Episodes nine and ten in Bungo Stray Dogs recall how much Britain’s vote to leave the EU revolved around idealism, or, at least, they do within the tortuous turnings of my mind. This article has little interest in probing the political and economic ramifications of their decision but two competing ideals. I wrote previously on the necessity of ideals for life to be worth living. People need a purpose beyond material benefits and survival. To base one’s life on material comfort and pleasure is to exist as one of the living dead.
At the end of the eighth episode of Bungo Stray Dogs, Atsushi saves the unwilling assassin Kyouka from certain death. Despite his heroism, Kyouka is caught between the rock of the Law and the hard place of the Port Mafia: the former requires her execution for thirty-five murders (more like manslaughter than murder, but that’s how the characters term it) and the latter for betrayal. Between these implacable foes, it seems impossible for Kyouka to survive in Yokohama. In the following episode, Kunikida brings this argument to bear against Atsushi’s good intention of helping Kyouka begin a new life.
Kunikida’s words in episode nine surprised me and made me wonder whether Dazai’s denunciation of idealism wounded him–wounded him so deeply that he resorts to playing devil’s advocate. He tries to dissuade Atsushi from helping Kyouka, to dissuade the Agency from saving Atsushi, and again to dissuade Atsushi from saving Kyouka from certain death at Akutagawa’s hands. One speculates that Kunikida was brought down by the tragedy of the seventh episode and used Atsushi to test the validity of idealism in the face of overwhelming odds.
The ideal most strongly strained in Atsushi’s fight was none other than chivalry or even manliness. For, a real man would rather die himself than abandon a woman to certain death. (I wish that I could also credit Bushido for this attitude, but, under Bushido, the woman gives her life for the man, cf. Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Indeed, Kyouka stood as a true bushi for sacrificing her safety for Atsushi to have the opportunity of escape!) Kunikida’s own doubts about idealism seem to vanish after Atsushi’s rescue of Kyouka from Akutagawa’s hands, which transformation we see in Kunikida’s grin. And, I must say, the faith Dazai manifested for Atsushi’s strength over Akutagawa’s skill causes me to wonder just what he was criticizing in idealism prior to this.
Back to Brexit! In this event, we ultimately saw a clash of ideals: a free and independent Britain able to decide its own destiny and goals vs. a united Europe prevented from internal strife by a common government and enjoyed shared prosperity through a common citizenship. (At least, I imagine the opponents of Brexit had the latter view in mind. As an American, independence from foreign influence overrides most benefits to be obtained through submission to a foreign yoke.) Many of the arguments for remaining in the EU revolved around the economy: how great would the economic upheaval be if Britain left the EU! And, the purchasing power of the pound has plummeted as major companies have threatened to depart from Britain. Many people who voted to leave no doubt understood the temporary suffering the UK might endure. Other voters, in the face of uncertainty, are even doubting their decision to leave.
Still, the Leave side had something the Remain side lacked: the idea of Britain. Britain stands as an idea even as America or France or Greece or Ireland or Denmark or Spain stand for ideas. All of these nations’ ideals are suppressed as long as they remain subordinate to universal economic prosperity. The British voted to leave so that they could be British. There exists no substitute for that in a British heart alive with the love of country; in the same way as for Atsushi, a true man, there exists no substitute for courage. One of Britain’s greatest foes, Napoleon, famously said that “An army marches on its stomach”; however, less people know that the also said: “Imagination rules the world.” I have no doubt that England, Eikoku or Brave Country in Japanese, will have to courage to weather all future storms as long as they remember who they are.