Let's Do Nothing



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I happened to see an advertisment script of Eastern Japan Railroad co. : Let's do nothing. I believe that is the very best suggestion for Japanese people, because it is absolutely impossible to put this into practice. Some may say it takes a dig at Japanese people.

We cannot put up with just doing nothing. Take, for example, we are waiting for our turn at a barber's, or waiting for the dishes to be served alone at a restaurant.

Most of us will take out magazins or newspapers when there is nobody else to talk to. Some take books along. (That's what I always do). Some open their schedule books and others may talk with someone on the mobile phone ignoring the rules set by the restaurant.

Human beings are animals with huge celebrums, and they cannot go on without being stimulated all the time. And this causes them to be busy doing something. In the case of Japanese people, they look all the more busy for their cultural characteristics which drive them moving around all the time.

It seems that it was since Russo-Japanese War that Japanese people have become famous for their diligence. Thanks to the specutaclar economic development after World War Two, the reputation spread all over the world. They became more industrious probably because the word "business" nurtured in the USA was imported to Japan.

The noun form of adjective "busy" is "business", and this stands for "doing something all the time (regardless of whether it is worth doing or not)". Someone who invented this remarkable word must have thought of it by observing people be always on the go and have to achieve some goal.

The author of "Paparagi" is said to be a inhabitant of the South Pacific, who studied in Europe ( Some dares to say he must have been a European ). He sharply criticizes the European's fondness for acitivity leading to wars, exploitation and pollution, contrasting this with the leisurely way of life in the South Pacific.

But strangely enough, those who are always bound to their schedules and suffering under much stess live longer than those who lead nonchalant lives. It is not necessarily because the former can enjoy sufficient medical care. The latter are generally become senile earler.

This is probably because human beings have become completely accustomed to getting much stimulus and responding busily all the time in the course of our evolution. That is, being active has become a necessary condition in the making of human biological sturucture.

This may have been very helpful for the survival in the harsh environment, where they could barely find food. In fact, almost all individuals and tribes disappeared who could not figure out the way to deal with the nature by making their brains work. We are decendants of "industrious people".

But modern civilization demanded that people work harder and harsher, and brainwashed every one of us in the name of "working ethics". Take, for example, "The spirit of Protestantism". With it people dealing in trading and manufacturing in the West did their best in their everyday work for their religious salvation.

In Japan, where the society is secular in the real sense of the word, a competitive society had already been born in the Edo period from the clear viewpoint of making profits in the real world, and after the Meiji Restoration, this has been built into a social system. This was naturally accepted by the Japanese people in the hope that they would win the comepetition with Western countries.

Both workaholics and so called the indolent have little impact on the rest of the people in a small community. But in the modern globalized world, this has strongly affected the lives of the people.

Tens of automobiles may be regarded as exciting toys, but once they have incresed in large numbers, they may well destroy the global environment. In the samy way, working hard has become the standard ethics of a society. Now people otherwise find it hard to go on. Siesta (traditional afternoon nap in Latin countries), for example, is rapidly dying out.

If you lose your job, your life is deprived of sitimulation. Peple around you dispise you. Nothing can be bought which is abundant all around you. Compared with losing job in the life in which almost everything is in short supply, it is by far painful and stressful to live in the affluent society where your desire is stimulated by TV all the time.

People working on a part-time basis are regarded as nothing but spare parts in that the ultimate end of corporations is to defeat their rivals. If they weren't, it would be impossible to go on. Only when the employee and the employer has agreed, the working contract takes effect.

Full-time workers are most suffering. They have to sell almost all their free time to the company they belong to. As Japan gets out of the rapid growth and adopt more merit stystem instead of seniority system, the workers are obliged to work harder. That is to say, free competition requires each individual to be prepared for sacrificing themselves.

They make fundamental employment contract in exchange for receiving the basic necessities for individuals to have a familiy, maintain their daily lives and lead comfortable after retiring, so they have no choice but to accept the conditons even though they are severe enough. Modern society has adopted a new form of slavery.

What is more surprising, not a few people since they were small children feel no objection to such sacrificing devotion. Or, there are so many of them. They regularly attend "juku (prep school)" as their parents expect them to, and do their best to win the chanpionship in the athletic games. They will become able executives of their company. The number of people belonging labor unions is decreasing year by year largely because they are not accustomed to speaking out their dissatisfaction.

Those people are not brought up in a night. Generation after generation, they have encouraged themselves to work hard, which were formed in thier family environment or by seeing their parents as a negative role model. They support the very foundatin of our society.

In their surroundings, being able matters much. And when they belong to huge bureaucracy, they are directed in accordance to the organization's intentions. There is no room for individual's ethical judgement. If you don't like it, you have to quit the job.

Therefore, an althetic shoe maker makes children work in developing countries, a food coporation exports powdered milk to famine-stricken countries, pharmaceutical company sells their wonder drug to poor countries for such a high price: they don't care as long as they gain profits. You can criticize them from the outside of the companies, but it is very rare that the insiders can critisize from within, as history has clearly shown.


The reason for such things occuring is that people depend 100% on social norms and try to think anything based on them. Modern people are apt to be brainwashed, having not enough time for thinking by themselves, because they lack in independence of mind and always bombarded and influenced by too much information supplied by TV programs and so on.

We need to clear trash of our minds which are contaminated by worthless information. Computers have very convenient system called "restart". In the case of humans, it is impossible to do this unless we die, but some people can do it to some degree by training.

Doing nothing is one of the steps that we can take in the beginning.. For this apparently impossible practice gives us something that triggers fundamental reviewing of our lives. Doing nothing on purpose; that seems those of things hermits in India are always doing, but doing nothing includes "thinking of nothing".

But thinking of nothings is really difficult. People who are suffering from insomnia would be very glad to hear that it is possible. They cannot help thinking of something, rolling over in bed, so they cannot go to sleep.

This is the very reason for so many of modern people are spending sleepless nights, some slightly, some seriously. They are obsessed with the idea that they have to do something even while they are in bed and their social norms embedded in the brain order them to work out their minds instead of their bodies.

A report suggests that a majority of modern people are suffering from insomnia every day, if not so grave that they have to see a doctor. The pathology of our society is reflected in individuals' beds.

Doing nothing doesn't mean sleeping. Dogs and cata sleep every day. and this may be effective in restoring your energy or change of air, but it doesn't free us of social norms. Although people may be destroying their social norms while dreaming. nothing has changed in reality.

Doing nothing doesn't mean just being absent-minded, either. This is only in a state of having a rest. Everybody lying on the resort beach does this, although not a few will soon begin to some detective story or other thanks to the sad nature of humans.

In fact, it is absolutely impossible for human brains to think of nothing. Just as our body can't stand even for a moment without moving, our brain cannot stop functioning in thoughts and senses. But we can come near stopping it. We can get rid of social norms which bind us.

What does it mean to be free from everything? You may be able to feel it even for a moment. Within the shot of being alive, not dead, what we can do is very limited, but this may result in precious experience. It may be similar to what Buddhists call "nirvana".

Doing nothing means throwing away everything valuable consciously, even though momentarily. Nobody knows what kind of effect this may have on individuals, but it is necessary to relieve all the strains from a rubber band once in a while, because we are reminded that if it remains too much extended, it will finally break off.

First Written in October, 2003

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