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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/10/09

Confucianism and the Impact of Sociopathy, Part III

Message Patricia 0rmsby
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Part III―Serpents in Paradise

Japanese society has many ways of discouraging sociopathic behavior.  Confucian philosophy specifies individuals’ roles in society with the goal of achieving stability and harmony.  Individuality is suppressed.  Perhaps everyone is familiar with stories of groups of Japanese dressed nearly identically ordering the same item at a restaurant.  (My husband explains it makes it easier for the restaurant staff and avoids the frustration of some people receiving more food than others.)  The Japanese turn consideration into an art.  Throughout society, people attempt to anticipate what others will need and provide it before being asked.  As a foreigner, I’m all thumbs but aspire to cultivate that amazing ability.

Seniority takes precedence throughout the society, and a young hot shot will find that he must bide his time, learn how his elders make the system run smoothly and prove his loyalty by enduring a thousand and one insults. Furthermore, even after he or she acquires a leadership position, it is not the easy life we might aspire to.  Perquisites are frowned upon.  A leader in Japan is required to take responsibility for a group of people that expects to be indulged in return for their cooperation.  Foreigners I’ve known who have led eco-tours of Japanese overseas swear it off after a few tries.  What awaits them as leader is the expectation that they will give absolute priority to the people under their care.  The leader has last choice in all things.  If he receives a gift from a host family, for example, he must give that gift to the group to be used as they see fit (though he has the option of choosing a suitable recipient).  The leader must constantly respond to requests and complaints--and they are constant.  He or she is responsible for everyone else’s comfort, safety and enjoyment.  If the schedule says there will be a chance to swim, for example, the leader must remind each person not to forget his or her swimsuit.  The trip must conform to the schedule with a leeway of 30 minutes--try that in a developing country!  If the bus breaks down, it’s the leader’s fault for failing to plan right. If none of the banks can exchange the tour money because of a financial snafu, the leader takes the blame for not knowing the right bank to approach.

In return for all this hassle, the leader acquires the power to make decisions affecting the group and some amount of respect and admiration (if he or she meets expectations). Most of his or her expenses are covered.  Everyone I know would rather pay their own way and be free to enjoy the trip. (Japan’s Emperor is an example of a successful leader in this sense. Hirohito described it as a “golden cage.”)

This is what Mr. B had to put up with (in Part II). He had a thick skin and dealt with complaints and requests mostly by ignoring them.  Before the law caught up with him, his ambition had netted him a fancy car, a small degree of prestige and leadership over a jet-skiing club with a nasty reputation.  He did not get to enjoy jet-skiing as much as the clever Mr. A, who eschewed overt leadership.  Worse than that, Mr. B’s in jail.

There is a paradox in Japan of what could be called “hierarchical adherence” because roles are so established and people play them so willingly, and by contrast, a deeply egalitarian ethos, in which any display of ostentation is abhorred (unless everyone can participate in it) and hierarchical differences are downplayed.  The exceptions I’ve seen have typically been flamboyant underworld characters who took advantage of Japan’s rapid economic growth to enrich themselves at the expense of corporations while buying the loyalty of politicians, and a few spoiled urban housewives whose shopping sprees were featured on TV, with the apparent hope of evoking envy and emulation.

In Saving the Sun (2003, Harper Business, New York), Gillian Tett describes how Japan’s Long Term Credit Bank was ruined by one such gangster (Harunori Takahashi, an “entrepreneur”), who took out loans to buy luxury real estate overseas at fantastic prices.  The bank was revived by adopting Western banking practices.  The book’s jacket reads, “(the Western Bankers) too openly scorned Japanese capitalism and its paramount interest in social harmony over pure profit.  …a profound rift still exists between Japan and the rest of the world…the Japanese press, government, and people have all but turned against the idea of American-style capitalism.  Indeed, instead of reforming Japan, the banking crisis may have convinced ordinary Japanese more than ever before, that they must go it alone.”

I’ve been told that typically when a company gains too much attention for success, gangsters show up and demand positions for relatives and friends within the company in return for “protection.”  These parasites can drain a company’s resources to exhaustion.  There is said to be little recourse or preventive action except to maintain a low profile.

Mr. B’s ilk are apparently quite common.  Gillian notes on page 33, “Japanese contended with a host of scrappy operators with little respect for the law.  Thus, though most shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange were locked up in the hands of passive banks with keiretsu ties or other dependent companies, a group of small-time companies and speculators existed who regarded equity as a tool for gambling or extortion--or both. Unable to curb the instinct of ruthless, free competition, the government had inadvertently pushed it to the margins of society, the tightly entwined political and gangster worlds had an edge over the law in the stock market.”

I note that while they exist at the margins of society, considering what has happened in America where such influences have been encouraged to become mainstream, with Ronald Reagan’s “greed is good” mantra as an example, isn’t this at least some improvement?  The more I investigate this phenomenon, the more impressed I am with the destructive power of sociopathy.  Gangsterism is going to be a part of our world as long as sociopathy and similar psychological deficits exist.  The debate needs to be on what the best way is to deal with the problem; attempts to harness that force have clearly failed.

That sociopaths have infiltrated Japan’s iron triangle of bureaucracy, business and politics is beyond a doubt.  People are chafing under the failures of Japan’s leaders.  Cozy deals were tolerated much better in the 1980s when the whole country benefited and 90% of Japanese considered themselves “middle class.”  I suppose the best I can say for Japan’s leadership is that there is hope that they will buffer the impact of the current economic crisis on workers. Namihei Odaira described a recent initiative to help laid-off workers obtain compensation and find a place in society, and one of my sources has mentioned a proposal by the Japanese government to solve the unemployment crisis by helping the urban unemployed reestablish themselves as farmers in under-populated rural areas.  This would be a rational, reasonable, future-oriented policy if Japan can find a way to make it work (would the WTO tolerate it?), and it suggests to me that Japan has not been overwhelmed by a sociopathic overclass, as seems so much the case right now in America (though perhaps “overwhelmed by a sociopathic underclass” would be an apt description.)

To some degree, feudal era ideals still influence Japanese society, with some romanticism in popular media.  The Tokugawa regime espoused Buddhism and made some attempt to live up to those lofty ideals.  Their very human failure in this regard led eventually to their decline and downfall, a temporary repudiation of Buddhism during the Meiji Restoration and the ascendancy of State Shinto thereafter through the end of World War II. Click here. One of the hallmarks of the Tokugawas’ rule was the division of Japan into four main classes, with the samurai warriors putting themselves at the top, with the farmers next, followed by the artisans, and the merchants at the bottom.  (There was also an outcaste class of undertakers―the burakumin.)  This was a deliberate attempt to suppress the corrupting influence of money.  It eventually failed.  The merchants were required to hide all signs of wealth in public, but in private they would display these ostentatiously.  A poor samurai family could find relief by inviting a rich merchant’s son to marry into their family, taking his wife’s name (the practice of gaining a son through marriage was common―my husband’s father was an example―and the open concept of the “household” in Japan served as the basis for development of Japanese corporations). They would receive money in exchange for influence.  Furthermore, as the above Wikipedia reference points out, the farmers discovered they could sell their land for wealth, thus destabilizing the system further.  America’s “shock and awe” tactics in the form of Commodore Perry’s black ships bombarding the Izu Peninsula and steaming into Tokyo Bay in the 1850s, were the final push, convincing Japan that it needed to modernize to compete with the “barbarians.”

The oligarchs who succeeded the Tokugawas were idealists inspired by traditional practices of Imperial rule, in which the Emperor performed as a high priest and the ministers governed in his name.  The ministry became a meritocracy in a sincere attempt to achieve the Confucian ideal of a wise, inspired, non-hereditary rulership.  The results have been disappointing. The elite graduates of Tokyo University, from which the bureaucrats are drawn, typically had to study useless trivia throughout their childhood at “cram schools” to the exclusion of all other considerations, including developing social skills, in order to enter those hallowed halls.  They are often the victims of ambitious “education mamas,” who push their children to achieve the near impossible out of a sense of vanity.  The result is a bureaucracy that has been described as a “boys club,” as these poor guys finally undergo experiences they should have had in childhood and adolescence and relieve their pent-up frustrations by indulging in selfish and sometimes oafish behavior.  They exhibit clear misogynistic tendencies (in this author’s experience) and insensitivity toward victims, especially those of their grandiose public works projects (there are literally dozens of cases, but the seawall at Isahaya Bay opened many people’s eyes to the destructiveness).  On the other hand, the rigors of bureaucratic life, which excluded women for many years because of a law prohibiting women from working late night (late nights are a hallmark of the bureaucracy), would discourage even the most determined sociopath.  The angry public has recently put pressure on the government to end the shameful practice of allowing retiring bureaucrats to “descend from heaven” to cushy corporate positions in return for bureaucratic favors.  One such ex-bureaucrat I knew leaned back in his comfortable chair and slept there all day.  People observing him said he did no work.  None.

Observing certain Japanese corporations, one sees some sociopathic behavior there (Ajinomoto has been highlighted recently), though the stable structure of these corporations also discourages sociopathic advancement.  Babiak And Hare in Snakes in Suits (2006, Harper Business) argued that corporations could behave sociopathically independent of the presence of sociopaths among their staff.  One could make a case that the current legal system in America encourages or even mandates corporate dishonesty and unfair practices.  To compete internationally then other companies would have to adopt such practices.

In Japan, the unchecked external influence of gangsters is another clear cause of undesirable corporate behavior.  Financial institutions have been particularly vulnerable, as have medical institutions.  In 1989 just prior to the bursting of Japan’s “Bubble Economy” I was teaching English to a group of five brokers, and jokingly brought up a new securities scandal involving favors to politicians.  All five faces blanched.  After a moment of embarrassed silence I realized I’d hit a taboo--all of my students were deeply involved in similar illegal deals against their will.  When the stock market later crashed the disillusionment among Japan’s citizens with the securities industry was so great that most never returned to the stock market.  They’d learned their Confucian lesson:  work for your living.  I think it is one reason the TSE never recovered to the levels of the “bubble years.”

My husband also points to Daiwa Securities Co., one of Japan’s three main brokerages, which he says was driven into bankruptcy and abandoned by its reckless leaders, much like Enron, leaving loyal workers holding the bag.  I have been unable to obtain information on how their upper ranks were infiltrated, but Japan was under pressure to adopt westernized procedures and it faithfully underwent a deregulation called “the Big Bang.”  My impression is that people within the brokerages were particularly eager to try risky innovations.  Because their business of promising money for nothing is seen in Japan as inherently immoral (the tax code spells it out: your winnings are ours, and your losses are yours) they may have felt less bound by Confucian morality all along.

As regards Ajinomoto, which as a corporation has exhibited sociopathic behavior abroad, it is seen in Japan as no more problematic than a tobacco company--a supplier for a popular unhealthy addiction.  If it were to engage in anything more nefarious than that within Japan, the public would talk, so I think it is living up to the image of a good corporate citizen in Japan.  Abroad, Ajinomoto is suing opponents to its sales of aspartame, many of whom are victims of aspartame poisoning, in a tactic reminiscent of Monsanto’s.  Resorting to lawsuits would be considered scandalous in Japan, where negotiation and amicable agreements are the norm (and the Yakuza may be called in if that fails).  As Ajinomoto operates internationally, it may be influenced by competition with other companies who engage in such bullying behavior.

At the same time, the entire field of medicine in Japan has been badly corrupted to the point where people attempting to inform the public of health care options more affordable and humane than the standard have been killed together with their families in gangland-style shootings.  (To name my sources here would be to endanger them further.  They speak of a “Medical Mafia.”)  The one negative outcome of Japan’s socialized health care system has been a guarantee of money from the government for expensive procedures such as dialysis, which creates pressure for fraudulent diagnoses and withholding of other forms of care.

Karel van Wolferen in The Enigma of Japanese Power (1989)* also brought up the issue of abortion as the preferred means of birth control because of its profitability.  The bureaucrats justify this with the fatuous claim that birth control pills would cause women to lower their moral standards.  In Japan there still exists a lamentable feudalistic throwback that women are incapable of comprehending morality.  A few women take advantage of this attitude to act weak and selfishly, justifying and exacerbating the misconception.  Confucianism and Buddhism both arrived in Japan with such baggage from the war-torn mainland, but people have noted (recently in an NHK special series on Confucianism) that Confucianism can be updated to reflect modern knowledge.  Confucius clearly never intended his word to be the final one.  He encouraged study of classics and observation of society.  Regarding Buddhism, prior to his death, the Buddha was teaching that women were morally equal to men; however, his earlier teachings found a more receptive audience in various male-dominated societies.

I thus conclude that suppression of sociopathy in Japan has not achieved an ideal society by any means.  I still believe it deserves some measure of admiration.  In seeking stability and harmony the Japanese make themselves vulnerable to evils they have identified, because slowness to change is a disadvantage when clever criminals quickly find loopholes. This is true everywhere.  The study of ponerology may offer a chance for Japan to take its endeavor one step further by refining its already useful ancient knowledge of sociopathic influences and finding more effective ways of dealing with them.  Ideally they would aim for a society in which sociopathy is identified but not persecuted, because if it is innate and immutable, it would be morally reprehensible to the majority of citizens to cause those individuals to suffer.  Mr. A is a nice person if you can accept his severe limitations; Mr. B I’d keep an eye on.  Unfortunately, because of his actions, he belongs in custody.

In the next part of my series, I will describe a case in which some persons with sociopathic and characteropathic tendencies attempted to hijack a humanistic organization in Japan with the intent of satisfying their urges for power and prestige under a facade of decency (in what Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology(2006, Red Pill Press) calls a “secondary ponerogenic union”), and how they have thus far been thwarted.  The similarities between what I witnessed and what Lobaczewski described in how such a union is established were so striking I was writing initials of various participants in the margins of his book.  Despite the enormous cultural gap between Europe and Japan, the ponerogenic processes appear to operate the same.

Moreover, in a recent subscribers issue of Counterpunch (Vol. 16, No. 7) Pam Martens describes the game-plan of the “Free-State Project” to take over the state of New Hampshire by force and create a laissez-faire society reminiscent of the wishes of Messrs. A and B and the gangsterish primary ponerogenic union, Club B, which I described in Part II. Among the goals of the “Free-State Project” are freedom from most laws including planning and zoning ordinances, building inspections and all other forms of the “Nanny State.”  They don’t want anyone interfering in what they can do on their private property.  They want to be free to engage in what they consider “victimless acts among consenting adults” which include dueling, gambling, incest, price gouging and cannibalism.  If they cannot see how such acts victimize others, they are clearly missing certain psychological capacities, such as empathy―the deficit of which defines sociopathy, though some of the younger members may merely be naively influenced by sociopaths and experimenting with such attractive, but ultimately, for them, unnatural attitudes and behaviors.

New Hampshire regards them as they would a plague of locusts.  Martens says, “The test for New Hampshire is to remain tolerant while effectively defending itself against an invading army using the buzzwords of ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ while conducting a campaign of harassment and intimidation.” It sounds a lot like the test Japan has been facing.  The “Free-State Project” has noted that its initial strong-arm tactics have been a public relations fiasco and is now seeking to go mainstream, get elected and chip away at established society by gutting funding (in other words, the primary ponerogenic union failed to achieve its goals, so they’ll try the secondary route.)  New Hampshire and any other place they’ve targeted will need to be vigilant to avoid being taken over insidiously.  The current economic crisis will leave many places vulnerable in the ensuing chaos.  This is where knowledge of both Confucianism and ponerology might come in handy.  Through its own economic crises, Japan has at least prevented such organizations from going mainstream.

*van Wolferen described political power in Japan as being held by a loose group of unaccountable elites who operate behind the scenes, escaping consequences when things go wrong. They sound similar to the Bilderberg Group.  They remain carefully anonymous, so even persons who have analyzed Japanese society for years cannot identify them and have difficulty describing them.  Assuming they have shaped modern Japanese society, I would expect them to be conservative, misogynistic and very fond of science and technology.  Beyond that, I cannot say, but would love input!
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The author has lived 35 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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