The last few entries of this blog has concerned itself with recent moves to increase censorship in Japan. Some examples of these include increased enforcement of obscenity laws (possibly as a consequence of Tokyo’s bid to hold the Olympics in 2020,) the push to revise the Japanese Child Pornography Law to include manga and anime, the call to re-write the Japanese Constitution to limit free speech in cases where there is threat to the public interest or public order*, and discussions on nationalizing restrictions on a minor’s access to media. These are all important topics but smaller, incremental stages of censorship can also have profound consequences when left unquestioned.
Truth be told, creating justification for enacting laws or restricting freedoms is actually relatively easy, especially when as part of an extension to pre-existing laws. You simply need to convince certain parties in control that it is in their own self interest to do so, and then they will dutifully work toward convincing their coworkers and voters of the need to revise the law.
What works most is to sell the law on fear. Almost any activity can be framed as being dangerous and anti-social. First, you must identify extreme examples within that activity, elements that nearly everyone would find offensive or reprehensible. It does not matter if those unfortunate examples are the result of poor decision making or freak accidents. What matters is to find examples that can be exaggerated, recycled into sound bites, and make it embarrassing enough and thus put people on the defensive for being associating with that activity.
Accompanying the presentation of fear is a solution that isolates, circumvents or removes the identified undesirable aspects. The solution will more than likely involve legislation or administrative policy changes instead of common sense precautions. Some of those who engage in that activity will be compelled to embrace such regulation out of the desire to remove the cloak of suspicion that has been attached to themselves. There may even be those that extrapolate their own fears upon those alleged dangers, and thereby work toward establishing a new regulatory mechanism.
Once the new law is in effect and the law’s critics are marginalized, a new norm has been created for what is acceptable and what is not. What was legal has now become illegal. The fear that was present before can now be claimed to be contained–identified, demarcated and quarantined–by some type of regulatory mechanism. Now it is possible to construct a new fear within the new norm and change the standards yet again. Even if you find resistance to further changes, the creation of new fears make it easier to avoid explaining the rationale behind why the old norms were replaced by the current norms. The current norms are the good norms and we must make them better, the argument will go, so questioning how things were acceptable in the past is immaterial.
Fear is a powerful seller. If you watch television carefully and picked apart all the advertisements that you are exposed to, you would be amazed at how many products are marketed based on fear: Fear of being unsanitary, fear of being ugly, fear of not eating healthy, etc. The same logic applies in cases where you are selling laws to voters.
What is more difficult is cementing authority over identifying these fears. Anyone can claim a bogeyman exists. But only those in authority can claim that the bogeyman is legitimate and is a credible threat.
For example, when a child cries about monsters under the bed, the child’s claim have little authority over adults. But if a topic pertains to something adults have little understanding of, or if they preconceptions regarding the subject, a person who claims to have authority will have more sway over the public. An example of the former is the Y2K controversy regarding computers while an example of the later would be the debate over regulating video games. Generally speaking, the public has little expert knowledge regarding computing program coding and human psychology, therefore if an expert makes certain claims, their statements carry greater weight as their credibility is harder to verify, and as consequence, experts may be able to secure stronger authority in the process and even arise to become an authority figure, an individual people will reach out to in order ascertain affairs they have little knowledge on.
The legitimacy of an authority figure can become particularly entrenched in cases where it is hard to prove their claims as wrong. For example, an authority figure might claim school uniforms will improve children’s behavior. If records indicate children’s behavior show improvement following the adoption of school uniforms, if will be difficult to disprove that the adoption did not play a positive role. Unless controlled and careful studies are conducted, it is impossible to say how the adoption of school uniforms contributed to the children’s behavior–economic factors and parental involvement may have had much more of larger impact. The problem with social sciences (which also includes some aspects of criminal behavioral studies) is that it is very difficult to conduct controlled experiments. Even if children’s behavior worsens, the expert could claim that the children’s behavior would have deteriorated far more had it not been for the adoption of school uniforms. Because few people are experts of child psychology, sociology, and criminal behavioral studies, anyone perceived to be an expert over these sciences would enjoy advantage in exerting authority over others.
Those that can claim authority over a topic, and where by their authority is unquestioned, will enjoy an even greater say in establishing justifications for creating further laws and regulations. An expert on microbiology’s call for more meat inspectors will resound better when compared against a shoe salesperson making the same plea. A doctor’s claim for more (or less) sex education will carry a certain amount of weight simply because they are doctors. It is immaterial whether or not the claims made by these experts are absurd, as only another expert can credible refute them, and therein lies the problem–Once an individual or an institution becomes an authority, and has the power to exercise influence over others in the same field, it becomes difficult for other dissenting experts to question that authority.
This same phenomenon takes place over the debate of obscenity, vice, and pornography–the common assumption among the public is that some sex is fine, but beyond a certain point, sex leads to deviancy and constitutes a criminal act. The question of why sex of certain type is illegal is sometimes left out. In too many cases, as long as the sexuality and its representation resides within the confines of mainstream society, it is not questioned. Any deviation from the social norm is treated as a transgression, even while what is being transgressed is sometimes not addressed, or some vague and abstract construct is evoked, as in something is found to be injurious to public morals.
Authorities’ power to define the transgression regarding obscenity particularly powerful in Japan where the public does not have a voice in determining what is obscene or not–Japan does not have a jury system pertaining to obscenity.
The Japanese Police have tremendous sway over determining what is obscene and how much of it can be permitted. Judges ultimate do decide what material can be considered obscene or not in a court of law, but since so few cases are actually come for debate in court and because the police are careful in only going after cases where they feel certain they will secure a conviction, the line that determines obscene and what is not obscene is largely determined by police. If the Japanese police raids you, it is obscene. If the police does not raid you, it is not obscene…probably.
Why did I add qualify that last sentence with such an ambiguous statement? It is because the police in Japan have both the leeway and the authority to change what can be defined as obscene, and it can change.
Recall how I wrote about standards for worth (and hence the need for protection) of certain works can change depending on the political climate if freedom of expression is not adequately observed. But when it comes to sexually explicit material social attitudes change quite rapidly, and how authority reacts to these changes also oscillates wildly between acceptance, indifference, repudiation, and repression.
In my next blog entry, I hope to discuss some recent major shifts in how the Japanese police go about enforcement, and thereby highlight how authority can redefine norms arbitrarily and yet enjoy considerable legitimacy.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has drafted a revision to the Japanese Constitution in 2012 that would radically revise how citizen’s rights and limitations to state power would be managed. The 2012 LDP draft is even mentioned in Wikipedia’s English entry on the Japanese Constitution, but there are also good articles featured in the Asia-Pacific Journal and the East Asia Forum.