We live in a world where things that seem somehow distant from us—whether because they appear petty, futile, commonplace, or banal—can suddenly intrude upon our lives in the form of a disaster or urgent problem. Instantly, they become personal (cause, causa, meine Sache). Still, we go around with have no real sense of this at all. “Sure,” we think, “these things happen to people—but they won’t happen to me.” Or at least, that is what we prefer to believe. We simply would rather not think about them.
“A rise of 85 centimeters in the world’s sea levels would cause an area three times the size of Japan to disappear, making environmental refugees of more than 260 million people. Migrants fleeing environmental changes will start to come in direct contact with the people of other regions…” When we hear reports like these, we often brush them aside as old news—things we already know. Though there may be times when we feel we should stop and consider them, the same ideas constantly appearing on TV and in print makes us gradually turn numb. Global warming… poverty… income gaps… measures to address… it all becomes nothing more than a predictable pattern. By chance I happened to watch a program about how the things we use every day—T-shirts, chocolate, mobile phones—are made. These are banal objects, so close to us that we hardly notice them. We may think a situation is bad “over there,” that “people have always sacrificed throughout history,” or even that “something needs to be done.” All of that may be true, but when it comes to what we can actually do about it, we’re at a loss. Though the news is initially shocking, it becomes too difficult for us to think about personally—and the more these scenes repeatedly flash before us, the more commonplace they become. Eventually, we file them away as “banal issues.”
The signs of what is to come first manifest as “background.” We need to probe deeply into the underlying thoughts, deeper meanings, and true intentions that underlie the events, data, and information we process as background—to find the “truth in our bones,” so to speak, by getting physically involved in real situations. The logic of things is constantly moving and changing shape; we must investigate thoroughly and seek out the truth. In short, we need to get out there. We need to look. We need to listen. We need to examine. We need to put our heads together and think. We need to dip our cup into the well of social structures—of human sweat and emotion—that gives rise to the “background.” Finally, we need to find the words and images that well up through our hearts and our guts and leave them as a roadmap for others.
In a “planetary society” with networks and systems that are global in scope, we can start anywhere and with anything—no matter how small. My motivation for writing Exploring, Encountering, and Thinking Together (Chuo University Press 2011) and Fieldwork on “The Liminal Territories” (Chuo University Press 2014) was setting out on a journey—fieldwork—that would lead me to greater living knowledge. I combined the idea of “exploring, encountering, and thinking together” with that of “going to ground zero alone in strange lands, strange religions, and strange countries.” I thought that if I could come together with readers as friends at the point where the two intersect, it would be of the greatest joy and the greatest significance. And I am now working on a third publication, Toward the “Planetary Fieldwork”(Fileldwork for understanding the social structure and underlying human energy in the planetary society).