PART II: HISTORY IN YOUR PANTS: The Rectification of Memes
- CORPORATE ANTHROCULTURE (shachiku kogaku):
The breeding, training & developmental retardation of humans for life-long incorporation.
- KI THEFT (ki no dorobo):
Uncompensated arrogation of attention, vital energy and growth potential,.
either stealthily or with force, intimidation or commercial media
- MEMETIC EMASCULATION (mimuteki kyosei):
Altering humans to preclude emission/propagation of seminal ideas or cultural innovations.
- SOCIAL ENDOCRINOLOGY (shakai naibunpigaku):
Study of hormonal influences on cultural creativity, economic performance,
political behavior, societal evolution, etc.
Curiously, the hottest underground topic around Kyoto's prodigally uninspired celebration of 1,200 years of elegant splendor was glands. Well, hormones actually, endangered male hormones in particular, and their curious effects upon local reality. The topic is not that new.
Historically, Japanese were a people comfortable with sensuality, and freely appropriated sexual metaphors to describe other social phenomena. Kyoto, for example, was not merely the cradle of Japanese culture, she was long regarded as the genitalia of the body politic. For over a millennium, she gestated and propagated all the nation's memetic progeny, both those cultured from early Sino-Korean intercourse, and those from the seminal contributions of ardent local genius.
As with many flowerings, Kyoto's procreative power was hermaphroditic. The feminine side nurtured and protected, offering grounding and continuity. The masculine injected innovation, risk and creative surprise. The aristocracy and wealthy connoisseurs maternally nourished tradition, but the force of the yang was with the craftspeople. And as a town of rich and complex craft communities, there was always enough ambient professional rivalry to keep both masters and journeymen aroused and fertile. The audacious vitality of the neighborhoods even infected city policy. As Meiji Japan opened to the world, Kyoto embraced foreign meme-bearers with a passion, spawning the country's first tramways, electric plants and public schools.
As an isolated city-state, Kyoto might have survived as a spirited and convivial community. But as the lower chakra center of a body politic increasingly hypnotized by the military and money-minded, she was systematically sapped of her juice, her jazz, her youth. Government policy, propaganda and later mass media drove national energy and aspiration to the northern cerebral bureaucratic chakras where it was more easily regimented and controlled. Education in the individualized nexus of apprenticeship was banned in favor of mass instruction for mass production, mass mobilization and mass consumption.
It was all quite rational. In the new industrial order, craftspeople were an egregious pain. They had their own anachronistic canons of quality and, working so close to home, archaic commitments to family and community that often interfered with "production." They also had nasty political habits. Like the American colonial artisans who led the Boston Tea Party and many skirmishes of the revolution, craft masters not only had an unhealthy passion for liberty and autonomy, they had the balls to vent it. Japan's corporatist leaders thus set about exorcising their fractious spirits with the Modernization Mantra: "Craftsman bad; Worker good; (Robot best!)"
Mantras work, by the way, especially when amplified by massive media. Japan's industrial work force is now famous as the most disciplined, diligent and docile on Earth. Meanwhile the average age of Kyoto craftspeople is now topping sixty with few apprentice aspirants in sight. Production of her once celebrated textiles, ceramics and other craft ware has largely been either mechanized or shipped offshore to sweat shop operations in China and Korea. And with chants of "public safety," Japan's multinational construction firms sumptuously lobbied Fire Department bureaucrats to stifle new wooden architecture in favor of cement, effectively idling the most skilled and gifted carpentry community in the world.
As if all the cultural emasculation wasn't dispiriting enough, local women started to notice funny things about their men. As modernization progressed, Kyoto manhood and its proud accolade of *ichinin-mae* ("one fully arrived man") slowly lost their traditional connotations of independence, paternity and creativity. The modern definitions helpfully proffered by Tokyo's Education Ministry were all about security, consumption and the sexiness of your corporate mother's body. This was new. Earlier, in art, craft and agriculture, men often collaborated, but also labored fiercely to distinguish themselves as individuals. Now men were being urged to earnestly compete to extinguish their selves in life-long corporate fusion. Among the "winners" at least, this entailed a microcosmic polar shift of their own existential centers of gravity upward, away from the assertive, sensual lower chakras, toward the cooler, collectivizable chakras in the head.
This all had immediate social repercussions. Among the terminally incorporated, the office bond became the power obligation of life, exerting incessant suction on the soul and demanding full attention. These coercive claims quickly drained away the energy available to animate other relationships in the community, neighborhood or even the home. "Corporate alienation of affection" thus became a well discussed topic among young women, and an oft cited reason for the increasing numbers actively avoiding marriage.
What was happening to men? Or more precisely, what was happening to salarimen? Nobody but the aging Misses seemed to care. After all, production and profits were up, and labor strife down. In industry, science and pop culture, the creativity shortfall was easily offset with imported memes filched on the cheap. And the loss of masculine potency in civil society and grassroots politics certainly wasn't lamented by any known bureaucratic authorities.
Whenever asked what was going on, establishment experts on nihonjinron ("theories of Japaneseness") would invariably respond, "Nothing. We Japanese are just naturally groupy, placid and tractable. Always have been. Centuries of huddling, harmonious agro-villaging are in the blood. True Japanese are therefore happiest in faceless crowds and factories. (And if you're not, you are obviously not truly Japanese and will kindly keep your mouth shut.)"
The shut-up-&-sit-down crowd held the floor for quite a while, but then finally went too far. Alarmed at an unexpected side-effect -- the plummeting national birthrate -- they started to denounce "over-educated women" for the fallowness of the conjugal futon. This blame-the-victim gambit did not sit well. Already fully burdened with the demands of home care, aging parents, children's education and side work, plus furnishing 90% of the "manpower" to local environmental/human rights/political reform movements, women began to stand up and shout, "Where the hell are the men?" When the only answer forthcoming was "busy," they dusted off their excessive educations and began to explore for themselves. One early clue came from their gynecologists.
At international medical conferences on menopause, Japanese doctors habitually reported conspicuously fewer cases of patient distress or demands for estrogen replacement therapy than other nationalities. Their standard explanation: Japanese women are just stronger and more stoic than their soft, whiny western counterparts.
Suspecting there might also be less chauvinist factors involved, one Dr. Adlercreutz from Finland - where women aren't exactly cream puffs - flew to Japan, teamed up with a Kyoto research group, and raced about the countryside dipsticking the national urine. Their surprising results (reported in the Lancet 5/16/'92): Japanese excrete (and thus contain) 100 to 1,000 times more plant estrogens than any other tested population. They traced the cause to the naturally occurring estrogenic molecules in soybeans, and Japan's ravenous appetite for *tofu, miso, shoyu, atsuage,* etc. Concluding that these remarkable hormone concentrations offer a more credible explanation for the serenity of the national menopause, they rested their case. A few local feminists, however, persisted: "That's all well and good for aging women, but what effect does a chronic estrogen bath have upon our men, our sons or society?" "Interesting research topic," team members agreed, "but who is going to fund it?"
By chance, the dietary estrogen revelations converged with a renewed public interest in another anti-androgenic influence: the intense school stress endured by Japanese children. Increasing press reports of child suicides, peer bullying, classroom violence, and the 18-hour "work" days many middle schoolers endure, coincided with last year's political debate on whether or not Japan should finally sign the UN's Declaration of Children's Rights. (The new coalition government did eventually ratify it, but as it was staunchly opposed by the educational bureaucrats charged with enforcing it, the victory remains moot.)
A number of anxious activist mothers decided not to wait around and started searching for new tactics to break the curse of "examination hell" on their kids' minds and bodies. Some with science backgrounds combed research journals for studies on chronic stress and child development, but turned up surprisingly little. They did, however, find mountains of data on stress in every other kind of vertebrate. On mammals and adult humans, in particular, there were hundreds of reports detailing how chronic stress (from fear, exhaustion, etc.) flushes the body with cortisol and other adrenal secretions that quench male hormones, suppressing masculine functions and behavior. One universal point of these reactions - now abracademicized as the "General Adaption Syndrome" - is to "adapt" the individual's self- assertion molecules to levels compatible with his actual strength and status in the group - for most in a hierarchy, that is, to levels low enough to meekly bear the chronic ache of subordination. Ball-busting, it's called in the vernacular, and among organized adults it has indisputable survival value.
High stress levels in social confrontations always betray a risky mismatch of aspiration and assurance. In such cases, a) you are very likely to get stomped or humiliated; b) you probably shouldn't have thrust your self into the situation in the first place; c) rather than prolong conflict or gut-caustic resentment with someone you can't beat, it makes perfect survivalist sense to douse your thrusters a little with estrogen, rendering you more serene, submissive and safer. "Say what? You want my spot/catch/wench? Well, you just do what you have to, sire - don't you mind (or bite) me."
Low ranking males of most primate, canine and avian troops combat the stress of constant interaction with superiors by knocking their own androgen levels down so low that they lose sexual identity altogether. (Cf, Lyndon Johnson's favorite boast of power over a man, "I got his pecker in my pocket.") Human victims tend to retreat to prepubertal psyches, to an age when submission and sexlessness were "natural" or at least not demeaning. They thus forfeit adulthood, but are compensated with group security and the indulgence [*amae*] afforded "perpetual (non-threatening) kids." In Japanese tradition, these are the master's "lads" or the lord's boisterous retainers. And like classic westerns, samurai movies brim with the neutered equivalents of Jingles, Pancho, Tonto, and Gabbie Hayes. (S/F has added new dimensions to the sidekick role with consorting computers, robots and wookies, but their abiding asexuality remains a telling constant.)
The inquiring mothers quickly grasped these biochemical/behavioral equations, and calculated that between the soy foods, school stress and militaristic dress/hair/behavior codes their boys were being insidiously preconditioned for enduring corporate neoteny. Alerted by the research, they began to see evidence for "anthroculture" all around them. For example, the so-called "capon effect" wherein anti-androgens administered to young males prolong bone growth and increase the fat to muscle ratio - yielding taller, heavier, but physically weaker boys - an adolescent trend cited in almost every national health report for the last two decades. Also, over the same period, they noted Japanese professors' widespread adoption of the sobriquet "broilers" to describe the tall, aimless and obedient boys crowding into their classrooms.
Despite the discouraging academic and anecdotal news, no one is hollering "conspiracy" yet. Kyoto reformist mother, Hiroko Kasai: "I don't think anyone believes the kids' hormone levels are being consciously 'engineered.' Education Ministry bureaucrats just aren't that smart. But they do know the kind of compliant workers and submissive citizens they want as 'product,' and tend to retain practices that empirically work. And they have been tinkering with this system at least since Meiji."
Not everyone even thinks it's a bad idea. Optimists, including many of Japan's "education mamas," hold that having a "low testosterone culture" is probably a good thing, contributing to the unique safety, diligence and economic success of Japanese society. Critics, on the other hand, contend that low T also explains many of less happy aspects of salariman society - corporate workers' life-long addiction to comics, fads and silly games; their timid pubescent preference for "power sex" fantasies (S/M, bondage & degradation pornography) over sensual erotic encounters; and their chronic indifference to familial and societal responsibilities.
(One interesting point of agreement: women's instinctive recognition that the average yakuza or even samurai, while physically menacing, is also a low T phenomenon. "Obedience to the death for a meal ticket!" one acidly observed, "lacks certain macho resonance." Recently, Japanese women, especially mothers, have become less cowed by yakuza posturings, and far more aggressive than men, especially policemen, in trying to close down gang offices in their neighborhoods. They point out that since most "tough guys" are totally organized and submissive to their group hierarchies, they are still essentially children whose permitted limits of masculine maturity differ little from their salariman brethren.)
Meanwhile, concerned parents around Kyoto are now promoting remedies ranging from short-term fixes like testosterone supplements for middle school boys to long-term plans to extend compulsory education through high school. (Besides the regimentation, 6-day weeks and ubiquitous cram schools, one other crucial difference between the systems in the U.S. and Japan is that American kids usually don't start feeling the pressure until around age 15 when college entrance competition begins and puberty is ending. Since all Japanese kids must also fight their way into high schools, the crunch hits them much earlier and in far more psychosomatically sensitive terrain.)
At any rate, an important debate is at last emerging in Japan on the hormonal golden mean. How much T is enough - to sustain a healthy appetite for personal growth, familial ties, democratic rights and creative individuality? And how much is too much - triggering the aggressive stupidities, greed and megalomania of Rambos, rapists and arbitrage brokers? The corollaries also intrigue. If Japan's T levels rise, will her fabled corporate harmonies and trade surpluses fall? Can an economy so reliant upon mass consumption survive its members' individuation? Will increasing lower chakra energies recharge civil society and cultural fertility? Can Kyoto's ancient potency be aroused and rise again?
At the moment, Japan's anthroculture controversy is still an intensely local affair. But considering stakes and implications, it deserves the poignant interest and participation of everyone deeply affected by this country - whether as cultural votary, economic victim or politically awakening animal. It will make a difference.