Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
The muddled ideas of criminal responsibility found in the short article “Wife killer sentenced to 17 years in prison,” (December 10th) are the tip of the iceberg of chronic confusions. The defense for convicted wife murderer Takashi Kaneko claims that “Kaneko was innocent” because “at the time of the crime he was mentally impaired and therefore not criminally responsible.” Not being criminally responsible - what is called culpability - is not synonymous with innocence, and I found no argument in the story supporting the notion that Kaneko was “innocent” - meaning that, in fact, he had not murdered his estranged wife in her parents’ home in Utsunomiya after all. Indeed, the defense concedes that a crime was committed and that Mr. Kaneko was involved in it. But being of a mentally diminished capacity does not absolve one of guilt for wrongdoing so much as it excuses one for culpability for it. Guilt remains. Similarly, being found guilty of a crime does not mean that the convicted person is really guilty of it - as cases of the wrongfully accused and convicted attest. I might suggest that culpability is a feature of our humanity and that we are diminished by over zealous attempts to excuse us from ourselves for our own behavior.
Sloppy use of language coupled with lazy thinking and sheer apathy contribute to a whole host of fantasies that constitute our daily lives: the confusion of love with sex, or law with justice, or activity with accomplishment, or money with success, or selfishness with virtue among others. Neither individuals nor society are well served by such confusions and fantasies.
But I could be wrong.
Published on Sunday, December 14, 2008 as “Sloppy use of language complicates issues.”
This is only my third Daily Yomiuri letter to be printed this year, but my 17th letter to date in that newspaper. The editorial staff printed the letter unchanged in its content, but they made a few more paragraphs than what I wrote originally. I feel quite happy with it, although I regret forgetting to include the classic confusion of school with education among my list of the “host of fantasies that constitute our daily lives.”