Kudokushi means “the lonely death.” It is a Japanese term for when people die alone or unnoticed. If you have been keeping up with the news you know that there has been an increase in kudokushi over the past few years in Japan. A husband, wife and son were found dead together, most likely from starvation, several months after they had last been seen. Two sisters froze to death in their apartment and were not noticed missing for weeks. I would include the bit about Japan’s oldest man actually having been dead for 30 years but that would appear to have been more because of a family scam then kudokushi.
The family that died had run out of money and food. They had asked their neighbors for assistance but been turned down and told to apply for welfare instead. Welfare, in Japan, is something that is seen as beyond the last resort because of the stigma and shame associated with it. People would rather starve to death then become known for being on the rolls. And the whole thing is shocking when you consider the culture of Japan towards its elders. Somehow, people have begun not to notice each other.
But it is not just in Japan that there has been this shift away from community and more towards isolation. Not to mention, the act of going on welfare or assistance, besides being socially unacceptable and shameful, is such a brutal and dehumanizing process that yes – people would rather starve, for the most part, then take on something that strips them of all hope and humanity.
That is a fundamental flaw not just in our social perceptions of need but also in our culture of providing help (and now I am speaking about the US). Our system…no…our industry of help is a very sick puppy. While yes, it is trying to provide for a very large population it has grown to devalue the person and to make it virtually impossible for someone to get off the assistance. There are serious penalties for trying to go beyond.
A large part of this stems from the originations of our social work system. Jane Adams and Elizabeth Blackwell are generally credited with beginning the system. But, like Margaret Sangar, who is known as one of the earliest advocates of contraception, their ideas of helping, while based in compassion, were guided by their strong beliefs in Eugenics. Eugenics is the belief that only the best should be allowed to breed. Every time you hear the phrase “master race” is has to do with Eugenics. It is the idea that there are those who are the future and those who should only be the beasts of burden of the present.
What they started has grown into an unwieldy system that does not help people to get out of poverty, but instead sustains and maintains them at that level. Even the vaunted “welfare-to-work” program was so ill thought out that the majority of participants wound right back up on welfare after a year or so of being off because their life was unsustainable. We have this illusion that giving someone an opportunity is enough for them to break free of the grinding wheels of poverty. We have an illusion that certain sectors of society have developed a culture of poverty, when in fact, they haven’t, it is the rest of society that has developed the culture of keeping that group in poverty.
After all, what would the world look like if everyone could eat and feel secure?
The rise of governance by group (and I don’t care if it is a democracy, Marxist or socialist group) has resulted in the destruction of community the world over. There is not one political system that has come into being that has done anything to reinforce community. When you have a strong community, they feel a responsibility towards taking care of their members. People do not go missing. People do not beg and get passed by.
The only model I have seen that is even remotely functional is that of the intentional community and I am not talking about communes. More and more intentional communities are building, one of the strongest is the online community of computer programmers. They take care of their own. They are able to move effectively against a governing body if their community welfare is threatened, they feel a responsibility towards each other and are not so isolated that they do not participate with people outside their community. There are other ones rising. More and more you will find intentional communities of doctors, lawyers, artisans and food growers who get together and decide that their services should be affordable to the community at large and they go against the grain of profit. It’s not socialism, they still get paid and still make a profit, but they have opted to cap that profit to retain community accessibility.
I forget which economist it was who, back in the 40s suggested that unless we had a ratio cap on wealth and profit, America would eventually be ripped apart by class and income differences. He proposed a ratio of 3 to 1, I believe. No one could be paid more than 3 times what the least member of society earned (and that included compensations, bonuses etc). He said that unless we codified this ratio the captains of industry would lose their sense of responsibility for the community and their recognition of the role community plays in making them successful. If they would like to earn obscene and unnecessary amounts of money well, then they have to invest in making sure the least keeps pace.
It’s an interesting idea. One, however, that flies in the face of the kind of culture of “l am better than you” that we have evolved.
I think I have digressed. It was a hellofa busy week, but a good one. Now, I have a weekend of no work, just a little volunteering, a lot of reading and a lot of fooling around with MK. MK who has just discovered the joys of being made into the bed. Who knows where her logic comes from?
c.2012 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.