Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Culture Crap, and the NAIIC Report Tangentially

On July 5, 2012, the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) issued its report and so-called “executive” summaries in both Japanese and English. The documents can be downloaded here (Japanese page) or here (English page). Given the logistics of producing all three documents for simultaneous release, it was inevitable that the two summaries would have to be produced by two different teams simultaneously. The pages now carry the following disclaimer (English version), no doubt effective “retroactively.”

“If there are any discrepancies or differences between the Japanese-language version and this Global edition, the Japanese-language version shall prevail.” br>
What really caught the attention of the Japan-watching crowd, though, was this article in the Guardian by Justin McCurry that quoted Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the NAIIC Chairman venting:

“What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity. “Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.”

My take on this in the SSJ Forum was twofold:

1) Dr. Kurokawa’s evocation of “Japanese culture” was silly though understandable, and trivial since it was not part of the main text of the report.. 2) “Japanese culture” is at best amusing as a way to explain institutional behavior.

I thought that I gave an adequate explanation of 1) and that 2) was self-evident. The flurry of commentary on 2) showed that I was wrong, though it did prove my point when it emerged that there was no consensus on what “culture” meant, much less on how “Japanese culture” was connected to individual outcomes. Mike Smitka rarely posts, but usually makes sense when he does, and this was no exception. That must have something to do with his engineering background. The humanities generally allow Grand Assumptions to be connected to Grand Conclusions with unfalsifiable rhetoric—I like to think that I’ve become quite good at spotting those rhetorical tricks in recent years—but Smitka’s technical upbringing most likely forces him to look for the gears, pulleys, belts, and levers that work together to make sure that the whole contraption actually works.

It’s good forum all in all. You should subscribe if you haven’t been doing so already. And you can track the arguments, including the one that I referred to, in the archives.

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