Ethical Responsibility in the Age of Iron

Ignorance can be harmful, but even if we have awareness, we cannot be sure of what action we can take to break the circle of indifference. "Age of Iron" by James Coetzee is a perfect example of this dilemma.

May 16th, 2019

I read "Age of Iron" by James Coetzee.

In this story, there are many scenes in which the main character, Carren faces the severe reality of black people’s life under Apartheid. They are abused and killed just because they are black. She might hear about the madness in this time and age and even symphathized with their situation, but she as one of Afrikaans has never taken any actions to challenge the regime. After all, she did not fully understand the situation and why blak lives matter before she sees the real violence and killing in South Africa.

Like Carren, we are often suspended in an unfolded contradiction between what we do and what we believe. Even if we have awareness on certain problem, it is difficult to take actions. How should we face these contradictions? What kind of ethic is necessary for us? What action can we take to change the reality? This book casts us insightful questions about our ethics and moral. 

Triple Disasters in 2011 and Ethical Responsibility

Let's dive deep into the questions above by an example. Japan experienced the triple disasters in 2011 which refer to the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Earthquake and tsunami were natural disasters and inevitable, but the nuclear accident was essentially different in that it was a human error.

It also revealed the structural social inequality between Tokyo and Tohoku. These power plants were owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company even though Fukushima is a prefecture far away from Tokyo. The majority of people in the Kanto area had never thought of where their electricities came from and how they were generated. In other words, until the accident occured, people in Tokyo enjoyed aboundant electricities without knowing that Fukushima risked themselves by the nuclear power plant. Tokyo had no risk and no damage of radiation before and after the accident. In fact, only Fukushima and surrounded areas got severely polluted by radiation and many lives were displaced. It revealed the structural inequality between Tokyo metropolitan area and other regions and indifference of Japanese people toward this issue.

Then, what kind of actions can we take? To be honest, I do not know the answer. It may be possible to participate in demonstrations or anti-nuclear activities, but it is nearly impossible to uphold the nuclear power generation. In fact, Japan is now trying to reopen the domestic nuclear power plants and developed countries try to export the technology into the third world in the name of its environmental friendliness and economical efficiency. Indifference can be harmful, but even if we have awareness, we do not know actually what we can do to change the situation...

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