Where has the empathy gone from the ruling classes? Answer: inochi

Inochi. A Japanese phrase which appears to have no exact equivalent in English. I only know about it at all thanks to a blog post by the poet Sue Holliday, who describes it as the “intrinsic value of all living things”. It also means simply life.

Sue Holliday defends the inochi as far as she can, and she relates it’s corrosion to the slow demise of authentic reality:

“More insidiously we are perhaps killing inochi in our human lives through the replacement of direct, spontaneous lived experience with representations of reality, mediated through screens and curated by the mass media.  Dislocated from the ever changing living world we are in danger of being reduced to ‘things’ devoid of life.”

As the co-author of a new book about how to regulate our children’s screen time (Techno Tantrums), I was fascinated by this.

It seems to be an absolutely crucial insight, but it is one that our current technocratic political establishment will find it hard to get to grips with. Because they have their own versions of reality mediated, not so much through screens, but through data, approved evidence and the kind of virtual approach to brute reality that tries to reduce situations to what ideology or the Treasury say they should be.

As we struggle to work out how officials could have approved cladding for Grenfell Tower which somebody knew to be flammable, and how groupthink can dehumanise officialdom – removing their empathy – we might look no further than this loss of inochi.

That is no traditional political issue, and in any case I have a feeling that young people – who may seem addicted to screens – are more adept at telling reality from fantasy than our political masters. Those brought up in a virtual world will long for reality even more, said the philosopher Robert Nozick, and he was right.

Yet I think the ability to see situations clearly and whole is the very essence of the radical centre, and as such it may be the foundations of the emerging, new politics, still only fleetingly discernable.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    If the young see ‘Utopia’ through their online experiences will not ‘life’ be changed by online activity? Online activity is governed by those who produce it and therefore ‘life’ experiences are limited to those individuals. If an event happens to someone that is not in this technocrat system it follows that technology does not know everything and that peoples life experiences not linked to online activity should also be recognised.

  2. Boyo says

    Elites of today are extremely caught up in their own hyper-competitive virtual realities. Within their simulated* and elite groupings the struggle for status has intensified as (i) inequality is creating differentiation within elite groups, (ii) money as as signifier of status is more important than in the past, (iii) the traditional signifiers of status are outside of the reach of many who considered themselves culturally elite: a public school education for their children, a flat in London and house in the country-side, and (iv) a job considered to be of high status is subject to greater competition due to the presence of global elites in London. For these groups social media and social proximity mean that they must frequently compare themselves with their rivals for status, find themselves wanting, and must work ever harder to acquire status goods, which diverts their bandwidth from nobless oblige.

    Elites now lack the time to invest in nobless oblige (previously a form of status display which is time intensive) and instead have to invest it in more money-defined forms of status. It’s less resource intensive to stay late at work than sit on a parish council!

    *I say simulated because elites seem to socialise with one another far more than in the past, both onlive via social media and in real life. In the past, the “county set” socialised and encounteerd a variety of people from all walks of provincial life. Now that “smart” has moved to London, elites are insulated from many walks of life, encountering only those from within their own culture.

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