Well, I agree with Carl that the data in the study about the Japanese aversion to sex is suspect. On the other hand: What I say doesn’t really depend on the data so much. The phrase “celibacy syndrome” is the translation of a malady that was identified by the Japanese media, not some GUARDIAN reporter. That media couldn’t possibly have been seduced by a single study in the absence of evidence that could be seen with one’s own eyes. And there’s no denying that the birth dearth is more pronounced in Japan due to specific cultural/political factors that could not easily be turned around. Japan is a rapidly aging society, and the robots being used to care for the old are strange and conceivably cutting edge.

What I didn’t do is identify Japanese “progress” with Tocquevillian indvidualism, with the emotional isolation of Western, egalitarian individualism. I don’t know enough to do that. Tocqueville didn’t predict the birth dearth, unless you rely on exactly one remark in passing.

And Tocqueville certainly didn’t predict anything like a celibacy syndrome. Well, he did say, in effect, that American men were so unerotic that they bragged that got married for economic convenience and found real extra-marital affairs to be more trouble than they’re worth. So they preferred prostitutes with whom they didn’t have to spend the night. I actually don’t know how much of this translates to the Japanese situation. I do know that American men don’t usually notice how much Tocqueville was dissing them from an aristocratic/erotic perspective.

What we do share with the Japanese is our obsession with what goes on on screens.

If I erred, it was by sending the wrong message by saying that the relatively unerotic Japanese are evidence of how plastic human nature might be. More than one person has written me saying: Is that your version of the Kojevian “insight” that the Japanese are a non-posthuman end of history?

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that. I certainly don’t think the Japanese can’t be warm and caring people. Nor do I think they are unmoved by love and death—and in diverse ways. Nor do I think they’re characterized by snobbery of pure formality—or form without content. The Japanese are whole persons, beings with souls, etc., and saying “Japanese” to identify a whole person can be as misleading as saying “American” to identify a whole person. I’m sorry if anyone thought that I made the error about the Japanese that Allan Bloom made about the allegedly flat-souled sophisticated Americans. Bloom, it’s true, didn’t even notice the nascent birth dearth in our country, just as he didn’t notice how many Americans remained devoutly religiously observant.

That the Japanese might be in the thrall of some fatalism that points toward extinction should be taken seriously as a possibility. But arguably that outcome would not be historically unprecedented. On the Japanese, I’m always happy to learn more—not really knowing much and with little first-hand experience.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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