Sunday, April 10, 2011

What would Mizushima say about corporatocracy?

"We Japanese have not cared to make strenuous spiritual efforts. We have not even recognized their value. What we stressed was merely a man's abilities, the things he could do--not what kind of a man he was, how he lived, or the depth of his understanding. Of perfection as a human being, or humility, stoicism, holiness, the capacity to gain salvation and help others toward it--of all these virtues we were left ignorant."

"... we were greedy, because we were so arrogant that we forgot human values, because we had only a superficial idea of a civilization."

Take these words, replace Japanese with American, or any number of nationalities for that matter, and I think you have an accurate assessment of the status quo. We define our heroes, our role models, by what they can do, not by who they are. In that way, we are a society of abilities and accomplishments. We hand out resumes listing our achievements and quantify our successes materially, counting dollars and possessions. We neglect, however, to measure humility or stoicism, to quantify our virtues.

The text which I quoted is from a book called the Harp of Burma written by Michio Takeyama in 1966. [If you want to read this book, which I highly recommend, I'm about to spoil the plot in the next few sentences.] The novel is set in Burma, at the end of World War II, and follows a Japanese troop who have surrendered as prisoners of war. One member of this troop, a soldier named Mizushima who is an especially talented harp player, never returns from a dangerous mission, instead disguising himself as a Burmese monk so that he can roam the mountains for the purpose of properly burying abandoned Japanese corpses. This soldier, the focal point of the novel, speaks the words with which I began this post.

Returning to the present, I think that Mizushima's disillusionment is more applicable than ever. Here in America, we hear about Donald Trump's designs on the presidency of the nation. What would it mean for a man defined by his wealth to represent this country? In other news, the city of Quincy, Mass. has elected to corporatize its downtown. Is this the future that Stephenson predicted in Snow Crash? A country divided into corporate city-states?

This bubbling crescendo of materiality threatens to crush Mizushima's human qualities of stoicism, humility, and holiness. Such qualities have no place in a corporatocracy, thrown under the bus of greed and ambition.

If what I'm using words to say doesn't make sense, try looking at it this way:


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