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Traveling to Japan

(This essay was originally written for publication in Hayakawa's SF Magazine in Japanese translation. As it's been out for a while now, I thought I'd share it with my anglophone readers ...)

I'm British, and I've visited Japan twice: first in 2007, and more recently, in 2010.

On my first trip, I thought I knew what I was seeing. The second time: no, not really. I've given up. I can't get my head around a nation with thousands of years of history and 120 million people in one month, or two. I probably couldn't do it in one year or two; not without a grasp of the language that I will never have. On the other hand, I can pick up some random fragments of broken glass and peer into them. Probably all I'm seeing is a mirror on my own misconceptions, but if I'm lucky, they may turn out to be fragments of a hologram.

The obvious, and the non-obvious

On my first visit, I immediately latched onto the aspects of Japan that any first-time anglophone visitor with an SF habit will recognize: "they've got our future!" It's not the shiny future of jet packs and food pills we were all promised in the 1950s, but the other stuff — express trains that run on time and accelerate so fast they push you back into your seat like an airliner on take-off. Skyscrapers with running lights, looming out of the sodium-lit evening haze — a skyline just like the famous nighttime scene from Blade Runner except for the shortage of giant pyramids (and they're building one of those out in Tokyo bay). And shaved cats.

This stuff is impressively alien if one is jet lagged and has just flown in from Scotland, where houses are made of stone and frequently have battlements, and we only discovered fire three weeks ago. But it's superficial, and in any case, it's temporary. As William Gibson wrote, "the future is already here; it's just unevenly distributed". In the future we will all have shaved cats. And six story high pornography boutiques that sell Hello Kitty! novelty toys on the ground floor. And 200mph super-express trains blasting between arcologies through a landscape scorched by the waste heat of a hundred million air conditioning units. Not to mention beer vending machines on street corners. These things are a given because the future has thousands of little legs and it likes to spread itself around.

If you take away the future, what makes Japan different?

In a word, history. The present is a moving boundary, travelling from the past into the future — what lies behind it is history, and the further it goes, the more history we have. When we try to peer into the future to see where we're going, as often as not we're peering into a driver's mirror, watching the past unroll behind us. To understand a culture's future you must look at its history — for the history people have experienced defines the future they want.

The Death Star, four hundred years later

One sunny spring day, my wife and I went for a short walk through Tokyo. Starting from our room in a business hotel between Kanda and Akihabara, with a view overlooking a construction site bursting with excavators and cranes, we hiked into Nihonbashi and then Marunouchi. Actually, we didn't plan this — our original plan involved a monorail (I am married to a fellow future-junkie, one of whose eccentricities is a bad monorail habit) — but for convoluted reasons that seemed to make sense at the time we needed to find a particular bento seller for lunch, and by the time we got there they'd sold out, and it was a hot, sunny afternoon.

As the subway station we needed to get to in order to travel to the monorail terminus was a half-kilometre walk away, we took a shortcut through the plush-looking park on the way, only to find ourselves in the imperial palace gardens on the site of the former Edo castle.

I think we left five minutes before closing time. Bad SF author: no monorail!

The emperor's gardens are marvelous and graceful and spectacularly well-planned: it would be astonishing if they were anything else. But what held my attention were the brutal bones of history concealed behind the neatly manicured shrubs and beautifully organized trees. It took a while to come into focus: we had walked part way around the inner ramparts when I remarked "this place is on the same scale as the Tower of London," (which, if you aren't familiar with it, used to contain a small town with its own streets and a population of around 20,000). My wife looked at me as if I was simple-minded: "no, this is much larger." She was right: what I'd mistaken for the outer wall was in fact the inner keep. We were inside the outer wall already. In fact, the outer walls enclosed an area nearly the size of my home city, Edinburgh: not merely the walls around the mediaeval Edinburgh Old Town, itself a walled city, but modern Edinburgh. Home to half a million souls.

Continuing around the ramparts, we came to a gate house. Steeply inclined stone slopes twenty metres high defined the walls. A side-street branched off uphill through a wide gap in the walls, rising steeply and curling out of sight behind the wall. As I walked up the ramp, the outer path swiftly vanished from sight behind me: surrounded by walls to either side, my skin began to creep as I imagined what it might have been like to approach this citadel when it was a functioning castle. To be out of sight of the road means to be out from the covering fire of your fellow soldiers: overlooked by walls to either side means that you're under the fire of the defenders. Put it all together and you have a titanic castle with inclined stone ramparts twenty metres high backed up by rammed earth; ramped entrance roads (overlooked killing zones) that curve round at the top to confront gate houses (also killing zones): and guard houses originally manned by hundreds of samurai at each gate.

It took hundreds of thousands of labourers several decades to build this complex, a castle the size of a city — a castle containing a city, a castle with an outer perimeter 16km long. The labourers of the Tokugawa shogunate and their masters may have lacked modern technology, but it was no less a monumental program for that. To find engineering projects of a similar scope today one has to look at enterprises on the scale of the Apollo program. No military fortification on the scale of the Edo palace was to be built in Europe until the age of steam.

Why did they do it?

Japan, as it entered the Tokugawa period, already had a population comparable to the whole of western Europe. Labour was not in short supply. Nor was motivation. This is the kind of fortress you find when you go looking for the imperial military headquarters of a dictatorship that finally triumphs after two centuries of total conflict. It's vast, and cruel, and terrifying. It says, "never again will I tolerate the existence of enemies". To the feudal lords whose families were held hostage there, it was a million-ton steel manacle on their ambitions.

It's the Death Star of Edo.

And today, its wrecked hulk is a carefully manicured public garden.

Commerce with the future

We were staying in a hotel in Kanda: but less than five minutes away lay Akihabara, the Mecca of the Nerds. So of course we had to visit.

Akihabara is loud, bewildering, and very, very strange. It's a street market that hitched a ride on an industrial revolution, and bits of the street market still cling to the skirts of the high-rise department stores, tucked out of the way in crowded indoor markets where there's nothing to separate the passing nerd-tourist from the LEDs, the gas chromatography machines, and the fifty bazillion kinds of cable and memory components. It's not just electronics and media, either. Akihabara caters to every need of its obsessive-compulsive consumers; there are a thousand obsessively catalogued species of anime porn in the narrow, high-rise shops, more sub-species of Gojira in more shapes and sizes than the entire insect class in the toy stores. And the maid cafes, of course. (I'm still not sure what that's about.)

At one point we fell upstairs into a shop that sold nothing but robots. Not toys, models of science fictional robots, or fantasies, but real working robots, and the tools and circuits and servos and sensors to build them. Not the boringly workmanlike robots one finds in car factories, but humanoid or reptiloid, ready to boogie or surf: it's almost like that future we were promised! Robots come in kits these days, programmable pocket people to come home to after a hard day's work. We bought one, wimping out and opting for a two centimetre tall micro-man of steel. It's almost like living in the 21st century!

Akihabara is every western tourist's idea of Japan — of the new Japan that emerged from the 1960s, first as a source of cheaply made gizmos and then as a turbocharged industrial and electronics powerhouse that promised world domination: not by the armoured minions of that imperial Death Star's builder, but by painfully polite salarymen in their uniform black suits. The blaring shriek of loudspeakers playing corporate jingles in Yodabashi Camera, the manic flickering of a thousand screens all around, bustling shoppers with down-cast eyes and saturation advertising on every street corner: this is the image that gave birth to western cyberpunk fiction in the 1980s, to the neurotic fear that this obsessively-detailed shopping extravaganza of the nerds, dominated by huge corporate logos and armies of identikit company men, was somehow the shape of our future.

But a tourist's eyes are unreliable; I should know, I live in a tourist trap. What the visitor sees is never what the long-term resident gets. Akihabara is a false image of Japan, simultaneously real and unrepresentative — like the huge corporate showrooms on Odaiba, an artificial land mass terraformed by alien hive-minds from the 24th century. We rode a monorail-like driverless train out to Odaiba for a day: gaped at the Panasonic 3D televisions, took a ride in a driverless Toyota, and wandered in confusion around a shopping mall so over-controlled and sterile that one could carry out wedding ceremonies or open heart surgery in its atrium. It was like a theme park depicting a world terraformed for habitation by robots from a future where dirt was illegal.

Aphasia

What places like Odaiba and Akihabara — or the shopping cores of Shinjuku and Shibuya — don't show you is the real Japan, where ordinary people lead lives that are ordinary by local standards. But it's very hard for a western tourist to go there in practice, because of the language barrier. While my wife speaks and reads some Japanese, my linguistic incompetence is legendary. Consequently, while visiting Japan I exist in a strange bubble of functional illiteracy — able to decipher some public signage (in romaji) but stricken on sight by a restaurant menu or a department store guide, adrift and dependent on interpreters for communication. It's like looking at a foreign culture through an impenetrable plate-glass window — I can see through it, but not touch or speak.

It's profoundly disorienting for a writer to have their primary communication skill so abruptly devalued. Maybe in a decade or two we'll have workable real-time machine translation, or brain implants that will let me download a language: if so, I might be able to resolve the full hologram, rather than peering at fragments. But until then, all I can do is look and puzzle.

Not being able to talk left me with a bunch of puzzling, perplexing questions. There are the uniforms, for one thing. Americans use their national flag promiscuously, as a symbol of affiliation — you see it everywhere, from grocery stores to car bumpers. In contrast, in Japan you don't see the flag around much. On the other hand, people seem to wear uniforms, or dress uniformly for work, in a similar way — far more willingly and routinely than in most other countries I've visited. Put an American or a Briton in a uniform and (with very few exceptions: notably, the military, or the emergency services) they'll resent it. But in Japan, people in roles that didn't provide a uniform seemed to converge on one voluntarily: the taxi drivers in their peaked caps and white gloves, the salarimen and office ladies in their black suits. And then there are the youth fashion sub-cultures, with their wildly different looks, but everyone all alike — as if a tenth of the population on any given street corner are memetic clones, trying to look identical in their non-conformity. Peering in from outside the cultural plate-glass window, I generated hypotheses, increasingly elaborate, about the cultural significance of the act of wearing a uniform —

But I couldn't ask.

Breakfast on the edge of a volcano

One day, in a misguided attempt to convince ourselves that we were actually on vacation by doing tourist-like things — my American publisher had helpfully sent me the page proofs of a book to review, just in case I was feeling unwanted — we went to Hakone.

There is no point in going on a day-trip to a picturesque tourist destination in the mountains without a plan. My plan, therefore, was to hunt down and eat an egg, hard-boiled in the sulpherous hot-springs of Mount Owakudani. My wife's plan (did I mention the monorails?) was to ride as many different kinds of ground transport in one day as is humanly possible. No eggs for her: she's allergic to them.

With the aid of some tourist brochures, a guide book, and the internet, we laid our plans. Our first stop was Shinjuku Station, to buy the two day tourist tickets and a seat upgrade on an Odakyu Romance Car. (The Japanese railway network is a thing for foreign eyes to marvel at; not merely the Shinkansen express services, but the profusion of narrow gauge networks run by furiously competitive companies — nowhere else in the world do companies run express trains on such narrow tracks.) Over the course of an hour we sat beside a huge glass window as the scenery unrolled past us, the buildings shrinking and the terrain growing wilder until we arrived at the end of the line and discovered ... snow!

April is an unpredictable month. Not being entirely naive, we'd brought appropriate clothing for our visit: and before heading for Hakone I checked the weather forecast. But my illiteracy bit me again: not being able to read the Japanese language forecasts I was relying on English language meteorology websites. The forecasts were approximate, covering an alarmingly large area — and although we were prepared for rain, we'd entirely missed the unseasonal mid-April blizzard that engulfed Hakone that day.

I'd left the liner for my heavy-duty waterproof jacket behind. Shivering in thin trousers and shoes, our planned walk through a cedar forest was hastily replaced by a bus-ride up a snaking mountain road behind a snow plough; then a boat ride across a mountain lake invisible beneath a blanket of low-altitude cloud, a cable car swaying in gusts of snow-driving wind halfway up a mountain ... and finally the station and souvenir shops near the top of Mount Owakudani, its peak invisible in the billowing wreaths of cloud. Battling the elements, I realized I wasn't the only ill-equipped tourist; half the young women in the visitor centre were dressed for the height of Harajuku fashion, in thin summer skirts and flimsy footwear. And they could read the weather forecast ...

I ceremonially ate my hard-boiled egg in front of my wife's camera, then we made our way down the slope of the volcano in stages: by cable car through a white-out (alone in a swaying, creaking cabin), then down a funicular railway and then a small mountain line with numerous switchbacks, before returning to the Odakyu line station. Along the way, we passed the hot springs at Yunnessen, the onsen not yet re-opened after an over-winter closure for renovation — a day amidst the rock pools there was one of our better memories from our previous visit.

Much better than a hard boiled egg in a blizzard.

Homeward bound

Tourism is a ritual. Once the habit of the youthful aristocrats of Europe — sent with their tutors to journey around the nations of the continent for half a year or a year to broaden their horizons and their minds — it has become commodified, systematized, universalized and sanitized.

The first time I visited Japan I thought I had a handle on what I was seeing: a microcosm of the human future, a densely-populated nation that has had centuries of cheek-by-jowl urban living, like the crew of a generation starship in flight towards the future, dragging the scars of ancient history behind them. A land of monorails and shopping malls and coin-operated ramen noodle stands and spas with twenty flavours of bathing feature. And all of this is true.

But on further acquaintance, I find myself knowing less and less about Japan — or perhaps I'm just becoming increasingly aware of how little truth the tourist picture reveals.

Go on a madcap quest for a volcano-boiled egg, or take a tour of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines: this is expected. But it only gives you a fragmentary, tangential glimpse into the minds of the people who boil the eggs and build the temples. The closer you get to the broken shards of the hologram, the less information you find in them: eventually you'll get lost in a maze of overlapping wavefronts, dimmed almost to invisibility. And the rituals of tourism won't help you there.

167 Comments

1:

Re: Unreadable signs: Try Word Lens. Right now they only have English/Spanish translations, but I would expect more soon.

Official example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2OfQdYrHRs&feature=related

Someone else trying it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45SeN7TWcbE

2:

Some semi-random thoughts

Edo castle may be the ultimate castle but it is very far from alone. There are lots of castles turned into parks in Japan and many of them are equally beautiful now but clearly a complete bugger to attack if one were to try in the 17th century. Himeji-jo is probably the most striking example (and one of a very few where the keep is the original structure not a post WW2 rebuild) but there many others.

If you want to see what a long-lived low birthrate society looks like after a few decades then wandering around any moderately remote village or small town will be interesting. The wizened crone bent double as she works her fields may actually be older than she looks but she's got a problem because her children and grand children (if they exist) have all migrated to the cities. And since Japan is so lush when the people leave their houses and fields are swiftly overgrown with new forest. You can see this near almost every smallish village too and if you come back 10 years later the culitvated areas has visibly shrunk.

The countryside is also filled with concrete evidence of pork barrel spending. The fact that all this concrete has not resulted in a Greek style meltdown of the finances is mind-boggling once you grasp just how widespread it is.

If you do go again and want some ideas for places to visit to get some different views of Japan contact me. I'll be happy to give you a few ideas.

3:

A guy named Alex Kerr wrote a book that you might want to check out in your copious spare time: Lost Japan. Beautifully written, it looks more deeply into the cracks and talks a bit about issues such as the uniforms and the tendency towards fantasy. A lot of books about Japan either tend to be "ZOMG JAPAN' or highly critical - this finds an interesting balance, picking at that deep history / technophilic gestalt that can be so confounding. Check out the reviews on your favourite book store site.

4:

I look forward to your books hiting a hard Kurzwellian popularity takeoff in Japan and the inevitable Whisky adverts you'll be paid improbable amounts of £££ to shoot, Mr. S :)

5:

History -- and America.

This is what really seems to me to distinguish America from almost all of Eurasia/Africa -- history. When you say "Japan has a thousand years of history" -- that's true for everyone, everyplace. There are few places that haven't been continuously settled for at least a thousand years.

But the difference is our relationship to that. Eurasians own their history -- they remember and relate to that history. They don't see themselves as foreigners in their own land.

Americans -- USAians to Argentinians -- do not. We are totally amnesiatic about our history. We don't know our ancestors past our grandparents and we have no connection to our homes going back more than those 3 generations.

Some would say -- you're all immigrants, that's why. But that's not precisely true -- there are many countries and regions where a DNA analysis will show a significant indigenous genetic contribution, from Chile to the Appalachians. The point is that we are amnesiacs -- most Americans have some Indian, many white Americans are significantly black (remember, white is dominant), but we all pretend to be descended from recent immigrants.

And conversely, there's been massive movement of populations in much of Eurasian -- but neither Germans nor the Chinese focus on their central asian heritage.

6:

damn you charlie!
why do you have to remind me why i learned enough japanese to turn off the subtitles on samurai champloo, cowboy bebop, etc...
now i have to check on my rubber dinghy and make a plan how to get it into the sea through all this snow...

7:

The answer to your Unasked Question involves the concept of "MA" The space between things. The successful communication of a concept is an act of controlling "MA" in that you have been able to cross the space between you and someone else: I.e. You've anticipated/understood/told them what they need to know.

Martial artists speak of "Maai," which is the space between you and an enemy. If you can fully understand the "Maai," you are basically unbeatable. I.e. That you've perfectly read the combat situation and you have thus out-thought them or anticipated their actions.

Clothes indicate status, and from there, see an attempt to involve the representation of the ideas they instantly represent. To then be successfully able to "Be" the role you have assumed, you've invoked the "Ma" concept in that people know what you do and what they expect of you.

But if you haven't got anything of that sort, people don't know what to make of you. You're...Nothing really. They can't assign you a role or status.

Yours sincerely, Andrew.

P.S. If you go again and you want a superior category of monorail, that incorporates some good suburban Japanese scenery, try the either the Shonan Monorail or the one in Chiba City....They are SAFEGE systems! They've got points and everything. None of this useless ALWEG crap!

I am sure you understand....But notice how I've made an assumption of your knowledge and crossed a boundary. I have harmoniously employed "Ma." There it is!

8:

I've found Spike Japan, a blog by a British national living and working in Japan, to be a fascinating look at the real backwaters of Japan, far, far from the touristy areas, where depopulation has left empty buildings, amusement parks, and even whole villages.

9:

Of course it is a biological impossibility that a nation with such suicidal birthrates and general emasculation as modern Japan could ever be the society of the future. For a better glimpse of the future, try visiting the Middle East, Haiti or maybe Utah!

10:

Speak for thyself, Anura. I've had relatives trace my ancestry back to the 1600s, and basically, I'm a Euro-mutt. Only one killing in the last five generations, and we think he had it coming.

Our history's all around us, good and bad. Some people care about it more than others do.

11:

We've done all six public monorails in the greater Tokyo area, including the wee slope car in Asukayama park, plus Ueno Zoo. I think my favourite is Shōnan, simply for the scenery. On top of that, we've done several of the Things That Look Like Monorails At First But Aren't: Yurikamome (the one mentioned in the article), Saitama New Shuttle (very kawaii), the Kanazawa Seaside Line and the Nippori-Toneri Liner. All good fun.

12:

Maai! I am an invincible fighter. A reply was certain.

13:

"Eurasians own their history ... They don't see themselves as foreigners in their own land."

Some of us do, and I for one am scared shitless by those who say, "We've been here for a thousand years, and here's the family tree." (To show the inbreeding?)

"[Americans] don't know our ancestors past our grandparents and we have no connection to our homes going back more than those 3 generations ... [but] a DNA analysis will show a significant indigenous genetic contribution."

Describes me well enough, and many of my fellow Londoners, I'd guess. Why do you think this is a New World thing?

14:

Not all of Americans are historical amnesiacs. My own "cultural memory" starts in the 1830s, and I do know who all my greatgreatgrandparents are, and have a good idea of how "non-white-ancestry" I am. Hint: much of my extended family lives in Utah...

topic change
Like Charlie, I also live in a tourist trap (Seattle), and my previous city of residence was also one (Boston). Sometimes I end up in the "tourist" areas, or encounter a tourist, and my own mental view of my own home takes on a warped feel, as I see my own landscape through their eyes.

topic change
Media like this is why I will never be done reading. Just reading the comments alone, has added another book to my "to read" pile.

15:

Ah, Japan, and Monorails...

It's been a while since I was there (92?), and I mostly spent time in Kitakyushu with brief swings through Tokyo, but some of the biggest fun was just in doing those random wander around runs like you two are doing.

Random encounters...

Found that the bulk of the population speaks emergency survival english. Navigated trains and so forth repeatedly without any usable kanji reading capability.

Little kids following me around (I'm nearly 6'5") looking up like I was Godzilla.

Missed the last train back to the hotel district, ended up with 8 or so of us hoofing it back about 10 miles across Kitakyushu at (mumble mumble AM). All night noodle place that was all of 8 feet wide and just the row of counter chairs out front, and the owner's son had just gone away to the US to go to Berkeley, which I'd just graduated from ("Is it as crazy as it sounds?").

It's a great, Different place.

16:

While I realise that, as Charlie said, he was looking at it from a tourist point of view, there are all sorts of ways in which Japan is horrifically backward. If nothing else, banks (when I came to Japan, there was no such thing as "e-banking" at all, and my bank - Mizuho - forced me to get a name-stamp and write my address in Kanji for a handwriting sample - even though I was just copying what they had written for me)
In terms of the sort of gadgetry a normal person has, the average UK home is more high-tech than the average Japanese home (outside, perhaps, the toilet)
The sad thing about Akihabara is that - at least due to the governer of Tokyo, who hates fans of comics and anime with a deep firey passion - it's dying, really turning into a pure tourist trap. The initial idea was that it would become a place of excellence in computing, ignoring that at the point plans were drawn up, the small computer stores who had driven that excellence were all leaving, due to the - belated - appearance of internet shopping in Japan, and the subsequent officially condoned hounding by the police of anyone who looked like they may be an anime/manga fan didn't help. The shops that gave Akiba it's colour are being closed and replaced by tawdry pornography and sex-toy shops, who are there to cater to the gawking tourists, and really it's a tragic loss of an interesting subculture. The comics guys have all moved back to Nagano Broadway, where they used to be 20 or 30 years ago, but the electronics community is almost vanished away (outside of the "no tax" shops who don't charge the 5% consumption tax, but do charge a 20%+ tourist tax)
Something similar happened in London's Tottenham Court Road but the collapse has been more total, and hence more tragic, here.

17:

"In America 100 years is a long time, and in Europe 100 miles is a long distance."

18:

I think the difference is that North America really has much less history. There's very little continuity to anything pre-Colombian. Most of the cities are a couple centuries old, or less. Etc.

19:

@ 13
Inbreeding?
Not really, if you do know where (at least some of) your ancestors come from ...
Lincolnshire-descendant of Saxons, London-descendant of Huguenot refugees, themselves descendant from Vikings, descendant of a good-time girl from Kent or possibly Normandy (the name "Paramore" is a give-away), descendant of two of the greatest aristos ever to serve the Monarch, descendant of (probably) wine-importers or other traders from Gascony .....

And all the "monorails" are separate, and don't connect or make a system.
Japan standardised on 3'6" gauge early on, because of the mountainous terrain, and the ability to go around tighter-raduis curves (which is why it is "African standard guage), but switched to international standard for the Shinkansen - as Spain has for its high-speed lines, from 5'6".

20:

Sean, I'm laughing at you.

(Here's a hint: demographics are not deterministic. One generation's catastrophic collapse can be followed by another's unexpected baby boom. And your American ethnocentric triumphalism? Is whistling in the dark. The long-term future really belongs to Africa, if we don't cock up the climate change emergency.)

21:

Because of the particular way you describe Japan I had Moroder's Metropolis soundtrack (for his restored version of the film) running through my head, as I read along.

22:

I've had a similar experience the first time I visited Owakudani and later found this web cam:
http://www.sizenken.biodic.go.jp/pc/live/cgi-bin/live.cgi?camera=17&area=03
The views and the incredible geology make Owakudani worth a second trip when the weather is playing along.

23:

Charlie, do we have a historical example of _unexpected_ baby boom?

24:

Sure; the French one circa 1998-2000, and the British one that kicked off a year or two later. What happened was that an entire generation of young women deferred childbearing for an average of around a decade. Everyone thought that generation were simply not reproducing ... then they had to start ramping up primary school capacity in a hurry.

25:

Loving this. Also, especially with the first lovely bit, you're making me want to read a manga series that is already on my list (and you and your wife might want to read) "Ōoku: The Inner Chambers", set in medieval Japan.

26:

Charlie,
I must have been in Tokyo around the same time earlier this April, and I got caught out in an impromptu 5 minute blizzard in Tokyo. All very strange!
Excellent post, I moved to Japan a couple of months ago and am still in the confused, functionally illiterate phase.

27:

Japan always felt like a parallel/alternate world to me. And yes, there isemm to be much more below the surface...

28:

The all-night noodle stalls are a standard feature in a lot of anime and manga -- signs like "There is probably no nitroglycerin in our alcoholic drinks" or serving up stuff the tourists never know to ask for, like "fried pig's face". I don't think they exist much these days though, probably due to health and safety inspections.

29:

How does Edo compare with the Roman limes? We all know about Hadrian's Wall, which is the most visually impressive part, but the frontier was fortified as far as the Danube, with a continuous militarised zone behind it. There's a map of the German section here: http://www.emersonkent.com/map_archive/limes_germany.htm . It's a different sort of architecture, but the only thing I know to compare it with is the Great Wall of China, which is, admittedly, somewhat longer.

30:

Err ..up here in the North of East of England, the Roman Wall ... Hadrian's Wall ..passes beneath a Hotel and also by a Norman Castle that also passes by a Victorian Railway but it just isn't all that Visually Impressive I'm afraid ..we do tend to wear History lightly hereabouts... There is So Much of it including the Church of St Peters!...


http://www.visitsunderland.com/attraction-details.asp?venueid=16

" The Anglo-Saxon church of St Peter's at Monkwearmouth is one of the UK's first stone built churches. Built in 674AD, the tower and west wall are original Saxon features and the church also has on display fragments of the oldest stained glass in the country, made by 7th Century European craftsmen.

St Peter's Church in Sunderland and St Paul's Church in Jarrow are part of the twin Anglo-Saxon monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, which will be the UK’s nomination for World Heritage Site status in 2011.

The 7th-century creation of Benedict Biscop, a Northumbrian nobleman inspired by 6 journeys across Europe to Rome, it became one of the most influential institutions in the western world, contributing to learning, creativity and culture. The twin monastery was centered on St Peter’s Church, Wearmouth, in Sunderland and St Paul’s Church, Jarrow."


A Flat ? Say, a Condominium in Edinburgh ? ..wherin our Revered Patron does Dwell that really was OLD When Texas was Born? Ha! I was Christened ..and thus proofed against Horrors of the Dennis Wheatlyish kind, way back when .. well, my grandfather shared with Wheatly a personal history of having suffered a Gas Attack and having been given a medal to remember it by .." was gassed in a chlorine attack " ...back when good old Dennis was but a lad ..albeit a lad from rather a different social background than that of my Grandfather.

An Alternate World ? Well it was certainly a DIFFERENT World as was that of my childhood.In the mean time ...OH !!!!! Really Charlie ..that time schedule on the " The Laundry " series .. NOW look OH Charlie's Publishers !!! ... This IS a Very successful series ? The last book sold well???? EH ??? And so why this Delay over an entire Year? !!!
I Am Annoyed ! I want to know what happens Next ? This isn't GOOD Enough !!YOU are Letting US down !!

The next in the series is ...Near Enough .. Written ..and so WE readers are puzzled by this Delay ...not that WE are horrible people but ..can that gnawing sensation in your collective vitals be a coincidence? Surely Not? I have very little to do other than fix upon the unworthiness of our gracious hosts publishers when it comes to publishing schedules ... Guts... gnawing of same ..not to seem Threatening ..oh, dear me no.

31:

For what it's worth, I am a USA-an whose ancestry in this continent goes back to the 1600s, and whose ancestry in Europe goes back to a documented (as though one can believe these documents!) Viking prince of the Rus, not to mention a by-blow of one of William the Conquerer's cronies. My wife has Cherokee ancestry, so her relatives were here to lament the lax immigration policy of their chiefs.

The thing most Europeans tend to forget is that while USA-ans mostly haven't been here in NA all that long as world-history goes, we all have roots somewhere else, and that historical melange informs the USA of today in ways that we are not always immediately conscious of but which are nonetheless important. I have little doubt that this is true in other American (in the broadest sense) polities. The USA and the Puritans and the Hispanic parts of the Americas and the "hidalgo" culture of Spain come to mind, as broad strokes.

To be more responsive to the original post, Japan has its own issues with history, such as the question of where the original "Japanese" came from (Korea? -- heavens no!) and of course their long-time issues with the Chinese contribution to Japanese culture and Japan's response to China as a cultural ancestor and field for expansionism, which dates back to at least the 1500s.

32:
Americans use their national flag promiscuously, as a symbol of affiliation — you see it everywhere, from grocery stores to car bumpers. In contrast, in Japan you don't see the flag around much.

A Japanese monk would say something like: "Look at the sky. It's right there. The flag is just a way to carry it with you when you leave."

I'd say it's more that America is an idea which Americans feel the need to force upon their surroundings, while the Japanese know that the world is divided into Us and People Who Aren't Japanese, and being confident in this knowledge, don't need to nail some notion of "Japanese" onto everything they see. Sort of a cross between self-confidence and separatism.

33:

Where in the world ... can you look out, over the river, under an late 19th C "Gothic" bridge (with hydraulic machinery) to a 1000-year old fotress, backed by the buildings of a 21st century city?
London .....

34:

So, I'm in the National Police Museum in Bogotá (and if you go to one museum in Bogotá, go to the Police Museum) and the guide, a rather enthusiastic young draftee with thick glasses and a rather remarkable resemblance to yours truly, launches into an impromptu pop quiz about Colombian history to the Colombians headed around with us.

They don't pass. My wife asks me to answer the questions, I say no, the guide gives me a shrug and a smile.

Short version of the above: ignorance of history is not just an American vice. (Or virtue.) Or maybe it is, just a continental American thing. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding the point.

By the way, guys, really, you don't have to say "USA-an."

OK, back to work now. Charlie, nice essay.

35:

True enough Greg ..there are few comparators in the United Kingdom - when it comes to concentrated History on View - to Londinium, and Charlie's colleague in the field of fantasy, Kate Griffin, knows Her City inside out and upside down and so Her site is worthy of a visit ... if our host will permit? ..


http://www.kategriffin.net/

And yet this site is also worthy of note ...


http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/hadrianswall/downloads.asp?PageId=123

36:

At the risk of derailing this thread, I don't really see the humor in the fact that the most secular, modern, "progressive" countries (like Japan) are committing demographic suicide and calling it progress. Meanwhile, the religious and the "backward" are ensuring that they will own the future the old-fashioned way. Even secular scientific types are starting to wake up to the implications of this trend -- see for example http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=gods-little-rabbits-religious-peopl-2010-12-22 for an analysis that bears this out. If you don't feel like reading it, here is his concluding paragraph:

"As a childless gay atheistic soul born to a limply interfaith couple, I suspect, perhaps for the better, that my own genes have a very mortal future ahead. As for the rest of you godless hetero-couples reading this, toss your contraceptives and get busy in the bedroom. Either that or, perish the thought, God isn’t going anywhere anytime soon."
37:

This summer I spent a couple of weeks in Tokyo, Kyoto, etc. I got totally fragmented impressions, too.

Here is a random list. Some/most of these are wrong or so incomplete that they are worse. (Feedback/corrections appreciated).

1. Economy has been bad for a long time; unemployment and low salaries. (I'd guess Spain with too much gold, etc.) Even some homeless. No possibilities.

2. The Japanese seems weirdly Scandinavian in many ways with politeness, shyness, etc. (I've read that is common to violent cultures that turn peaceful? You choose words carefully if someone(s) will die, otherwise.) And they were insanely weird in many other ways. I got vertigo.

3. Consider the size of some well known subcultures. How large part of the population go to maid cafes? How large part of the population hangs/sleeps overnight in internet cafes? The marginal stuff even where I live is probably stranger...

4. In (small) hotels, I saw the same people working in the morning that worked late in the evening. They had around 24+ hours shifts(!). Sleep? 2 hours of that. See point 1. These people would do well in the West, most of the hotel workers already had some language skills.

5. Everyone are incredibly helpful and polite; you get this fear of being impolite after a while.

6. All the mountains surprised me. That Japan was greener than Ireland surprised me, too ("lush" was the word, thanks FrancisT).


Notes:
If I was young enough to have the year or two to "waste", I'd love to live there, learn the scripting systems/language. But never as a salaryman.

I didn't reference a report by any top US think tank this time, so I hope no one insists that a relevant answer to such a report is personal attacks on me. 1/2 :-)

Merry Christmas!

38:

As an appendix, it seems Japanese really identifies and becomes their job (even part-timers in convenience stores verified allergy information in a way that blew me away).

Some remains of the old feudal culture?

I might hazard a guess that the uniform love comes from that. Any of the people living there care to enlighten me/us?

40:

"ignorance of history is not just an American vice. (Or virtue.) Or maybe it is, just a continental American thing. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding the point."

I wasn't accusing Americans of being ignorant of history.

I believe Anura meant to say that they were ignorant of their families' histories--not American history--and to speculate on the effect that had.

The case described didn't sound distinctively American to me. My father's parents were immigrants to the UK, my mother's parents weren't. I can tell you a little about one great grandparent, but nothing else even as far back as that. Perhaps I could find out more, but I don't see why I'd want to.

I'm a bit from here, a bit from there, and quite possibly a lot from god-knows-where, and I don't claim some vast chunk of history (and associated real estate) as my property. I suppose one could work up an anxiety about that, but it seems to me that it'd be pretty hard work.

A degree of deracination is healthy, IMO. If no one thought they owned the country they lived in, if no one thought of immigrants as "them", then maybe nationalists, fascists, [insert ethnic group here] supremacists, and other völkisch scum of the earth would have a harder time recruiting.

And if the USA has a strange flag cult, I suspect it'll take more than (epistemic) rootlessness to explain it.

41:

It sounds obvious now that you explain it: referencing family history, natch. I tend to agree with you --- my null hypothesis is that Americans are far from outliers on that tip. I have some doubts that the Japanese are huge ones in the other direction.

That said, the thing about history is how it affects people and societies without anyone necessarily needing to have knowledge about what actually happened. Path dependence is a powerful thing.

As for the flag cult --- yup, we have it. I share it! I used to have a giant flag on my wall, and I'll probably put one out the balcony in our new place as soon as I can. I like flying Old Glory, but I'll damned if I can explain why. It seems natural, to be frank. And I sure doubt that "epistemic rootlessness" is why.

42:

@ 40
Flag
Look up the Ambrose Bierce description from the "Devils Dictionary"

43:

The flag cult feels incredibly weird to me. On the other hand, (a) I'm not American, (b) where and when I grew up, apart from government/military buildings the only people who did the flag thing were the local racist neo-nazis, who were trying to send an anti-immigrant signal, and (c) as the second generation native-born descendant of immigrants, I took that kind of personally.

So I have a gut-level response to flag-waving as a hostile racist gesture, with myself in the cross-hairs -- much like an upside-down burning cross.

44:

[ DELETED AND BANNED BY MODERATOR -- do not troll happy fun blogger who is working overtime on a public holiday ]

45:

In the late 1970s, my school had as a pupil the youth organiser of the National Front, an absurd little skinhead (with two large minders). Later there was some British Movement presence.

Enthusiastically as I tried on identities in my early teens, "this is my country & this is my flag" could carry no conviction.

Sportspeople wrapped in flags nauseate me to this day, and faces painted to resemble national flags scream "I have lobotomised myself."

46:

Charlie,

I've lived in Japan, in Yamaguchi prefecture far from the bright lights of Tokyo/Osaka/Etc, for a good 6 and a half years. I think your observations are excellent, and I would encourage you to return, and try to visit some of the smaller cities and rural areas to see a bit more of what Japan has to offer. It is most certainly worth it.

It's a very very difficult thing to start to penetrate into the real lifestyle of Japan, as you very aptly described, but once you do it has a very strong appeal. There are elements of pride of place, of respect for one's own role and the roles of others, that seems so lacking in the US, and in my experience (6 weeks as a student) in the UK I found a similar lack. Most Japanese people seem to take true pride in their role in society, and do it to the very best of their abilities, no matter what that role is. Street sweeper, CEO, housewife, student...the general attitude is, if you're going to do it then half-measures are not acceptable. That's why the trains run so splendidly, the roads are so immaculately cared for, and the people are happy to wear their uniforms--they have no reason NOT to be proud, because the uniform identifies their role to the world. IN addition, the uniform places them inside a group, and being part of the group, being like those around you, is a fundamental element of Japanese society. Individualism is not nearly as valued here as in the West, and indeed is often seen as selfishness or aggression.

I don't want to give the impression, of course, that this is a superior social structure or any of that nonsense--there are so many truly ugly aspects of Japanese culture I could go on for days, but the fact remains: there are some things I very much admire and enjoy about life here.

47:

Also, when was this published in Hayakawa's?

48:

I don't get the flag thing her either. My liberal mother was in the army for 14 years and one thing that stuck was the attitude toward the flag. To me it's just a piece of cloth, useful for identification, but doesn't particularly stir any feelings in me. I'm not much of a believer in patriotism, and definitely not nationalism. I think a lot of it comes from the 'old days' when every school day started off with saying the Pledge (and plenty schools still do), which I tended to mumble my way through--it was the "under god" bit I didn't like.

Several years ago it became fairly common for white supremacists here to use the Royal Standard of Scotland as their flag (thinking it more subtle than a swastika). Recently I was behind a pickup truck with the rear window covered with stickers of it and other Scotophilic ones, and Iron Cross mud flaps. Surprisingly it was a Toyota, not a Ford. Having been to Scotland I can only assume that these people have never actually been there. I was happy to find it fairly ethnically diverse and liberal. The B&B we stayed in, in Glasgow, seemed to be in a Chinese neighborhood, even small towns have Indian restaurants, among other things. I can only imagine these racists faces if they were to go there.

49:

@ 42 (My own posting ....)
FLAG, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees and vacant lots in London — "Rubbish may be shot here."

@ 45
PLEASE don't get me started on teams spurts sports!

@ 48
you got it in one

50:

Charlie, I just read the Death Star bit and had her laughing out loud for what is perhaps a different reason from the expected.

We first visited Scotland back in 1994 to get married (we're Americans). On that trip we were wandering around Scone Palace when we found ourselves suddenly stunned by the weight of all the years of Scottish history that predated US history.

It was a wonderful weird moment where something that had been intellectual became visceral. We tell the story in almost exactly the tones that you use when talking about Edo castle here. Thanks for an echo that brings home the weight of Japanese history in that same visceral way.

51:

I've generally thought American flag-waving as being part of deliberate rootlessness; the idea that, no matter where you came from, now you're an American. Works better in theory than in practice, of course.

Mind you, I'm Canadian, and we tend to roll our eyes at American flag-waving while ignoring that we do it rather a lot ourselves; there are maple leaves all over the place here.

52:

I grew up in the 1950's in the US; a time and place where the flag cult was near as oppressive as it ever got here. We pledged allegiance to the flag (not to the country, note) every day in both primary and secondary school. I never understood the point, really, though I do have a great fondness for this country (not its government or its white, xtian, capitalist overculture), having seen most of it and spent enough time in different places to have met the local folk who make their lives there. But the flag is not the country anymore than the map is the territory; if there's one fundamental thing wrong here it's that too often symbols take the place of reality in discourse.

53:

Since we're discussing issues of "blood and soil", I'm actually amazed that there isn't *more* xenophobia, nationalism, racism, etc. in the Western world. We have experienced a kind of invasion throughout the Western world which in any previous era would have been resisted by force of arms. Today we call this "globalism" and are expected to welcome it as "progress". As one who sympathizes with the far right critique of the modern world, all I can say is, this globalizing trend is only possible so long as material progress continues. If it begins to unwind, as the Cassandras of Peak Oil and Climate Change are warning, we will see a massive return of "blood and soil" localism. I consider this the default human condition, part of our heritage of hundreds of thousands of years of living in small tribes, so I don't really understand the hostile, moralistic tone so many "progressives" take toward this most natural human arrangement.

54:

I don't understand the hostile, moralistic tone so many take toward cannibalism, which millions of years of practice has made a natural human arrangement.

Just because it's been done doesn't mean it's a good idea.

55:

This.

Firstly, just because something was a long established cultural practice, it does not follow that it is desirable to reinstate it. (Examples might include: government by absolute monarchy, priesthoods that conduct human sacrifice, the use of capital punishment in a criminal justice system, amd so on.)

(Corollary: conservativism and authoritarianism, while often aligned, are actually independent parameters and shouldn't be automatically seen as identical.)

Secondly, it's a grave error to mistake short-term trends (such as population shifts within a given culture) for historically deterministic signs of decline (or prosperity, for that matter). Unfortunately our life expectancy is on the order of the event horizon for such changes so we can't easily distance ourselves sufficiently to see the big picture and grasp what's really going on.

56:

I was thinking about this last night. I think all of the generations before my level were white -- can't tell, but probable. But one set of my cousins are half-Mexican, in another set, two married Muslims and their children are half, and my brother married a Hakka (Chinese) woman and their children are half. There's another set of cousins whose parents stopped communicating with us when my mother died. They thought she got breast cancer because she had too much sex. (This is why those grandparents scrounged to get money for Mother to go to college instead of her sister.)

57:

It's not all the flags that bother me, it's that the owners/displayers don't follow the Flag Code. Okay, this is an advisory from federal law, you won't be arrested for violating it, but it would certainly make the flag and the owners look better.

58:

What's your reasoning for the future belonging to Africa?

59:

You got it, Patricia! That was that kerfuffle over Sheila Copps's decision to distribute a gajillion flags back in '96, but that was all over the cost, not the symbolism.

But to be fair, most Canadians are well-aware that they love their flag as much as we love ours.

60:

Hey, Alain: the term never took off, and sounds forced. (Wow! Second touchdown for Arizona!)

61:

As you know, I'm well aware of the different attitude towards the national flag in Britain. (I say it for other readers, not you.) My British in-laws (who are of Trinidadian and Barbadian descent) fly the English flag come World Cup time, but aren't comfortable with the Union Jack the way their American, Canadian, and Trinidadian relatives fly their national banners with abandon and for no particular reason.

The thing is, the difference is pretty simple: for some path-dependent reason, rabid racial nationalists managed to co-opt the flag in Britain. That didn't happen in other European countries, where there is rarely an American-Canadian style flag-happiness, but also not a British-style discomfort. Combine the U.S.'s position as a new revolutionary nation --- where the flag quickly became an innocuous part of folk culture --- with the good luck that our racist nationalists had their own dumb-ass banner, and the difference is explained.

The above is testable, because it implies that Britain should be more of an outlier than the United States. Casual flag-flying might not be as common in Europe or Asia as it is across the Western Hemisphere, but I suspect that the active British discomfort with the flag is unique. (Japan and Germany --- at least until very recently --- excepted for obvious reasons.)

Is that correct?

62:

Interesting blog, man. Sadly, it doesn't let me learn your nationality. All I can say is that if you're American, you're wrong.

In 1839, Pennsylvania and Ohio became the first two states to require public education in German if the parents demanded it. By 1850, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oregon had also authorized German public schools. By 1880 four out of five German-American children were enrolled in bilingual public schools; as late as 1900, 4% of American school-age children were taught in German-language schools.

17% of the American population and 23% of the "non-Hispanic white" population are of German descent. And that's likely understated, because it's from self-reporting --- I'll tell you that neither me nor my father ever wrote in the "German" box even though half of his and a quarter of my ancestry came from there. Despite my last name, I am not German in any other recognizable way, to the point that on at least two occasions I've had Germans fail to realize that "Maurer" is indeed "Maurer."

But the United States didn't resist this invasion of foreign peoples with a weird language by force of arms. We even had nine state governments abet it. We then went to war (for the first of two times) against the mother country with a remarkable lack of prejudice against native-born people of German descent, despite a crazed hysteria aimed at everything else German.

In short, at least as regards the U.S. of A., your statement is wrong.

Man, Dallas is getting blown out. A sad end to a sad season. Not that I'm unhappy about it.

63:

I'm American and the flag cult is pretty weird to me. Anthropologically it could be a useful thing to get people feeling unified about a symbol and the thing it symbolizes, given that we're a nation of comparatively recent immigrants, but otherwise it leaves me cold.

I don't want to pledge to the flag as a thing.

I don't like the implied coerciveness of pledging to this thing in public. I recall that Jehovah's Witnesses would get themselves beaten up or even jailed before their refusal was found Constitutional by the Supreme Court.

I object to the McCarthy-period addition of "under God", since I'm a strong believer in keeping religion and state separate, and because I don't believe in this God it speaks of, or even the sophistry that the courts call the ceremonial deism that it "really" stands for, though it's obvious that it's meant to be the Judeo-Christian god - I'd say Abrahamic, but Muslims aren't typically welcomed by the sort of people who want "under God" in their pledge.

The flag cult feels nationalistic to me.

64:

I understand your opinion (and share it regarding the "under God" silliness) but you know you're an outlier, right?

Nationalism is a word that a Finnish friend of mine convinced me isn't very useful. Inasmuch as it means that I'm willing to sacrifice more for people inside the national community, in the expectation that they will sacrifice for me and mine, then there's nothing wrong with it. We all draw concentric circles of community, from our children to the human race.

In short, since the flag represents in a very emotional that way that connection to other Americans --- and has not been co-opted by ethnonationalists, as opposed to nation-nationalists --- the "cult" seems to be a good thing. Without it, we'd be an even worse society, with one less symbol of the commonweal to draw upon our consciences.

I understand your personal distaste; I am just suggesting that its better than the feasible alternatives.

65:

My Father served as a radio operator on a liberty ship during WWII, and his ship visited a Japanese port after the war, he remarked on how polite the Japanese he met were, I believe he found it disconcerting. The excessive flag waving might just be keeping a brave face against the decline of the republic. Fat lot of good that'll do.

66:

Fair enough.

I tend to use "nationalism" in the jingoistic sense, though. I haven't considered a term for that other thing... tribalism?

67:

I worry about the Republic as much as the next guy, but as a flag-waver, I feel pretty confident in saying that there is no connection.

A position reinforced by, well, all the flag-waving around 1945, or 1995, or 1965.

My pops was in France and Germany, where he liked everybody. Particularly in France, viz the daughter of the mayor of Chaumont. But I digress.

68:

I think it's better than using "Yanks" or "Yankees".

69:

Ah, we love being called "Yankees"! And "gringos," that works too. Although "gabacho," technically-speaking, should really be reserved for the French.

"American" is okay, too. "Estadounidense," if you insist, but translating it into English just sounds silly. Although we're not the only "United States" in the hemisphere ...

I am impressed that Dallas has closed it to a single. point with 8:14 left.

70:

Huh, this is the last blog I'd expect to provide a platform to fash in the comments.

71:

(a) China and India are developing right now. The process should run to completion within 50 years.

(b) Africa isn't yet in that phase, but is overall vastly better-off than it was a decade ago, much less two or three. The immediate post-decolonization logjam seems to have been broken.

(c) I'm relatively optimistic that we're going to develop heat-tolerant crops and efficient solar cells, which will allow us to survive the climate change crisis and peak oil without taking an unsurvivable hit.

(d) Africa is a really large continent -- our map projections are deceptively skewed to make it look smaller -- with huge natural resources and vast numbers of people. We have a technical term for people: they're Human Resources, and the more of them you've got properly educated and networked into a modern economy, the more competitive your economy can be.

(e) Therefore, barring a re-run of the Thirty Years' War on a continental scale, Africa will eventually hit the steep upwards slope on the economic development curve some time this century.

(f) We tend to evaluate the wealth of nations in terms of comparative, not absolute, advantage: Britain today is clearly wealthier than it was in 1910, but is widely viewed as having fallen back, probably because it's lost the empire and no longer has 30% of planetary industrial production. Similarly, the development of the Chinese economy isn't actively impoverishing Americans (other than due to the balance of payments issue, which is down to domestic US industrial and financial policy to some extent), but Americans feel as if they're losing ground. So ...

(g) When Africa finally hits the development curve and hits first world status, expect lots of navel-gazing and finger-pointing from the Chinese and Indian political elites, saying "the future belongs to them! However shall we live?"

72:

I don't see any overt fascism here, just a sadly misguided numpty being laid into from all sides.

73:

"Inasmuch as it means that I'm willing to sacrifice more for people inside the national community, in the expectation that they will sacrifice for me and mine, then there's nothing wrong with it. We all draw concentric circles of community, from our children to the human race."

Well, whatever that is, it is not nationalism: think "ask not what your country can do for you, ..." I'm no fan of nationalism, but that isn't it.

As to whether this other thing is OK, let's take out the reference to "the national community" (fellow citizens?):

I, an F, am willing to sacrifice more for my fellow Fs than I will for non-Fs, in the expectation that my fellow Fs will do the same.

Does that look fair? (I've taken out the "me & mine", too, as I take it that "they" don't care specifically about you & yours, just about fellow Fs, whoever they are--that's what gives it power.)

Doesn't look innocuous for all values of F. Try men (male humans), crackers, Christians, Nazis, ...

So, is there something special about the nation?

As for concentric circles, you'd be the common centre? The concentric circles wouldn't (at least needn't) take in all the communities of which one is a member: consider a free mason who is also a boy scout.

Is there something morally significant about community, that is caring for a group of which one is oneself a member? Contrast with being a cat lover.

74:

"A sadly misguided numpty being laid into from all sides." Is that me, Charlie?

75:

Nope, it's Mr Strange.

76:

But

(g) Africa is not a single entity. You're comparing single nations (the US, China, India, Britain) with a continent filled with lots of diverse countries, with vastly different traditions, environments, languages and so on. About the only thing they've got in common is the experience of having been colonised by us Europeans. So what's the pressure that will bring them together as one force, rather than as a set of competing nations such as the Asiatic Tigers?

77:

what's the pressure that will bring them together as one force, rather than as a set of competing nations such as the Asiatic Tigers?

That's an interesting question. But you missed another possibility; the EU isn't a single entity either, but economically it may act as one (when seen from outside).

Nor, I think, is it necessary for Africa to develop as a single economic zone; competition and balkanization may be an advantage, as long as it doesn't topple into economic protectionism and violence.

78:

Pretending for a moment that I'm not the numpty and being home alone and a little burnt out from work ... here's an answer.

Short answer: just because something is sometimes bad does not mean that it is always bad. And vice versa.

Longer answer: I'm not enough of a philosopher to come up with a completely consistent metric for the determinants of my "willingness to sacrifice," but I don't see why that's necessary.

We all have differential willingnesses to sacrifice. There are people for whom I'd do things that I wouldn't do for myself --- in my case my wife and children, for example, although there are circumstances, impossible to predict, under which humans have shown such self-sacrifice for others. That's the "me and mine."

There are people for whom I'd sometimes do those things. There are people I'd be willing to see my children fight to protect. There are people for whom only I personally would fight to protect. There are people for whom I'd willingly give large chunks of my income to, people I'd finance public goods for, people I'd prefer not to help, people I care about only in the abstract. Thus, the concentric circles.

This is just being human, no? Good communities have (or create) institutions that limit the bad things that can follow from this sense of differential loyalty.

What I can do, though, is determine when recriprocal loyalty to a community is a bad thing. As you point out, sometimes the loyalty to the community in question is pernicious. When the communities in question have have special privileges or power over others --- or lack that, but have malevolent intentions --- then they are "bad" communities, and a moral person shouldn't be loyal to them.

When a state gets involved, we have to think about two other things: the institutions of that state, and the government of that state. (These are related but not identical.) If we don't like them, then we have to decide between exercising voice and exercising exit.

That gets very situational very quickly. My immediate ancestors fought to preserve their state's institutions against fascists, and then exited when the effort failed. That was the right thing to do, but the case was extreme.

79:

That's a point I've argued with a lot of people who think that we're doomed to declining populations for ever and ever. 30 years ago they were probably the same people saying we were doomed to overpopulation and famine.

In the US we've seen a similar shift, though due to our demographic and geographic mix we never went as low as Europe. But in the parts that did -- the North, essentially -- I've seen the same thing happen that you describe. While friends and family in the South are having children in their early to mid 20s, my friends up here don't have them until their 30s. I think cost of living and career choices have a lot to do with it. Housing is much more expensive in the North, and women tend to be more educated so their careers are delayed. So financially a couple might be ready for kids at 25 down South while the same couple raised in the North wouldn't be ready until after 30.

Behavior patterns change and adjust to the situation, and I think that is why it is hard to project accurately where and how population will change in the future.

China is another good example of demographic arguments. A lot of people think there will be trouble because of the gender imbalance. Ignoring that it can be fixed just by an adjustment in the age men and women get married. If me don't marry until their 30s while women marry in their 20s, it doesn't matter as much that this generation is imbalanced.

80:

The United States would probably be much more Germanized if not for the two World Wars. A lot of German papers and cultural organizations shut down during the first World War, and many people anglicized their names. WW2 just drove the nail in the coffin.

Germans are the largest ethnic group in America, but try and find anything comparable to the Irish on St. Patrick's day, Italians on Columbus Day, or Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo.

81:

The other thing working in Africa's advantage is they can leapfrog over development stages. Many of our new technologies don't require the massive infrastructure that being an economic leader in the 19th and 20th century required. Cellphones are probably the most obvious example of this -- and entire continent connected without all those copper wires to every house.

And who knows what benefits will come from other technologies in the pipeline.

82:

I think there may be a difference in the way Americans view their flag and many other countries do. After all, we've always been a Republic, and our flag is a living symbol of that -- 13 stripes for the original colonies and a star for every state. No racial or ethnic component.

It just symbolizes the Republic, and has always been more or less politically neutral. Even the (1st) Confederate flag was remarkably similar to the US flag.

A possible good comparison would be the French flag.

84:

Can we encourage the Americans of German descent to celebrate Oktoberfest, but only allow beer that could be brewed legally in Germany? No German-sounding piss allowed!

85:

Sweden (and, I believe, the other Nordics) has a huge flag cult - people fly the flag outside summer-houses and on little islands. No fences or other visible markers of land ownership, but great big national flags everywhere.

86:

Noel, I'm not calling you a numpty either.

It is true that something which is sometimes bad isn't always bad--eating highly calorific food, to take an example from nutrition, rather than ethics--, but I took it that you were trying to defend something looking a lot like (but not entirely like) nationalism, or at least, American nationalism. To do that, you have to show it is good, or at least not harmful.

You are right that the acceptability of group solidarity is dependent not only on the group but on context: for example, on how well the group is doing in the field in which pro-group action is to be taken. It is a means to an end, so--at the least--we look at the desirability of the end and the costs associated with the means of pursuing it (in this case the "yay us" feeling which tends to generalise into areas in which we'd rather not see it).

You mention as one of the situations in which encouraging preparedness to sacrifice for the group might be questionable that in which "the communities in question have have special privileges or power over others". The people of the USA aren't the state, but given the USA's current position as "top dog" (big economy & huge armed forces with which it is prepared to meddle abroad to dubiously beneficial effect), is their taking an Americans first attitude desirable?

87:

Ah yes - beer. Once the US had some great beers brewed by German immigrants. Then Prohibition killed most of the small breweries, and WW2 created demand for cheap low-alcohol beer for the troops. Led to a generation who's only real experience with beer was weak beer-water, and prevented any more authentic competition...

88:

You're out of date. I've been visiting the USA for 20 years, and the improvement in availability, quality, and variety of microbrewery produce almost everywhere I've gone (caveat: larger cities) has been remarkable. There's been an enormous flowering of craft brewing in the past generation.

The real problem with beer in the USA -- beside the large corporate monocultures like Coors and Anheur-Busch, to which all I have to say is Carlsberg-Tetley or Scottish and Newcastle -- is that cask-conditioned ale doesn't travel well; so if you want it properly conditioned in the US you need to track down the local brewpub or brewery tap, or accept that they're going to filter and pasteurize your beer before bottling it.

89:

"I think there may be a difference in the way Americans view their flag and many other countries do ... No racial or ethnic component."

An intemperate rant follows. Nothing personal against you, Andrew.

I sometimes think that we've succumbed to a pernicious idea: if it is not racism, it is OK. Any other ethical considerations can be discarded: so long as we can make a case for something's not being racist, it is perfectly acceptable.

I'm not claiming that we've become especially anti-racist, far from it, just that we've latched onto an all-purpose defence for something thought dubious.

To make life even easier for ourselves, we make it socially unacceptable to call someone racist. Sure, you can call an absent Nick Griffin a racist, but you can't call your peers racist to their faces (e.g. at a dinner party, at work, or Joan Rivers on a chat show). Call someone wicked or misogynistic and the chances are they'll not turn a hair.

We put taboos around racialised language, making it hard even to talk about, hence terms like "race records" and "the 'n' word".

There's only one wrong thing, and you can't talk it. Genius!

Yes, of course, even I want to say racism is wrong, but to understand why it is wrong, don't we have to see it as an example of a wider problem? (See my discussion with Noel, poor as my contribution may be, for example.)

And, while I'm ranting, don't we have to look at equality of outcome? Dismissing this as an aim seems to have been a successful tactic for conservatives.

90:

Craft beers, microbrews, and imports have definitely caught on, even in the ~15 years I've been drinking. They are still something of a specialty though -- I've got a couple nice brewpubs nearby with either produce their own or a couple dozen imports and microbrews.

But most places you go might have just a couple imports or microbrews, with the bulk being Budwieser or Miller. And in the grocery stores most of the shelf space is taken up by relatively weak beers along those lines. (Especially light beers, which are an abomination).

91:

“The people of the USA aren't the state, but given the USA's current position as 'top dog' (big economy & huge armed forces with which it is prepared to meddle abroad to dubiously beneficial effect), is their taking an Americans first attitude desirable?”

It depends on the situation, no? Sometimes yes, but sometimes no.

To give two purposefully extreme examples:

(a) when it comes to income transfers, I think it's okay to put Americans first. I am very concerned with equality of outcome, and I would prefer a bigger American social insurance state. That said, I have trouble believing that cutting American income transfers to basically nothing, while guaranteeing them to the other 6.4 billion people on this planet, would do much to improve human welfare. In fact, I can easily imagine it decreasing quite significantly. That isn't to say that aid to foreigners is a bad idea, far from it; but trying to be nondiscriminatory between foreigners and domestics is a rather bad one.

(b) when it comes to using violence and killing people for economic gain, it's most not-okay to put Americans first. It would be wrong to support the U.S. government if it decided to kill people in order to steal their stuff, no matter how much stuff they had.

But there's a lot of grey area between those two.

Again, the wisdom of Uncle Ben seems to come into play. With great power and all that.

92:

"A good comparison would the French flag."

Actually, that would be a terrible comparison, by your own reasoning --- the Tricolor started out as the symbol of a political revolution against an existing regime. It was far from politically-neutral for a very very very long time; 1830 at the earliest.

A better comparison would be, well, the flags of every other country in this hemisphere. Plus Belgium. (And a few other places in Europe, most of Africa, and a larger swathe of Asia than you'd think, not including China but definitely including India.)

Don't get exceptionalist on us, man.

93:

doesn't Raytheon have some contract with the u.k. to trac everyone coming in and out of the country?

94:

oh i did forget when i went to japan several years ago,
we took our computer and for some reason wen we got back the whole left
side, of the keyboard didn't work!!!!! bought a keyboard,
though not before restarting it.

95:

If you opt for judging the rightness of putting Americans (or another group--I don't mean to pick on you guys!) first on a decision-by-decision basis, based on whether doing so promotes the general good, you're me. That is not to say that one ought to do the moral mathematics before every decision (that's an empirical question), merely that those maths determine what is right.

If you think that putting Americans first (however qualified) is an end in itself (for Americans, at least), ... well, that doesn't sound like you: you want to occupy the middle ground, I think.

Is there really any middle ground to occupy? I don't think I can map it. (If rule utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism, ...)

Of course, there's the empirical question of whether promotion of some kind of America First policy would be for the general good, but I will not cut for stone ... I will leave this operation to be performed by ... specialists in this art.

96:

I think it's highly unlikely that visiting Japan shorted out the left side of your laptop's keyboard.

97:

Equality of outcome, yes: desirable. But so is equality of opportunity. And I find it hard to see how we might provide true equality of opportunity without a whole raft of social policies defined as left-wing by the current right-wing-dominated media discourse on politics.

(Incidentally, I think one of the many reasons racism is such a hot-button issue is that it denies equality of opportunity -- if you've got the wrong parentage you may be denied access. See also caste in India, or -- to a lesser degree -- class in the UK.)

98:

High time you moved to place where beers and ales are respected, then. Austin, Portland (Oregon), Seattle, San Francisco all spring to mind. Here in Portland we have dozens of brewpubs, and the market I do a lot of my grocery shopping at has an aisle of local and regional microbrews and imports that's about 100 ft of 6 foot shelf space. And then there are the specialty stores that carry a large assortment of beers.

99:

No, not Germans, but Japanese Americans were put in camps.

100:

In 1983-1986 I gave seminars a couple times a month for three days in a week. When a seminar day fell on St. Patrick's day, nobody came back after lunch. If there was a seminar day after St. Patrick's day, many of them would not only be hungover, but insist they were Irish. (And then there were the people who showed up on the first day, took the material, and never came back -- I had to call their companies because most of them wanted their employees to go to the seminar.)

101:

I debated mentioning that, but decided not to. It didn't seem directly relevant.

The question about its relevance, I think, is twofold. First, would Japanese-Americans have been imprisoned had they been as numerous and prominent as German-Americans? It's an open question, but the Hawaiian experience suggests not.

Second, assuming that the answer to the first question is negative, does the Anglo population of the United States put current Latin American (whom are largely Mexican) immigrants in the same box as the Japanese (alien-and-unassimiliable), or as the Germans and Italians and Eastern European Jews (weird-and-pushy-but-still-human)?

I'd argue that the answer to the first is "no," and the second irrelevant. But I could be wrong. Or I could be right, but for the wrong reason, as the current wave of anti-Muslim hysteria suggests.

102:

Your article brought back wonderful memories of me so far only visit to Japan several years ago at Christmas. My husband, Josh Whitehouse, had been working constantly around the world for almost six months, so it was clear I had to come to Japan if I was to see him over the next few months. Disparate memories--trying to order the smallest coffee in a Starbucks (Why the hell are the smallest cups "grande" in the US and how do you explain that to helpful baristas in Japan); thinking all the Santas were on strike in the section of town near our hotel (they were chanting slogans, carrying signs and walking what appeared to be a picket line); wandering around the palace grounds and finding a display of ceramic soldiers from China; and, most memorably, trying to figure out the warning sign on the toilet in our hotel (clearly, if I did something particular while seated I could be electrocuted to death,but what the he'll was it I should or should not do?)

103:
does the Anglo population of the United States put current Latin American (whom are largely Mexican) immigrants in the same box as the Japanese (alien-and-unassimiliable)
I'd answer "yes" to that question, based on both history and current behavior. As far as history goes, a large number (somewhere between 400,000 and 2,000,000 depending on who's providing the numbers) of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (that is, US citizens) were deported to Mexico between 1929 and 1939. As for current behavior, I'd say the sentiment shown by recent anti-immigrant laws passed in states like Arizona and Kansas, and the defeat of the DREAM act in the US Congress speaks for itself.
104:

Equality of opportunity is important because given equality of ability and motivation (and large sample sizes) it leads to equality of outcome (or a majority of good-enough outcomes), or for some other reason? That it is a more efficient way to achieve equality of outcome than others? Is equality of opportunity, perhaps, an end in itself?

Of course, when I'm being lazy, I tend to think of the good life as being much the same for everyone, but this probably isn't true. One response to this is to think that for universal goods (health, wealth, & education?) we want equality of outcome (always a simplification), and for everything else, equality of opportunity. One response (to the response!) is to go abstract: we want equality of outcome where the the good is getting what one values (not necessarily coextensive with what one wants). I'm not sure what I think about that.

One circumstance in which equality of opportunity might be thought important is where there is scarcity of resources. For example, tossing a coin to see who gets the last vacuum suit. However, it seems pretty clear to me that Joanna Russ gets the last suit and I get left to die. Only under conditions of plenty can we pretend we're all equally important.

I feel, perhaps without adequate justification, that the concept of equality of opportunity is a little slippery--perhaps the right think so too, at least those on the right prepared to give it lip service.

I tend to think that at least three years of non-Mickey Mouse university education would benefit pretty much everyone, and that it is fundamental enough that to consider that universal free-at-the-point-of-use (i.e. paid for by general taxation) education should end at 'O' or 'A' level is a joke. If we make such an education available (with an adequate support grant, let's say) to all those who do well at 'A' level, and if we provide true equality of opportunity in education up to 'A' level (so that those who do fail, fail through some fault of their own?), have we secured equality of opportunity for undergraduate education, or do we have to make efforts to ensure equality of outcome (or at least a high minimum standard) at 'A' level before we can claim this? I sure as hell don't know, though I think it is pretty clear we should go out of our way to ensure people don't squander their educational chances.

105:

Considered unassimilable. Considered undesirable. Not the same thing. Prima facie, isn't deportation evidence of the latter?

One reason people might be considered undesirable is that they are unassimilable, but there can be other reasons.

"Assimilate" as used in this context is a pretty ghastly word. A society need only absorb new immigrants, and if the host society changes to accommodate the immigrants as much as the immigrants change to accommodate their new host society, that's often a good thing.

Of course, in discussions of immigration, people often call for assimilation in the stronger sense: reshaping the immigrants to resemble "normal" members of the host society. Horrid!

106:

The semantic argument seems pointless as an argument, albeit useful to make sure that people are talking about the same thing.

I'm really not sure about the Mexican argument advanced earlier. (Disclosure: I worked on a Brooklings volume about Mexican immigration and I ... well ... no, I won't be that postmodern. But you can guess.) First point would be that Japanese-Americans in 2010 are not viewed as Japanese-Americans were in 1940; the exogamy statistics are proof alone.

Second point would be that non-Mexican "nonwhite" immigrant groups have converged on or exceeded native-born norms in terms of education and income. (Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, Colombians.) Moreover, and perhaps more tellingly, large numbers of the second-generation of these groups are winning election to public office in places largely populated by native-born whites. (At the state level, we have Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, and Gary Locke ... I won't count Marco Rubio.)

Third one would be that for all the nativist reaction --- and man, is that a real thing --- it so far hasn't gone outside the norms of what we saw with immigration in the late 19th century. The Immigration Acts of 1919, 1924, and 1929 were far worse than any recent legislation. At the same time, Ohio, Iowa, and Nebraska not only repealed their laws in support of German-language education, they banned private German-language instruction until the Supreme Court in 1923 informed them that the Constitution didn't allow it.

I dunno; it doesn't sound qualitatively different from the recent acts in Arizona and Kansas (and don't forget Oklahoma!) or the failure of the Dream Act.

107:

>>Of course, in discussions of immigration, people often call for assimilation in the stronger sense: reshaping the immigrants to resemble "normal" members of the host society. Horrid!

Hmm, I think I'm going to argue the other position.

Disclaimer: I think Dawkins and Hitchens are soft on religion. :-)

How large part in percent of an immigrant population would need to work for implementing something "impossible" in our societies (say, abhorrent standards for women) -- before you started muttering about assimilation?

Cultures change with all modernization; a culture implements ways of living that works in a given setting. When technology changes, cultures change.

Some cultural wrinkles should just go away in the present world -- like traditional views of women, once technology allows someone to not have to work full time to take care of a family. (This makes the assumption that everyone thinks women should have human rights.)

Let me take an example from Sweden:
It was illegal to leave the state religion at all before ca 1860 (I don't know when blasphemy laws were lifted). The common state religion was for a long time important to control the country.

And these days, even papists are tolerated there. :-)

108:

Charlie @ 97
I've said before that "class" is a non-issue in this country - now.
Some people find it useful as a badge for their own pernicious programmes (I'm thinking of both "left"-wing Labour tuypes and really old-fashioned tories) - which are so out-of-date as not to be believeable, never mind true.

Equality of oppurtunity is only possible if the school system concentrates on, erm, EDUCATION. Whihch it emphatically does not, at present.

109:

Bernt, I think everyone's soft on religion.

Your example of "abhorrent standards for women" suggests (unless this is pure rhetoric) that you don't adhere to the principle that immigrants should assimilate to the host society, else you'd be calling for immigrants to Saudi Arabia to embrace abhorrent standards for women, no?

If some immigrants have some illiberal attitudes, they ought not to have them, but the reason they ought not to have them has nothing to do with the host society's not having them (if, indeed, it doesn't have them)--it is just that they are wrong.

Advocates of assimilation don't limit themselves to requiring moral "improvements" in immigrants, but have been known to call for the most ridiculous things: supporting the host country's cricket team & knowing its history better than most natives, for example. If the UK had required immigrants to eat our food, we'd all have been sorry, and we'd not have acquired our national dish.

110:

I'm younger than Matthew and Charlie, and have a different view of the Union Jack*. Yes, the fascists and racists have claimed it. But it's my flag, and my country too. We share the country, whether we like it or not, and we share the flagtoo. Which is why I like to see sportsman and women with it. It's their flag and they're representing the country. For that matter it's Liam Gallagher's and Geri Halliwell's flag too.

So when I see a flag or flag-shirt they may be a racist, or a eurosceptic little Englander or some Anglo-triumphant bore, but they might be someone wanting the flag to just represent themselves. Pick the right day and they might even be me.

* Also the Flag of St George, but in that case my Scout Group was associated with St George in some way that wasn't clear, so seeing it every week was normal to me.

111:

Greg. Tingey@108:
I've seen arguments that there was larger "class" mobility in UK than in Sweden -- before the large immigration was mismanaged there, which resulted in proto-getthos, which still might end up US (or French) style.

I don't know enough about the UK to have an opinion.

matthew brandi @109:
>>If some immigrants have some illiberal attitudes, they ought not to have them, but the reason they ought not to have them has nothing to do with the host society's not having them (if, indeed, it doesn't have them)--it is just that they are wrong.

First, there is the problem that they live by their attitudes -- and destroy the lives of many women that live in their community, etc.

Second, my argument was not moral. I didn't argue illiberal attitudes are wrong. I argued that e.g. clan warfare and racism are in all old cultures, until removed in modern liberal societies. I approve of that, inside certain limits.

I sound Marxist, arguing historical necessity! :-)

I only know Swedish political life enough to make statements. The "assimilists" you describe are too politically incorrect to ever get a platform to even be heard. (Not even in SD, the anti-immigration party that got representations in the last election.)

112:

Greg, I think you're wrong about class mobility in the UK -- with reservations: the upwardly-mobile Brit traditionally does their best to look as if they've always been upper-crust, making the set-up look a lot more static than it actually is. But no: I don't think it's easy to dig yourself out of a sinkhole estate, while those who're born with a trust fund in their pocket find all sorts of doors waiting ajar for them to push on.

113:

@ 112:

Greg, I think you're wrong about class mobility in the UK -- with reservations: the upwardly-mobile Brit traditionally does their best to look as if they've always been upper-crust, making the set-up look a lot more static than it actually is.

Could you describe the upper-crust look? Is it a matter of wearing the right suit and tie (or is that, the right school tie?)

114:

A bit -- clothes are much less of a distinctive signal than they used to be, but certain styles are inversely associated with the middle and upper classes (read: cheap sportswear and flashy trainers). There's also the matter of your accent, which is a very strong class signifier, and of your bearing and assumed relationship to authority figures such as police officers. But most important is probably your social network -- going to one of the right schools and universities and knowing the right people (and more importantly, being known by them). "Class" in the UK isn't simply a matter of money or of having a job where you're paid a salary in monthly installments rather than a weekly pay packet.

115:

"There's also the matter of your accent, which is a very strong class signifier"

I may have a tin ear (so my relative inability to place people by accent counts for nothing), but I wonder whether every accent (less its regional component) is a strong class signifier.

I don't know what mine says, but I'll be damned before I self-consciously perform my own class to avoid misidentification (or another class to court it). I don't think I'd do a very good job, anyway.

116:

In Minnesota, German heritage DOES get celebrated. And it's very much celebrated in Milwaukee. Not to mention parts of Pennsylvania.

Note: Germans From Russia are a semi-separate group. Then there are the Amish and related religious groups.

And, of course, Yiddish is basically a German dialect.

117:

Flags--in the U.S, we have a lot of extremely disparate histories and cultures, which requires a state religion to keep together in more or less the same direction. Emperors are expensive, and so is incense (plus, too much creates air pollution of its own). Flags are a reasonable substitute, and do not carry the connotation of Fanaticism here as they may do in other countries. Note that the British Empire had a cult of the colors in the armed forces, at least if the stuff I've read about the 19th century can be trusted. Not quite a regimental eagle (that's what France went for under Napoleon), but it was close, at least in my opinion.

As for Japanese birth rates, that won't be fixed till Japanese women pay less of a price for motherhood. Becoming an Education Mama and having no job waiting if one's paycheck happens to die seems like a bad gamble to many women. (Note: progressive teahouses are now listing names, rates, and photographs of handsome young men for a quiet evening out for the well-to-do salarywoman).

If a change in culture occurs such that Japanese women don't lose nearly everything they currently value when they have children, then indeed we might see a birth rate increase. Till then? Don't think so.

118:

The book by Alex Kerr on "Lost Japan" is indeed fascinating. Be warned that the text absolutely drips with unexamined privilege; at certain points I was tempted to throw it against the nearest wall as some kind of pointless protest.

119:

I think Japanese Americans were too alien to continental USans and not so much to Hawaii USans.

120:

Prince William County, around my city, had a very similar immigration policy as that of Arizona earlier. However, the county asked U-Va for a study to see if the policy worked (much more info on the 2nd page). The county said so, but if you actually read the (.pdf on first page) study, it didn't.

121:

I dunno, a lot of media are saying people don't like a commoner marrying a royal!

122:

And a strong Swedish complement in the Cascades in Washington. That's where I first had Swedish Meatballs and now the closest I can find is Stouffers.

123:

yup, social network is important. As is eating and drinking at the right places, buying the right stuff and supporting the correct causes. Social mobility greatly increased after WW2, then started sinking in the 80's when alternative routes up were shut down, and has never recovered.
Mind you, even the rich landowning title classes do actually work (And have to get up to an alarm clock) these days, since maintaining a house in the country and 500 acres is quite expensive. But because of their background they get access to better more highly paid jobs and opportunities much more easily than other people, and having grown up with the right kind of people know how to move in that world.
At the same time, they are accepting of people who fit in, so if you do make a few million pounds without killing anyone they'll happily accept you into the fold as long as you act the part.

(The best short description of how corruption works in this country is in Booker's "Quite ugly one morning", the point being that it does so the way the old boy network etc works)

On accents, my mother changed hers slightly depending on who she was talking to and for what reasons, and was quite surprised when I pointed it out to her.

And on flags - as a purebred mongrel Scot/ Briton I am entirely happy for normal English people to reclaim the St Georges cross from racists. Now if we can get people to refer to Britain rather than England when they are talking about the entire country, my work will be done...

And GReg #108 - the university system is heading towards being removed from the game as an opportunity equaliser, you are aware of that?

124:

Spike Japan is absolutely, utterly awesome.
He can write...And he photographs the ruins as well.

http://spikejapan.wordpress.com/

125:

Two questions:

"I am entirely happy for normal English people to reclaim the St Georges cross from racists."

Was it ever taken by them? It's popularity among non-white Britons in England makes it seem like it was already taken back, or was never seized upon by the racists at all. But I don't know, and I'm curious.

"Now if we can get people to refer to Britain rather than England when they are talking about the entire country, my work will be done..."

One striking thing about wading through documents, British and not, English-language and not, is just how common it was to say "England" and "English" where we'd today say "Britain" and "British" all the way through the 1970s. Nobody seems to have given it a second thought. Today, though, it seems like a good way to start a fight, or at least get people annoyed at you. (Almost as annoyed as I get with "USan.") When and why did that change?

126:

I never heard the term usonian before but I kind of like it. Although, as a rabid Futurama fan, I like to think of myself as a loyal Earthican.

127:

@ 112, 113
That isn't CLASS it's MONEY
Slight difference.

@ 114 "Accent": - don't make me laugh!
I normally sound almost as "upper-clas-twit-of-the-year" as it's possible to be - but, as my class of 14-year-olds found, when I taught round here, 15 years ago, and two of them picked me up on it ... I smiled at them, and immediately dropped into Norf'Eas-Lunnon degraded cockney, so fast their jaws literally dropped.
I then pointed out that it was easier to uinderstand my subject (GCSE science at that point) if I spoke clearly .....

Stop fighting YESTERDAY's battles.
Tomorrows battles regard proper education (selection by ability) and stamping hard on any attempt at religious privelige.

@ 123
Yes, alternative routes were shut down...
Selective education had been halted.
Someone like my father would now be very hard put to make it to University, and get an academic job, any more, thanks to ... the Labour party and tory inaction.

Flags.
As a Morris-dancer, we have had a LOT of problems in the past with the "St George" cross flag. [ Because uneducated left-wing idiots assume that anyone with said flag is an uneducated right-wing idiot ]
Not now, I'm glad to say.

128:

When and why did that change?

Blame Margaret Thatcher for polarizing Scottish opinion against the Union. She and her heirs, between 1979 and 1997, ran Scotland like an overseas colony. That this period coincided with massive cuts in the smokestack industries that had provided employment in the north of England and Scotland, causing considerable hardship, and with the huge revenue glut from the North Sea Oil boom, did not escape public attention; by the 1997 election an outright majority of the Scottish population were pro-independence.

Luckily Labour's willingness to countenance a devolution referendum and a separate parliament defused the time bomb. But, north of the border, everyone's watching Westminster with deep suspicion right now ...

(Of the roughly 80 MPs returned to Westminster from Scotland, at the last election the grand total of Conservative Scottish MPs was ... one.)

129:

And .. IF I understand the situation correctly from this distance ...
The Snot's nationalists are a deeply unpleasant lot, in a different way.
Greedy, narrow-minded, puritanical and spiteful is the impression I get. In short, Calvinist.

130:

All of that, too, yes.

Four and a half major political parties, and no-one to vote for. It's enough to drive me to read the Green party manifesto ...

131:

First I've heard of it.

Perhaps "we" were hoping inbreeding would produce a 100% rate of fatal genetic defects.

False economy on bullets, if you ask me.

133:

"Now if we can get people to refer to Britain rather than England when they are talking about the entire country, my work will be done..."

Do you prefer "Britain" to "the UK"? Isn't "Britain" vulnerable to the objection that the Northern Irish are being left out?

Of course, one tends to use "British", though following "USonian", we could adopt "UKonian" ("You cone, Ian!") ... or the self-deprecating "Yukkish".

134:

Bloody royals messing with our women, how dare they?

135:

The Greens are a bunch of sexist, patronising wankers with a nannying tendency that makes Labour and the SNP look positively libertarian.

136:

British can refer to anyone from Britain, Great Britain or the British Isles, if they want it to. Or the British Commonwealth if you are particularly liberal in your interpretation.

The best of British to you all for the New Year.

137:

Just read chunks of the Green Party manifesto. The doubleplusungood quackspeak on nuclear power must have required some remarkable contortions of logic to achieve, and bodes ill for their ability to govern pragmatically should they ever, like, get somewhere. Also: nannying tendency.

138:

I favor the Ukaine. It has that once the center, now a border vibe to it. Though British does give a sort of backhanded cultural supremacy to the Welsh. Or you could go by Annengas (or however the saga writers would form it.) And you could add Dumbledorians as the new catchall for the Anglophonic world. Old ethnic tensions are stripped away with the use of the Sorting Hat to be replaced with wacky inter-house hijinks. (To be fair, Vonnegut already had this idea in Slapstick.)

139:

Ukkite. That is a name to rebuild an Empire with.

140:

I think Japanese Americans were too alien to continental USans and not so much to Hawaii USans.

There is, of course, more to it than that. US military personnel in Hawaii were more acquainted with the Japanese there, unlike the majority of people on the west coast, much of the Military personnel on the coast was from the Mid-west and had never seen an Asian person before. Many were working in Pearl Harbor with no problems. There being 100,000 or so Japanese there it would have been disrupting to the local economy if they were rounded up and put into camps. And it would have been way to much trouble to send them to the west coast to join the 120,000 Japanese Americans there, who were rounded up and interned. And I think there may have been a question of citizenship, since Hawaii wasn't a state, that would be a lot of potential 'enemy combatants' to detain.

Once the draft was opened to the Japanese there was, at first, a lot of friction between the Hawaiian Japanese and the JAs on the coast since they essentially came from different cultures and were being treated as if they were the same by the government.

I confess; I was writing a novel (and hope to finish, someday) about the Internment several years ago, but got stuck researching the camp in Colorado, and sidetracked by the SF story I'm working on now, which, I think, is nearing an end (My first completed! Don't know if it'll be worth trying to get published.) And I already have another idea that I'm researching for.
I'll shut up now.

141:

"British can refer to anyone from ... Great Britain or the British Isles"

Which would include the citizens of Eire, much to their disgust, I'm sure.

Of course, "the British" is used mean the UKonians, just as "the Americans" is used to mean the USonians ... but where's the fun in that, when we can become the Yukky?

142:

Noel #125 -
The impressions I had from growing up in Scotland in the 80's and 90's, and re-inforced by people in England when I spent some time there, suggested that it wasn't just Greg's bete-noire of lefties who thought that the cross of St george had been degraded to something of a racist symbol. I spent a year in manchester at the turn of the millenium, no sign of the cross, then 2 years in Sheffield in 2001 to 2003, when car flags were all the rage. I recall having a conversation or two about it with workmates and the gist that i recall was that waving the flag about just hadn't been the done thing for many years, but now more normal people were waving it about for specific reasons they were happy enough with that.

The thing about England not being the same as the UK has probably come to more prominence in the last 20 years with the SNP etc being more vocal, and of course the simple accuracy and justice of the point, which I think is rather obvious.

Greg #129 is being rather unpleasant himself. The scottish nationalists contain a variety of people in exactly the same way that the tory party and new labour do, and such is the nature of modern politics that in all cases the worst and most unpleasant rise to the top.

The way things are being planned just now, we could do with a return to some nannying. I note that the condem's are basically trying to make the UK like the USA, and appear likely to continue new labourts handing over of public services to private companies, including of course the NHS, thus making healthcare more expensive...

143:

Noel @ 92:
Mexico'd be an outlier-- the emblem in the middle of their national flag is specifically related to the Aztec culture:
http://www.lib.uci.edu/about/publications/exhibits/meso/images/28.jpg

144:

The trouble with selective education is the selection. If you divide a class of primary school kids at random into two groups, then tell their teachers that one group has tested high and one group low on an objective test of overall ability, one year later the kids will have sorted into high and low achievers... in those same, initially random, groups. In other words, the teachers are getting the best out of some kids, and letting others slide, based on their prejudice instead of the children's real capabilities. ("Expectancy effect" or "Pygmalion effect" for Google keywords.)

So far as I can tell, selection at 11 or 14 is just a self-fulfilling prophecy of this exact kind. Outcomes at the age of selection correlate with outcomes at 16 or 18, but only because teachers' expectations initiate a vicious cycle in one case and virtuous cycle in the other. And a selective system produces a few good schools at the expense of a hell of a lots of sinks, so that a selective system is, overall, a lower-performing system.

Comprehensive schools were and are a major, major improvement in education in Britain. (This is not the same as saying that a former secondary modern which never got the investment to deliver a full academic curriculum to all its children, and loses half its catchment area to a selective church school, is a model to follow...)

145:

"Americans use their national flag promiscuously" -- I live in San Francisco. Some buildings fly three flags here. That would be the Stars and Stripes, the California state flag (a big ol' bear walks across the phrase CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC which is on top of a red bar and red star floats in the upper left hand corner -- pretty uncluttered as far as state flags go) and the San Francisco city flag (a large phoenix emerges from some tiny symbolic flames on top of SAN FRANCISCO in case you'd forgotten where you are). Three flags for one building? That's not too many.

147:

And then in Hungary, the new prime minister is trying to take over everything, including the media. Europe may want to put sanctions on them and not let him hold the rotating presidency.

148:

Flag culture is alien and/or creepy to me and most of the Americans I know. There's a fair number of "outliers".

I suspect there's a negative correlation between (American flag culture and enthusiasm for explicit national identity), and support for social policies that actually support us all together.

Wikipedia says the Edo Castle perimeter is disputed, giving 16 km in one place but 6-10 miles in another. I measured roughly 5 km in Google Earth, then 9 km on a diagram showing the older, larger castle. Still pretty big for a castle, if not modern Edinburgh big.

My moral system is partly based on social contract ideas. "I'd be fine being generous to you if I thought you'd reliably be generous to me." Connections to nationalism, or to social democracies having migration controls, should be obvious.

149:

@ 142
I'm unpleasant about the Snot's nasty's because they are ....
They seem to resent everything about England and the English ... demanding "All our oil money" whilst wanting to retain the Barnett formula (don't ask, look it up!) at the same time .....
Their spiteful narrowness that I referred to as calvinism seems to be their prime characteristic.
Incidentally, I have very close friends who live in Wales, the husband IS Welsh (His family comes from Burry Port) whose opinion of the Welsh nats is even worse ... hint - the Welsh nats tend towards teetotalism (shudder)

@ 144
Whoever said anything about comprehensive schools being a bad idea?
I didn't.
Selection does not imply or necessitate separate schools.
It does necessitate what is referred to as "streaming" or "setting", where the classes are NOT "mixed-ability", but are divided, usually by subject (setting) according to the pupils' abilities in that subject.
So that, were I 15 again, I would be in the "A" stream for Science, Maths, Geography, History, "B" for English, "C" for the arts, generally, and "Z" for anything to do with sport .....


Fianlly:
Charlie and Feorag @ 135/7
Greens.
How do they do it?
Truly "green" policies would be a really good idea, but they do require serious understanding of the technical, environmental and scientific issues involved.
Yet the "green party" appears to me to be fundamentally anti-technocratic, and anti-scientific.
A sort of left-wing (if that is correct) version of right-wing "blood & soil" movements - something I find unpleasant.

150:

For a real visceral reaction to flags, try growing up in Northern Ireland (or spending enough time there to *really* understand how they can be used - it ain't pretty!) I could you bore you all day with anecdotes about the use of flags in NI, or possibly turn your stomach.

The Britain-UK-Northern Ireland thing is as easy to explain as anything else connected with that weird little corner of the Emerald Isle (listen carefully there may be a test later): Great Britain consists of England, Scotland and Wales; the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; if you're born in Northern Ireland you are technically a British citizen, but have the automatic right to apply for an Irish passport - although you are not automatically an Irish citizen (although I may be wrong here); the island of Ireland consists of Eire (Southern Ireland, the South, the Free State) and Northern Ireland (the North, Ulster [techinically incorrect], the Six Counties). Now, any questions...

151:

Thanks for the link. Reading the article made me feel completely disconnected from my own country.

"Anyone who doubts the British fascination with their own social structures need only flip on a living-room telly on this side of the Atlantic, where one of the hottest new shows, "Downton Abbey," depicts the lives of servants who ought to know their place and the aristocratic masters who employ them. In a similar vein, the BBC this month will air a revival of "Upstairs, Downstairs," the hit 1970s drama about the denizens of a grand London house."

I've not seen either, but both are set in the past, I believe. It is probably true that people find escape in tales of hierarchical past societies (tales which doubtless distort those societies in the telling); I don't know why they do, but it seems that they do. Would an autopsy of current British class stratification be found as entertaining? Would it even be recognised as "true"?

If USonian popular culture is any guide (and it may not be), class issues in the USA don't come down simply to money. Frasier seems an obvious example.

152:

There are, of course, a lot of Americans who find flag-flying silly. And there are some who find it alien. But, Damien, this is a strong statement:

"Flag culture is alien and/or creepy to me and most of the Americans I know."

Honestly, is that really true, Damien? If it is, it's a sign of a very limited social circle. Having grown up in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and having lived for ten years in San Francisco, I know that you would have to work hard (and reject a lot of potential friendships) for that statement to be correct.

Imagine if I said, "Secularism is alien and/or creepy to me and most of the Americans I know." You'd have your doubts, and if it was true, conclude that I deliberately rejected friendships from people of different backgrounds. Secularism is just too common in the U.S. of A., even the South, for that statement to really make sense unless I was closed-minded.

Given the sheer and total innocuous of American flag-waving, I'd prefer to believe that you're taking poetic license, because you yourself find it creepy for your own idiosyncratic reasons.

(I haven't seen a corrolation between flag-waving and rightwingery; the last big immigration and antiwar rallies I attended had as many U.S. flags as a Tea Party. But that statement is testable.)

I urge you to be less prejudiced against people who get the warm-and-fuzzies upon viewing their nation's flag. Especially since I'm one of them.

153:

"If USonian popular culture is any guide (and it may not be), class issues in the USA don't come down simply to money. Frasier seems an obvious example."

If you can get it, the new movie Company Men is very good on this tip. Also see The Fighter.

Boston is unique in having a much more visible class divide than other American cities. Part of the reason is that there are really audible differences in speech. That's also true in New York, but there, for some reason, more upwardly-mobile people (at least if they have the good fortune to appear "white") hang on to their accents than further south. (Traders, for example, and by extension other financiers, seem to have adopted a working class outer-borough accent as a badge of toughness. Stone gets it right: listen closely to the accents in Wall Street 2.)

154:

By the way, can we please cut it out with the "USonian"? Seriously, people. Brazilians say "Americano," and so can y'all.

155:

What about "Imperials", Noel? Like "die Kaiserlichen" in the 30 Years' War.

156:

I'll take it, Alex, but somehow I don't think it's going to catch on.

157:

Yes, it's true. It may not be as alien to my friends as to me -- I imagine as you go through circles of relationships you reach more normal Americans in their friends or families -- but owning a flag or waving one often isn't normal for us. "Fanaticism" as my friend just put it over lunch.

As for working hard or rejecting friendships... no. Having interests and circles that simply don't lead to such friendships, maybe. Most of my friends are from the hippie Houses of Caltech, or grad school. Interesting that your first reaction is to dismiss my experience.

"You'd have your doubts, and if it was true, conclude that I deliberately rejected friendships from people of different backgrounds." From you in particular that would be odd. From some American I didn't know, no, I wouldn't have doubts, I'd assume they came from much more conservative and Christian circles. People sample society differently; calculus, atheism, SF, and RPGs are massively overrepresented in my circles too.

158:

Hi, Damien,

It's what you said. You wrote, "Flag culture is alien and/or creepy to me and most of the Americans I know." If you'd written, "Flag culture is alien and/or creepy to me and most of my close friends," I'd've interpreted your statement differently.

It is a little odd not to know anyone who doesn't share your interests or political priors. It's also a little odd to make a statement with an implication that you know to be incorrect.

That's why I figured you were using hyperbole.

Anyway, calling flag-waving in the U.S. context "fanaticism" is a little crazy. Well, I guess you could call me a fanatic, but that'd be watering down the word to meaninglessness. You oughta give your friend a talking-to.

After all, I get very annoyed when conservatives use the false equivalence and insulting rhetoric against people with my political beliefs and cultural priors. Since I really am a liberal, I believe in consistency, and therefore I'm being serious when I say that you really oughta dress down your buddy the next time he says something as silly and insulting as that. And if you share his opinion, well, you really should re-evaluate it.

159:

Very glad to hear you approve of comps! But it does seem to me that "selective education" without immediate further qualifiers is likely to be taken as grammar schools / selective admissions in the current political climate (viz. the prime minister is an old Etonian Tory with no discernible intellect, a former career in public relations, and a head that looks like a testicle). "In-school streaming" might be better?

160:

US flag flying is pretty colorblind in many (hopefully most, but I know better than to universalize) areas, other than those miscreants still flying the Confederate Flag.

On the question of accepting Hispanic immigrants; the Arizona laws in question are wildly popular with downtown Phoenix and a few border areas which are hard hit by the illegal part of illegal immigration, but very unpopular in the Phoenix suburbs and rest of Arizona.

Some metropolitan areas outside Arizona are better integrated than others, and some have very integrated middle classes and very poorly integrated recent low income migrants. As far as I can tell, every distinct immigrant group has gone through cycles like that in the US. There were German Ghettos, Irish Ghettos, etc.

I'm somewhat appalled but no longer surprised that no white folks or african-americans care to apply for housekeeping jobs in California hotels anymore. I don't feel upset at the Hispanic immigrants for taking those jobs; they need work, they have kids and car payments and groceries bills and mortgages or rent. They're as reasonable a set of people as any other. I hope their kids grow up in good school districts and with a chance at the bigger pie.

161:

@Charlie 71, 77

The fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRoC) has, at times, strongly resembled the 30 years war. Although it's officially over, there are large areas of the country where it's never stopped, foreign armies continue to operate there, and various fights in other countries (most notably the horrors in Rwanda) are tied into the nastiness in DRoC. Protectionism and violence are already there, and show every sign of continuing to be there.

On top of that, there is really, really awful corruption.

More than one in two people in Sub-Saharan Africa reported paying a bribe - more than anywhere else in the world.

People have been making your argument for some time-and very little has changed. I can't think of a bright spot aside from Botswana, and even that's relative.

(Just in case anyone thinks I am arguing that Africans are racial inferiors or similar rot, I will say that I do not believe that is true. The problems in African countries have to do with politics, not genetics.)

162:

"Africa" is where S. America was last century ...
politically.
Or so it seems.

163:

As an aside of the subject of genetics and Africa, it seems from recent research that Africans can reasonably claim to be the only pure humans. It appears that the rest of us (i.e. those of us descended at least in part from that small group who went wandering out of Africa some millennia back) have picked up somewhere in the 1-4% range of our genome from the Neanderthals.

This is so going to mess with the concept of the Aryan super race. "Yes, we're racially superior to you, because our ancestors bred with a different species."

(For a while, it appears that the Chinese view was that their race was actually descended from Peking Man, a slightly different branch of the hominids.)

And no, genetics have zilch to do with the problems. It's about politics and geography - it is, for example, very difficult to build a modern nation when your country's only links with the world as a whole is a single track rail line running through a neighbour.

164:

I'm disabled and can't clean the condo. I used to have a really fabulous cleaning company, but the company closed because the companies operated by Hispanics were cheaper and they were losing too many clients. I've had Hispanic cleaners, and like the white/black cleaning companies, some are really good, some are really bad, and some in the middle. But they have really taken over the housecleaning around here, too.

165:

They lynched a German guy in Collinsville, IL during World War I (where my father's family is from). And several German-sounding towns changed their name to something more patrotic, German newspapers ended etc. So I think you are overstating your case that Germans didn't have any trouble fitting in and everything was honky-dory during WWI.


...which actually probably supports your main point, that the current iteration of globalization isn't really novel or alarming.

166:

(The best short description of how corruption works in this country is in Booker's "Quite ugly one morning", the point being that it does so the way the old boy network etc works)

You mean Christopher Brookmyre's "Quite Ugly One Morning"? Though, to be fair, I have wondered whether he and Charlie Brooker are one and the same.

167:

You have to watch out for this flag business.

After years of rolling my eyes every time someone made a big deal out of the flag, one Northern Saskatchewan winter I happened to be a passenger in the copilot's seat of a bush plane, when a spot of red in the white landscape below resolved itself into the maple-leaf flag, flying over a neat collection of buildings half buried in snow -- a school, a clinic, a Hudson Bay store and a few residences.

The flag was a token of a sucessful community carrying on unfazed in the middle of a hostile environment, and I felt a sudden, intense surge of Canadian patriotism.

And the thing is -- I'm not Canadian!

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