Thursday, June 05, 2008

"A complete recording would make it difficult to establish the facts"

It's a funny world where politicians can say things like that without fear of public ridicule.

The politician in question is the Japanese justic minister, and the topic is the recording of interrogation sessions by the Japanese police in order that the courts can judge how "voluntary" the resulting confessions are. There is increasing pressure for this, as the public slowly wakes up to the standard operating practice of the judicial system here (such as 3 weeks in custody before any charges are laid, during which time the victim is treated to sleep deprivation and coercive interrogations aiming at a "confession" which - contrary to the letter of the law - is itself sufficient for a conviction even if subsequently withdrawn).

He is obviously worried by the plummeting conviction rate - down to 97.1% at the last count. This politician is the same moron who recently said he is in favour of the death penalty because the Japanese place much more importance on the value of life than the barbarian Westerners and that didn't get him laughed out of a job either. For that matter, neither did his boast that his friend knew a member of Al-Quaida who regularly visited Japan, and that he had advance knowledge of the Bali bombing but did nothing about it. [That latter story was easily debunked as the delusions of a fantasist, BTW.]


Yoram Gat said...

These guys are real pros: with three weeks they get close to a perfect conviction record. At the US we cannot get a single conviction at Guantanamo even after years of similar treatment (or worse).

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

As luck would have it, the second link has a survey in the sidebar which goes

"A proponent of bushido claims that a moral compass is missing from certain parts of Japanese society and that embracing the way of the samurai will help curb public rudeness. What do you think?"

Now that got me thinking: In an ideal Japan filled with bushido, will Hatoyama be forced to commit seppuku for saying complete nonsense? Or will the Activist Judges(tm) behind the "innocent" verdicts be forced to commit seppuku for failing to meet their annual quota of convictions?

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivis

James Annan said...

Well for all my criticism I wouldn't like to say the Japanese system really compares to Guantanamo Bay. Come to think of it, there was a case in the UK news today of an apparent miscarriage of justice in the USA. Of course these things happen everywhere...

guthrie said...

I've been watching some anime when I've been ill. Ghost in the Shell Stand alone complex.
So, between that and some others, I think that Japan must be really messed up by our standards.
Then I read posts like yours, and think that maybe it is, judging by what people say.

James Annan said...

Oh, there is no question that Japan is completely messed up by our standards. The interesting issue is whether our society is completely messed up by their standards, and what that implies for the universality of standards that most of us probably thought were widely accepted :-)

Yoram Gat said...

> The interesting issue is whether our society is completely messed up by their standards, and what that implies for the universality of standards that most of us probably thought were widely accepted :-)

I think it would be difficult to argue that our society is not completely messed up (e.g., shows any semblance of justice) by our own standards. Our values may be similar or dissimilar (I have no idea) - but the feeling of superiority over others seems common.

James Annan said...

"Messed up" may not have been the best choice of words. I was trying to convey the idea that even the intended organisation of their society is rather at variance with what we might consider appropriate - and vice-versa.

Yoram Gat said...

> even the intended organisation of their society is rather at variance with what we might consider appropriate - and vice-versa.

That is interesting. Can you give a few fundamental differences in ideology between Japan and the West and how these are reflected in (intended) organization of society?

James Annan said...

Well perhaps the most striking difference is the way that the rights of the individual are subordinated to the demands of social cohesion. Admittedly, there is always a tension between these two competing forces, but Japan is off the scale compared to the UK (and no doubt vice-versa). In conversation, they genuinely do not seem to appreciate there could be a difference between rights and privileges - a right is simply something that society (or their boss etc) allows them to do, for the time being at least. "Democracy" means they go and vote for the governing party, which has had 50 years of continuous rule save for one brief aberration.

Coincidentally, I saw a sign up in a train today, warning passengers not to try to rush through the automatic doors as they were closing. The reason? "Even though it may be painful to get trapped in a door, this pain is nothing compared to the pain of the eyes watching you" (that was explicitly written in English, although no doubt I've not got the wording perfect). Western (Judaeo-Christian) society is largely guilt-based (at least in principle), Japan is explicitly shame-based.

pough said...

Ghost in the Shell Stand alone complex.

What's really messed up is that sentence. Is it an artifact of your illness?

IMO (been there 7 times, best friend lives there, fiance is Japanese) Japan has its own set of hang-ups and can't really be declared better or worse in total. There is an almost horrifying social oppression, but it has its good points and bad points. Bad points is a high suicide rate, over-stressed citizenry and a need for fantasy outlets that are likely illegal here. Good points are when you go out anywhere you can be assured that you will actually get good service (service industry here has routinely made said fiance almost cry) and seldom have to fear you will get ripped off (I can leave my laptop out in the open most places).

I suppose it's nice to be free to be an asshole, but it's not so nice to worry about all your fellow citizens having that same freedom. Different shit, same pile.

Yoram Gat said...

From your description it seems that the Japanese world view regarding rights and democracy describes the world as it is, while the Western view is focused on how we wish the world would be.

What about [intended] societal arrangements? How do these reflect the different ideologies?

guthrie said...

I should have popped back sooner.

Basically, its anime, so the titles are a bit funny. The full one is:
"Ghost in the Shell: Stand alone complex"
Or GiTS:Sac.

Basically, in that, and indeed Patlabor and some other anime, there is a recurrent theme of collusion between the government and industry and armed forces, in a way which in the UK and USA, would be total anathema, yet seems to be accepted, insofar as such stories seem popular in Japan.

James and Yoram Gat got the rough idea though.

pough said...

Aha! It was the trailing off capitalization that caught me out. I'm familiar with the name Ghost in the Shell, and assumed that "Stand" was the name of the episode, but all else looked like it was trying to be regular sentence.

James Annan said...


There is something of that in it, but it is not a matter merely of description, but also prescription - seeking to maintain the status quo rather than make changes.

Cherry-picking examples is just cherry-picking, of course - and it would be easy to cherry-pick examples of the west being conservative and Japan being progressive. But the age-based seniority and generally deferential behaviour is extreme, and the entire language is permeated with it. My colleagues are in large part the intellectual elite (ie graduates from the top universities) but it's almost impossible to get them to speak out in public meetings, such as asking questions of a speaker in a seminar. [The practical consequence of this is that when some old powerful professor has a stupid idea, vast resources are expended on following it up because no-one is prepared to tell him it is stupid.]

Yoram Gat said...

While Western culture does not put a lot of weight on respect toward the old and nominally celebrates independent, irreverent thought, I would say deference toward established powers is quite strong here as well. See, for example, the Iraq WMD episode.

Again it may be that Japanese culture is more open (and accepting of) the power relations that exist, while the in the West the same power relations exist, but they are either denied or seen as flaws in society when they are acknowledged.

James Annan said...


I don't think Iran/WMD has much to do wit deference: rather, the situation was one of being too trusting of people who claimed to speak on matters of national security (and hence there is little alternative to trusting them). I think the leaders have paid a price for their dishonesty, albeit a few years too late.

Power relations do not just exist as an external entity, but are maintained (or challenged) by the system. Certainly my employer maintains power relations by means of the employment contracts (all staff are on short contracts, so have no independence from their superiors and can be fired for arbbitrary reasons at a month's notice). In the EU this is explicitly described as an abusive situation and generally outlawed (there are some exceptions). Again, this is just one example, but the workforce's uncomplaining acceptance of this was astonishing to me.

Yoram Gat said...

> the situation was one of being too trusting of people who claimed to speak on matters of national security (and hence there is little alternative to trusting them)

Suspending your own judgment in favor of that of authority is a clear example of deference. Clearly the alternative should have been to ask for credible evidence and reject the WMD claims in the absence of such evidence.

As for lack of job security, things in Europe may be different, but the situation that you describe is the norm in the US.