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

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Parting comment on Ian Buruma's excellent Inventing Japan

MacArthur’s remark in 1951, that in terms of modern civilization the Japanese were like a 12 year old boy, was typical of his thinking. The context of this remark, made to a joint committee in the US Senate, is worth repeating. MacArthur is comparing Japan to Germany. The Germans, he said, where a “mature race.” The Japanese were still in “a very tuitionary condition.” Science, culture, and religion were as highly developed in Germany as in other Western nations. The Nazi poison could be drained from German society without changing German culture, which had after all produced Luther, Beethoven, and Goethe. The Nazi regime had been a perversion of German culture, its leaders had acted brutally in a deliberate attempt to dominate the world. The Germans did not have to be tutored in the ways of another civilization. (MacArthur did not mean this as a complement; in his view the Germans were all the more despicable because they should’ve known better.) The Japanese, on the other hand, had behaved like the children they were. They had, in MacArthur’s version of events, “stumbled” into militarism because they didn’t know any better. This also implied that the Japanese, in the immature state, were still flexible enough to improve under firm and fair guidance. (Page 133)

Ian Buruma does not seem to agree with this assessment of Macarthur’s, perhaps due to multiculturalism, but I have to wonder if there’s not actually quite a bit that Mac got right. One doesn’t emerge from feudalism into a modern, fully developed democracy overnight has in Buruma has plainly demonstrated. The sort of sincere pure-spirited suicidal assassins that he mentions seem like something out of the dark ages or out of an early Muslim era whose zealots gave the English language the word assassin. This plus the barbarism of the war, the factionalism, emperor worship, etc. Unless we play politically correct games and accept that my ancestors in skins worshipping druid gods and torching human sacrifices in wicker cages were mature civilizations on par with the maturity of the developed nations of today, then we might as well call a spade a spade. As such, I don’t have any problem with Mac’s saying the Japanese were immature as a civilization then. No doubt, this remains accurate even today. As it is with regard to China which is held together by the PRC regime (thus preventing a potentially dreadful civil war and economic collapse) but also held back by the regime intellectually and institutionally thus keeping the nation’s civilization in a state of enforced immaturity.

An example of this in modern day Japan is the decision-making by consensus, a feature that appeals to the peaceably minded as civilized and harmonious. But actually it’s a reflection of retarded (i.e. immature or undeveloped) decision-making skills. Thus, the seemingly endless series of Japanese prime ministers over the years faulted for being spineless and incapable of either forming decisions or sticking to them. Surely this is the product of a socio-cultural construct: a traditional responsibility-dodging slave mindset (Taiwan has this in spades) featuring the remarkable absence of its opposite in the political sphere, the master mindset. It would appear (and I claim nothing but ignorance about Japanese elections) as if Japanese voters do not support Alpha male candidates and, given that the national culture produces an overwhelming majority of citizens with a slave mentality (a comment the more perceptive Chinese writers have labeled the Chinese with for a century or more), Japanese democracy is incapable of functioning efficiently. This I would guess is perhaps because the elected representatives of the majority slave-mentality citizenry are themselves too timid and herd-like to forge decisions. I suspect that consensus is never forged either. Too active a verb. Too aggressive a word-picture. More like consensus appears by default by virtue of the players giggling or peeking at everyone else and playing a game of political musical chairs, trying not to be the odd one out; like fish shoaling or sheep flocking together, correctly presuming that for the meek to inherit the earth, safety lies in numbers. I’ve seen this in action first-hand in Taiwan. And I’ve been guilty of it myself. It puts a new spin on Mencken’s definition of a politician as an animal that sits on a fence and yet has both ears to the ground.

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