The oldest civilization we know of dates back no more than 6,000 years. During these 6,000 years, 21 civilizations emerged, including Minoan, Sumerian, Mayan, Indian, Chinese, Syrian, Hittite, Babylonian, Andean, Mexican, Yucatan, Egyptian, Hindu, Iranian, Arabian, Hellenic, Western European, Byzantine and Far Eastern. They developed, and in time some declined and vanished. According to Arnold Joseph Toynbee, the seven civilizations still surviving in the 20th century are Western civilization, the main body of orthodox Christians in the Near East, a branch of orthodox Christians in Russia, Islamic, Hindu, the main body of Far Eastern society in China, and a branch of Far Eastern society in Japan. There are also three groups that stopped developing – Polynesians, Aleut, and nomads.
Does the historic drama of the rise and fall of these 21 civilizations over the past 6,000 years and comparative studies among them provide us with clues on the causes of generation, development, collapse and ending of the civilization, and their general patterns? And do these lessons learned from history contribute anything to the path chosen by contemporary civilization and Japanese society? These questions motivated our starting of joint studies on the process, especially on the collapse of civilization.
A premonition of Japan’s collapse
Why did we decide to focus particularly on the process of the collapse of civilization, in its long-term wavelike motion of generation, development and ruin? A brief explanation on choosing this theme may be necessary.
Novelist Komatsu Sakyo published a superb satirical book titled Nihon chinbotsu [Sinking Japan]. Our concern was that the possibility of a sinking Japan exists not only geologically, but also politically, economically, sociologically and psychologically. Perhaps Japan can undergo a political, economic and sociological sinking before it sinks geologically. An atmosphere of declining society and numerous phenomena concerning social malaise have been observed around us, but in order to systematically gather these phenomena of social decline and pathology, and erect them as a unified whole, integration by numerous experts is necessary and it is essential to link it dynamically with macroscopic perspectives and insights of historians. We therefore have begun the painstaking work of studying numerous symptoms of collapse thought to be observable in current Japanese society by comparing them to studies on the collapse of various civilizations, especially the Greeks and Romans.
For example, according to Plato, the cause of the Greece’s collapse is found in bulging desires and flooding of false egalitarianism and egoism. Plato said that unregulated freedom lacking ethical control and populism led the social order to collapse, accompanied by irresponsibility and lack of restraint. His famous book Politeia, believed to have been written sometime when he was between 50 and 60, describes the situation in Athens immediately before collapse.
Unless the rulers…allow plenty of freedom, the citizens start criticizing such rulers as senseless and oligarchic….On the other hand, the citizens criticize those who are obedient to the rulers as wanting to turn into slaves on their own, while privately and publicly praising the rulers who are similar to the ruled and the ruled who behave like the rulers….Fathers become like their sons and it becomes customary for fathers to fear the sons, while the sons become like their fathers and it becomes customary for them to abandon their feelings of shame and fear to their parents if they are to retain their freedom….Teachers fear students and use flattery to them, while the students look down on teachers. How much equality and freedom would there be in how a woman relates with a man and how a man relates with a woman…
The deeper we probe into the process of the collapse of the Greeks and Romans, the more sharply we are reminded of the severity of Japan’s crisis of political, economic, social and cultural collapse. Here we find a mysterious echo that silently closes in on modern man, still vivid after several thousand years and transcending the ages.
Similarity to the collapse of the Roman Empire
The conclusion we arrived at through a search on the causes of collapse of various civilizations was the basic proposition that all civilization collapsed not from attacks from the outside, but social collapse within. According to Toynbee, the collapse of civilization is not destined or determined, nor is it caused by natural disasters or invasion by external enemies. The fundamental cause is found in the loss of the ability of self-determination brought about by disruption of the soul and the collapse of society.
Almost all civilizations that collapsed did so by their own actions, before being invaded, conquered or ruled by outside enemies. In almost all examples, the collapse of civilization resulted from “suicide” committed in the course of society’s weakening and internal collapse. The cause of collapse is not found in famine, flood, earthquake, fire or other disasters, or invasion by enemies, but inside the society or inside the people who comprise it.
How did Rome collapse?
First, the Romans who had amassed enormous wealth and enjoyed prosperity gradually allowed their desires to swell, forgot labor and spent all their time on consumption, entertainment and leisure, lost restraint and began a march toward indulgence and deterioration. This was indeed the price the Romans paid for prosperity and abundance.
Second, Rome’s population continued to swell beyond a suitable scale due to waves of migrants from various areas of the Roman Empire who came in search of wealth. The swelling population finally led the community of tightly bound citizens to collapse. Thus, a kind of mass society emerged inside the ancient city of Rome, and quickly began to spread.
Thus, affected by what Lewis Mumford called the megacities’ elephantiasis, Rome transformed itself into an accumulation of chaotic masses who had lost their hometowns. The city gradually lost cohesiveness without being able to find a new principle of organization and human relations to integrate the immense masses.
Third, some Roman citizens also lost their land due to the Punic Wars that continued for over a century, or for other reasons, and went bankrupt. They were essentially the have-nots and in time they began to demand means of fixing this and guarantees in the name of citizenship, or a “civil minimum.”
What they demanded was the well-known panem et circenses (bread and circus). They crowded around and asked for panem (bread) from major landlords and politicians, who gave it in return for popularity and winning their support. Thus, having been guaranteed free panem without working, the mass citizens had no choice but to hang around, with no idea of what to do with their time. Mass leisure measures become essential to ward off the boredom. This is where the circenses (circus) emerged.
According to Mumford, games and shows were held with public funds on 93 days and public holidays numbered as high as 159 during the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar Drusus (41-54 AD). The number of holidays continued to grow over time, and by around 354 AD, games were held on 175 days and public holidays reached 200, or more than half the year. Gigantic arenas, meeting halls, entertainment facilities, public baths and other public facilities during the Roman era were also the facilities of the welfare nation of ancient Rome and the civil minimum of the ancient leisure society for Rome’s leisure-seeking citizens.
Yet these citizens, who were supplied panem et circenses free of charge and had forgotten to assume responsibilities and obligation even though they made sure to assert all their rights, immediately began a dreadful form of spiritual and ethical deterioration.
When the citizen masses of Rome were obtaining free panem et circenses without working, as privileges, and were under the illusion of being at the peak of prosperity and welfare, the core of Roman society began to decay, the world of Roman people deteriorated, and Rome undeniably began its collapse.
Fourth, the economy had no choice but to shift from inflation to stagflation when the citizen masses continued demanding free and unlimited panem et circenses. It is an extremely interesting historic fact that all the civilizations of the past were troubled by inflation in the process of their collapse and deconstruction.
In the case of Rome as well, the demands for free panem et circenses continued expanding without limit, and if the demands exceeded the distributable “pie” of the economy, the only available direction to follow was to make the dividends appear bigger. The “pie” was ostensibly inflated even though its substance remained unchanged. As long as the competition over the pieces of the pie continued, inflation progressed unendingly. Productivity also gradually declined as the society weakened, and depression began when the wealth was no longer available for acquisition as desired. If the masses ignored this fact and continued selfish demands, it was inevitable that inflation and depression would combine to form stagflation. In this regard, stagflation is a disease of mass society, and a pathological phenomenon that always accompanies societies in the process of collapse.
Fifth, a flood of egoism and false egalitarianism always accompanies the collapse of a civilization. Democracy thus loses its energy and indulgence appears on one side bringing about chaos and deconstruction, while false egalitarianism prevails and drags the society into corrosion caused by uniformity and totalitarianism. Thus, pseudo-democracy becomes the ideology of the collapsing process, and draws the leaders and masses into the corrosion of mobocracy. Plato pointed out this situation in Politeia. Elites lost confidence and responsibilities while populism prevailed and decay began. At the same time, logical thinking and judgment abilities of the masses noticeably deteriorated, causing the society to loose its self-determination abilities. The society on the verge of collapse thus turned into a city of destruction with the fate awaiting Sodom and Gomorrah, a city of destruction, according to the words of Plato, where everything had lost balance and was on the verge of falling into the bottomless abyss.
Countless numbers of people descended on the ancient city of Rome from all parts of the world, which caused the city scale to rapidly inflate. The bonds of human relations among the Roman citizens of the community collapsed, and the mass society situation arose made up of pleasure-seeking and detached masses. Pleasure-seeking masses that crowded around the wealth absorbed by and accumulated at the heart of the state demanded free panem et circenses and unrestrainedly asserted their rights, and society followed the path toward a welfare state without energy and with an indolent, leisure-oriented society. In time, the societal core deteriorated, its arteries hardened, its brain lost clarity, and the nerves lost sensitivity and grew numb. Such a society is destined to fall apart.
Difficulties facing Japan
This world state that became enormous brought prosperity to its core and, ironically, in the long run this prosperity caused the core to deteriorate. In this regard, deterioration was the price paid for prosperity, and collapse was the price paid for growing to huge proportions.
Today’s Japanese economy is said to have faced several serious difficulties that could have lead to the country’s collapse if handled inappropriately.
The first is the rigorous restrictions on resources and energy. For our country, which depends heavily on other countries for resources, the resource issue has been the Achilles heel since the Meiji Restoration. World War II itself was a conflict among nations over resources. However, Japan in the 1970s has only learned partially from past experiences.
This was partial learning because Japan in the 1970s has not chosen the unwise path as it did in the past for seeking a solution to the resource issue in international conflict and war, but instead it seemed to have transformed the issue into domestic conflict, or chosen an inept path of abandoning efforts for constructive solutions for resource and energy issues and transforming the national crisis into domestic conflict. At any rate, long-term stable supplies of resources and energy are no longer easy to secure, and the Japanese economy is on the verge of physical destruction unless fundamental and comprehensive measures are implemented.
The second difficult issue is the surging environmental costs. Japanese companies began full-fledged attempts at preventing pollution and improving the environment, efforts hitherto overlooked. As a result, the investment ratio for pollution prevention showed sharp growth. Investment multiplied by 5.5 times over five years, from 29.7 billion yen in 1965 to 163.7 billion yen in 1970, and the ratio among all facility investments also continued surging, from 3.1% in 1965 to 5.3% in 1970, 9.1% in 1971, 11.2% in 1973 and 16.2% in 1974.
The increase in this investment contributed greatly toward improvement in environmental quality, and in this regard it was good. At the same time, the increase in environmental costs should have been promoted without losing equilibrium with other conditions and from long-term and comprehensive standpoints. This is because the rise in environmental costs could reduce companies’ profits and result in higher prices. It could also affect trading, first by degrading export competence. A decline in company profits also degrades the standard of living by adversely affecting salaries, and degrades the cost-burden abilities for future pollution prevention and environmental improvement measures by reducing the surplus in company investments. In the long run, efforts for improving the environment could be hindered.
Besides, if rigorous restrictions lacking comprehensive considerations are imposed over a long period for the sake of preventing pollution, Japanese companies could go bankrupt and the Japanese economy could be ruined. If such outcomes transpire, the source of the costs for environmental improvement could be lost.
The third difficult issue is the tight labor power supply and surge in salary costs. As shown in the “International Comparison of Salaries, Productivity and Salary Costs of Major Companies Between 1961 and 1973,” the ratio of the rise in productivity of Japanese manufacturing industries averaged 7.6% per year in 1961-1965, 13.5% in 1965-1970 and 11.4% in 1970-1973, which are astonishing figures that double or triple those of other major advanced countries. On the other hand, the ratio of salary increase exceeded the rise in production for the same periods, at 10.1%, 14.7% and 17.6%, respectively. As a result, the salary cost has continued to rapidly increase. Such significant increase in salaries exceeding productivity has no alternative but to be converted to consumer prices. Therefore, the inflation caused by the vicious cycle of salary and consumer prices has brought about a severe condition, in combination with the inflation factors from the surge of resources costs, especially petroleum prices.
The three issues mentioned here – resource issues, environmental issues and the vicious cycle in salaries and consumer prices – hold within them serious risks that could destroy the Japanese economy, However, the essential nature of the risks is social, psychological, cultural and political rather than economic, and all this relates to theories on civilization.
Tradeoffs for abundance
Based on the above epistemological considerations, let us now probe into the self-destructive mechanism within Japanese society that could turn Japan into another Rome, first from viewpoints of tradeoffs for abundance.
We need to understand at least the following three points as tradeoffs. The first is well known – resource depletion and environmental destruction. The more abundant human society becomes, the more resources are consumed. This results in resource deficiency and a surge in resource prices on one side, and the increase of waste from the production and consumption processes on the other, which deteriorate the quality of the environment. Especially with Japan, the land lacks natural resources and the population of 110 million lives on this small land in high densities. The gross national product per unit area is already four to five times larger than in the United States in the early 1970s. As such, environmental pollution and destruction are more apt to grow worse. And more intense frustration and irritation caused by the deficient resources and depleting environment as a tradeoff for abundance is one cause that generated the self-destructive mechanism within Japanese society. For the time being, we will not continue any further with this point.
As the second tradeoff for abundance, we must consider the negative effects on the human spirit of lifestyles characterized by mass production and mass consumption of disposable products. Industrialized societies create an enormous mechanism of mass production and mass consumption in the process of their development. The mass production system established brings about numerous benefits, such as enabling stable supply of low-priced and high-performance products through quality control and cost reduction. This contributes greatly toward improving and leveling of the standard of living of the masses. Yet several serious disadvantages are also found with mass production and mass consumption. These include uniformity and monotony of volume-produced products in terms of consumption, monotonous labor, and excessive division of labor. Adverse effects of these on the human spirit and body have often been cited as drawbacks.
Graver than these negative effects on the human spirit is the adverse effects of lifestyles with disposable products accelerated in the rapid cycle of mass production and mass consumption.
In 1960, the editor of Sales Management magazine stated as follows about the US, which had reached the stage of a mass consumption society earlier than any other in the world.
If we Americans were to purchase and consume all the products being forced on us by the barrage of gunfire from automated factories, sales promotions and ads, we would all need not only extra income but also extra years as well as eyes and other sensory organs. The only surefire way to respond to all the demands would be to create a totally new species of humans – ‘super-consumers.’
According to Vance Packard, the following nine marketing strategies for inflating desires were used for creating these super-consumers: (1) strategies to have consumers buy more, (2) strategies to have consumers throw away more, (3) strategies for planned obsolescence, (4) planned obsolescence of desires, (5) methods to make products outmoded, (6) strategies for generating confusion, (7) strategies for installment sales, (8) strategies to instill hedonism and (9) strategies for using population growth.
Such lifestyles of disposal not only lead to squandered resources and environmental destruction caused by the increase of waste, but also involve a significant drawback in terms of the quality of life. A lifestyle full of disposable products highly values temporariness and novelty, which reduces relations between people and objects to being temporary and transient. People endlessly seek novelty, significantly depriving them of psychological stability in their daily lives. Desires are continually stimulated and become inflated, never allowing the person to feel satisfied.
As the third tradeoff for abundance, we need to consider the tradeoff for convenience as well. This, in a sense, can be regarded as a part of the tradeoff for abundance.
It is true that 20th century civilization steadily progressed while seeking convenience in every sphere of public life. In the tradeoff for convenience, degradation of the physical and intellectual strength of young people has steadily progressed. Development of transportation systems, as well as elevators and escalators, has gradually taken away opportunities to walk. Development of delivery systems has deprived children of the opportunity to grit their teeth and carry heavy things. The development of air conditioners keeps children in cool places during the summer and a warm greenhouse state during the winter, depriving them of the sense to perceive seasonal changes and the opportunity to be forged in nature’s stringent conditions. Humans have transformed into weaklings who lack vitality.
As the living environment became more like a greenhouse, education should have manufactured opportunities for children to face rigorous challenges. But, as mentioned below, education has also stagnated in over-protectionism and indulgence. This has resulted in mass production of youth lacking self-control, discipline, endurance and persistence, as well as being overprotected and spoiled, devoid of strong will, logical thinking abilities, creativity, well-rounded sensitivity, sense of responsibility and so on.
The tradeoff for convenience was never insignificant for housewives either. Such a great number of housewives have forgotten the joy of devoting themselves to preparing food and knitting sweaters for their beloved family members. Cheap and insignificant homemaking techniques do away with filthy housework, and housewives have lost the value of a life filled with handmade objects and food, lost the bonds of love among family, lost the feeling of joy and gratitude and begun wasting their excess time watching TV shows that target them and participating in community meetings to point fingers at others. As can be seen, the tradeoff for convenience is very deeply linked with the loss of motherhood exemplified by child abandonment and child murder. As discussed, the prosperity of postwar Japan on the other hand has increased frustration and stress, making the spirit of the Japanese people unstable, lethargic, indifferent and irresponsible. It brought about the collapse of the core personality of the Japanese people by destroying traditional culture, at the same time numbing their sense of ethics, and disintegrated their spiritual life. We have to say that the collapse of lifestyles and deterioration of the inner world of the Japanese have laid the foundation for the mechanism of Japanese society’s self-destruction.
Puerilism brought about by modern civilization
During the age of crisis in the 1930s, when fascism and Stalinism loomed over Europe, two excellent writings were published criticizing a sort of insane social and cultural situation at the time. These were The Revolt of the Masses (1930) by Jos・Ortega y Gasset and In the Shadow of Tomorrow (1935) by Johan Huizinga.
Both writings pointed out the overall decline of thinking and judgment abilities and the puerile tendency observed in mass society during the 1930s, and issued the forewarning that the situation was bringing about a new type of savageness in modern society.
Huizinga stated as follows:
I would like to name as puerilism the mental attitude of a society that behaves in a way falling short of what is expected of each of the development stages of judgment abilities of humans, or society that does not try to raise children to an adult level but instead acts to suit their actions. Today, puerilism is observed in every sphere of daily lives, and examples can be found everywhere.
He went on to state that the mental attitude peculiar to puerilism is a
…lack of emotions for discerning what is appropriate and what is not, lack of consideration to value others and their opinions, lack of attentiveness to the dignity of individuals and excessive interest in oneself. At the core are the deterioration of judgment abilities and the will to criticize. In the state of coma they have chosen, the masses feel extremely comfortable. This situation could turn dangerous at any moment once the braking force of ethical belief is loosened in the present.
What brought about the overall decline of thinking and judgment abilities and the tendency toward puerilism observed among today’s people? The truth is, to our regret, the astonishing development of technologies, expansion of material abundance, progress in urbanization and dissemination of information, dissemination of education, and other benefits brought about by today’s advanced civilization have triggered this mental state as a side effect. The decline and tendency are the products of advanced civilization itself. How can we resolve the dreadful paradoxical situation of progress and regression?
The decline of thinking and judgment abilities and tendency toward puerilism has, firstly, emerged as a tradeoff for convenience, as mentioned. Modern man has literally behaved like a child in this convenient technological world. By merely pushing a button, he can peek into any area of the world while at home. Bread is baked, rice is cooked, laundry is finished and the room is made cooler just by pressing a button. In town also, cigarettes, canned juice and weekly magazines pop out of vending machines just by pressing a button, and a machine that flies or runs just by his purchasing a ticket can take him anywhere automatically.
How much thinking and judgment abilities do modern humans need to live in a world of pushbuttons? This is the world of a black box. One need not be troubled with such tedium as considering what mechanisms are inside the box. All one needs to know is what convenience can be attained by pressing which button, or a list of input and output. It is absurd to put one’s thinking and judgment abilities to work for clarifying the complex mechanism linking the input and output – be it a TV receiver, broadcast network, welfare system or resource supply system. These can remain as is – black boxes.
Thus, the technological world has turned into a world of toys for grownups. It is no wonder that if a modern man has toys he behaves like a child.
“Hugely raise producers’ rice prices and lower consumer prices.” “Hugely raise salaries and hugely lower consumer prices.” “Lower taxes but hugely expand social welfare services.” The modern man screams for such desires like a spoiled child, and demands that a convenient toy for realizing his wants be made. Even if told that a convenient black box for linking such input and output can never be made, the modern man stomps his feet, screaming, “Designing this black box is not my job! My job is to continue playing around pushing buttons!” After this, the modern man loses his temper and starts throwing toys around him to break them. In time, such people start flocking together to enjoy the delight of mass psychology.
The decline of thinking and judgment abilities and tendency toward puerilism has also arisen as the tradeoff for dissemination of information, or the development of mass media and dissemination of education. Just as Engel’s coefficient is unable to reveal the structure of consuming life in today’s world, the decline of illiteracy and rise of the ratio of students continuing studies at universities do not enable us to judge the contents of modern culture. The secrets of the horrifying decline of intelligence, loss of ethical aptitude and overall decline of judgment abilities observed among the so-called highly educated illiterates must immediately be thoroughly clarified.
In the past, farmers, fishermen and craftsmen developed scales within the framework of knowledge they had fully tested through their daily lives, and used them for judging their lives and the world. Indeed their knowledge and information were limited, but they were far wiser and possessed greater wisdom on living than modern man, at least within the space they were living. Modern man, to the contrary, has lost the time to properly consider his direct experiences and stopped thinking with his own head. He has arrogantly commented on what is going on in Arab countries, Korea and all other parts of the world just by repeating partial and superficial information he was able to gather. Low-quality information brought about by depleted thinking and judgment abilities floods our information environment, causing dreadful information pollution. Humans exposed to condensed information pollution soon become childish fanatics, and turn into criminals who commit assassinations, hijackings, etc. We must squarely confront the horrible puerile and savage mechanisms hidden in modern civilization, and start making full-fledged efforts to overcome them.
Thus, we have probed the mechanism of self-destruction contained in Japanese society today, and then analyzed the tradeoffs of abundance and convenience, and then of dissemination of information. We have also discussed how the self-destructive mechanism brings about puerilism and savageness in the process, and how the situation has cultivated murderers and other criminals in our society. Poor-minded mothers who have misplaced motherhood have continued abandoning and killing their own children. We can never deny the possibility that the feeble-minded future generation of Japanese who grew up amid the puerile and savage mechanisms that spread throughout families, education systems, mass media and politics will kill their parents and other ascendants en masse. It might look like murder inside Japanese society, but it is obviously a form of suicide for Japan if seen from the historical perspective of civilizations. The reason is because nothing other than Japanese society has produced the criminals in volume.
We also mentioned the issue of tradeoff for dissemination of information in the analysis process. The negative side effect brought about by this dissemination was not so conspicuous at the time of collapse of the Hellenic civilization; therefore it can be considered a new and powerful mechanism of today’s world. In this regard, we deal with the self-destructive action derived from dissemination of information in a bit more detail.
Mass hysteria caused by misinformation
The “Project Team for Research on Tokyo Anti-Smog Measures” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Public Health conducted a clinical study of collective injury caused by photochemical smog, which was reported to have occurred about six times between May and June in 1972 at Shakujii-Minami Junior High School in Nerima Ward in Tokyo. The report on the study stated that the systemic symptoms of the students were, in the main, caused by a psychogenesis induced by a sense of fear and the psychology of the group, and that it could not be concluded that the cause was photochemical smog.
The truth behind the incident was that the students went into a state of psychological panic, leaving them susceptible to suggestions, and exhibited symptoms of a kind of collective hysteria because of the widespread and extremely unscientific use of unfamiliar words like “photochemical smog,” “oxidants,” or other terms suggestive of poison gas or germ bombs. In short, rather than atmospheric pollution, the reason for the uproar was, ironically, information pollution caused by a massive flood of unscientific and sensational information.
As well as clarifying the causes for the high incidence of social problems and conflicts in Japanese society of late, this minor incident is highly thought-provoking. The reason is that over several years now, we have seen a marked increase in psychogenetic problems caused by a flood of non-scientific and sensational information in our environment. Diagnosed as the symptoms of a kind of collective hysteria, these problems have been brought on as a result of the populace being subjected to contamination by coarse and low-quality flawed information.
For example, the fuss over shortages of washing detergent, sugar, toilet paper and other supplies, which lasted from the end of the year before last (1973) until the beginning of last year (1974), was brought on by a psychological panic caused by social amplification of groundless rumors. The absurd incident involving the nuclear-powered ship Mutsu, which drifted at sea for 51 days, was in our view clearly a case of psychogenesis, a problem brought on by collective hysteria on a national scale. In actual fact, many newspaper headlines completely confused “natural radiation” with “man-made radiation” and were unable to inform the nation of the important and essential difference between the two. Not to mention that the actual radiation leak at the time of the power ascension test was a trivial matter of 0.2 milliroentgen, in short, an infinitesimally small amount of no more than 1/500th of the dose received from a single x-ray examination.
For example, a report by one newspaper journalist conveys the following startling facts.
“… Last spring, a certain Socialist member of a prefectural assembly spoke to a gathering of fishermen. ‘Radiation is terrible. Mutsu is bound to contaminate the harbor where the radiation will keep accumulating until it reaches a certain point and then, boom, there will be a nuclear explosion.’ Afterward when the speaker noticed that a journalist (myself) was present, he broke into a sheepish grin and whispered to me that ‘the fishermen are clueless about nuclear power and unless you exaggerate the story, they won’t understand what you mean.’ I wouldn’t like to think that it was an organized effect, but it is a fact that the average fisherman began to view Mutsu as trouble in the second half of last year.”
Radiation accumulating in the harbor and triggering a nuclear explosion when a certain point is passed is a preposterous piece of misinformation. However, in reality, this is how misinformation in the form of “radioactive information pollution” built up in public opinion, sending our poor nuclear-powered ship Mutsu straight to the bottom, politically speaking.
Now, the radioactive information pollution with its fearsome destructive force is homing in on a new target for attack, the Japanese automobile industry and environmental issues.
The flood of information degrades people
Why has the destructive force of information pollution become so strong in modern society? Why do psychogenetic problems and collective hysteria break out so frequently in modern society? Why does it bring in its wake the deterioration of human intellect, reasoning, sensibility and creativity? Let us consider the mechanisms and special characteristics of the information environment from the following points of view.
Firstly, the relative importance of direct experience in the whole of human experience is falling off, and instead, we are obliged to study the negative side effects accompanying the dramatic increase in the relative importance of indirect experience, which is centered on information provided through mass communication. Generally, if we consider the expanding volume of information in terms of the human experience, we have a situation where the world of experience of the individual has come to depend more and more on the experience of other people. This means that the substance of individual experience has become increasingly dependent on the enormous social nervous system that is the social communication network.
The impact on human beings is extremely serious and complex. On the one hand, the development of mass communication has extensively broadened the world of human experience, transcending the time and space limitations on what the individual can experience directly. But, on the other hand, the content of this extensively broadened world of experience has become increasingly diluted, fragmented and empty. This extensively broadened world of indirect experience – a world of symbolic experience – is becoming increasingly separated from the real and direct life experience of the individual, and because it becomes ever more difficult to map and investigate the validity of both worlds through our own direct experience and thought, it becomes even more difficult to synthesize a total image by connecting the scattered fragments of the large volume of indirect experience.
On the one hand, the world of indirect experience fed to us via mass communication, even displays the chaotic and incoherent aspects of schizophrenia. On the other hand, if the quality of the information is poor, there is a risk that the simplistic overall image of the world we are shown through the vast amounts of information provided by mass communication turns into a fictitious world that does not bear the slightest resemblance to the real world. Then, this fictitious world created by mass communication unwittingly forces an artificial “quasi-experience” on people.
This is the result of the ironic phenomenon of people being deceived, their intellectual capability undermined, and the truthful outlook obstructed through mass communication, which should have been created to enhance knowledge and to broaden people’s horizons. The crisis is becoming serious because of the deteriorating quality of the information provided via current mass communication where facts and specific evidence are pointed out and reported later. This is how seizures in the enormous nervous system that is social communication triggers collective hysteria. Today, when the whole of Japanese society keeps sliding into a kind of madness, the diagnosis is that our society is starting to show the symptoms of mass illusion due to this terrifying new type of social neurosis.
In connection with this, there is one important point that we should point out. It is that as the proportion of indirect experience through video, audio and the printed word increases, the proportion of the rich content of direct contact gradually decreases, and as a result, young people grow “apathetic” in a diluted “play world” where they are starved for experience accompanied by deep emotion. Increasing the possibilities for satisfying desires has had the synergetic effect of accelerating this “apathy.”
On this point, the tradeoff for television has been so high that it cannot be ignored. The abundance of images has caused the imagination and creativity of young people to deteriorate. Unmindful of the emotions, or the speed of the information processing of the listener, the streams of television images and information obstruct independent thinking, widely fostering schizophrenic tendencies.
The second tradeoff for this orientation toward information is the problems of various maladjustment syndromes that accompany the information overload. It must be said that these are also important facts for clarifying the reasons for the decrease in intellectual capability, deteriorating reasoning, and religious fanaticism amid the orientation toward information.
When large volumes of information stream past at high speeds that far exceed the ability of the human brain to process information, people often succumb to the neurological symptoms of information overload. In present society, where we are flooded with large volumes of information via mass media, the neurological symptoms caused by information overload are universally present in both adults and children.
The symptoms of information overload manifest in various ways. There are three kinds of classical symptoms: (1) the simplistic type, (2) the autistic type, and (3) the schizophrenic type, but we will omit the details here.
The third tradeoff for the information-orientation is that the simultaneity and temporality of information are connected.
When changes in society accelerate and information starts to flow quickly, the relationship between people and information becomes exceedingly transient. At the root of the present information society is a growing tendency to be extremely demanding of novel information. In the progressive flood of vast quantities of information, the lifecycle of information is shortened, information is commoditized, and there is an extreme trend toward disposable information. One simple adjustment mechanism for defending oneself against the huge volumes and high speeds of information is to become forgetful, in short, to develop amnesia, to forfeit the sensation of historical continuity and to adopt the principle of living only for the present. In a transient information environment where there is no room for sublime experiences accompanied by deep human emotion, only shallow curiosity is inflated, and human beings lose their mental and emotional stability, and start to pursue only the outward appearances.
In his book Jikaku no seishin byouri (The mental pathology of self-awareness), the psychiatrist Bin Kimura introduces the symptoms of self-awareness in a psychiatric patient. This patient’s experience of the passing of time is surprisingly symbolic of the average sensation of time experienced by people today. This is what the psychiatric patient says, “The passing of time is terribly strange. Time is scattered and doesn’t move forward at all. Countless, arbitrary and disconnected moments emerge in a confused jumble of now, now, now, and there are no rules, no consistency.” It is precisely this neurosis brought on by the temporality of the information environment that becomes the basis for the deterioration of intellect and reasoning and the flood of coarse information.
The fourth tradeoff for the orientation toward information is closely connected to the negative side effects already mentioned. It is the extreme unbalance between receiving information and transmitting information. Those who are at the receiving end of one-way mass communication are hounded by huge amounts of information. In other words, the receiver is operating at full capacity around the clock. In contrast, the opportunities for transmission are extremely few. Even though the repeated transmission and reception of the intrinsic human capacity for thought and creativity is now for the first time possible, we have mass production of simplistic people with no capacity for logical thinking because the process is not carefully thought out. They allow the knowledge, information, opinions, value and ideologies provided by mass communication to pass through one ear and out the other, no more than a discharge of waste. People pretend that these opinions are their “own,” but they are only the misleading borrowed plumes of the opinions of “other people,” obtained through mass communication, and no more than a fuzzy copy. It is borrowed knowledge, nothing more than ready-made instant values, not something that has been constructed through a process of independent thinking.
A fifth negative side effect of the information orientation is the impact of the excessive diffusion of strange and coarse information through mass media. “Dog bites man is not news, but man bites dog is news.” This proposition represents news value created in an age of information scarcity when the volume of information was far less than today, but because this old theory of news value has been carried over into the age of information excess, an extremely serious problem arises. It is the phenomenon whereby we lose sight of appropriate balance, and only information about odd incidents and events is circulated in vast quantities. However, abundant phenomena have no news value and are not written up in articles, but the mechanism for expanding and displaying strange phenomena is abnormally bloated, and as a result, mass communication creates a strange and fictitious world that has more than usually elevated national frustration.
The ideology of suicide
The tradeoffs for the orientation toward information cause the deterioration of intellect and reasoning, a loss of emotional aspects, and a never-ending spread of social pathologies like infantilism and barbarism, reinforcing the self-destructive action of Japanese society.
If we trace the history of the collapse of civilizations, we always encounter in the process of the collapse, something that we must refer to as the inevitable “ideology of suicide” of the civilization. It takes various forms depending on the “seed” of the civilization, or the period, but we can say that an ideology of extreme egalitarianism is a consistent and shared aspect. This egalitarian ideology demolishes the community and destroys the social order, using its appalling force to cause the whole of society to disintegrate and become barren while creating a state of mass socialization.
So far, we have shed light on the appalling mechanism for self-destructive action concealed in Japanese society from a variety of angles, but we have now reached the stage where we ought to consider this mechanism from the perspective of the “ideology of suicide.” In actual fact, the range of conditions we have analyzed so far form the social and psychological foundation for the “ideology of suicide.”
To start with, we will scrutinize the “ideology of suicide” hidden in postwar democratic education from the perspective of egalitarianism. As is generally known, postwar democratic education as epitomized by the ideology of the Japan Teachers’ Union, has actually brought in a world of standardized and homogenized education in the name of anti-discrimination and equality. In a certain sense the actions of teachers who graded students’ performance sheets “all 3” or “all 5,” or “democratic” teachers who refused to make entries in the school register because the act of giving grades itself is an act of discrimination, are no more than an expression of the postwar ideology of “democratic education” in its most simplistic form.
This is what the “all 3” and “all 5” teachers in their audacity managed to do. “Human beings are all equal. Society is responsible for what students with poor marks can do, and because society is bad, the children are not responsible. Since all the children made the same effort, giving them all the same grade is the right thing to do.”
The abilities of human beings are definitely not created equal in the sense of standardized robots. Surely people have an infinite variety of diverse talents and qualities just as they have different looks, and this is precisely what creates the wonderful attraction and vitality of human society. Some children are good at drawing pictures, and other children are good at singing. Some children like arithmetic, and other children love cooking. The most human education should be premised on encouraging the children to develop their own individualities to their hearts’ content. However, in the name of anti-discrimination and egalitarianism, the mistaken “democratic education” has no understanding of the importance of the diversification of education and the personal development of individuals, and more often than not, attempts an education that matches the degree of progress to class averages and the students at the bottom of the class. As a result, the outstanding students and the students that make an effort lose their drive, and waste their time in the classroom on playing pranks.
Still more, the advocates of this mistaken “democratic education” categorically deny elite education in the name of discrimination. This is how, in Japanese society today, the growth of the talents of the outstanding children who ought to shoulder the responsibilities for the next age is held back as they are forced to homogenize. As a result of foolish and misguided egalitarianism, such as the school grouping system, Hibiya High School, Koishikawa High School and other formerly elite high schools have disappeared. At the University of Tokyo, the students are also losing their valiant elite consciousness and becoming infantilized at the hands of the hypocrites who receive salaries while teaching courses that dismantle the university. In all likelihood, a hundred years will have to pass before we can understand the size of this social loss, and get the full picture of the damage of its aftereffects. There is no more potent “ideology of suicide” than the misguided egalitarianism that is spreading in the world of education.
The adverse effects of postwar democracy
As well as the ideology of egalitarianism, the ideology of pseudo-democracy in the guise of “postwar democracy” is also functioning as an “ideology of suicide” for modern Japan. The reason we call it pseudo-democracy is that it is close to, but not the same as the democratic ideal. To the chaotic consciousness, there may very well be a strong resemblance to democracy, but on several decisive and important essential points, pseudo-democracy clearly differs from genuine democracy.
The following are some of the characteristics of pseudo-democracy. To use the terminology for diagnosing pathologies, we may as well refer to them as the symptoms of pseudo-democracy. The first symptom of a pseudo-democracy is its nonempirical scientific character. Pseudo-democracy begins with the uncritical reception of dogmatic statements – the dogma of ideology. The ideology claims that if we act according to the dogma, the liberation of all mankind will inevitably be realized, and we will see perfect solutions to all social problems. Such statements are unique and absolute, allowing for no error. The key to the problem is how large a mass of people believes in this gospel, and with what strength and fervor. It is a kind of messianic politics. Similar to religious faith, the slogan for the political faith is “Believe and you will be saved.”
The second symptom of pseudo-democracy is the inclination toward the standardized, centralized and totalitarian. This symptom is plainly indicated by mistaken perceptions of the principle of majority rule.
One of the essential qualities of true democracy is the acceptance of plurality. However, pseudo-democracy cleverly converts majority rule, which was once devised as an expediency, a method of temporary and extremely limited coordination for the sake of plurality, into a weapon for the principles of centralization, standardization and totalitarianism. This is how decisions by majority rule often take on the role of tests of allegiance for purposes of ostracism in groups ruled by pseudo-democracy, and deny the existence of a diversity of views.
The third symptom of pseudo-democracy is in the one-sided emphasis on rights. In postwar Japan, there have been loud calls for “rights” on various occasions, but there has hardly been any emphasis on the importance of obligations and responsibility, which should be the basic premise for people and groups asserting their own rights. As a result, the word rights has become synonymous with selfishness and egoism, even going as far as being widely exploited as a pretext for irresponsibility and violating the rights of other people.
It must be noted that for pseudo-democracy, obligations and responsibilities are trivial matters. Rights are asserted as much as possible, and they take as much as they can, yet they reject obligations and responsibilities as much as possible. As a result, if corporations or the country are suffering, this is, as soon as not, something that must be welcomed because it indicates that the system is weakening. In short, in this case, the one-sided emphasis on rights is a tactic for weakening what pseudo-democracy refers to as the “system.”
Directly connected to this, we have the fourth symptom of pseudo-democracy, which is hostility to criticism and a striking lack of ability to make constructive proposals. Finding fault with individuals and society is in one sense easy. However, to come up with better proposals for solving problems requires far more effort, and it also generates responsibility. In addition, the curious thing is that when pseudo-democracy criticizes and opposes for the sake of criticism, it seems to be an occasion for secretly anticipating further aggravation rather than any interest in correcting the deficiencies.
The fifth symptom of pseudo-democracy is dismissal of the elite and catering to the general public. Not only does true democracy not dismiss the elite or the leadership, but it also places a heavier burden of responsibility on them. It is hardly possible that the complex political and social issues of the present will be properly treated in a short time by amateurs around the water cooler, or by mass society. If experts are dismissed, if leadership is refused, it will never result in anything but getting bogged down in mob rule.
Finally, as the sixth symptom of pseudo-democracy, we should flag up the lack of perspectives on cost. As a rule, some cost must be go into resolving all social and political issues.
However, because of its one-sided character of claiming rights, the lack of ability to make proposals, and its accommodating attitude toward the general public, pseudo-democracy only lines up things that will please the general public, and attempts to conceal the constraints. As long as they use these hypocritical poses to bid for popularity with the general public, there is no alternative but to allow the state to go bankrupt and society to collapse.
As we have seen so far, pseudo-democracy is a powerful ideology for causing the self-destruction of Japanese society from within through self-indulgence and egotism, standardization and suppression. Unless we can overcome this “ideology of suicide,” the collapse of Japan is unavoidable.
We have shown how Rome, when it reached the stage of a flourishing global empire, fell into a state of self-indulgence and psychological corruption as a consequence of the trade-off for affluence, how it finally lost its spirit of autonomy to the civil minimum of panem et circenses through urbanization and the emergence of a state of mass socialization, and how it decayed from within the soul and the depths of society amid the inflation of the ego and misguided egalitarianism. And, now, Japanese society, which appears to be taking the path of a second Roman empire, finds itself in the middle of a state of mass socialization in a giant metropolis consisting of large groups of people who have lost their roots, calling out for panem et circenses, “the fulfillment of desires,” and “the struggle for victory” while we witness deterioration and corruption from within the soul and the depths of society.
As in the case of the suicide of an individual human being, when human society is moving toward suicide, one can observe a sudden deterioration in the will to live. It is what Toynbee refers to as “the loss of self-determination,” an astonishing loss of the life force that opens up one’s own future by one’s own force, the ability to withstand trials and to challenge difficulties.
From the perspective of time, we have argued that based on a variety of symptoms, there is a powerful mechanism for self-destructive acts at work in Japanese society, and unless this mechanism is removed, Japan may end up committing suicide. But, what can we do to prevent this dangerous impulse for suicide? For this, we need to draw a few lessons from the history of the collapse of other civilizations in the past.
The first lesson from the history of the collapse of civilizations is that there is no alternative but disintegration for economic society when the populace immerses itself in the pursuit of narrow selfish desires, and forgets to exercise control over their own egos. Whether consumers or workers, politicians or entrepreneurs, the limitless ego will lead to self-indulgence and corruption unless we learn to find a point of harmony where we continue to exercise self-restraint without being washed away by selfish impulses.
Whether internationally or domestically, the second lesson is that when the citizens lose the spirit of self-sufficiency and the mettle to resolve their own matters by their own power, there is no option for the state but collapse. This is the very point of the terrible trade-off for welfare.
The third lesson from history is that when the elite loses the aristocracy of the spirit and starts catering to the general public, the country will perish. It doesn’t matter whether they are politicians, academics, industrialists, or leaders in the labor movement, as a rule, leaders must say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done with the pride and responsibility of those who would be leaders. For example, no matter how much it touches a raw nerve with the general public, or how much it goes against the grain, or even if you are isolated as a consequence of remarks and actions, the elite must speak up with courage and confidence.
The fourth lesson from the history of collapse is that older generations should not unnecessarily pander to younger generations. The younger generation grows up big and strong amid hard fights and friendly rivalries with the older generation. If the older generation is too understanding and forgets to knock them into shape by acting as a sparring partner, the young people will become pathetically “feeble children.”
The fifth lesson from the history of collapse is the fairly obvious one that happiness and wretchedness are definitely not measured in the amount of wages, the size of your pension, or material wealth. As long as you think that human beings are animals that fulfill materialistic desires, those desires will spread without limit and know no bounds. No matter how much effort is made to satisfy the desires, it is not possible to catch up to the perpetually bloated desires, and there is no satisfaction to be had. Like a “mirage” in the desert, no matter how much you chase it, you will never catch it. Unless human beings become free by liberating themselves from the bloated cycle of desires, they will always be a bundle of complaints and dissatisfaction, steeped in frustration, and unable to attain peace of mind.
When considered in the light of historical facts, it is certainly the case that postwar Japan has accomplished a remarkable reconstruction in material terms, but still, in emotional terms, there has been almost no rebuilding. Virtue has been devastated, human nature has gone to seed, and the soul of the Japanese has fallen ill. Japan has lost sight of its individuality and simply stands dumbfounded. How will future historians view this period? What will future generations of young people, yet to be born, make of this ailing country?
(This article contains excerpts from Japan’s Suicide, published in the February 1975 issue of this magazine.)
Translated from “Asahi shimbun shuhitsu ga domoku shita shogeki ronbun — Yogen no sho ‘Nihon no Jisatsu’ saiko (A shocking essay that puzzled the chief editor of the Asahi Shimbun — Reconsidering Nihon no Jisatsu (Japan’s Suicide))”,’ Bungeishunju, March 2012, pp. 120-121. (Courtesy of Bungeishunju Ltd.)