions and welfare in an alarming direction.

Going forward, Japan faces difficult decisions about funding elder care and pensions. While curbing ageism is crucial, generational resentments run high. Amid this tension, provocateurs like Narita may stoke animosity more than reasoned debate. With the stakes so high, Japanese leaders would do well to elevate nuanced discussions of policy over extremist soundbites.

The Roots of Discontent

To understand the appeal of Narita's divisive views, it helps to examine the social and economic forces shaping modern Japan.

With rising life expectancies and low birth rates, Japan's population is rapidly aging. The demographic shift places enormous strain on pensions and healthcare systems. This fuels resentment among younger generations who feel they bear the cost of supporting an ever-larger elderly population.

Exacerbating tensions is Japan's rigid seniority system which locks older workers into top jobs for decades. With limited upward mobility, youth face dimmer career prospects than previous generations.

Economic stagnation over the last thirty years has further dampened hopes. Against this backdrop, radicals like Narita gain traction by tapping into anger toward an entrenched gerontocracy.

A Cautionary Tale

While gerontocracy stifles social progress, calls for "mass suicide" of the elderly pose their own dangers. Narita's views may appear on the fringe, but Japan has seen extremism take darker turns before.

A former employee of a nursing home killed 19 disabled patients in 2016 because he thought they would be better off dead. Also, many Okinawan civilians killed themselves en masse rather than surrender to American invaders during World War II.

Against this grim history, proposals to "euthanize" the elderly revive disturbing echoes. Once normalized, the idea risks quietly enabling neglect, abuse and social cleansing targeting the most vulnerable.

Moral Hazard

Yet suppressing radical ideas also carries risks. Censoring provocative speech opens the door to moral policing and erodes faith in free discourse to self-correct untenable positions.

And while easy to condemn, proposals like Narita's arise from very real social frictions. Shutting down debate around difficult topics can allow problems to fester. Japan's leaders have a duty to address the underlying forces fueling generational divides.

Progress Through Reason

As Japan navigates difficult decisions around pensions and social welfare, steering between extremes is crucial. Vilifying the vulnerable is unconscionable. But simply silencing radicals ignores people's real concerns.

The path forward lies in elevating nuanced discussions focused on ethical policymaking. Reforms that distribute burdens more equitably across generations can restore faith that shared sacrifice benefits all.

With reason and compassion guiding difficult dialogues, Japanese society can adapt its social contract to meet the needs of young and old alike.

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