I am republishing a new version of this diary, first published last Sunday night for Anti-Capitalist Meetup before it was ready to see the world. I have extensively rewritten it in light of the pointed feminist left analysis of Geminijen. She was right–I was inconsistent in simultaneously empathizing with the victims of the Japanese “comfort women” mass crime while mentioning the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal without acknowledging the associated dynamic of workplace exploitation–and the emerging horrific decades-long Bill Cosby workplace scandal just makes that more apparent. Exploitation of women, in its many shameful forms, is a huge part of human injustice to the vulnerable that should never be overlooked or minimized. The very point of my diary is to pull back layers of illusion in our society. I hope I have now done the topic greater justice.
In the late 1960’s, when I was in about the fourth grade in South Florida, one Sunday night a Japanese “foreign missionary” named Shoji Honda came to speak at the Southern Baptist Church where my conservative Hispanic dad was pastor. Long before the cars with that last name became commonplace on U.S. streets, I knew about the motorcycles. Meeting this friendly and intelligent young man was about the most interesting thing that had happened in my life up to that point in time.
Shoji taught me and the other kids how to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Japanese and Spanish. If we met again I would like to ask him if Jesus loved the “comfort women” the imperial Japanese Army forced into sexual slavery during and after WWII or the undocumented Latin American families who are trying to feed and house themselves in the town in the Deep South where I live today. As a leftist who also happens to be Christian, if there is anything that keeps me loving my version of Jesus (liberating socialist) it is that the answer in both instances would be yes. But by the example of many conservative religious people of yesterday and today in Japan and the U.S., the answers would be “What comfort women?” and a spittle-flaked “Hell no.”
Many of the Christians in my town still are part of the tarnished Tea Party set spouting about the imminent Stalinist state that soon will be in control in the good ole U.S. of A. (The thought that President Obama now is allowing some of the poor brown workers we see every day to become documented and remain here with their families has them in a reactionary tizzy.) I am tempted to tell them that they have it about half right. Arguably a variation on a creeping dictatorship is increasingly in place in the U.S. It is not state capitalist but late market capitalist in nature, and its dictator is not Barack Obama (an empathetic human being of humble beginnings and a big heart with whom I, as a democratic socialist, disagree on many things), nor even one person, elected or otherwise, but the system itself, currently archetypically embodied in the Tea Party’s own funders. But, bad as the Koch Brothers are, it is never good to bandy about comparisons to “Stalin” or that other person whose name is usually mentioned by the Tea Partiers in the same breath. And the Koch Brothers are by no means the only powerful plutocrats in the U.S., although they are among those spending the most to control U.S. politics. They are major multi-tenacled suppliers in chains driven to maintain capitalist exploitation for as long as natural resources last. You and I have roles too–most prominently as wasteful followers of mass-marketed taste, “consumers” in the Wholly Walton Empire.
Interestingly, we rarely think about much less question the family of emperors who hold great sway in our own consumer empire. I do not think this is a coincidence. Our hierarchical economic system is undergirded by a constrained cultural dialectic of illusion and scandal largely controlled by those who have wealth and power and thereby control the commercial media. Scandals sometimes erupt, sometimes even deserving ones, but society has an inability to diagnose and treat root causes embedded in the system itself. When the system finds a scandal beneficial or at least unavoidable, the system, through the commercial media, immediately commodifies the scandal 24/7 while maintaining its own core of self-perpetuating illusions.
So why is this objectionable? Human suffering is not something that truly exists in a digital format, in a hologram, or even on charmingly old-fashioned film or paper. It exists in the lives of billions of real human beings.
On the other hand, illusions, although not tangible, can be powerful and real because they are by definition in the realm of ideas, however stilted. These illusions are not democratically determined but rather plutocratically disseminated to each one of us, often appealing to our most base or self-centered instincts. Societies do not pick their most fundamental illusions, the rulers do.
Some illusions are both inaccurate (I know, atheist friends, I am on some level wishfully “believing” in a Jesus of my own conception and therefore “delusional,” but I still love the thought that Jesus loves me and you) and not good. Keeping up appearances can be dangerous.
As priority number one, if we are to be free, we should have the courage to admit that we or those we love or should love are in need. A political party that is too afraid to speak this message is nearly worthless. Too often illusions are only shattered when it becomes “profitable” to do so. It is a serious moral flaw of capitalist democracy (take it from Reinhold Niebuhr) that even trying to win an election for “the good side” can involve a cold-hearted cost-benefit analysis. We won’t talk about those in the most dire straights because “most people,” as in 50.1% of a given electorate, don’t want to think about them. Messages are shaped as if the weak and vulnerable are nonexistent, mere expendable chits, or dead weight on the mighty otherwise robust shoulders of capitalism–a supply-side Galt-ish whopper of a lie that is not only fictional but also morally repugnant.
Eventually those people who are forgotten in political messaging are forgotten in our collective heart, in the cultural hegemony of our society. And some of us, the for now more fortunate, are left to wander in a decaying wilderness of selfish consumerism until we go broke and our planet chokes to death.
Those who suffer are left to suffer in silence, with silence not golden but a constant flashing reminder in the psyche of injustice. Under such circumstances the void of the abandonment often will be filled with self-medication rather than revolution, and sometimes with faux rebellion in the form of acts of violence directed at innocent persons rather than mindful acts directed at a system needing deep change. Self-medication takes the commercially available products, whether purchased at Walmart or a street corner, and consumes them to ease the pain of being ignored and seemingly unimportant if not despised and rejected. Faux rebellion idiosyncratically takes the available woman, child, or other innocent and subjects her or him to scapegoating for the sins of an empire which already mass exploits then ignores women, children, and other innocents.
To put a smiley face on mass exploitation by ignoring the suffering of others is a great but common sin of capitalism. We sense this societal sickness, but again, the nausea does not rock the boat but our own internal seas. The Wholly Walton Empire, which seeks to perpetuate illusion and avoid scandal involving its own nobility and the system that gives it wealth and power, is perfectly happy with mass self-medication and faux rebellion. Japan, a slightly more healthy society with a parliamentary system and a vibrant left wing, reduces self-medication and faux rebellion but tends toward the same silent indifference to injustice when exposure of cherished reactionary lies is threatened. Telling and accepting deep truths could hurt the system, slightly if not deeply. Mass honest global exposure of deep lies would leave the global neoliberal system itself exposed as subject to change or even rejection. The human story is potentially malleable. And malleability begins with humane rather than indifferent cultural hegemony.
I love the honest moment many critics hate in Akira Kurisawa’s One Wonderful Sunday (1947) when the director, through the female co-lead, confesses the act of creating for the public good by turning to us, the viewers, and begging for help for the poor lovers of post-WWII Japan: “There are so many poor lovers like us.”
Generations later, the Japanese left is by and large retaining its moral courage against a denialist onslaught that would have fit right in with Fascist days gone by. In a vicious campaign of moral inversion that would make Karl Rove proud, those who dare to stand by the historical veracity of the exploitation of “comfort women” are themselves scandalized. The current conservative Japanese effort to expunge from history the Japanese military’s mass brutalizing of women during WWII is, needless to say, itself deeply shameful. But this need for maintenance of societal illusion is by no means a new creation. Nor can the U.S. exempt itself from criticism with respect to its own deep and wide illusion at home and abroad, and in particular with respect to Japan.
In these sad days (which can become a little less sad when the U.S. president does the right thing, as with the recent immigration pronouncement, which brings a measure of justice to millions of desperate people), it is difficult to remember except with sadness that not too long ago a first term presidency was won on a simultaneously discomforting and audacious vision–
The title of The Audacity of Hope was derived from a sermon delivered by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright had attended a lecture by Dr. Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, on the G. F. Watts painting Hope, which inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 based on the subject of the painting – “with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope… that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.”
While “her” audacity is commendable, where is “ours”? Can we look on at a person in such a condition and not ask why and then do all we can to change those conditions?
This vision, which was ultimately an appeal to assess honestly the requirements of justice in the service of love, has been diminished through a societal psychosis brought about only in part by an opposition party strategically incapable of telling the truth on anything serious. The Republican Party is built on lying, to be sure. But it has received decades of assistance from the pathetic unwillingness of the U.S.’s so-called liberal party to have the audacity to honestly call even for old time liberal religion and from the pathetic unwillingness of the so-called liberal media to have the audacity to expose lies on a prolonged basis, except, irregularly, those involving sexual scandal. In Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal (1950), about the libel of a fictitious “famous female singer” for a sexual liaison that did not happen, the desperate post-WWII Japanese commercial press was exposed for its tendency to expose the titillating, truthfully or not, because this is commercially profitable.
As with the continuing repression of comfort women history in Japan, sexual scandal generally does not get mass coverage if this would implicitly challenge the bedrock of gender exploitation that underlies much of capitalist society. The true sacrosanct issue in the capitalist media is capitalism. For instance, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky situation was covered extensively as a matter of “the sex” but not as a matter of what Geminijen correctly describes as
the sexual compliance of a low level worker with her boss on the job. Although the right wing chastised Clinton on the basis of some Puritan Christian morality about adultery and licentiousness, the issue should have been discussed on the basis of power differentials and the explicit sexualization of women in the workplace. In this context, a relationship between two consenting adults becomes impossible to determine since Clinton (as president) had total power over his subordinates. Even if Lewinsky “consented” or initiated the encounters (possibly in some sort of opportunistic – consciously or unconsciously – way to curry favor with the boss), it sets up a dynamic and expectation for all other females in that workplace to have to “put out” or be sexually attractive (i.e., young & thin)to get or keep their jobs. It was not a question of Quid pro quo” but a hostile work environment (see I think it’s title seven of the 1964 civil rights act). That this assumption is prevalent, in fact assumed, in workplaces around the world is made even clearer by the way it is dismissed.
The same could be said for the Bill Cosby scandal, pushed under the rug for decades as he sold television commercials and, on the show that bore his name, gave the U.S. television audience a depiction of African American life sure not to challenge the dominant capitalist culture. While it was nice to see the Cosby family each week, and until a couple of weeks ago reruns of the show were still a favorite on HulaPlus in my own house, social climbing and getting ahead were presumed ideals on the show, poverty was pushed under the rug, and the continuing struggle for liberty and justice for all was unmentioned.
So what to do? Is a tendency to derive mass titillation from sex “scandal” but not to challenge the status quo of a society that gives rise to the exploitation of women to begin with just one more frustration to self-medicate over? Can we not finally begin to tell the truth about the system itself, not only the 800 lb. gorilla but the room itself?
I do not live in Japan but I do live in the heart of the Deep South, the center region of the Wholly Walton Empire. I think it is worth pondering who is really running this sickly thickly syrupy daytime theatre of life in the U.S.–so comfortable with societal psychosis once reserved for dreams of a heavenly one–while we put on our daily generally modest costumes. We have lost the will to pray, oh Lord, for a Mercedes Benz or even a new pickup, although we may still feel this unexplained ungratified compulsion to purchase new gizmos with whatever is left over after the tank of gas that will get us from our trailer to our part time jobs if we can get them.
It can sometimes be difficult, however, to tell the actors from the playwrights, for even the playwrights have to play dress up, or, more typically, dress down. When you are an imperial family, it is important to look the part, which will vary according to the needs of the occasion. If your power is mainly cultural, with pretentions of divinity, your plumage may need to be bold. While living large you may feel compelled to use your women and children more like props than actors on the stage of your pampered world.
If your power is economic, you may need to dress like regular small business folk on the way to the quaint grand opening of a new five and dime, complete with soda fountain. Your appearance should reflect the business needs of your milieu, even if that means you too must look like you eat tons of that processed corn-shit you sell to us at everyday low prices.
Before I come back to them, I want to mention again the customers. You may wholly or partly not realize it, but, if you are reading this, you are likely sitting or standing (pray not driving) in the Wholly Walton Empire. You won’t actually get to “[m]eet the 6 Walton Heirs at the [t]op of the Walmart [e]mpire,” but it is important to their tight hold on power in the U.S. that you and hundreds of millions of species-beings like you remain alienated and not develop class consciousness of them and moral consciousness of the ends and means of their empire.
Now back to our story …
The Walton family are just regular folk, plus lots of money and power. They are at the pinochle of a homestyle capitalist family built on the illusion of choice. They are mere country vendors. Other small town folk make the stuff that they vend, which we stuff into our bodies and souls to the limit of our credit and physiological and psychological capacity to intake stuff.
These ultra rich “regular folk” use slick mercenary politicians from both U.S. ruling parties to carry out their policies in exchange for chump change and neoliberal-circumscribed political power implemented through the kabuki theatre of “aw shucks, pass me them taters” known as U.S. “democracy.” A broad spectrum of “regular folk,” sometimes already wealthy but usually not “ultra rich,” compete within this mercenary class. Enter folks like Jeb (make no mistake, Jeb does not come to Arkansas because he cares about education)
and “our” very own HRC.
Now what in tarnation does this have to do with Japan?
Both the U.S. and Japan are the way they are by commercial design. Reinforced by six generations of capitalist pacts, Japan literally is the way it is today because the U.S. military twice caused it to be so, first in the early 1850’s and the second time a century later. However, Japan is no longer the sucker in this relationship. It does not have a huge military industrial complex to support, live in the hegemonic Wholly Walton Empire, or shamelessly promote grotesque accumulation by its most wealthy–and it is better off because of these things. Japan, for all its faults, keeps a lot more assets for lovers like us than the U.S. (See figure 8 of this Whitehouse paper.)
Attention Walmart shoppers: Notwithstanding the cheap goods we can stuff into our carts or commit petit theft to obtain, we are the sucker. But unless the system changes to deep democracy to give the people control over the U.S. economy, even if Walmart were boycotted or Sherman Anti-trusted to the point of death and another two, three or more store chains controlled retail sales in the U.S., a new reassembled retail empire would take its place with different plutocrats cutting the ribbons in these smiley grim days of late retail-based finance capitalism. Nor is this about U.S. capitalist hegemony but about capitalist hegemony in general. Those transnational megacorporations that control production of all of the things that Walmart and every other retail “merchant” sells would create other “Walmart” surrogates within months as needed or else they would be replaced by other transnational megacorporations. They have stuff they have to sell for as long as they exist, which is as long as poor lovers like us have any money.
In the meantime, if we try to isolate ourselves and not buy their stuff, whether it is opium, Furbys, or cruise missiles, why, those are fighting words. Fortunately for Japan, if it wants to avoid invasion or trade sanctions, it has the best of all worlds in relation to the Walton Empire because its residents do not treat it as Wholly. It has allowed Walmart in but Walmart is not doing so well–Walmart, ironically, appears to be sort of like the Kmart near where I live: lacking consumer cachet and barely hanging on. It does not have to force U.S. trade negotiators and the U.S. military to force its crap on Japan because Japan already has opened to the crap and most of its choosey shoppers just say no. Walmart only stays in business because it has us in its empire.
Let’s quickly go back in time to another Walton to burnish our Japanese history and thereby understand our own supporting actor roles as unwitting colonized suckers. Hell, he was so dadburn efficient he even brought in Japan’s major trading partner to its west, China, not to mention the odd reference to South Africa. All the world was his oyster. Sir Joseph was both a 1st Baronet and a turn-of-the century coal baron Liberal MP. The much-travelled Mr. Walton fashioned himself an expert on the then British empire’s far eastern investments. Not just anyone can go on an eight month vacation, meet with Japanese and other plutocrats, and write CHINA AND THE PRESENT CRISIS, WITH NOTES ON A VISIT TO JAPAN AND KOREA.
And let there be no mistake, in 1900, as in 2014 (see NY brit expat’s excellent recent ACM diary on the crisis), the world was and is in a capitalist crisis caused by capitalists working for the benefit of capitalists, not poor lovers like us. According to Paul Krugman, “Japan [is] on the [b]rink,” although its responses have been somewhat better than other capitalist democracies.
Krugman’s crisis analysis has built-in artificial limits, accepting the neoliberal system as a given. This system was imposed by the west on the east a long time ago, and although the classical version merged inconspicuously with the neo version, neither was or is a law of nature but a law of well-fed, comforted, profit-seeking, justice-killing, environment-destroying men. Gradually “the east” adapted to imperialistic imposition. Or, as the good Methodist Sir Joe put it:
Or, more to the point about Japan:
This rank U.S. military aggression not only forced Japan to open itself to U.S. trade but also indirectly led to Pearl Harbor.
The Meiji Restoration accelerated industrialization in Japan, which led to its rise as a military power by the year 1905, under the slogan of “Enrich the country, strengthen the military” (富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei). The Meiji oligarchy that formed the government under the rule of the Emperor first introduced measures to consolidate their power against the remnants of the Edo period government, the shogunate, daimyo, and the samurai class.
After WWII, Japan kept its emperor but in truth came back under the watchful eyes and guns of a new old one, with the Japanese left as its nemesis. The Ford Foundation-funded Leftwing Social Movements in Japan: An Annotated Bibliography, published the year Castro came into Havana (Uyehara, C.H., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. The Charles E. Tuttle Company.) gives thousands of references but noted, “Postwar governmental studies–like the prewar ones until the war ended–are under security lock and key.” The introduction states:
The termination of the Pacific War brought about the rise of two hitherto suppressed political movements in Japan, the social democratic and the communist, and the availability in the United States of large quantities of material on these movements. In less than two years after 1945, the communists almost succeeded in staging a general strike; chaos was averted only by General Douglas MacArthur’s written directive. Whereas the social democrats had led a futile fight against ultra-nationalism and fascism in the prewar years, the postwar Social Democratic Party rose to head a coalition government also within two years after the war had ended. Despite brutal prewar attempts physically to exterminate the communist, harass the legal left, and win over the less ideologically committed social democrats to cooperation with the imperial government, the rapid revitalization of these movements in the postwar era indicated their tenacity and the depth of their roots in Japanese society. Socialism was first introduced into Japan prior to World War 1 as an intellectual movement. It did not gain any wide following among the working masses. The leftist intellectual movement was welded to the practical labor movement which emerged as a product of the new industrial society in Japan created by World War I. These movements are no longer foreign elements grafted onto Japanese society but vital living parts which cannot realistically be ignored.
More recent days have witnessed the Japanese communists hanging tough, while for decades many right socialists and social democrats have been withering away into the banality of the major party political dynamic.
Whereever we poor lovers are, any social democratic elements under capitalist democracy will ever be susceptible to being coopted, undercut, and gutted, just as Niebuhr, and before him Marx, predicted. In the U.S., where our minor parties cannot hope for seats in a parliament that does not exist, we will continue to receive a full dose of neoliberal medicine because we are well-controlled. Unlike the fictitious unemployed Seven Samurai (1954), we are unlikely to find work doing good and, as a coping strategy, may sometimes run off to join the bandits or one black market or another created by the drug war. We may in hard times receive just enough welfare to tamp down revolutions and rumors of revolution, but until we change systems, the sick one forced upon us will remain in some phase of crisis for many lovers like us. The system that forces Sam Waltons upon us no longer has the audacity to offer hope to many John Boy (much less Mary Ellen, Erin, and Elizabeth) Waltons, who now have equal rights to remain in poverty with people they are told from birth are their inferiors. Those PWT can join the blacks and the browns in holding cells when their money runs out and they cannot pay their fines and costs and lose their driver’s licenses. The system abides in decidedly un-Dude-like fashion as lonely lost lovers like us remain silent and shuffle across trailers looking for something more powerful than medical marijuana and White Russians (although damn those things are good) that for a little while goes bam-bam-bam, pop-pop-pop, or deep-deep-deep in our warring consuming psyches until the cops arrive, and we go off to be photographed in our Christlike Idiot robes purchased at Walmart for some holiday or birthday long ago, and DCF, “what assholes,” comes again for the dirty hungry wee ones wearing no costume but stinky diapers, ain’t they cute, may the circle be unbroken.
Few of us will have no regrets for our youth.
Note: The above clip is the only one I can find on YouTube for this incredible film. It is unfortunately narrowly focused on the wonderful lead actress’s beauty. The film is available on HuluPlus and in a box set.