Thursday, July 07, 2005

Guest Author: Chinweizu on Ancestral Culture

Ancestral Culture and modern survival: The example of Meiji Japan
by Chinweizu

Culture as society’s immune system

The primary function of the body’s immune system is to identify and protect what is self and destroy what is not-self. What the immune system learned while the foetus was still in the womb was that anything it came into contact with during that time must be regarded as self. A society’s ancestral culture is the social analogue of the body’s immune system. It identifies what is socially self, i.e. whatever displays the ancestral culture, and protects it from the intrusive and alien. When it is functioning properly, the immune system will repel invaders. One of the ways in which an immune system can go wrong is to assault cells that it is supposed to protect. When a culture is functioning properly, it will react to invaders by mobilizing its society for resistance. Likewise, when a culture goes faulty, it may not only (like an AIDS-afflicted immune system) fail to protect against the alien invasion; it can even (as in auto-immune disease) attack its own society.

The notion that culture is the ultimate backbone of a people, the immune system of a society, is alien to the niggerized consciousness of the populations of PanAfrica. Many of their comprador elite now see African culture as nothing more than a source of fossilized arts and museum pieces to be sold to earn foreign exchange! Others view it as a disgraceful, primitive paganism that should be smashed and consigned to the bonfire. That is a most dangerous situation and needs to be urgently ended if the peoples of PanAfrica intend to survive. To help bring home to Africans the true nature and vital function of culture, there is probably no better example than Meiji Japan.

Meiji Japan: ancestral culture in the modernization process

How and why did Japan survive the Pan European attempt to colonize and destroy it and, within 50 years, 1868-1904, convert itself into a world power? How and why did a Japan that was overawed by Commodore Perry and his few gunboats in 1853 turn itself into a power that defeated Imperial Russia in 1904? To see the Meiji spirit and Japanese culture in action, the book to read is Lafcadio Hearn, Writings from Japan, ed by Francis King, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984; especially the essays “The Japanese Family”, “A Conservative”, “Christian Converts” and “A Glimpse of Tendencies”. But the whole book needs to be read to get a feel for Japanese culture and how it came to the rescue of the Japanese people and saved them from the White Peril that overwhelmed the rest of the non-European world.
By way of introduction to the Meiji example, here are some excerpts from Lafcadio Hearn:

1. In many ways a human society may be compared biologically with an individual organism. Foreign elements introduced forcibly into the system of either, and impossible to assimilate, set up irritations and partial disintegration, until eliminated naturally or removed artificially. Japan is strengthening herself through elimination of disturbing elements; and this natural process is symbolized in the resolve to . . . leave nothing under foreign control within the empire. It is also manifested in the dismissal of foreign employees, in the resistance offered by Japanese congregations to the authority of foreign missionaries, and in the resolute boycotting of foreign merchants. (p. 268)

2. On "the queer superstitions of the pre-Meiji era concerning" Occidentals

Although recognized as intelligent and formidable creatures, Occidentals were thought of as more closely allied to animals than to mankind. They had hairy bodies of queer shape; their teeth were different from those of men; their internal organs were also peculiar; and their moral ideas those of goblins. –(p. 296)

3. On Foreigners and foreign help

What is worse for the alien than miscomprehension is the simple fact that he is in the position of an invader. (p. 263)
There is also the definite conviction that foreign help is proof of national feebleness (p. 268)

4. On the family as social unit

Though the individual is now registered, and made directly accountable to the law, while the household has been relieved from its ancient responsibility for the acts of its members, still the family practically remains the social unit, retaining its patriarchal organization and its particular cult. (p. 221)

4. The law of duty

From servant to master – up through all degrees of the household hierarchy – the law of duty was the same: obedience absolute to custom and tradition. The ancestral cult permitted no individual freedom: nobody could live according to his or her pleasure; everyone had to live according to rule. The individual did not even have a legal existence; the family was the unit of society. Even its patriarch existed in law as representative only, responsible both to the living and the dead. (p. 287)

5. Ancestor Worship

A samurai boy . . . was educated to revere the ancient gods and the spirits of his ancestors; he was well schooled in the Chinese ethics; and he was taught something of Buddhist philosophy and faith. But he was likewise taught that hope of heaven and fear of hell were for the ignorant only; and the superior man should be influenced in his conduct by nothing more selfish than love of right for its own sake, and the recognition of duty as a universal law. . . . [Accordingly] the young samurai [grew up] fearless, courteous, self-denying, despising pleasure, and ready at an instant’s notice to give his life for love, loyalty, or honor. (p. 293)

6. National motivation and solidarity

[To] a people of forty millions, uniting all their energies to achieve absolute national independence, . . . the existence of foreign settlements in Japan, under consular jurisdiction, was in itself a constant exasperation to national pride, an indication of national weakness. (p.265)
The average Japanese would prefer to work fifteen hours a day for one of his own countrymen than eight hours a day for a foreigner paying higher wages. (p. 265)

7. The Japanese soul and the English language

. . . the idea of making English the language, or at least one of the languages of the country, and the idea of changing ancestral modes of feeling and thinking . . were wild extravagances. Japan must develop her own soul: she cannot borrow another. A dear friend whose life has been devoted to philology once said to me while commenting upon the deterioration of manners among the students of Japan: ‘Why, the English language itself has been a demoralizing influence!’ There was much depth in that observation. Setting the whole Japanese nation to study English (the language of a people who are being forever preached to about their ‘rights,’ and never about their ‘duties’) was almost an imprudence. The policy . . . helped to sap ethical sentiment. (pp. 271-272)

The above are from Lafcadio Hearn’s observations on the Meiji Japanese of the 1890s, in the decade when they were furiously preparing to burst forth as a world power.
The spirit of Meiji was expressed in slogans, such as: Sonno-joi (Revere the Emperor! Expel the barbarians!); fukoku-kyohei (rich country, strong arms!) and fukko (Return to Antiquity). Such slogans were actually implemented. In keeping with fukko, for example, Shinto (the way of kami), the ancient indigenous religious beliefs and practices of Japan, with it multitude of kami (sacred powers: ancestor spirits and nature spirits), was strengthened and institutionalized as the state religion, State Shinto. Shinto festivals and ceremonies became integrated into the affairs of government. Shinto moral teaching was made compulsory in schools, the doctrine of the divinity of the Emperor was inculcated, and the government took up the administration of the country’s more than 100,000 shinto shrines. Everybody (whether Buddhist, Christian or Shintoist) was required, as a patriotic duty, to make obeisance at Shinto shrines. The effectiveness of this anchoring of modernization on the ancestral religion and culture was demonstrated by the fervent national spirit which enabled Japan to become a world power within 50 years. The cultural source of that effectiveness was recognized by the Americans when they attempted to smash the cultural foundations of Japanese power. In 1945, after Japan’s defeat in WWII, despite their democratic propaganda for religious freedom, the American conquerors decreed the abolition of State Shinto, forbade the government to support Shinto shrines, and suppressed the doctrine of the emperor’s divinity.

Lest we think the Japanese thereafter lost their cultural anchor, here is an observation of the Japanese in the 1990s by Graham Hancock:

For no matter how modern, rational and scientific Japan has become, it is still a land in which powerful and ineffable spiritual forces are perceived to move in secret behind all things, to pervade all things, and to underlie the very fabric of reality. . . .
-- Hancock, Graham Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, London: Michael Joseph, 2002, pp. 567-568

In other words, despite pulling off two miracles -- industrial modernization in the 19th century, and spectacular economic recovery in the 20th century – the Japanese still remain animists!

How, you may ask, did Japan contain the 'demoralizing influence' of the English language? According to Professor Kinichiro Toba of Waseda University:

My grandfather graduated from the University of Tokyo at the beginning of the 1880s. His notebooks were full of English. My father graduated from the same university in 1920 and half of his notes were filled with English. When I graduated a generation later my notes were all in Japanese. So … it took three generations for us to consume western civilization totally via the means of our own language.
--quoted in Chinua Achebe, “What has Literature Got to do with it?” in Hopes and Impediments, London: Heinemann, 1988, p. 110

Japanese and Africans compared

Thus, throughout their Meiji industrialization project, and while preparing their post WWII re-emergence as an economic power, the Japanese took care not to repudiate their ancestor worship, their animism, their ’pagan’ Shinto religion, and the other core aspects of their ancestral culture. Not for them the foolishness of abandoning Japanese religion and language as a precondition for modernization.
In stark contrast to the Japanese, whenever African societies have been invaded by alien forces in the last millennium, their Islamized, Christianized, or Eurochauvinized members not only repudiated their ancestral culture; they also enthusiastically joined in assaulting their own culture and demonizing their own ancestors for alleged paganism, “unbelief” or primitivism. These “fifth columnists” have zealously destroyed African religions, customs and traditions instead of identifying with and protecting them. In making its members attack itself, such alien-perverted, partially disintegrated, ‘triple-heritage’ pseudo-African societies have manifested the cultural equivalents of auto-immune diseases. African Afrophobia and Negrophobia are symptoms of this class of cultural diseases.

A strengthening, not a weakening, let alone repudiation or liquidation of ancestral Japanese culture was the foundation for the modernization of Japan. Quite unlike Africans who have been brainwashed into thinking that, in order to learn to fly, they must first cut off and throw away their own feet. Of course, having thrown away their ancestral cultural feet, Africans have found it impossible to modernize. They have no feet left to stand upon and sprint for take off!

Lagos, January 2005

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