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Confucianism and the Impact of Sociopathy, Part II

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Japan has been called an "economic animal" for behaviors Milton Friedman surely would have been pleased by. On the other hand, the pure economic model he preached would have eluded him here like a will-o-the-wisp. Japan has its own peculiar way of participating enthusiastically in the schemes of the global elite while at the same time remaining stubbornly unchanged in ways that benefit its own citizenry. There is a good deal of inertia built into its culture, and it has developed resistance techniques that would be good to know in our modern age because they were born from the years of living under perhaps the cleverest tyrants the world has ever seen: the Tokugawa regime, whose 260-some-odd-year grip on power served as a model to Stalin.

The Soviet Union failed to achieve anything close to that record of longevity. In fact, that degree of stability itself suggests to me that the Tokugawas were not sociopaths at all, their ruthless, bloodthirsty tactics notwithstanding. Any hint of rebellion, including the influence of Christianity, was immediately and resoundingly crushed. Despite the regime's iron fist (or perhaps because of it) peace reigned and culture flourished during that period of Japan's history. It would be wrong to assume that tyrants are all necessarily sociopaths.

Currently, one of the chief advantages of living in Japan I find is that it provides a satisfying, comfortable work environment with considerably less inter-personal stress than in America. My education and experience, for example, make me a valued professional in Japan, while in the US, friends with similar qualifications are nothing but a resource to be used and discarded, if recognized at all. (See "How Japan's Other Hybrid Can Save American Jobs." Thanks to Starla Immak for the quicklink!)

Friend after friend of mine in America worked hard for abusive drug-addict bosses who goofed around while their subordinates took responsibility and lost their jobs when trouble occurred. To cultivate hope of a better life, these friends turned to direct marketing and other get-rich schemes, but progress eluded them. The shy ones studied an American variety of "assertiveness." Though I realize that ideally it is an expression of maturity, what I saw struck me as mostly cultivation of aggressive self-interest. What they call "chutzpah," in particular, appears to mean the ability to grab things of value for oneself or one's clique with no regard to how that affects others. It seems to be a highly positive term, akin to "guts." Is it really a sign of maturity? Anyway, I've never seen it used in reference to people who put their lives on the line to defend the powerless. There, the simple word "courage" seems to suffice.

Robert Kiyosaki, who wrote "Rich Dad Poor Dad," on how to succeed in America's modern capitalistic system, emphasized that anyone who wanted to achieve economic freedom needed to learn to sell. By this, he meant not only hawking goods for a company, but persuading others of ones own value in society. I agree with him and think this would be valuable everywhere, though the tactics will differ. His "Poor Dad," who happened to be his real father, was an idealistic educator who had inherited Japanese ethics from his ancestors. An open-minded man, he tried to apply his successful son's skills, but couldn't manage to break out of his old way of thinking. Feudal Japan had been so inimical to capitalism it designated merchants fourth class citizens and made knowledge of accounting something no samurai would admit to without shame. My husband shuns people who "keep accounts," i.e., scheme to get as much from a relationship as they give. I admire Kiyosaki for saying that the poor receive a lousy, self-defeating financi
al education (e.g., your house is an "asset" so go into serious debt and buy an enormous one). He tried to free people from an unacknowledged form of slavery, and through his generosity, I believe he lived up to his father's ethics. 

He points out that a formal education will not lead to wealth in these times, which he calls the "Information Age," as opposed to the "Industrial Age," in which education and hard work were the keys to success. The high-paced flow of data makes a formal education obsolete in a short time. Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad," actually his friend's father, had only a high school education but he cultivated an awareness of the real rules governing business. 

In the Preface to "Snakes in Suits," Babiak and Hare echo Kiyosaki's observation in noting that the corporate takeovers, mergers and breakups starting from the 70s led to social and financial upheaval and a more free-form, faster paced organizational environment, which became the norm in the 90s. They say: 

"Unfortunately, the general state of confusion that change brings to any situation can make psychopathic personality traits-the appearance of confidence, strength and calm-often look like the answer to the organization's problems... Egocentricity, callousness and insensitivity suddenly became acceptable trade-offs in order to get the talents and skills needed to survive in an accelerated dispassionate business world." 

They say furthermore that psychopaths find the new environment inviting. During the same years, Japan attempted to keep up with trends in globalization and was persuaded to relax some of its rules.

An Internet service provider called "Livedoor" was founded as a web consultancy in 1995 by the charismatic, controversial Takafumi Horie (reminiscent of probable sociopath, case B, whom I describe below). It was de-listed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2006 pursuant to a scandal involving securities law violations. Its stock price plunged and its leaders, including Horie, were jailed. Because some of its investors were large corporations, there was some hope of government intervention and a few savvy investors bought up shares at bargain prices only to be disappointed. The government considered equity investments to have an inherent risk of loss. Ethics trumped cronyism. 

In any society, there will be situations in which sociopaths (I use this term inclusive of "sociopaths and psychopaths" indicating varying types or degrees of the disorder) tend to feel more comfortable and congregate in greater numbers than usual. In Japan, I have witnessed greater tendencies toward sociopathic behavior among participants in adventure sports, among human rights advocates and in situations where many foreigners congregate. Adventure sports would appeal to the reportedly stronger need sociopaths have for stimulation. Advocates are working with victims undergoing change and stress--easy pickings for sociopaths; and foreigners are less critical of unusual behavior and may even be favorable to sociopathic thought if they are from countries less critical of it than Japan. 

In Japan, sociopaths may also pursue careers in politics or the media, especially TV, or take advantage of the authority conferred by religion. Some may turn to the underworld, but while the latter engages in plainly illegal activities, Japan's Yakuza bosses take pride in traditions and keep strict control over their members, and it is especially there that Confucian ethics is emphasized.My husband says a sociopath would not get very far in that world. (At least not with all his fingers intact.*) 

In the following examples of possibly sociopathic individuals and apparently ponerogenic unions in Japan, I have made a strong effort to conceal the identities of the individuals involved, because first, I lack the qualifications to diagnose this set of disorders and second, even given that, innuendo about suspected individuals could ruin their or others' lives. The ones who broke the law are now in jail. 'Nuff said. Thus I have created analogous stories that illustrate only the most important distinctions of the people and unions I witnessed, with the context intact only to the degree I deemed relevant. In essence I created a total fiction with some basis in observed anonymous cases. My apologies right off to anyone who knows more about jet-skiing than I. 

Cases A and B were individuals who partook in the passively elegant art of jet-skiing. They were prominent members of two clubs with different jetties along the shore of the same lake. Both wanted to be king of the lake and to spend their entire life roaring around the lake in style. They took two different approaches. 

Case A was one of the earliest members of Club A. He never aspired openly to leadership, but was a long-standing honorary "advisor" because he had made an agreement with the owner of the jetty that the rental contract would go through him exclusively and also because there were a lot of jet-skiers who agreed with his laissez-faire attitude. They were there to get away from the world of rules and just be themselves. Of Mr. A, my husband sighs and says, "He will be a lonely man." I doubt Mr. A is capable of that emotion. 

Club A used to be the finest jet-skiing club in Japan, with the highest standards for entry and the strictest rules to ensure safety. It initially had two strong leaders, who recognized Mr. A as the biggest threat to the club, but they couldn't oust him because of the contract agreement. Subsequently one retired and went abroad and the other was gradually overwhelmed by pressure from the laissez-faire crowd until he had to resign on account of failing health. Now Club A is a shadow of its former self, the best members having left after being forced to take responsibility for others' mistakes and misdeeds. 

The big festival they held on the lake each August has been permanently cancelled because of an embarrassing accident in which a visitor nearly died of exposure after crashing on the far shore and being forgotten and left alone all night. Anyone who attempts to enforce the club's rules becomes unpopular and is subjected to bullying. Mr. A never owned a car nor rented an apartment. At the lake, he stayed at a club member's summer home. He never paid the suggested fee and the owner, who was unhappy about this, couldn't make him pay nor get him to stay elsewhere. He never cleaned up after himself, relying on his "girlfriend" or others to do this. When this was not sufficient, he would lie about others' habits. He inspired similar behavior in others around him. 

Mr. A never aspired to any form of career advancement, but was contented to just get by. He resided in company housing until retirement and then moved back into his parents' house. He lacked good looks, but was nonetheless confident, optimistic and charismatic. I must note that I, in fact, still like him despite recognizing his severe limitations. He is eminently pleasant. 

His "girlfriend" would drive him to the lake, where he kept the brand newest hottest jet-ski on the lake in a rented storage unit. Once he arrived, he would take off on his jet-ski for an exploration of the far shore of the lake and we would only see glimpses of him again until dusk. Some areas of the lake are off limits to jet-skis in order to protect other users. Mr. A is one of the jet-skiers who's been photographed crossing through them. Club A refuses to enforce its own rules on such infractions, because everybody just wants to have fun. (Actually, there has been a deep split of opinion, with the laissez faire-side winning out and the other side warning of disaster, but being ignored.) When the police show up again--there was already a fatal accident at the lake involving a jet-skier colliding with a windsurfer (the jet-skier died)--all Club A can do is show them the photographic evidence and hope throwing the bums out will suffice rather than banning jet-skis at the lake, the most likely outcome.

Mr. A was the eldest son in his family and by tradition was groomed to become head of the family, but they realized early on that he was not suited to any form of responsibility, so the honor went to his younger brother. It is said that when his father lay dying, Mr. A was out jet-skiing. When his "girlfriend" hit a cable and was nearly drowned, he was nearby, but ignored the event. He wasn't even curious to see if she had survived. His "girlfriend" had suffered a metabolic condition in childhood that left a faint mark on her features and made her subject to bullying at school. In later life, her "flaw" made her unmarriageable. She remains Mr. A's "girlfriend" despite the one-sided nature of the relationship. She is certain she would never find another. 

Mr. A continues to participate actively in what remains of Club A. About half of the club recognizes his attitude as a serious problem, but as long as he himself causes no accidents there is not much they can do but tolerate him. There may be less visible sociopaths among the half that supports him, but I think most are simply naive and don't recognize the way he has ruined the club and recklessly endangered the safety of everyone involved by promoting a scofflaw attitude. 

My husband says what tipped off most of his detractors to him early on was his lack of following protocol, a chief virtue stressed under Confucianism. In Japan, "protocol" can be extremely complicated, but basically it means showing gratitude to people who have done you a favor and maintaining harmony in society. Mr. A seems blithely unaware of others' favors. Because Mr. A never actually broke an enforced law nor exceeded other limits of toleration (he is probably studiously aware of where the line is drawn), Club A leaders had to limit the damage by talking to the other members of the club individually and persuading them as much as possible of the necessity of rules. 

The abetting factors in Mr. A's case were some degree of latent sociopathic influence within Club A, probably because the exciting sport draws that type of person (in addition to others who take responsibility), and a taboo on discussing negative personality traits of others (probably taboo everywhere), which hobbled those whose background in Confucian ethics gave them an awareness of Mr. A's undesirable attitude.

I think this type of case is actually very common in Japan. The society and workplace are structured to give slackers a place they can just get by without getting in the way or getting into trouble. On the weekend, they go off and raise hell somewhere, and this is tolerated within certain limits. In hard times, these slackers are the first to lose their jobs. In the past, they were likely to be ostracized from their communities and left to fend for themselves. This and the practice of arranged marriages, in which adults with more experience and wisdom chose marriage partners for their children, probably did a lot to limit the reproductive success of sociopaths and may be one reason for the lower rate of occurrence Martha Stout ("The Sociopath Next Door") reported for Japan. 

Anyone who lived in Japan in the 80s and early 90s will remember sleepless nights as hordes of punks on motorcycles roared up and down every major thoroughfare. Japan tolerated this amazingly well for year after year, until finally someone persuaded the police to crack down on it. Confucian thought stresses the creation of harmony in society by having well-defined roles for everyone. I guess this is how they deal with some of the sociopaths, by giving them a place and an outlet, and the Yakuza help deal with some of the more ambitious ones. And then there are some who are just not satisfied with those options. 

Club A had the foresight and fortitude to oust case B a couple of years before the police showed up to question all his acquaintances because he'd been arrested on suspicion of murder. He denies this from his jail cell to this day, but few outside his closest family members believe him. The members of his own club considered him capable of such. The evidence was circumstantial, but nonetheless overwhelming. 

The motive was clear--a loan being called in. The murderer took steps to obscure the identity of the victim and time of death. He'd gotten unlucky because someone discovered the body very soon afterward when the trail leading to Mr. B was still fresh. 

Like Mr. A, Mr. B was adept at getting others to support him. Unlike Mr. A, however, he was not happy biding his time at a simple job waiting for the weekend. He was more ambitious. His first step was to organize a club, which started out as a clique within another club, Club C at the same lake as Club A. Club C has since devoted itself entirely to windsurfing and banned jet-skis from its jetty and surrounding area. Similar to Mr. A's supporters, Mr. B's clique detested rules. By the time Club C ousted them, they had evolved into quite a pack of bullies, who would park their cars blocking traffic and leave their equipment in the way of others while they went off together to have lunch. 

After their ouster, they went down the shore a little way and built a spanking new jetty that was the envy of everyone else on the lake and at other lakes as well. As the newly formed Club B, they roared about the lake, ignoring all traffic rules and causing so many accidents it was astounding no one died (at least not at first). Club C meanwhile had lost many of its jet-skiers to Club B while picking up many more wind surfers in a boom engendered by Japan's faltering economy, as sportsmen downgraded. They urged their remaining jet-skiers to go to either Club A or Club B.

Everywhere I have traveled, jet-ski clubs have been roughly the same: a mob of happy-go-lucky partiers there to have fun and leaders with furrowed brows and no sense of humor from having to enforce rules. Club B stood out as different. They were open to anyone and had no rules. No rules, that is, until you crossed Mr. B. Then the rule was "watch your back." He had a really scary side that he would show to just a few people. Everyone else thought he was a real sugar daddy, so trying to warn them was pointless. Of him, my husband says, "Poor guy. No one did him the favor of teaching him a harsh lesson when he was young." From what I've read about sociopaths, though, I reckon it would have been as effective as punishing a cat. 

Club B took in all the Club A rejects. They buzzed the windsurfers near Club C's jetty, which had gotten seriously crowded with new members. This is said to have once resulted in a smash-up involving twelve wind surfers and one jet-ski, which clipped the first wind surfer's board, who then ran into two other wind surfers and on down the line, with everyone recovering, except unlucky thirteen, who ran into the rocks near the jetty. As there were no injuries, most laughed it off as a joke, but this really encouraged Club B to do more of the same, even when Club C banned jet-skis from a clearly defined area near its jetty after the fatality involving a jet-skier from Club B, which prompted the police to take action. This action included closure of Club B's fancy jetty to jet-skis, because it was too near Club C's jetty, and removal of Club B's jet-skiers to a smaller jetty owned by Club A for use by visiting non-members. 

Mr. B had been trying to turn his club into a profitable business by encouraging wind surfers to join and use their fancy facilities. They had a big clubhouse with a restaurant, bathhouse and on-site jet-ski storage. Mr. B drove a BMW and swaggered a lot. Everyone knew, though, that he was up to his eyeballs in debt because he owed a lot of his club members money he intended to repay "someday." A lot of somedays came and went, and not a few Club B members came to my husband to complain to someone with a sympathetic point of view. 

One of these was owed a large amount that had gone into the big jetty that currently only wind surfers had access to. He'd given up on ever seeing his money again and was contemplating a lawsuit, something rarely considered in Japan, where people attempt amicable agreements or just simple forgiveness. He was sick and tired of seeing Mr. B get away with it. While my husband and I were away for a few weeks, he committed suicide under circumstances that leave us all wondering. His burnt out car was found with his remains inside far away from any place we ever knew him to frequent. 

Mr. B had paid the first year's rent on his club's lake-shore site plus a site at a smaller lake and then failed to pay rent after that for more than a decade. In Japan, the law favors renters, and landlords have trouble collecting and evicting. Especially in rural areas, many think they have no recourse at all. These people will never see their money. 

While there is strong resistance to the advancement of sociopaths in Japanese society, which I will describe in more detail later, once sociopaths acquire power over people, the Japanese are much more helpless and vulnerable to their manipulations. This is what led them down the unhappy road to World War II.

Club B members would receive calls from Mr. B's landlord in Tokyo inquiring about past-due rent on his luxury apartment. The Tokyo landlords knew that the trick was to harass the renter and his acquaintances persistently. After a while, Mr. B would leave that apartment and go pay the requisite three-to-four months rent in advance on a new place and live there rent-free until the calls became too embarrassing. No registration fees were paid on the club's fleet of vans, as one driver found out when the police stopped him. Thus Club B members were acutely aware of Mr. B's financial troubles and they had all heard rumors of his scary side. Nonetheless, they just ignored these signs. They were a rat pack. 

Mr. B had taken up dealerships in several makes of jet-skis. He'd sell as many as he could while owing the manufacturers larger and larger sums, until they quit delivering; then he'd switch to a different company. On a particularly windy day, a fire broke out in some garbage near Club A's jet-ski storage shed and incinerated it along with its contents. Many of Club A's members then turned to Mr. B to purchase new jet-skis. Later, a fire broke out in one of Club B's jet-ski storage sheds, with less costly results. 

Meanwhile Club B along with some Club A members continued flouting the rules. Of the resulting accidents, Mr. B would say, "In any collision, both parties are equally to blame." On the surface, it sounded to many like a good rule of thumb. Everyone should be alert. In practice, though, this favored the scofflaws, who took delight in running other jet-skiers into the rocks as the latter followed the rules in an attempt to avoid a collision. 

One Club A member, aware of the situation, gathered evidence and wrote an expose on Club B, naming Mr. B as the biggest culprit. That writer woke up one cool autumn night to see a nasty glow in his kitchen and found a fish tank heating element plugged in and left on the wooden table, set for 16 degrees (60 F). A few other unseemly incidents finally resulted in pressure for Mr. B's ouster from Club A, where he had been a joint member. Club B started out explicitly as a group of scofflaws, thus it fits Lobaczewski's ("Political Ponerology") definition of a primary ponerogenic union: one that starts out with evil purposes. It was successful owing to the genius of Mr. B and the famous patience of the Japanese.

The whole world could see what was going on. In these cases, as in the case of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that gassed Tokyo's subways, most of the people in the vicinity know what is happening, but are powerless to stop it. Few try to approach the police or initiate lawsuits. The police are typically unresponsive at first. They collect evidence that they can use to build a strong case against the group later on, but in the meantime, there are a lot of victims. This was the response of people within Club A, too. Hobbled by the need for harmony and compromise within Club A with members who liked Messrs. A and B, the leaders took to collecting evidence and ultimately cooperated with the police in prosecuting Mr. B. 

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*A Yakuza member who has broken rules shows penitence by cutting off his little finger. This ritual is supposed to be voluntary, but in reality a great deal of force may be involved. People with multiple fingers missing are to be feared. 

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Note: I have been unable to post replies to individual comments, so please look for my responses further below.

 

The author has lived 30 years in Japan. She has also spent time in Siberia, where she led ecotours for Friends of the Earth Japan. She is fluent in Japanese and Russian, and also speaks Indonesian, Thai and Spanish. She loves nature and is an (more...)
 

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I just read a bit about “Political Ponerolog... by Rady Ananda on Sunday, Apr 12, 2009 at 12:48:24 AM
This has been on my mind a lot too. The subject o... by Oh on Sunday, Apr 12, 2009 at 4:55:56 AM