The Melancholy of Subculture Society

Internet links small groups, helping dissolve big groups; good, bad? But a bit sad.
sociology, psychology, criticism, cats, insight-porn
2009-01-122019-02-05 finished certainty: possible importance: 9


If you crack open some of the mustier books about the In­ter­net—you know the ones I’m talk­ing about, the ones which in­voke and dis­cuss the sex­ual trans­gress­ing of —one of the few still rel­e­vant crit­i­cisms is the con­cern that the In­ter­net by unit­ing small groups will di­vide larger ones.

Surfing alone

You may re­mem­ber this as the the­sis ap­plied to the In­ter­net; it got some trac­tion in the late 1990s. The ba­sic idea is: elec­tronic en­ter­tain­ment de­vices grows in so­phis­ti­ca­tion and in­ex­pen­sive­ness as the years pass, un­til by the 1980s and 1990s, they have spread across the globe and have de­voured mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren; these de­vices are more per­ni­cious than tra­di­tional geeky fares inas­much as they are often best pur­sued so­lo. Spend­ing months mas­ter­ing Su­per Mario Bros—all alone—is a bad way to grow up nor­mal.

And then there were none

The 4 or 5 per­son party (with a ) gives way to the clas­sic ar­cade with its heated du­els and one­ups­man­ship; the ar­cade gives way to the flick­er­ing con­sole in the bed­room with one play­ing —alone. The in­creased graph­i­cal re­al­ism, the more er­gonomic con­trollers, the in­tro­duc­tion of gen­uinely chal­leng­ing AI tech­niques… Trend after trend was ren­der­ing a hu­man op­po­nent un­nec­es­sary. And gamer after gamer was now play­ing alone.

Per­haps, the critic says, the rise of the In­ter­net has ame­lio­rated that dis­tress­ing trend—the trends fa­vored no con­nec­tiv­ity at first, but then there was fi­nally enough sur­plus com­put­ing power and band­width for mas­sive con­nec­tiv­ity to be­come the or­der of the day.

It is much more sat­is­fac­tory and so­cial to play s on your PC than sin­gle-player RPGS, much more sat­is­fac­tory to kill hu­man play­ers in Halo matches than alien AIs. The ma­chines fi­nally con­nect hu­mans to hu­mans, not hu­man to ma­chine. We’re forced to learn some ba­sic so­cial skills, to main­tain some con­nec­tions. We’re no longer re­treat­ing into our lit­tle co­coons, in­ter­act­ing with no hu­mans.

Welcome to the N.H.K.!

But, the critic con­tin­ues, things still are not well. We are still alien­ated from one an­oth­er. The rise of the con­nected ma­chines still fa­cil­i­tates with­drawal and iso­la­tion. It presents the specter of the —the per­son who ceases to ex­ist in the phys­i­cal realm as much as pos­si­ble. It is a Japan­ese term, of course. They are 5 years fur­ther in our fu­ture than we are (or per­haps one should say, were?). writes, back in 2001 (see also his short es­say):

The Japan­ese seem to the rest of us to live sev­eral mea­sur­able clicks down the time line. The Japan­ese are the ul­ti­mate Early Adopters, and the sort of fic­tion I write be­hooves me to pay se­ri­ous heed to that. If you be­lieve, as I do, that all cul­tural change is es­sen­tially tech­no­log­i­cally dri­ven, you pay at­ten­tion to the Japan­ese. They’ve been do­ing it for more than a cen­tury now, and they re­ally do have a head start on the rest of us, if only in terms of what we used to call ‘’ (but which is now sim­ply the one con­stant in all our lives).

Gib­son also dis­cusses the ‘Mo­bile Girl’ and text mes­sag­ing; that cul­ture be­gan re­ally show­ing up in Amer­ica around 20051, Twit­ter etc. You can do any­thing with a cell­phone: or­der food, do your job, read & write nov­els, main­tain a lively ‘so­cial’ life, en­gage in so­cial sta­tus envy (‘She has a smaller phone, and a larger col­lec­tion of col­lectibles on her cell­phone strap! OMG!’)… Which is just an­other way of say­ing ‘You can do any­thing with­out see­ing peo­ple, just by writ­ing dig­i­tal mes­sages’. (And this in a coun­try with one of the most undig­i­ti­z­able writ­ing sys­tems in ex­is­tence!2 Lan­guages are not cre­ated equal3.)

The hikiko­mori with­draws from all per­sonal con­tact. The hikiko­mori does not hang out at the lo­cal pub, swill­ing down the brewskis as every­one cheers on the home team. The hikiko­mori is not gos­sip­ing at the ro­tary club nor with the Li­ons or mum­mers or Vet­er­ans or Knights. hikiko­moris do none of that. They aren’t work­ing, they aren’t hang­ing out with friends.

“The para­dox­i­cal soli­tude and om­nipo­tence of the otaku, the new cen­tu­ry’s ul­ti­mate en­thu­si­ast: the glory and ter­ror in­her­ent of the ab­solute nar­row­ing of per­sonal band­width.”

William Gib­son, (TATE 2002)

So what are they do­ing with their 16 wak­ing hours a day?

Opting out

“But it’s bet­ter for us not to know the kinds of sac­ri­fices the pro­fes­sion­al-grade ath­lete has made to get so very good at one par­tic­u­lar thing…the ac­tual facts of the sac­ri­fices re­pel us when we see them: bas­ket­ball ge­niuses who can­not read, sprint­ers who dope them­selves, de­fen­sive tack­les who shoot up with bovine hor­mones un­til they col­lapse or ex­plode. We pre­fer not to con­sider closely the shock­ingly va­pid and prim­i­tive com­ments ut­tered by ath­letes in post­con­test in­ter­views or to con­sider what im­pov­er­ish­ments in one’s men­tal life would al­low peo­ple ac­tu­ally to think the way great ath­letes seem to think. Note the way ‘up close and per­sonal’ pro­files of pro­fes­sional ath­letes strain so hard to find ev­i­dence of a rounded hu­man life–out­side in­ter­ests and ac­tiv­i­ties, val­ues be­yond the sport. We ig­nore what’s ob­vi­ous, that most of this strain­ing is farce. It’s farce be­cause the re­al­i­ties of top-level ath­let­ics to­day re­quire an early and to­tal com­mit­ment to one area of ex­cel­lence. An as­cetic fo­cus. A sub­sump­tion of al­most all other fea­tures of hu­man life to one cho­sen tal­ent and pur­suit. A con­sent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very smal­l­…[Ten­nis player Michael] is, in other words, a com­plete man, though in a grotesquely lim­ited way…Al­ready, for Joyce, at twen­ty-t­wo, it’s too late for any­thing else; he’s in­vested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and un­lucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.”

, “The String The­ory” (July 1996 Es­quire)

They’re not pre­oc­cu­pied with our cul­ture—they’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in their own sub­cul­ture. It’s the nat­ural pro­gres­sion of the . They are fight­ing on , or fiercely pur­su­ing their ‘ca­reer’, or… There are many sub­cul­tures linked and united by the In­ter­net, for good and ill. For every char­i­ta­ble or benev­o­lent sub­cul­ture (eg free soft­ware) there is one of mixed ben­e­fits (World of War­craft), and one out­right harm­ful (ex. of eat­ing dis­or­ders, child pornog­ra­phy).

The point the critic wants to make is that life is short and a game. You lose a third of the day to sleep, an­other third to mak­ing a liv­ing, and now you’ve lit­tle left. To be re­ally pro­duc­tive, you can’t di­vide your en­er­gies across mul­ti­ple cul­tures—you can’t be truly suc­cess­ful in main­stream cul­ture, and at the same time be able to de­vote enough effort in the field of, say, , to be called an . A strad­dler takes onto his head the over­head of learn­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in both, and re­ceives no ben­e­fits (he will suffer so­cially in the es­teem of the ‘nor­mals’, and will be able to achieve lit­tle in his ‘hobby’ due to lack of time and a de­sire to not go over­board).4

The otaku & hikiko­mori rec­og­nizes this dilemma and he choos­es—to re­ject nor­mal life! He re­jects life in the larger cul­ture for his sub­cul­ture5. It’s a sim­ple mat­ter of ; it’s eas­ier to be a big fish in a small pond than in a large one.6

The bigger screen

“Have you ever woken up from a dream that was so much more pleas­ant than real life that you wish you could fall back to sleep and re­turn to the dream?…­For some, World of War­craft is like a dream they don’t have to wake up from—a world bet­ter than the real world be­cause their efforts are ac­tu­ally re­ward­ed.”

Half Sig­ma, “Sta­tus, mas­tur­ba­tion, wasted time, and WoW” (2006)

is unique in gam­ing in that we have al­ways played on the same mas­sive server in the same on­line uni­verse since May 2003 when it first went live. We not only un­der­stand the harsh penal­ties for fail­ure, but also how longevity and per­sis­tence is re­warded with suc­cess. When you have over 60,000 peo­ple on week­ends deal­ing, schem­ing, and shoot­ing each other it at­tracts a cer­tain type of gamer. It’s not a quick fix kind of game. We en­joy build­ing things that last, be they vir­tual space­ships or real life friend­ships that to­gether trans­late into mas­sive Em­pires and en­dur­ing lega­cies. Those of us who play un­der­stand that one man re­ally can truly make a differ­ence in our world.”

Mark ‘Se­leene’ Heard ( eu­lo­gy, 2012)

As ever more opt out, the larger cul­ture is dam­aged.7 The cul­ture be­gins to frag­ment back into pieces. The dis­con­nect can be pro­found; an Amer­i­can anime geek has more in com­mon with a Japan­ese anime geek (who is of a differ­ent eth­nic­i­ty, a differ­ent cul­ture, a differ­ent re­li­gion, a differ­ent lan­guage…) than he does with an Amer­i­can in­volved in the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian sub­cul­ture. There is es­sen­tially no com­mon ground—our 2 coun­try­men prob­a­bly can’t even agree on ob­jec­tive mat­ters like gov­er­nance or evo­lu­tion!

With enough of these gaps, where is ‘Amer­i­can’ or ‘French’ cul­ture? Such cul­tural iden­ti­ties take cen­turies to co­a­lesce—France did not speak French un­til the 1900s (as re­counts), and Han China is still di­gest­ing & as­sim­i­lat­ing its many mi­nori­ties & out­ly­ing re­gions. Amer­i­ca, of course, had it easy in start­ing with a small founder pop­u­la­tion which could just ex­ter­mi­nate the na­tives.

The na­tional iden­tity frag­ments un­der the as­sault of bur­geon­ing sub­cul­tures. At last, the critic be­holds the nat­ural end­point of this process: the long night­mare of na­tion­al­ism falls like a weight from the minds of the liv­ing, as the na­tion be­comes some lines on a map, some laws you fol­low. No one par­tic­u­larly cares. The geek thinks, ‘: here, Canada, Lon­don, Japan, Sin­ga­pore—as long as FedEx can reach me and there’s a good In­ter­net con­nec­tion, what’s the differ­ence?’ (Nor are the tech­ni­cal­ly-in­clined alone in this.8)

You can test this your­self. Tell your­self —‘The coun­try I live in now is the best coun­try in the world for peo­ple like me; I would be ter­ri­bly un­happy if I was ex­iled.’ If your men­tal re­ply goes some­thing like, ‘Why, what’s so spe­cial about the USA? It’s not par­tic­u­larly eco­nom­i­cally or po­lit­i­cally free, it’s not the only civ­i­lized Eng­lish-s­peak­ing coun­try, it’s not the wealth­i­est9…’, then you are headed down the path of opt­ing out.

This is how the para­dox works: the In­ter­net breaks the larger cul­ture by let­ting mem­bers flee to smaller sub­cul­tures. And the crit­ics think this is bad. They like the broader cul­ture10, they agree with about at­om­iza­tion and point to ex­am­ples like South Ko­rea, and deep down, and re­ally bother them. They just plain don’t like those de­viants.

But I can get a higher score!

“In the fu­ture, every­one will be world-fa­mous for 15 min­utes.”

Let’s look at an­other an­gle.

Monoculture

“Irony has only emer­gency use. Car­ried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to en­joy their cage.”

Lewis Hy­de, Al­co­hol and Po­et­ry: John Berry­man and the Booze Talk­ing11

One can’t opt out of cul­ture. “There is no view from nowhere.” To a great ex­tent, we are our cul­tural ar­ti­fact­s—our pos­ses­sions, our com­plexes of memes, our habits and ob­jects of dis­gust are all cul­tur­al. You are al­ways part of a cul­ture.

Sup­pose there were only 1 world­wide cul­ture, with no sub­cul­tures. The over­rid­ing ob­ses­sion of this cul­ture will be… let’s make it ‘money’. Peo­ple are ab­solutely ob­sessed with mon­ey—how it is made, ac­quired, de­grad­ed, etc. More im­por­tant­ly, sta­tus is de­fined just by how much you have earned in your life; in prac­tice, tie-break­ers in­clude how fast you made it, what cir­cum­stances you made it in (ev­ery­one ad­mires a per­son who be­came a bil­lion­aire in a de­pres­sion more than a good-times bil­lion­aire, in the same way we ad­mire the nov­el­ist in the freez­ing gar­ret more than the com­fort­able aca­d­e­mic), and so on.

This is­n’t too ab­surd a sce­nar­io: sub­jects feed on them­selves and de­velop de­tails and com­plex­ity as effort is in­vested in them. Money could well ab­sorb the col­lec­tive efforts of 7 bil­lion peo­ple—al­ready many peo­ple act just this way.

But what effect does this have on peo­ple? I can tell you: the av­er­age per­son is go­ing to be mis­er­able. If every­one gen­uinely buys into this cul­ture, then they have to be. Their tal­ents at pi­ano play­ing, or cook­ing, or pro­gram­ming, or any form of artistry or schol­arly pur­suit are den­i­grated and count for naught. The world has be­come too big—it did not use to be so big, peo­ple so 12 of what is go­ing on:

"So­ci­ety is com­posed of per­sons who can­not de­sign, build, re­pair, or even op­er­ate most of the de­vices upon which their lives de­pend…In the com­plex­ity of this world peo­ple are con­fronted with ex­tra­or­di­nary events and func­tions that are lit­er­ally un­in­tel­li­gi­ble to them. They are un­able to give an ad­e­quate ex­pla­na­tion of man-made phe­nom­ena in their im­me­di­ate ex­pe­ri­ence. They are un­able to form a co­her­ent, ra­tio­nal pic­ture of the whole.

Un­der the cir­cum­stances, all per­sons do, and in­deed must, ac­cept a great num­ber of things on faith…Their way of un­der­stand­ing is ba­si­cally re­li­gious, rather than sci­en­tific; only a small por­tion of one’s every­day ex­pe­ri­ence in the tech­no­log­i­cal so­ci­ety can be made sci­en­tific…The plight of mem­bers of the tech­no­log­i­cal so­ci­ety can be com­pared to that of a new­born child. Much of the data that en­ters its sense does not form co­her­ent wholes. There are many things the child can­not un­der­stand or, after it has learned to speak, can­not suc­cess­fully ex­plain to any­one…C­i­t­i­zens of the mod­ern age in this re­spect are less for­tu­nate than chil­dren. They never es­cape a fun­da­men­tal be­wil­der­ment in the face of the com­plex world that their senses re­port. They are not able to or­ga­nize all or even very much of this into sen­si­ble wholes…."13

You can’t make a mark on it un­less there are al­most as many ways to make marks as there are per­sons.14

To put it an­other way: women suffer enough from com­par­ing them­selves to me­dia im­ages. If you want a vi­sion of this fu­ture, imag­ine every­one be­ing an anorexic teenager who hates her body—­for­ev­er.

We all value so­cial es­teem. We need to know some­body thinks well of us. We’re tribal mon­keys; os­tracism means death.

: “I’d like to hy­poth­e­size one civ­i­liz­ing force, which is the per­cep­tion of mul­ti­ple over­lap­ping hi­er­ar­chies of sta­tus. I’ve ob­served this to be help­ful in work deal­ing with re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing gang mem­bers in Oak­land. When there are mul­ti­ple over­lap­ping hi­er­ar­chies of sta­tus there is more of a chance of peo­ple not fight­ing their su­pe­rior within the sta­tus chain. And the more se­vere the im­po­si­tion of the sin­gle hi­er­ar­chy in peo­ple’s lives, the more likely they are to en­gage in con­flict with one an­oth­er. Part of Amer­i­ca’s suc­cess is the con­fu­sion fac­tor of un­der­stand­ing how to as­sess some­body’s sta­tus.”

: “That’s a pro­found ob­ser­va­tion. There are stud­ies show­ing that vi­o­lence is more com­mon when peo­ple are con­fined to one peck­ing or­der, and all of their so­cial worth de­pends on where they are in that hi­er­ar­chy, whereas if they be­long to mul­ti­ple over­lap­ping groups, they can al­ways seek affir­ma­tions of worth else­where. For ex­am­ple, if I do some­thing stu­pid when I’m dri­ving, and some­one gives me the fin­ger and calls me an ass­hole, it’s not the end of the world: I think to my­self, I’m a tenured pro­fes­sor at Har­vard. On the other hand, if sta­tus among men in the street was my only source of worth in life, I might have road rage and pull out a gun. Moder­nity com­prises a lot of things, and it’s hard to tease them apart. But I sus­pect that when you’re not con­fined to a vil­lage or a clan, and you can seek your for­tunes in a wide world, that is a paci­fy­ing force for ex­actly that rea­son.”15

Think of the peo­ple you know. How many of them can ‘com­pete’ on purely fi­nan­cial grounds? How many can com­pare to the chimps at the top of the fi­nan­cial heap with­out feel­ing like an ut­ter fail­ure, a mis­er­able loser? Not many. I can’t think of any­one I know who would­n’t be at least a lit­tle un­hap­py. Some of them are pretty well off, but it’s aw­fully hard to com­pare with bil­lion­aires in their de­part­ment. There’s no way to prove that this ver­sion of sub­cul­tures is the right one (per­haps frag­ment­ing the cul­ture frag­ments the pos­si­ble sta­tus), but when I look at sim­ple mod­els, this ver­sion seems plau­si­ble to me16 and to ex­plain some deep trends like monogamy17.

Subcultures set you free

“If you com­pare your­self with oth­ers, you may be­come vain or bit­ter, for al­ways there will be greater and lesser per­sons than your­self. En­joy your achieve­ments as well as your plans. Keep in­ter­ested in your own ca­reer, how­ever hum­ble; it is a real pos­ses­sion in the chang­ing for­tunes of time.”

Max Ehrmann, “

Hav­ing a so­ci­ety in which an artist can min­gle as so­cial equals with the bil­lion­aire and ad­mit the No­bel sci­en­tists and the phil­an­thropist is fun­da­men­tal to our men­tal health! If I’m a pro­gram­mer, I don’t need to be com­pet­ing with 7 bil­lion peo­ple, and the few hun­dred bil­lion­aires, for self­-es­teem. I can just con­sider the com­put­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Bet­ter yet, I might only have to con­sider the func­tional pro­gram­ming com­mu­ni­ty, or per­haps just the Haskell pro­gram­ming com­mu­ni­ty. Or to take an­other ex­am­ple: if I de­cide to com­mit to the Eng­lish Wikipedia sub­cul­ture, as it were, in­stead of Amer­i­can cul­ture, I am no longer men­tally deal­ing with 300 mil­lion com­peti­tors and threats; I am deal­ing with just a few thou­sand.18

It is a more man­age­able tribe. It’s closer to the , which still ap­plies on­line19. Even if I’m on the bot­tom of the Wikipedia heap, that’s fine. As long as I know where I am! I don’t have to be a rich elite to be hap­py; a mas­ter crafts­man is con­tent20, and “a cat may look at a king”.

Leav­ing a cul­ture, and join­ing a sub­cul­ture, is a way for the mon­key mind to cope with the mod­ern world.

Growing up

“Often, I must speak oth­er­wise than I think. That is called diplo­ma­cy.”

Stil­gar, Frank Her­bert’s

I have a the­ory about why so few older peo­ple are hikiko­moris or otaku.

I think that they have suc­cumbed to : they’ve suffered through­out their en­tire life the fear21 & stress of walk­ing down a crowded street and hav­ing no idea who all these peo­ple are, what threat they are22, or how they re­late to you, and their minds have been warped to the point that it no longer both­ers them, they’ve sim­ply adapted to the men­tal bur­den23. (As one would ex­pect, young peo­ple are more ex­hausted by groups24.) The re­main­ing men­tal dis­lo­ca­tion is han­dled by ex­actly those smal­l­-s­cale so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions whose pass­ing Put­nam be­moans in Bowl­ing Alone. (This so­lu­tion is as vi­able as it ever was. But the young have other op­tions, and are no longer forced into this an­cient con­for­mi­ty.)

Stress is an im­por­tant is­sue. You can ask the pri­ma­tol­o­gists, they’ll tell you. So­cial stress short­ens lives. The mon­keys on the bot­tom of the heap don’t live as long as they should; the hor­mones like dam­age the body25. The ape at the top of the heap may not live par­tic­u­larly long ei­ther, but at least he can see his death com­ing. Mad­ness is not as­so­ci­ated with the coun­tryside; it is with the city26, per­haps due to stress or low-level in­fec­tions27.

Special, like everyone else

“I thought that every­one in Japan had to be packed in there. So I turned to my dad and asked him, ‘Do you know how many peo­ple are here right now’? He said since the [base­ball] sta­dium was full, prob­a­bly fifty thou­sand…I was only one lit­tle per­son in that big crowded sta­dium filled with peo­ple, and there were so many peo­ple there, but it was just a hand­ful out of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. Up till then, I al­ways thought that I was, I don’t know, kind of a spe­cial per­son. It was fun to be with my fam­i­ly. I had fun with my class­mates. And the school that I was go­ing to, it had just about the most in­ter­est­ing peo­ple any­where. But that night, I re­al­ized it was­n’t true. All the stuff we did dur­ing class that I thought was so fun and cool, was prob­a­bly hap­pen­ing just like that in classes in other schools all over Japan. There was noth­ing spe­cial about my school at all.”

(The Melan­choly of Haruhi Suzu­miya)

is par­tic­u­larly tox­ic. If the stress is caused by an un­clear and ex­tremely low place in the so­cial or­der, then mod­ern man will con­stantly suffer it, and his health will be im­paired by it.

When one con­sid­ers this, it’s clear that se­ced­ing from the cul­ture at large can have ben­e­fits that the larger cul­ture can never de­liv­er. A larger cul­ture can never re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple I need to know about to a few hun­dred or thou­sand; it can never give me a in­tu­itive place in the scheme of things. 7 bil­lion, or even 300 mil­lion, is just too large.

But a sub­cul­ture can de­liver that. A sub­cul­ture can know my name, and pat me on the back for an achieve­ment that to a larger cul­ture is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble at best and triv­ial or ob­jec­tion­able at worst. A sub­cul­ture can re­move that so­cial stress.

And if we were to take it even fur­ther? If we chose a sub­cul­ture that was on­line, and we never went out­side? Then all the stress would be gone; if one does­n’t walk down the street, one is­n’t both­ered by strangers in such close prox­im­i­ty.

“A Winner Is You”

“You are right, Jean­ne, I don’t know how to care about the sal­va­tion of my soul.
Some are called, oth­ers man­age as well as they can.
I ac­cept it, what has be­fallen me is just.
I don’t pre­tend to the dig­nity of a wise old age.
Un­trans­lat­able into words, I chose my home in what is now.”

, “A Con­ver­sa­tion With Jeanne”

To judge by many peo­ple’s re­vealed pref­er­ences, work is what is most im­por­tant to them, yet the com­mon say­ing goes that on one’s deathbed, no one wishes they’d spent more week­ends in the office; is ad­mirable, or hor­ri­ble? Par­tic­u­larly the treat­ment of Jiro’s two sons and his min­i­mal re­la­tion­ship with his own wife gives one pause for thought. Speak­ing of Jiro, it’s worth not­ing that the pro­tag­o­nist of world-fa­mous di­rec­tor _ is also named Jiro, and speak­ing of Miyaza­ki, there are some in­ter­est­ing re­marks by his son 28:

Hayao Miyaza­ki, to me, is “Zero Marks as a Fa­ther, Full Marks as a Di­rec­tor”. My fa­ther was al­most never at home. That’s why for me, when I was a child, my mother had to fill the place of my fa­ther. My fa­ther came home every day in the mid­dle of the night, after I had al­ready gone to sleep. He was al­ways very con­sci­en­tious in this re­gard—ap­par­ent­ly, no mat­ter how late it was, he al­ways made sure that he came home. But al­most every Sat­ur­day and Sun­day he was still at work re­gard­less. That’s why, from my ear­li­est aware­ness to the present day, I hardly ever had the chance to talk to him. He al­ways came back after I was asleep, and when I left for school at 8 o’­clock he was still asleep. That’s why, when I was in el­e­men­tary school, be­fore go­ing to school I often used to go and look in the bed­room to see if my fa­ther was there or not. My fa­ther threw him­self com­pletely into his work. Not only did he not look after the chil­dren, he never did a sin­gle bit of house­work. So my mother did all of that. My mother was also an an­i­ma­tor, but when my younger brother was born, just be­fore I started go­ing to el­e­men­tary school, my fa­ther changed work­places, and his work got even busier than be­fore. So the re­sult was, that in or­der to bring up the chil­dren, my mother had no choice but to give up be­ing an an­i­ma­tor.

For a great artist, one could per­haps jus­tify the costs. But for other peo­ple…?

A phe­nom­e­non in var­i­ous fields is , which is an ex­po­nen­tial power law for num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions per au­thors: most pub­lish few, but a few pub­lish many. Si­mon­ton decades later would for­mu­late the ‘equal-odds rule’ which says that in gen­er­al, no sci­en­tist has a higher bat­ting av­er­age than oth­ers do; the out­sized differ­ences in per­for­mance stem from sim­ply the greats pub­lish­ing a great deal. (One thinks of Gauss’s un­pub­lished note­books, re­vealed to con­tain many math­e­mat­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies found by later math­e­mati­cians, when the math­e­mat­i­cal his­to­ri­ans fi­nally went through them all, or of the gems buried in the notes of the Amer­i­can lo­gi­cian Charles Sanders Peirce.) Hence, Lotka’s law ex­tends to the ac­tual dis­cov­er­ies: most make a few, but a few make many more than they should. re­marks in Hu­man Ac­com­plish­ment on the graphs of ‘great’ artists or sci­en­tists (as mea­sured by how many differ­ent text­books or en­cy­clo­pe­dias thought they were im­por­tant enough to men­tion) that they ex­hibit—no mat­ter how you try to re­cal­cu­late or ad­just them—an ex­tra­or­di­nary im­bal­ance with many mi­nor fig­ures and just a few uni­ver­sal fig­ures, as Lotka’s law pre­dicts; this is odd, since the dis­tri­b­u­tion looks noth­ing like a bell curve or “nor­mal dis­tri­b­u­tion” as one would pre­dict if great­ness were based only on IQ or only on hard-work­ing­ness or only on wealth. Some of this is net­work or Matthew effects, but the sim­plest ex­pla­na­tion is that great­ness re­quires mul­ti­ple traits: one must be in­tel­li­gent and hard-work­ing and not des­per­ately poor and… Many of which are nor­mal dis­tri­b­u­tions or sim­i­lar, and when the re­quire­ments mul­ti­ply out, what is left is a fast-shrink­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion—­like Lotka’s law.

One of the re­quire­ments for great work in any field is that one must be mo­ti­vat­ed—one must think one’s work or the field vi­tally im­por­tant. It’s hard to be­come a chess grand­mas­ter if one has con­tempt for de­vot­ing one’s life to study­ing the minu­tia of an ar­bi­trary set of rules whose mas­tery has no util­ity to any­thing else what­so­ev­er. I be­lieve this may lead to a para­dox of ex­per­tise, a : those most likely to have achieved world-class mas­tery of a topic are sys­tem­at­i­cally the most likely to be or badly mis­taken about its val­ue. The “grand­mas­ters” of many fields claim their field is uniquely im­por­tant, which of course can­not be true in gen­er­al, or uniquely sat­is­fy­ing to them, which seems im­prob­a­ble as any per­son can have sam­pled but few of life’s wares. , on the topic of world-class vi­o­lin­ists start­ing in very early youth, asks “What are the odds a 6-year-old would know what a 30-year-old wants to do?”

One sees this in chess: var­i­ous chess fig­ures ex­tol its ap­plic­a­bil­ity to fi­nance, with no ev­i­dence; or claim it is ap­plic­a­ble to pol­i­tics, de­spite the anal­ogy be­ing ten­u­ous at best and chess in­fe­rior to games like Go, re­gard­less; or place their hopes in chess train­ing of chil­dren trans­fer­ring to fac­ul­ties like IQ, de­spite all such at­tempts at “far trans­fer”—even far more plau­si­ble ones like early en­rich­ment or (most) nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments or dual n-back—fail­ing for the last 60 years and the cited chess stud­ies be­ing ei­ther method­olog­i­cally sus­pect or con­tra­dic­to­ry. Is chess re­ally some­thing to spend one’s life on? World chess cham­pion said some­thing in­ter­est­ing in early 2010:

Carlsen: I have no idea [what my IQ is]. I would­n’t want to know it any­way. It might turn out to be a nasty sur­prise.

SPIEGEL: Why? You are 19 years old and ranked the num­ber one chess player in the world. You must be in­cred­i­bly clever.

Carlsen: And that’s pre­cisely what would be ter­ri­ble. Of course it is im­por­tant for a chess player to be able to con­cen­trate well, but be­ing too in­tel­li­gent can also be a bur­den. It can get in your way. I am con­vinced that the rea­son the Eng­lish­man never be­came world cham­pion is that he is too clever for that…At the age of 15, Nunn started study­ing math­e­mat­ics in Ox­ford; he was the youngest stu­dent in the last 500 years, and at 23 he did a PhD in . He has so in­cred­i­bly much in his head. Sim­ply too much. His enor­mous pow­ers of un­der­stand­ing and his con­stant thirst for knowl­edge dis­tracted him from chess.

SPIEGEL: Things are differ­ent in your case?

Carlsen: Right. I am a to­tally nor­mal guy. My fa­ther is con­sid­er­ably more in­tel­li­gent than I am.

Can we ex­empt sub­cul­tures from this line of thought? Are those who be­come “Otak­ings” kings only of fol­ly? This is the curse of knowl­edge: those who know, do not do—and those who do not know, do.

Sympathy for the poor devil

“The se­cret of is that every­thing on offer there in­cli­nes, ul­ti­mate­ly, to the sta­tus, if not the per­fec­tion, of . The brogues, shined lov­ingly enough, for long enough, with those metic­u­lously im­ported shoe-care prod­ucts, must ul­ti­mately be­come a uni­verse unto them­selves, a con­cep­tual sphere of lus­trous and in­fi­nite depth.”

“Just as a life, lived silently enough, in suffi­cient soli­tude, be­comes a differ­ent sort of sphere, no less per­fect.”

Gib­son, “Shiny Balls of Mud”

So­ci­ety, looked at ob­jec­tive­ly, has a lot of down­sides29. For any­one who has­n’t al­ready bought into so­ci­ety, who is­n’t per­fectly suited for it, be­com­ing a hikiko­mori is a halfway log­i­cal re­ac­tion. They have their rea­sons, and we can even tie the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions to sci­en­tific re­sults.

If some­one re­ally prefers their sub­cul­ture, which gives them men­tal ease and phys­i­cal health, then what right do the rest have to in­ter­fere and drag them into the main cul­ture? Large ho­mo­ge­neous cul­tures are ac­com­plished only with great effort, and much blood­shed of body and mind. Their ben­e­fits are un­clear, and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions trans­par­ently self­-serv­ing. Per­haps we should ac­cept grace­fully the in­evitable sun­der­ing of ‘na­tional’ cul­tures, and learn to op­er­ate within a truly mul­ti­cul­tural world. Each of us with a niche of our own, on re­spect­ful (if un­com­pre­hend­ing) terms with all the other sub­cul­tures.

“…I think he’s both lucky and un­lucky. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.”

David Fos­ter Wal­lace, “String The­ory”

See Also

Appendix

Japan and the Internet

The fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy is­n’t what it used to be—a dis­cus­sion of the col­lapse of Japan­ese in­flu­ence on tech­nol­ogy & de­sign. Why did Japan­ese com­pa­nies cease to be the ad­mired cut­ting-edge of com­put­er, video game, In­ter­net, or smart­phone tech­nol­o­gy, un­der­per­forms in crit­i­cal ar­eas like soft­ware de­sign (such as pro­gram­ming lan­guages) and is in­stead one of the last havens of fax ma­chines & fea­ture phones, with pres­ti­gious but largely use­less hu­manoid ro­botic pro­grams?

I quoted ap­prov­ingly Gib­son’s old 2000s dic­tum that Japan was fur­ther into the fu­ture than the West. This used to be more true than it is, and the dis­crep­ancy started be­ing noted as early as 1998, in Ohsug­a’s “The Bar­ri­ers to Soft­ware De­vel­op­ment in Japan”. The prob­lem is the dog which did not bark: there is a cu­ri­ous lack of Japan­ese con­tri­bu­tions in soft­ware tech­nol­o­gy. Japan has a highly ed­u­cated pop­u­la­tion a good frac­tion of the size of US pop­u­la­tion (127m vs 300m), con­sid­er­able in­dige­nous R&D ca­pa­bil­ity (al­beit de­clin­ing), long in­volve­ment in com­put­ing hard­ware, early dom­i­nance of en­tire cat­e­gories of con­sumer elec­tron­ics etc. Hence, if all were equal, one would ex­pect some­thing like a third of all ma­jor soft­ware pack­ages writ­ten by Japan­ese or In­ter­net ser­vices de­vel­oped by Japan­ese, and so on. In­stead, one no­tices al­most a com­plete ab­sence of such Japan­ese con­tri­bu­tions. (To the ex­tent one does­n’t no­tice this, one is en­gag­ing in —Japan ought to be pro­duc­ing much glob­ally sell­ing or pop­u­lar soft­ware and its ab­sence is sur­pris­ing30.) In soft­ware, the only ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion I know of is the 31; one could ar­gue that would-be FLOSS con­trib­u­tors are “bled off” or par­a­sitized by the An­glos­phere FLOSS com­mu­ni­ties (and are some­how in­vis­i­ble there), but I am con­tin­u­ally struck by the al­most com­plete ab­sence of FLOSS in me­dia & the sur­vival and mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity of closed-source soft­ware, where this ar­gu­ment should not ap­ply and where FLOSS prac­tices would en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate. Web­sites are sim­ply ugly; Oliver Re­ichen­stein:

OR: Japan­ese web or app de­sign is not com­pa­ra­ble to Japan­ese art, graphic de­sign or ar­chi­tec­ture. I could fill a page ex­plain­ing why. It has to do with the way Japan­ese read, with the cor­po­rate fear of do­ing some­thing differ­ent, and with the gen­er­ally low level of de­sign for the mass­es. One rea­son why Japan­ese web and app de­sign feels weak is that tech­nol­ogy re­quires good ac­tive and pas­sive knowl­edge of Eng­lish. Eng­lish is the lin­gua franca of con­tem­po­rary web and app de­vel­op­ment, both of our tools and our dis­course. Even if you mas­ter Eng­lish-based Ob­jec­tive-C or JavaScript, if you are not able to com­mu­ni­cate with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of de­vel­op­ers and de­sign­ers, you miss out on what is de­sir­able, even what is pos­si­ble. Japan­ese de­vel­op­ers and de­sign­ers that don’t speak Eng­lish are trapped within the rel­a­tively low level of tech and de­sign that cur­rently reigns in the Japan­ese cor­po­rate world…The av­er­age web site, app, ad­ver­tise­ment… it’s usu­ally re­ally badly de­signed. That might be hard to be­lieve from the out­side, be­cause only the best of the best of Japan­ese de­sign reaches the rest of the world, but with the web it has be­come more ob­vi­ous how bad ba­sic de­sign is in Japan. Yes, the stan­dard for Japan­ese de­sign in gen­eral is as low as for Japan­ese web de­sign. Why? Noth­ing is more de­struc­tive to good de­sign than group think­ing and col­lec­tive de­ci­sion mak­ing. Why? As I said, to most peo­ple good de­sign is in­vis­i­ble. Group de­ci­sions fo­cus on the vis­i­ble, bad as­pects of de­sign.

There have been at­tempts to jus­tify the ex­ist­ing set of web de­sign prac­tices, but I find them un­con­vinc­ing: this fits a gen­eral trend, has a clear ori­gin in slower com­put­ers & weaker In­ter­net of decades ago and at­tempts to mimic com­pletely differ­ent me­dia like pa­per, ex­isted in other coun­tries but have been su­per­seded, are grad­u­ally wan­ing in Japan, anec­dotes from web­site de­sign­ers in­di­cate ob­jec­tive in­fe­ri­or­ity in & , and the prac­tices have not spread world­wide (while ri­val par­a­digms do seem to be spread­ing or be copied).

The Japan­ese IT in­dus­try is fairly dys­func­tional, even if its in­effi­cien­cies re­sult in cute Easter eggs. For ex­am­ple, the SMS-inspired In­ter­net ser­vice cited as in­te­gral to the dis­as­ter re­cov­ery was not a Japan­ese ser­vice, but the Amer­i­can Twit­ter.

In the 1990s and ear­lier, near-to­tal Japan­ese dom­i­na­tion of con­sumer elec­tron­ics and video games in par­tic­u­lar was sim­ply a fact of life; but in the 2000s, the trends be­gan to re­verse (with Nin­tendo par­tic­u­larly slip­ping) and by the 2010s, there is open dis­cus­sion of what once was an in­sane propo­si­tion: that Japan was not mak­ing good or in­no­v­a­tive com­puter or video games and had suc­cumbed to . This may be a con­se­quence of Japan­ese pref­er­ence for video game con­soles over com­puter games (what best-selling Japan­ese com­puter games there are seem to fall into the fam­ily of gen­res), but even if this is not a post hoc ex­pla­na­tion, it is still pass­ing the ex­plana­tory buck: why, then, was there a Japan­ese pref­er­ence for the con­soles in the first place, and why did­n’t the equiv­a­lent huge pop­u­lar­ity of con­soles in Amer­ica or Eu­rope lead to any sim­i­lar dis­ease? Why was the Japan­ese ra­tio of con­sole:­com­puter above a fa­tal lim­it, but not also the Amer­i­can or Eu­ro­pean per­cent­ages?

Nor are the dou­jin and FLOSS scenes much bet­ter, as pre­vi­ously men­tioned: games re­main al­ways closed-source and are not dis­trib­uted out­side Japan; West­ern­ers would never tol­er­ate a com­mon an­i­ma­tion tool like be­ing only free­ware, and would in­sist on it be­ing opened—if only to deal with aban­don­ment is­sues & make bug-fix­ing and ex­ten­sions eas­i­er. For every ma­jor West­ern closed-source plat­form or tech­nol­o­gy, there is some­one try­ing to make a FLOSS equiv­a­lent, even when the al­ter­na­tive is non­com­pet­i­tive or the task would seem im­pos­si­ble (eg. vs Face­book). It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the only I have ever heard of be­ing un­der a CC li­cense (al­beit a highly re­stric­tive one) is the West­ern . Of the 5 ma­jor vi­sual novel en­gines—ba­sic game in­fra­struc­ture that cries out for open-source li­cens­ing—only 2 are so li­censed. I’ve won­dered if there’s a eth­nic or na­tion­al­ist thing go­ing on here: there has al­ways seemed to be an am­biva­lence in the anime in­dus­try about sell­ing over­seas (one cre­ator of ex­pressed sur­prise & dis­may that it was pop­u­lar in Amer­ica323334, as did for Evan­ge­lion35), one echoed in other ar­eas like Touhou 36. (In con­trast, I have a hard time even imag­in­ing any Amer­i­can com­pany like Dis­ney hav­ing the slight­est com­punc­tion or con­cern about sell­ing over­seas to non-Amer­i­cans, much less stat­ing their am­biva­lence.)

Japan, while orig­i­nally the leader in cell­phones has for­feited its lead and has been out­com­peted by Finnish and Amer­i­can cell­phones, with sur­pris­ingly low smart­phone adop­tion c. 2011, per­haps re­lated to the con­tin­ued use of fax ma­chines (whose Japan­ese pop­u­lar­ity peaked at around 60% of house­holds 2007–2012); other parts seem trapped in am­ber—how sur­real to dis­cover in 2020 that Ama­zon.­co.jp sup­ports as a pay­ment method, which in Amer­ica hardly ex­isted in 1990. Gib­son’s ar­ti­cle seems laugh­ably out of date in this age of the iPhone (part 2), but it was true! One could also won­der why In­ter­net cafes are in South Ko­rea and an ob­scure niche in Japan? (Patrick McKen­zie makes mul­ti­ple in­ter­est­ing re­marks on the par­lous state of Japan­ese IT and cell­phones which are too lengthy to quote here.)

An­other cu­ri­ous case is the Japan­ese ro­bot­ics in­dus­try—their walk­ing ro­bots and com­pe­ti­tions have been pre­sented tri­umphantly as the cul­mi­na­tion of Japan­ese tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, but the odd thing is, the R&D pro­grams that pro­duced or are al­ready look­ing quixotic and il­l-fat­ed, re-runs of the . were a very suc­cess­ful field for Japan, but that was decades ago. What ro­bots has Japan pro­duced that were as use­ful as a Room­ba? Why were the ro­bots at the Fukushima plant Amer­i­can? (And then there is the ex­plod­ing field of aer­ial drones and swarms, which Japan seems ex­cluded from. One thinks of Eds­ger W. Dijk­stra—“The ques­tion of whether Ma­chines Can Think… is about as rel­e­vant as the ques­tion of whether Sub­marines Can Swim.” Or walk, as the case may be.)

Japan­ese In­ter­net ser­vices re­strict them­selves to Japan ei­ther by ap­a­thy or by ac­tively block­ing for­eign IP ad­dress via , which may ul­ti­mately be a recipe for fail­ure. (The South Ko­rean so­cial net­work failed in its at­tempts to ex­pand in­ter­na­tion­al­ly, and now its lunch is be­ing eaten by Face­book. YouTube has done a sim­i­lar num­ber on Ko­rean com­peti­tors. The Japan­ese equiv­a­lent to Cy­world, seemed to be fend­ing off Face­book, at least un­til mid-2012 or so.) An­other ex­am­ple comes from P2P file­shar­ing, which is rarely done for movies or mu­sic (in fa­vor of grow­ing CD sales; “many top [K-pop] artists make more money from one week in Japan than they do in one year in Ko­rea”); this is not due just to a scle­rotic en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try as we note a sim­i­lar ob­ses­sion with CDs in am­a­teur dou­jin cir­cles as well. Cu­ri­ous­ly, Japan­ese geeks who do file­share choose to use //—all of which are closed-source, em­ploy , Win­dows-on­ly, im­ple­men­ta­tion-de­fined, are not used out­side Japan, and are known to be in­se­cure with mul­ti­ple ar­rests & Ne­tA­gent claims to have bro­ken Per­fect Dark; from the per­spec­tive of West­ern users, these are all fa­tal ob­jec­tions and they haven’t used such in­se­cure and un­trust­wor­thy P2P soft­ware since the days of Nap­ster and Kazaa. Even West­ern porn sites have bet­ter im­ple­men­ta­tions and con­tents than the Japan­ese sites, though it’s the Japan­ese who pro­duce all their con­tent!

W. David Marx in 2009 listed other strik­ing as­pects of the Japan­ese in­tranet, as it were, in his es­say “The Fear… of the In­ter­net”; from just one sec­tion, ‘User Trep­i­da­tion’:

  • A to­tal and com­pre­hen­sive re­fusal of Japan­ese so­cial net­work site users to post real pic­tures of them­selves (and often, real names)
  • An ob­ses­sion with ul­tra­-long and com­pli­cated mo­bile-e­mail ad­dresses as a spam pre­ven­tion mea­sure, de­spite the fact that its effect may be min­i­mal, es­pe­cially when weighed against the in­con­ve­nience.
  • A lack of user gen­er­ated me­di­a—Y­ouTube clips, in par­tic­u­lar—fea­tur­ing Japan­ese faces and real names. Many per­form­ers, de­spite vir­tu­oso-level skills, wear masks or oth­er­wise ob­scure faces in their video con­tent. [eg. the en­tirely masked Nico Nico Or­ches­tra]
  • The pre­dom­i­nance of anony­mous sites like as the main cor­ri­dors of in­ter­net cul­ture.
  • Blog writ­ers, who have not es­tab­lished fame through other me­dia, al­most never re­veal real names, even when the in­for­ma­tion and ser­vice pro­vided is of pro­fes­sional qual­ity and not ex­plic­itly per­son­al. (More on this here.)
  • The lo­cal dis­com­fort to­wards Google Street Map­s—de­bated on some­what cul­tur­al-essen­tial­ist ground­s—­vastly out­weighed the ben­e­fits for the louder sec­tion of Japan­ese users, forc­ing Google to plan a re-shoot of all the streets with a ‘lower an­gle cam­era’.

I was struck by the point that “News­pa­pers do not offer full con­tent on­line and quickly erase con­tent lest it be­come search­able archives.” inas­much as dur­ing my , I had been us­ing an in­ter­view pub­lished by on­line, but the en­tire site van­ished months later in a merger with ; I as­sumed it would still be avail­able in the , ex­cept the IA had blocked ac­cess to every sin­gle page ever in the en­tire do­main. More ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly, this was not ac­com­plished via the usual mech­a­nism, im­ply­ing Mainichi Shim­bun had pri­vately con­tacted the IA to ask for a cus­tom block on the do­main!

The com­ments men­tion that the is smaller than it should be com­pared to other suc­cess­ful Wikipedias like the ; and I agree since, de­spite work­ing on many Eng­lish Wikipedia ar­ti­cles re­lated to Japan like or the ar­ti­cles, I have never found any­thing use­ful on the Japan­ese Wikipedia (read­ing them via ) and fur­ther, my ar­ti­cles have often been bet­ter and more com­pre­hen­sive.

The blog­ger Spike Japan dis­cusses the state of Japan­ese band­width and offers a sim­i­lar list (in re­ply to the oped “The Myth of Japan’s Fail­ure”):

You can ac­cess Aka­mai Tech­nolo­gies’ State of the In­ter­net Re­port by reg­is­ter­ing here. The most re­cent one that seems to be freely avail­able is for 2011 Q2. Our first les­son is on the use and abuse of sta­tis­tics. That the Japan­ese city with the fastest av­er­age Mbps, Shi­mot­suma, ranked 3rd in the world, is a small Tokyo dor­mi­tory com­mu­nity to which very few Japan­ese could point on a map, and that one of the Japan­ese “cities” in the top 50, Marunouchi, is not a city, nor even a ward of Tokyo, but a few blocks of office build­ings clus­tered around Tokyo sta­tion, make it read­ily ap­par­ent that if you are a lar­gish coun­try for which Aka­mai has a lot of data col­lec­tion points and you have a high­ish av­er­age con­nec­tion speed, then of course you are go­ing to dom­i­nate the city rank­ings. For a more truth­ful pic­ture of In­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture, we need to turn to a coun­try-level analy­sis. In 2011 Q2, Japan ranked third for av­er­age con­nec­tion speeds, at 8.9Mbps, be­hind South Ko­rea at 13.8Mbps and Hong Kong at 10.3Mbps. Im­pres­sive, to be sure, but not quite the pic­ture of global lead­er­ship that in­sin­u­ates it has. In­deed, the broader the met­ric be­comes, the worse the pic­ture looks for Japan: for high broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity (above 5Mbp­s), the Nether­lands ranks first at 68% of all con­nec­tions, Japan ranks 6th, at 55%, and the US 13th at 42%, while for good old-fash­ioned broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity (above 2Mbp­s), 10 mostly Eu­ro­pean coun­tries have pen­e­tra­tion rates over 90%, the US ranks 35th at 80%, and Japan is ac­tu­ally be­hind the US, com­ing in 39th place at 76%. What’s more, Japan’s high broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity ac­tu­ally fell 8.9% YoY and its broad­band con­nec­tiv­ity fell 12% YoY, while the rates of al­most all other coun­tries surged. Not all that stel­lar a per­for­mance at the broad­est end of the spec­trum, es­pe­cially given how suited rel­a­tively small, very densely pop­u­lated Japan is to the build-out of broad­band.

…There are hosts of other fas­ci­nat­ing met­rics that show how ten­ta­tive the Japan­ese em­brace of the In­ter­net has re­ally been: on­line sales as a per­cent­age of re­tail sales are far lower in Japan than the de­vel­oped coun­try av­er­age, due to cred­it-card se­cu­rity con­cerns (which in­ter­est­ingly are not shared by the South Ko­re­an­s), on­line me­dia time con­sump­tion is lower than it is in South Ko­rea, Chi­na, the US, or the UK, on­line ad­ver­tis­ing spend­ing as a per­cent­age of to­tal ad­ver­tis­ing spend­ing is like­wise low­er, the money that is spent on ad­ver­tis­ing is more fo­cused on dis­play than on (more so­phis­ti­cat­ed) search than else­where, us­age rates of so­cial net­work­ing ser­vices such as Face­book are far be­low those of peer coun­tries, and the In­ter­net is used over­whelm­ingly for its old-school fea­tures-news, search, and e-mail-rather than more up­-to-the-minute fea­tures such as on­line mu­sic, on­line gam­ing, and on­line bank­ing.

On mu­sic: in 2012, “Japan has sur­passed the U.S. as the biggest seller of CDs, vinyl and cas­sette tapes, with 25.4% of global sales, ac­cord­ing to the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Japan”.

A Wired writer, in­ves­ti­gat­ing a rare bright spot in Japan­ese In­ter­net cul­ture (“In Search of the Liv­ing, Purring, Singing Heart of the On­line Cat-In­dus­trial Com­plex”), writes:

Lest I un­fairly ratchet up your col­lec­tive ex­pec­ta­tions: I will never get to pet , and nei­ther will you. Maru’s su­per­vi­sory doc­u­men­tar­ian is named Mugu­mogu, but be­yond that fact, hardly any­thing is known about her. When I write Maru’s US book pub­li­cist-you read that right-it turns out that she knows no more than you or I. The pub­li­cist loops in Maru’s US book ed­i­tor, who offers to pass along some in­ter­view ques­tions to Mugu­mogu’s Japan­ese agent, who could have them trans­lat­ed, an­swered, and sent back. But I have no ques­tions for the hu­man be­ing called Mugu­mogu. My in­ter­est lies en­tirely with the cat. I write back to the US ed­i­tor in my most pro­fes­sional tone, the one in which I don’t sound like some­body who watches cat videos all day, and say that for my pur­poses I need to meet Maru IRL. I am will­ing to sign an IRL NDA. I promise I won’t write a word about Mugu­mogu her­self. I just want 20 or 30 min­utes with that cat. A few days later the pub­li­cist writes back: Im­pos­si­ble. I’m wel­come to write to the Japan­ese agent, she says, but I should know that not even the agent knows who Mugu­mogu is; her cor­re­spon­dence all goes through Maru’s Japan­ese pub­lish­er, a cer­tain Oku­mu­ra-san, of Tokimeki Pub­lish­ing, a bou­tique out­fit spe­cial­iz­ing in In­ter­net cat nya-alls and coffee ta­ble cel­e­bra­tions of Ko­rean soap op­eras. I com­mence months of fruit­lessly ob­se­quious email courtship with Mugu­mogu but ul­ti­mately to no avail.

All of this ret­i­cence is in­fu­ri­at­ing. In Amer­ica peo­ple post a video of them­selves whistling “Free Bird” in a tutu and they’re heart­bro­ken if they’re not im­me­di­ately in­vited on The View. It’s differ­ent in Japan, though. There, they haven’t yet cot­toned to the idea that the whole point of the In­ter­net is not only that it might make you fa­mous and uni­ver­sally loved but that it might make you fa­mous and uni­ver­sally loved overnight, and for no real rea­son, and that then it would give you fairly pre­cise met­rics for just how fa­mous and loved you were, and for how long. For the Japan­ese, the In­ter­net is pri­mar­ily not about self­-pro­mo­tion and ex­po­sure but about re­straint and anonymi­ty.

To help me un­der­stand this in­tro­ver­sion—and also in the hope of mak­ing con­tact with some fa­mous In­ter­net cat­s—I en­list the as­sis­tance of David Marx. An Amer­i­can liv­ing in Tokyo, Marx writes a very in­tel­li­gent, pop­u­lar blog called Néo­japon­isme, which I’d stum­bled upon in my cat-re­lated for­ays. In a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing post, Marx offers three rea­sons for the Japan­ese cult of on­line anonymi­ty. The first, which he deems sil­ly, is the fear that crim­i­nals or con men might use per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to harm an un­wary In­ter­net user. The sec­ond one, the fear that col­leagues or bosses might dis­cover per­sonal de­tails that could be prob­lem­atic at work, he con­nects to the Japan­ese cul­tural mi­lieu, where “any sort of ques­tion­able hobby au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fies as a ‘se­cret dou­ble life.’” The third rea­son—fear that anony­mous mobs might bash any­one who tried to stand out too ag­gres­sively on­line—he con­sid­ers to­tally le­git­i­mate, “in that the In­ter­net in Japan so far has been al­most ex­clu­sively about anony­mous mobs mak­ing trou­ble for in­di­vid­u­als and in­dus­try.” (He notes that he once had his own photo posted on a Japan­ese board called Sus­pi­cious For­eign­er­s.) I write Marx a fan email and ask if his the­o­ries might ap­ply to the ques­tion of why the In­ter­net chose cats. He replies right away. Not only has he writ­ten about Japan­ese me­dia trends, he works at YouTube. We Skype. “Japan was rel­a­tively late to get­ting on the In­ter­net,” he says, “and still lags be­hind in some ways. But with cat stuff they were al­ways lead­er­s-with cats as their con­duits. Think about it.” I think about it. I’ve been do­ing very lit­tle but think about it. “Most of the named cats on the In­ter­net are Japan­ese,” he ob­serves. It’s an ex­cel­lent point: Those cats on tread­mills and cats on yoga mats and cats be­ing slapped to a Joy Di­vi­sion sound­track, anony­mous gri­malkins all. But your Marus, your Maos, and your Shi­ronekos—all of them are in Japan…­Marx and I watch a few new cat videos, some of the up­-and-com­ers, those chal­leng­ing or ex­ceed­ing Maru’s pageviews. “An in­ter­est­ing thing, here in Japan, is that it’s not just the cat part­ners who post cat stuff. It’s every­body.” Soez­i­max, for ex­am­ple, is an ac­tion-film mak­er, one of the most pop­u­lar part­ners in Japan, with mil­lions of views. But some of his most pop­u­lar videos are the ones he posts of the fights he has with his girl­friend’s vi­cious cat, Sashim­i-san, who reg­u­larly puts Soez­i­max to rout. He’s the an­ti-Maru, the stan­dard­-bearer of un­cute In­ter­net cat ag­gres­sion. The videos are slightly alarm­ing, es­pe­cially when we’re all so used to an­o­dyne fe­lin­i­ty. Then Marx brings up Japan’s most pop­u­lar In­ter­net co­me­di­an, who used to post reg­u­lar videos of him­self in a cat café. (In Japan, they have cafés where you go to pet cat­s.) “It’s like”, Marx says, “no mat­ter how suc­cess­ful you are here on the In­ter­net on your own terms, it’s de rigueur that you still have to do some­thing with a cat.” In a cul­ture of In­ter­net anonymi­ty, bred of is­land claus­tro­pho­bia and im­mo­bil­i­ty, the Japan­ese In­ter­net cat has be­come a cru­cial proxy: Peo­ple who feel in­hib­ited to do what they want on­line are ex­press­ing them­selves, cagi­ly, via the an­i­mal that only ever does what it wants.


  1. Of course peo­ple were text mes­sag­ing and us­ing cell phones in Amer­ica be­fore 2005; I mean that 2005 is, ±2 years, when they be­came part of the cul­ture—they be­came de rigeur, text mes­sag­ing ser­vices be­gan pop­ping up, they be­came in­cor­po­rated with ‘’, teenage girls would spend all their time mes­sag­ing each oth­er, etc.↩︎

  2. The Stan­dard, Ver­sion 5.0 (the last pub­lished as a book) runs to 1472 pages. —what most Eng­lish is writ­ten in­—is speci­fi­able in a page or two; other pop­u­lar Eu­ro­pean lan­guages take only a few more pages. Al­pha­betic scripts like the Ko­rean are sim­i­larly com­pactly spec­i­fied (although hangul’s syl­la­ble com­po­si­tion means that Uni­code has to spec­ify a large al­pha­bet—although clearly and defi­nitely finite—of 11,172 syl­la­bles).

    In con­trast, the de­sire of the Uni­code de­vel­op­ers to limit Chinese/Japanese ideograms to 20,940 and then to just 75,960 (so as to not re­quire an ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of bits to write such ideograms) re­sulted in a mul­ti­-decade fes­ter­ing con­tro­versy known as . Said con­tro­versy has also en­cour­aged the cre­ation of many other en­cod­ings (Wikipedia lists 8 or 9). An out­sider might con­clude that the com­plex­ity of the Uni­code so­lu­tion and the fail­ure of any com­peti­tors to de­feat it in us­age or phe­nom­e­non like “” are in­di­ca­tions that the writ­ing sys­tems re­ally truly are not sim­patico with dig­i­tal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. (I will men­tion in pass­ing that O’Reil­ly’s—a pub­lisher known for con­ci­sion and good tech­ni­cal writ­ing—has pub­lished a book on work­ing with CJKV text, CJKV In­for­ma­tion Pro­cess­ing, Sec­ond Edi­tion, which runs 912 pages.) One fas­ci­nat­ing ex­am­ple of the prob­lems caused is a method for reg­is­ter­ing bank ac­counts em­ployed by ‘one-click fraud’ op­er­a­tors; from “Dis­sect­ing One Click Frauds”:

    Fraud­u­lent bank ac­counts can be ob­tained for prices go­ing be­tween 30,000 and 50,000 JPY [ref: “Black mar­ket ya­mamoto web”] from the black mar­ket…it is rel­a­tively easy to set up fraud­u­lent ac­counts by tak­ing ad­van­tage of the Japan­ese writ­ing sys­tem. Bank ac­counts in­ter­nally use a pho­netic al­pha­bet (), differ­ent from the char­ac­ters used for most names and nouns (). It is thus pos­si­ble to cre­ate am­bigu­ous ac­count names. For in­stance, both the “Bak­ing Club of Shi­rai City” and “Shi­raishi Mit­suko” (a per­son’s name) are pro­nounced ex­actly the same, and thus would have the same ac­count holder in­for­ma­tion. By reg­is­ter­ing as a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, the fraud­ster may eas­ily by­pass most iden­tity checks, and sub­se­quently set up fraud­u­lent trans­fers us­ing the in­di­vid­ual name in­stead. Cre­at­ing an ac­count in this fash­ion would cost much less than 50,000 JPY.

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  3. Some peo­ple like to rel­a­tivis­ti­cally ar­gue that all nat­ural lan­guages are equally com­plex and such com­par­isons are mean­ing­less or ig­no­rant (or racist). This is false. Chil­dren learn differ­ent nat­ural lan­guages at differ­ent rates (eg. Dan­ish vs Croa­t­ian); this has real effects on their ed­u­ca­tion (why are Es­to­nia & Fin­land—with highly sim­i­lar lan­guages & reg­u­lar spelling—ranked so high on , when the wealth­ier & health­ier Swedish-s­peak­ing Finnish mi­nor­ity has lower scores?). To demon­strate with ; Eng­lish has very lit­tle gen­der and when an An­glo­phone learns French, the male/female gen­ders and as­so­ci­ated differ­ences in spelling & end­ings may strike him as su­per­flu­ous com­plex­i­ty. He’s right. The gen­der rules, and specifi­cally mem­o­riz­ing what gen­der each and every word is, are ar­bi­trary and con­vey no mean­ing. They are ran­dom—a com­pres­sion al­go­rithm would choke on them.

    And we can run a thought ex­per­i­ment (no need to ap­peal ex­plic­itly to ); imag­ine a French Prime which is like French but where there is a sec­ond gen­der sys­tem with, say, 20 differ­ent gen­ders (and ac­com­pa­ny­ing spelling & end­ings), and for each of the 50,000 words in , a de­cides what gen­der it is. By de­fi­n­i­tion, the out­put of the RNG is un­pre­dictable & un­com­press­ible. All a Fran­coph­one can do is mem­o­rize 50,000 gen­der in­di­ca­tions if they are to speak proper French Prime. Surely French Prime is more com­plex than French—all a French Prime speaker has to do is bliss­fully for­get how many thou­sands of vi­ges­i­mal gen­ders he mem­o­rized. (If this is not in­tu­itively con­vinc­ing, then let the num­ber of gen­ders go to the 140 of , or 50,000, or how­ever many words there are in a lan­guage; the gen­der rules would be mon­strously com­plex, with no sim­pli­fi­ca­tion any­where in the lan­guage.)↩︎

  4. Con­sider es­say :

    And that, I think, is the root of the prob­lem. Nerds serve two mas­ters. They want to be pop­u­lar, cer­tain­ly, but they want even more to be smart. And pop­u­lar­ity is not some­thing you can do in your spare time, not in the fiercely com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment of an Amer­i­can sec­ondary school….

    …N­erds don’t re­al­ize this. They don’t re­al­ize that it takes work to be pop­u­lar. In gen­er­al, peo­ple out­side some very de­mand­ing field don’t re­al­ize the ex­tent to which suc­cess de­pends on con­stant (though often un­con­scious) effort. For ex­am­ple, most peo­ple seem to con­sider the abil­ity to draw as some kind of in­nate qual­i­ty, like be­ing tall. In fact, most peo­ple who “can draw” like draw­ing, and have spent many hours do­ing it; that’s why they’re good at it. Like­wise, pop­u­lar is­n’t just some­thing you are or you aren’t, but some­thing you make your­self.

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  5. Henry Far­rell (“For Every New Geek Cul­ture, A Geek Hi­er­ar­chy”), dis­cussing , agrees with Shirky & me that the In­ter­net is low­er­ing the cost of small groups and hence en­cour­ag­ing their use, but dis­agrees that they can be re­place­ments for the larger groups:

    Thus, for ex­am­ple, when im­pov­er­ished aca­d­e­mics sneer at the ‘vul­gar’ taste of rich peo­ple, they are semi­-con­sciously try­ing to im­prove the ex­change rate be­tween the kind of cul­tural cap­i­tal that they have lots of (‘good taste’ as they them­selves de­fine it) and the kind of eco­nomic cap­i­tal that rich peo­ple have lots of (money).

    This helps us think bet­ter about sta­tus re­la­tion­ships among groups. You can think of groups as pro­vid­ing their mem­bers with cul­tur­al, so­cial and (some­times) eco­nomic cap­i­tal. But some groups pro­vide more valu­able cap­i­tal than oth­ers. This is to say that the kinds of cap­i­tal that they pro­duce can be ex­changed for other kinds of cap­i­tal more read­ily than the kinds of cap­i­tal pro­duced by other groups. Mem­bers of the group of elite World of War­craft play­ers, for ex­am­ple, is go­ing to have much greater diffi­culty in ex­chang­ing their sta­tus cap­i­tal for eco­nomic cap­i­tal than mem­bers of the group of elite golf play­ers (no mat­ter how good a Night Elf Rogue you are, you are un­likely to make mil­lions from en­dorse­ments). Sim­i­lar­ly, as Clay says, you are un­likely to get writ­ten up in the New York Times…I sus­pect that there are three ma­jor effects [of cheap group­s]…Sec­ond—when the chaos set­tles down into some kind of rel­a­tive sta­bil­i­ty, there will be [ma­jor] changes to the terms of ex­change. Some groups will come out much bet­ter than they had been in the past, and some groups much worse off. The com­ing of the In­ter­net has im­proved the rel­a­tive sta­tus of many forms of geek cul­ture—sites like play a very im­por­tant cul­tural role. Sim­i­lar­ly, the In­ter­net has al­lowed the net­roots to chal­lenge and par­tially dis­place ex­ist­ing groups (such as the DLC) in the in­ter­nal peck­ing or­der of De­mo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics. Note how­ever that this is­n’t an es­cape from cul­tural hi­er­ar­chy; it’s a re-order­ing of ex­ist­ing hi­er­ar­chies of ex­change. This re-order­ing may often have at­trac­tive fea­tures (more pos­si­bil­i­ties may be more open to a wider va­ri­ety of in­di­vid­u­als than in the pre-ex­ist­ing or­der), but it’s not fun­da­men­tally differ­ent in kind to what went be­fore…In the new world that tech­nol­ogy has lib­er­at­ed, every­one can, in effect, cre­ate their own sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies, where they (be­cause of their mas­tery of cater­pil­lar-fuzz count­ing, one-di­men­sional chess, Chi­nese Scrab­ble or what­ev­er) are at or near the top. Peo­ple can opt out of sta­tus races where they are likely to lose, and opt in to sta­tus races that they are likely to win. Given a near in­fin­ity of pos­si­ble sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies, they can choose the ones that they do well in. But this ar­gu­ment pre­sup­poses that these differ­ent pos­si­ble sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies are dis­con­nected from each oth­er. The em­pir­ics seem to me to tell a differ­ent sto­ry. Peo­ple are aware not only of their sta­tus within par­tic­u­lar groups, but of the rel­a­tive sta­tus of differ­ent groups. Ex­pan­sions in the num­ber of groups does­n’t lead the mem­bers of those new groups to aban­don efforts to fig­ure out the terms of ex­change be­tween the groups, or to stop push­ing for terms of ex­change that priv­i­lege their group’s cul­tural or so­cial cap­i­tal vis-a-vis that of oth­ers. Pre­cisely the op­po­site is true. For every new geek cul­ture, there is a Geek Hi­er­ar­chy.

    …Clay may rea­son­ably be more in­ter­ested in what’s hap­pen­ing in WoW than in pro­fes­sional golf, and get hap­pi­ness from the fact that he’s a good WoW play­er. But he may also find that it is diffi­cult to turn his WoW prowess into other kinds of cap­i­tal. If he wants to or­ga­nize a tour­na­ment of first rank WoW play­ers to raise money for his fa­vorite char­i­ty, he will al­most cer­tainly raise far less money than if he were able to re­cruit first rate pro­fes­sional golfers. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of new groups may com­pli­cate games over rel­a­tive sta­tus, but it surely does­n’t dis­place them.

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  6. “My life sucked when I was fifteen. I was a no­body in the real world. How­ev­er, once I was able to cre­ate my own char­ac­ter in an on­line uni­verse, I could be any­thing or any­one and progress in the game be­came im­me­di­ate and in­stantly grat­i­fy­ing. Achiev­ing suc­cess in the real world is a very ar­du­ous, long, and some­times risky process. It is hard to ex­plain to a teenage boy that he might have to wait a decade be­fore he will stop feel­ing so in­se­cure about his place in life.” —The Way­gook Effect on an “Es­ti­mated 1.9 Mil­lion Ko­re­ans With an In­ter­net Ad­dic­tion”. West­ern-style school­ing (u­ni­ver­sal manda­tory age-seg­re­gated in­sti­tu­tions) seems al­most cal­cu­lated to in­ten­sify this ado­les­cent suffer­ing; see also Lord of the Flies, , & Paul Gra­ham’s .↩︎

  7. Japan is again our ex­am­ple. Spike Japan ex­am­ined the de­cline of karaoke, and linked it out to the ‘at­om­ized so­ci­ety’ by way of time sur­veys of Japan­ese cit­i­zens show­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary de­clines in ac­tiv­i­ties like ‘talk­ing with fam­ily’, ‘play­ing sports’, and even de­clines in ac­tiv­i­ties like ‘car­ing for the el­derly’.↩︎

  8. Con­sider “The Rise of the New Global Elite”, The At­lantic, whose au­thor ed­i­to­ri­al­izes:

    What is more rel­e­vant to our times, though, is that the rich of to­day are also differ­ent from the rich of yes­ter­day. Our light-speed, glob­ally con­nected econ­omy has led to the rise of a new su­per-elite that con­sists, to a no­table de­gree, of first- and sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion wealth. Its mem­bers are hard­work­ing, highly ed­u­cat­ed, jet-set­ting mer­i­to­crats who feel they are the de­serv­ing win­ners of a tough, world­wide eco­nomic com­pe­ti­tion-and many of them, as a re­sult, have an am­biva­lent at­ti­tude to­ward those of us who did­n’t suc­ceed so spec­tac­u­lar­ly. Per­haps most note­wor­thy, they are be­com­ing a trans­global com­mu­nity of peers who have more in com­mon with one an­other than with their coun­try­men back home. Whether they main­tain pri­mary res­i­dences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mum­bai, to­day’s su­per-rich are in­creas­ingly a na­tion unto them­selves.

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  9. Not by na­tional gross of course, which is mean­ing­ful only to gov­ern­ments, but ; that is, on the day-to-day ba­sis we live in, the met­ric that ac­tu­ally mat­ters.↩︎

  10. Al­though any nos­tal­gia for the ‘good old days’ (where every­one watched the same hand­ful of shows on the same 3 TV net­works at the same time after din­ner…) should be tem­pered by the fact that so many peo­ple try des­per­ately to es­cape it for a sub­cul­ture.↩︎

  11. pg 90; as cited in “Michael Kroger, Over­com­ing Irony: The Cre­ative and De­struc­tive Forces of Chuck Palah­niuk’s Choke↩︎

  12. The par­tic­i­pants in the ex­per­i­ment come out hav­ing lost weight and im­proved their health thanks to their nu­tri­tious (tra­di­tion­al) diet and daily agri­cul­tural labor; but it’s strik­ing that they re­port their men­tal health to so im­proved; from sec­tion 7.7 (“Hu­mans as Par­tic­i­pants in Closed Eco­log­i­cal Sys­tems”) of “Liv­ing In Space: Re­sults From Bios­phere 2’s Ini­tial Clo­sure, An Early Test­bed For Closed Eco­log­i­cal Sys­tems On Mars”, Nel­son & Demp­ster 1996 (the for­mer was a par­tic­i­pan­t):

    …A some­what sub­tle but im­por­tant re­sult of the two year clo­sure ex­per­i­ment re­lates to the hu­man di­men­sion of liv­ing in a small bios­pheric sys­tem. As men­tioned, the de­sign of Bios­phere 2 was mo­ti­vated in part by the recog­ni­tion that cre­at­ing a place of beauty was im­por­tant as the sys­tem is not only func­tional life sup­port but effec­tively “the world” for the crew for the time that it is in­hab­it­ed. Each of the eight bios­phe­ri­ans of Mis­sion One re­ported a height­en­ing of aware­ness of their con­nec­tion to this world. It is so small that every ac­tion is seen to have an im­pact—­for bet­ter or worse—on its func­tion­ing. There are no “anony­mous” ac­tion­s—the feed­back loops are vir­tu­ally in­stan­ta­neous. Nor can one mis­take that an ac­tion in one part of the sys­tem will not have con­se­quences else­where.

    In a pa­per writ­ten while still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the re­al­ity of life in­side Bios­phere 2 (Nel­son and Alling, 1993), two of its crew ex­pressed it thus:

    Our per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the past nine­teen months within this closed sys­tem has been ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing. Liv­ing as an in­te­gral com­po­nent in our small world, both re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing it and ben­e­fit­ing from its sup­port, has been as re­ward­ing as it has been chal­leng­ing. It has changed our per­spec­tives on the role of hu­mans in all closed sys­tems, whether they be ar­ti­fi­cial sys­tems like Bios­phere 2 or nat­ural closed sys­tems like Bios­phere 1, our Earth’s bios­phere. We par­tic­i­pate in a part­ner­ship with our bios­phere to en­hance its well-be­ing by us­ing our own re­sources, as well as by call­ing on an ex­ten­sive net­work of sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers on the out­side and em­ploy­ing tech­nolo­gies de­signed to as­sist in cre­at­ing de­sired en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. There is a new har­mony in this effort be­cause our daily ex­pe­ri­ence con­firms the fact that we rely on the life sys­tems for sur­vival, and at the same time, the eco­log­i­cal sys­tems de­pend on our efforts to max­i­mize pro­duc­tion and sus­tain over­all health. In a small closed eco­log­i­cal sys­tem the equa­tion ‘our bios­phere’s health equals our health’ be­comes dra­mat­i­cally ev­i­dent.

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  13. Au­tonomous Tech­nol­o­gy: Tech­nic­s-Out-Of-Con­trol (1989), Lang­don Win­ner↩︎

  14. Ac­tivist , “Sat 16 Jun 2007: Every­one and no one wants to save the world”

    You must sat­isfy your in­vari­ant in­stincts or you will be at odds with your own char­ac­ter. It is only when we are not at odds with our ba­sic makeup that we can find life mean­ing­ful. To ex­er­cise your in­stinct for sav­ing the world, re­quires sav­ing what you per­ceive to be the world. Be­ing mod­ern, ed­u­cated and world­ly, the world you per­ceive is im­mense and this is dis­em­pow­er­ing com­pared to the val­ley world of your an­ces­tors where your feel­ings were forged and where sav­ing 10 peo­ple saved 10% of the “world”’s pop­u­la­tion.

    Here lays the diffi­culty in ac­tu­al­is­ing your char­ac­ter. Your per­cep­tion is of a world so vast that that you can not en­vis­age your ac­tions mak­ing a mean­ing­ful differ­ence.

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  15. “A His­tory of Vi­o­lence”: Edge Mas­ter Class 2011↩︎

  16. We can ex­pand out this ar­gu­ment more for­mal­ly. So­cial ‘sta­tus’, what­ever that is (like time, it is hard to de­fine but it is vi­tal and every­one un­der­stands it), is often con­sid­ered a : “prod­ucts and ser­vices whose value is mostly (if not ex­clu­sive­ly) a func­tion of their rank­ing in de­sir­abil­ity by oth­ers, in com­par­i­son to sub­sti­tutes.” If we think of it as a book­shelf, we can see that if we move one book to the left­most spot, we force right­wards all the other books. The shelf may not be full, in which case it’s pos­si­ble for us to move all the books left­wards, but not very much and we quickly use up the gaps. If we want to move the books even more left­wards, there’s noth­ing we can do but de­stroy the book­case en­tire­ly. This is un­like many other goods like eco­nomic wealth—we can al­ways ‘grow the pie higher’, as it were. This fu­til­ity makes so­cial sta­tus seem like a —all we can do is shuffle sta­tus around, and not in­crease it, un­like reg­u­lar eco­nomic sce­nar­ios which can be and often are s. But at least sta­tus is not a —right? This is an im­por­tant ques­tion be­cause sta­tus in­flu­ences all sorts of im­por­tant things that one would be hard-pressed to buy, like in­creased longevity (civil ser­vice rank, and No­bel prizes if not Os­cars)

    One in­ter­est­ing as­pect of money is that while we often use it as a syn­onym for util­ity in dis­cus­sions of (“ offers you a choice be­tween one box and two box­es; the first has a thou­sand dol­lars in it…”), this is not true. Money is a very good ap­prox­i­ma­tion for util­i­ty, in small amounts, but as the amounts in­crease, each ad­di­tional in­crease rep­re­sents less util­ity for the own­er. Your first mil­lion dol­lars makes a huge differ­ence to your hap­pi­ness, your sec­ond mil­lion not so much, and so on. Prob­a­bly Bill Gates did­n’t think about fluc­tu­a­tions of even hun­dreds of mil­lions in his net worth. So when this de­tail comes up we say things like ‘util­ity is log­a­rith­mic in wealth’ to ex­press the idea that each dol­lar is worth fewer utilons than the pre­vi­ous dol­lar. (See also scope in­sen­si­tiv­ity and the .) What this means is that you can change the net happiness/utility of a pop­u­la­tion by sim­ply mov­ing dol­lars around. How­ev­er, you could not change the net dol­lars just by mov­ing dol­lars around!

    Imag­ine we have $1000 and 100 peo­ple and the util­ity per dol­lar is your ba­sic nat­ural log. If we gave all $1000 to one per­son, then that per­son has utilons and every­one else has no dol­lars & neg­a­tive in­fin­ity utilons (they’re very un­happy at pos­sess­ing noth­ing), for a net to­tal of neg­a­tive in­fin­ity utilons; if we are a lit­tle fairer and give every­one $1 and then the re­main­ing $900 to one per­son, he has and every­one else for a net to­tal of 6.8 utilons. If we now give every­one $5, and the re­main­ing $500 to one per­son, he has and every­one else for a net to­tal of 165.56—quite an im­prove­ment! Car­ry­ing this out to the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of every­one get­ting equal amounts ($10), we find our net to­tal has be­come , and this is as high as it’s pos­si­ble to get our lit­tle pop­u­la­tion.

    As it hap­pens, there’s a lot of ev­i­dence that peo­ples’ util­ity func­tions are log­a­rith­mic in wealth, and gen­eral global ev­i­dence that eco­nomic in­equal­ity makes peo­ple un­happy and this is a ma­jor fac­tor in why the Japan­ese or Scan­di­na­vians are hap­pier than Amer­i­cans, even if they are poorer by many met­rics (see for ex­am­ple the ). Ap­ply­ing this sim­plis­tic model to pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions in the real world is a lit­tle diffi­cult be­cause eco­nomic in­equal­ity may con­tribute to eco­nomic growth via pool­ing wealth in a few hands (one might point to Gates’s mega-phil­an­thropy) and pre­serv­ing in­cen­tives to work like a dog (i­nas­much as the usual mech­a­nisms for re­duc­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity in­volve forms of and re­dis­tri­b­u­tion), and eco­nomic growth means in the fu­ture there may be even more wealth to dis­trib­ute which could jus­tify fore­go­ing util­ity in­creases at the present mo­ment.

    Now we go back to sta­tus. We al­ready out­lined how money can be su­pe­rior to sta­tus; and we just saw how, to max­i­mize util­ity at any par­tic­u­lar time, we want to re­dis­trib­ute mon­ey. We can’t sim­ply say ‘util­ity is log­a­rith­mic’ in sta­tus be­cause there are no ‘sta­tus-ons’ we can re­dis­trib­ute like ‘utilons’ or ‘dol­lars’ (although ana­logues have been pro­posed, like SF au­thor so­ci­ety run­ning on “s”), be­cause sta­tus is more than . (The com­mon dis­tinc­tion in our lan­guage em­pha­sizes that money is not sta­tus: ‘ar­riv­iste’, ‘kip’, ‘nou­veau riche’/‘new money’, ‘par­venu’, ‘so­cial climber’, ‘up­start’, etc. One can try to buy sta­tus by do­na­tions to in­sti­tu­tions fre­quented by the rich, but it will cost a bun­dle.) What we can try to do is imag­ine com­par­ing sit­u­a­tions with more or less kinds of sta­tus, and ask how they differ in to­tal util­i­ty.

    Imag­ine our 100 peo­ple again, and imag­ine they have 1 or 2 kinds of sta­tus to choose from. We could call them ‘sci­en­tific’ or ‘artis­tic’ sta­tus—the sci­en­tists don’t care if they are ranked 50 out of the artists or if they are ranked al the way at the top at 100, but they do care if they are the 10 rather than 1 sci­en­tist, and vice-ver­sa. Fur­ther, let’s say it’s pos­si­ble for a per­son to change their mind. Given this set up, it’s pretty clear that none of them is worse off for there be­ing a sec­ond kind of sta­tus, since they can pick whichever sta­tus they have more of. If a per­son dis­cov­ers he’s the artist ranked #5 but sci­en­tist ranked #6, he can switch his per­sonal iden­tity to “artist” and be bet­ter off; if the re­verse or he is equal, well, he’s no worse off than be­fore. Since he is as well off or more well off un­der the sce­nario with 2 kinds of sta­tus, he would pre­fer a sys­tem in which there are 2 kinds of sta­tus. If you ask him whether he would fa­vor three kinds of sta­tus, the same logic ap­plies: if he’s higher on that third one than ei­ther of the two, he will switch and be bet­ter off, else he will not switch and not be any worse off. And so on. This works nicely with log­a­rith­mic dis­count­ing: we split our orig­i­nal 1–100 rank­ing into 50–100 and a sec­ond 50–100, and the sums im­prove: sum (map log ([50..100] ++ [50..100])) → 438.35, which is larger than sum (map log [1..100]) → 363.74.

    One might ob­ject that this ar­gu­ment cooks the books by covertly in­tro­duc­ing en­tirely new book­cases and then ex­claim­ing “now there’s more room to shift books left­wards, be­cause I can put half my books in the left half of the orig­i­nal book­case and the other half in the left half of this new book­case! Amaz­ing!” One is say­ing the right cal­cu­la­tion is sum (map log ([1..50] ++ [1..50])) → 297.

    In a way, we are ar­gu­ing about some­thing pretty pro­found: how do sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies in­ter­act in the real world? If a sub­cul­ture splits off, do they cre­ate their own hi­er­ar­chy where the top dog is as im­por­tant as the top dog in the other hi­er­ar­chy? Does Hayao Miyazaki de­rive as much util­ity from be­ing the great­est liv­ing anime di­rec­tor as, say, Steven Spiel­berg or Mar­tin Scors­ese de­rives from his own di­rect­ing sta­tus? Wired notes that there are 604,174 Wikipedia ar­ti­cles on liv­ing peo­ple com­pared to ~7 bil­lion liv­ing peo­ple, sug­gest­ing “no­table” peo­ple are roughly 1 in 10,000. Mod­ern life seems to creak along well, as far as fame goes, which sug­gests to me that no­ta­bil­ity could be fur­ther dis­trib­uted.

    My own be­lief is that these sub­cul­tures start top-down, not bot­tom up, be­cause no one knows every­thing. If this is so, the ar­gu­ments carry through, and since we can­not re­dis­trib­ute sta­tus it­self, we must do the next best thing: we must cre­ate or per­mit as many kinds of sta­tus as peo­ple de­sire. Know­ing this, the wise man emp­ties his heart of scorn for oth­ers and re­frains from judg­ment.

    In the north­ern ocean there is a fish, called the k’un, I do not know how many thou­sand li in size. This k’un changes into a bird, called the p’eng. Its back is I do not know how many thou­sand li in breadth. When it is moved, it flies, its wings ob­scur­ing the sky like clouds.

    …A ci­cada and a young dove laughed, say­ing, “Now, when I fly with all my might, ’tis as much as I can do to get from tree to tree. And some­times I do not reach, but fall to the ground mid­way. What then can be the use of go­ing up ninety thou­sand li to start for the south?”…a lake spar­row laughed, and said: “Pray, what may that crea­ture be go­ing to do? I rise but a few yards in the air and set­tle down again, after fly­ing around among the reeds. That is as much as any one would want to fly. Now, wher­ever can this crea­ture be go­ing to?” Such, in­deed, is the differ­ence be­tween small and great.

    …S­mall knowl­edge has not the com­pass of great knowl­edge any more than a short year has the length of a long year. How can we tell that this is so? The fun­gus plant of a morn­ing knows not the al­ter­na­tion of day and night. The ci­cada knows not the al­ter­na­tion of spring and au­tumn. Theirs are short years. But in the south of Ch’u there is a min­gling (tree) whose spring and au­tumn are each of five hun­dred years’ du­ra­tion. And in for­mer days there was a large tree which had a spring and au­tumn each of eight thou­sand years. Yet, P’eng Tsu is known for reach­ing a great age and is still, alas! an ob­ject of envy to all! —chap­ter 1 of the .

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  17. It’s some­thing of a mys­tery why monogamy has thrived over the last mil­len­ni­um—why not al­low , , both () or even full blown ? Why re­strict free­dom in this re­gard, re­strict it so vi­ciously that so­ci­ety is will­ing to kill over it? One ex­pla­na­tion I find ap­peal­ing sug­gests that mar­riage—­sex—­may be an ex­am­ple of so­ci­eties en­cour­ag­ing the for­ma­tion of more-op­ti­mal mul­ti­ple hi­er­ar­chies of sta­tus as op­posed to a sin­gle one. To very broadly gen­er­al­ize, those al­ter­na­tives seem to boil down to polyg­yny (polyandry be­ing very rare) and polyg­yny seems to cor­re­late with so­ci­eties where there are few ways to sta­tus but vi­o­lence & hunt­ing, while monogamy en­cour­ages males to en­gage in eco­nomic com­pe­ti­tion for mates; rel­e­vant is Roy Baumeis­ter’s 2010 Is There Any­thing Good About Men? (sum­mary), and es­pe­cially Hen­rich 2012’s re­view, (em­pha­sis added):

    The an­thro­po­log­i­cal record in­di­cates that ap­prox­i­mately 85 per cent of hu­man so­ci­eties have per­mit­ted men to have more than one wife (polyg­y­nous mar­riage), and both em­pir­i­cal and evo­lu­tion­ary con­sid­er­a­tions sug­gest that large ab­solute differ­ences in wealth should favour more polyg­y­nous mar­riages. Yet, monog­a­mous mar­riage has spread across Eu­rope, and more re­cently across the globe, even as ab­solute wealth differ­ences have ex­pand­ed. Here, we de­velop and ex­plore the hy­poth­e­sis that the norms and in­sti­tu­tions that com­pose the mod­ern pack­age of monog­a­mous mar­riage have been favoured by cul­tural evo­lu­tion be­cause of their group-ben­e­fi­cial effect­s-pro­mot­ing suc­cess in in­ter-group com­pe­ti­tion. In sup­press­ing in­tra­sex­ual com­pe­ti­tion and re­duc­ing the size of the pool of un­mar­ried men, nor­ma­tive monogamy re­duces crime rates, in­clud­ing rape, mur­der, as­sault, rob­bery and fraud, as well as de­creas­ing per­sonal abus­es. By as­suag­ing the com­pe­ti­tion for younger brides, nor­ma­tive monogamy de­creases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fer­til­i­ty, and (i­ii) gen­der in­equal­ity. By shift­ing male efforts from seek­ing wives to pa­ter­nal in­vest­ment, nor­ma­tive monogamy in­creases sav­ings, child in­vest­ment and eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity. By in­creas­ing the re­lat­ed­ness within house­holds, nor­ma­tive monogamy re­duces in­tra-house­hold con­flict, lead­ing to lower rates of child ne­glect, abuse, ac­ci­den­tal death and homi­cide. These pre­dic­tions are tested us­ing con­verg­ing lines of ev­i­dence from across the hu­man sci­ences.

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  18. This point does not seem to be orig­i­nal to me. in “Sex Tips For Geeks: How To Be Sexy” ad­vises the lovelorn geek to ac­quire:

    So­cial sta­tus. Now this is where it gets in­ter­est­ing—be­cause women can de­tect this even when you aren’t in a con­text where it’s ob­vi­ous. Be­ing an al­pha male in some sta­tus hi­er­ar­chy changes your body lan­guage, your sex-hor­mone lev­els, and the smell of your sweat. Women home in on men with these traits some­thing fierce—ask any rock star.

    Cathy: “Or ask Er­ic. His re­cent no­to­ri­ety has defi­nitely in­creased the amount of fe­male at­ten­tion he gets– even from me.”

    But it is­n’t that im­por­tant to a wom­an’s re­cep­tors ex­actly what the sta­tus hi­er­ar­chy is. It could be any­thing from the neigh­bor­hood bowl­ing league up to the gov­ern­ment of a world su­per­pow­er. Or it could be the de­vel­oper com­mu­nity of a well-known pro­gram. What she smells is suc­cess, not the spe­cific kind of suc­cess. In fact this effect is so im­por­tant in hu­man be­hav­ior that males ac­tu­ally form all kinds of odd sta­tus hi­er­ar­chies just so they can have a shot at be­ing top of the heap, even when they know in ad­vance that top-of-the-heap won’t con­vey much in the way of power or wealth re­ward. Clubs and or­ga­nized hob­bies are like this. The hacker cul­ture it­self was purely like this un­til the late 1990s. At bot­tom, these are all in­stinc­tively founded on sex­u­al-s­e­lec­tion games.

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  19. For ex­am­ple, the 2011 study “Mod­el­ing Users’ Ac­tiv­ity on Twit­ter Net­works: Val­i­da­tion of Dun­bar’s Num­ber” looked at >380 mil­lion tweets form­ing >25 mil­lion con­ver­sa­tions, yield­ing an over­all so­cial net­work of >1.7 mil­lion users. They look at a sort of av­er­aged met­ric of who users re­ply to:

    …This quan­tity cor­re­sponds to the av­er­age weight per out­go­ing edge of each in­di­vid­ual where T rep­re­sents the time win­dow for data ag­gre­ga­tion. We mea­sure this quan­tity in our data set as shown in Fig­ure 2A. The data shows that this quan­tity reaches a max­i­mum be­tween 100 and 200 friends, in agree­ment with Dun­bar’s pre­dic­tion (see fig­ure 2A). This find­ing sug­gests that even though mod­ern so­cial net­works help us to log all the peo­ple with whom we meet and in­ter­act, they are un­able to over­come the bi­o­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal con­straints that limit sta­ble so­cial re­la­tions. In Fig­ure 2B, we plot kiout the num­ber of rec­i­p­ro­cated con­nec­tions, as a func­tion of the num­ber of the in­-de­gree. kiout sat­u­rates be­tween 200 and 300 even though the num­ber of in­com­ing con­nec­tions con­tin­ues to in­crease. This sat­u­ra­tion in­di­cates that after this point the sys­tem is in a new regime; new con­nec­tions can be rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed, but at a much smaller rate than be­fore. This can be ac­counted for by spu­ri­ous ex­changes we make with some con­tacts with whom we do not main­tain an ac­tive re­la­tion­ship.

    A 2011 brain-imag­ing study (“On­line so­cial net­work size is re­flected in hu­man brain struc­ture”; BBC cov­er­age) finds more di­rect cor­re­la­tions:

    …The de­gree to which in­di­vid­u­als par­tic­i­pate in these net­works varies sub­stan­tially for rea­sons that are un­clear. Here, we show a bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis for such vari­abil­ity by demon­strat­ing that quan­ti­ta­tive vari­a­tion in the num­ber of friends an in­di­vid­ual de­clares on a we­b-based so­cial net­work­ing ser­vice re­li­ably pre­dicted grey mat­ter den­sity in the right su­pe­rior tem­po­ral sul­cus, left mid­dle tem­po­ral gyrus and en­torhi­nal cor­tex. Such re­gions have been pre­vi­ously im­pli­cated in so­cial per­cep­tion and as­so­cia­tive mem­o­ry, re­spec­tive­ly. We fur­ther show that vari­abil­ity in the size of such on­line friend­ship net­works was [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cantly cor­re­lated with the size of more in­ti­mate re­al-world so­cial groups. How­ev­er, the brain re­gions we iden­ti­fied were specifi­cally as­so­ci­ated with on­line so­cial net­work size, whereas the grey mat­ter den­sity of the amyg­dala was cor­re­lated both with on­line and re­al-world so­cial net­work sizes. Taken to­geth­er, our find­ings demon­strate that the size of an in­di­vid­u­al’s on­line so­cial net­work is closely linked to fo­cal brain struc­ture im­pli­cated in so­cial cog­ni­tion.

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  20. Skilled blue-col­lar work­ers often take great pride on their work and seem sat­is­fied with their lives, to the ex­tent of ex­cit­ing envy from white-col­lar work­ers (eg. , Shop Class as Soul­craft: An In­quiry Into the Value of Work). A long sec­tion from Class: A Guide Through the Amer­i­can Sta­tus Sys­tem rings true to me:

    The spe­cial anx­i­ety of the high pro­les is fear about loss or re­duc­tion of sta­tus: you’re proud to be a mas­ter car­pen­ter, and you want the world to un­der­stand clearly the differ­ence be­tween you and a la­bor­er. The spe­cial anx­i­ety of the mid-pro­les is fear of los­ing the job. And of the low pro­les, the gnaw­ing per­cep­tion that you’re prob­a­bly never go­ing to make enough or earn enough free­dom to have and do the things you want. The kind of jobs high­-p­role peo­ple do tempt them to in­sist that they are re­ally “pro­fes­sion­als,” like “san­i­ta­tion men” in a large city. A mail car­rier tells why he likes his work: “They al­ways say, ‘Here comes the mail­man.’ . . . I feel it is one of the most re­spected pro­fes­sions there is through­out the na­tion.” Prole women who go into nurs­ing never tire of as­sert­ing how pro­fes­sional they are, and the same is true of their daugh­ters who be­come air stew­ardess­es, a fa­vorite high­-p­role oc­cu­pa­tion. Al­though Army offi­cers, be­cause they are all ter­ri­fied of the boss, are prob­a­bly more mid­dle-class than high­-p­ro­le. they seem the lower the more they in­sist that they are “pro­fes­sion­als.” and since their dis­grace in Viet­nam. and their sub­se­quent anx­i­ety about their so­cial stand­ing, that in­sis­tence has grown more me­chan­i­cal. An Army wife says, “Some like to speak of doc­tors, lawyers, etc., as pro­fes­sion­als. All [Army] offi­cers are pro­fes­sion­als.” And then, a no­table de­vi­a­tion from log­ic: “Who could be more pro­fes­sional than the man who has ded­i­cated his whole life to the de­fense of his coun­try?”

    But high pro­les are quite smart, or at least shrewd. Be­cause often their work is not closely su­per­vised, they have pride and a con­vic­tion of in­de­pen­dence, and they feel some con­tempt for those who have not made it as far as they have. They are, as the so­ci­ol­o­gist E. E. LeMas­ters calls them and ti­tles his book, Blue-Col­lar Aris­to­crats (1975), and their dis­dain for the mid­dle class is like the aris­to­crat’s from the other di­rec­tion. One high prole says: “If my boy wants to wear a god­damn neck­tie all his life and bow and scrape to some boss, that’s his right, but by God he should also have the right to earn an hon­est liv­ing with his hands if that is what he likes.” Like other aris­to­crats, says LeMas­ters, these “have gone to the top of their so­cial world and need not ex­pend time or en­ergy on ‘so­cial climb­ing.’” They are aris­to­cratic in other ways, like their de­vo­tion to gam­bling and their fond­ness for deer hunt­ing. In­deed, the antlers with which they dec­o­rate their in­te­ri­ors give their dwellings in that re­spect a re­sem­blance to the lodges of the Scot­tish peer­age. The high prole re­sem­bles the aris­to­crat too, as notes, in “his propen­sity to make out of games and sports the cen­tral oc­cu­pa­tion of his life,” as well as in his un­ro­man­tic at­ti­tude to­ward women. Since they’re not con­sumed with worry about choos­ing the cor­rect sta­tus em­blems, these peo­ple can be re­mark­ably re­laxed and un­self-con­scious. They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much any­thing they want with­out un­due feel­ings of shame, which be­long to their bet­ters, the mid­dle class, shame be­ing largely a bour­geois feel­ing. John Calv­in, ob­serves Jilly Coop­er, is the prophet of the mid­dle class, while Karl Marx is the prophet of the pro­les, even if most of them don’t know it.

    …High pro­les are nice. It’s down among the mid- and low pro­les that fea­tures some might find offen­sive be­gin to show them­selves. These are the peo­ple who feel bit­ter about their work, often be­cause they are closely su­per­vised and reg­u­lated and gen­er­ally treated like way­ward chil­dren. “It’s just like the Army,” says an au­toassem­bly-plant work­er. “No, it’s worse …. You just about need a pass to piss.” An­drew Lev­i­son, au­thor of The Work­ing-Class Ma­jor­ity (1974), in­vites us to imag­ine what it would be like to be un­der the con­stant eye of a fore­man, “a fig­ure who has ab­solutely no coun­ter­part in mid­dle-class so­ci­ety. Salaried pro­fes­sion­als do often have peo­ple above them, but it is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine pro­fes­sors or ex­ec­u­tives be­ing re­quired to bring a doc­tor’s note if they are ab­sent a day or hav­ing to jus­tify the num­ber of trips they take to the bath­room.” Mid- and low pro­les are per­ceived to be so be­cause they per­form the role of the vic­tims in that “co­er­cive uti­liza­tion of man by man” that Ve­blen found so ob­jec­tion­able. (Im­pos­ing the co­er­cion, in­stead of hav­ing it im­posed on you, is the pre­rog­a­tive of the more for­tu­nate: man­agers, teach­ers, writ­ers, jour­nal­ists, cler­gy, film di­rec­tors.) The de­gree of su­per­vi­sion, in­deed, is often a more elo­quent class in­di­ca­tor than mere in­come, which sug­gests that the whole class sys­tem is more a recog­ni­tion of the value of free­dom than a procla­ma­tion of the value of sheer cash. The de­gree to which your work is over­seen by a su­pe­rior sug­gests your real class more ac­cu­rately than the amount you take home from it. Thus the rea­son why a high­-school teacher is “lower” than a tenured uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor. The teacher is obliged to file weekly “les­son plans” with a prin­ci­pal su­per­in­ten­dent, or “cur­ricu­lum co­or­di­na­tor,” thus ac­knowl­edg­ing sub­servience. The pro­fes­sor, on the other hand, re­ports to no one, and his class is thus high­er, even though the teacher may be smarter, bet­ter-man­nered and rich­er. (It is in pub­lic schools, the postal ser­vice, and po­lice de­part­ments that we meet terms like su­per­vi­sor and in­spec­tor: the prole hunter will need to know no more.) One is a mid- or low prole if one’s servi­tude is con­stantly em­pha­sized. Oc­cu­pa­tional class de­pends very largely on do­ing work for which the con­se­quences of er­ror or fail­ure are dis­tant or re­mote, or bet­ter, in­vis­i­ble, rather than im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent to a su­pe­rior and thus in­stantly hu­mil­i­at­ing to the per­former…­Con­stantly de­meaned at work, the lower sorts of pro­les suffer from poor morale. As one woman worker says, “Most of us . . . have jobs that are too small for our spir­it.” A taxi dri­ver in St. Louis de­fended the Viet­nam War by say­ing, “We can’t be a piti­ful, help­less gi­ant. We gotta show ’em we’re num­ber one.” “Are you num­ber one?” Studs Terkel asked him. Pause. “I’m num­ber noth­in’,” he said.

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  21. “The power of lone­ly: What we do bet­ter with­out other peo­ple around” by Leon Ney­fakh, The Boston Globe (2011-03-06)

    And it [soli­tude] can have some coun­ter­in­tu­itive effects: Adam Waytz in the Har­vard psy­chol­ogy de­part­ment, one of Ca­ciop­po’s for­mer stu­dents, re­cently com­pleted a study in­di­cat­ing that peo­ple who are so­cially con­nected with oth­ers can have a hard time iden­ti­fy­ing with peo­ple who are more dis­tant from them. Spend­ing a cer­tain amount of time alone, the study sug­gests, can make us less closed off from oth­ers and more ca­pa­ble of em­pa­thy—in other words, bet­ter so­cial an­i­mals.

    This raises an in­ter­est­ing thought. What is more de­struc­tive of em­pa­thy than stress—or fear?↩︎

  22. Or, as has been at­trib­uted to (Michael J Dee, Con­clu­sions 1917): “the ul­ti­mate ques­tion be­tween man and man is ‘Can I kill thee, or canst thou kill me?’”↩︎

  23. Ney­fakh 2011:

    Bu­rum found that the par­tic­i­pants who had been told the per­son be­hind them was do­ing a differ­ent task—­name­ly, iden­ti­fy­ing sounds rather than look­ing at pic­tures—­did a bet­ter job of re­mem­ber­ing the pic­tures. In other words, they formed more solid mem­o­ries when they be­lieved they were the only ones do­ing the task.

    …Bu­rum offers two pos­si­ble the­o­ries to ex­plain what she and Gilbert found in the study. The first in­vokes a well-known con­cept from so­cial psy­chol­ogy called “so­cial loafing”, which says that peo­ple tend not to try as hard if they think they can rely on oth­ers to pick up their slack. (If two peo­ple are pulling a rope, for ex­am­ple, nei­ther will pull quite as hard as they would if they were pulling it alone.) But Bu­rum leans to­ward a differ­ent ex­pla­na­tion, which is that shar­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence with some­one is in­her­ently dis­tract­ing, be­cause it com­pels us to ex­pend en­ergy on imag­in­ing what the other per­son is go­ing through and how they’re re­act­ing to it.

    “Peo­ple tend to en­gage quite au­to­mat­i­cally with think­ing about the minds of other peo­ple”, Bu­rum said in an in­ter­view. “We’re mul­ti­task­ing when we’re with other peo­ple in a way that we’re not when we just have an ex­pe­ri­ence by our­selves.”

    Per­haps this ex­plains why see­ing a movie alone feels so rad­i­cally differ­ent than see­ing it with friends: Sit­ting there in the the­ater with no­body next to you, you’re not won­der­ing what any­one else thinks of it; you’re not an­tic­i­pat­ing the dis­cus­sion that you’ll be hav­ing about it on the way home. All your men­tal en­ergy can be di­rected at what’s hap­pen­ing on the screen.

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  24. To quote again Ney­fakh 2011:

    Teenagers, es­pe­cial­ly, whose per­son­al­i­ties have not yet fully formed, have been shown to ben­e­fit from time spent apart from oth­ers, in part be­cause it al­lows for a kind of in­tro­spec­tion—and free­dom from self­-con­scious­ness—that strength­ens their sense of iden­ti­ty. Reed Lar­son, a pro­fes­sor of hu­man de­vel­op­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, con­ducted a study in the 1990s in which ado­les­cents out­fit­ted with beep­ers were prompted at ir­reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to write down an­swers to ques­tions about who they were with, what they were do­ing, and how they were feel­ing. Per­haps not sur­pris­ing­ly, he found that when the teens in his sam­ple were alone, they re­ported feel­ing a lot less self­-con­scious. “They want to be in their bed­rooms be­cause they want to get away from the gaze of other peo­ple”, he said.

    The teenagers weren’t nec­es­sar­ily hap­pier when they were alone; ado­les­cence, after all, can be a par­tic­u­larly tough time to be sep­a­rated from the group. But Lar­son found some­thing in­ter­est­ing: On av­er­age, the kids in his sam­ple felt bet­ter after they spent some time alone than they did be­fore. Fur­ther­more, he found that kids who spent be­tween 25 and 45% of their non­class time alone tended to have more pos­i­tive emo­tions over the course of the week-long study than their more so­cially ac­tive peers, were more suc­cess­ful in school and were less likely to self­-re­port de­pres­sion.

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  25. This is a nice ex­am­ple of “Al­ger­non’s law”, which is the ‘’ prin­ci­ple ap­plied to bi­ol­ogy and evo­lu­tion. The stress re­sponses gear the body up for freeze-fight­-or-flight and pro­vide other phys­i­o­log­i­cal boosts; so then why has­n’t evo­lu­tion made this high­-per­for­mance state the de­fault set­ting? Be­cause it comes at the nasty price of one’s long-term health.↩︎

  26. Ian & Joel Gold, “Tweet Me Nice”, The Edge An­nual Ques­tion—2010: how is the In­ter­net chang­ing the way you think?:

    We come at last to mad­ness. Psy­chi­a­try has known for decades that the mega­lopolis—in­deed a city of any size—breeds psy­chosis. In par­tic­u­lar, schiz­o­phre­nia, the par­a­digm of a purely bi­o­log­i­cal men­tal ill­ness, be­comes more preva­lent as city size in­creas­es, even when the city is hardly more than a vil­lage. And this is the case not be­cause men­tal ill­ness in gen­eral be­comes more com­mon in cities; nor is it true that peo­ple who are psy­chotic tend to drift to­ward cities or stay in them. In cre­at­ing much larger so­cial groups for our­selves, rang­ing from true friends to near-s­trangers, could we be lay­ing the ground for a path­o­genic vir­tual city in which psy­chosis will be on the rise? Or will Face­book and Twit­ter draw us closer to friends in Aris­totle’s sense who can act as psy­chic pro­phy­laxis against the mad­ness-mak­ing power of oth­ers? What­ever the effects of the In­ter­net on our in­ner lives, it seems clear that in chang­ing the struc­ture of our outer lives—the lives in­ter­twined with those of oth­er­s—the In­ter­net is likely to be a more po­tent shaper of our minds than we have be­gun to imag­ine.

    Po­etic enough; here are some hard num­bers about the risk fac­tor of cities from a Eu­ro­pean analy­sis of schiz­o­phre­nia (“Fam­ily his­to­ry, place and sea­son of birth as risk fac­tors for schiz­o­phre­nia in Den­mark: a repli­ca­tion and re­analy­sis”): a capi­tol in­creases your schiz­o­phre­nia risk by 230% (more than twice!); liv­ing in its sub­urbs ame­lio­rates the risk down to 173%; a city with >100,000 in­hab­i­tants brings it down ‘merely’ to 158%, and so on down to a small city of 10–20,000 with an risk in­crease of 122%. (These num­bers are ad­justed for the usual risks like parental age, gen­der, and fam­ily his­tory, but ap­par­ently not for IQ or so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus; in other words, the risk prob­a­bly comes from a gene-en­vi­ron­ment in­ter­ac­tion which gives rise to schiz­o­phre­ni­a.) A 2010 meta-analy­sis of 20 pop­u­la­tion sur­veys found a weaker gen­eral as­so­ci­a­tion & a stronger one for de­pres­sion. Causal­ity as al­ways re­mains un­clear: schiz­o­phre­nia is highly her­i­ta­ble and meth­ods more so­phis­ti­cated than ad­just­ing for fam­ily his­tory sug­gest the causal­ity may be re­verse & cities at­tract fam­i­lies prone to schiz­o­phre­nia (). It is a vexed topic but still in­ter­est­ing.

    It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that of the per­se­cu­to­ry, re­li­gious, grandiose, and so­matic va­ri­eties of ‘delu­sions’, it is per­se­cu­tory that has in­creased over the 20th cen­tury in Amer­i­ca; of those va­ri­eties, which is the one you would ex­pect to be en­cour­aged by ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments & crowds?

    If we look at it the other way, we would ex­pect nat­ural set­tings to fos­ter heal­ing or at least men­tal per­for­mance; and that is in­deed what we find:

    The for­mer [field study] in­cluded wilder­ness back­pack­ing and non­wilder­ness va­ca­tion con­di­tions, as well as a con­trol con­di­tion in which par­tic­i­pants con­tin­ued with their daily rou­tines. The lat­ter had ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, nat­ural en­vi­ron­ment, and pas­sive re­lax­ation con­di­tions. Mul­ti­method as­sess­ments of restora­tion con­sisted of self­-re­ports of affec­tive states, cog­ni­tive per­for­mance, and, in the lat­ter study, phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sures. Con­ver­gent self­-re­port and per­for­mance re­sults ob­tained in both stud­ies offer ev­i­dence of greater restora­tive effects aris­ing from ex­pe­ri­ences in na­ture.

    One fMRI study found in­creased ac­tiv­ity in city-d­wellers when stressed dur­ing puz­zle-solv­ing; those merely raised in a city showed effects too in re­lated to the amyg­dala (main­stream cov­er­age). Nat­ural light­ing has show many ben­e­fits in hos­pi­tals and schools, which is an in­ter­est­ing com­men­tary on the in­sides of all the build­ings in cities. Or con­sider Tay­lor 2009 (New York Times), ex­per­i­men­tally ver­i­fy­ing sur­vey re­sults:

    17 chil­dren 7 to 12 years old pro­fes­sion­ally di­ag­nosed with ADHD ex­pe­ri­enced each of three en­vi­ron­ments-a city park and two other well-kept ur­ban set­tings-via in­di­vid­u­ally guided 20-minute walks. En­vi­ron­ments were ex­pe­ri­enced 1 week apart, with ran­dom­ized as­sign­ment to treat­ment or­der. After each walk, con­cen­tra­tion was mea­sured us­ing Digit Span Back­ward­s…Chil­dren with ADHD con­cen­trated bet­ter after the walk in the park than after the down­town walk (p = 0.0229) or the neigh­bor­hood walk (p = 0.0072). Effect sizes were sub­stan­tial (d = 0.52 and 0.77, re­spec­tive­ly) and com­pa­ra­ble to those re­ported for re­cent for­mu­la­tions of .

    Even small amounts of na­ture help; Tay­lor et al 2002 “Views of na­ture and self­-dis­ci­pline: ev­i­dence from in­ner city chil­dren” found highly [s­ta­tis­ti­cal­ly-]sig­nifi­cant im­prove­ments in scores of con­cen­tra­tion & self­-dis­ci­pline in girls ran­domly as­signed to pub­lic hous­ing with just a few trees rather than none, fol­low­ing up ear­lier stud­ies that found ben­e­fits to con­cen­tra­tion in sim­i­lar ran­dom­ized high­-rise pub­lic hous­ing. (An in­ter­est­ing corol­lary to the pre­vi­ously cited sur­vey is that a later analy­sis of the same data by the same au­thors found that the chil­dren “tended to have milder symp­toms if they reg­u­larly played in a green and open en­vi­ron­ment (such as a soc­cer field or ex­pan­sive lawn) rather than in a green space with lots of trees or an in­door or built out­door set­ting” (Sci­ence Daily de­scrip­tion). Berman et al 2008 (“The Cog­ni­tive Ben­e­fits of In­ter­act­ing With Na­ture”) found work­ing mem­ory & at­ten­tion scores im­proved more after a 50 minute walk in a park than in the sur­round­ing city. Fur­ther read­ing:

    One thinks of the African veldt and “”.)↩︎

  27. sug­gests:

    Sea­sonal and ge­o­graphic vari­a­tions of men­tal ill­ness sim­i­larly sug­gest in­fec­tious cau­sa­tion. Schiz­o­phre­nia and se­vere de­pres­sion dis­or­ders are about 10% more fre­quent among ba­bies born dur­ing win­ter and spring, when res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions tend to be more com­mon [, 84]. The ge­o­graphic as­so­ci­a­tion of men­tal ill­ness with de­gree of ur­ban res­i­dency pre­dates 20th-cen­tury so­ci­ety and co­in­cides with high den­sity liv­ing sit­u­a­tions re­gard­less of the spe­cific de­tails of the sit­u­a­tion; the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween ur­ban life and men­tal ill­ness thus ac­cords well with in­fec­tious cau­sa­tion [85, 86].

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  28. I am also re­minded of some things anime di­rec­tory Kazuya Tsu­ru­maki said in 2001 (e­cho­ing Hideaki An­no—who in­ci­den­tally voice-acted Jiro in The Wind Rises (co­in­ci­dence?)—­com­ment­ing on his own fa­ther and the Eva char­ac­ter Gendo Ikar­i):

    Tsu­ru­maki told the Otakon pan­el, “Hon­estly speak­ing, I’m very happy that Amer­i­cans like my work, but the Eva TV se­ries and movies, Kare Kano, and FLCL are ba­si­cally made for the Japan­ese au­di­ences. So when I hear that they are be­ing well re­ceived by Amer­i­can au­di­ences, I feel very hap­py; but at the same time I feel a lit­tle awk­ward.” When PULP asked him what he meant by that, Tsu­ru­maki said, “For ex­am­ple, in Eva, I thought Shin­ji’s char­ac­ter would only be un­der­stood by Japan­ese fans of this gen­er­a­tion. But I was very hap­py—or ac­tu­al­ly, shocked—to find out that his kind of char­ac­ter is also un­der­stood by Amer­i­cans.” I ap­pre­ci­ated the di­rec­tor’s im­plied vote of con­fi­dence in us, but won­dered whether the oft-re­marked-upon Japan­ese sense of cul­tural sin­gu­lar­ism was strong enough to can­cel out the uni­ver­sal fact of youth dis­affec­tion, let alone the world­wide re­port­ing on in­ci­dents such as the mur­ders at Columbine…­Most of the Gainax shows are also tar­get­ed, Tsu­ru­maki said, for an au­di­ence “that tends to be rather weak and has prob­lems with their fam­ily”—and the di­rec­tors at Gainax are those kind of peo­ple. “A lot of fam­i­lies in Japan a gen­er­a­tion ago—and per­haps even now—had fa­thers that were worka­holics and never home. They were out of their chil­dren’s’ lives. My own fa­ther was like that, and I hardly ever got to as­so­ciate with him un­til quite re­cent­ly. I’m the same sort of per­son as Hideaki An­no. That prob­a­bly in­flu­ences the type of anime I cre­ate.”

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  29. it­self is ques­tion­able; Ne­olithic farm­ers were much worse off than their hunter-gath­erer coun­ter­parts, rid­den with dis­ease and with lower nu­tri­tional stan­dards, and seden­tary vil­lages are as­so­ci­ated with re­duced lib­er­ty.↩︎

  30. “Samu­rai go soft: Japan’s pref­er­ence for hard­ware over soft­ware is fad­ing”, The Econ­o­mist:

    Japan has long made pop­u­lar video-game soft­ware—just ask the Mario Broth­ers. Yet its com­puter mak­ers have done lit­tle to fos­ter in­de­pen­dent soft­ware busi­ness­es. On the con­trary, by bundling pro­grams free with ma­chi­nes, they taught cus­tomers that soft­ware was of lit­tle val­ue, says Kazuyuki Mo­to­hashi of the Uni­ver­sity of Tokyo. They also locked cus­tomers in, mak­ing it costly and cum­ber­some to switch to ri­val­s…S­ince 2008 Japan­ese soft­ware firms have lost 20% of their mar­ket val­ue, even as soft­ware firms else­where grew by 15%. In soft­ware spend­ing rel­a­tive to GDP Japan ranks 35th, around the level of Saudi Ara­bia, ac­cord­ing to INSEAD, a busi­ness school…­Japan’s in­dige­nous soft­ware in­dus­try faces sev­eral ob­sta­cles. The coun­try lacks ven­ture cap­i­tal, a vi­brant stock mar­ket and an­gel in­vestors with tech­ni­cal knowl­edge to nur­ture start-ups. And its big, slow firms tend to suffo­cate the small fry, says Fu­jiyo Ishig­uro, the founder of Ne­tyear, an on­line-mar­ket­ing soft­ware firm (and one of the few fe­male bosses of a pub­licly-listed com­pany in Japan). For now, hard­ware is king. News­pa­pers cheered when Riken and Fu­jitsu un­veiled the world’s fastest su­per­com­puter in June. But the shift to­wards the in­tan­gi­ble is in­evitable, says Ms Ishig­uro.

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  31. Ruby’s cre­ator has some in­ter­est­ing com­ments:

    Zhou: As far as I know most of the main­stream pro­gram­ming lan­guages are from Amer­ica and Eu­rope—though there are Lua from Brazil and Ruby from Japan. You too men­tioned this in your book and you said this feels “lonely”. So what is the cause of this, and what can we do about it?

    Matz: Well, for Lua you can in­clude it in Europe/America too be­cause Brazil is part of South Amer­ica (chuck­les). In the south east­ern Asia re­gion though there is only Ruby, and it is lone­ly. Eu­rope and Amer­ica still re­main the most pow­er­ful re­gions as far as pro­gram­ming lan­guages go. Asia, al­though has mas­sive pop­u­la­tion, does not com­pete in this re­gard, that in­deed feels lone­ly.

    I am not sure about other coun­tries, but at least in Japan there are many peo­ple work­ing on pro­gram­ming lan­guages, un­for­tu­nately other than Ruby none of them are well known. If more peo­ple are in­ter­ested in pro­gram­ming and de­sign­ing pro­gram­ming lan­guages, there bound to be one or two that’ll break out, right? There is an­other hur­dle in Japan—lan­guage. Most Japan­ese peo­ple only speak Japan­ese and they can­not speak Eng­lish well. Fun­nily enough there are pro­gram­ming lan­guages writ­ten en­tirely in Japan­ese. (Zhou: “In China there also are pro­gram­ming lan­guages writ­ten en­tirely in Chi­nese.”) In China too? I knew it! No mat­ter how in­ter­est­ing these pro­gram­ming lan­guages are, they will never in­flu­ence any­one be­yond the ones in their own coun­try.

    On a side note, I once re­ceived an email from an Amer­i­can. He said that you are Japan­ese, but Ruby looks like Eng­lish be­cause it’s writ­ten in Eng­lish, why is­n’t there any Japan­ese-writ­ten lan­guages? I replied say­ing that there are, you just don’t know them, and even if you did, you would­n’t be able to use them. In Japan, more and more peo­ple are in­ter­ested in pro­gram­ming, maybe be­cause both on­line and in my books I al­ways talk about how fun pro­gram­ming can be. Many peo­ple are now tak­ing on the chal­lenge of de­sign­ing new pro­gram­ming lan­guages. Out of these new lan­guages, even only 0.1% of them ever get any suc­cess, I think it’s a win. I don’t know how many peo­ple want to take on the same chal­lenge in Chi­na, Ko­rea and other coun­tries in Asia, but if peo­ple could look be­yond “pro­gram­ming lan­guages are cre­ated for us, we just pas­sively ac­cept them”, and think “to cre­ate a new pro­gram­ming lan­guage can also be fun”, then I am sure some of them will suc­ceed.

    Talk­ing about open source pro­jects, not many of them are from Japan, China and Ko­rea, and I think this could be an en­try point for many. There are many rea­sons why this is the case though, for ex­am­ple Eng­lish is hard to learn… (Zhou: “And GitHub is also diffi­cult to use?”) Ha ha, is GitHub us­able in Chi­na? (Zhou: “It is, it is…”) Oh, that’s not too bad then. But, Chi­na’s Great Fire­wall still has a huge im­pact, many re­sources can’t be ac­cessed here, right? (Zhou: “That’s right, for in­stance the Go pro­gram­ming lan­guage’s web­site is blocked.”) Ah re­al­ly? Is it be­cause it’s made by Google? [chuck­les] In any case, I think there are still many diffi­cul­ties to face. Al­so, in Japan many pro­gram­mers still spend most of the time at work (to put food on the table), it’s very diffi­cult for them to con­tribute to open source pro­jects. Ten years ago no­body cares about open source in Japan, but nowa­days peo­ple start to re­alise the im­por­tance of open source, and the num­ber of open source projects is grow­ing. I be­lieve China will soon fol­low this pat­tern as well, I am look­ing for­ward to it.

    In the be­gin­ning no one knows what will suc­ceed. When I started with Ruby I could not pos­si­bly have pre­dicted its suc­cess. So I think for a pro­gram­ming lan­guage, tim­ing is re­ally im­por­tan­t—and you’ll never know un­til you tried. I think in China there might also be lan­guages that emerge from the right time that will even­tu­ally be a global suc­cess.

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  32. “Lain Men: Ya­suyuki Ueda”, Anime Jump!:

    AJ: “I’m not sure if I’m get­ting this cor­rect, but in an in­ter­view with Ani­mer­ica last year, you men­tioned that you weren’t sure you wanted Amer­i­cans to un­der­stand Lain. What ex­actly did you mean by that state­ment?”

    YU: “I talked about this ear­lier in the pan­el… it goes like this. Ba­si­cal­ly, you have Amer­i­can cul­ture and Japan­ese cul­ture after WWII. Every­one knows that war is ridicu­lous, it comes down to killing peo­ple. But what I hoped to see be­tween Amer­i­can and Japan­ese re­ac­tions to Lain is a war– a war of ideas… be­cause through con­flict of ideas, you un­der­stand your­self bet­ter, and you gain in­sight on the cul­ture of your op­po­nent. I don’t so much want Amer­i­cans to in­ter­pret Lain ex­actly as Japan­ese fans do, as I want them to hold on to their own point of view, and in do­ing so, es­tab­lish con­flict, and hope­ful­ly, new com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

    AJ:Lain is pop­u­lar in Amer­i­ca. How do you feel about that?”

    YU: “I’m glad that every­one likes Lain! But at the same time, I kind of won­der, do peo­ple over here re­ally un­der­stand Lain? The way I per­ceive things, the way Japan­ese view­ers per­ceived Lain would be differ­ent from how Amer­i­cans viewed it. But when I was in L.A., the fans I met seemed so very Japan­ese in their per­cep­tion… and that kind of is­n’t what I want­ed, be­cause like I said ear­lier, I wanted there to be a clash be­tween cul­tures. I wanted Amer­i­can fans to see Lain and think, ‘No! That’s screwed up! That’s so wrong!’”

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  33. “Panel dis­cus­sion with Ya­suyuki Ueda and Yoshi­toshi ABe”, Otakon 2000, Eng:

    Q: “There’s a quote in the pro­gram,”this work it­self is sort of a cul­tural war against Amer­i­can cul­ture and the Amer­i­can sense of val­ues we adopted after WWII." my ques­tion is what does he con­sider an Amer­i­can sense of val­ues, since what he con­sid­ers an Amer­i­can sense of val­ues might not nec­es­sar­ily be what we do."

    M(U): “OK, so ba­si­cal­ly, when I was grow­ing up, Amer­i­can cul­ture had a huge im­pact on the way I am now, and while I find Amer­i­can cul­ture to be very in­ter­est­ing, there are some things that are very com­plex and hard for me to un­der­stand, and the way Japan and Amer­ica is now, we’re on good terms, but there are still some things, there’s a com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­er, that we can’t talk about cer­tain things or we’re not ready to, that we just kind of skirt around the sub­ject of cer­tain taboo is­sues, if you will, cul­tur­al­ly, and it’s not be­cause we’re avoid­ing them, it’s just that we’re not aware of them be­cause of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­ri­er. I wish we would go fur­ther into that.”

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  34. “Anime Chat with Lain Cre­ators Ueda & ABe 9PM ET”

    Mod­er­a­tor: [Myu-Myu to Mod­er­a­tor]: “Ueda-san, in an in­ter­view, you say that Lain is a form of cul­tural war­fare against Amer­i­can cul­ture and val­ues. What are some ex­am­ples of cul­tural war­fare em­ployed within the Lain ani­me?”

    GERONIMO-U: “There is noth­ing in LAIN. no war­fare in LAIN. War­fare can­not be in the art­works [please wait­—there may be mis­trans­la­tion] I wanted to make a cul­tural war. There is no war­fare in the art­work. How­ever I wanted to go against nor­mal rules and stan­dards.”

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  35. Pulp Mag with Kazuya Tsu­ru­maki:

    Some of the jokes, gags, and el­e­ments in are sub­cul­tur­al, and if it was very diffi­cult for him to ex­plain some of the el­e­ments to the staff, it may be even more so to Amer­i­can­s—or so is his as­sump­tion. Tsu­ru­maki told the pan­el, “Hon­estly speak­ing, I’m very happy that Amer­i­cans like my work, but the Eva TV se­ries and movies, , and FLCL are ba­si­cally made for the Japan­ese au­di­ences. So when I hear that they are be­ing well re­ceived by Amer­i­can au­di­ences, I feel very hap­py; but at the same time I feel a lit­tle awk­ward.”

    When PULP asked him what he meant by that, Tsu­ru­maki said, “For ex­am­ple, in Eva, I thought Shin­ji’s char­ac­ter would only be un­der­stood by Japan­ese fans of this gen­er­a­tion. But I was very hap­py—or ac­tu­al­ly, shocked—to find out that his kind of char­ac­ter is also un­der­stood by Amer­i­cans.” I ap­pre­ci­ated the di­rec­tor’s im­plied vote of con­fi­dence in us, but won­dered whether the oft-re­marked-upon Japan­ese sense of cul­tural sin­gu­lar­ism was strong enough to can­cel out the uni­ver­sal fact of youth dis­affec­tion, let alone the world­wide re­port­ing on in­ci­dents such as the mur­ders at Columbine.

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  36. A YouTube up­loader of dou­jin mu­sic re­ceived his “sec­ond strike” against his ac­count, and an­nounced that he was ceas­ing ac­tiv­i­ty. In his an­nounce­ment, he dis­cussed his com­mu­ni­ca­tion with some Japan­ese dou­jin artists, and I found strik­ing the rea­sons be­ing given by one dou­jin artist for his copy­right cru­sade:

    …As we dis­cussed be­fore Narugami is a bit con­ser­v­a­tive who is un­will­ing to share any dou­jin-re­lated work out­side of the Japan so when I de­fended my­self that I have no choice but to pi­rate his works since there is no any sin­gle means to buy their works out­side of the Japan and he said that “We don’t want to be ex­posed abroad be­cause we can­not take re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. We want to pub­lish them only in Japan.” and also said that “ also thinks the above prob­lem and that Toho should not been pub­lished over­seas.” and what he lastly mailed me was this “If you can­not un­der­stand it un­for­tu­nate­ly, we would pro­tect our cul­ture and our work by other ways.” So this comes to delet­ing their works from YouTube un­for­tu­nate­ly…

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