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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Positive Thinking and the Absense of Suicide

The Japanese are famous for having been able and willing to lay down their lives for a cause. Suicide in Japan was not considered to be a sin. Sometimes rather honour, or even good manners required it. Certainly many young Japanese seem to have felt, or were taught to feel, that becoming suicide pilots was preferable to being invaded, and having their culture destroyed. I have argued that from an aesthetic, autoscopic, perspective a life and actions towards death may be considered to be the most aesthetic and pleasing to the eye, whereas the decision to "I will now set out on a suicide mission" may fall foul of the ghost of non-contradiction and various other Cretans that protect linguistic thought.

Kant (1797), who based his morality on rationality condemns suicide in the following way immediately after the statement of his foundation of morals "the categorical imperative."

If then there is a supreme principle or, in respect of the human will, a categorical imperative, it must be one which, being drawn from the conception of that which is necessarily and end for everyone because it is an end in itself, constitutes an objective principle of will, and can there fore serve as a universal practical law. The foundation of this principle is: rational nature exist as an end in itself. Man (sic) necessarily conceives his own existence as being so; so far then this is a subjective principle of human actions. [snip] So act as to treat humanity, whether in thing own person or in that of any other in every case as an end withal, never as means only. [snip]
Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his actions can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot therefore, dispose an any way of a many in my own persona so as to mutilate him, or to damage or kill him. (Kant, 1797[2008}, p34. My emphasis)

To summarize Kant's view, if you talk to yourself and ask yourself about it, then answering "yes" to "shall I kill myself now?" is categorically unreasonable, upon the assumption that rational being (or hearing oneself speak) is the ultimate end of "man."

After three decades of economic stagnation, and a rise in suicide coincident with the commencement of SSRI antidepressants, the Japanese are now putting great effort into the reduction of the level of suicide in Japan.

Oka, (2015) one of authors of the booklet founded by Kounosuke Matsushita pictured above, entitled "Every day will be fun. Positive Thinking is Best!" went to the municipality with the lowest suicide rate in Japan and through a series of interviews with a large number of the inhabitants found that they thought extremely positively. In a rare example of Japanese self praise one informant respond "Its because its just right here," "It is just the best place to live."

Christian religiosity also correlate with positive thinking (Rudski, 2004) and the absence of suicide (Dervic et al., 2004). After finding a correlation between optimism and religiosity and pessimism and its absence Rudski writes "One can easily speculate that religiosity offers an attractive answer to finding meaning in an often-confusing existence and that such answers are often optimistic in nature with promises of eternal life. (Rudski, 2004, p373). Dervic et al. write "Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide [snip] may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. (Dervic et al., 2004, p2303)

So if one were to introduce more "positive thinking", and even Christianity, into Japan it would probably result in a reduction of suicide, and the destruction of Japanese culture. What would the "suicide pilots" have thought? Where they simply misguided or did they represent Japanese culture? Their squadrons were named such things as "Mountain Cherry" after Motoori Norinaga poems, one of which goes "If asked the nature of the Japanese heart, tell them that it is the blossom of mountain cherry, fragrant in the summer sun."

The eradication of suicide or as the title of one book puts it the move from a "suicide society" to a "society that is good to live in" (Shimizu, 2010) often seems to be contaminant with a shift from traditional Japanese to Western values. Books on the eradication of suicide have section titles such as "The Japanese who ask "Can you fight 24 hours a day?" are worker ants." (Shimizu, ibid) "Japanese society is like a hair dryer with only an on button" (ibid) "Thinking about the value of not doing, but being" (ibid). This last movement is one from *seeing* value as manifested in action, to having value as a result of some hidden "being" (the philosophy of presence) that even Japanese people will one day be felt to possess. The title of Dr. Oka's 2013 book, "The town that is good to live in, has a low suicide rate for a reason" likewise, gives the Western game away: that people need a "reason" (words, value purports to exist, inhere, without any action) for living well. When the Japanese believe this then they will be damned too. They will need to be whispering to a dead mother in their heads, or with their heads in the underworld, telling themselves that they are really valuable people.

It is interesting that one of the founders of the West, after Plato, Jesus Christ was also fairly suicidal in the sense that he seems to have gone on what could be described as a suicide mission. He was the Kamikaze that would have sank sin. Does this mean that he was Japanese? While he was a walking bible, the word made flesh, Jesus is also said to have also kept on going on about "the light". And as Kieerkegard (1843) points out, contra Kant, the Christian religion encourages people to live not rationally but in faith. Perhaps he was the word made flesh who wanted to bring the word into the light. He certainly saw no irrationality in his mission, which was perhaps an aesthetically attractive one. Despite being the word made flesh, and and may become a replacement Eve, helpmeet or paraclete, as mentioned before, he may also silence words in mind. A suicidal listener that brings those that talk to him into the light. I reminded of James Cameron's two messianic heroes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day who sacrificed themselves to destroy what they had created (essentially a sort of time slip or loop) in the case of Miles, or that rationality that which they incarnated, in the case of the T-1000. This moved a long way from suicide in Japan.

Dervic, K., Oquendo, M. A., Grunebaum, M. F., Ellis, S., Burke, A. K., & Mann, J. J. (2004). Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(12), 2303–2308. doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.161.12.2303
Kant, I. (2008). On the Metaphysics of Morals and Ethics: Kant. Wilder Publications.
Oka, M. 岡檀. (2015, May 9). そもそも「前向き」って何だろう. 月刊PHP.
Rudski, J. (2004). The illusion of control, superstitious belief, and optimism. Current Psychology, 22(4), 306–315. doi.org/10.1007/s12144-004-1036-8

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.