LIVING IN A MATERIAL WORLD
For all the luxurious goods enjoyed by most of the Japanese, we are threatened by what we call 'material hell'. Our daily life, thanks to the marvelous advancement of science and economy of our country, is surrounded with various kinds of goods, especially cars and electrical products and, by appearance, we are on our way to unheard-of material prosperity.
But there we find a pitfall. We by no means have freedom of leading a life our own way. We are strictly controlled, investigated and scrutinized by ad companies, conglomerates and the Government. Since the end of the last century this trend has been reinforced with the advancement of psychology and mind-controlling technique. It seems that the more advanced and complicated our society becomes, the less freedom we are to enjoy.
Let's take a classic example. Do you know why the city of Los Angeles has until recently been devoid of railway network with all its large population? Now LA is famous for traffic congestion and many citizens are suffering from respiratory diseases. motorways consist of six lanes, sometimes of as many as ten lanes on the one side. We sense that the future of LA is not bright; only sprawling is on the increase in the great expanse of suburban area, which makes it more and more difficult to depend on public transportation. People are obliged to use ONLY cars and no other.
Who set this conspiracy? More than fifty years ago there used to be streetcars and commuter trains in LA. General Motors, then freshly fledged from by merging with many small auto-makeres, put its first strategy on LA. With varying degrees of pressures, its railway transportation was completely abolished! Naturally, people reluctantly bought GM cars, which boosted the company's sale!
There are many people who boast of their high-tech products, spending a tremendous amount of money. They say their CD player is the best, their motorbike is equipped with super-charger or their computer is...bites one, etc... But these days none of them are made with a consequence of ingenious device of their own. In fact, high-tech mechanism is too complicated for any laymen to repair or add improvements to. They just purchase it and consume it.
That's all. The only difference is their financial power and eagerness to 'make distinction'. Those days are gone when individual ingenuity played a dominant role. Why are they so proud of things even not of their own making? Are the cockroaches on the Shinkansen Trains more culturally sophisticated than their counterparts in the ordinary kitchen?
Many people are indeed the victims of advertising which sometimes induces illusion; unaware of the invisible depth, they are sitting on the seemingly prosperous artificial surface made of vulnerable glass, and a touch of shaky hand would shatter it into pieces.
Japanese people are the most affected in this respect. Thanks to the extraordinary advance of electro-technique, we can afford to buy the most expensive and sophisticated gadgets and enjoy them. But, as you see, there is a pitfall.
For example, the coming of CD player has made LP player obsolete. With increasing speed, we are obliged to replace the old ones for the new ones to keep up with the progress of the development.
Otherwise, we would be unable to listen to music with the decreasing number of old-fashioned ones, which cannot be repaired in case of breaking down, because few parts are stored after the manufacturers have stopped the production.. We are forced to buy the gadgets not because it has reached its life expectancy, but because they are deliberately made obsolete by manufacturers who are always on the lookout for new market!
This reminds us of the world no different from Huxley's 'Brave New World' or something very near to it. Consciously or unconsciously, we are confronted with this situation, which was almost non-existent before the coming of Industrial Revolution. We are threatened by another loss of 'freedom'.
Most people are convinced that as long as they are not forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the greatest illusions we have about ourselves.
A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed ourselves to the expectations of others.
When children are asked whether they want to go to school every day, and their answer is, 'Of course, I do.' Is the answer true? In many cases certainly not.
The child may want to go to school quite frequently, yet very often would like to play elsewhere or do something else instead. If he feels, 'I want to go to school every day', he may repress his disinclination for the routines of schoolwork.
He feels that he is expected to want to attend school every day, and this pressure is strong enough to submerge the feeling that they goes there regularly only because he has to. The child might feel happier if he could be aware of the fact that sometimes he wants to go and sometimes he goes just because he has to. Yet the pressure on the sense of duty is great enough to give him the feeling that he wants what he is supposed to act.
In this way we seem to have become puppets controlled at will by invisible or visible forces. Any pessimistic views suggest that we in the twentieth century are deprived of freedom in any sense of the word. Modern civilized society scrutinizes us with the increasing capacity of computers and information networks.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we will be cornered not with swords but with subtle but pervading influences of psychological strategy conducted by those who are eager to expand their markets, if not their political power. The grim prospect of our future, though it may be exaggerated, is at hand.
We may be given abundant material objects in reward for letting our psychological independence be sold to the 'market'. More than two decades ago, a German social psychologist, Erich Fromm, analyzed pre-World War 2 society in Germany and made clear what it was all about these psychological traps.
Now his warning in 'Escape from Freedom' and 'Mechanism of Escape' must be seriously taken in the present situation. Otherwise, we are doomed.
First written in October, 1986