A site of endless curiosity

America vs Japan – Does culture matter when it comes to looting?

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On cable TV there is a show called Bait Car.  Basically, cops leave a car in a neighborhood and watch what happens.  The car is fitted with a hidden camera and remote control.  The camera is focused on the front seat and the car can be shutdown by remote control.  The doors are unlocked and the keys are in the ignition.  That’s the bait.

What are they doing?  The are giving ordinary citizens an opportunity to make a choice. It’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t take long before an ordinary citizen does make a choice.  And the choice is to take the car.

Is this an example of an individual optimizing his/her own economic situation?  Knowing that stealing a car is grand theft is this a failure of an individuals ethical judgement?    Is it a failure of society to assimilate an individual into societal norms?  Or, is this act of stealing a failure of culture?

What did you see reported in the news media at Katrina?

NEW ORLEANS  — Mayor Ray Nagin ordered 1,500 police officers to leave their search-and-rescue mission Wednesday night and return to the streets of the beleaguered city to stop looting that has turned increasingly hostile.

Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, blue jeans, tennis shoes, TV sets — even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.

Read more –

Japan experienced an earthquake a few weeks ago.  What happens in Japan during this natural disaster?

The landscape of parts of Japan looks like the aftermath of World War Two; no industrialised country since then has suffered such a death toll. The one tiny, tiny consolation is the extent to which it shows how humanity can rally round in times of adversity, with heroic British rescue teams joining colleagues from the US and elsewhere to fly out.

And solidarity seems especially strong in Japan itself. Perhaps even more impressive than Japan’s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting, and I’m not the only one curious about this

Read more –

I watched a lot of news coverage on the Japan earthquake.  Never once did I see any video or even mention of the Japanese looting, robbing, or taking advantage of the situation for their personal advantage.  Were these incidents of looting intentionally expunged from the coverage or was there no looting?

If the news was reported accurately and if there was no (or minimal not worth reporting) looting then it is an interesting contrast between the culture in America and that of Japan.

Here is one attempt to explain it

This I think explains why people are less apt to loot out of panic or fear of what has happened or what is to come.  But I think there is also a clear cultural explanation of why people would not loot generally: the strong group mentality in Japanese society both fosters solidarity and instills fear of incurring shame.

The very word in Japanese used to mean “human being” in Japanese, ningen, is written with two characters (人間) that mean “person” and “between” respectively, giving the word the loose meaning of “between people.”  A person is what lies between others; more directly, a person is defined by their relationships to others. Traditionally, this would be the Confucian relationships between parents and children, adults and rulers etc.  Now, it would encompass the family, friends, classmates at school, or coworkers.  One basically is identified through these groups (an average person introducing themselves would literally identify him or herself this way: Takeshi who works at Mitsubishi would introduce himself as “Mitsubishi’s Takeshi”).  Obviously the largest of these groups would be “Japanese people” as a whole.

Read some perspectives on looting during the 2011 Japan earthquake

Watch some episodes of Bait Car on-line

Police Looting WalMart after Katrina


Written by frrl

March 19, 2011 at 6:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. The Japanese commitment to self restraint, community and respect for authority is extraordinary. In the US all our focus is on the individual. On the up side, this seems to lead to great achievements. It has been said “if left to the Japanese, today we would have excellent vacuum tubes”. But on the down side, we lack the balancing component of individual responsibility. We are boorish, greedy and expect a bail out whenever we fail. Given the two choices, I would give up the transistor.

    Elwood Downey

    March 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm

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