The Daily Stoic for March 3rd: “(Dis)integration”.
“These things don’t go together. You must be a unified human being, either good or bad. You must diligently work either on your own reasoning or on things out of your control—take great care with the inside and not what’s outside, which is to say, stand with the philosopher, or else with the mob!”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.15.13
Living now as a digital nomad, it’s hard for me to believe that my first flight took place as late as 2004. I was 24 years old.
I was working at the university back then, and I had been selected to present my first paper at an AI conference in Japan and spend some time there as a researcher. Before that, I had never ventured outside Spain. Can you believe that?
Obviously, Japan was a complete cultural shock for me. If you have been there coming from a western country, you know what I mean. It was like landing on an alien planet. Their extreme politeness, their kindness and strong sense of honor, their communal mindset, their inability to say no or express disagreement… everything was new to me.
Jekyll And Hyde
One of the things that powerfully struck me was their apparent dichotomy regarding sexual expression and freedom.
On the one hand, endearing behaviors were not socially accepted. As an example, couples were not allowed to walk while holding hands or kiss in public spaces. Talking about love, passion, sex, or anything related, didn’t come naturally. We are talking about a society where porn movies cover or pixelate genitalia.
On the other hand, there was a massive consumption of comics, anime, etc, depicting hardcore fantasies and fetish stories. Curiously enough, it was perfectly fine that young teenagers would acquire and read them.
People actually consumed these comics like newspapers: they read them quickly, perhaps while commuting, and then threw them into the bin.
This dichotomy translated in a seemingly traditional and protocolary society under which lied another one where sex robots, fetish clubs, hardcore anime comics, and company schoolgirls –Enjo kosai- were completely normal.
Right now, for me that’s just another piece of the fascinating puzzle that is the Japanese society. However, back then, it was weird for a 24 years old guy from the Spanish countryside.
Avoiding The Dis(Integration)
One of the things I realized in Japan was how this struggle between the laws enforced by the government, what’s socially accepted, and this underground scene, bordered on the verge of an impossible rupture, but managed to make sense.
Nonetheless, even in my early twenties, I remember thinking that probably these double standards were not really the ideal situation. The problem, in my opinion, was not the ridiculously severe social rules, or the extremely hardcore material available.
It was how both worlds coexisted side by side while, but denying the existence of the other. There was a giant elephant in the room, a lack of balance.
In my opinion, that applies to our lives too.
We need to keep a coherence inside us. We need to avoid this dis(integration) that originates from these two overlapping forces: our righteous thoughts and our external desires and emotions.
In my view, the best way of doing that is bringing them together in a natural way. We are all humans. We have our desires, our fears, our doubts.
Sometimes we are quiet and serene, Other times we are consumed by lust, or angst, or pleasure, or pain. That’s ok, as long as we are able to accept who we are, to understand what drives us, and to learn where to be in control.
For today’s Daily Stoic, “Dis(integration)”, I talk about my first trip outside of Spain ever, to Japan. There, the cultural dichotomy of the Japanese society struck me, specially regarding sexual freedom.
The two worlds that I saw there, the seemingly formal and strict Japan, and the dark and lusty one, are the perfect metaphor to illustrate today’s topic. We need to conduct our lives coherently between our desires, impulses and feelings, and our inner thoughts and reasoning.