If the co-operation of some thousands of millions of cells in our brain can produce our consciousness, a true singularity, the idea becomes vastly more plausible that the co-operation of humanity, or some sections of it, may determine what Comte calls a 'Great Being'.J.B.S. Haldane, Essay on Science & Ethics, 1932
We live in the age of corporate organisms. Though no formal announcements have been issued it's becoming harder to ignore that they have wrested control of the earth from homo sapiens and supplanted us as the planet's dominant species. It is they - the multinationals, government bureaucracies, religious hierarchies, military bodies, et al. - not individual humans, that generate our era's character - its patterns of wealth & poverty, its technological progress & ecological peril, its entertainment & political agenda. They have, in short, taken over, and nowhere more so than in Japan.
Japan in fact owes her incredible power today not merely to management, consensus or monoethnicity, but to her carefully bred population of vast corporate bodies - the most aggressive, efficient, and highly evolved the world has yet experienced. To understand the magnitude of her accomplishment we must first suspend considerable disbelief and try for a moment to take social organisms seriously, not just as a metaphor but as an actual new class of being. Japan quite apparently does, or at least she has intuited their true nature more clearly than any previous culture:
(1855) "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")...This is a characteristic of our country alone - ruler and subjects form one body!"Yoshida Shoin, Edo Philosopher whose works deeply influenced the architects of the Meiji state.
(1936) "In his everyday existence the average Japanese acts, feels, thinks, decides, as if Japan would act through him...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 that relation in a degree observable in no other civilised nation."Kurt Singer, Professor of Economics, Tokyo University
(1970) "The Japanese language has no term for the word leadership... Responsibility is diffused through 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...The strength of this structure lies in its ability to efficiently and swiftly mobilize the collective power of its members. The importance of its contribution to the process of Japanese modernization is immeasurable."Dr. Chie Nakane, Professor of Sociology, Tokyo University
(For now let us confine our fieldwork to Japan's corporate jungles and identify our emergent collective beings quite simply as: "Any large, bureaucratically or hierachically organized social body that persists in time, enjoys at least partial autonomy and economically supports a large number of functionaries, if not all its membership" - with "large" meaning a number too numerous for mutual acquaintance or direct, face-to-face interaction - arbitrarily, say, 500+.)
Thanks to diverse terminology and social functions we think we understand important differences between Mitsubishi & the central government, or the Self Defense Forces & the Sokka Gakkai, or the National Police Force & the major yakuza syndicates. But viewed from a sufficient height and distance these vast corporate bodies seem to embody far more similarities than differences. Moreover, they appear to fulfill all the definitional requirements of true complex "organisms".
All of them, for example, share basic common organizational processes, structures and energy needs; generate psychic membranes that divide their membership from outsiders; take in and process information and nourishment from the environment; specialize, control and outlive their human/cellular constituents; can reproduce, spawning subsidiary bodies; and are primarily concerned with their own survival and growth. In a very real sense they represent a distinct, highly evolved life form, in fact a species if you go by Webster: "Species - a category of biological classification comprising related organisms or populations...having common attributes, a common name and potentially capable of interbreeding."
The common attributes abound and history's menagerie of
corporate hybrids - commercial religions, ecclesiastical
governments, academic businesses, governmental trading bodies,
etc. - prove that the monsters are mutually fertile. All that is
wanting then is a "common name", something like "dog" that
transcends the apparent discrepencies between chihuahuas,
bulldogs and great danes to indicate that we are in fact dealing
with a single bundle of creation. This is a serious lack for
without a clear category for their common existence it is
difficult to think of, speak of or visualize them. Present
candidate terms are rather clumsy or obscure - megasome,
corpocyte, kyoseitai [short for Jp: kyodo seimeitai -
"cooperative life body"]. For now we shall limp along with
traditional organismic vocabulary (while praying for some gifted
reader to invent or offer the fit and final Word).|
Japan was hardly the first to recognize organismic realities. The biological metaphorics for integrated collective bodies are ancient on both sides of the planet. Politics and medicine were sister disciplines in pre-Han China and the rulers' husbandry of the societal organism was dictated by the same common sense that informed the disciplines of human health and healing. The Hindu Brahmins of the period were also describing their community's castes in terms of the limbs and organs of a physical body (and predictably selecting themselves for the preeminent and metabolically privileged role of the brain). And further to the West, St. Paul was conjuring a new sacerdotal monad, the "mystical body of Christ", that would soon incorporate all of Europe.
'They [the emerging corporations] 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 just as though they were lord's over God's creatures and free from all the laws of faith and love.'Martin Luther, "On Trading and Usury", 1524
Though Western biological similes were often no more than heuristic conceits (Hobbes' Leviathon, Frank Norris' Octopus, Franz Neumann's Behemoth, etc.) there was obvious foreboding of the organic nature of societal life forms and their increasing power over humans both inside and outside their membranes. It was not until the turn of this century, however, that ethology, biology and social psychology achieved enough sophistication to pursue the analogy seriously. Between 1890 and the 1920's organismic thinking picked up enormous momentum. Researchers in France, Germany and England established the concept of insect societies as "supraorganisms" and began to draw telling parallels between hives, nests and termitaries and highly integrated human organizations. Scores of studies were published on colonial organisms, cooperative life forms and other collective biological realities. The western classics on group consciousness also appeared from this ferment. Schaeffle's The Life & Limbs of the Social Body, Le Bon's The Crowd, and MacDougal's The Group Mind all clearly demonstrated that something psychologically new and evolutionarily significant emerged in human collectives, something far greater than the sum of the parts.
At the end of the '20's, however, two obstacles - one political, the other conceptual - arose to derail the entire international inquiry. The political problem was fascism. Organismic thinking seemed to play right into the bloody hands of fascist ideologues. If indeed great social bodies were more powerful than men - outproducing them, outliving them, and supporting vast numbers of them - then they also were plausibly more important. (As an Osaka executive who destroyed evidence and himself to thwart an investigation of his firm wrote before dying: "Please accept this humble offering. I am but one. The kaisha [corporation] is many. My life is transient. The kaisha is forever!")
The social organism was thus an evolutionary advance upon mankind much as the multicellular animal was an advance upon protozoa. And as a "greater whole" its commonweal "naturally" took precedence over its individual members'. From a corporatist standpoint then, anyone threatening the unity, efficiency or "health" of the collective body could and should be sacrificed with the same insouciance with which we excise a cancer or a gangrenous toe. Eliminating dissidents, in other words, was not a question of morality but of rational social medicine. For Western liberals who tacitly tolerated executions for treason and desertion in their own societies this thinking (and the organismic research that lent it credence) presented an ethically thorny and unwanted problem, especially at a time when the Nazi organism was threatening to engulf all of Europe.
The conceptual problem was rather more straightforward: the absence of an equivalent of protoplasm to explain what really connects and integrates a social body's members. Language may allow individuals to interact but many mutually hostile organisms can arise in the same linguistic sea. What binds them internally? Group consciousness is fine in theory but what does it really consist of? If nothing can be physically pointed out or quantified, organismic research is mere poetry, unscientific and a waste of time.
Neither of these difficulties phased the Japanese, however. Fascism as they understood it was a dandy idea. Didn't it come from the Roman fasces (a bundle of rods with a protruding axe-head) that symbolized social unity (bundle) under state authority (axe)? Didn't it virtually deify a strong central leader, extoll self-sacrifice and collective effort, and promote belongingness with uniforms, symbols and ceremonies? What else had Japan been working to realize since the Meiji Restoration? Organismic theory of course abetted these efforts and would play an important role in ultranationalist debates on the nature and primacy of the kokutai [the mystical body of the Japanese state].
As for the reality and substance of social bonds the Japanese had the enormous advantage of the ki concept which we discussed at length in the last issue ["Ki and the Arts of Sex, Healing and Corporate Body Building", Kyoto Journal #5]. Translated (too) simply, ki means psycho-biological vital force. Ki in the social sphere was seen as the living force of attention or directed consciousness, a force that carried energy from the perceiver to the perceived and tied them together, much as energy exchange bonds atoms and molecules. Social ki, while invisible, is as palpable as the wind to many Japanese and they have scores of expressions to describe its effects upon the minds & bodies of those sending and receiving it. Ki or attention's patterned circulation within a group bonds and integrates the members and determines their collective "structure". The strength and cohesion of any social body is therefore to be measured by how much of the members' ki or attention is devoted solely to the collective and its shared concerns. Attention to strictly personal matters, outside interests, other groups, etc. constitutes a weakening "leakage" of the collective's adhesive energies and esprit de corps. Japanese corporate bodies therefore employ dozens of tactics [company unions, company housing, group vacations, company sports teams, company drinking groups, cemetaries, etc.] to keep members' ki circulating totally within its membranes:
The kaisha [corporation] is the community to which one belongs primarily, and which is all-important in one's life. Thus in most cases the company provides the whole social existence of a person, and has authority over all aspects of his life...[Its] power and influence not only affect and enter into the individual's actions, it alters even his ideas and ways of thinking...Some perceive this as a dangerous encroachment upon their dignity as individuals; others, however, feel safer in total group consciousness. There seems little doubt that in Japan the latter group is in the majority.
Japan does thus seem to know what she's doing and the superior strength and vitality of her organisms (& the peculiar devotion of their members) may be looked at from the overlapping perspectives of genetics, socialization & attention management.
Population Pruning & Right Wing Genes
Like most other traits and preferences in a natural population the taste for organizational life is randomly distributed. Some people love hierarchical group existence - the uniforms & rituals, the secure routines, the superior/inferior relation-ships, the sense of merging oneself in a larger whole and greater destiny. Others detest it, with the majority falling along the normal distribution curve somewhere in between. Before the rise of vast socialist/communist bodies the right/left political distinction originally reflected this love/hate spectrum. In early Japan as elsewhere the primitive leftists were fractious, independant types who abhored hierarchy, establishments", authoritarianism and just wanted to be left alone. The rightists were most often joiner types who flocked to regimented security of the military, clergy and other bureaucratic power centers. Since even in those days the big bodies scoffed the lion's share of everything, they occasionally rankled the "little people" to rebellion. But because the anti-authoritarian lefties then as now took orders ungraciously, organized poorly, and were usually decimated in these confrontations, their gene pool slowly began to bleed away.
Japan's most ingenious contribution to corporate eugenics, however, was devised during the Edo period. The samurai's kirisute gomen [literally, "honorable permit to slash & trash"], was an open-ended license to kill any commoner deemed "dangerous, disrespectful or offensive" with the same impunity that a breeder culls his flocks of undesired traits. This terrifying and oft exercised prerogative genetically pruned over 15 generations of the population of its most assertive and egalitarian DNA. Since artificial selection studies on plants and animals repeatedly show that such procedures can create or destroy stable heritable traits in as few as five generations, the contributions of samurai cutlery to contemporary Japanese "groupiness" should not be underestimated.
Anthroculture: Rearing Corporate-Friendly Humans
From a social engineering point of view, whether or not you have a genetically predisposed population, there are a variety of proven methods to enhance a people's reliance on authoritarian groups and curb their sense of or desire for personal autonomy. Japanese culture presents a curiously comprehensive catalog of such techniques.
The Primal Engulfment: Japanese maternal techniques to cultivate
an infant's inherent dependence into a lasting habit of mind have
been well documented in recent years. The long shared bed; the
preference for soothing, holding, and quieting "we-ness" (over
Western stimulating, conversational "you & I-ness"); the
reflexive indulgence of pre-schoolers' demands - the "candy black
teeth" syndrome; the incessant cries of abunai ["danger!"] that
greet the child's explorations of the outer world; the use of
lock-outs as punishment (as opposed to grounding or lock-ins in
the West) - all affect the child's ability and desire to stray
beyond his prescribed social perimeter. |
The mother/child nexus thus becomes extremely powerful and formative. Sociologists love to footnote this country's carefully dried and preserved umbilicals as Japan's archetypical social tethers. But we can also look at such infant socialization as preparatory "engulfment" or training for incorporation. The term marugakae ["completely enveloped or surrounded"], for example, refers equally to a baby held in one's arms and to a man at his place of employment. Again Singer offers telling insight on the "insider effect":
For years the child is carried on the back of the mother, strapped or carried in a pouch-like fold of her padded overgarment, sharing in a half-drowsy state her warmth and her rhythm, robbed of free movement but feeling sheltered and close to the maternal body which to him means life, protection, company and goodness... To return to that semi-conscious state when one was carried to and fro by a power larger than oneself, appears to remain, even in adult life, the chief aim of internal discipline and external accomodation.
Most of the recent heavy breathing over Japan's educational "product" has come from the world's managerial class. And if schooling is defined as among fish - incessant attachment and responsiveness to the heading of the group, managers have much to hyperventilate about. Of the two competing drives we each harbor - the drive to belong and the drive to become recognizably unique - Japan's education educes and enhances only the first. The Japanese student is trained to not even question authority let alone challenge it. The only acceptable behavior is obedience - total, enthusiastic and, if possibe, brilliant obedience. Enough has been written on the uniforms, regulations, examination system, peer and parental pressure, etc. that reinforce such submission, but one further point bears mention.
Students here are virtually never taught or required to speak or write out their thoughts, whether concerning a problem, a policy or a poem. Since independant expression is the primary way we learn to discover and defend our own opinions, and consequently our selves, most young Japanese can tell you "what is thought" but have great difficulty expressing, or placing much importance on, what they themselves think. This creates an extreme permeability to prevailing authority which is probably the true key to so-called consensual decision-making. In Escape from Freedom Erich Fromm details the dynamic:
Recent research on suggestibility and hypnotic phenomena have demonstrated how feelings and thoughts can be induced from outside and yet be subjectively experienced as one's own, and how one's own feelings and thoughts can be repressed and thus cease to be part of one's self... The same holds true of willing. One is struck by the extent to which people are mistaken in their taking as 'their' decision what in effect is submission to convention, duty or simple pressure.
Japanese schooling is thoughtfully designed to enhance this psychic porosity and thus prepare "open minds" for their future groups' in-fluence. But over and above the present system's specifics, we should consider its evolution and how it came to serve corporate rather than individual ends.
Historically a fully competent and creative craftsman, musician, healer, etc. was referred to in Japanese as ichininmae [literally, "one full helping of man"]. To become ichininmae in preindustrial Japan was "to attain full adulthood; to become independant, self-supporting - a 'man'." After traditional education ended the master released his apprentice to the world in the noren-wake ["dividing the shop curtain"] ceremony that recognized the graduate as ichininmae, an independently viable professional. The short term economic competition this created for the master was more than offset by the pride in siring a new talent upon the world. The individuated apprentice had often been with the master since early childhood, and the master's pervasive influence - his cultural transmission - informed the disciple's skills, consciousness and the man he became as deeply as his genetic inheritance. Apprentices were thus not only students and helpmates but cultural heirs. And only by becoming ichininmae and achieving creative maturity in their own right, could they continue the evolution of their masters' "lineage".
This pattern of education breathed enormous life into creative, individualistic professions but it was deathly for non-productive trades and the creation of corporate groups. Dealers, politicians, gangsters, military types, etc. did not have much cultural paternity to propagate in the first place and the prospect of spawning a plague of their competitive "equals" upon the land seemed profitless in the extreme.
Cultural birth control therefore became a serious concern in these circles. While accounts differ the wealthy Osaka wholesale houses of early Meiji are often credited with the modern Japanese solution: the perpetual hanninmae ["half helping of man"]. Hanninmae were essentially stunted apprentices. They were trained to serve useful functions but never permitted to individuate or professionally mature, and thus were obliged to spend their whole lives as dependent and subservient members of their widening corporate group. Yakuza gangs and labor contractors also devised a similar state of suspended social pubescence, the kobun ["child role" or henchman], a chronic subordinate to the oyabun or a oyakata ["parent role/person" or boss] who directed their work and lives. Like Japanese women who generally have ko, the ideogram for "child", appended to their names, the kobun and hanninmae were just never meant to grow up. These devoted and docile half-men are the cultural antecedents of the compliant salarymen so much in demand this century. State education eventually stepped in to produce them en masse and their proliferation prepared the ground for the rise of the great bodies we face today.
The Bonsai Puberty
Education & Androgens: The shift from education for individuation to mass corporate anthroculture not only altered human's social roles, it also covertly affected their psychosomatic being. A couple of biological parallels may offer some evolutionary perspective on the process. When multi-skilled and overworked solitary wasps began to dream of specialized subordinate workers and queenly leisure, they "learned" to stunt their first-born larva with special secretions that repressed full sexual maturation and enslaved them to the nest. As long as the mother superior lived, the workers' potential autonomy and desire to found nests of their own remained latent and all their energy was poured into the growing collective enterprise.
Humans likewise learned that sexually debilitating their slaves and livestock could almost magically increase production and managerial efficiency. Anyone who has ever caponized roosters, for example, knows the fascinating progession of personality and physical changes that accompany the transition from natural bird to corporate broiler. A few days after the slow dissolving female hormone is injected into the cockerel's neck, he gradually stops crowing, then loses assertiveness, and demands less and less private space. Next, sexual activity abates, masculine characteristics (comb and wattles) recede, height and weight increase, and finally the gonads begin to physically deteriorate.
While caponization is solely intended to enhance agricultural productivity, human castration was practised as a primitive form of behavior modification. It was first employed in Asia in the Chou period (circa 1000 B.C.) to "keep feudal society orderly". The practice apparently offended early Chinese sensibilities and they continued to experiment with more cerebral techniques. For example:
Confucianism was first employed during the reign of the first Han Emperor, with an eye to introducing etiquette into the Imperial Court. Since the ministers and the generals of the time were rough warriors of humble origin, their behavior at court banquets was hardly appropriate. Intoxicated, they would boast of their achievements, quarrel, shout with drunken abandon, and end up slashing the nearest pillar with their swords. These embarrassing scenes caused the Emperor great annoyance.
Results of these experiments were mixed, and though castration was out of the question for the warrior class, the Chinese later returned to it with a vengeance to staff their great bureaucracies, incorporating over 100,000 eunuchs by late Ming. Japan's leading authority on the phenomenon, Prof. Taisuke Mitamura of Kyoto University writes in his book Chinese Eunuchs:
When examining their strange existence, they were found to be generally neither masculine nor feminine, adult or juvenile... Eunuchs were seldom cruel, and usually were gentle and conciliatory. As a whole, the eunuchs tended to be strongly united, helping each other and standing together against the world. They showed both group consciousness as a "race" and strong opposition to oppression by outsiders. But this was effective only within their own limited environment where they had the power of their master behind them as well as their own tight bonds of fellowship. Outside the court, the eunuchs were about as helpless as babies.The relevence of such descriptions to our modern corporate culture was striking enough for Mitamura himself to warn in closing:
If it is true that eunuchs were the product of great power structures, then it should be equally true that people similar to eunuchs exist today, for such power structures still exist. We are woven into large nets in one form or another in all areas of society...and now constitute only units in huge organizations... Stripped of our manhood (in that we've become only part of a system)... we are fast becoming eunuchs in a psychological sense.
From a corporate developer's point of view, however, this attenuation of manhood is not an occupational hazard, its a prerequisite to harmonious collective life. Masculinity in its behavioral sense is only another word for male individuality - the strength to conduct one's own appraisals of reality, to differ if need be from prevailing custom, and to generally invent one's own self. In this meaning then, masculine types adapt poorly to the docility, obedience and self-effacing "team spirit" large organizations demand.
All manly individualism is founded on a frail substrate of male hormones called androgens secreted by the testes and related tissue. Their sudden increase in 12- and 13-year-old boys produces puberty and the subsequent rebelliousness, strength and sexual longing of adolescence. Androgens literally mean "manhood producers", and without their activities not only are males "neither masculine nor feminine, adult or juvenile", they are infinitely easier to "unite" with "tight bonds". (When androgen activity is low the male persona, like the phallus, becomes less assertive and defined, ie., more com-pliant.) With androgens in corporate cultures then, less is more - more group consciousness, more social cohesion, more "harmony". And in fact male hormones are astonishingly simple to lessen.
As feminists archly and accurately observe the evolutionary baseline is female, and men are a fragile evolutionary afterthought (eg., male nipples). Women are physically and psychologicaly more resiliant, longer lived, and at the hormone level too, the force is with them. Female hormones or estrogens given to men can quickly overwhelm androgenic activity, and as the caponization process shows, a little can go a long, long way.
It is interesting to note here that certain edible plants also produce estrogenic molecules in biologically significant amounts. The strongest of these occurs in red clover and causes the frequent outbreaks of spontaneous abortion reported among sheep flocks in Australia. The second most powerful, however, an isoflavanoid compound called daidzein, is produced and concentrated in the common soybean. (In the West where few soy foods are traditionally eaten, this is basically agricultural arcana. When cattle-fattening estrogen injections were banned in American, many farmers just increased their soy-based feeds with negligable loss in production.) In Japan, however, soy products are staple foods which the majority of the population enjoys daily. While endocrinological studies on humans have yet to be done, a steady diet of tofu, miso, natto, okara, shoyu, etc. may not be the best regimen for leadership trainees or would-be lotharios.
Androgens are also suppressed and disabled by fear, anxiety, exhaustion - in fact any prolonged intense stress. Stress hormones are functionally estrogenic - a fact which explains its effectiveness for building group spirit in military basic training, grueling cult initiations, Japan's famous management training ordeals, etc.)
While concerned executives and military types have funded considerable research into stress effects on their own sexual performance and aggressiveness, virtually no work has been done on behalf of children. The stress levels inflicted upon young students here during the years of shiken jigoku, Japan's infamous "examination hell", are among the highest in the world, and bear down upon the boys at precisely the time they are trying to negotiate puberty. Extrapolating from adult studies, stress effects may in many cases be severe enough to miscarry that fateful transition, and psychosomatically fixate the child in very early adolescence. Indeed an increasing number of social critics are beginning to describe many standard "salariman" behaviors as maturational disorders - eg., their love of comics toy guns; their taste for sado-masochism (classicly a juvenile or pre-sensual form of sex); their poor adaption to fatherhood; etc. (While it might seem strange that this is not a raging issue in local PTA's it should be remembered that most of the castrations in China were voluntary, performed on youngsters seeking high bureaucratic office and overseen by the aspirants' loving mothers.)
Though much research remains to be done, the overall impression seems to be that psychosomatically vitiated members make for (and require) the strongest corporate bodies, and vice versa. A physiological perspective on social organisms and their constituents may thus offer intriguing new insights into Japanese society and its corporate superiority.