Caliban’s Dream

This article was first published in New View magazine Issue 65, 2012

Featured Illustration (left) courtesy of Jamie Binnington:

All the experiences you had until yesterday
And all your knowledge are only a burden
The wind will always pass by
And leave nothing behind (1)

A car journey from Narita airport into downtown Tokyo should take no more than about 90 minutes if the roads are not unduly congested, but on the fiercely hot and humid day in late July when I last made the journey the roads were congested, so it took more like two and a half hours as the car passed through the lush countryside of rice paddies and bamboo forests, flat land and small hills and the occasional temple or shrine and then into the outskirts of the city of Chiba which merges into the metropolitan maelstrom of Tokyo (pop. 13 million). An enormous ugly monorail system of tubes and elongated cubes crisscrossed Chiba City high in the air like some huge technological dragon writhing above the streets. On we went, deeper and deeper into the urban labyrinth and all traces of green disappeared, on past the vast and soulless, featureless expanses of commercial and industrial warehousing, all in similar shades of cream and grey, and then, nearing Tokyo Bay, past the pseudo-Romantic pastiche of Tokyo Disneyland with its inevitable pseudo-Neuschwanstein Castle, its pseudo-Viennese 19th century mega-hotel and what looked like the largest ferris wheel on the planet; on past the distant Tokyo Sky ‘Tree’, opened in May this year as the tallest building in Japan (643 m.) and the second tallest in the world, on into the districts of huge glass and steel blocks, topped by the logos of so many of Japan’s great corporations which have their head offices there -  and finally, into downtown Tokyo itself, where the architecture at last became somewhat more human in scale, trees reappeared along streets, and one was more aware  of people moving about and not just machines. Deep within this colossal labyrinth, the size of which makes London seem small, we finally arrived in the district of Hiro, and drove past a small park down an avenue of cherry trees overhanging the road. The car pulled up at a modest apartment block in which our son and his wife live.  My son’s father-in-law had been my driver, and for the whole trip, as we chatted, he had on the radio an FM radio programme of pop music, mostly western and some Japanese. The show’s host was a young man who had evidently spent much time in England, as his pronunciation of English names and places was excellent, and most of the music he played, as he burbled on enthusiastically about the upcoming London Olympics, was English. I couldn’t help noticing that throughout the entire journey this radio station, J-Wave, which broadcasts from the Tokyo Sky Tree, and is one of the most popular FM broadcasters in Tokyo, had repeated the same jingle “J-Wave: I AM…J-Wave: I AM…” as if to reinforce in the minds of its listeners that though they were listening to Japanese Wave radio in a society that remains in many respects very collectivist, they were individuals in an individualistic age. But I couldn’t help wondering: living in the belly of the monster city that Tokyo certainly is, how far can a jingle remind or even persuade you that you are in fact an individual?

Look for a new road!
Don’t open someone else’s map!
Are we dreaming?
Are we believing in the future?
We should be as brand new as a child…
Let’s tear off the chains that controlled us
Change your mind
We don’t need to know anything, Beginner!


Sayonara, Atchan!
Her shiny shoulder-length, dyed dark-brown hair pulled back over the ear on the right side of her head, she stands there on stage wearing a red, white and black diagonal check shirt and miniskirt of the same pattern, a similar waistcoat with its lapels pulled tightly over her breasts, and a short broad black tie with a white pattern. Below her miniskirt an inch or two of flesh and then black stockings which go down into knee-length long black high heel boots. Around her are 28 girls wearing identical costumes. Holding her mike, Atsuko Maeda (popularly known as Atchan) stands there on the stage of the Tokyo Dome, her radiant calmness hiding a welter of emotions, almost continually smiling beatifically for about an hour as one by one, 28 other pretty girls, a selection of the 48  members (+ 20 alternate members) of the teen group AKB 48 (2), all aged between 14 and the mid-20s, are called forward by one of their number, their ‘captain’, to approach Atsuko and say their farewells to her by microphone, which they do in varying degrees of tearfulness, some quite jolly and bright, but most inclining to sadness and some hardly able to get through their words for the tears, choking up as they speak, their hands over their mouths. Mostly they say similar things, such as “thank you so much for doing your best. I was so inspired by you and your example. I loved the way you (did this, did that)….You looked so cool. You are wonderful. I love you. I respect you (dear) senior. Please do your best and make some great films in your new career. Inspired by you and wishing you well, we in AK48 will carry on and do our best”. Their farewells are usually followed by a handshake and a warm hug. This is almost shocking, as such open physicality is rarely seen on Japanese TV (except between lovers in movies). After each farewell and sometimes during it, the fans present noisily shout out their approval and other comments.

Adults failed and felt ashamed
And suffering has become their trauma
Thinking they don’t want to feel such pain again,
They have wised up.
Challenges are laughed at.
What are you protecting
With your silly calculations in order to avoid risks?

The whole event, the continuous declarations of love and respect and thanks and encouragement and the tears and the embarrassment and the shy smiles and bold farewells, the remarkable mix of awkward innocence and familiarity, go on for an hour and are all filmed and shown live on NHK TV, Japan’s BBC, to the watching tens of millions. This is a national media event  – a key moment in the biography of Japan’s biggest pop sensation of the last seven years. I would have known nothing of it, had my old friend’s 15 year old daughter not been glued to the large screen TV, absorbed by it all.

Are we alive? Do we want to be alive tomorrow?
We pretend we understand, we feign a knowing look
While we haven’t dreamed in a long while
Yeah, are we alive? Aren’t we wasting our life?
Feel now the rhythm pulsing through your veins!


AKB48 are a pop phenomenon created in 2005 by Yasushi Akimoto, a TV writer, lyricist, record producer, professor and vice president at Kyoto University of Art and Design. They perform in 4 ‘teams’, large groups of about 15 performers, usually all singing and dancing at the same time, but each team has its own character and an element of competition is encouraged between them. AKB48 has its own theatre where one of the teams performs every night while the other teams perform elsewhere. They have special handshake sessions where their fans can get to shake hands with them and ‘get close’ and they have highly publicised ‘general elections’ in which fans can choose which of the 48 is the most popular and should be the lead singer. They are not allowed to have boyfriends or relationships and are forced to leave the group if they do. After a while, the elder ones, like Atsuko Maeda, are required to ‘graduate’ and leave the group, as Maeda did this summer.

Stand up! Together! Remember the day you were born!
Everyone’s a beginner!
Stand up! Right away! Stand up! Together!
You just need to go back to the beginning
A beginner again. Stand up! Right away!
Be defiant, be defiant
It will happen somehow. Tear away the old page
Come on, let’s begin!  We can be reborn all the time

Named after Akihabara, the Tokyo electronics shop district in which their theatre is situated, AKB48 are now going international as Yasushi Akimoto launches Indonesian and Chinese versions of the concept. They have also performed in Russia, Singapore and Los Angeles. Following its fashion, games, and cartoons (manga, anime) Japan’s pop culture is about to spawn a new export. This is to some extent part of the more general internationalisation of Asian popular culture which is spreading among young people all over East Asia and has, especially since the turn of the millennium, been contributing to an easing of traditional tensions between, for example, Japan and Korea, or Japan and China, even while, at the same time, it is a money-spinning machine for the people who have designed and orchestrated it ($200 million sales in Japan alone in 2011).

I can’t do anything. I can’t do it well
And so? We’re still young
I can’t do anything. I can’t do it right away
That’s why we have possibilities
The rain has stopped. The wind has stopped
A light we’ve never seen before is shining
Now’s the time. You are a reborn beginner!

AKB48 might seem to some westerners to be just a frothy, ‘bubblegum’, teenybopper outfit singing mostly bright, breathless and bouncy, if rather forgettable songs, and they do indeed perform a good number of such songs, but they have also done a number of songs that comment quite acutely on Japanese social trends, such as Keibetsu Shiteita Aijo (Despised Love), which was about bullying and suicide in schools, a major problem in Japanese schools. The group’s strong collective nature, as well as the focus on its leading members, who are chosen by the fans, clearly appeal to teenagers; they themselves are passing through the transition from peer group to individuality. A key part of the Japanese school system is the club activities in which the pupils learn an important aspect of ‘what it means to be Japanese’: they learn how to relate ‘appropriately’ to their seniors and juniors in the club and how to collaborate for common goals. It is a bonding process far more intense than anything in schools in the west and is reinforced by the severity of the ‘examination hell’ and the cram schools that the teenagers have to endure until the age of 18. One could say that the enormous popularity of AKB48 reflects to some degree what Japan itself as a culture is doing, in that the freshness, the infectious ‘brightness’ and energy of the group also reflects the desire of many Japanese to pull themselves out of the economic malaise their society has been in since the bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s. Key values in Japan have long been “never give up” (makeru mono ka?) “do your best” (gambare!), “put your all into it” (isshokenmei yaru koto, inochigake) and above all, sincerity (makoto). Thus far, these values have not sufficed to turn the Japanese economy round, but they have enabled Japanese  society to stave off a real collapse.

Unhappy Islands
Obviously, it is not an easy process for a young person or for a culture to travel from one state of consciousness to another. In many respects, despite the terrible shock of the earthquake and tsunami last year and the subsequent radiation concerns at Fukushima, things have reverted to ‘business as usual’ in Japan today. The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission report,  released on 5 July 2012, castigated “collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the six Fukushima plants] and the lack of governance by said parties”. It condemned “ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power” and said that nuclear regulators in Japan and Tepco “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.” But the Commission chairman, Dr Kiyoshi Kurokawa, also pointed out that:

“What must be admitted—very painfully is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture; our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.” (3)

Protest groups and demonstrators against nuclear power continue the struggle, but there is unremitting pressure in the opposite direction from business circles worried about Japan’s economic future and their companies’ performance, and from conservative and nationalist politicians who harbour secret desires that Japan will one day have its own nuclear weapons; the Japanese government earlier this year switched two nuclear power stations back on, having shut them all down  last year in response to public pressure after Fukushima (the name means ‘happy island’). The pro-nuclear lobby claimed that the country would find it hard to get through the summer heat with power reduced for air-conditioning, but this has proved not to be the case. However, around the time of the annual commemoration of the dropping of the A-bombs of 1945 (6-9 August) and of the end of the war (15 August), serious tensions rapidly resurfaced between China and Japan over the issue of ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and between Japan and Korea over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands (4). The tensions were swiftly ratcheted up by nationalists in all three countries, some of whom made provocative landings on the islands and flew flags. Fears of China and Korea are exactly what Japanese pro-nuclear nationalists such as Tokyo’s rightwing Governor Ishihara Shintaro or former Chief of air defences Toshio Tamogami would like to exaggerate in their quest to persuade the Japanese people to retain nuclear power as an indispensable precursor to acquiring nuclear weapons. Japan would soon be able to do this if it had the will. However, the Fukushima disaster turned the Japanese people decisively against nuclear power, so fear of China would be a useful tool to turn them back towards a favourable view of nuclear weapons. The Japanese government has already allowed itself to be pushed into buying the Senkaku islands for the nation by the irresponsible Ishihara, who was himself earlier this year threatening to buy the islands for Tokyo from their Japanese private owner, who lives near Tokyo. Any such ill-advised move by the Japanese government will infuriate Chinese nationalists, if not the government in Beijing, which already issued warnings in July that “China will not permit Japan to purchase the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea”, and “We cannot allow anyone to buy or sell China’s sacred territory.” This week the Chinese government has again issued dire warnings that the Japanese move will not be tolerated. In a part of the world where concern to maintain face is paramount, this is a dangerous game that Ishihara and the Japanese government have chosen to play. Ian Buruma, a long-time observer of East Asian affairs, has written of this latest crisis in the region:

China, Korea, and Japan, whose economic interests are closely entwined, have every reason to avoid a serious conflict. And yet all three are doing their best to bring one about. For entirely domestic reasons, each country is manipulating the history of a devastating war, triggering passions that can only cause more damage. Politicians, commentators, activists, and journalists in each country are talking endlessly about the past. But they are manipulating memories for political ends. The last thing that interests any of them is the truth. (5)

What Japan ought to do if it is really concerned to build good relations with its closest neighbours Korea and China, is to hand over to them the disputed islands, which are in any case uninhabited and were of no real interest to the parties concerned until the 1970s. This would be a real gesture of goodwill and a truly realistic and free choice; it is however, highly unlikely to happen. Old habits die hard. What do the young girls of AKB48 sing?

Look for a new road. Don’t open someone else’s map!
Are we dreaming now?
We should be as brand new as a child…
Let’s tear off the chains that controlled us.
Change your mind

But on this issue at least, as Buruma notes, the adults have not yet ‘wised up’, and most of the young, distracted by their own versions of AKB48, or locked into their own niche interests, seem more concerned to talk to each other on their mobile phones than to adults in real time.

Caliban’s Island
From illusions in the Far East, the dreams of pop fans, and the illusions of  nationalists, I returned to Britain at the end of August and immediately encountered the dreams of sports fans and the illusions of internationalists and globalists. I had watched the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on TV in Tokyo but had not seen the opening ceremony in July. I now watched it online and also the opening of the Paralympic Games. I beheld another world of illusions, far more phantasmagorical than the likes of AKB48 or the arguments over the uninhabited islands, issues which do at least relate to something real – the actual passions of millions of young teenagers, hence the group’s huge popularity, or those of nationalists in Japan, China, and Korea. But as with the disputes over the islands in the seas of East Asia, here too in the London Olympics was another effort to manipulate historical understanding. The carefully crafted spectacles of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, seemed to me to reflect and represent not so much the real feelings of sports fans as the attempt by the organisers to conjure nothing less than an image of a dynamic, British-led world of ‘freedom’, ‘creativity’, and ‘individualism’ that was deliberately designed both to impress the world with some putative claim to British greatness and to counter the awesome collectivist spectacle of the Beijing Olympic ceremonies in 2008. By the Queen (played by herself), James Bond (Daniel Craig), Gandalf-Prospero (Ian McKellen), Stephen Hawking (himself), Tim Berners-Lee (himself), Paul McCartney (himself) and the apotheosised spirit of John Lennon, to name but a few, we were presented with a new, idealised world-religion of sport, a ‘philosophical’, neo-pagan cultus of Gaia and Nature born of Britain, and based on British science and industry. Stephen Hawking, sitting beneath a giant image of a full moon at the opening of the Paralympic Games, preached to us about 18th century Enlightenment values of ‘Reason and Rights’, as a great humanist Book of Holy Writ – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  – was laid before the world, and the ‘wonders’ of natural science were almost catechised. In both Olympics and Paralympics Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’ was pressed into national service presenting Britain as ‘the Isle of Wonders’: images of the creative, dynamic, and compassionate national family of Britain, the Industrial Revolution, the National Health Service, children’s literature and young people’s pop music were all harnessed together to present to the world the father (Branagh’s Brunel), mother (nurses, Mary Poppins), children and teenagers respectively of Britain’s modern biography. Underpinning the whole thing was the specially chosen Olympic song, which begins gently and pastorally and then turns into a breast-beating, bombastic juggernaut, like an army on the march. It is called Survival  and is by the English band Muse; it presents a view of life which the 19th century instigator of Social Darwinism Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) would have easily recognised, its lyrics consisting entirely of the following sentiments:

Race, life’s a race
And I am gonna win
Yes, I am gonna win
And I’ll light the fuse
And I’ll never lose
And I choose to survive
Whatever it takes
You won’t pull ahead
I’ll keep up the pace
And I’ll reveal my strength
To the whole human race
Yes I am prepared
To stay alive
I won’t forgive, the vengeance is mine
And I won’t give in
Because I choose to thrive
I’m gonna win
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Win! Win! Win! Win!
Yes I’m gonna win (6)

This seemed to bear out Rudolf Steiner’s observation that

the English have the specific mission to nurture the consciousness soul and this comes to full expression in materialism. Here we especially need to rid ourselves of all antipathy. The nurturing of materialism results in men being simply positioned next to each other in space. This is something that was not experienced in the past: awareness of the competitor. The consciousness soul is conscious of another person as its competitor in physical life. (7)

By ‘”specific mission to nurture the consciousness soul” is meant the consciousness that one is an earthly individual, free in the personal sense, unbound by collectivities, but also alone, isolated, insular. And with this comes the observer consciousness, which sees things and people physically beside each other in space. It does not see them as spiritual, and thus does not see its essential connection to them but rather regards them as earthly beings in this natural world and thus as competitors for what the world has to offer. The British philosophers, says Steiner, “are onlookers in life. They face things the way the consciousness soul faces life as an onlooker”, and the greatest of these English thinkers, Steiner says, the most incomparable in his capacity to look at events and face them, was Shakespeare. Perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest achievement was to show the English, in The Tempest (1611), his most future-oriented play, how to overcome themselves by going beyond the drive to self-centred competition and realising the real meaning of human relationship and interdependence. Unfortunately, although The Tempest was a key theme referenced in the opening ceremonies of both the Olympics and the Paralympics, it was not presented in a way that advocated going beyond self-centred competition. Rather, along with the song Survival, it was used in a context that  encouraged that competition and dreams of individual achievement.

Despite the laser light shows and the deafening music and dance, the fundamental ideas underlying British culture today were presented to the world as those of the period from Shakespeare and Newton to Brunel and Darwin.  Stephen Hawking as the modern-day Prospero the mage from The Tempest, the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel as the great High Priest of the Industrial Revolution pontificating  – of all things – the dream of the monster Caliban from The Tempest as a source of inspiration both for that Revolution and for Britons today! A brash and colourful cornucopia of truths, half-truths and outright deceptions.

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

In The Tempest, Caliban and Ariel are clearly two beings who represent the opposite poles, the two extreme tendencies in the human soul known to anthroposophy as the ‘luciferic’, or fantastical, unworldly (Ariel), and the ‘ahrimanic’, or materialistic (Caliban). Ariel causes mysterious music to sound on the island, music that Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo cannot see him creating. Caliban describes this music, these ‘noises’, as something so beautiful that he longed to experience again in dream (Act 3, Scene 2). As the Industrial Revolution got underway in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, transforming the British ‘Isles of Wonder’ from an arcadian idyll to a land of ‘satanic mills’, Branagh-Brunel, facing his top-hatted acolytes in their black tailcoats, intiated the whole process by speaking Caliban’s words:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

These ‘noises’ in Shakespeare’s play are spiritual sounds that Ariel creates at Prospero’s bidding. They are in effect a beautiful illusion. Caliban longs not to awaken but to sleep and dream so that he can experience these sounds and dream of….’riches’. And this is what the Olympic ceremonies and indeed the Olympics themselves seemed, to this writer at least, to represent – a spectacular bread and circuses illusion that would have amazed even the jaded citizens of ancient Rome, a wondrous jamboree that distracts people from awakening to the realities of the modern world. It was a weapon of mass distraction in fact, of the kind which ensure that 11 years after 9/11 so many people do not think about that event anymore and why they have put up with the two wars and the million dead that resulted from the lies and deceptions surrounding 9/11.

The velvet glove
Former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu calls in vain for Tony Blair to be prosecuted as a war criminal; the supposed peace envoy to the Middle East brushes off the accusation and proceeds to help secure, with a little help from wealthy Qataris, another ‘agreement’ he has clearly been keen to mediate – the £48 billion merger of mining giant Xstrata and commodity giant Glencore, a company  that has been involved in numerous scandals around the world. The deal, sealed in September 2012, will apparently create an organisation with 2012 sales of US $209 billion. This is the kind of reality that sporting spectacles distract us from noticing, for it is the commercial imperatives of such mega-corporations that underlie so much of the suffering in our world, the wars, the corruption, the crime. Glencore’s activities in Africa (the highly profitable extraction of copper in Zambia, and cobalt in Congo), for example, deserve to be far more widely known. But with the four-yearly Olympics, the four-yearly World Cup, the two yearly European Cup, the annual FA Cup, and the annual Wimbledon, the spectacle of distraction for people in Britain goes on and on and is paralleled in the other ‘developed’ countries, which have their own sports calendars. In Japan, for example, every August there is the two week-long, national high school baseball  championship at Koshien stadium in Nishinomiya, between Osaka and Kobe. It is an annual national institution, the biggest amateur sporting event in the country, held since 1915 and has an almost sacred character in Japan, as the ‘purity of youth’ is said to be on display. The continuous round of such multi-million pound and yen bread and circus events is intended to keep us sleeping or dreaming, distracted from what our elites are actually engaged in.

As just one example of this from the many that could be chosen, Chris Hedges, a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the New York Times and now fierce critic of post-9/11 American governments, author of Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, recently described the  government’s assault on civil liberties in the US – supposedly justified by 9/11 and ‘the war on terror’ – an assault which began under the George W. Bush administration and has continued relentlessly under Obama. He outlined the Obama government’s refusal to restore Habeas Corpus

(The United States Senate voted 1 December 2011 to reject an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA; signed 31 Dec 2011) that would have proscribed the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens:

The   American Civil Liberties’ Union has argued that the legitimacy of Habeas Corpus is threatened: “The Senate voted 38-60 to reject an important amendment [that] would have removed harmful provisions authorizing the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world… We’re disappointed that, despite robust opposition to the harmful detention legislation from virtually the entire national security leadership of the government, the Senate said ‘no’ to the… amendment and ‘yes’ to indefinite detention without charge or trial.”) (8)

- the interpretation of the 2001 Authorisation to Use Military Force Act as giving the executive branch the right to assassinate US citizens (he cites the case of Anwar Alaki, Yemeni cleric & US citizen and his 16 year old son, who was never accused of anything)

 -  The Pfizer Amendment Act, which retroactively made legal what has always been illegal under the constitution – wiretapping and eavesdropping on tens of millions of US citizens. All citizens’ personal information  is now being stored in supercomputers in Utah.
(This has been verified by the National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney who worked for the NSA for 30 years) (9)

 - Obama has 6 times employed the Espionage Act, (which was never designed to expose whistleblowers) to expose, for example, CIA officials who exposed war crimes to the New York Times. The government is using it to shut down criticism of the official government narrative. It is impossible for mainstream reporters to investigate anything government does these days. Background briefings are no longer given; people are scared of being charged with the Espionage Act.

 - The National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA); section 10.21 authorises the executive branch to label as a terrorist  a US citizen or someone who has relations with ‘associated forces’ – a term never defined, to use the military to detain and hold these people, hold them in military facilities, strip them of due process and ship them to offshore penal colonies like Guantanamo “until the end of hostilities”. (10)

Following the American example, governments of countries allied to the US, from the UK and other NATO countries, to Australia, have introduced similar legislation and measures to restrict civil liberties – most of them ultimately ‘justified’ by the governments involved on the basis of 9/11 and the alleged ‘threat’ from ‘Al-Qaeda’, an organisation that, according to Michael Scheuer, CIA agent with 22 years’ experience and chief of the section that tracked Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, does not even exist! (11) Since 2004 Scheuer has been a trenchant critic of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

The realities of power in today’s world are bound up with economics; that has increasingly been the case since the 15th century, when the modern age of individualising consciousness got underway and concomitantly, western societies became ever more materialistic. But human beings are reluctant to acknowledge that their motivations in life are merely economic; they cleave to older notions of human relationship: family, community, nation, or, more recently, human rights and ideas of equality. These were all on show at the London Olympics; they are on show too in the songs of AKB48 and at the Koshien baseball championships. As Steiner was indicating already 100 years ago, because we do not pay enough attention to the nature of our times or to the evolution of consciousness, all too easily we do not see that these notions are often but the velvet glove around the iron fist of economic forces, which, when they do not get their way by economic or legal means, resort to war or other forms of state-sponsored violence. We can become mesmerised by the colours and textures of the velvet glove, and even when the iron fist within the glove eventually connects with our jaw, so often, as in Britain in 1945, or in 2008, like Caliban, we prefer to go on dreaming. The Olympics are over for another four years. Are the gloves again about to come off?


(1) The first 6 verses are from the song Beginner by the Japanese all-girl group AKB48.
(2) The number 48 has a certain cultural resonance in Japan as it is close to 47, which is the number of the famous 47 masterless samurai, the heroes of the famous 17th century story Chushingura, with which every Japanese is familiar.
(4)The Japanese name is the Senkaku Islands; the Chinese call them the Diaoyu  Islands. As for the other disputed islets, the Japanese call them Takeshima, while the Korean name for them is Dokdo.
(7) Lecture of 31 October 1914, Collected Works GA 157 The Destinies of Individuals and of Nations (Rudolf Steiner Press/Anthroposophic Press, 1986)