Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Once again, I enjoyed Takeshi Suzuki’s letter, “Lack of morals breeds crime,” (The Japan Times, April 21, 1999). The title of my April 18 letter was “Low intelligence, high crime,” and I am thankful for the titles attached to these two letters because I do not think they reflect conflicting points of view, and they bring out a good point that I have tried to make before in other letters.
I am referring to the proposition that human beings can be said to have a “moral obligation to be intelligent, and therefore, that stupidity - by which I mean deliberate, willful unintelligence - is precisely the same thing as immorality.
In reference to the April 7, 1999 story “Smoker hits commuter with ice pick,” I wrote that tobacco is a drug and tobacco smokers are drug addicts. Well, I am not making up that assessment. It just happens to be the truth (by which I mean a verifiable fact), like it or not. Call me a fool, but I think it a not unreasonable suggestion that willful drug addiction is stupid, ergo
I understand that Japanese by-and-large see themselves as a people who traditionally value group harmony, filial piety, etc. In my April 18 letter I ranked such ideas among Japan’s primary “cultural myths.” I want to stress that I am suggesting they are “myths” precisely because that is how Japanese see themselves. Others perceive them differently. Others, for example, might perceive in Japan a culture with a particularly violent and cruel tradition of unceasing civil war that was only subdued by the crushing effect of the Tokugawa hegemony, which emerged by force of arms and which lasted for two-and-a-half centuries through oppression, tyranny and despotism. Some might argue that such a manner of government and social order persists even to this day. In any event, this is what Japanese came to call their “tradition” of “harmony.”
Suzuki asks how we can improve our morals? He is Japanese and I am not, but I can easily share with him this query because morals, unlike their cousins, ethics, are universal. We can improve our morals by deliberately practicing the arcane, mystic tradition of “The Way of Intelligent Beings.” I heartily agree with Suzuki about much of what he say, but for different reasons.
Incidentally, he writes in his letter about the Aum cult and its followers as an example of intelligent people turned to crime.
First, contrary to what he says, if intelligent people don’t know how to use their intelligence correctly, then they can’t be very intelligent after all, suggesting a dose of what Peter Milward, in this column, correctly called right reason. Sadly, though, the situation is not helped much by the observation that the world today is already full of people who are educated beyond their intelligence.
Second, the whole Aum debacle is a perfect example to me of massive moronism. Shoko Asahara patched together a nonsensical quilt of widely diverse and unrelated religious doctrines, beliefs and practices that he harvested haphazardly. He unleashed them on people who erroneously thought that religion is supposed to contribute practically to their mundane happiness, and what resulted was predictable mass stupidity - very immoral, even criminal behavior that ranks in Japanese criminal history only second behind the premiership of Gen. Hideki Tojo.
Published on Monday, May 2, 1999 as “No degree in common sense.”
I have been waiting for a long time to publicly proclaim the proposition that human beings can be said to have a moral obligation to be intelligent. It ties a couple of things together nicely for me. One, that being imbued by God with our intelligence we are obliged to use it properly. And, two, that for most practical purposes, stupidity - or unintelligence - is sufficiently akin to immorality to actually label it immoral.
The idea is not mine. I borrow it from Martin Luther King, Jr. who made the statement in his argument against institutionalized racism in America. I think I read it in his book, Letter for a Birmingham Jail (1963). His proposition was that institutionalized racism was immoral because it was stupid. If I did not read it there, then it certainly came from Dr. King in any event.