Facinating example, for an upper middle class american, of the maintenance of group norms.

The young Japanese civilians taken hostage in Iraq returned home this week, not to the warmth of a yellow-ribbon embrace but to a disapproving nation’s cold stare.

Three of them, including a woman who helped street children on the streets of Baghdad, appeared on television two weeks ago as their knife-brandishing kidnappers threatened to slit their throats. A few days after their release, they landed here on Sunday, in the eye of a peculiarly Japanese storm.

“You got what you deserve!” read one hand-written sign at the airport where they landed. “You are Japan’s shame,” another wrote on the Web site of one of the former hostages. They had “caused trouble” for everybody. The government, not to be outdone, announced it would bill the former hostages $6,000 for air fare.

  – New York Times

Now before I start muzing about this as an example of group membrane maintanance let me say that having watched documentaries about the US on television in Europe I’d take that entire story with a grain of salt. The actions of even a significant minority of people do not necessarily a nation make.

You can’t have a group membrane without having some degree of exclusion; and sooner or later (usually later) your going to have top ostracize somebody. While it’s amazing what a adaptible thing humans are and how different groups can have such amazingly different configurations of such stuff it get’s you a mess of point on my cult score card when you become black and white about this kind of stuff.

It’s often very hard to discern the source of shunning. Sometimes it’s the inate fear that association will just lead to spreading infection. Sometimes it is necessary the maintenance of group norms. Sometimes it’s just blame the victum or kill the messenger.

If anybody should want to think that such things don’t happen in the US I would suggest they go back and read about the period around Vietnam; or some of the vitrolic things getting said about anybody that acts out against the war in Iraq; or this story about fast food resturant managers and their relationship to authority.

0 thoughts on “okami

  1. Santiago Gala

    People (we poor neurotic apes) tend to have a natural trend to blame: “Bad stone, bad! says the mother after the child knocked with it and felt” (this is very true of Spanish culture, I’m not sure about the US or elsewhere)

    When people can’t put a face to guilt, finding someone to blame can be a funny exercise. In Spain, the government was pointed as guilty about the bombings by lots of people, for instance.

    I read in Scientific American a paper on “The science of Persuasion”, and the cultural differences between Spanish, Japanese, German, USA were significant in the priorities given to different factors (empathy, hierarchy, norms, tit-for-tat, for those nations, IIRC). They require registration, can’t find a URL. Interesting reading, in any case.

  2. Ben Hyde

    Online access to a good library is a wonderful thing:

    “Employees in the U.S. took a reciprocation-based approach to the decision to comply. They asked the question, “What has this person done for me recently?” and felt obligated to volunteer if they owed the requester a favor. Chinese employees responded primarily to authority, in the form of loyalties to those of high status within their small group. They asked, “Is this requester connected to someone in my unit, especially someone who is high-ranking?” If the answer was yes, they felt required to yield.

    Spanish Citibank personnel based the decision mostly on liking/friendship. They were willing to help on the basis of friendship norms that encourage faithfulness to one’s friends, regardless of position or status. They asked, “Is this requester connected to my friends?” If the answer was yes, they were especially likely to want to comply.

    German employees were most compelled by consistency, offering assistance in order to be consistent with the rules of the organization. They decided whether to comply by asking, “According to official regulations and categories, am I supposed to assist this requester?” If the answer was yes, they felt a strong obligation to grant the request.”

    That article’s written by Cialdini; he’s Mr. Persuasion: “Recoprocity, Commitment, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity”.

    I wonder if blaming can be used as a kind of ink blot test of what kind of persuation a person/people are susceptible to.

  3. Santiago Gala

    I mistook Japanese by Chinese, but having a good memory is not that bad either. 😛 It looks like honor is important in Japan. Is honor a new factor? is it Authority or Social Proof?

    This was the paper I remembered. I thought that, had the hostages been Spanish, we would have taken exactly the opposite approach: welcoming them back to “our group”, probably regardless of ideology or political thinking.

  4. Pingback: Tetsuya's *PATCHY* Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *