>back

Infantile Capitalism

Blood-drenched economical prosperity created and sustained by those countless wars. That's what's behind our peace. Peace created by an indiscriminate fear of war. An unjust peace that is maintained by having the wars elsewhere, but we keep denying ourselves this truth.

The following is an abridged essay by Asada Akira. In it, Akira posits the ideological structure of post-war Japanese capitalism and its subject: rather than the transcedental Father against whom one rebels, there is a disarming emptiness which has a place for every value already; resistance is neutered from the start. Patlabor 2, with its theme of the "unjust peace" of contempoary Japan, is greatly illuminated by this text.

...

[I]ndustrial "adult" capitalism is far more dynamic: it is found where capitalism's trajectory has crossed Europe and gone across the sea, for example in England and the United States. There, leading roles are no longer played by the possessors of transcendental values embodied by gold, but by entrepeneurs who will invest values into the endless process of growth. Through their activities, the entire system is decimated and thrown into a dynamic current. In other words, the process of relative competition replaces a system of positions and roles. Through this new stage of mutual competition in which everyone competes with his neighbor as the model/rival, a strange kind of subject emerges. This is the subject which, having internalized the model/rival, has begun to compete with himself. To describe it after Foucault, it is the subject as an odd duality which is both empirical and transcendental, etrange doublet empirico-transcedental that has learned to supervise and motivate itself through discipline and training. Or, to describe it after Deleuze and Guatarri, it is the subject which, internalizing paternal instance through "Oedipalization," has come to make itself its own colony. Whichever it is, this subject which has internalized the structuer of vertical control within itself is precisely what Max Weber analyzed and what modernists like Otsuka Hisao and Maruyama Masao use as their model: subject (shutai) as the bearer of classical industrial capitalism, the individual that bears responsibility for himself. To them, the formation of such an individual subject is the indispensable condition for Japan's modernization. If we call this subject the adult, modernization is precisely the process of maturation.

In reality, however, Japan did not at all mature. Far from it. It seems to be growing progressively more infantile. Yet Japanese capitalism appears to be functioning all the more smoothly and effectively. Is the formation of the adult subject in fact really necessary and indispensable to capitalism, if not to modernization? The answer, I think, is "no." What is indispensable is, rather, the process of relative competition; it does not matter whether the relationship becomes internalized or remains external. Clearly, the latter is the case with Japan. Thus, in Japan, there are neither tradition-oriented old people adhering to transcendental values nor inner-oriented adults who have internalized their values; instead, the nearly purely relative (or relativistic) competition exhibited by other-oriented children provides the powerful driving force for capitalism. Let's call this infantile capitalism. This is a remarkable spectacle, and, in many senses, deeply interesting. In the manufacturing sector, for example, we may be able to say that Japanese engineers are cleverly maneuvered into displaying a childlike passion whereby they are easily obsessed with machines. Further, in such a postindustrial area as advertising, people become carried away by word play, parody, and all the other childlike games of differentiation. Even my book which analyzes that process has been consumed precisely in that process. The situation created in this way is indeed anarchic at first galnce, and I almost feel like calling it children's frenzied capitalism, "capitalisme energumene," to borrow the title of Lyotard's book review of L'Anti-Oedipe.

Is this utopian capitalism?--is this the goal of the global trajectory of capitalism that broke down territorial boundaries as it stretched from the Mediterranean Sea up north across Europe out to the ocean, crossed the Atlantic, crossed the United States, and finally traversed the Pacific? Is this the goal of capitalism's history as a process of infantilization which might as well be called a parody of Hegelian world history? Of course, it can never be anything like that: but this very negation mustbe uttered with a burst of laughter. And, we might add, after laughing, that it is a playful utopia and at the same time a terrible "dystopia."

In fact, children can play "freely" only when there is some kind of protection. They always play within a certain protected area. And this protected area is precisely the core of the Japanese ideological mechanism--however thinly diffused a core. It is not a "hard" ruling structure which is vertically centralized (whether transcendental or internalized), but "soft" subsumption by a seemingly horizontal centerless "place." Here we can recall, as ideological expressions of the Japanese ideology, various stereotyped theories about the Japanese people. Despite frequent argument about Confucian patriarchy, the Japanese family is an essentially maternal arena of "amae," indulgence, and both the father and children are softly wrapped in it (in other words, the mother is forced to provide that kind of care). In Japanese companies, the clever management, rather than mobilizing the entire company around its positive leadership, functions as an apparently passive medium which prompts agreement to be spontaneously formed from the bottom up. To begin with, the emperor is exactly that kind of passive medium, and this is reflected in the city structure which has an empty center. Whether this results in praise of the harmony and efficiency in Japanese institutions (revisionist modernism) or praise of the aesthetic of empty "relationality (postmodernism)," the ideological nature of these stereotypes is undeniable: that is, an aspect of Japan's ideological mechanism--a description which is ideological, yet, as such, adequate to a certain extent.

...

Nishida [Kitaro] regards the imperial household as the ultimate "place of nothingness."

...

[T]he imperial household as the place of nothingness contains Japan like an empty cylinder which pierces time; and inside of this, on the basis of zettai mujunteki jiko doitsu (absolute contradictory self-identity) which exists between atomism and holism, individuals will each find a place and participate in "holonic," as opposed to holistic, harmony. When this spontaneously spreads, the "Great East Asian Coprosperity Sphere"--is this the absolute contradictory self-identity between liberation from European imperialism and aggression by Japanese imperialism?--will be formed.

This ideology is peaceful at first glance. All the more so because it has been exposed to no fundamental criticism; it still exists latently today.

...

>back