Even the most cursory review of medical literature reveals one bemusing and little mentioned fact - there's really no such thing as a 'disease'. That is, there is no one such 'thing'. Dis-ease, it turns out, is just heavy duty un-ease in the psychosomatic system. It's our one-size-fits-all semantic label for a living system under attack from almost any quarter. Regarding our own psychosomatic ecologies, we are constantly, if subliminally, vigilant for intruders stirring up trouble in our cellular populations. Whether they are 2 angstrom viruses or 2 inch liver flukes, sub-atomic gamma rays or 4 meter tapeworms we rightly holler, "Disease!"
Webster lays it out pretty clearly. A disease is merely 1) [obsolete] trouble; 2) a: an impairment of the normal state of the living body that affects the performance of its vital functions; b: a particular instance or kind of such impairment.
Entertain for a moment the Gaia Hypothesis that the Earth is itself a singular living system. And further suppose that things like acid rain, ozone depletion, increasing radioactivity, rising temperatures, toxic wastes, dying rain forests, vanishing species, etc. represent "an impairment of the normal state of her living body and vital functions". (Or, less theoretically, just suppose that they are affecting and impairing the vital functions of the human species in a very systematic, detrimental way.) With this in mind we may be again justified in hollering, Disease!" and prompted to start thinking about modern problems in a rather "medical" way.
Traditional medical approaches usually begin with diagnostics or etiology, the identification or study of a disease's origin. Certain pop critics of social or Gaian malaise, for example, like to glibly (and deceptively) trace all such pathologies to he existence and activities of Homo Sapiens. "We" are the problem, the cause, the enemy, they say. It is man's inhumanity to man, man's inherent greed, man's unnatural assaults upon Nature that threaten the future of the species and the biosphere. This bootless reasoning at once both blames the victim (or one of them) and effectively blocks further action or understanding as few care to prescribe our therapeutic self-extermination.
BIG BODY PATHOLOGY : Toward an Undaunted Epidemiology
A more fruitful line of reasoning opens up, however, with the advent of living systems theory. Living systems thinking conceives of unique levels of life - the cell, the individual organism, the large corporate body, the nation-state, the geo-political economy - that exist simultaneously and interdependently. Each level of organization both comprises a system of the smaller units and transcends it. A human or any complex animal consists of and depends upon its internal cellular population, but is obviously much more than their mere sum. Likewise, a collective body - like Mitsubishi, the Catholic Church, the Pentagon, etc. - while consisting of human beings, presents us with a new, supra-human level of existence or social reality.
Modern germ theory has conditioned us to think of pathogens or disease agents as very small entities - viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, etc. The stress and damage pathogens cause to living bodies, though, bear no relation to their scale. And, as with our 4-meter tapeworms, the disease organism may in some respects actually be larger than the victim. Much larger, in fact, if you can conceive of the Church's murder of millions during the Inquisition or of the Nazi Holocaust as impairments of the victims' normal states and vital functions. Similarly, many modern assaults on the planet's ecology may be seen as issuing not simply from the acts of malicious individuals, but rather from the malignant growth, agendas and activities of great corporate bodies. Blaming humans in these cases is often equivalent to blaming the tapeworm's constituent cells for their parent being's pathological behavior.
Thinking of large collective bodies as new evolutionary life forms that are frequently pathogenic (with respect to Gaia or individual humans) offers a heuristic new perspective for "medical" insight. It also allows many of our currently competitive counter-culture movements an effective basis for synergy and collaboration. When anti-nuclear movements, wildlife preservation people, human rights activists, et al. all realize they are confronting different symptoms of the same corporate epidemic, we may at last witness results commensurate with their years of effort.
This compilation is intended to catalyze that insight through an innovative re-examination of vast corporate bodies as unique living systems, and of the memetic values that promote their evolution and anonymous influence over modern consciousness. For such an inquiry into corporate life forms, Japan is perhaps the most fertile turf on the planet. As Australia is to marsupials or Africa to the apes, Japan is to collective beings - not the only place to study them, but by far the richest. Japanese corporate bodies like the "New Religions", the zaibatsu/keiretsu, the yakuza syndicates, the ruling bureaucracies, et al. are arguably the most integrated and evolved social organisms the Earth has yet experienced.
The following collage attempts to offer readers some subjective sense of these organisms' bio-social reality. It consists simply of juxtaposed quotes from standard works on Japanese culture/society and on biological collectives. The orderly array of correspondences does not of course "prove" anything. But to those trying to understand Japan's corporate vitality, the true nature of social organisms, or the nascent field of corporate anthroculture, it may be of heuristic value.
excerpted from The Phenomenon of Man
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Collins & Sons, London, 1959.
Does not the only way out of our dead-end lie in introducing boldly into our intellectual framework yet another category to serve for the super individual? After all, why not? Geometry would have remained stationary if it had not in the end accepted 'e' and other incommensurables. The calculus would never have resolved the problems posed by modern physics if it had not constantly continued to conceive new functions. For identical reasons biology will not be able to generalize itself upon the whole of life without introducing new concepts, that it now needs to deal with certain stages of being which common experience has hitherto been able to ignore - in particular that of the "collective". Yes, from now on we envisage, beside and above individual realities, the collective realities that are not reducible to their component elements yet are in their own way just as 'objective'...
The innumerable foci which share a given volume of matter [or society] are not independent of each other. Something holds them together...We do not get what we call matter [or society] as a result of the simple aggregation and juxtaposition of individual entities. For that, a mysterious identity must absorb and cement them, an influence at which our mind rebels in bewilderment at first but which in the end it must perforce accept.
We mean a sphere 'above' the individual centres and enveloping them. Throughout these pages, in each new phase of anthropogenesis, we shall find ourselves faced by the unimaginable reality of collective bonds, and we shall have to struggle with them without ceasing until we succeed in recognizing and defining their true nature. Here in the beginning it is sufficient to include them all under the empirical name given by science to their common initial principle, namely 'energy' [or in Eastern terms and more precisely: Ki].
Under this name, which conveys the experience of effort with which we are familiar in ourselves, physics has introduced the precise formulation of a capacity for action or, more exactly, for interaction. 'Energy' [or Ki] is the measure of that which passes from one entity to another in the course of their transformations. A unifying power, then, but also, because the entity appears to become enriched or exhausted in the course of the exchange, the expression of structure.
From the aspect of energy, material or social entities may now be treated as transient reservoirs of concentrated power. Though never found in a state of purity, but always more or less granulated (even in light), energy nowadays represents for science a kind of primordial flux in which all that has shape in the world is but a series of fleeting 'vortices'...
De Chardin was a paleontologist deeply concerned with the evolutionary history and destiny of the planet. In the opening of his book (condensed below) he discusses the historical development of new phyla in terms which are remarkably appropriate to the development of corporate organisms. The "fibres" he refers to are spans of evolutionary initiative or intervals of development as seen from a geo- historical perspective. (The space/time "fibre" metaphor also turns out to be strangely apt for considering the evolution of Japan's social bodies. The Japanese word for their basic cell or constituent, the individual person, is 'ningen', a term denoting extension in both space and time, and which literally means a "human interval" or a "span of a human life."
By 'aggregate of growth' I mean the new and unexpected fact that a dispersion 'of simple type' occurs precisely where the play of chance would have made us most fear a complicated tangle. When poured out on the ground, a sheet of water quickly breaks up into streamlets and then into definite streams. Similarly, under the influence of various causes (such as attraction and mutual adjustment, the selective influence of the environment and so on) the fibres of a living a mass in the process of diversification tend to draw together, to bind, following a restricted number of dominant directions [or, among men, social cultures]. In the beginning this concentration of forms around a few privileged axes is indistinct and indefinite; it involves a mere increase, in certain sectors, of the number or density of the fibres. Then gradually the movement takes shape. True nervures or veins become visible...at this stage individual fibres may still partially escape from the network which is trying to contain them [c.f. the schismatic heresies of the early Church, the break-away of post-revolutionary factions, etc.]. But at this point there takes place what may be called the final aggregation or final separation (according to the point of view we take). Having reached a certain degree of mutual cohesion, the fibres isolate themselves in a closed sheath that can no longer be penetrated by neighboring sheaves. From now on their association, the 'bundle', the corporate body, will evolve on its own, autonomously. The species has become individualized. The phylum has been born.
[Imagine for a moment what inclusion in this 'final aggregation' might subjectively mean to our sentient fibre, the individual ningen, as he is terminally ensheathed. Prof. Chie Nakane, perhaps Japan's foremost sociologist offers some empathic assistance.]
This consciousness is perhaps revealed in the way a Japanese uses the expression uchi (my house or home) to mean the place of work, organization, office, or school to which he belongs. The term kaisha [company] does not mean that individuals are bound by contractual relationships into a corporate enterprise, while still thinking of themselves as separate entities: rather, kaisha is 'my' or 'our' corporate body, the community to which one belongs primarily, and which is all-important in one's life. Thus in most cases the corporation provides the whole social existence of a person, and has authority over all aspects of his life; he is deeply emotionally involved in the association...to the point that the human relationships with this 'household' group are thought of as more important than all other human relationships... This 'family' or corporate group even envelops the employee's personal family; it engages or "surrounds" him "totally" ("marugakae" in Japanese)... The power and influence of this group not only enters into the individual's actions, it alters even his ideas and ways of thinking. Individual autonomy is minimized. When this happens the point where group life ends and private life begins can no longer be distinguished... The members' sphere of living is usually concentrated solely within the place of work. Even marriage is within the company is prevalent... Also the provision of company housing is a regular practice among Japan's leading corporations. Such company houses are usually concentrated in a single area and form a distinct entity within, say, a suburb of a large city. Thus, even in terms of physical arrangements, a corporation with its employees and their families forms a distinct social body [group].
With group-consciousness so highly developed there is virtually no social life outside the particular corporate body on which an individual's major economic life depends. Thus group participation is simple and unitary. It follows then that each group or corporation develops a high degree of independence and closeness, with its own internal law which is totally binding on all members.
Returning to Du Chardin:
The living 'bundle': many observers still refuse to see or admit the reality of this strand of life in the process of evolution. They do not know how to see, how to make the necessary adjustments in their vision.
This phylum is first of all a collective reality. Therefore, to see it clearly, we need to look from a sufficient height and distance. Examined too closely, it crumbles into unevenness and confusion. We fail to see the wood for the trees.
Secondly, the phylum is polymorphous and elastic. Like a molecule, which ranges through all sizes and degrees of complication, they may be small or vast in extent. There are simple corporations and corporations composed of corporations. Phyletic unity is not so much quantitative as structural; so we must be ready to recognize it on every scale of dimension.
Lastly, the phylum has a dynamic nature. It only comes into view at a certain depth of duration, in other words only in movement. When immobilized in time, it loses its features and, as it were, its soul. Its motion is killed by a 'still'.
Considered without these provisos, this phylum might well be thought to be just one more artificial entity carried out of the continuum of life. But looked at in proper magnification and light, it can be seen to be a perfectly defined structural reality.
The Phenomenon of Man
Parental societies are found at all levels, from the cell to the monkey troupe. In every animal there is a period when the young is part of the parent and receives materials from the parent. Later, the young may partly or completely separate from the parent; in some animals, the more or less separate young is then helped by the parent, or helps it.
CORPORATE GENESIS : Parental behavior among simple organisms.
Even some of the simplest organisms show colonial aggregations of the parental type. Some viruses form inclusion bodies in the cells they attack; these bodies are thought to be colonies of daughter viral strands. Other viruses form ordered arrays.
Bacteria, only a few steps up the evolutionary scale beyond viruses also show parent- young colonies. Diplococci are dot-shaped bacteria that have two daughter cells in each group. Streptococci form chains and staphylococci arrange them-selves in grape-like clusters. In all of these, and in a large number of other colonial bacteria, the offspring that are produced by a dividing parent stay together for some length of time.
Protozoa, a few steps beyond bacteria, also show parental sociality. Under difficult conditions, protozoans commonly form a protective shelter or 'cyst' and divide within it. In such groups 2, 4, 8, l6, 32, or even more daughter cells may associate until the cyst "hatches."
Some protozoans form definite colonies in addition to or in place of cysts. Volvox and many other slow moving or sedentary colonial protozoans show some differentiation or division of labour between cells of a colony.
Volvox, a freshwater, single-celled organism that lives in colonies, is assigned by zoologists to the flagellate protozoan order Volvocida. The oval, hollow colonies, one cell in depth and about the size of a pinhead, contain from 500 to 60,000 individual cells imbedded in a gelatinous wall.
Volvox illustrates differentiation between somatic and reproductive cells, a phenomenon considered significant in tracing the evolution of higher animals from protozoa. Certain species, in which somatic cells appear to be joined by cytoplasmic strands, may be considered to form multicellular organisms.
GLOSSALALIA: Plasmodesma - thin strands of cytoplasm [the internal cellular 'fluid'] that pass through small openings in the cell walls of adjacent vegetative cells. They form subtle connective channels that facilitate intercellular integration and the interchange of information and nutrients.
Take a young Japanese who as a student was a radical - an extremist. After graduating he enters a corporation, begins to work with people, and gradually comes to see other persons' points of view. He slowly learns the sensibility by moderating his own conduct. A person described as completing this process is one who does not push his own ideas, but, on the contrary, is deeply receptive to the thoughts and feelings of those around him. His new empathy and openness allow him to make others a part of himself (jibun no naka ni aite o ireru - literally 'putting others inside oneself').
The Promise of Adulthood in Japan
It is almost certain that sponges evolved from colonial flagellate protozoans. Sponges are integrated networks of cells, some of the amoeboid (amorphous) and some flagellate. It has been shown that if a sponge is strained through cloth so that the cells are separated, they will reunite and form new sponges...The sponge is thus on the border between colonial organization and integrated multicellular organization. One advantage of integrated multicellular organization, with different type of cells performing different functions, was probably that the sponges could become much larger than the largest multinucleate or even colonial protozoans and thus could devour them. This type of organization also provides strength: some cells can hold in swift currents, while some can secrete skeletons and others concentrate on food getting. Thus cooperation gives sponges and similar multicellular animals an advantage in competition with even the largest and most aggressive single-celled animals.
In the fifteenth century the big commercial companies ...became more and more powerful and developed into virtual monopolies, which by their superior capital strength threatened the small businessman as well as the consumer...The position of the small dealer became more and more insecure; he had just enough influence to make his complaint heard but not enough to compel effective action. The indignation and rage (of the independent traders against the rising corporations) was given eloquent expression by Luther in his pamphlet, "On Trading and Usury", printed in 1524.
"They have all commodities under their control and practice without concealment all manner of trickery. They raise and lower prices as they please and oppress and ruin all the small tradesmen, as the pike devour the little fish of the water, free from all the laws of faith and love."
Escape from Freedom
How do they do it? The question occurs naturally to anyone watching a school of silversides moving slowly over a reef in clear tropical waters. Hundreds, even thousands, of small glinting fish glide in unison, more like a single organism than a collection of individuals. The school idles along on a straight course, then wheels suddenly; not a fish is lost from the group. A barracuda darts from behind an outcropping of coral, and the members of the school flash outward in an expanding sphere. The flash expansion dissolves the school in a fraction of a second, yet none of the fish collide. (Because the expansion is created by nearly simultaneous tail flicks throughout the school it seems it cannot be coordinated by any means that would require each fish to register the movements of its neighbors. In all probability each member of the school somehow "knows" where the other members will go...collisions have just never been observed.) Moments later the scattered individuals collect in small groups; ultimately the school reforms and continues to feed.
"Fish in Schools"
Scientific American, 12/'79
In Japan an individual's social contacts are usually confined to the limits of his place of employment where he has daily contacts. Thus the 'setting' of the organization assumes great importance as the circle which defines the individual social world. With his social environment so limited, the scope of an individual's relations within his group become proportionately more intensified. Members of a group know each other exceedingly well. Among fellow members a single word would suffice for an entire sentence. The mutually sensitive response goes so far that each easily recognizes the other's slightest change in behavior and is ready to react accordingly.
Although the schooling of fish is one of the most familiar forms of animal social behavior, until recently it was little understood. The fact that a great many species congregate in schools suggests that the behavior offers a considerable evolutionary advantage. How the school is formed and maintained, however, is only beginning to be comprehended in detail...
The role the school plays in the life of the individual fish varies greatly from one species to another. In some species fish spend all or almost all of their time in a school. In other species fish join schools only occasionally, spending most of their time as free-living individuals. Fish that spend all or most of their time in schools are often called 'obligate schoolers' [equivalent, for our purposes, to colonial or plasmodial life forms and modern Japanese modes of social incorporation]; those that form or join schools only part of their lives are called 'facultative schoolers' [analogous to pseudo-plasmodial creatures, certain avian flocks, mammalian herds, and, socially, the more elementary of 'western' forms of incorporation].
With group consciousness so highly developed there is almost no social life outside the particular group on which an individual's major economic life depends. Thus group participation is simple and unitary. It follows then that each group or institution develops a high degree of independence and closeness, with its own internal law which is totally binding on all members...
Although most people have an intuitive sense of what a school is, students of animal behavior have spent much time trying to define the notion precisely. Do two fish constitute a school? Do three? Is a school that has a million members made up of half a million pairs? Does a school have a leader?
Recent analysis of recorded behavior among European minnows shows that when there are two fish, one leads and the other follows. The follower adjusts its speed and direction to match those of the leader; the speed and direction of the leader, however, are not influenced by the movements of the follower. [This, by the way, illustrates the current ethological definition of 'dominance' - the dominant individual within any social group being one whose presence or activities exert a normative or regulatory influence upon the other members, while its own behavior is unconstrained by reference to any other members of its group.] When a third minnow is added to the tank, however, the pattern changes: in a group of three or more fish there is no leader. Each minnow adjusts its speed and heading to agree with those of all the other fish, with the neighbors nearest to a given fish having the greatest influence on it.
The yardstick of Japanese morality is always determined by contemporary trends. The feeling that "I must do this because A and B are also doing it" or "they will laugh at me unless I do such-and-such" rules the life and behaviour of the individual with greater force than any other consideration.
Thus in a real sense the entire school is the leader and each individual is a follower.
E Pluribus Yamato
Although the power of each individual household head is traditionally regarded as exclusively his own, it is in fact the social group, the 'household', which has the ultimate integrating power, a power which restricts each member's behavior and thought, including that of the household head himself...
In fact, the Japanese language has no term for the word leadership. Even the leader is expected to be thoroughly involved in the group, to the point where he has almost no personal identity... In the Japanese pattern there are no clear-cut spheres or divisions of responsibility between the manager and the managed; responsibility is diffused. The group as a whole and the entire collectivity becomes one functional body in which all individuals, including the manager, are amalgamated into a single entity.
[ "Thus, in a sense, the entire school is the leader ]
[ and each individual is a follower." ]
The phenomenon that deserves our attention is the way in which the rules of 'harmony' have been incorporated into the life of everyday Japan, where they seem to have acquired the force of a biological instinct, serving the ends of a human society that aspires to rival in cohesive power the societies of bees and ants. To make the stream of human intercourse flow gently is the supreme goal here. Nobody is allowed to stand on his own right, much less fight for it. Justice is praised, but its pursuit is deemed inappropriate if the peace of the community is thereby threatened. To avoid friction seems to be more important than to eradicate evil.
Mirror, Sword and Jewel
Insect communities exhibit little intramural aggression in which one member pits itself against other members of the same community. And in those wilder reaches of animal social organization where interdependence reaches its most elaborately contrived evolutionary forms, among the hydroids and particularly in the subgroup known as siphonophores, there is none at all. In that siphonophore colony we call the Portuguese man-of-war, the transparent blue bladder that floats on the sea surface is one animal; each stinging tentacle that hangs from this float is another, each leech-like feeding polyp still another, and the community is further enlarged by separate male and female reproductive polyps. None of these animals can exist apart from the community and the community exists in this communal life style of this community... There is nothing for any member but the total and utter dependence upon the greater 'community.'
The Portuguese man-o'-war, however, is not a society; it is a colonial organism - at least this is the name given by zoologists to this kind of co-operative living... A society is defined as existing through the result of those interactions between the members comprising it, actions they perform as individuals. These interactions must be crucial to the maintenance and coherence of the society. Unlike invertebrate societies, vertebrate societies are held together by a thread of tension, which binds every member to every other member.
Parable of the Beast
The acquisition of the extremely delicate ways of conducting personal relations in Japan requires considerable social training, though most Japanese achieve them through their social life from childhood onwards. Not only foreigners but also even those Japanese who spend their teens or twenties abroad face considerable difficulty in meeting all the complicated techniques of personal relations, which do not require much intellectual maneuver, but demand highly sensitive and nervous procedures. Indeed, these procedures involve a degree of tension, nervous fatigue, and expenditure of emotion not normally found in such measure in other societies.
Harmony must be maintained in the collectivity because conflicts between the members would disrupt the smooth attainment of collective goals. Thus harmony, willingness to compromise, unaggressiveness, etc. are highly valued, whereas disputatiousness, contentiousness, ambition, or other disruptive behaviour is strongly devalued.
In order to avoid friction a great deal of everyday life is formalized. Close conformity to a multiplicity of detailed prescriptions for behaviour [analogous to orderly biological processes] tends to reduce all conflict to a minimum and ensure the smooth functioning of the collective life.
In his everyday existence the Japanese acts, thinks, decides, as if Japan would act through him; if asked to what extent his acts emanate from himself, and what extent from his group, he would not only be unable to give a rational account, but he would also be unwilling to admit the validity of the question. He stands to his group in a relation in which we imagine the life of a cell stands to the life of an organism; or at the very least it approximates to the relation in a degree observable in no other civilized nation.
Mirror, Sword and Jewel
The right biological metaphor for any society [or persisting corporate group] is not that of the fully developed functional structure of an animal, but that of colonies of cells or protozoa which constitute very loose systems... in that they have, to quote Julian Huxley, 'an unstable fluctuant body with a semi-permeable external membrane for defense against outsiders and a continued life with definite functions carried on by living protoplasmic units.' That is to say, there exist intermediary conditions in which we are not certain whether we are dealing with a true individual or a true system.
"The rulers feed the people and in return the people have a great debt of gratitude toward them. Ruler and people are one body (kunshin ittai). Loyalty towards the ruler and piety of children towards their parents are one and the same. This is a characteristic of our country alone... ruler and subjects form one body."
Philosopher Yoshida Shoin (1830-1859) whose thought
deeply influenced the architects of the Meiji Restoration.
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