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The Rashoman Syndrome and a Murdered Samurai Called Globalization

Posted by inspir3d on January 8, 2007

One only has to consider the deeper message of films to realize how they often mirror the complexity of modern life. During the super duper long New Year break, I caught up with a 1950’s black & white film directed by Akira Kurosawa, entitled: “Rashoman.”

The film is based on a short satirical story written by Akutagawa Ryunosoke, whose critics once labeled as a fatiguingly clever dilettante – Rashoman can be said to have introduced Kurosawa and Japanese experimental cinema to Western audiences, and is considered by many to be one of his masterpieces.

The film has an unusual narrative structure and begins with a magistrate seeking the differing accounts of four witnesses concerning the murder of a traveling samurai on a country road. The four witnesses, the accused a bandit, the Samurai’s wife, a nameless woodcutter and even the victim through the intervention of medium, all recount the events leading to the crime.

Each account is mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer unable to determine the truth. As I watch the film, I couldn’t but help draw analogies between how the different accounts of the witness resembled the ongoing debate on globalization. Soon I found myself replacing the image of the slumped samurai with my ongoing preoccupation concerning globalization and how it means so many different things to most people simply because many of us are viewing it from very diverse and different angles though we may all be witnessing the same phenomenon unfolding.

This paper attempts to explore those contending views and arguments concerning globalization and what it really means to individuals, firms, institutions and governments (IFIG’s). It also attempts to ask the question how these actors (IFIG’s) are trying to reconcile themselves with the sweeping changes brought forth by globalization in the form of global competition, societal and ethical ramifications and how they may respond to such challenges.

I suspect the reason why most individuals remain uncomfortable with the whole notion of having to jump on the band wagon of globalization is because, we are repeatedly told, if we don’t: we would simply perish.

Apart from being a classical circular argument it also raises ethical concerns whether globalization is perdition or salvation? I say this only because the whole notion of having to globalize is nothing more than an extension of the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest when one strips it all down to its aggregate parts and this realization hardly portends well with the modern notion of how we are supposed to more enlightened than the generation before us – Is globalization the proverbial wolf masking in the sheep’s clothing? How do we reconcile the effects of globalization with its moral turpitude of prioritizing currency at the expense of humanity at all cost? Did we the human race fight two world wars, draft the Geneva Convention, split the atom, break the sound barrier, send a man to the moon, build the Esplanade, try and executed Saddam Hussein only to revisit institutionalized perdition in the guise of globalization?

The question naturally raises the issue of ethics and morality not only in the individual sphere, but it also has far reaching ramifications on trade and commerce, specifically on how firms and governments are increasingly defining the linkage between competitive advantage and social responsibility to successfully globalize without incurring the fall out of being perceived as morally and ethically bankrupt.

The emergence of such a thing as an ethical or moral currency simply means it’s not enough for firms to be either legally or financially compliant or even continue to deliver value to their shareholders. Increasingly firms and governments are beginning to register a ground swell where both shareholders and the electorate are beginning to ask jugular questions as to how value is generated and eventually delivered – we all may still step on creepy crawlies or try to out do those parking aunties with our antics, but increasingly there is an emerging band of individuals who simply don’t want to gain an advantage at the expense of either people or planet.

Paul Krugman was wrong, when he penned down the economic equalizer which spelled out the law: man will always gravitate towards an advantage – that economic adage only holds true providing we are not perceived to be undermining human rights, freedom of speech and above all undoing the very fiber of humanity through globalization – increasingly firms are beginning to register consumers who will simply not vote with their wallets for that designer sweat wicking sports shirt, if it was manufactured in a sweatshop by ten year old Abdul who was handcuffed to a sewing machine, it doesn’t matter how cool or hip it looks, it simply rubs them the wrong way! That’s what Nike realized in the 90”s when the New York Times ran a four page exposes revealing how Indonesian suppliers had been “exploiting” workers – they suffered a shortfall in their winter and spring sales – people turned away, they said, No! – the same thing replayed itself recently when Google derogated their independence to the demands of the Chinese government for “limited” regulation, the result was shareholder abhorrence of the prospects of censorship and the legal constraints imposed by the Chinese government.

The emergence of an ethical or moral currency simply means because globalization is so powerful, there’s an equally strong opposite direction going on. Increasingly individuals, communities and even whole nations are beginning to question the rising jingoism of the day. They’re beginning to question the definitional premise of what globalization really means from the inside out, beyond the clique ridden bureaucratic definition of the IMF and World Bank which defines:

Globalization as the “integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, direct foreign investment (by corporations and multinationals), short-term capital flows, international flows of workers and humanity generally, and flows of technology.”

In the process of deconstructing the wider meaning of globalization and examining its aggregate parts what is beginning to emerge to political scientist, sociologist, economist and planners is globalizing is a far more complex endeavor than its often made up to be.

For one central planners and technocrats tasked with steering globalization policies may choose to issue instructional and directional policy changes which may either be fiscal or have far reaching social, economic and political changes to subscribing states but all too often whether these directives eventually translate into domestic policies remains largely academic.

As the controversy surrounding the inability of states to agree on a common frame work in the Kyoto Accord and insistence of US legislators to impose levies and tariffs to protect their steel mills against foreign competition demonstrates Governments still need to balance the introduction of free market policies with domestic considerations.

This underscores the wild card factor that is increasingly militating efforts to effectively globalize.

The term ‘wild card’ aptly describes this “backlash” because it was originally used in card games, but the term has evolved to describe what many often refer too as “an unknown or unpredictable factor.” Simply because the game becomes all the more complicated when one throws in the notion of moral and ethical currency and how these drivers are increasing acquiring a disproportionate degree of relative importance.

What’s slowly emerging is that the wild card factor is beginning to color the debate of globalization and even modulate its form, shape and methodology of how we should globalize. In a nutshell it’s a nothing short of decentralization, a reversal of the traditional top down imperialistic approach.

It’s no longer just governments and bureaucrats who are setting the cadence of how we should proceed in globalizing the world, firms, shareholders, consumers and even the statistically insignificant are beginning to define the moral or ethical high ground. Neither can firms no matter how large and powerful behave with impunity by circumvented the emerging moral and ethical currency in this new theatre of operations.

To attempt to do so simply means a firm runs the risk of getting their calculations all wrong and they simply wouldn’t be able to pass successfully from the realm of theory to reality, not even if the have all the politicians of the day in their pocket. The wild card factor simply messes up the window of predictability it constricts the aperture of opportunities in more ways that was previously considered possible and the outcome is usually outside the sphere of predictability – it rubbishes the whole idea of strategic planning and management which is predicated on intercepting an event in the future and creating a planned architecture.

Increasingly firms operating away from their home markets are beginning to realize it’s not enough for them to be in compliance legally, that’s the easy part, they need to manage the perception by being seen as moral and ethical in their business practices, they need to even forge a compact with the community which they seek to do business in, one which Michael Porter and Mark Karmer refers to as a “corporate social agenda.”

These changes pose not only challenges to educators, they’re nothing short of a paradigm shift on how we may even begin as a society to define organizational success. What we are beginning to witness is a slow migration from the bean counting culture to one where corporations increasing need to take stock of the social sentiments – it’s vexing because aspiring managers today don’t go to Harvard Business School to be lectured on how to weigh one social benefit against another, or how to conduct financial analysis against the moral spreadsheet. Moral principles don’t tell you the optimum bell curve to cash out, re-invest or ride it out for the short or long haul.

In short, industries are increasingly beginning to realize the strategic importance of developing a moral calculus to dampen the effects of the wild card factor in the age of globalization. Even proponents of globalization are increasingly beginning to realize the final shape and form of the global equation isn’t going to resemble the homogenized vision of McWorld as they once envisioned – people will continue to insist on seeing and making sense of their world in their own way, even if it doesn’t quite make a whole lot of sense to you or me – governments will still openly decide to wing it instead of toeing the line like the imposition of capital controls by Malaysia in 1998, even though this initially earned the disapproval of the International Monetary Fund. It’s important to highlight this only because contrary to popular belief many countries around the world still continue to circumvent free market principles by either maintaining tariffs, levies, subsidies and anti competitive legislation – giving the globalization movement a black eye – what globalization planners are starting to realize is the issue goes beyond simply economics and bean counting, like the “Rashoman syndrome.”

There may be one event unfolding but due to our differing perspective along the line of sight – it still means different things to all of us.

Against this backdrop where the sand shifts and events are not what they seem to be, everything seems slightly shakier. Even the seemingly impervious freight train of globalization suddenly acquires a patina of decrepitude, enough at least for me to point out the worn out paint or how the tracks aren’t as straight as they were once made up to be in the glossy colorful brochures – that I imagine is my perspective on a slice of reality, a reality that is shaped not by the monoculture of globalization but from the perspective of a man who simply watches the world go by during the new year as he sat on his sofa watching the last few minutes of a film that even history has all but forgotten – Rashoman.

In the closing scene of Rashoman, a baby in a basket wails abandoned on the country road. One of the witnesses, a wood cutter looks over the basket, while another witness recounts how he saw the woodcutter relieve the dead Samurai of his sword – he says, “all men are self-serving and selfish. They think only of themselves.”

Looking on a country priest, faith is shaken by the realization a thief is about to take the baby – he reprimands the woodcutter using words like, “thief, unsuitable, immoral and lacking in character.”

The woodcutter looks on at the baby soothing him with the practice of one who has raised many – he intimates to the country priest, he has six other children at his home and the addition of another will hardly pose a burden.

The country priest hands over the baby to the woodcutter and tells him how his faith in the good of humanity has been restored by the kind deed of the woodcutter – the woodcutter walks away – the country priest looks on – the rain has stopped – it’s a beautiful sunny day.

End

Bibliotheque:

(1) Strategy & Society by M.Porter and M.Kramer / Pg 78 /Harvard Business Review December 2006.

(2) J. Bhagvati, “In defence of globalization.”

(3) Brotherhood Press Material / article entitled: “The Multitudes of Globalizing” by astorboy/steamboy 130th. / Econs

(4) “Voters lying about david duke” NYT 5th Oct 1990.

(5) Brotherhood Press Material / article entitled: “Why Governments Only Think They Govern.” by Trajan /430903./ Econs – Global – Philo

By Harphoon / The brotherhood Press 2007 / App: 3499320/ Chronicler

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12 Responses to “The Rashoman Syndrome and a Murdered Samurai Called Globalization”

  1. Umm… it’s “Rashomon” btw. And it’s still one of Kurosawa’s most beloved films. Hardly forgotten 🙂

    If you’re interested, Penguin USA has recently reprinted Rashomon under its Penguin Classics Deluxe imprint.

    http://www.amazon.com/Rashomon-Seventeen-Other-Stories-Classics/dp/0143039849

  2. chocolate said

    hi harpoon,

    I would just like to add although the kurosawa film is entitled rashomon – the story depicted is actually known as “in the grove” – rashomon is often used bc the author was best remembered for this short story entitled, “the big gate.”

    Anyway just a very small observation in a delightful read, do keep it up boys.

  3. Lian said

    “These changes pose not only challenges to educators, they’re nothing short of a paradigm shift on how we may even begin as a society to define organizational success. What we are beginning to witness is a slow migration from the bean counting culture to one where corporations increasing need to take stock of the social sentiments – it’s vexing because aspiring managers today don’t go to Harvard Business School to be lectured on how to weigh one social benefit against another, or how to conduct financial analysis against the moral spreadsheet. Moral principles don’t tell you the optimum bell curve to cash out, re-invest or ride it out for the short or long haul.”

    Very astute observation, hundred percent agree, though I believe one way of instilling a “moral calculus” is by devolving much of the bureaucratic decision making process down stream.

  4. Lian said

    Nope its not “rashomon” – that is the official release of TOHO films in the 1954 / they need to placate their Japanese audiences.

    Harpy boy is spot on, it was actually rashoman – to western audiences. JFYI

  5. pumpman said

    Actually the story is called “in the grove” but because it wasnt as well known as either rashoman or rashomon – the producers left it out – nice on harpy.

    I enjoyed that very much.

  6. killamaru said

    I learn alot from the brotherhood press.

    Never really thought abt it til u mentioned it bro………moral and ethical currency…..makes alot of sense.

  7. Banhaus said

    Hello Harpoon,

    Generally I found it a delightful and insightful read. It did what it was supposed to do presumably, that was to provoke and stimulate.

    I do agree with you somewhat on the emergence of what you term the moral and ethical currency. Only whose morality? Do you see the paradox?

    Anyway I liked the ending very much, it had enough swiftian touches to leave one with the lingering impression, who exactly was the figure who represented humanity, globalization and greed.

    I tend towards the view the priest is actually our sense of humanity, namely our conscience and how it’s subject to change. The baby perhaps the construct of what we would like globalization to represent, the dawn of a new age. As for the woodcutter he definitely has to be our sense of morass even nadir. Yes? No? Perhaps?

    Another thing harpoon, I don’t wish to come across as pushy, but you should make an effort to engage your readers by responding to their post. BB

  8. montburan said

    Love Rashomon, love the moody scene and the acting is fab with a very handsome T.Mifune playing the lead.

    Like the article only a few gripes. Firstly, who decides what is morally right and wrong?

    You make it sound as if there is only one currency of morality.

  9. meilingfrazier said

    Harphoon,

    I always enjoy your articles. I simply need to add most people dont really question globalization as you rightly pointed out. Perhaps we should all begin to question it more.

    As Mark Twain said:

    “The average man is destitude of independence of opinions. He is not interested in contriving an opinion of his own, by study and reflection, but is so anxious to find out what his neighbor’s opinion is and slavishly adopt it.”

    I also want to ask how do you go abt writing these articles. Can you at least share the process or steps with all of us. Is darkness? I always have this dreamy impression all of you are sitting in some jungle area in your tight bicycle attire and discussing all these worldly things. Do share. Do write.

    Many thxs & Best Wishes

    ML

  10. Harphoon said

    Hi,

    No darkness is not involved at all, not directly at least. I have full control of the editorial process, though I work with a crew of three other researchers.

    Darkness has a very unusual style of leadership, he doesn’t believe in telling people what to do, not directly at least, but if he feels something needs to be done, he will usually just suggest it but the decision is always mine.

    Yes you are right we do a lot of discussions during those sporting activities, I guess it’s very much a brotherhood tradition and that’s also the time when we have a good turn out so everyone has a chance to add or subtract to the discussion, but darkness doesn’t really take the lead.

    I think like the rest of us he is learning as well as. If he is insistent on anything, it is perhaps his emphasis on us (the junior) writers to develop our own style and to develop an eye for originality, that at least is what he keeps telling me, “work on the delivery, the content is given.” So I spend a lot of effort on this area and I can’t say, I am good at it because I have no formal literary training, but I am trying very hard to develop my own style.

    In fact, we encourage everyone to add to the discussion. I will have you know the last piece was actually proof corrected by inspirid himself! So that really shows how far we lag behind, but rest assured this season we will certainly be brushing up on the grammar, spelling and construction, so do bear with us.

    Wishing you all happy reading always, regards Harphoon.

  11. dudu said

    Hello Harphyboy,

    A very well written article. I agree there are indeed differing perspectives when globalization crops up during a discussion.

    I guess one of the reason why it remains such an unknown animal is bc not much information exist on:

    (1) Why we need to globalize in the first place.

    (2) The uncertainties generated by globalization on society.

    (3) Our MSM doesnt seem to take much interest in this topic, all
    the seem to do is rant on abt jobs etc.

    I guess one way to get people up to speed on this topic is by blogging. BTW I dont mean to come across as flippant or rude, but when will the brotherhood begin to blog?

  12. lazysusan said

    Hi,

    It means so many things to so many different people because each of us are affected differently by globalization. I happen to be an engineer in a male dominated work environment, but this is only the case in Singapore.

    When I was sent overseas for training recently in France. I noticed there were more female engineers than guys, so I am slightly confused by why we haven’t really caught up yet and yes when I was there I did register alot of opposition against globalization amongst the french white and blue collar workers.

    There also seems to be more awareness and diversity as far as POV is concerned.

    I think unlike our government that simply says, we do not have a choice. The Europeans are more forthright and prepared to tackle the whole issue of globalization from as you said, “the inside out” by examining each element in relation to their culture, place and community.

    Whereas we in Singapore are less bochap, because traditionally if the system says, he do not have a choice, then Bo pian lor what to do? I personally feel it is such a waste that our media don’t go the xtra mile to explore the darker side of globalization.

    Can we afford not to go deeper and simply adopt a Bo Chap attitude? I really wonder, can we when it affects so many of us?

    I really think the more we know abt this topic, the more confident we will be as a people and nation to turn this challenge into a real opportunity.

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