07 December 2011

Shibumi: Age of the Warrior Vs Age of the Merchant

The contrast between the Age of the Warrior and the Age of the Merchant is one of the themes in Trevanian's 1979 thriller "Shibumi". Some quotes:

General Kishikawa: "All wars are lost ultimately. By both sides, Nikko. The day of battles between professional warriors is gone. Now we have wars between opposing industrial capacities, opposing populations. The Russians, with their sea of faceless people, will defeat the Germans. The Americans, with their anonymous factories, will defeat us (Japanese). Ultimately."

General Kishikawa: "They (Americans) are very skilfull merchants, and they have a great respect for fiscal achievement. These may seem thin and tawdry virtues to you, but they are consonant with the patterns of the industrial world. At best, they are a mannered technology. In place of ethics, they have rules. Size functions for them as quality functions for us. What for us is honour and dishonour, for them is winning and losing. In the world of the future, a world of merchants and mechanics, the base impulses of the mongrel are those that will dominate. The Westerner is the future, Nikko. A grim and impersonal future of technology and automation, it is true – but the future nevertheless."

He (Nicholai) came to recognise that all Americans were merchants, that the core of the American Genius, of the Yankee Spirit, was buying and selling. They vended their democratic ideology like hucksters, supported by the great protection racket of armaments deals and economic pressures. Their wars were monumental exercises in production and supply. Their government was a series of social contracts. Their education was sold as so much per unit hour. Their marriages were emotional deals, the contracts easily broken if one party failed in his debt servicing. Honour for them consisted in fair trading. And they were not, as they thought, a classless society; they were a one-class society – the mercantile. Their elite were the rich; their workers and farmers were best viewed as flawed and failed scramblers up the middle-class monetary ladder. The peasants and proletariat of America had values identical to those of the insurance salesmen and business executives, the only difference being that these values were expressed in more modest fiscal terms: the motor boat rather than the yacht; the bowling league rather than the country club; Atlantic City rather than Monaco.

But it was not their irritating assumption of equality that annoyed Nicholai so much as their cultural confusions. The Americans seemed to confuse standard of living with quality of life, institutionalised mediocrity with equal opportunity, bravery with courage, machismo with manhood, liberty with freedom, wordiness with articulation, fun with pleasure – in short, they had all the misconceptions common to those who assume that justice implies equality for all, rather than equality for equals.

Major: "You deny that he (Kishikawa) was a part of the Japanese military-industrial machine?"
Nicholai: "He was a soldier." The more accurate response would have been that he was a warrior, but that distinction would have meant nothing to these Americans with their mercantile mentalities.

Nicholai recognised the haggling tone of the market place. Like all Americans, this Major was a merchant at heart; everything had a price; and the good man was he who bargained well.

Nicholai: "It's not Americans I find annoying; it's Americanism: a social disease of the post-industrial world that must inevitably infect each of the mercantile nations in turn, and is called 'American' only because your nation is the most advanced case of the malady, much as one speaks of Spanish flu or Japanese encephalitis. Its symptoms are a loss of work ethic, a shrinking of inner resources, and a constant need for external simulation, followed by spiritual decay and moral narcosis. You can recognise the victim by his constant efforts to get in touch with himself, to believe his spiritual feebleness in an interesting psychological warp, to construe his fleeing from responsibility as evidence that he and his life are uniquely open to new experience. In the latter stages, the sufferer is reduced to seeking that most trivial of human activities: fun."

No prizes for guessing which side Trevanian is on!

06 December 2011

Agricultural Vs Industrial Society: Martial Vs Commercial Society

In the Agricultural Age, the primary production system was agriculture. The main input for agriculture is land. So whoever controlled land had power. The king controlled land, and hence had power.

Now the king belonged to the warrior class (Kshatriyas). Each class has its own values. The values of the warriors were strength, courage, duty and loyalty. These constituted the warrior ethic.

Since warriors were the dominant class in agricultural society, their ethic – the warrior ethic – was the dominant ethic in society.

Thus, agricultural society was a martial society*. And the Agricultural Age was the Age of the Warrior.

*The French social thinker Auguste Comte (1798–1857) used the term "military society" to describe agricultural society.

After the Industrial Revolution everything changed.

In the Industrial Age, the primary production system is industry. The main input for industry is capital. So whoever controls capital has power. The capitalists control capital, and hence have power.

Now capitalists belong to the merchant class (Vaishyas). Merchants have only one value: wealth/money. This constitutes the merchant ethic.

Since industrialists/businessmen are the dominant class in industrial society, their ethic – the merchant ethic – is the dominant ethic in society.

Thus, industrial society is a commercial society. And the Industrial Age is the Age of the Merchant.

Today there is no victory and defeat; only success and failure. Today there is no honour and dishonour; only profit and loss.

1. Gurcharan Das approves of this change.
2. Watch The Last Samurai (2003) for a beautiful argument in favour of the Age of the Warrior and the warrior ethic.