In response to my question earlier this week, Why is there no looting in Japan?, former resident Thomas Lifson at the American Thinker offers some interesting insights. As he writes:
Perhaps more successfully than any other people of the world, the Japanese have evolved a social system capable of ensuring order and good behavior. The vast reservoir of social strength brought Japan through the devastation of World War II, compared to which even the massive problems currently afflicting it, are relatively small. Japan has sustained a major blow, but its robust social order will endure, and ultimately thrive.
But why is this? He offers some basic points, the first of which is that Japanese life is settled. Recalling a conversation with a Japanese business executive, Lifson recalls:
“Japanese people,” he told me, “are like passengers on a cruise ship. They know that they are stuck with the same people around them for the foreseeable future, so they are polite, and behave in ways that don’t make enemies, and keep everything on a friendly and gracious basis.”
“Americans,” he said, “are like ferryboat passengers. They know that at the end of a short voyage they will get off and may never see each other again. So if they push ahead of others to get off first, there are no real consequences to face. It is every man for himself.”
The Japanese, in other words, are more rooted and socially connected, and even when they move around, they make an effort to get to know each other. This builds social capital which, as Robert Putnam found in Bowling Alone, eventually builds economic capital. What people in Britain generally call “the broken society” is in fact a collapse in social capital, from disconnected neighbourhoods to desocialised children.
High social capital leads to higher levels of trust, which manifests itself in more orderly behaviour and lower crime rates. Richard Layard, author of Happiness, says: “Crime rates are high when there is geographical mobility. Indeed, the best predictor of crime in a community is the number of people each person knows within 15 minutes of their home: the more they know, the lower the crime rate.” He noted that crime had risen in every industrialised country between 1950 and 1980, with the sole exception of Japan, “and its causes are not completely understood”.
Second, child socialisation. The Japanese do it much better:
Anthropologists speak of Japan as a “shame culture,” as opposed to a “guilt culture,” meaning that people are constrained to behave themselves properly by an aversion to being judged negatively by those around them, rather than internalizing a moral imperative. Broadly speaking, that is true today. But it is also true that most contemporary Japanese have internalized a deep respect for private property, that is manifested in a ritual of modern life for children, one which we might do well to emulate. When a child finds a small item belonging to another person, even a one yen coin, a parent takes the child to the local koban and reports lost property. As chronicled by T.R. Reid in his wonderful book about living in Tokyo, Confucius Lives Next Door, the police do not resent this as a waste of time but rather see it as part of moral education, solemnly filling out the appropriate forms, thanking the child and telling him or her if the owner does not appear to claim the item, it will revert to the finder after a certain period of time.
In contrast, in Britain many children get to know authority through their social workers.
Third, public officials are respected. Although not many westerners will wish to imitate the police intrusion described in this article, it is nice when police make an effort to get to know householders.
Soon after the beat cop’s visit to me, local merchants began nodding to me as I walked to and from the train station, as if they knew me and acknowledged me. I was fairly certain the word had gone out via omawari san (literally, the honorable gentleman who walks around, a polite colloquial euphemism for the police) that I was a Japanese-speaking American in Japan on legitimate, respectable grounds. For a year or so, I was a member of the community.
Fourth, the Japanese still have the ancient Greek concept of the oikos, which encourages people to feel a stake in society, and to feel responsibility for their behaviour.
Every Japanese is not just an individual, he or she is officially is a member of a household (ie), and the state keeps track.
And so shame discourages bad behaviour. As the Japanese say: “The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.”
It’s a very interesting piece. However, while millions of people around the world, especially in the US and Britain, have been asking why we can’t be more like the Japanese, the elephant in the room is Japan’s lack of cultural, ethnic, racial and religious diversity. Japan, almost alone in the industrialised world, has rejected “diversity” as a philosophy for transforming society.
And, because of its geographic and culture distance, many westerners never get to see whether societies that do not open their borders really do “stagnate”, as we’re all led to believe, or whether the costs of mass immigration actually outweigh the benefits. There are downsides to Japanese homogeneity, or at least it’s not something most Britons would wish (even third and fourth-generation Korean immigrants are still not considered “Japanese”, which strikes us as weird), but this disaster shows the upside to a homogeneous society, namely its incredible solidarity. This is something Professor Putnam found when he looked at diversity in American communities, but it’s also interesting that in Bowling Alone Putnam stated that American social capital began to plunge in 1965. He never says why, and lots of things happened that year, but one of them just happened to be the US Immigration and Nationality Act. So why do the Japanese behave so well? Perhaps because they never had a Ted Kennedy.
- From Haiti to Japan: Is looting economic or cultural? (thegrio.com)
- Why no looting in Japan? (caffertyfile.blogs.cnn.com)