Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009

Immorality of bushfires

Australia will recover from its recent bushfire tragedy damage. But can it recover from the shock of discovering how much of the damage was due to arson? Japan could provide some answers, though not all optimistic.

Societies have several ways to hold themselves together and make people behave. One is strict Taliban-style punishments, with fear as the binding agent. Another is more ideological, cerebral even, with religion (Islam), post-revolutionary legitimacy (China, Vietnam), nationalism or good, intelligent government (Singapore, Scandinavia) as the binding agents.

But there are also societies where the binding agent is more instinctive — a simple gut feeling of belonging. Japan is the best example, both at the national and group level; someone once described Japan's enterprise loyalty as "a longing for belonging."

But I also include the Anglo-Saxon and other north European societies to the extent that they, too, were formed naturally from stable, feudal/rural backgrounds, without the need for strong ideologies, dictators, struggles or revolutions to give them legitimacy.

In Britain, when I was educated there, you did not have to consult bibles or Constitutions to know what to do. You were simply told that it was "the done thing,' or that it was the way things always had been done. In the enterprise you saw a version of 'longing to belong' (which is why Japanese management transferred so well to rural Britain). At the national level, George Orwell once romanticized about how Britishness was a state of mind.

Australia saw a similar, even if cruder, version of the same. Bill Peach, a well-known media commentator, once wrote how one simply knew one was an Australian; it did not have to be defined. The communalism was also helped greatly by the mateship ethic born in the years of convict and bush hardship; the similarities with Japan's group ethic were strong. But while Japan's instinctive groupism could be expanded to include nation, the Australian version was more restricted. It was also more vulnerable.

Even in Japan, traditions and feelings do not last forever, and when they go, there is little to replace them. The binding agent is called kuuki, or atmosphere. But when it disappears? By definition you are left a vacuum — a moral vacuum.

Japan is still in the early stages of this vacuum problem; extraordinary citizen honesty remains. But already there are signs of future trouble — the complete breakdown of discipline in some school classes (gakkyu houkai), irresponsibly weak universities, hot-rod bike gangs, more muggings and shoplifting, and murders for amusement.

Moralists lament, and hope that rigid discipline or school teachers preaching kindness and love of nation will save the day. But is that enough?

Fortunately we do not yet see much public vandalism in Japan, or laxity in public services (a form of immorality not just against other individuals but against society itself). But Japan's recent outbreak of graffiti artistry, and now organized break-ins of deserted houses, suggest that day could be coming.

In Britain and Australia the rot has gone much further. When I hear stories of the muggings, theft and vandalism in Britain, I cannot believe this is the same well-ordered society I used to know. On London's Bond Street recently, I saw two alarms go off in the space of 10 minutes as tough guards chased professional shoplifters down that iconic street. The crowds just looked on.

The story of the Dorset man whose weekend house had been broken into so often that he put up a sign telling would-be thieves there was nothing left to steal says it all. The breakdown in so many public services, train services especially, is dreadful. All sense of responsibility to the public seems to have gone. Australia is headed down the same slippery slope.

In his Feb. 3 Japan Times article, "What would the locals do?," Paul de Vries gives a scary view of the breakdown of youth morality — vandalism, theft, etc. — in Melbourne, just a few miles from the bushfire disaster.

On a recent visit there I was appalled by stories of how youth gangs would openly steal brand-name sports shoes from the feet of defenseless youngsters. The destruction of public telephones seemed out of control.

And this is the nation where once we used to leave doors unlocked and, as someone once wrote in amazement about wartime New York, we could leave the milk money inside to be collected.

The United States, which used to share much of that instinctive moral ethic, gets round the breakdown problem now with stiffer punishments, guns, evangelical religion and efforts to create nationalistic fervor. In Britain it is stiffer immigration controls and spy cameras on every corner.

Australia is still looking for answers, though the recent attempts to revive national pride, and the evangelism surge in this formerly rather agnostic nation, are relevant. But is that enough to stop arson-created bushfires?
Discuss this Article




 だが他に、つなぎの力がもっと本能的な社会もある。 シンプルな、皮膚感覚的な帰属感である。日本が、国レバルでも、グループレべルでも、そのいちばん良い例だ;むかし誰か日本の企業忠誠心のことをロンギング・フォー・ビロンギング(属したい欲求)”と表現した。

 私はこのジャンルに、アングロサクソンや他の北ヨーロッパ社会を含める。 これらの社会もまた、強い独裁者やイデオロギーや、彼らに正統性を与えるための闘争や革命を必要とせずに、安定した封建的/農村的な背景から自然に形成された。

 私が教育を受けた頃の英国では、なにをするべきか知るために聖書や憲法に相談する必要はなかった。ただ単にこうするものだとか、いつもこうしてきたのだから、と説明された。企業についても、ロンギング・フォー・ビロンギングの企業版があった。(そのため日本的経営が英国の地方にとてもうまく移転できた) 国レベルでは、かつてジョージ・オーウェルが英国的であることがいかに一つの意識/考え方であるかを文学化した。

 オーストラリアにも似たような、もっと荒削りかもしれないが、このロンギング・フォー・ビロンギングのバージョンがある。ビル・ピーチという著名なメディア・コメンテーターが、どうして自分がオーストラリア人だとかんたんに分かるか;なぜならそれを定義する必要さえないから、と書いた。共同体意識はまた、囚人と辺境時代の困難の中から生まれたメイトシップ道徳観に大きく助けられている; それは日本のグループ道徳観にごく近いものである。だが、日本の本能的グループ主義は国レベルまで拡げることができたが、オーストラリア・バージョンはより限定的だった。そしてより壊れやすかった。

 日本でさえ、伝統や帰属意識は永遠ではない。そしてそれが無くなった後は、取って代わるものはあまりない。つないでいる力は空気あるいは雰囲気と呼ばれるもの。それが無くなると、定義からして、残るのは真空 道徳観の真空だ。

 日本はまだこの真空問題の初期段階だ; 市民の尋常でない正直さがまだ残っている。とはいえすでに、将来のトラブルの前兆は見えている。 いくつかの学校では規律が完全に乱れてしまっている(学級崩壊)、無責任な弱体大学、改造バイクの暴走族、強盗、万引き、興味本位の殺人。


 幸い日本では、公共物の破壊や公共サービスの規律弛緩(単に他の個人に対してだけでなく社会自体に向けた不道徳の一つ) はまだそれほど見られない。とはいえ、日本の最近のグラフィティ(落書き)アートの隆盛やいまや組織化されてきた空家留守住宅への侵入をみると、その日が来るかもしれないと思われる。


 自分の週末別荘に何度となく侵入されたドーセット地方の男は、これから来る侵入者向けに、この家にもう取るものは残っていないと書いた立て看板を立てた。 このこと自体すべてを語っている。非常に多くの公共サービスの故障、とくに列車サービスは恐るべしである。公共への責任という観念自体が消えてしまった。オーストラリアも同じスロープを滑リ落ちている。

 ジャパン・タイムズ23日の記事地方の人々をどうするかで、ポール・ドゥヴリィは、山火事という大災害が起きている数マイル近くのメルボルンにおける若者の道徳観の崩壊について恐ろしい光景 公共物破壊行為、盗み、その他 を描いた。