Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Painful Mega-Mysteries

This morning I had a megadream.  It was the first time in years.

For those new to this blog or who have forgotten, I use the term "megadream" to refer to a dream that is vivid and profound to the point of being sensory overload.  I wake up from them with a splitting headache and feel weak and shaky as if totally drained of energy.  In the past they have tended to come in waves with long intervals in between.  Thus far, I have been unable to identify any cause or pattern.  They happen when they happen.

I take such dreams very seriously.  The reason is because they have almost always been enlightening if not prophetic.  While rarely if ever true in a literal sense, they usually contain elements that reveal facts I don't know yet or events that haven't happened yet.  Cryptic symbolism and metaphor are common.  I have also seen people in such dreams before meeting them in real life. 

Make no mistake; I take such dreams very seriously.

Some of the symbolism in this one was pretty obvious, I'd say...but the way it ended is leaving me mystified.  And then there was the person I didn't know who looked right at me at the end.  Who was it?

I still feel drained...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Leader Who Believed Ignorance Was Bliss

And now a bit of history...

When he was 8 years old, Ashikaga Yoshinari was given a shocking announcement.  His older brother Yoshikatsu, the 10-year-old shogun (generalissimo) of Japan, had fallen off his horse and died.  Now Yoshinari himself was to assume the mantle of military leadership, ruling the fractious nation of Japan in the Emperor's name (at least in theory).  At first he just trained for the role while underlings ran things, but in 1449, at the age of 14, he assumed the title of shogun in fact, changing his name to Ashikaga Yoshimasa.

                                                  Ashikaga Yoshimasa
Things were already a mess when Yoshimasa came to power.  The Imperial Court had divided into two bitter rival factions, the "legitimate" Northern Court and the rebel Southern Court, and their violent struggle for the throne had only just ended with the crushing of the Southern army.  Shock waves from that conflict were still spreading.  There was increasing tension between the samurai clans as well as within them as various issues of succession broke out.  There were also spats between local daimyo (feudal lords) and the lieutenant governors of the shogunate overseeing them.  Eventually, daimyo began openly defying Yoshimasa's rule.

So what did the reluctant, young shogun do to keep order in Japan in the name of the (Northern) Emperor?
Art & poetry.  Yes, that's right.  A whole era and genre of culture, the Higashiyama Culture, came about and flourished under his patronage.  Drawing heavily from the teachings of Zen Buddhism, Higashiyama Culture included such things as sado (the Tea Ceremony), ikebana (flower arrangement), Noh drama, and ink painting.  Basically, Yoshimasa did his best to ignore the growing troubles around him and instead held poetry recitations, tea ceremonies, and art exhibits in his garden while quaffing large amounts of sake.

                                               Sado (Japanese Tea Ceremony)
Finally, at age 21, the tense reality of his position caught up with him, and Yoshimasa decided to step down.  Having no heir, he adopted his younger brother Ashikaga Yoshimi and started grooming him as his successor.  But then his wife went and bore him a son (Ashikaga Yoshihisa), and everything got really complicated.   Yoshimasa changed his mind and decided to appoint his own child as his successor instead of Yoshimi.  Yoshimi, however, had already gathered his own support base, so he began to press his own case...rather violently.  Soon Yoshimasa's loyal supporters and Yoshimi's faction were busily killing each other and destroying the architectural heritage of Kyoto in a conflict known as the Onin War.

And what did the erstwhile shogun do while all this was going on?  That's right!  He had big parties in his various gardens and his newly constructed Silver Pavilion with lots of flower arrangement, poetry readings, art displays, and much quaffing of tea and sake.  He enjoyed the finer pleasures of life while Kyoto burned around him.  Finally, with the war still raging on, Yoshimasa handed the mantle of the shogunate over to his son, Yoshihisa, and stepped down.

                                The "Silver Pavilion" in Kyoto, 
                                    where Yoshimasa happily ignored everything.
Unfortunately, Yoshihisa died in battle after sixteen years as shogun, so Yoshimasa reassumed the office himself, adopted Yoshimi's son Yoshitane to groom as his successor, installed him as shogun a year later, and promptly died.  By then, however, the period of civil war known as the Sengoku (Warring States) Era of Japanese history had already begun, and the Ashikaga shogunate was on its painful decline.

The leader who partied while his people became divided and his country fell apart around him...hmm....does that remind you of anybody?

Figuring Out Where I Stand

Forgive me, but after this long hiatus, I'm actually doing a (*gasp*) political post!

Election years often leave me doing a lot of soul searching, and this one is proving to be an extreme case.  I'm certainly no stranger to political identity crises; I practically grew up with them.  I was raised in a very conservative household, but in my late teens I took a hard turn to the left.  I had a blast being a very vocal (and often published) member of the liberal minority at a traditionally conservative university.  There was even a brief period when I supported socialism.  But while people around me always seemed to be eager to slap a label on me and force me into a stereotype, I never really seemed to fit any of the traditional molds very well.

An old friend once told me that he believed everyone was either 100% conservative or 100% liberal, and there was no in-between.  He even asked me to take a couple of political orientation quizzes to prove it.  He was certain that I would come out dangling on the left-hand edge.  Actually, I came out just a little left of center, as I have pretty much every time I've tried one of those tests.  But while I took great schadenfreude satisfaction in proving my friend wrong, the fact is that quizzes like that tend to irritate the hell out of me.  They're just so simplistic...and I am NOT a simple person.  The answer choices for each question are always very basic, very conventional, even stereotyped...and in my case, there's always something missing.  Almost every time I choose an answer, I want to attach a "HOWEVER" to it.  Some examples could include:

1.  Do you believe the environment should be protected?  Yes, I do.  We only have one planet and therefore only one ecosystem, and it's ridiculous to treat it like a disposable convenience that we're somehow entitled to destroy.
HOWEVER, in my experience, the savviest environmentalists I've ever met were loggers.  Yes, you read that right.  Loggers.  In my experience, go to a typical tree-hugging "environmentalist" and say, "Tell me about those trees," and s/he will likely say, "They're pretty," or something about equally informative.  Ask an experienced logger, and he'll tell you exactly what role they play in the ecosystem.  He'll tell you about how old they are, how healthy they are, and what kind of animals likely live in and among them.  One such individual is my cousin's husband, and he told me that just about every tree he'd ever cut in the Oregon Coast Mountains region was regrowth, i.e. someone had planted it.  What does that mean?  It means that timber harvest is sustainable and has been for years.  I'm in favor of setting some areas aside as nature preserves, but that's what our national and state forests are for.  With intelligent, considerate management and proper foresight, our natural resources can be used without being any more destructive to Nature than Nature is herself.

2.  Do you believe that industry should be regulated?  Yes, I do.  Industry has proven time and time again that, left entirely to its own devices, it tends to look only at its own profit margins and nothing else.  Therefore, some oversight is necessary.
HOWEVER, I'm only in favor of regulating things that affect other people, such as emissions and other wastes.  Try looking up "Minamata disease" on the internet to see a horrifying example of why factories shouldn't be allowed to dump at will.  On the other hand, I look at the friend of mine who tried to cheer up a depressed coworker by sending her an e-mail that mentioned she was "as attractive as [she was] intelligent," and next thing he knew he had a government label slapped on him naming him as a workplace sex offender, which made it very hard for him to get a new job...and wiped out his unemployment insurance.  I'm not in favor of government agents poking their noses into everything businesses do behind their doors.  People are not obligated to work anywhere, and as far as I'm concerned, as long as there are no victims, there is no crime.  

3.  Do you believe that free enterprise should be regulated?  Yes, I do...for basically the same reasons as 2. (above).  If you think free enterprise should be 100% free, I'd recommend you review your history, especially during the time when Teddy Roosevelt was President.
HOWEVER, for the most part, I think regulation should stop at the antitrust laws that Teddy Roosevelt put in place...and perhaps some zoning regulation so that discount megastores don't wind up wiping out entire communities of mom-and-pop stores.  As a general rule, when you have competition, you have long as play is kept in the proper leagues.

4.  Do you believe that education is a basic right?  Yes, I do.  A high illiteracy rate is a hallmark of a third world country, not a world power.  For that matter, in both the USA and Japan, the establishment of compulsory, public education heralded the nation's rise to prominence.  On the other hand, as a historical rule, lack of general education tends to lead to higher crime rates...or left-wing revolutions.  Knowledge should never be a luxury reserved for the rich.
HOWEVER, any right comes with a responsibility.  If you fail in that responsibility, you forfeit the right.  Moreover, the right to an education applies to EVERYONE, not just the spoiled brat whose parents demand he be given special treatment.  If you fail in your responsibility as a parent, you forfeit the right to send your kid to school at the public's expense.

5.  Do you believe healthcare is a basic right?  I think it damned well SHOULD be.
HOWEVER, just as with education, there should be a choice.  No one should have to die a totally preventable death just because they currently lack the means to pay.  On the other hand, no one should be forced to go to a socialized hospital.  Perhaps each region or municipality could have one designated health center which is subsidized (and regulated), and all the other hospitals and clinics run as they always have.  You might say, "Then everyone would go to the public hospital because it's cheap."  Possibly.  But that would mean that the regular hospitals could offer shorter waits and better service if you're willing to pay for it.  People are willing to pay for private education even though public education is free.  The same could be true of hospitals.  There could also be choice in the insurance field.  Japan has social health insurance which is cheap, minimal, and straightforward.  It helps keep costs down and covers the basics.  Most people supplement it with private insurance (as I do), so they get the best of socialism and capitalism together.

6.  Do you believe that it is the responsibility of society to care for the unfortunate?  Yes, I do...for the same reason that I support public education.  There are moral issues, of course, but if you want a cynical, practical reason, I'll say that people with no means WILL do what it takes to survive; without assistance, they will turn to crime.
HOWEVER, when someone is sick or injured, the aim is not to keep them in the hospital forever; rather, the object is to REHABILITATE them and get them back on their feet.  By the same token, if someone is unable to support himself, he ought to be helped by society to get the means to do so.  That can mean subsidized employment services.  That can mean public temp agencies that don't pay as much as a regular job would (while charging a bit more than the normal wage would be) and also offer job training.  No one who is able to work should live on handouts.

7.  Do you believe that a high minimum wage is necessary to maintain standard of living?  How the hell do you define "high"?  Or "low", for that matter?  People who work should make a fair living, especially if they work full time, and lack of a regulated minimum wage could very well mean that businesses would start paying third world levels.  
HOWEVER, there's also a thing called basic math:  if employees become too expensive, there will be fewer of them, guaranteed.  It's insanity to demand higher wages from businesses that are already struggling to make a go of it.  If the government is going to set a standard, they need to use their heads and seek the best possible balance between cost of living and cost of running a business.

8.    Do you believe that wealthy people should pay a higher tax rate?  They certainly shouldn't pay a LOWER tax rate!  A lot of people say there should be a flat tax rate, and that even the poor should pay their fair share, but there's that basic math thing again.  Forcing someone who uses 80% or more of their earnings just to cover basic needs to pay the same tax rate as someone who pays less than 10% for theirs hardly seems "fair".  It just seems logical to ask those who can afford more to pay a bit more.
HOWEVER, at any rate (no pun intended), I'm not really in favor of artificial redistribution of wealth.  That sounds too much like letting people live on handouts, and I'm against that idea.  If the upper tier is to pay a higher tax rate, it probably shouldn't be that much higher...or the cost-of-living deduction should also be based on their property holdings rather than a flat rate.

9.  Do you think that foreign policy should give priority to US interests?  Forgive me for being a veteran ex-pat who also hung out with the international crowd in college, but I don't think our country is entitled to any special privileges, nor do I think that we are any more inherently righteous than any other nation.  The world is not ours to do with as we please.  We shouldn't expect the other nations to bow down to us, always allow us the last word, or let us shove our noses into their business.  We are a powerful nation, and obvously an influential one, even an important one, but we are still only one nation of many.  We don't need to be arrogant.
HOWEVER, if you fuck with my country, we should bomb the shit out of you.  'Nuff said.

10.  Do you think that people are inherently good?  That question is a non-sequitur, and it annoys the hell out of me.  The very term "good" is both undefined and relative.  In Japan it is considered "good" to lie to someone if the truth might be painful.  In China, material success is always considered "good" even if it means suckering a lot of people into buying a defective or fake product.  In some areas of India and Pakistan it is considered "good" to burn alive the new wife of a member of your family if her family doesn't offer an honorable dowry.  In some African, Arab, and Asian countries it's considered "good" to maim or disfigure if not kill a female family member if her behavior is seen as immodest.  The list goes on and on.  So are human beings naturally "good"?  It would seem that people are inclined to do what makes them FEEL good.  Sharing with others generally feels good.  Love generally feels good.  However, even very small children are just as likely to attack each other over a toy as they are to love each other.  And once someone learns that they get enjoyment out of hurting others, they will continue to do so.  This is human nature.
HOWEVER, that doesn't mean we should give up on someone.