News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Monday, April 11, 2005

More on the roots of Japanese traditional behavior from Ruth Benedict (who stresses cultural norms) and Lafcadio Hearn (who sees most behavior, Oriental or Occidental, emerging from religious thought & traditions, something I've found with the Chinese). Again, my primary goal reading these two books was to try to understand why "the Japanese" were so severe in the WWII, particularly given how mild "they" had been in WWI and while ruling Taiwan.

Ruth Benedict: "... the Tokugawas, by the most drastic laws any nation has ever enforced, decreed the isolation of Japan in the 17th century...making it an offense worthy of capital punishment to build or operate any boat large than a certain size. The small boats allowed could not cross to the continent or carry loads of trade goods. Domestic trade was severely restricted too by customs barriers which were set up on the borders of each fife with strict rules against letting goods in or out. Sumptuary laws regulated clothes they could wear, the umbrellas they could carry, the amount they could spend for a wedding or a funeral. [Merchants] could not live in a samurai district. They had no legal protection against swords of the samurai..."

So the stupefying of the population carried on. Restricting external trade minimized contact with the intellectual moods, technology, and multiculturalism of the developing world for which the calendar meant time was moving forward. Japan's restrictions on what citizens could purchase, dream up, carry out, plan for themselves and their children, etc and so forth further simplified and ossified life. In turn this frogmarching of the farmer, samurai, artisan, and politically connected bored the crap out of the imaginative, put the thumb screws to IQ growth, and enhanced poor logic and decision-making skills by making them poorer in a patriotically approved manner. "The two classes which are appropriate to stable feudalism, the Warriors and the farmers, the Tokugawas regime froze into rigid forms.... the Warriors could no longer be farmers nor artisans nor merchants. Not even the lowest of them could any longer legally be a producer; he was a member of a parasitic class which drew its annual rice stipend from taxes levied upon the peasants."

More road map of the can-do cynical politico and his pet, the idealistic and diligent patriot, for minimizing intellectual opportunity and business initiative; a form of feudal socialism which (as with today's modern socialist nations such as England and Canada) meant more restrictions on free behavior which meant less opportunities for making choices good and bad which meant more dumbing down and the impoverishing of the domestic economy by preventing organic growth of the marketplace. So many traditional societies are into the pure, by which they mean the simple. Whereas in modern societies simple means dumb, simpleton means dumbass. The usual stigmata of socialist idealism are there: punishing taxation and the cultivation of permanent, large classes deliberately kept out of gainful employment (everyone from today's welfare bum to bureaucratic flunkies hired by the millions to shuffle endless mills of paperwork to prove the government is committed to job creation). In other words, the Tokugawas ensured Japanese feudalism's survival by snuffing freethinkers, entrepreneurs, and other destabilizing cranks, by converting a free-range state into a national museum requiring travel permits, and by giving the wonder a golden sheen by preventing word of its failures from getting around. An improvement on North Korea but not by all that much. And so the golden era dragged Japan behind behind the rest of the developing world, rusting the national culture's gift for rapid innovation and its leadership in the development of firearms, for example, in the 17th century.

Fortunately some oppressors arrived to mix things up: Perry's Black Ships of 1853 which undertook the infamous American/Japanese equivalent of China's Opium War -- forcing open the economy's virginal drawers, getting hot and bothered and breathing fetid life back into the canned low-oxygen atmosphere. Hitting the socio-economic g-spot and misceginating, baby. In other words, the colonizers despite their initial slaughters (a human artifact of time and circumstance, not a nationally enduring one) were not oppressors even had they wanted to be, but rather accidental emancipators of the oppressed.

These days it's usually traditional indigenous racialism and cultural chauvinism, and not the damage caused by Uncle Sammy's imperial rough housing, which causes failure in Third World nations. Most nations have beautiful legends for their makeover of traditional poverty. It's the same traditions that has patriots crying into their beer over invaders with strange skin tones and guttural dialects operating with the ulterior motive of oppression; as opposed to the bona fides of the leaders, dreamers, and statesmen of their golden ages: feudal lords, barons, and other local worthies on the national tithe (i.e. dole), not to mention anemic inbred emperors and their dandified retainers.

Check out this beatific aspect of justice in the golden era: "When a [farmer's] petition was intercepted or the daimyo took no notice of their complaints they sent their representatives to the capital to present their written complaints to the shogunate. In famous cases they could ensure its delivery only by inserting it into some high officials palanquin when as he rode through the streets of the capital. But, no matter what risks the farmers took in delivering the petition, it was then investigated by the shogunate authorities and about half of the judgments were in favor of the peasants.
Japan's requirements of law and order were not satisfied, however, with the shogunate's judgment on the farmers claims. Their complaints might be just and it might be advisable for the state to honor them. But the peasant leaders had transgressed the strict law of hierarchy. Regardless of any decision in their favor, they had broken the essential law of their allegiance and this could not be overlooked. They were therefore condemned to death. The righteousness of their cause had nothing to do with the matter. Even the peasants accepted this inevitability. The condemned men were their heroes and the people came in numbers to the execution where the leaders were boiled in oil or beheaded or crucified, but at the execution the crowds did not riot. This was law and order. They might afterward build to the dead men shrines and honor them as martyrs, but they accepted the execution as part and parcel of the hierarchical laws by which they lived."

Along the same lines on page 70 and 71, Ruth Benedict writes, "And during two centuries when law and order were maintained in such a world with an iron hand, the Japanese learned to identify this meticulously plotted hierarchy with safety and security. So long as they stayed within known boundaries, and so long as they fulfilled known obligations, they could trust their world. Banditry was controlled. Civil war between the daimyo was prevented.... One trusted the map and was safe only when one followed it. One showed one's courage, one's integrity in conforming to it, not in modifying it or in revolting against it.... Its rules were not abstract ethical principles of the decalogue but tiny specifications of what was due in this situation and what was due in that situation; what was due with one were a samurai and what was do if one were common and; what was proper to elder brother and what was proper to younger brother."

To give you a better idea of how specific the specifications were, check this out from Lafcadio Hearn's Japan, An Attempt at Interpretation: "Where a man's life was legally ordered even to the least particulars,--even to the quality of his foot-gear and head-gear, the cost of his wife's hairpins, and the price of his child's doll,--one could hardly suppose that freedom of speech would have been tolerated. It did not exist; and the degree to which speech became regulated can be imagined only by those who have studied the spoken tongue. The hierarchical organization of society was faithfully reflected in the conventional organization of language.
Of terms corresponding to "you" or "thou" there are still sixteen in use; but formerly there were many more. There are yet eight different forms of the second person singular used only in addressing children, pupils, or servants.[1] Honorific or humble forms of nouns indicating relationship were similarly multiplied and graded: there are still in use nine terms signifying "father," nine terms signifying "mother," eleven terms for "wife," eleven terms for "son," nine terms for "daughter," and seven terms for "husband."
...Against harakiri, as punitive suicide, there was no legislative enactment, for obvious reasons. It would seem that this form of self-destruction was not known to the Japanese in early ages; it may have been introduced from China, with other military customs. The ancient Japanese usually performed suicide by strangulation, as the Nihongi bears witness. It was the military class that established the harakiri as a custom and privilege.
As the military power developed in Japan, the Chinese code of vengeance became universally accepted; and it was sustained by law as well as by custom in later ages. Iyeyasu himself maintained it--exacting only that preliminary notice of an intended vendetta should be given in writing to the district criminal court. The text of his article on the subject is interesting:--
"In respect to avenging injury done to master or father, it is acknowledged by the Wise and Virtuous [Confucius] that you and the injurer cannot live together under the canopy of heaven. A person harbouring such vengeance shall give notice in writing to the criminal court; and although no check or hindrance may be offered to the carrying out of his design within the period allowed for that purpose, it is forbidden that the chastisement of an enemy be attended with riot. Fellows who neglect to give notice of their intended revenge are like wolves of pretext:[1] their punishment or pardon should depend upon the circumstances of the case."

And what did all of this and more lead to? In part, to people with so little freedom to act on their own volition that behavioral aberration and crime and even thought-crime hardly existed. This produced a very interesting spin.

From Lafcadio Hearn: ""Human beings," wrote Motowori, "having been produced by the spirits of the two Creative Deities, are naturally endowed with the knowledge of what they ought to do, and of what they ought to refrain from doing. It is unnecessary for them to trouble their minds with systems of morality. If a system of morals were necessary, men would be inferior to animals,--all of whom are endowed with the knowledge of what they ought to do, only in an inferior degree to men."[1] . . . Mabuchi, at an earlier day, had made a comparison between Japanese and Chinese morality, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. "In ancient times," said Mabuchi, "when men's dispositions were straightforward, a complicated system of morals was unnecessary. It would naturally happen that bad actions might be occasionally committed; but the straightforwardness of men's dispositions would prevent the evil from being concealed and so growing in extent. So in those days it was unnecessary to have a doctrine of right and wrong. But the Chinese, being bad at heart, in spite of the teaching which they got, were good only on the outside; so their bad acts became of such magnitude that society was thrown into disorder. The Japanese, being straightforward, could do without teaching." Motowori repeated these ideas in a slightly different way: 'It is because the Japanese were truly moral in their practice, that, they required no theory of morals; and the fuss made by the Chinese about theoretical morals is owing to their laxity, in practice. . . . To have learned that there is no Way [ethical system] to be learned and practised, is really to have learned to practise the Way of the Gods." At a later day Hirata wrote "Learn to stand in awe of the Unseen, and that will prevent you from doing wrong. Cultivate the conscience implanted in you then you will never wander from the Way."
Though the sociologist may smile at these declarations of moral superiority (especially as based on the assumption that the race had been better in primeval times, when yet fresh from the hands of the gods), there was in them a grain of truth. When Mabuchi and Motowori wrote, the nation had been long subjected to a discipline of almost incredible minuteness in detail, and of extraordinary rigour in application. And this discipline had actually brought into existence a wonderful average of character,--a character of surprising patience, unselfishness, honesty, kindliness, and docility combined with high courage."

And then came traditional volk culture, political fascism, designer emperor worship and more in the wake of the FDR and Brain Trust socialist bungling which manufactured America's worst economic collapse (consisting of the only two successive crashes the US economy has ever witnessed, though this was the sort of performance communist countries were well acquainted with, and just as confused by). Rolling through the 1930's, all cultural hell broke loose in Japan as the traditional pre-1853 cultural and behavioral norms were revived, such as political assassinations and military subordination in the name of the emperor (both had cachet and were popular) . And soon foreign adventures would plunge unwitting foreigners into a new Japanese pariah class where they were held to impossible 18th century standards and took a real kicking and much, much worse. Interesting stuff when viewed from the security of the 21st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive