In the wake of Japan's deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant explosions, we have witnessed the almost indescribable chaos that follows a disaster of this magnitude: loss of life, severe injuries, homelessness, lack of water, food and proper medical care, the physical destruction of towns and cities, and a growing fear of radioactive contamination from power plants that seem beyond anyone's ability to control.In the list of problems and things to be concerned about with right now, this is pretty far down the list. Still, I keep seeing various permutations of this thinking and it needs to be called out for the racist, orientalist bullshit that it is.
But one heart-wrenching byproduct of disasters like this one has been missing in Japan, and that’s looting and lawlessness.
Looting is something we see after almost every tragedy; for example: last year's earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the floods in England in 2007, and of course Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. It happens when some people who've seen life as they know it get tossed out the window feel that all morality has been tossed out too. It's survival of the fittest and whatever you can get your hands on is yours, no matter who it belongs to.
But that's not happening in Japan.
Latent Orientalism is the unconscious, untouchable certainty about what the Orient is. Its basic content is static and unanimous. The Orient is seen as separate, eccentric, backward, silently different, sensual, and passive. ... Its progress and value are judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so it is always the Other...
|'Where are the looters?', asks the Western media|
First of all, as for the looting, the differences are not cultural, but circumstantial.
In Japan, the tsunami wiped out entire towns. In places that are hit by tsunami, there is nothing left to loot nor any home to stash it in. Its not some mystical restraint of civilized people.
In the immediate aftermath of any cataclysmic disaster, people are too shocked in the first week to do much of anything but come to grips with reality, search for surviving friends and family and get someplace safe. In Japan, there is nothing left of places the tsunami flooded. There is nothing to scavenge, and nowhere to take it. In Japan, there was very little damage to places that the tsunami did not hit. Their buildings and infrastructure survived a massive earth quake intact. The displaced and stunned people from the devastated areas have the prospect of a safe, orderly refuge to go to. The government has been able to provide some shelter, aid, transportation and begun searching for survivors. Those are reasons why people are not 'looting.'
Compare this situation to Katrina or Haiti.
In Haiti, for the first week or so, reporters kept remarking in anxious surprise on the lack of looting and lawlessness they were sure would descend on Haiti right after the earthquake. In Haiti, very little survived the earthquake. There was no shelter to take. The government did very little, they did not begin organizing relief, providing food, shelter, and medical aide. They did not rescue survivors or begin disposing the bodies. The government was almost completely non-existent. The foreign assistance was badly organized, ineffective, and poorly executed as well. Things were very fucked and stayed fucked. Without adequate food, medicine or shelter, hungry and desperate people began scavenging and fighting over what little supplies they could find to survive in the remains. That is what we called 'looting.'
The tsunami of 2004 had a peculiar form of looting. After the tsunami washed people away, corporations came in and bought up the land. They then put up expensive beach resorts over the ruins of what were peoples villages and permanently displaced the survivors, leaving them to go where ever it is unpeople go.
Third, the entire looting narrative is racist bullshit. For instance, in Katrina we had shit like this:
The initial reports about gun fire, looting, raping and most everything else the media and others accused the survivors of doing was later found to be completely unfounded and a case of seeing phantoms. There was more than a touch of racism to these hysterics. That these projected fantasies of violence and lawlessness still persists as memory of what really happened is disgusting, really, when you consider that the actual lawlessness was perpetrated by trigger happy police officers and private security contractors on desperate people trying to get out of there alive. That happened most infamously in, but not limited to, the Danziger Bridge murders. When Japanese authorities start shooting displaced Japanese citizens and burning their bodies to cover up the evidence, then we can start making comparisons.
The sister to this sentiment about Japanese culture explaining the lack of looting is speculation that the Japanese are culturally resistant to accepting help to the point of fault. Adam Clark Estes does not spell out, but strongly hints at cultural biases,
"Japan has a troublesome history of downplaying disasters... We can only speculate as to the root of this downplaying. Reports from Tokyo today show how even in the time of a disaster, the Japanese people go to work in the mornings, deliver the mail per usual, and generally do their best to carry on with their everyday lives."As for why the Japanese government is slow to accept aid, again, we don't need to resort to cultural stereotypes to explain this. Were we left to "speculate as to what the roots" were of the U.S. government's troublesome history of downplaying disasters like the financial meltdown of 2008, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and refusing aid in the wake of Katrina and the BP oil spill?