Delete Yourself (Part I)

I’m prone to write about violence and sex, and what a love/hate relationship humanity has with these topics. Without them, existence seems boring, with them it seems painful. As I said before, there’s no sexual desire without violence. It’s why they’re paired. Ah, so maybe you can tell what kind of a person an individual is when they refuse to give up sexual desire! Or what kind of contribution to existence they’re making. Is there no pleasure without pain? Just that question is painful, and you can’t solve it by asking it.

Even in modern times, people treasure good storytelling. People desire some kind of tragedy or drama in their lives, as long as it doesn’t get too close or serious. If it does affect them too deeply, then they might go on to be normal people, if they don’t have new mental problems, who lead boring lives. It works kind of like that old samurai parable about enlightenment: first the samurai saw a mountain and it appeared to him that there was a mountain. Then later there was no mountain, but then after enlightenment it was a mountain again.

Since we started talking about samurai, why not continue? In traditional Japanese society, there are Confucian ties that create obligations to one’s superior. Back in the day, the highest commitment of the old warrior class was to dedicate one’s utter being to one’s lord. And any disgrace of oneself or one’s lord usually ended in seppuku, whether voluntarily or by lawful decree. Like everything political, it quickly became a way to humiliate subordinates or blackmail them, as portrayed in the movie Hara Kiri with Tatsuya Nakadai. Similarly, the chilling lead character of the Lone Wolf and Cub franchise, Ogami Itto, was supposed to have the position of Royal Executioner. In other words, he was the “second” or assistant to all subordinates and vassals of the Shogun ordered to commit seppuku by decree.

My point is that seppuku is pretty dramatic. But it had a purpose and perhaps was a more fundamental level of old romantic, violent idealism. It certainly created contemplative circumstances for the samurai class. The way a person died was a total indication of their character (they also wrote “death poems”) and so it was incredibly shameful to be afraid to commit seppuku. “To live to die, or as if already dead.” Yeah, that’s how they had to think of it. Sure, it sounds grotesque and exotically abstract to westerners or foreign cultures (not to mention almost every major/organized religion in the world considers suicide to be sinful) but maybe that’s due in part to the inherent fear of death most people have. The role of seppuku was to eliminate that fear of death, while simultaneously imbuing one’s life with a sense of sincere dedication, resulting from awareness of one’s fleeting existence.

Seppuku as a custom seems to project into real life experience the intellectual romantic sentiments people like to entertain through sex or stories or violence. It just takes that romance to an extreme, which most people are not ready to accept sincerely. Fair enough, I guess. I’m glad I don’t live in a society where people have to commit seppuku, but we have other stupid modern obligations which we think are totally reasonable.

Interestingly enough, back before the Japanese warrior class was allowed to own land or have any influence in politics, chivalrous behavior may have been more common, or it existed in a way that was not so blindly romantic. Without any opportunity for advancement or mobility within society, warriors were literally born to serve. The really early accounts of samurai battles started not so much as wars, but simply formal skirmishes — games to the death. The opposing sides would line up and square off two at a time, in duels, until one side was vanquished. Total formality. It brings to mind the Spartan and Olympic legacies of Ancient Greece, or the Aztec (or was that Mayan?) basketball games where the winners were sacrificed to the gods.

Strange that people today simultaneously romanticize about violence and also decry it. Isn’t the scariest part about old societies the way they treated death? How could everything be a manifestation of pure love if people actually seem to look forward to violent deaths? But I guess when one doesn’t fear death and also wants a virtuous one, it totally destroys the lazy, complicated mental handicaps so many suffer from.

I’ll write more about this tomorrow, as I am utterly exhausted but have more to say on this theme.

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