Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Nation's Culture: Japan

If there is one lesson Chaos would like to impart to the gentle readers of this blog, it is that the psychological makeup of a nation or region matters, sometimes tremendously in the face of overpopulation and its many manifestations (global heating, peak oil/gas, environmental destruction). Potential solutions are many, and there is no lack of thoughtful scenarios for dealing with such catastrophic forces. The real obstacles to change, however, reside entirely within human minds. Living in an Imperial bubble (or any other kind for that matter) is quite limiting to one's sense of the range of responses that may even now be going on in some far off place. To the point is today's article in the nation's paper of record concerning conservation in Japan. Look well upon it and study the details of that nation's frugality: despite having 40% of the US population, it consumes less than 25% of US energy use. Part of this efficiency comes from new technologies such as fuel cells (government subsidized) and more efficient (and expensive) appliances, but also from simple conservation, which is apparently part of the nation's culture, and can be traced back to the economic destruction of World War II, and Japan's historic insecure status as an importer of energy. To wit: the average size house in Japan is 1188 square feet, a tiny space by US standards. Gasoline is taxed to the tune of $5.20 per gallon. The family featured in the article reuses bath water for other family members and then for washing clothes--note the tone of amazement in the writer, for such things are almost entirely unknown in the US. One would have to observe that the US does not possess the psychological triggers that exist in Japan: there is a legacy of being the world's leading oil producer for decades, larger sizes (houses, cars, people) are favored here, the "cowboy mentality," and many others. The good news about the ratcheting up of entropy in the coming years: human psychology is almost infinitely malleable, and is mostly capable of change. The bad news: massive changes in the nation's culture are unlikely to take root until a crisis erupts. Note that Japan's frugal culture was developed over long periods of time, and further notice that the psychological makeup of Japan features a long term focus largely absent from that of the United States. If one is inclined to feel hopeful about the future of the Empire, imagine the details of just how frugal one's countrymen would have to become, and reflect on the likelihood of such occurring without the compulsion of sudden "drops" in complexity.

A couple of slightly off-topic comments on today's post: recall that European countries also have had very high gasoline taxes for quite some time, and typically use 50% less energy per capita than the US. Also, Japan's birthrate has been quite a bit below replacement rate for quite some time, and its population will be the first to undergo a massive age shift, to be followed by quite a few European nations (and China).

Geography matters, because a nation's culture matters.


Austin said...

Does part of Japan's psychology maybe have to do with its more selfless attitude? i.e. the group is more important than the individual.

Chaos said...

The Japanese national "character," as it were, would certainly include a much stronger element of unanimity or value of consensus, thus enabling government to accomplish that which would be considered politically impossible in the US.