FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

We Ain’t Germans

by

Although the premise seems perfectly reasonable, attempting to solve our social and economic problems by copying the demonstrably successful techniques used by other countries probably isn’t going to work.  Why?  Because, as simplistic as this sounds, there is such a thing as a “national identity,” a national consciousness, a national ethos, and what works in, say, Estonia or Luxembourg, is going to have a slim chance of working in America.

Consider:  An American businessman who spent two decades in Japan observed that the reason Japanese citizens—including Japanese businesses—file so few lawsuits is because they’re “embarrassed” to sue people.  For want of a better word, filing a lawsuit in Japan is considered “undignified.”  Not to pass judgment on which perception is right or wrong, but clearly, that outlook is alien to most Americans.  In this rights-oriented country, we file a lawsuit to get our rights.  Simple as that.

Yet, I’ve heard people suggest that one way for us to clean up and reform our deplorable judicial system is to adopt a “Japanese approach” to jurisprudence.  I’ve heard people gush over Japan’s hyper-streamlined criminal justice system, and sagely urge us to model our system on theirs.  Indeed, most Japanese trials take an astonishingly short time, the overwhelming majority of people charged with a criminal act are found guilty, and the docket is amazingly sparse.

But how could a Japanese approach ever be expected to work here?  The reason that the “Japanese approach” works in Japan is because it’s being done by and for the Japanese.  The same goes for education reform.   People point to the test results of students in Singapore and boldly declare that we should adopt the “Singaporean approach,” as if something as deeply entrenched, multi-faceted and complex as national education policy is nonetheless readily portable.

As a former labor union rep, I used to have people lecture me on the futility (and stupidity) of maintaining our adversarial “us vs. them” mentality when it came to labor-management relations, and the country they always pointed to as a shining example of working “cooperatively” with management was Germany.  Be like Germany, they would say.  Follow Germany’s example.  I heard it a dozen times.  German trade unionists sit on the board of directors of German companies.  German labor unions are management’s partners, not management’s foes.

While it’s true that Germany has a pretty remarkable record when it comes to labor-management relations (it’s not as “utopian” as some people present it, but it’s impressive), they have one profound advantage we Americans don’t have.  They’re all Germans, every last one of them.  German workers, German bosses, German factories, German equipment, German standards and a distinctly German world view.  As well-meaning as it may be, telling American union leaders that all they need to do is adopt the “German approach” is silly.

When I returned to the U.S. after spending two years in rural India, I recall seeing a 103-year old woman guest on the Jay Leno show.  Leno asked her how she most liked to spend her time, and the old woman said she liked “making whoopee” with her boyfriend.  The audience greeted her answer with applause, cheers and stomping feet.  Wow!  A 103-year old woman refusing to quit, still living the life of a younger gal, still getting it on.  Outstanding.

Had this been a 103-year old Hindu woman, and the audience composed of Indians, the response would have been decidedly different.  An elderly woman (or man) still at the mercy of the demands and temptations of the phenomenal world would have been seen as humiliating.  Old people in India wore white clothing—the antithesis of fashion.  They had replaced youthful yearning with mature wisdom.  Why did they consider that a virtue?  Because they’re Indians.

David Macaray is a playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd edition).  He can be reached at damacaray@yahoo.com

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail