March 12, 2014

Hypocrisy and Conformity

I went to high school in Calistoga, California, the very heart of the Northern California Wine Country. People in my hometown had a saying, "There are two things never discussed in polite company: politics and religion."

Naturally I have spent my entire life discussing both. I suppose that means I am not polite company. In my own defense, it seems to me that politics and religion, dealing as they do with the here and now as well as the hereafter, are the only topics worth discussing in polite company.

Unfortunately, in today's America we have become extremely polarized. Rational debate, the bedrock of a functional democracy, appears to be impossible. We as a nation have reached a point that was only implied all those decades ago when I was watching adults pretend to have meaningful conversations while never mentioning the things that were truly important to them. Looking back now, it seems that every time two adults went their separate ways the one I was with always mentioned to me something hateful about the person they had just been having a polite, cheerful conversation with. At the time that hypocrisy seemed incomprehensible. Then I got married and wound up in Japan.

Japan takes dualistic relationships to a level unimaginable to most Americans. Two concepts are so deeply ingrained into Japanese culture that two of the oldest words in the language are used to explain them: honne/tatemae. The Japanese know there are two qualities to every person they interact with, the honne, or real heart, and the tatemae, or front face; or, as I like to think of them, the bones and the mask.

Japanese are known throughout the world as one of the politest societies in existence. This is because all a stranger ever sees is the tatemae of the Japanese person they interact with. This front face, this mask worn by everyone everyday, hides the darker side of Japanese culture. The other side of Japanese culture is counting heads to gain payment after a battle, treating foreign POWs like animals, using Southeast Asian women as prostitutes after hiring them as entertainers, and holding high school students to such an inhuman academic standard that in some schools one in ten commits suicide.

It is critical to understand this about Japan because many academic and political leaders in today's America are dedicated to moving American culture into a social climate very similar to the historic Japanese ideal of honne/tatemae. There are people in positions of powerful influence who believe you should not have the right to think or feel differently than they do. They are so convinced of their own rightness that it is impossible for them to even consider the possibility of dissent. Therefore, they would greatly prefer a culture where anyone who feels differently simply has no cultural or social justification for expressing that disagreement. They don't want to remove the First Amendment, they simply want to live in a world where it is unnecessary because social and cultural stigma prevent anyone from expressing their honne.

Ironically, even as various forces are driving us into a more repressed and repressive society modern Japan is slowly but irretrievably moving away from a society ruled by complete repression of personal desire. It took the Japanese two thousand years to learn that not only is complete and total repression of human emotion impossible, when those emotions finally do explode to the surface the results are catastrophic. If you really want to know why young men grab the nearest weapon and slaughter a theater or a school full of innocent people, there is only one place you need to look to find your answer: a repressed emotional life. Something has convinced these young men that their personal emotions are invalid and thus, they themselves are invalid. In my opinion you need look no further than this insane drive toward social conformity, political correctness, and universal "acceptance". These young men feel differently than they are told is "natural" and someone in a position of authority such as a parent, teacher, school principle, or pastor, has demanded they stop expressing themselves.

Which brings me to the most important point in today's post: in every single case that I have personally encountered the individual who is demanding social conformity from someone who depends on them for leadership is the same person who demands everyone around them must be more open-minded, more accepting of social deviation, and more willing to move America in a direction where "more rational minds" dictate how everyone else thinks, feels, eats, speaks, works, plays, and lives. They insist they are demanding a more open society, and they often belong to some kind of group that advocates for a more open society, but in reality what they are demanding is exactly the opposite of what they claim. They fear an open society. Their worst nightmare is a chaotic social situation where everyone feels, believes, and speaks ideas that are different from their own. They demand fundamental Christians accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle while refusing to allow Christians to sponsor a nativity-based Christmas play at the local school. Or, conversely, they demand prayer in public schools while demanding Hollywood stop making movies and television programs about homosexual couples.

No one has the right to demand other people choose the same lifestyle they have chosen for themselves. Parents have no right to demand this of their children and politicians have no right to demand it of our society. Even worse, no one has the right to demand laws are passed enforcing their chosen lifestyle. We don't need more government control over our lives. We don't need society dictating what kind of food to eat, what kind of drinks we consume, who we spend our lives with, what we believe, what we don't believe, who we associate with, or who we refuse to associate with. Hatred is just as valid as love and it does not matter if you or I like this idea. The simple reality of human existence is that some of us are filled with hate, some of us are filled with love, and some of us cannot experience any emotions at all. Reality is what it is, regardless of how you or I experience it, interpret it, or feel about it.

If you demand an end to pornography you are just as wrong as someone who demands Fox News stop broadcasting. To contend that video games are destroying America's youth is just as wrong as insisting that every child must participate in high school sports. To demand every high school athlete receive a trophy is just as wrong as demanding everyone who buys a lottery ticket receive a million dollars. Attempting to make everyone the same is unrealistic and can only have one end result: violent outbursts by those who cannot conform. In Japan those violent outbursts take the form of suicide. In America those outbursts take the form of mass murder. In both cases the cause is the same: unrealistic demands for social, intellectual, and emotional conformity. It both ironic and tragic that those demands most often come from people clamoring for a more open society.