August 26, 2004

Turning Japanese

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

I show this sentence to Kanako, my Japanese friend. She looks at it for a second, thinks about it, and in her broken Italian says, "No, it's not right."


"Maybe it's right in Europe, but somebody Japanese would never believe it. It's a very European idea."

"How do you mean?"

"I think because Europeans are monotheist, you know, there is only one God, and therefore there is only one truth. But in Japan, we don't think this way. We have so many Gods, so many spirits. And a spirit is a source of truth. So for us, it is normal to think that there are many truths, that one spirit doesn't get to impose its truth on another. So yes, Sherlock Holmes is Europe. We, we would never accept it."

"But you see, Kanako, that won't do, because either most Venezuelans voted yes or most Venezuelans voted no. It can't be both."

"Of course," she says, "but you don't understand. Yes, there is one truth on that level. But it doesn't matter. Because the truth is something we make, collectively, by believing in it. Today, maybe so many people in Venezuela believe that Yes won, and for them, that is the truth. Others believe that No won, and for them, that is the truth. They make it the truth by believing in it."

"But a country can't work this way, with half the country sure the other country is wrong."

She smiles and shrugs, "maybe a christian country can't work that way. I don't know what to say. It's a very western idea. For me, having a lot of different truths, well, it's normal, it's the most normal thing there is."

I try to make sense of Kanako's words, and I struggle. But I see that, in some sense, she's just right. There was fraud. And there was no fraud. And half the country will never believe that there was no fraud. And half the country will never believe there was fraud. We're not Japanese. We can't think of that as normal. But maybe, who knows, maybe the Japanese are right. Maybe it is normal. Maybe it's the most normal thing in the world.