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Sunday, September 01, 2013

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.

That conservatism helped freeze Japan in time, that time being the cusp of the 90s when Japan was at its peak, and crippled its corporations and its culture, but also made the return of the right to power possible. It's far from certain that a conservative revolution can save Japan, but so far it has a better shot at it than we do.

A society of the elderly may be slow to turn around, but it's less likely to drive off a cliff without understanding the consequences than the youth-worshiping voting cultures of America and Europe. Japanese political culture may be lunatic, but even they wouldn't have elected a Barack Obama. The prospect of an American Shinzō Abe backed by a right-wing coalition winning are poor. The last time Americans voted for a conservative message was 1980 and even Reagan's message was leavened by liberal ideas. A genuinely conservative resurgence in which the type of politician who might have run for office in 1922 could become president on a similar platform is nearly inconceivable. 

Japan is a long way from fixing itself. As a country and a society, it's still peering into the abyss.

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.

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 from an infomercial. Another ridiculous politician. Another protest. 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.

33 comments:

RonL said...

Japan defends its borders. And even with an absolute decline in population, they refuse to allow in more than a token number of immigrants, even foreigners of Japanese descent.

Naresh Krishnamoorti said...

Brilliant. This essay will be pondered by future historians as one of the most prized pieces of Memorabilia in some future Albertian Order of Leibowitz, to discover just how the world collapsed.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, RonL. Japan demonstrates at least one sign of vitality: that it remains ethnically Japanese. Which means it has the potential to become vigorous again. We can't say the same for the US. American babies are mostly non-white which means the future US will be mostly non-white which means the future US will be something like Brazil. Probably it will suffer demagogic redistributionist regimes far more extreme than Obama's until they collapse into something worse.

fsy said...

The problem is that a society cannot look for meaning or values as a means toward survival. The content has to stand on its own, and survival will be a side effect.

Japan's ancient culture really did die at Hiroshima; there is no going back to Imperial Japan, and that is probably a good thing. If they (or America) find something else, maybe they can continue to exist; if not, there is nothing to mourn.

james wilson said...

Even if the Japanese and Americans are going down the same rat hole, it is easy to see that the Japanese have a plan and the Americans don't. Obviously, in time, the only people left in Japan will be Japanese who have families. They will be the stronger for it, and they will still be Japanese. What Americans will be I have no idea. If the ruling class has it's way it will be a motel in which you can check in for free and leave by paying a tax.

Anonymous said...

The biggest question with decline is whether the individual can bounce back even as the society declines.

America always had that but now the individual is very carefully under assault. The welfare-state is not a safety net whether it was originally meant to be or not. It is a net period and those who wish out are attacked, demeaned, taxed and expropriated from. We can not even hope that complete collapse would mean freedom for some. We can expect a totalitarian state and a sadly popular one in certain quarters. In that sense it is hard to see which culture is better off. Europe should be placed last. They have a history of totalitarians. Japan was feudal but I don't see that arising again so soon.

Anonymous said...

Lost in (fundamental) Transformation

so how cautious ARE you when for over a decade, the rate to borrow money was ZERO% and most everyone saved their money in the bank at ZERO%??

JebJeb, "we can save this country if we just import/deploy millions of highly fertile illegals" and muzzies to work and pay social security.

"Japan defends its borders." yup. AND they DON'T allow ANY mahsks nor prayeruggin in the street.


#BidenFilner2016 !

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant but heartbreaking article you've written.

The world seems utterly rudderless. Still, there is a small but growing element in the US that is leading us down a very dark path. Transparency is the word of the hour. Our technology has made us transparent to the gov't but we know less and less about what the gov't is doing via the MSM.


*****


I agree with Rob

Keliata

Anonymous said...

Mark Steyn has said that the future belongs to those who show up for it. The birth dearth in America is a very frightening thing, as is the glorification and enablement of fatherlessness for those children who do manage to get born.

Lightbringer

Dennis Latham said...

Japan will destroy the world with radiation leaks, but they will probably never ask for much help or admit they are destroying the world. The rest of the world basically ignores everything, maybe because an act of nature caused the problem. Future generations everywhere will have to evolve to accept mutant aberrations as the norm: a two-headed, breasts in the middle of the back, six-eyed Miley Cyrus with stubby feet and a huge butt in a bikini.

Anonymous said...

But it is all sustained by a bubble of debt that will soon break - we approach financial singularity. After that, Americans will bow before their masters in hope that somehow the wheels will keep turning - then the wars.

Afterwards life will once again be life.

So it goes.

Anonymous said...

Great insights. Where do you come up with this stuff?

The US and Japan may share the same trajectory, but outcomes could be differ significantly. The US is a more violent culture. Here in America children are nannied by violent video games and internet porn here in American. In a land where it is illegal to teach children about God in the schools, clueless adults can;t figure out why children are brutally murdering each other and the elderly. Adults adrift with an entitlement mindset, looking for someone else to fix their problems and their children. God help us.

6Kings said...

"Here in America children are nannied by violent video games and internet porn here in American."

You think it is bad here? Try Asia where this is amped up 10x.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I had some loads from Everett, WA to Portland, OR - 43,000 pound billets of titanium melted down from scraped Russian submarines. They were loaded into containers bound for Japan to be made into golf clubs. So here is a rare, extremely valuable, strategic metal, most useful in defense/aerospace application, sold to Japan to serve a national pastime.

"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." Isaiah 2:4

Roadmaster

Unknown said...

An excellent commentary on a civilization, not just a country, in decline. The barbarians this time, though, will have nuclear weapons, and unsurprisingly they will be trumpeting the "values" (and mandates) of a set of religious tenets as they destroy this world.

Anonymous said...

There is a serious decline in modern male testosterone levels. It is being caused by something, perhaps higher levels of xeno-estrogen compounds from plastics, or birth control pills leaking into the water supply, or even hormones in food or soy products.

Whatever the cause, lower testosterone leads to bad things. A feminized society is something that has never been lasted, and we are seeing why.

TomL said...

Is there a part 2 to this article where it speaks of values? Missing in the discussion is the return to traditional values where a man marries a woman and both care about bringing up offspring into society. Trivial consumerism is where single men and women have no relationships or responsibilities and pursue these mundane hobbies. In Japan, they cling to traditional values in that women who marry do not work, but they lack the spiritual values to hold the family together. In America, people marry and maintain 2 incomes, but the family is more religious in this scenario. In Europe, society and families are secular. I wonder if Europe is the future for America for this is the more likely scenario. Behind all this is people clinging to abortion and permissive sexuality. This is one area where values are common.

hiscross said...

When I 1st went to Korea in 1985 I was surprised at the number of Christian churches. Japan every has endorsed the only true savior, Jesus. They. like Korea now, have lost their way. The Chinese, on the other hand, has endorsed Jesus, even at the threat of prison and death. Some people still want to believe that America is a Christian nation, the cold hard truth is, they are not. The future is only bright for believers no matter what county they live it.

Duncan said...

Very interesting post but one minor quibble. South Korea may show some similarities but the higher percentage of active Christians could make a difference.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about this. I think you've taken what is a technology/economics problem and turned it into something about "values" which is a code word for being god-fearing.
The underlying problem is that a society needs it people to be in productive employment. With the decline in manufacturing employment, this means services like dog walking, massages, personal shoppers, fancy restaurants etc. Due to the increasing suffocation of government and taxes, those with money are increasingly reluctant to fritter away their hard earned money on such stuff. Hence the horribly low growth.

Anonymous said...

Japan differs from Europe/US in having a terribly misogynist culture. Women really don't want to marry the pervert who touches them on the subway to cook and clean for his parents.

Naif Mabat said...

Excellent piece!

But I think if we go out as a country, it will be more with a bang than a whimper.

Everyone, even the most clueless pop-culture-saturated teenager craves authenticity. That's part of what makes them so sad. The outpouring of goodwill and zeal for Barack Obama was coming from a desperate need for real leadership. That's part of why people keep spending money they don't have on home loans and college educations. The quest for a meaningful future is not dead. Yet all we get are shiny toys and promises of more free stuff. Damned if I can figure it out...

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

the growth of Christianity in Asia is tied to that stifling sense of society hitting the wall on materialism

I knew a number of Japanese Christians

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Duncan,

South Korea is arguably worse than Japan in its treatment of people, particularly the elderly. It's more prosperous and less prone to ridiculous newsy weirdness, but it's a downright scary place in some ways. Talk to Korean immigrants.


Anon,

Those problems exist in much of Asia. Take a look at India. In Japan, it's a bit more oddball because of the culture and the inappropriateness of calling attention to yourself.

For that matter, they exist in America, especially in major cities where a lot of the immigrants are from distinctly misogynistic cultures.

Eugene said...

Another of Japan's paradoxical redeeming features is that its post-war baby boom was quite brief. Japan will have weathered its retirement bubble and entered an era of slow, predicable population decline while the U.S. retirement system is getting clobbered by 75 million greedy old geezers like me.

kurt9 said...

I lived in Japan for 10 years (the 90's). Its actually not that bad of place to live. In some respect, it might be better today than it was then. Housing and living costs in general are lower than they were during the 90's. Its true they have an aging population. However, one benefit of a slowly shrinking population is that it makes liberalization (free-market reform) of the economy easier without created the large, but temporary unemployment that accompanies such liberalization.

Japan's biggest problem is the huge amount of cumbersome regulation that inhibits entrepreneurship and economic growth. I have some personal experience with this as I have participated in technology start-ups in Japan. Its easier here in the U.S., not to mention any of the other Asian countries. Taiwan is particularly friendly for entrepreneurs.

I think the de-population problem is overhyped. Yes, this is an issue in the short-term (2 decades or so). However, bio-engineering (SENS) offers dramatic developments in anti-aging bio-medicine and will make biological immortality a reality for humans by mid-century. Perhaps Japan will be the first society to embrace transhumanism (and achieve first-mover advantage).

David said...

Russia, China, Iran, and others are assiduously working on many fronts to "Japan-ize" America.
Wish I could say that their efforts have been for naught.

Rohan Jayasekera said...

You seem to think that religion implies values. But what I mostly see in the USA these days is a religion that has the same shallowness that you write about.

Anonymous said...

uite unusual for the author to be so off the mark. No Japanese questions who he is and what Japan stands for. They are united, can one even begin to compare a Japanese city with an American one. We are opposites. The Japanese struggle, but Americans struggle in a far more dire sense for our leaders have abandoned us. No Japanese would embrace the view that they are world citizens. We see this daily on the MSM or in the Congress. The author is sadly, way off in his anlysis.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

Japan has its leftists as well

Simon Raban said...

This is a very long article that mostly states the same point -- disappointedly boring.

I am not sure you are right on Japan having no values -- as far as I know, many Japanese were raised on their cultural values and many, even the young, appreciate their traditional values.

Why is a low birth rate such a bad thing in your opinion? Overpopulation in the world is a scary problem.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

If your country, people and culture die out, many would say that's a bad thing.

Overpopulation is not a global problem, it's a regional problem. Only immigration makes it a truly global problem.

Anonymous said...

How can you write about Japan and miss the greatest story of all - the Fukushima ecocide that is poisoning the Pacific Ocean and that will engulf the whole planet with its out-of-control radioactive outflow over the next years and decades.

Visit Enenews and inform yourself of the extend of this tragedy. Your philosophical musings are nothing compared to what Fukushima is doing to all life on the planet.

Tracy


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