Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
When I studied Japanese society and culture, I read about the high rate of criminal convictions in this country, which is mostly due to criminal confessions rather than to police investigation. And I read about how confession often results in lighter sentences for those who are convicted. But I still do not understand this fetish with confessions from the accused, and why the accused collaborate so readily. After all, the presumption of innocence has been written into the Japanese Constitution since the Occupation. Confession has no substantive meaning, because people can say anything they please. It is what can be proven with evidence that is more substantive. And, even if a person confesses and expresses sincere regret and contrition, who knows the mind and the heart of another? There are matters that properly reside between each of us and God.
With this in mind, I am made all the more curious by the May 10 story “Police chief wants juveniles to repent.” What is this all about? Is the police force some kind of priestly caste of confessors now? The purpose of jail and prison is incarceration, not rehabilitation. That is why these institutions are called“jail” and “prison.” The police and the government have the power but not the authority to arrest, prosecute, incarcerate, execute or educate sovereign individuals. (Most people confuse power with authority. It is a common misunderstanding.) Authority, penitence, forgiveness and contrition are all matters between a sovereign individual and his god.
I am a Westerner, so perhaps my prejudices shine through, but I say it is not the job of government to patronize us, to legislate morality for us or even to eke out contrition from us. Contrition and forgiveness do not erase guilt, after all, nor should they. It is our guilt, or rather our capacity to bear it, that makes us human.
Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2000 as “Guilt makes us human.”
This is a continuation of a topic that I like to expound upon. First, because I really enjoy these philosophical kinds of topics. And, second, because I think that my seminary education gives me more credibility than the average guy in the street. I feel like I want to get my input across as a kind of barrier to people getting too carried away with their own delusions of certainty. Naturally, I feel just as certain about my own positions, which maybe as delusional as anyone else’s. But they’re not.
The philosophy of the state and the exercise of power is a fascinating topic that deserves continuous study. Western cultures commonly refer to the Social Compact argument - that taxation and civic duty are owed to the nation state rests in a contract between government and the governed in exchange for service of the common public good. The governed earn protected rights in exchange for regulated participation in the polity. From a business perspective we can talk about the public enjoying a return for their acquiescence to the claims of government. But even peaceful liberal democracies depend on coercion. That sounds uglier than it really is, but there you have it.
To what extent is government authority intrusion into individual lives permissible? And, if one is in conflict with the law, what constitutes appropriate prosecution and penalty? And on what grounds is penalty imposed or extracted? And one thing that bothers me is when imposition of penalty is accompanied by righteous preaching by the state towards offenders. Or, even without violations of either the law or social custom, I look down on moralizing by social or state organs. In the case of crime, remorse by the convicted seems irrelevant to their guilt. All that ought to concern the state, the media and the public is an adequate demonstration of guilt - or at least culpability - to justify prosecution and incarceration. Investigating the reasons for crime, and trying to persuade criminals to feel remorse as the first step towards rehabilitation can be said to have nothing to do with the society-individual dynamic.