Murakami’s Underground

by Belle Waring on January 23, 2006

I read Haruki Murakami’s Underground last week; it is a book about the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. I have been a big fan of his fiction for a long time, but this was my first foray into his non-fiction. It is a fascinating book, consisting of interviews both with the sarin victims and with members of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult whose members carried out the attack. The latter were interesting but struck me as very similar to tales of what motivates cult members in the US—alienated loners with a certain cast of mind I would call quasi-philosophical were initally drawn in by the promise of a totalizing explanation for the world, and then a meager diet, little sleep, forced labor and indoctrination did the rest. By quasi-philosophical, I mean something like this, from Murakami’s interview with cult member Hirokuyi Kano:

Anyway, [Tetsuro] Tanba’s book was worthless, but he mentioned Swedenborg’s work, which I read and was amazed by…I was struck by how extremely logical his work was. Compared to other books on the subject, everything fit together logically. The relationship between his premises and his conclusions was utterly convincing and believable….Later on I learned about the Law of Karma, and it was like a veil had lifted, and many of the doubts and questions I’d had since I was little were solved.

I have a sort of distant step-relative who thinks like this; for him “philosophy” and “logic” mean words that give him a buzzing feeling of recognition, in which his choatic ideas about the unfairness and chancy aspects of life find fuller expression than he can manage on his own. Aum has the difference of being based on Buddhism where many western cults are based on eschatological strains of Christianity, but otherwise it seems of a piece with American cults, right down to the guru who gives “special initiations” to attractive female cult members…

The interviews with the victims, however, really made me feel that I was reading about a culture very different from my own. The most striking thing to me was the long time that passed between when passengers exposed to sarin started to cough, notice a strange smell, experience burning eyes and dimming vision, and even vomit, and the time at which someone first spoke up to say, “something is very wrong here, and we must get off the train.” From the interview with Ikuko Nakayama:

It was still March and not warm outside, but I couldn’t bear not to open the windows. I didn’t see how the other passengers could put up with that strange smell. No, not strange…
It wasn’t a pungent smell. How can I explain? It was more of a sensation, not a smell, a “suffocatingness.” I opened the windows to get some ventilation….there was no reaction whatsoever from anyone to my turning around to open the windows. No one said a thing, everyone was so quiet. No response, no communication. I lived in America for a year, and believe me, if the same thing had happened in America there would have been a real scene. With everyone shouting “what’s going on here?” and coming together to find the cause.
Later, when the police asked me, “Didn’t people start to panic?” I thought back on it: “Everyone was so silent. No one uttered a word.”

It seems that the bar to involving other people in your problems is just infinitely lower in America than in Japan. If someone’s vision started dimming strangely on the train in New York and there was a strange smell, that person would very likely pipe up and complain about it to everyone. This isn’t to say that the Tokyo victims didn’t try to help one another out of a communal spirit; there were many instances of bravery as passengers and subway employees tried to respond to such an unimaginable attack. It’s just that there was no immediate inclination to come together and figure out what was going on, no inclination to be the one who pierces the morning routine with a sudden, unnerving question: “is something very bad happening right now?” Even when the subway workers announced that there had been a release of poison gas, there was no general panic, and many people seem to have been thinking much more about getting to work rather than feeling shock or worry about their personal safety.

Clearly this was in part due to a general sense that Japan was a very safe country, not the sort of place where terrorist attacks happen. As Yoko Iizuka said, “I knew it was an emergency, but to be honest it didn’t occur to me that it was anything really serious. I mean, Japan’s a supersafe country, isn’t it? No guns, no terrorists, hardly anything like that.”

The calm, atomized reaction was also due to what I can only describe as a pervasive, super-human work ethic. The common thread running through all the victims’ interviews was an insistence on getting to work, often more than an hour before official office hours, and on not inconveniencing their colleagues. A number of the victims were going into work although they were feverish with a flu or cold; this made many think that the symptoms of exposure were just a worsening illness, but none of them then thought, “oh, maybe I should go home after all.” Some victims were so grateful to get a seat on the normally packed train that they put up with the smell even when they began to think it was harming them.

Of course, the timing of the attacks (early in the morning) ensured that dedicated commuters would be in the majority, and it can hardly be said to be surprising that Japanese “salarymen” are hard-working. Nonetheless, there is all the difference in the world between a vague stereotype about hard-working Japanese people and the visceral reality of a man whose vision begins to dim as he stares at the bag leaking clear, noxious fluid onto the ground, whose eyes and nose are running, who begins to feel as though he might vomit at any moment, and who thinks “only two more stops till I get to the office. I’ll just have to hang on.”

Finally, on a more topical note, this brought home to me just how unreasonable it is to lump chemical and biological weapons in with nuclear weapons as “WMD”. I don’t by any means intend to downplay the suffering of the Tokyo sarin victims; by all accounts a nerve gas attack is agonizingly painful for its victims, and many survivors continue to suffer serious aftereffects. Nonetheless, although thousands were injured, only 12 people actually died in a coordinated, multi-site attack on the most crowded subway system in the world during morning rush hour. Four old-fashioned Palestinian-style suicide belt detonations in different cars would frankly have killed many more, though many fewer would have been injured, and perhaps the sheer terror would have been less. (There is something nightmarish about being gassed underground.)

The attacks might have more effective if the Aum members had been willing to die; I think, somehow, it would be even harder to recruit someone for a nerve gas suicide attack than for an attack with explosives, in which the bomber is at least assured of a quick exit from the stage. But all in all, it makes one think that if chemical weapons play no role in the modern state’s arsenal, this is due less to humanitarian concerns or lingering horror from the trenches of the Great War, than to the simple fact that they are not particularly effective weapons. Plastique and ball bearings have as much claim to be a WMD, in many ways, and nuclear weapons, however crude, are clearly orders of magnitude different in terms of their threat. Anyhow, I highly recommend all of Murakami’s work, particularly A Wild Sheep Chase.

{ 31 comments }

1

rollo 01.23.06 at 3:01 am

And Wind-up Bird Chronicles and The Elephant Vanishes and Sputnik Sweetheart and South of the Border, West of the Sun.
I haven’t read Kafka on the Shore but I betcha.-
There’s a line between cults and organized religions but I’m not sure where it is. Maybe size, maybe something to do with becoming materially secure enough to not have to worry about persecution, being able to do some persecuting of your own.
Christianity was definitely a cult when it started. Though it spawns cults regularly it can’t be considered one in toto anymore.
So there’s a continuum of some kind, where successful cults go on to become something else. The word is perjorative, but I think that’s part of the self-preservation modality of the larger groups new cults threaten.
There’s an aspect to the phenomenon that seems to involve people organizing themselves into a kind of hive, with a collective consciousness that’s not as simple as consensus or charismatic leadership. But to talk about that we’d have to talk about things like mental linkage and telepathy and other taboo subjects, so it doesn’t happen much in serious mainstream discussions.
A far as weapons go, it seems pretty clear there’s no moral compunction behind the choices made by the currently active militaries, only tactics and strategies, based on efficacy. P.R. is a factor, but that’s dealt with by covert action and duplicity, not conformity to some kind of ethical standard.
Any weapon that caused mass destruction would perforce be a WMD, but there’s a sense of immediate and willed destruction being part of the formula. Otherwise the automobile would be a serious contender.

2

Mike 01.23.06 at 3:24 am

…“philosophy” and “logic” mean words that give him a buzzing feeling of recognition, in which his choatic ideas about the unfairness and chancy aspects of life find fuller expression…

It seems to me that the loftiest and most respected academic philosopher practices only a slightly more sophisticated version of this ‘buzzing feeling of recognition’, hopefully with a bit more emotional maturity.

3

Ray 01.23.06 at 4:58 am

The ‘Philosophy’ sections of most bookstores are profoundly depressing sights.
I don’t know how different japan is from other countries. Commuter trains in London are packed full of people studiously avoiding each other’s gazes, putting their brains in neutral until their stop arrives. And the Aum attack was unprecedented. There was no real way for people to connect their symptoms with an attack, no reason to think (at least initially) that everyone else had the same problem, with a common cause.

4

Jose 01.23.06 at 5:37 am

I think Ray has a very good point. We’re presented with a few choices for understanding the passengers’ lack of a reaction: their “Japaneseness” and the unprecedented nature of the attack.

I haven’t read Murakami’s Underground but assuming it isn’t an exploration of the “Japaneseness” of this event, I would be wary of trying to read too much into reactions that, in fact, have alternate and more elegant explanations.

Their initial reticence would likely be the same in Finland, no?

5

Alex 01.23.06 at 5:39 am

One of the fascinating things about Aum was the weird mixture of expertise and ineffectuality. They stockpiled arms, experimented with laser enrichment of uranium and genetic engineering, and prepared sarin. They released the sarin, twice (there was a little known attack in 1994) – but didn’t kill very many people, certainly fewer than they could have achieved with bathtub explosives.

They sprayed anthrax into the air from pumps in the basement of a house…but tested it with a strain that didn’t affect people, and apparently left it at that. They placed people in important IT-related jobs in Japanese industry, but don’t seem to have hacked anything serious.

Weird. It’s like al-Qa’ida for neurotics rather than psychotics.

6

Belle Waring 01.23.06 at 5:57 am

actually, jose, Murakami’s book is meant explicitly as an exploration of how the attack played out in terms of the Japanese national psyche. he is curious about what brought people into Aum, and he seems to feel that there was something specifically “Japanese” about Aum, something which produced in him a feeling of aversion and shame which he had never felt upon seeing, say, Japanese Hari Krishnas. he also discusses how the Kobe earthquake (and the percieved inadequate response by the government) and the Aum gas attack together, coming as they did on the heels of the bursting economic buble, had a profound impact on Japan. finally, if it is true that the initial response would be similar in Finland, that would lead me to say that Finnish culture differs from American culture in its attitudes towards the public sphere.

alex, I agree about Aum; they do combine a level of expertise with a level of haphazard disorganization, and certainly seemed to lack something in homicidal zeal.

finally, this post isn’t meant to say “wow, Japanese people are weird robots!” it’s just that this reaction to the attacks was very pronounced, and it just struck me, as it did one of the victims, that such an attack would have played out very differently in America. that’s not to say the response would have been somehow better; the victims of the Tokyo attack banded together well, hailing passing cars to take the most affected victims to the hospital, and doing a kind of makeshift triage of their own on the pavements outside the stations. I just think that american people would have started bitching about their own personal discomfort sooner, and that this would likely have led to an earlier detection of fact that many people were being affected.

7

soru 01.23.06 at 6:29 am

There’s a line between cults and organized religions but I’m not sure where it is.

A useful distinction is whether the majority of members were born into it, or joined as adults or adolescents.

Converts to mainstream religions sometimes show cult-like behaviour, a whole micro-society of such converts is going to have some distinctive features.

soru

8

Ray 01.23.06 at 6:40 am

I don’t know, I think rush hour commuter trains all over the world have some important features in common, and those features are more important than the fact that the attack took place in Tokyo.
Although I think it’s a great book, I was also unconvinced by Murakami’s argument that Aum Shinrikyo could only have taken root in Japan, and the appeal of the cult says something important about the Japanese psyche. I just finished reading My Life in Orange this morning, about a kid who spent his early years in Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s communes. Rajneesh was about as popular in the West as Aum was in Japan, and the attraction was about the same. And some of his followers were sent out to deliberately infect restaurants with salmonella, poisoning hundreds of people.

9

abb1 01.23.06 at 6:50 am

Kobo Abe is better. More weird.

10

Belle Waring 01.23.06 at 6:57 am

one of the other things which really struck me was that it seems that when some truly horrific event occurs, be it natural or man-made, the government just is going to let you down, and you will have to fall back on your own resources and those of your fellow citizens. this is not to totally excuse the Japanese government; they obviously made mistakes (such as letting one of the affected trains run for 1 1/2 hours after the attack, well beyond when it was clear the train was tainted), and in the context of any given disaster one can point out specific areas in which it would have been well within the government’s power to respond much better. still and all, the message I drew from this book, together with the Katrina hurricaine and other disasters, is that you won’t be able to count on a coherent, efficient, organized response from the government when the chips are really down. the sooner the affected passengers started taking matters into their own hands and pressing private cars and news vans into service as ambulances, the better they fared. waiting around for emergency services was a death sentence for some.

11

Kieran Healy 01.23.06 at 8:08 am

down to the guru who gives “special initiations” to attractive female cult members…

“He protects his people from the outside world / his people need never be afraid / Yeah if you’re his disciple and he happens to like ya I can tell you that you’ve got it made…”

12

Doug 01.23.06 at 8:20 am

Gotta differ at least a little bit on the Katrina bit. On the one hand, the definition of a disaster is that the authorities on the spot are overwhelmed. On the other hand, one of the reasons we have higher levels of government (national in particular) is so that there is something to fall back on when local authorities are overwhelmed.

Certainly Belle is right when we are measuring response time in minutes — or even hours for something on the scale of a hurricane. But as the hours go by and turn into days, there’s no excuse at all for the national government of an OECD country not to have an adequate response.

13

dp 01.23.06 at 8:22 am

1. Comments about the power of words reminds me of an idea I got from Julian Jaynes many years ago – that early speech was regarded as mystical in that it had power over things; even the power of naming something was awesome. I think that power still exists, but that most of us are so overwhelmed with the trivialities of communication that we lose an appreciation of its power. If it takes a cult to reveal that power, then a variety of acaedmic disciplines must be cults… and I can see why they’d be attractive.

2. Trains are a peculiar instance to draw from when thinking about response to something dangerous. Most forms of transport have immediate access to the operator, driver, steward. But trains and large ships are distinct in their absence of omnipresent personnel. So when something goes wrong on eitehr, the search for someone who ‘can do something about it’ must be factored in to one’s response.

The last time I was on a train involved in a mysterious mishap there was a burning smell that gradually became a faint haze before anyone said anything aloud, at which point everyone acted in concert to get up, look around the car for sources, and move to the next one. As the train was nearing a station, people stepped onto the platforms and notified guards there. So the instance was a curious mix of inactivity – up to a point – which sounds quite like the situation in Tokyo.

Had this happened on a coach, I would have approached the driver in short order, but on the train, even with its intercom system, the idea that I might be over-reacting (particularly in the post 9/11 atmosphere of paranoia) was enough to keep me from telling the driver that ‘something smells funny’. The opportunity for over-reaction, and the potential embarrassment of causing alarm act as a restraint that leaves most of us willing to wait and see rather than precipitate a spectacle. In this regard I see the Tokyo passengers as very much like myself.

14

Belle Waring 01.23.06 at 8:39 am

fair enough, dp. as a former frequent rider of the NY subway and the DC metro, no to mention SF’s BART, I have spent a goodly portion of my life with my eyes ostentatiously averted from my fellows’. also, I didn’t mean to imply that the US government, both on the local and the federal levels, didn’t fuck up bad in the katrina case. I just meant to observe, as a matter of fact, that when things get truly beyond-the-accepted-paradigm bad, it’s just a matter of fact that you will be, in the short term, on your own.

15

Jack 01.23.06 at 8:51 am

Will the government really let you down? I think there is a danger of accidentally suggesting that it can’t or won’t make a difference and the phrase sounds more binary than is apt.

Developed world disasters have better outcomes not because we show more initiative when the chips are down but because we have made plans and provided facilities for dealing with them.

In most disasters the government could and should have done better and individual initiative will have made a big difference but that is a long way from requiring a counsel of despair.

16

Jose 01.23.06 at 9:05 am

This is a really interesting discussion, btw, since it explores the breakdown of order — and, thus, how order is created in the first place.

Belle Waring, I’m glad I couched my doubts by saying “assuming it isn’t an exploration of the “Japaneseness” of this event.”

So let me clarify what I know about Finland and the public sphere. A very good friend of mine has taught there a few times over the years and he reports that it’s a taboo to talk in some public places like buses. Apparently, they’re silent! However, he notes that, in cafes, people are very much interested in connecting with other people… using their mobile phones.

Nokia, of course, is a Finnish company.

17

Belle Waring 01.23.06 at 9:40 am

obviously, it will make a great deal of difference whether the government has established a procedure for disaster, and whether this plan is competently carried out. I just mean to say that, once the tragic event achieves a certain scope, it will inevitably overwhelm even the best laid plans. there will always be an irreducible reside of catastrophe which demands a response from those close by, whether officially sanctioned rescuers (such as the emergency services or the subway attendants) are nearby or not.

18

Matt 01.23.06 at 9:42 am

Wait a minute…alienated loners with a certain cast of mind I would call quasi-philosophical…a meager diet, little sleep, forced labor and indoctrination… you mean all this time I thought I was in grad school I’ve actually been in a cult! I hope they still give me a degree when I’m done.

19

jamesonandwater 01.23.06 at 11:39 am

I read that book a while back, and seem to remember one of the interviews was with an Irish guy that was on the subway, a carpenter or something? I don’t recall was his reaction different to the Japanese passengers?

20

derek 01.23.06 at 11:49 am

this brought home to me just how unreasonable it is to lump chemical and biological weapons in with nuclear weapons as “WMD”.

As unreasonable as lumping terrorism, of which the most freakish examples ever have killed a couple of thousand, with war, which is considered freakishly bloodless if only a couple of thousand die.

The median “deadly terrorist attack” kills little more than a freeway pile-up.

21

theorajones 01.23.06 at 12:29 pm

Belle, I hear what you’re saying, but I think the remedy is a little different.

In most crises, even non-catastrophic crises, the biggest determinant of mass death is the behavior not of trained professionals, but the behavior of the masses. On 9/11, evacuation was able to happen because 40,000 people were able to move themselves in a productive way to get out of these buildings (although this is obviously not to diminish in any way the heroic and critical efforts of police and fire people in directing them away from danger areas, shooting out windows to let people escape, etc.) My point is that if people had panicked and run when the planes hit, instead of proceeding for the exits and going down the stairs in an orderly fashion, the actions of police and firefighters would not have mattered, because people would have been undirectable–death tolls would have been in the tens of thousands.

OTOH, the only effective military response to 9/11 was mounted by the passengers on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. So clearly, there is much to be said for the “well, nobody’s gonna bail us out, so we have to deal with this” realization. Furthermore, in 9/11 people were not passive sheep, but active agents able to react effectively to the unanticipated problems–they got parapelegics down 60 flights of stairs, they knocked down walls, they cleared debris to allow people through, etc.

The point I’m making is that there is a profound and dangerous downside to setting an expectation of governmental incompetence. People are no longer interested in solving the problems that are solvable on an individual/small group level, and they are much quicker to take antisocial and violent actions that create MORE problems for everyone. Becuase they’re thinking short-term and totally selfishly. Which makes perfect sense if you don’t think anyone is coming for you.

What needs to happen isn’t that people need to internalize the idea that “government sucks.” Internalizing this message won’t inspire people to prepare and plan better for crises–it’ll just make them panic and start screaming “every man for himself” faster in crises. The military knows this better than anyone, which is why they drill in such discipline and unit cohesion, and tell soldiers that survival depsnds on focusing on the problems they can solve and working as a cohesive unit to achieve their objective.

What needs to happen is that realistic expectations of government competence need to be set (for instance, in a blackout: we will get the power back on within 4 days, we will patrol the streets, but we can’t get you home), and people need to be given proper training so that they have a feeling of agency in a crisis, and so they feel like their actions are part of a collective plan. People evacuated the towers effectively because they’d been drilled in it. They knew that when the shit hit the fan, they were supposed to get out in an orderly way, and so they did it.

Easier said than done, but training the people is the most important part of disaster planning, because it’s their response that a)keeps non-disasters from becoming disasters through panic and b)mitigates the impact of actual disasters and allows the higher levels of government to take the actions that only they can take (like fixing the levees or finding temporary homes for 100,000 people).

This is why I get so upset with people who say “you just have to realize the government won’t bail you out.” That’s as dangerous as it is simplistic and untrue. The key is to make people understand their mission and give them the tools to achieve it.

22

garymar 01.23.06 at 12:47 pm

My family was living in Tokyo when the Sarin attack happened. In fact, my younger girl used to ride the very train that suffered the attack on her way to her International School. Luckily, that year we put her in a local Japanese elementary school to help her language skills, and she was able to walk to school and make friends in the neighborhood. But the years before, and the years after, the attacks, she rode that same Hibiya Line train.

For months afterwards commentators analyzed the motives of the attackers. The comment that always made me laugh was, ‘how could such elite people fall for a crazy cult?’ ‘Elite’ in modern Japan seems to mean a person who is given the chance to work himself (always him, never her) to death for a prestigious company, sacrificing all personal time and fulfillment. No wonder they turn to cults.

Aum also launched an experimental attack some years before in Matsumoto city. The police literally hounded a poor man living close by for years, just because he had a connection with a chemical company. Despite unrelenting intimation and harassment he protested his innocence, and investigation into the Tokyo attacks connected Aum Shinrikyo with the Matsumoto attacks and finally cleared his name. I’m amazed the guy didn’t simply commit suicide to escape the pressure.

23

Maynard Handley 01.23.06 at 3:23 pm


There’s a line between cults and organized religions but I’m not sure where it is. Maybe size, maybe something to do with becoming materially secure enough to not have to worry about persecution, being able to do some persecuting of your own.

Yeah, Yeah, I’m going to screamed at by the Christians for this, but I’m going to go out on a limb here amd say, no, there is not.
Specifically, consider millenial Christianity, this strange thing that has taken over America. It’s mainstream, as mainstream as you get, plenty of people were born into it not recruited, and it’s freaking nuts.
More to the point considering modern times, it is the proximate cause of Al Qaeda. The apocalyptic vision is not something native to Islam, it was something concocted in the very recent past by putting together various weird crap from insane American Christianity, things like Hal Lindsey’s stuff with whatever flimsy supporting traditions and phrases could be found in Islam. Think back to the political Islam, such as it was, of the 70’s and early 80’s — Munich, Lebanon, Khomeini — it wasn’t this apocalyptic nonsense. We have to thank US Protestants for having a large part in creating this lunatic “philosophy”.

24

Tyrone Slothrop 01.23.06 at 3:42 pm

“The most striking thing to me was the long time that passed between when passengers exposed to sarin started to cough, notice a strange smell, experience burning eyes and dimming vision, and even vomit, and the time at which someone first spoke up to say, ‘something is very wrong here, and we must get off the train.’ … Even when the subway workers announced that there had been a release of poison gas, there was no general panic, and many people seem to have been thinking much more about getting to work rather than feeling shock or worry about their personal safety.”

This “really made me feel that I was reading about a culture very different from my own.”

For me, this brings back the morning of September 11, 2001, and the shock of non-recognition and realization. My actual memories of that morning are very different from what the day later came to signify. Obviously, it was different for those of us on the West Coast who heard the news early; I did not go to the office that day, and maybe that has something to do with why I recall calm instead of general panic. There is such a gulf, though, between what I remember and what I know think of when someone says “9/11” or “terrorist attack.”

Posted in a different form on my blog.

Thanks for making me think about Underground again.

25

Dan Simon 01.23.06 at 3:55 pm

Murakami’s book is meant explicitly as an exploration of how the attack played out in terms of the Japanese national psyche. he is curious about what brought people into Aum, and he seems to feel that there was something specifically “Japanese” about Aum

My impression is that this book, rather than Aum, is the more characteristic symbol of the Japanese national psyche, which is above all interested in distinguishing, analyzing and explaining the Japanese national psyche. In Canada, there’s an old joke that goes,

Q: What is a Canadian?
A: Someone who asks, “what is a Canadian?”

Japan appears to be something like that, except that it’s not a joke there.

26

gmoke 01.23.06 at 4:22 pm

Aum Shin Rikyu, Heaven’s Gate, the Swiss sun cult are all cut from the same cloth as Al Queda. Technology has amplified the individual and groups of individuals so that they can produce mass death around the world at will. This is something that we are going to have to live with as the genie ain’t going back into the bottle.

27

dp 01.23.06 at 8:43 pm

What needs to happen isn’t that people need to internalize the idea that “government sucks.”

Agreed, Theora, but I thought your next sentence might be along the lines of ‘they need to internalise the idea that, at this moment, we are the government’. I’m thinking back to the CPR and fire marshall training I went through for some of my jobs, where it was clear that the safety of individuals and groups depended on the timely contributions of people who’d had a bit of training, people who, in the case of fires, were essentially coordinating the movement of people out of a building. I can see that this may be exactly what happened at the WTC, in which case the lightly-trained collection of individuals were an effective ‘government’ for the purposes of getting people to safety.

The key is to make people understand their mission and give them the tools to achieve it.

Agreed, again. So it’s really pertinent to ask whether the tools are given. We also need to ask, in particular instances, what those tools might be. What would they have been in ‘lower’ New Orleans, as distinct from what they were in lower Manhattan? It may be that training people as fire marshalls was a good ‘tool’ for WTC firms, even when considering the great loss of life. It’s likely that employers – probably at State request – provided that training, and ensured that an emergency management team was in place. But maybe some other kind of tool is needed in a place like New Orleans. The difference being that a corporate environment is not the same as a street, and that streets have become regressively less well managed over the past few decades.
There’s more to this, of course, but much of it has been said above.

28

Matt Weiner 01.23.06 at 11:35 pm

Nonetheless, there is all the difference in the world between a vague stereotype about hard-working Japanese people and the visceral reality of a man whose vision begins to dim as he stares at the bag leaking clear, noxious fluid onto the ground, whose eyes and nose are running, who begins to feel as though he might vomit at any moment, and who thinks “only two more stops till I get to the office. I’ll just have to hang on.”

This is to the side of the discussion here, but the most indelible image of this for me is Gregor Samsa, trying to shout through the door that he’ll be at work as soon as he can, as his little legs wave in the air.

29

Zephania 01.24.06 at 3:52 am

There’s a line between cults and organized religions but I’m not sure where it is.”

No there isn’t. And why stop at religions; why not include governments, corps, societies. Anything where an individual will associate his ego with the organisation. (Thus, an attack on the organisation is felt as an attack on the individual that has subordinated his ego to that organisation).

Rather than gettting into an argument with the nice bigots that are attracted to Crookedtimber; instead, may I recommend “Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control by Kathleen Taylor”

I’d be interested to read a review of the book on CT. Although her background is scientific (she appears to be an expert on platelet activating factors); the book contains a lot of philosophical discussion (free will; Wittengestien’s impossibility of a secret language etc), so the humanities types around here may be able to cope with it.

30

John Emerson 01.25.06 at 1:19 pm

You won’t be able to count on a coherent, efficient, organized response from the government when the chips are really down.

A comparative study would be good. Perhaps some governments are better than others?

Finns are so taciturn that Swedes talk about how taciturn they are. They’re about 100% wired, and I think that shyness is one reason.

Stereotyping Scandinavians is permissible, because they’re so nice. Pillaging and raping are a thing of the past.

31

John Emerson 01.25.06 at 1:27 pm

And no dissing Swedenborg. He influenced Blake, Baudelaire, and Emerson, and William / Henry James’ father was a Swedenborgian minister at one point.

Daisetz Suzuki who wrote about Zen wrote a book about Swedenborg called “Buddha of the North”, which presumably played a role in the transmission of S’s ideas to the terrorists.

Comments on this entry are closed.