Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm going to reply to some of the comments on the items, but I thought I'd post this thought I had this morning in the context of the discussion about dichotomies and money/privilege.

It is interesting to note that 90% of people interviewed in the US think that people around them respect entrepreneurs while only 10% of people interviewed felt the same way about entrepreneurs. The culture of the US was build during a primarily industrial revolution oriented social backdrop. Japan, however, built a great deal of its culture during the backdrop of an agrarian society.

The traditional caste system in Japan had the Emperor at the top, and the nobles next, then the warrior/samuri, then the clergy, then the artisans and farmers and below them came the merchants and tradesmen. Money was considered a zero-sum game, the people involved not being considered to be contributing a great deal of value to society. Farmers and artisans were clearly working and producers in the community. During the hundreds of years of peace in Japan, the nobility, the warrior class and the clergy played the role of the intellectual and the cultural class.

My mother, who was raised in a privileged family was not allowed to touch money until she was 18. She has a servant who took care of the payments. In Kyoto, I don't pay cash at many of the places I go, it is discreetly billed to me later. During the Edo period an interesting shift happened. The wars stopped and the warrior class had less to do. Culture blossomed as did trade. The merchant class gained power and helped drive the economy of Japan, but they were not rewarded with the same kind of cultural/social status that their American counterparts were. This stigma about being rich, making money and having financial power survives in Japan today and is in fact one of the big reasons that Japan continues to have structural problems and entrepreneurship is so weak.

The other notable point is that those who traditionally wielded power have lost their power. The nobles lost most of their money either during the Edo period or during the War. (Our family lost its property during the Meiji Restoration, lost its factories during the war, lost its money from giving all of the money to the war in the form of war bonds and gifts, lost its swords and family heirlooms to the US occupation forces, and finally lost just about everything under the current tax system that is basically designed to eliminate family wealth within a few generations. All that was left by the time I got there was our foolish pride.) The current ruling political party of Japan was funded by the Japanese gangster and the CIA in an effort to stomp out the left-wing and the ethics of those in power have become twisted caricatures of the original traditions.

One important Japanese businessman once told me. Power in Japan is not about having money yourself. It is about having the influence to move money.

Disclaimer: I am not supporting or condoning the Japanese here, but making a generalization and an observation about role of money in society which contrasts with what American's might believe.

I disagree somewhat with Adina. I think that traffic is similar to attention. Attention is not the same as power or money, but it is sought after in the same way and in some ways is something that money can't buy and is actually more valuable and difficult to gain. Having said that, it's not about the traffic. Just like it's not about money, or attention. Money, attention and traffic do not, at the end of the day, make you happy. It is associated with privilege and power. I've met many people who have privilege and power (and money and attention and traffic) who are not happy. One of the problems with happiness through score cards is that it's like playing a video game. It's quite an empty happiness that is similar to the empty happiness of fulfilling a craving or an obsession. Most (not all) of the extremely wealthy people I know are obsessed with money and think about it all the time. If you're smart and you are obsessed with money, you can usually become wealthy. Most of the happy people I know are not obsessed with money. Most of them think about money just enough so that they don't have to worry about money. But money's nice to have, just like power is nice to have. But more than enough is often too much. Once you have too much money, power or attention you become obsessed and the fear of losing it alone can make you unhappy. Money, power and attention are addictive and dangerous.

I don't talk about these things very often because speaking from a position of privilege, it's not very convincing, but most of my power, attention, money and other "assets" are a result of my obsessions. These obsessions drive me to focus in excess. I am now exploring my obsessions. I wonder what this is going to do to me. Obsession is a demon which can help you gain many things, but has many corrosive side effects and in the end often leads you away from happiness. I wonder what I would be like without my obsessions?

I've been accused of using binary logic and am still having a very difficult time understanding the problem with it. Anne Galloway's blog has very high quality readership so I am fascinated by the discussion, but I still need some help understanding. Anne, I hate to highjack the comments section on your blog entry, but I have a feeling I'm still missing a very important point.

I am turning off comments on the this item on my blog. If you have thoughts, please post them in context on Anne's blog.

Lest anyone lull themselves into the belief that the left has taken an uncontested lead in the bad-mouthing-the-oppostion derby, I submit the following from an Iowa anti-Dean ad being run by The Club for Growth, a PAC which describes itself as "one of the nation’s leading free-market political advocacy organizations."

In a current press release on their web site, they announce an ad that began running today on Des Moines, Iowa broadcast stations and on cable news channels, for which they have budgeted over $100,000 during this phase of the campaign. For for those who can't stream the ad from here, it goes like this:

"A dignified older couple walks out of a barber shop. An off-screen announcer asks what they think of Howard Dean’s plan to raise taxes on a typical family by $1,900.

"Without hesitation, the husband responds: 'What do I think? Well, I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading…'

"His wife continues: '…body piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs.'"

If you hang out on #joiito or are interested in learning more and plan to be at ETech, please vote for, sign up for and contribute ideas to the session we are planning. We're going to try to play with RFID's and the Jeannie's cafe idea and we need a head-count so please sign up early if you're interested. Hopefully Hecklebot will be there as well.