Sunday, June 12, 2011

I NEVER CAN SAY “GOOD-BYE” to SHOGANAI (After all)--Part 2

NOTE: Part 1 of “I NEVER CAN SAY “GOOD-BYE” to SHOGANAI (After all)” can be found at

By Kevin Stoda, Middle East, East Asia, USA

Last month, I began writing this series entitled, I NEVER CAN SAY “GOOD-BYE” to SHOGANAI (After all). I had originally intended to write on the topic of “shoganaism” (or the “It can’t be helped” syndrome) in the Middle East and Asia almost a decade ago. At that time I had realized that Asians, whether living in far-flung Japan or the Middle East—like Kuwait and the UAE—had far more in common culturally than I had imagined. Since that time, I have seen the same sort of stoicism as having surfaced more-and-more in the West, as well, in recent decades.

Let me begin by noting that Middle Easterner are high context cultures who rely on building relationships over time in order to do business. [1]

“High-context cultures are characterized by extensive information networks among family, friends, associates, and even clients.”

This building of (or birth of) implicit relationships involves the collecting of something called, “Wasta”. Wasta can be collected from someone in a relationship quickly or more often over years and ultimately cashed in upon in key situations.

Likewise, in Eastern Asia we also find high context cultures where such “Wasta” is collected and then banked over time for future usage in building relationships. In Chinese it is called “Guanxi ( ----係 )”. In Japanese, it is known nowadays as CONE (pronounced “cone-A”), which is an acronym for the Western word “connections. (I have written about this in more detail in a recent article, entitled “Building Connections and Gaining International Perspectives in Taiwan and East Asia” :)

More pertinent to this second section of I NEVER CAN SAY “GOOD-BYE” to SHOGANAI (After all), there are other similarities between Southwest Asian and Northeast Asian perspectives on life and how we relate to our world and/or destinies . For example, both Arab-Muslim cultures and the Japanese have a tendency to often state flatly that either destiny or some God is uncontrollably in charge of their world (their business, their home life, their social development, and their approach to traditions). In almost all East Asian and Souteast Asian cultures this is all implicitly accepted. This is part of the high context culture of East Asia. Meanwhile, in both the Middle East and in Japan, one is stoically expected to move forward and/or rely on one’s Gods to bring about a better ultimate end or destiny.

Thus, inn Japanese, I would often hear colleagues and speakers on TV state flatly, “Shoganai” (present tense) or “Shikatta ganai” (past tense), which can be translated as “It can’t be helped” or “It couldn’t be helped, i.e. this situation was unavoidable.” In many cases—from my Western perspective--, I had thought, “What nonsense, if they really wanted to, they could change the situation or change traditions or change the status quo of behavior—if they so desired to do so.”

I should now reiterate that “Shoganai is a Japanese word that literally means ‘there is no way of doing, it can’t be helped – nothing can be done’. It is [an] interesting word, because it shows the culture of restraint in Japan – people should not complain. Indeed, complaining in Japan has been always kind of a taboo. Complaining is a sign of weakness. Relative word to shoganai is gaman, which means something like “Be patient”.

This is a stoically resilient approach to events, situations, and the world around us. This stoicism was particularly revealed in the manner with which the Japanese picked themselves up after WWII—i.e. when their cities had been totally burned out-- and then rebuilt their civilization. In short, within three to four decades the Japanese were able to rebuild their nation state, and Japan had become the second biggest economy in the world. Similarly, after the 1995 Kobe earthquake—the most destructive quake since WII—the entire Kobe region was put back together in an amazingly short period of time.

In case your memory fails you, “[t]he Great Hanshin earthquake occurred at 5:46 a.m. on Tuesday, January 17, 1995. . . . The earthquake had a local magnitude of 7.2. The duration was about 20 seconds. The focus of the earthquake was less than 20 km below Awaji-shima, an island in the Japan Inland Sea. This island is near the city of Kobe, which is a port city. The earthquake was particularly devastating because it had a shallow focus. The earthquake had a ‘strike-slip mechanism.’ The resulting surface rupture had an average horizontal displacement of about 1.5 meters on the Nojima fault. This fault which runs along the northwest shore of Awaji Island.”

Over 5100 deaths occurred—mainly in the Kobe area. That is many more deaths than the total of the combined number of victims killed in the 4 major terror attacks and hijackings in the U.S.A. on September 11, 2001.
In that same summer of 1995, I passed through the Kobe and Hanshin region several times by bullet train. I could only hear of memories of the quake—visually much of the mess had been cleaned up Many Japanese had—on the surface—simply moved on: “What else could one do?” “It couldn’t be helped.” (Shoganai) Meanwhile, no major political officials, nor military officers, fire marshals nor high-ranking city officials (nor regional planners) were arrested for negligence in construction and design.

One should recognize the fact that “[m]ost of the deaths and injuries occurred when older wood-frame houses with heavy clay tile roofs collapsed. Note that homes and buildings are designed to be very strong in the vertical direction because they must support their own static weight. On the other hand, buildings can be very susceptible to horizontal ground motion. Furthermore, many of the structures in Kobe built since 1981 had been designed to strict seismic codes. Most of these buildings withstood the earthquake. In particular, newly built ductile-frame high rise buildings were generally undamaged.”

Sadly and “[u]nfortunately, many of the buildings in Kobe had been built before the development of strict seismic codes. The collapse of buildings was followed by the ignition of over 300 fires within minutes of the earthquake. The fires were caused by ruptured gas lines. Response to the fires was hindered by the failure of the water supply system and the disruption of the traffic system.” In summary, in many cases, it was the many poorer residents of Kobe who were most physically affected by the quake and subsequent fires. This was particularly upsetting because in many cases, the Japanese fire departments did not have enough (sufficient) ready-access to basic quantities of water to put these fires out in any timely manner.
In short, even though the city of Kobe had had decades to prepare for a large quake and the country had had adequate sums of capital to improve infrastructure, i.e. citywide in Kobe, little had been done to improve on housing and building conditions—which had been built in the period of the early Japanese post-War boom of the 1950s through 1970s.
Japanese seismology professor Tsuneo Katayama wrote shortly thereafter, “"While our country was having a bubbling economy, we Japanese forgot to pay due attention to mother nature."

Despite this glaring failure of (some of the greatest business- and social planners that the modern-world-has-ever-known i.e.) the Japanese government and its economic planners to look into how to improve Kobe’s aging infrastructure, very little had been done in advance of the 1995 quake on any older structures—including older highways and department stores.
However, the Japanese as a nation responded in the traditional “Shoganai” fashion—an attitude of stoicism in responding to and cleaning up after that devastating quake. Afterwards, the Japanese then moved on mentally—till March of 2011--when the great Fukushima Quake and Sendai Tsunami once again awoke the nation’s sleeping local administrative, national leaders, and corporate bigwigs from their post-Kobe stoicism.

More Muslims live in Asia than on any other continent. One common expression that you will hear several times a day spoken by Arab Muslims (and most other Muslims world-wide) is “Inshallah”, which is roughly translated as “If Allah wills” or simply “God willing”.
At face-value, “Inshallah” [2] is a recognition of (all men) man’s predestination or destiny. Religiously and respectfully, it is a recognition that man makes plans but a higher-being in-the-end sees and oversees what will take shape or form from such plans, dreams, and intentions of simple man.
On the one hand, “One's use of Insha Allāh indicates one's desire to succeed in an endeavour that one intends to embark upon. It indicates one's desire for God's blessing for an endeavour that one intends to embark upon. For an example, if one's goal has been achieved by other persons only with great difficulty, one invokes God's blessing before one attempts to achieve it. Muslims incant Insha Allāh in their speech about plans and in their speech about events that they expect to occur in the future. The phrase also acknowledges submission to God, with the speaker putting him or herself into God's hands, and accepting the fact that God sometimes works in inscrutable ways.” So, if you are doing business with Muslims and making plans and agreements, you will hear the phrase “Inshallah” repeated numerous times—throughout and after the negotiations are apparently completed.
“In the Qu'ran, Muslims are told that they should never say they will do a particular thing in the future without adding ‘insha'Allah’ to the statement. This is why ‘insha'Allah’ [by Westerners] sometimes perceived as a way to shrug off a question.” However, as noted above, East Asians (and many other Asians), such as those from Japan are also known to be apparently quite reticent to get to “Yes” and “No” during negotiations with Westerners, i.e. in terms of giving full- or non-commitment to taking part in a project or a deal.
In other words, this deference to a greater being or to a greater controller of one’s destiny is almost universal from one corner of Asia to the other.
Likewise, it should be noted that “[s]ome Christians” should definitely not be “surprised to learn that a similar sentiment also appears in the Bible, in the Epistle of James 4:15, which says that people should remember that they never know what tomorrow will bring, so the will of God should always be acknowledged when making plans. This usage of Insha Allāh is from Islamic scripture, Surat Al Kahf (18):24: ‘And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): 'If God wills!' And remember your Lord when you forget...'"
It is quite likely that up till the era in the West, which is now referred to as the Age of Enlightenment (circa the 18th Century), that the practice of saying “If God wills” when making one’s promises or claims was still quite prevalent in Western Europe and in Colonial America.
On the other hand, since the Age of Enlightenment, a growing distinction in the West among many Christian groups and non-Christian could be discerned, e.g. to the concepts of predestination or destiny--and a man’s ability to make choices for change, reform, or initiate an act of any new creation new projects, including nation state building. This meant that a shift occurred in Western thinking from the 18th century onwards which officially and in daily practice sidelined the dominant role that predestination and destiny had had in how Westerners perceived their world and their life choices which they face in the world as individuals, as families, and as national tribes.[3]
In short, in many ways, the sort of predestination which both Muslim and East Asian peoples is more like that of ancient stoics. Accordingly, it should be recognized that “[s]toicism is a pre-Christian philosophy. The ancient Stoics had no concept of grace or redemption.” Moreover,”[e]vents in the world, on the other hand, including all the beliefs and actions of other people, are essentially not in our control. Such things as the weather, the stock market or the behavior of dogs, drivers or dot-com companies are ultimately not up to us.”
Therefore, Far Eastern thought and predestination-oriented faiths, such as Islam, have seemingly absorbed or created certain tenants of stoicism—as had Christianity up-until the ages of the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Enlightenment in Europe.
On the other hand, “The Stoics believed that rational choices should always lead us to behave virtuously, and thus wisely, courageously, justly and temperately. These choices – along with our attitudes, emotional responses and mental outlook – are up to us to control. We cannot be forced to have beliefs, form judgments or attempt actions without consciously, voluntarily choosing to do so. In short, these mental activities are up to us.”
These beliefs have in some ways still deeper roots in the Eastern Asian world than in the Western world. The Chinese, for example, have mixed faiths for generations, i.e. Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism,--all in which there is belief that people have choice but within the aforementioned limits of greater forces, including events in our world. Within this group of events are also included all the beliefs and actions of other peoples [and social systems or planning networks which created by others].
All of these things are essentially not in our control: (1) the weather, (2) many facets of nature, (3) the stock market, (4) bureaucratic traditions, (5) the behavior of dogs, (6) behaviors of other drivers or (7) “dot-com companies are ultimately not up to us.”
Even Islam, which is pre-deterministic but in no-way simply a faith based on stoicism, adheres to this recognition of the larger forces (e.g. family, tribe, nation, and God), controlling our destiny, especially as and whenever the concept and phrase of “Inshallah” is used. In summary, functionally speaking both “Inshallah” and “Shoganai” reflect similar world views, i.e. a reference point where the world of Islam and Eastern faiths (and Asian world views) have adopted or embraced facets of stoicism.

Originally, the United States was founded by optimists and deists who believed that man had a choice and deserved the freedom to pursue his destiny. This has been taught in our constitution and in our schools for generations. Recently, though, there has been a rise in belief systems in America more closely akin to the Stoics and more closely akin to the pre-enlightened world of American forefathers. Moreover since the U.S.A. has become more like its enemy in it wars on terror in the last few decades, Americans are taking on more and more stoic or even Islamic world views of our future and our destiny. Here is one example of the change in linguistic discourse since the U.S.A. invaded Iraq in 2003.
A few years ago, Cullen Murphy published an article entitled, “Inshallah: The war in Iraq might leave us a new word to match a new sense of our own limitations.” The focus of the article was first on traditional usage of the word “Inshallah” in the Middle East. Murphy wrote: “When worlds collide, the sparks are sometimes linguistic. Not long ago, in a Q and A on the Web site of The New York Times, an Iraqi translator was asked to explain the points of difference he saw between his own people and the Americans he encountered in Iraq. He brought up the Arabic phrase “inshallah.”
“The Americans, he [the translator] said, “have respect for time”; Iraqis, in contrast, “use the word inshallah, which means ‘if God wishes,’ to postpone things.”
Murphy continued, “It may be that this point of difference won’t be a distinction much longer. An American colonel in Iraq, writing to The Washington Post’s Thomas E. Ricks, recently observed: ‘The phrase ‘inshallah,’ or ‘God willing,’ has permeated all ranks of the Army. When you talk to U.S. soldiers about the possible success of ‘the surge,’ you’d be surprised how many responded with ‘inshallah.’’ The phrase seems to have permeated all ranks of the diplomatic corps, too: Zalmay Khalilzad, when he was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, once stated at a press conference, “Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.’”
Murphy appropriately stated the so-called truism “ that words migrate because the concepts they connote have also migrated.” Americans, who had once as-a-whole, believed the future to be “malleable, and it lies in our human hands to shape. Options are always on the table.”
Moreover, Murphy noted, “At the end of his adventures, Huck Finn says ‘no thanks’ to ‘sivilizin’ and decides to ‘light out for the territory’ to the west. Baseball, the national sport, has no fixed time limit; a game could theoretically continue in extra innings forever. We nurture venture capitalists, but also a breed of ‘venture philanthropists’ bent on bringing forth the novus ordo seclorum—a ‘new order of the ages’—proclaimed on our dollar bills.”
Murphy explained that historically the idea of a “typical America” had hardly –if ever-- included “up to now, …the inshallah type.”
Has America now been changed by its endless wars—many lost ones or losing ones? Is this a good thing?
What world view is this stoic generation of soldiers, mercenaries and military contractors bringing home to America? Is it a recognition of our limits on the global stage militarily and our need to work within the real limits of war and growth-- or will this generation bring the old attitude of blaming the government and the bigwigs for shooting us in the back, i.e. like the German troops did after WWI?

[1] “First used by author Edward Hall, the expressions "high context" and "low context" are labels denoting inherent cultural differences between societies. High-context and low-context communication refers to how much speakers rely on things other than words to convey meaning. Hall states that in communication, individuals face many more sensory cues than they are able to fully process. In each culture, members have been supplied with specific "filters" that allow them to focus only on what society has deemed important. In general, cultures that favor low-context communication will pay more attention to the literal meanings of words than to the context surrounding them.”
[2] Murphy, Cullen, “Inshallah: The war in Iraq might leave us a new word to match a new sense of our own limitations.”
[3] Deism has led the way, quite often, historically in countering Western pre-deterministic attitudes over the past millennia. Here is a list of famous deists according to one website.

Any list of "famous deists" (or "famous Deists") should be consulted with caution. Such lists are not directly analogous to other "famous adherent" lists (i.e., "famous Methodists", "famous Catholics", "famous Buddhists", etc.). This is because "Deism" is usually a rather broad classification of theological belief rather than a discrete, sociologically distinct religious affiliation.

Most famous people that one sees listed as "Deists" on various lists never actually identified themselves by name as "Deists," nor were they ever members of an organized Deist group.

This is not to suggest that such people were not in fact deists. They probably were. But identifying a person as a "deist" is not necessarily very informative because the term can be used so broadly, and it does not really provide any information about a person's upbringing, activities, rituals, congregational life, etc. The list consulted below, for example, lists both Plato (an ancient Greek philosopher) and Thomas Jefferson (an Episcopalian) as "Deists." To whatever limited extent Plato and Jefferson had similar beliefs about deity (a debatable proposition), it may be true that these two individuals are both "deists." But in no way does this really mean that they were both in the same religion. Jefferson had far more in common with fellow Episcopalians of his day than he did with Plato, even if a number of his theological beliefs did not conform to Episcopalian orthodoxy of his day. From a sociological and historical point of view, it is more interesting to compare and contrast Jefferson with fellow Episcopalians and with non-Episcopalians (such as Quakers, Catholics, Congregationalists in the early American Colonies), than to group him with ancient Greek philosophers.

From a philosophical and theological perspective, however, it may indeed be best to consider the writings of Jefferson alongside the writings of people such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. But doing that lies outside the scope of this website, which presents data primarily from a sociological perspective.

In some cases, the "Deist" label, when applied to a famous historical figure, is informative and truly does capture their philosophy and the way they lived their life and went about the activities that made them memorable. Other times, the label is misapplied to people who are genuinely active in or profoundly influenced by other religious backgrounds, and the "deist" label is little more than proof-texting based on quotes taken out of context. Deist-sounding quotes could probably be extracted from the writing of nearly anybody who has written extensively about religion, ethics or philosophy. Once again, this is not to suggest that people listed as "deists" weren't actually deists. Rather, it seems that deist sentiment is not particularly rare or remarkable. Nor are "deist" beliefs or leanings the only or the most significant religious influence in most cases. Note that for all or nearly all of the "Deists" on the list below, an affiliation can be identified with an organized religion or denomination.
The names listed below are from the "List of deists" webpage on website (; viewed 6 July 2005)
This page had the following heading describing its contents: "This is a partial list of believers in Deism... They have been selected for their influence on Deism, or for their fame in other areas."
Later, the following additional administrative note was posted to this Wikipedia page: "This list is poorly-defined, permanently incomplete, or has become unverifiable or an indiscriminate list or repository of loosely associated topics. If you are familiar with it, please redefine the list, complete it, prune it, or discuss its parameters on the talk page."
• Ethan Allen - American revolutionary and guerrilla leader
• Aristotle - ancient Greek philosopher; founder of Aristotelianism
• George Berkeley - Anglican bishop; philosopher
• Cicero - Platonist; orator
• Charles Darwin - nominal Anglican; active Unitarian
• Paul Davies - Australian philosopher, physicist
• Albert Einstein - Jewish, with Spinozan concept of God
• Antony Flew - raised Methodist; was a famous atheist who switched to Deism
• Benjamin Franklin - a Founding Father of United States; inventor; diplomat
• Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - German philosopher and writer
• Stephen Hawking - physicist
• William Hogarth - influntial British artist and engraver
• David Hume - Presbyterian (Church of Scotland); philosopher
• Thomas Jefferson - Episcopalian
• Immanuel Kant - Lutheran; Pietist; philosopher
• Gottfried Leibniz - Lutheran; German philosopher and mathematician
• Gotthold Ephraim Lessing - philosopher, writer, art critic
• Abraham Lincoln - raised Baptist; later a Christian with distinctive beliefs and no specific denominational affiliation
• John Locke - raised as a Puritan (Anglican); later general liberal Protestant Christian
• James Madison - 4th U.S. President; Episcopalian
• Gouverneur Morris - Episcopalian; led committee that produced U.S. Constitution
• Voltaire - Jansenist writer, philosopher
• George Washington - Episcopalian; 1st U.S. president
• Thomas Paine - Quaker; American revolutionary and writer
• Elihu Palmer - former Baptist minister who tried to organize Deism by forming the "Deistical Society of New York"
• Mark Twain - Presbyterian author, humorist
• Plato - ancient Greek philosopher; Platonist
• Alexander Pope - Catholic; poet and satirist
• Maximilien Robespierre - leader of French Revolution
• Baruch Spinoza - Jewish philosopher
• Alfred Lord Tennyson - Anglican writer
• Matthew Tindal - English deist philosopher; raised Anglican
• John Toland - philosopher of deism, "freethinker"; wrote Christianity not Mysterious; distinguished himself from both atheists and orthodox theologians
• Keith R. Wright - founder and first president of the United Deist Church



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