Individualism Is An Illusion

By Graham Peterson

About ten years ago I was sitting in a sociology 101 course, and one of the women in the class pointed out that the counter culture kids all think they’re individuals — yet they all dressed, acted, talked, the same.  “Pfff” I thought, “that’s obvious.”  But the point goes much deeper than pointing out that punk kids all wear the same studs.

Theories of individualism remain a common explanans for a variety of social phenomena.  In particular, it’s considered an explanation of why people in modern societies have fewer children.  Larry Bumpass said in his 1990 presidential address to the Population Association of America: “I believe that the theoretical perspectives of a half century ago were essentially correct: . . . Lorimer’s description of increasing individualism at the expense of moral obligation.”

I don’t disagree.  It really does look like Western individualists have fewer kids.  But I want to attack the second part of that sentence, “at the expense of moral obligation.”

In one sense, that statement is correct, but it would be better stated as, “at the expense of moral obligation [to parental and community expectations to reproduce].”  Surely “what I owe Mom and Dad and the Church” has diminished in modern societies.  But that does not immediately imply that moral obligation in general has gone down.  I hate to sound trite, but humans are inherently social, which means they are inherently moral.

Every move people make to be more of an individual lands them right back in a little club wearing a new uniform.  Like hipsters.  But everyone.  Indy bands don’t produce what they do in hopes that nobody will listen.  And individualists more broadly haven’t broken off into the woods by themselves (though various mail bombers, and racist and feminist lunatic separatists have).  In fact we usually associate individualism with cities.  “Individualists” have gotten as close to other people as possible.  There is something profoundly contradictory about this word we’ve invented: “individualism.”

People nowadays do look more individualistic.  That is, there is a greater and increasing variation of the different types of people out there.  That means, like Simmel noticed, that the number of social circles anyone belongs to has expanded.  This is a good thing.  It means we are seeing more entry and exit from various little clubs.  It means less social control, more choice, and greater freedom of expression.

What appears as social atomism is actually the increase of the amount of socializing people in a modern society do.  The idea in the sociology of the family and the economy that people have become more separate and anonymous from one another is wrong.  In fact the opposite, we have increased the number of moral obligations we enter in to with other people.  We just do so on more favorable bargaining terms because there are more social alternatives, and hence we demand any particular social bond more elastically.

If fertility has declined some because a person feels a weaker moral obligation to a husband who was prearranged for her at age seven, that’s probably a good thing.  If a person instead feel a greater moral obligation to his coworker who jams Motorhead, that’s probably a good thing.

Individualism is an illusion.  Individualism has created more and better socializing.  The idea that people are becoming more narcissistic, egoistic, and less caring as time goes on . . . and that the way to buck that trend is to demand that everyone get married and have children immediately, is wrong.

A Japanese Veteran’s Quest to Come Clean with His Service to His Nation

Introductory note from Kindred: This is a guest post by Dave Hackerson, one of my oldest friends and an American emigre to Japan since 2003. Nothing like the commemorations of Aug. 6, Aug. 9, and Aug. 15 exists in the United States. If it did we would also have to grapple with the consequences of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, and other cities. I have written previously in support of the position that the use of atomic weaponry was intended to signal to Moscow rather than Tokyo, which makes these anniversaries even more cruel. Of the World War II belligerents the United States may be most in need of honest reflection, but it is not the only one. I’ll now turn it over to Dave, who may or may not agree with the above.

Summer in Japan divides up nicely into two distinct stages. The first stage from the end of June to late July is the rainy season, with intermittent rainy weather filling the rice paddies with water and producing luscious hues of green that transform the mountains into verdant canvases. The second stage is where we get the “real” summer. That means hot and humid weather akin to my native Midwest in the United States, festivals and fireworks, and the national high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium in Osaka, one of the truly greatest events in all of baseball.

Yet in the midst of all this fanfare and excitement, each August the nation takes time to reflect on three dates: August 6, August 9, and August 15. The first two dates are the days of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, while August 15 is the day on which the Emperor’s announcement of Japan’s decision to surrender was broadcast on public radio. There is a lot of questioning and soul searching at this time of year, with the nation seeking to make sense of a conflict that forever altered its destiny. Why did Japan continue to escalate the conflict in China? Was war with the United States truly inevitable? What lessons can be learned from Japan’s mistakes in the past? Each year these questions are rehashed and debated on TV and in the media. Scholars and writers pore over documents from the era and conduct interviews with veterans and other individuals who lived through the war, seeking to gain new insight to help make sense of this conflict. As the years pass, there is a growing sense of urgency as the numbers of these living witnesses to history dwindle.

This past week on August 14 the TV station TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) broadcast a powerful interview with a 94 year old veteran named Hajime Kondo. I have watched many of these interviews on TV and in NHK’s (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) online archives in my 11 years in Japan, but this particular interview with Mr. Kondo was especially powerful. Kondo’s story is unique in that he survived the war on two different fronts, spending over 3 and half years in China and then fighting on Okinawa in 1945 in Japan’s last ditch defense to prolong the invasion of the home islands.

Kondo first began to share his wartime experiences in the 1980s when a number of revisions were made to school textbooks. Some of these revisions stressed the negative face of the Japanese army’s defense of the island, such as using Okinawan civilians as human shields or ordering them to commit mass suicides. Kondo did not directly refute these allegations, but rather expressed his utter disgust at portraying all the Japanese soldiers who defended Okinawa in a highly negative light. “I just couldn’t take it,” he said reflecting back. “There were so many us determined to make a stand, for by defending Okinawa, we were defending Japan”. He recalled seeing troops with tears streaming down their eyes as they rushed forward in a final banzai charge towards the American lines. This desire to set the record straight and provide a more balanced account is what motivated him to speak out.

Kondo was one of the few Japanese soldiers who survived the battle. He was wounded and captured when he made a banzai charge against the American lines with two fellow soldiers, both of whom were killed. On Okinawa, Japanese soldiers not only had to battle their American foes, but also had to endure the hardships of a formidable environment and inadequate supplies. These harsh circumstances, combined with the massive loss of both combatant and civilian life, lend tragic overtones to the defense of Okinawa. “When we speak about Okinawa”, Kondo said, “We tend to portray ourselves as the victims (of poor military decisions and the circumstances of war). Yes, we may have been the victims there, but in my case I also spent 3 years and 8 months in Shanxi, China. There the story was the other way around. We were the assailants there, the people in the wrong. We soldiers did some horrific and unthinkable things to the Chinese while we were there.”

Burned out villages and crying orphans on Okinawa. Residential districts of Tokyo burned to the ground during the fire bombings of March 1945. The complete and utter devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the wake of the atomic bomb. Watching these images broadcast on television, it’s easy to see where the victim mentality Kondo alludes to comes from. But as scholar Kizo Ogura states in his Overcoming Our Perceptions of History (1), these tragic events are the end result of a war that Japan started by invading other territories. It was the instigator, the perpetrator, Japan’s inability to talk about this fact is one of the factors impeding historical dialog with China and Japan.

Kondo does not shy away from this fact, but is very open and direct. “I’m just telling it as is” he says. He states that some veterans have accused him of telling too much, but he insists they have an obligation to tell people about what they did. “We can’t be judge of our own actions. The people who hear our account are the ones who decide. It’s up to them to judge whether or not we acted accordingly”. Kondo admits that for years he did not feel much remorse for the things he did in China. It was only when he held his grandchild for the first time that the guilt swept over him. “Holding that child in my arms, I thought ‘good heavens, I have done some many terrible things, so many wretched things’. I knew then I had to tell people what really happened there.”

Though he is 94 years, Kondo remains active and committed to ensuring the historical account is complete. He has traveled back to Shanxi with a NPO that seeks out Chinese survivors of sexual abuse and other acts committed by Japanese soldiers, personally speaking with survivors he meets. He also continues to travel around Japan, holding lectures for young people and others willing to listen about his experiences in the war. He talks about being ordered to bayonet a captured Chinese prisoner in training after he first arrived in China, describing how that experience showed him how easily human life could be taken. He delivers a chilling account about how soldiers had their way with a young mother, and then threw her infant off a cliff only to see the mother run after the child and jump. Speaking with an interviewer from his home, he talks about how he and his fellow soldiers would line up prisoners, stand 30 meters back, and then see how many they could take down with a single shot from their standard issue rifle. Hearing him relate these accounts, it’s easy to imagine why other veterans condemned him for speaking out. They seemingly fear being viewed as monsters.

However, Kondo does not necessarily feel the responsibility for these horrific acts lies completely with the soldiers. Rather, he indicated that people should level blame at the military-dominated government of the time for plunging the nation into conflict and placing men in such desperate circumstances. His thoughts echo the sentiments of Jiro Horikoshi, the main engineer behind the Mitsubishi Zero Fighter. On August 15, 1945, Horikoshi penned the following entry into his diary:

“I can’t help but feel that the cause of that whole war was the fact that the military and politicians connected to them threw a fit, to the point that they tried to get their way by force rather than pursue a peaceful diplomatic solution”.

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and yet there are some who feel Japan may be heading down the same path again. The Japanese government’s recent decision to pursue the right of collective self-defense saddens Kondo. Standing before the memorial to the dead in Okinawa, he said “The struggle and sacrifice of these people is what the peace of our nation today is built upon. Now some 60, 70 years have passed, and here again we find our country being pulled along on the path to war. Looking at the names here, I feel so saddened and powerless.” We can only hope Kondo’s efforts to pass his account on to posterity will not have been in vain.

1) Kizo Ogura: Overcoming Historical Understanding: Determining the Obstacles that Inhibit Dialog between Japan, China, and Korea (the English is my own translation of the original Japanese title).

Silent Killer: the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule

By Patricia Padurean

Aggravating though the criminal justice system can be, it does some things well. If you have had a run-in with our legal system, you know it is a maze of strict rules, time limits, and etiquette.

Watching a trial from the sidelines or CNN makes the process seem byzantine and overly bureaucratic. But it is this way for a reason. We guarantee constitutional protections and by extension justice by following certain procedures. For example, it is not enough to say that a defendant has a right to a speedy trial if we don’t specify what speedy means. This can vary from state to state but often it looks something like this: no more than three days between arrest and arraignment, a trial within 60 days of arraignment. Miss a deadline without first obtaining a time waiver from the defendant and the case is dismissed. (Reality check: this doesn’t happen that often.)

This scenario is what CNN and Fox call “getting off on a technicality.” Never mind that the technicality is the Constitution of the United States.

Given this state of affairs, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs of your busy lives talking about something called the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule and how it contravenes the very nature of constitutional rights.

Before I get to the good faith exception, I should first explain the exclusionary rule. Under the Fourth Amendment, any evidence the police obtains in violation of the Constitution is inadmissible at trial – it must be excluded. Stolen property recovered in a warrantless search, for example. Or drugs found using an invalid search warrant.

That last example is key. Say police suspect that you are dealing drugs. One day they arrest a friend of yours on drug possession charges; while under arrest, your friend says that you and your boyfriend came over and your boyfriend sold your friend pot. So the officers apply for a search warrant of your house, not your boyfriend’s. Well, without getting too far adrift into search and seizure law, there simply is not enough tying your friend’s statement to your specific residence. He never mentioned that you had drugs on you. He never said that he bought drugs at your house. In fact, he specifically said that your boyfriend handed him the drugs. It might be reasonable to assume that you and the boyfriend are in it together, but that still doesn’t create a link to your residence. But police get their warrant, search your house, and find some drugs. Bam. Done deal.

Or is it? Technically, their warrant is invalid because it didn’t establish sufficient nexus between the drug activity and your house. If a court finds that the warrant was invalid, then all the drugs found at your house become inadmissible under the exclusionary rule. And with the drugs goes the prosecution’s case against you. Fly back home, little sparrow!

Are you actually a drug dealer? Let’s say you are. Let’s say you and your boyfriend really do have a pot operation going. Is it fair that your case might get dismissed simply because the police didn’t get a valid search warrant?

Yes it is. This rule may have protected your sorry guilty ass, but we have to follow it to also protect everyone else’s right to privacy from police invasion. If we let one invalid warrant go, then what’s to stop invalid warrants from becoming a new general practice? What’s to protect perfectly innocent people’s houses from unlawful searches? And anyway, until a jury finds you guilty, you are still presumed innocent, no matter how bad the case against you looks.

In all likelihood, however, you would not get off. This is where the good faith exception comes in. The good faith exception to the exclusionary rule goes like this: if police officers had a reasonable good faith belief that the warrant they were executing was valid, even if the search warrant is later found to have been legally defective, the illegally seized evidence is still admissible.

So let’s say Officers Tweedledee and Tweedledum interview your friend with the pot, write up that invalid search warrant themselves, and execute it themselves. You later challenge the warrant as invalid because it didn’t establish sufficient nexus between your friend’s purchasing of the pot and your house. You win, the court finds the warrant invalid. Well, all those drugs the officers found are still coming in. Why? Because Tweedledee and Tweedledum had a “reasonable good faith belief” that the warrant they applied for and executed was valid. They followed their hearts and were wrong but you’re still getting screwed.

Normally, in the criminal justice system, breaking rules and procedure because you were following your [reasonable, good faith] heart is not enough. Because, again, the procedures are there to protect constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. In this case, however, officers get a free pass.

The landmark good faith exception case, United States v. Leon, justifies this flagrant loophole in constitutional rights by saying 1) if we exclude the evidence, we’re punishing the police officers rather than the magistrates issuing faulty search warrants; and 2) that “indiscriminate application of the exclusionary rule — impeding the criminal justice system’s truth-finding function and allowing some guilty defendants to go free — may well generate disrespect for the law and the administration of justice.” (emphasis added)

First, I don’t personally take too much issue with punishing both the officers and the magistrate who, together, violated a person’s constitutional rights. But more importantly, the second point goes against the very ethos of the criminal justice system. We presume defendants innocent until proven guilty because those who molded the system (our venerated Framers) considered it a worse injustice to occasionally imprison an innocent person than to occasionally let a guilty person go free.

I’d like to suggest things we can do to put an end to the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Sadly, the only way it will go away is if the Supreme Court reverses its Leon decision and, along with it, all the case law that followed Leon. So, what can I say? Don’t do drugs. Watch your back. Know your rights.

Defend Principles, Not People

By Kindred Winecoff

Steve Salaita resigned from a permanent position at Virginia Tech to accept an appointment at the University of Illinois. Then, this week, his offer from Illinois was rescinded. Neither the university nor Salaita has divulged the reason for this reversal, but Inside Higher Ed has speculated:

The sources familiar with the university’s decision say that concern grew over the tone of his comments on Twitter about Israel’s policies in Gaza. While many academics at Illinois and elsewhere are deeply critical of Israel, Salaita’s tweets have struck some as crossing a line into uncivil behavior.

For instance, there is this tweet: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza.” Or this one: “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.” Or this one: “Zionists, take responsibility: if your dream of an ethnocratic Israel is worth the murder of children, just fucking own it already.”

Salaita’s appointment to Illinois was thus apparently canceled because of the opinions he expressed concerning a current event. There are questions about whether this constitutes a violation of academic freedom — in the article linked above a professor at U of I suggests that protection is limited to academic work — but I am on record defending academics in similar cases from institutional reprisals. In other words, I think Salaita’s appointment should have gone through. The fact that I disagree vehemently with some of his expressed views, particularly the allegations of genocide and statements that Israel has earned any anti-Semitism it experiences, is immaterial. If the university was concerned with Salaita’s opinions, which were not a secret before this week, then they should not have given him the offer in the first place. Given that they did, and he gave up his previous (tenured) employment to accept this offer in good faith, it absolutely should be honored.

But I wonder on what principle folks like Corey Robin can object. Robin strongly protested the appointment of General David Petraeus to a temporary teaching position at his own university. While the content of Robin’s protests were primarily about the fiscal cost of hiring Petraeus, given Robin’s advocacy efforts (and the fact that he uttered not one word of disappointment when Paul Krugman was later given a permanent position at a higher salary for less work than Petraeus) it is difficult to believe that ideology wasn’t a part of it. Robin is also a visible proponent of the BDS movement and supported the American Studies Association’s proposed boycott of all Israeli academic institutions. It appears, in other words, that Robin believes in politicizing academic hiring and promotion decisions except when he does not, and that there is a perfect correlation between his political attitudes and his attitudes on such decisions.

This is the abrogation of principle. If the university is to be politicized, and Salaita seems to believe it should not be, then it is disingenuous to express outrage with a political outcome. The fact that university administrations appear to be reflexively pro-Israel is why actions such as those taken by the ASA are counter-productive and a defense of principles is so important.