Let's face it: the chain of discrimination is unbreakable

Tuesday, March 05 2013 @ 01:40 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

The dendritic projections are like muscle tissue. They grow more the more they're used.
- Arnold Scheibel, former professor of neurobiology at UCLA, re-quoted from a New York Times article titled "New Evidence Points to Growth of the Brain Even Late in Life"

Chen Tien-shi appeared on the
Education channel of NHK
on February 26

Me discussing emergency
measures at a meeting in
Switzerland in the wake of
the burst of Japan's bubble

Me awaiting the midnight junk
dinner at a shabby eatery
Lara, Chen Tien-shi wears two hats. She is known as an assistant professor and senior researcher at National Museum of Ethnology. At the same time she is a dedicated activist working for the cause of the reduction of "stateless" persons as they are vaguely defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

I do know she is an extraordinarily intelligent and compassionate person from her biographical book titled Stateless and our personal contact in the last three-plus years. But to tell the truth, I know very little about her academic accomplishments simply because I haven't had a chance to read her research paper. I can't tell for sure, but I suspect she's had a hard time to unequivocally define the problems facing stateless people living in Japan. Here's the reason.

The Japanese legal system, if ever there is such a thing at all, is just a jumble of many incongruous elements. The country first imported the judicial system from the European Continent, particularly from Prussia and France, while it essentially remained a feudal society. After WWII, it has single-mindedly introduced the "Anglo-American" system to blend it into the Franco-Germanic one in an extremely unprincipled way. Once again, Japan has failed to transform itself into a modern civil society.

Let's be reminded that law doesn't change people. It's always the other way around.

Japan's Nationality Law, for one, is based on the MacArthur Constitution. But the problem is that in the 66-year-old Constitution, you will find the definition of "the people" only after you read through the first nine articles devoted to the absurd definition of the Emperor and the manifestation of "renunciation of war." Article 10 says: "[By the way] the conditions necessary for being a Japanese national shall be determined by law." That means in this country, there are at least two extra-legal entities, the divine Emperor and the false pacifism, on which the obscenely incongruous U.S.-Japan alliance is based -- and certainly many more. That way, the rule of law to be reciprocally applied between the state and citizenry is hollowed out from the beginning.

This really hinders Lara's studies as an ethnologist specializing in nationality issues because in reality the subject of her studies is neither law nor ethnology, but theology or mythology, or worse yet, psychiatry.

Lara was wryly grinning when the Japanophilic moron named Donald Keene acquired Japanese citizenship despite the fact the former professor emeritus at Columbia University met none of the requirements of Japan's Nationality Law. Fortunately, though, she has been quite successful in her pursuit as a human rights activist, thanks to her admirable optimism, tenacity and down-to-earth approach toward individual cases with stateless persons who are seeking Japanese nationality only with great difficulty. She is an exceptional person in that she hasn't lost the life-size view of herself, and of others either.

The way she spoke in the TV program of February 26 somehow reminded me of Spielberg's film Schindler's List. Toward the end of the 1993 movie, the German businessman blames himself because he thinks he could have saved more than twelve hundred Jews he actually saved. In this sequence, his old accountant Itzhak Stern gives his boss a gold ring as a token of appreciation. Stern explains about the inscription in it: "It's Hebrew. It says, 'Whoever saves one life saves the world.'"

Lara launched a "Stateless Network" several years ago. Now it's been authorized by the Japanese government as an NPO. An authorized non-profit organization is a funny thing. If lawmakers or bureaucrats think something has to be done to solve a problem, it would be natural that the government, itself, takes corrective measures. Instead, however, it often helps set up an NPO and grants it a tax-exempt status and a small subsidy only to leave it struggling with the hot potato. In this tricky arrangement, what an NPO can do is quite limited.

I don't know if Lara has previous experience in managing an organization. But even if she has some know-how in running one with profit orientation, it's a totally different task to articulate goals for her NPO, and establish the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) accordingly. So it's not her fault at all if the members of her group can't envision their missions very clearly. It's all the more important for each one of these volunteers to understand the spirit of volunteerism that calls for his/her own principle on which to determine what to do and how to do it.

Last week a couple of my friends who watched the TV program gave me their feedback. One of them is a person who heads another NPO working on TIP (trafficking in persons.) She said: "Do you think they (members of Lara's organization) are aware of the fundamental fact that all types of discrimination are deep rooted in one and the same problem: pathology of the Japanese? Just between you and me, one of my headaches is that not a few volunteers in my NPO have lost touch with this reality."

I said, "I don't know exactly, but you are right about the Anti-Prostitution Law. It was enacted 57 years ago. And yet, prostitution, now subtly legitimized and highly institutionalized, is still flourishing across the nation. Likewise, Japan still remains at the bottom of the ranking in gender equality among industrialized nations 27 years after the Equal Employment Opportunity Act took effect. In short, discrimination is at the very root of this false statehood. This should mean that the Nationality Law, and rules and procedures related to it, are only part of the problems facing our Stateless Network."

Another friend, who is an American teaching English in my neighborhood, pointed out: "One of the things that drew my attention is that most stateless persons who appeared in the program seemed to have fallen into the trap of the subjunctive mood. It's always if...., if...., if..... And yet they never used the past perfect subjunctive, like 'What if I hadn't settled down in such a shitty country?' Why are they so sure that they would get a decent job only if the Immigration Office gave them nationality? I don't think their assumptions are very realistic."

He went on: "For instance, that guy, who fled his home country in Eastern Europe all by himself because he lost his parents at the height of the civil war, was saying, in what he thought was English, something like this: 'I love Japan. If the Immigration Office changed its mind and gave me the nationality, or at least a work permit, I would be able to teach English or Russian to Japanese kids.'" He added: "As you once pointed out in your blog, practically every Japanese takes it for granted that any Caucasian can teach him English. As you wrote there, this is one of the reasons English proficiency level of the average Japanese still stays at the bottom of the list despite their greatest exposure to the language here among non-English-speaking nations."

The English teacher said the same thing about another stateless job-seeker who insisted to the interviewer that only if the Immigration Office gave him the nationality, he would be given a decent job he has been applying for, to no avail thus far. The stateless person added that the human resource manager at the company said, "We can't employ you because you are not a Japanese national."

I said to the English teacher: "Who knows? We should all take a chance in an uncertain world like this one." In a sense, though, he had a good point. It doesn't seem to have crossed the mind of these stateless persons seeking the nationality and a job that Japan Inc. is already broke.

No sooner had the Liberal Democratic Party come back to power, new Prime Minister announced a "bold" stimulus package to revive the Japanese economy with a drastic quantitative easing, artificial weakening of the currency and beefing up public works projects. The learning-disabled general public once again jumped on the bandwagon of "Abenomics" as if artificially blowing up GDP by boosting business and consumer sentiment this way isn't the surest way to another bubble. You can't expect a different outcome from repeating the same thing you did in the past. Against this backdrop, I suspect the human resource manager might have used the stateless status of the applicant just as a pretext for turning down his application.

In my post titled A big what-if about the years 1853-1868, I wrote that asking a what-if type question sometimes sheds light on the future because what did not happen in the past can be more indicative than what actually happened. Although this holds true only with the fate of a nation, I think I should also be allowed to go hypothetical, at times, about myself.

In her book titled The Fountain of Age, Betty Friedan, anti-sexist bias activist-turned anti-ageist bias advocate, called man's ability of contextual thinking "crystallized intelligence." She explained:

"It seems that 'fluid' and 'crystallized' intelligence show different aging patterns. 'Crystallized' intelligence, which involves experience, meaning, knowledge, professional expertise, wisdom, increases throughout adulthood." (Emphasis mine.)

Friedan wrote this in 1993. This is even more relevant today because "fluid intelligence" is something that the computer is better at than humans.

So I write an application letter to a company in which I say: "My biological age is 77, and I suffer hypertension and some other illnesses. Admittedly I can't do muscle work. But I don't think I'm used up yet. As you can see in the attached resume, my forte lies in contextual thinking. I am sure if you hire me, you can get rid of a couple of empty-headed young employees from your payroll. Remuneration is negotiable, though. Best regards. P.S.: I prefer telecommuting to traveling in the packed train."

A week or so later I get a reply from the company. In essence, it reads: "You must be crazy. Go to hell. Best regards."

I joined a Japanese auto-parts manufacturer in 1959. Since the high-growth era had yet to come, my starting salary was a mere 12,600 yen. Subsequently, I was contributing to Japan Inc. throughout all these pre-bubble, bubble and post-bubble years, at the Japanese subsidiaries of three foreign companies. Aside from my contribution with crystallized intelligence, I paid premiums for the national pension and healthcare programs that totaled at least 100 million at present value. Now the government and the people owe me much more than I owe them.

One of the reasons for their ungratefulness is because they don't keep their books using the double-entry, accrual-based accounting system invented by Luca Pacioli more than 5 centuries ago. In Japan, all government entities at local and state levels are still using the archaic single-entry, cash-based bookkeeping method which was imported from Prussia in 1889. For one thing, they reluctantly give us the asset-side of the data for the national pension program, which is basically contributory type in this country. But they never disclose the liability-side which should represent their fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries. They just forgot people are their creditors.

In the last couple of weeks, I was working on an essay under the title of The Pacioli Revolution is long overdue everywhere but in Britain. But now I had an urge to discuss another issue, the chain of discrimination and reverse discrimination, before completing the Pacioli piece.

I am not writing this essay to say ageist bias is a more urgent issue than discrimination inflicted on stateless people. Some of my fellow members in the Stateless Network may think I am departing from the cause of helping the stateless living in Japan. But on the contrary, I'm now committed to it more than ever.

I just wanted them to know that when they work within human and financial resource constraints, it's crucially important to prioritize things, and in doing so, it's equally important to use criteria which reflect the reality, instead of weak hypotheses, that there is no such thing as a case of statelessness which is isolated from other types of discrimination in this country.

I hope most key members of the NPO, including Chen Tien-shi, will readily agree with us.

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