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Life Arts    H3'ed 4/12/09

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 financial 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.

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The author has lived 38 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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