Friday, June 01, 2007

Integrity & Culpability

It goes without saying that the USA and Japan really are - culturally speaking - vastly different places. Many of my recent posts have been attempts to find humour in the arcane details of the dry financial world populated by ego, bombast and rhetoric. But the recent suicides of two Abe administration ministers brings a sober respite to this space.

For it has been frustrating to watch Ebbers, Scrushy, Nacchio, the Rigas', Skilling, Martha Stewart, etc. Mutual Fund Timing, Options Backdating, Insurance & Reinsurance Bid-Rigging scandals, in seemingly pervasive in the sphere of business, and then Scooter Libby, Tom Delay, Alberto Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, Jack Abramoff, and minor players like Perle, Roche, Deutsch in the realm of public service sullied by scandal and disgrace. But the defining element that binds all of these new-millenium scabs upon the ethical behaviour of America's erstwhile leaders is that none of them were willing to assume responsibility for theirs, or their subordinate's actions. No one, it seems, in this third millenium is culpable. Not OJ or Kobe, not business leaders, nor those in public service - at least not voluntarily culpable.

Japan is by no means free from scandal and wrongdoing. Oligopolistic cartels are unearthed seemingly every month. Corruption is far from rare. But in Japan, people still take responsibility, trust (and perhaps more importantly, the violation thereof) rather seriously. So much so, that, they often commit suicide when they are caught having acted to the contrary.

Take for example the note left by the former Agriculture minister in the Abe Administration (following the heels of a senior J-Green exec's self-annihilation)

"I apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing disturbance and trouble, for my ignorance, lack of virtue. With my death I would like to take the responsibility and apologize."

Now, contrast that to the total utter denial of the American President following Katrina:
"'re doin' a heckuva job..."

American apologies are now compared against Clinton's for sincerity, but this misses the point, for these are all looking for selfish parochial absolution. Japanese apologies, by contrast are intended to remove the cloud from the organization and colleagues, and offer some manner of redemption for those that were mere bystanders, such that the organization and society can get on with it. It is an attempt to noble and atone in larger way for one's mis-deeds. J-Green may wallow and whither, but the Environment Ministry and the diligent functionaries may soon carry-on, business as usual.

And to this day, no one in command has "owned-up" to what went on in Abu Ghraib. Even if someone (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Gen. Franks) just came out and said: "We made call. In hindsight, we regret it (or not, as the case may be) but did it in good faith to protect America and The West from a perceived threat". Unfortunately, no one's stepped up. And America, in the eyes of the world, and with respect to her own sense of comprehending the "right & wrong" of her actions, is the worse off for it, both diplomatically, and spiritually.

No comments: