Monday, May 11, 2009

A Matter of Deflection

O poor mortals, how ye make this earth bitter for each other. ~ Thomas Carlyle

Google seems to be in hot water again. For a company whose motto is supposed to be "Do no evil", they certainly get accused of it often enough. Except this time, I'm not so sure they're the guilty party.

It seems that the "evil" Google has done this time is to publish a historical map of Japan as part of it's online collection of maps. Now keep in mind that this is not some sort of secret map. It's been published elsewhere and was even part of a historical display in Tokyo a few years ago. Yet, Google's publication has created a huge stir in Japan.

What Google did was publish a centuries-old set of woodcut maps which showed, among other things, the location of "burakumin" communities. If this means as little to you as it meant to me, some additional explanation is in order. In the time of the shoguns, Japanese society was caste-based. At the bottom of the system were the burakumin, evidently similar to the Untouchables of India. The burakumin did jobs related to death, like butchering, leather-making, and burials.

Okay, so Japan had a caste system, and, like the poorest and lowest of other societies, lived in segregated areas. You can find maps and descriptions of Jewish ghettos and American slave dwellings anywhere. What's the big deal in knowing where the burakumin lived?

It seems that the Japanese haven't exactly kicked their upper-caste repugnance of these people. In fact, some Japanese employers will not hire someone if they have burakumin ancestors or live in the communities that were once solely inhabited by these people. So, the evil thing Google has done is to make it easy to determine where those communities were in relation to modern Japanese locations. This makes Google guilty of racist agitation.

That is one tortured bit of logic.

Google illuminated a bit of history. Evidently, that illumination makes it easier for bigoted Japanese to discriminate against people whose only "fault" is to have a connection, which may be tenuous, to a group who were once shunned by the elite classes, except, of course, when their trades were needed. We have laws against that sort of thing in the U.S., and I suspect that the Japanese do as well. However, we have people who ignore those laws or circumvent them; evidently the same thing goes on in Japan as well.

I'm not surprised.

I've mentioned on a couple of occasions about the reptilian part of the human brain. Whether one buys into that theory or not, it is difficult not to recognize the overwhelming tendency human beings have toward bigotry. Human history demonstrates that people will always categorize each other based on skin color or religion or social class. Having done that, people will proceed to employ discrimination, segregation, or even genocide to eliminate those who are different.

Of course, the "different" are always perceived of as being "inferior," thus providing an excuse for the reprehensible actions.

Everyone is a bigot. Everyone. The mark of a civilized human being is being able to overcome that built-in reptilian reaction to other groups. There have been occasional moments in time when a society has demonstrated an ability to do just that, but it seldom lasts. The reptile is strong.

Google decided to remove the map after learning of the reaction. This promptly drew a reaction from Buraku Liberation League, which had been upset over the publication of the map. Now they were upset at their removal, as though such removal made the burakumin into "unpersons". Apparently the League wanted the maps but with an historical explanation.

This misses the point. It is evident that enough Japanese are familiar with the burakumin and where they lived because active discrimination goes on. The problem is not whether Google publishes or doesn't publish an ancient woodcut. The problem lies with the Japanese who insist on discriminating against the group.

The Japanese Ministry of Justice is now "gathering information" on the matter. I believe that justice would be better served if the Ministry gathered informaton on the organizations engaging in discriminatory practices. It can't be that hard; the author of the article had no apparent difficulty in finding someone in a company will to talk about the company's discriminatory practices.

Evidently, the Japanese would rather create a fuss about Google's actions to deflect from the actions of their own people against their own people. It's an old tactic, used over and over to divert attention from the real problem.

Score another one for the reptile.

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