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Friday, September 18, 2015

We're Turning Japanese Now

It's an article of American faith that Japan is an incredibly strange place. The world has been mapped and GPS'ed to death ruining much of the thrill of discovery. There probably aren't any hidden cities with remnants of lost civilizations lurking in the deserts of Africa or the jungles of South America. That just leaves the land of the rising sun as the X on the map, the strange place that suggests that the world that we know all too well, might still be odder than we can imagine.

But Japan isn't really all that strange. We are.

Depressed post-industrial economy, low birth rate, social disintegration and a society obsessed with pop culture and useless tech toys? A country that has embraced pacifism to the extent that it can hardly defend its own borders? A nation where materialism has strangled spirituality leaving no sense of purpose?

We are Japan. And so is Europe. Or rather Japan is the place we all reach eventually.

Japan is strange because it aggressively hurled itself into a postmodern void without knowing what was on the other side. It did this with the same dedication that its soldiers once marched into machine gun fire.

Japan had been in a race with the West, as it had been ever since Commodore Perry showed up with a fleet to open up a closed nation. It wasn't unique in that regard. A lot of countries tried to do the same thing. Most found that they couldn't keep up with either our technology or our decline. Japan shot past us in both areas. It beat us technologically. And then it outpaced our decline.

In the 80s, there were dire predictions that the future would belong to Japan. America would be broken up and run by a bunch of Japanese corporations. There were even predictions that after the fall of the USSR, the next war would be with Japan. Some of those predictions came from some surprisingly high profile analysts.

The future doesn't belong to Japan. It may not, at this rate, belong to anyone. Japan hurled itself into the future, but didn't find anything there.

Korea hurled itself into that same future and found only emptiness. Now China's elites are rushing into that same void and are beginning to discover that technocracy and materialism are hollow. That is why China is struggling to reassert Communist values even while throwing everything into making Walmart's next product shipment. Like Japanese and Korean leaders, Chinese leaders are realizing that their technological and material achievements have left their society with a spiritual void.

That isn't a problem unique to Asia. Asian countries were just less prepared for a rapid transition to the modern age. Europe and America, which had more time to prepare, are still on the same track.

Japan isn't really a technocratic wonderland. It has a few robot cafes, but not a lot of ATMs. Its tech companies got by on Western products that initially never caught on in the West, like the Walkman and the tax machine. There's not much of a digital economy and the computer isn't all that ubiquitous. Daily life for the Japanese these days is usually lower tech than it is for Americans or Europeans.

It's not as bad as some Gulf Sheikdom where desert Bedouins fire off assault rifles in view of the glittering new skyscrapers whose waste products have to be manually removed from the building, but the strain of a feudal society rapidly transitioning to the modern world is still there, as it is in Russia.

Like Russia, Japan tried to beat us. Unlike Russia it did, only to stop halfway there and wonder what the whole point was.

And that's the problem. There is no point.

American technocrats talk incessantly of beating China. But what is it that we're supposed to beat China to? The largest pile of debt? The biggest collection of light rail and solar panel plans? The lowest birth rate and the most homeless farmers? The greatest disastrous government projects?

A country should move toward the future. But it should have a goal that it's moving toward and a sense of connection with its past values.

The thing we have in common with Japan, China and Europe is that we have all moved into a post-modern future while leaving our values behind and our societies have suffered for it. It is a future in which stores have robots on display but couples are hardly getting married, where there are high speed trains and a sense of lingering depression as the people who ride them don't know where they are going, and where the values of the past have been traded for a culture of uncertainty.

Marriage and children are more extinct in Japan than they are here. They are more extinct in Europe than they are here. And China is still struggling with a bigger social fallout headed its way.

Japanese modernism has made for a conservative society of the elderly. That is what Europe nearly had a few decades ago and it is what it would have had if it hadn't overfilled its cities with a tide of immigrants. Japan survived the consequences of its social implosion only because of its dislike for immigration. If not for that, Japan really would have no future the way that the European countries which have taken in the most immigrants have traded their past and their future for the present.


The cultural eccentricities that Americans fixate on come from a society of young men unmoored from normal human connections, a decline of national values and an obsession with trivial consumerism-- all commonplace elements in postmodern American and European life.

The difference is that Japan got there first.

The loonier elements of American pop subcultures were predated by Japan. Indeed the latter are often influenced by the former. The same holds true with petty plastic surgeries, a truly epic plague among Asia's newly rich, and some of the more ridiculous accessories for living a life with no meaning or human companionship, but we're all going to the same place. Just not at the exact same speed.

The common problem is that our journey has no meaning. The postmodern world of robots, fast trains and handheld computers is shiny, but not meaningful. It's less meaningful than the earlier technological achievements that saved lives and made ordinary prosperity possible.

We can go fast, but no matter how fast we go, we seem to keep slowing down. That's what Japan found out. Its decline was social. And social decline translates into a technological decline, because technological innovation is powered by a society, not some soulless force of modernism. Innovation must have goals. And those goals must be more than mere technology. They must emerge from some deeper purpose.

American innovation hasn't halted entirely because its tech culture had enough purpose to make the latest set of digital revolutions possible. But each revolution has slowed down, becoming another shopping mall with microprocessors, replicating the Japanese problem. And at some point we'll run out of revolutions and be left with the skeleton of a digital shopping mall that is no longer anything but a place to buy more things we don't want and can't afford.

A healthy culture transmits values. When it stops doing that, it dies. When the values no longer seem to be applicable, than the culture hunts around for new values, it undergoes a period of confusion while its forward motion slows down. That is where Japan is now. It's where America has arrived.

The values of the left, that are present in both Japan and America, are a cultural suicide pact. The left pretends to add a spiritual dimension to modernism. It has been peddling that lie for two centuries and it has yet to deliver. In countries where it wielded full control, there was neither modernism nor values. Russia destroyed the economic, technological and spiritual potential of generations of its people. China is trying to use Communist values to avoid turning into another Japan, not realizing that those are little better than the collective obligations with which Japan rushed into the future.

As America gazes at the ruins of Detroit and the insanity spewed forth by a digital frontier that increasingly looks every bit as eccentric and toxic as anything coming out of Japan, it is all too clear that we are Japan.

There is no unique insanity in East, only a common disintegration of values in the East and the West.

Asia and Europe have both witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations. It isn't technology that destroys civilizations, but a lack of values.

To understand where Japan and Europe are, imagine an America decaying with no new ideas, losing its religion and values, losing its economy and finally its sanity, becoming coldly conformist and inhuman, while its families fall apart and its youth retreats into their own makeshift worlds. That reality is closer to home than we might like to think.

America is destroying its values on an industrial scale. In a post-industrial nation, the destruction of values has become one of its chief industries. And while there is value in challenging values, in the conflict and clash of ideas, that requires that values go on existing, or there is no longer anything to challenge. And then there is nothing left but emptiness and madness.

Another stupid product that promises to change our lives, but doesn't. Another ridiculous politician that promises to change our country, but doesn't. Another protest that promises to change everything.

Another indicator of economic decline. Another day, week, month, year of empty nothingness.

That is the modern abyss. And Japan is waiting for us there.

27 comments:

Roy Lofquist said...

As Russell Kirk counseled:

"Getting and spending are not the chief aims of human existence; but a sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired."

and

"The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal."

http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/

Anonymous said...

Was that a bleak, depressing read. Still-in-all I'll take Japanese or S. Korean decadence over izlamic barbarity any day. Happy new year.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Daniel...my wife and I were out with a group of friends, and had an eerily similar discussion. We just chalked it up to our status as old folks. ;)

Depressing, but accurate (as you usually are). While we were having dinner with our friends, a foursome of twenty somethings were at the next table. All eating in complete silence as they all had their phones out to text, and tweet, and ignore each other throughout their meal. It was surreal.

The technology that was supposed to bring us together seems to have pulled us further apart from each other, and human contact is becoming an anachronism in this post modern bizarro world we now find ourselves in.

I'm afraid there's no turning back now though, and our humanity is becoming increasingly less human all the time.

Keep up the good work, DG...you're one of the best at what you do, and as always, your articles and worldview are always a good read. God bless.

- Grumpyoldguy

Anonymous said...

It's the circle of life. Things sometimes go in cycles.

Either way it looks as if the future belongs to Islam.

Talk about a Planet of the Apes scenario coming to life. A bunch of angry savages getting offended over everything and producing their own revolutions and counter-revolutions in an endless cycle of violence. Nothing is ever learned.

Robin said...

I would agree that all these governments, as well as the US, intend to alter citizen values and monitor the "mental states" of their citizens. The way in though is P-12 education and what Competency actually means globally per Milton Rokeach. He created the term to obscure the emphasis on altering values, but that role is still there.

As US states push competency-based education to satisfy Congressional mandates and globally Competency gets pushed under the Learning Metrics Task Force of UNESCO and Brookings, all this alteration moves stealthily into place. Then individual student changes get bound up in Big Data. This is a big part of the reason for President Obama's behavioral sciences XO this week.

http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/using-education-to-shut-down-free-choices-and-then-redefining-as-personal-autonomy-orwell-lives/ covers how the Chinese reassert 'communinist values' without calling it that. It details the Citizenship Framework imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese. It also tracks again to what is going on in education in the US and all the Asian countries discussed in this post.

How many people recognize that terms like Competency, personalized learning, Character education, and 21st Century Skills are masking such a state expansion of power over the individual?

epoche said...

The contradictions of liberalism dont seem to be able to resolve themselves. I cannot believe that things are being run this poorly and no one has any ideas on how to resolve things. The leadership being peddled is horrible by both major parties.

Brian Richard Allen said...

Japan was never more than a Xerox copy of America and it's the copy that has faded, the original, not so much -- and uniquely among nations - ever - able to breath new life and color into ourselves.

Meanwhile, of every (eg) Apple product "made" in "china"-- (and what its plunderers steal and counterfeit, aside) America gets Sixty Cents, Other countries, Japan included, Thirty Cents and Peking's plundering predators, Three.

And then there's the predators' massive "stimulus" generated debt and their "one-child" stuff-up. Which guarantees that Peking's evil empire will be old before it's ever rich. Before, that is, the standard of living of the almost a billion people who live as did their ancestors - four hundred years ago - get to move into the nineteenth century.

Talking of awakened Sleeping Giants, Come January 20 2017, America will have another Ronald Reagan.

And Peking's terminally-hesperophobic perilously-pernicious plundering predators will have, at best, another poor Xerox copy of another one of those.

Brian Richard Allen

Anonymous said...

These are the signs of the end of days where we see the futility of extreme materialism and the discarding of the Supreme G-D Almighty. The purpose of life has been wasted by running after the 'golden calf'. This has been predicted and now those who understand will awaken to the real purpose in life and will find there is nothing but Him. There are those who are fighting this and are trying to eliminate the spiritual but it will not help them because the Will of the Creator will be done.

Y. Ben-David said...

It is interesting to note that the famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote about this already in the 1940's in his "Foundation Trilogy". What is most remarkable is that he discerned the rot that emphasis on technology and material prosperity causes at the time when America was reaching its peak of influence and wealth and was finally confronting its past difficulties with racism and indifference to those who were really suffering. It was thought that America had finally hit on the perfect system for modern society that would lead to a Brave New World that would last forever.
The Foundation Trilogy is about a future "galactic empire" which has brought a long period of peace and prosperity to mankind which was spread out throughout the galaxy. One man, a prophet of sort named Seldon, discerns that it is going to rot away and lead to a very long period of anarchy and misery so he develops a secret plan for a spiritual regeneration of mankind that will not only prevent the anarchy and material poverty but put him on a higher mental, or better, spiritual plane because merely focusing on technology is not enough to bring about a better, more stable society. He is viewed as a subversive figure by the authorities for saying these things. A high-ranking official asks him "why should I worry about what is going to be in a thousand years?". Seldon replies that he won't be around even in five years but it is of great concern to him.
That is the important message. A society that cares about the future has a high birth rate and invests in education. A society that is committing suicide has a low birth rate and says "why should I pay to send someone else's kids to school'?
Asimov's Seldon character didn't believe he could stop the rot at the center, so he set up a small group of idealists in an isolated place and and built the future seed of what he was trying to create of people with the new (or traiditional?) values he believed it.
I think Asimov would say today that there is no point in looking at the Establishment which has bought into the rotten structure that exists but we have to build ourselves up, as individuals or small groups of like-minded people to really be able to pave the way to future regeneration and renewal.

mindRider said...

A dark cloud on a reasonable day, this article of yours Daniel, a bit contrary to the eternally optimistic Jewish view on the future. A fair number of the needless but fun tech is Israeli start-up developped, if combined with gemore and values & sushi we'll do OK. Gemar hatima towa.

Drow Ranger said...

Japan's decline is due in part to the fact that its living spaces are limited and it's not affordable for most of the people to have families with more than 1 or 2 kids. Along with that, came some weird influence on the youth, particularly the men, who suddenly decided they're done with the opposite sex and would rather be all to themselves (and a blow up doll or whatever). Less hassle. I have no idea just how much modern 3rd wave feminism has contaminated Japan, but if it's as bad as it is currently in North America, then I don't blame those guys one bit. The Japanese government hasn't done a whole lot to encourage people to have kids or anything, either. At least in the 1980s, France made a semblance of an appeal to the people with billboards that said (translated out of the french) "S3x isn't the only thing in life. France needs children."

Anonymous said...

From rice to snow skis to brains, Japanese scholars search for what makes Japanese Japanese. Nihonjinron, that unique study of Japanese uniqueness, is a rich vein of (mostly) nonsense. That search for collective traits is taken seriously suggests a degree of discomfort with individuality that until yesterday was alien in the West.  But one need only consider how widely Mr. Obama's obtuse mockery of American exceptionalism resonated to realize how far we have come.

Anonymous said...

@Brian Richard Allen
R U sure the PRC still implements the one-child policy?
I've read/seen that the PRC now exploits the proletariat/peasantry to manufacture goods for the rest of the world. If that isn't going against the ideals of Communism I don't know what does.

Y. Ben-David said...

3rd Anonymous who says "the future belongs to Islam"...
I couldn't disagree more. The Muslims are destroying themselves, just as "political" Christianity destroyed itself in the 30 Years war (1618-1648) which lead to, first of all, the end of Christianity as a political movement (many of the countries of Europe moved towards religious tolerance) and from there to the massive abandonment of faith we see in the European Christian countries today.
Every day more and more Muslims and non-Muslims alike are coming to hate Islam. Sure, the violence which is unfortunately spread by the internet and media is attracting a lot of violence-prone people (e..g the large number of converts to Islam in European and American prisons) but the world saw the same thing in the large number of people who joined the Waffen SS in World War II, attracted by the possibility of killing a lot of people. Same with the Bolsheviks, who also attracted a lot of sociopaths. In the end they were defeated, and the radical Muslim groups will end up the same way. That is not to say that they can't cause a lot of trouble and suffering in the mean time, but it is inevitable that they will fall. We simply have to keep a cool head and do what must be done.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, when in American history did we have that Spark of values and honor? As Hitchens said, " Chomsky thinks that all American history is nothing but genocide." Your high chair of morality and meaningfulness are only propagated because of technology. Technology is not evil, only humans can be evil.

1 Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 [You asked,] 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 ["You said,] 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

John

fsy said...

This idea of the need for meaning seems to be a recurring theme here. The problem is that meaning can only be based on truth; just deciding to arbitrarily declare that some ideal has meaning doesn't work. This is why serious religions and worldviews will always be fighting, often very violently, and why fanaticism is unavoidable. After Rabin's assassination, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z"l said that no one has yet come up with the formula for creating enthusiasm without the risk of fanaticism. I don't think it's been discovered in the 20 years since then, either.

As long as the West believes and teaches that human beings are animals who have evolved large powerful brains for survival purposes (and that animals themselves are just machines which arose through a random process), meaning will be absent. Anyone who feels the need for meaning has to promote some truth which disagrees with this hopeless philosophy.

Ultimately, this is the only thing we have to respond to Islam as well. Without ignoring all their awful violence, etc., the real point is that Mohammed was a false prophet (and a reprehensible human being).

Y. Ben-David: I think that Asimov wrote the Foundation books in the '60s. I read them in the '70s, and immediately recognized that the central theme was based on the idea of the Jews as chosen people who bring the ultimate salvation to humanity despite being despised throughout their history. Asimov obviously took this from his Jewish heritage which he personally abandoned but still found useful from a literary point of view.

fsy said...

Wikipedia:

The first four stories were collected, along with a new story taking
place before the others, in a single volume published by Gnome Press
in 1951 as Foundation. The remainder of the stories were published in
pairs by Gnome as Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation
(1953), resulting in the "Foundation Trilogy", as the series was known
for decades.^[2]

fsy said...


Is fanaticism in the service of truth necessarily a bad thing?


I wasn't addressing that, but just pointing out that we can only get meaning if we pursue truth.

Anonymous said...

@Ben-David

I agree with you to some level - but the fact remains that they are breeding successfully and our Judeo-Christian societies are not. This has been mentioned many times. You can hate something all you want - that doesn't mean you can stop it.

Y. Ben-David said...

Anonymous-
The Muslim birthrate in the Middle East at least has been dropping precipitiously in recent decades, faster than Europe's did half a century ago. Iran has one of the lowest birthrates in the world today. Ethnic Turks in Turkey have a much lower birthrate than do the Turkish Kurds.
In Israel, Arab birthrate has also sharply declined but the Jewish birthrate has INCREASED, including among the secular population, against all predictions by the demographers. Also, Jewish tradition is also strengthening among much of the population. So, at least for the Jews in Israel (unlike in the US) things are looking up.
In the US, religious identification at all levels is in sharp decline. If solid Christian groups can get their act together and stanch of loss of many lf their young people to the dominant degenerate, materialist post-Modern general culture, then they have a chance. Perhaps the reason Israeli Jews are being successful whereas American Jews and many Christians are not in transmitting their values to the next generation is because in Israel, people are vividly aware of the existential questions that face them, whereas in the US (and Europe) people are being put to sleep by the "live for today' philosophy and the view that the nation only exists to maximize leisure time and entertainment for its population and nothing more.

Y. Ben-David said...

Regarding the problem of fanaticism:
Barry Goldwater got in trouble during his 1964 Presidential election campaign for saying IIRC that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in pursuit of justice is no virture".
He was right, but it scared people who had recent experience dealing with extremist Nazism and Communism, plus domestic groups like the KKK.
The point is that one can and should be firm in one's beliefs, but to realize that other people often have different ideas and that we all have to live together and the only way to convince others of the justice of your beliefs is by PEACEFUL, logical persuasion.

ymarsakar said...

You don't know as much about Japan as you think you do about the US and Europe, Daniel G.

It's like a Leftist giving a lecture on traditional marriage and economic freedom. There's too much European and American decadence in your pov that gets projected unto other foreign cultures.

Anonymous said...

What a depressing state. But are you sure you are not projecting your own feelings on the rest of the planet? Mark Twain became lonely, depressed, and cynical in his final years also, and there were plenty of values, but no computers, robots, much materialism, or constant mindless video games,etc. Perhaps as the Bard said, "the fault lies not in our stars, but in our selves." There is no purpose in life. But that doesn't mean you can't find your own sense of purpose.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Twain lost family members and had failed business ventures so it's not too surprising that he was down.

Anonymous said...

"The muslims are destroying themselves" Where is there any evidence of this? At no point in the ugly, bloody, brutal and unjust history of islam has it spread to as many continents and had as many followers as it does today. Dearbornistan, Michigan is, for all intents and purposes, an islamic state right here in the US. A state in which the 1st amendment to the US Constitution demonstrably no longer applies.

Emmit Fitz-Hume said...

Read again. Their birthrates are rapidly falling down. Islam's jihad against the West is also a struggle for survival, because it has nothing to offer apart from violence.
I recommend David P. Goldman's "How Civilizations die".

Sally said...

Very sad. Beautiful traditions from tea ceremony to musashi and of course they still have an emperor. Modern literature practically wrist slitting yearning for whats lost, but Japan will survive ans revert back to the old ways for sure as it drops off the radar. China may well invade

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