My post about Japanese doomsday cult turned terrorists Aum Shinrikyo sent me back to Haruki Murakami’s book of interviews with the victims of Aum’s sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro in March of 1995: ‘Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche’.
As I said before, Haruki Murakami is one of those writers that it seems I should completely love. His subject matter and interests mesh very neatly with my own, and many people whose opinions I value speak highly of his work. Even in translation he seems like an insightful writer, but for some reason I’ve never been able to make it more than thirty pages through any of his novels. If you’re also one of these Murakami-blind people as well, I still recommend ‘Underground’.
I was struck by the following section near the end of ‘Underground’ both for its relation to my previous post, and for being in its own right a very cogent analysis of compliance, the banality of evil, conspiracy theories and paranoia, and the narratives we create for and about ourselves as we go through our lives. The best part, I think, is paragraph 3: “Mind control is not something that can be pursued or bestowed just like that. It’s a two-sided affair.” Anyway, here’s the rest:
[from page 201 of the 2001 paperback Harvill Press edition, slightly abridged. Apart from the italicised notes, everything below this point is not by me, it’s from Murakami’s book.]
“How could anyone do such an insane thing? [i.e. murder strangers by gassing them on a train] But conversely, to the cultists it was probably quite comforting. At last they had someone to watch over them, sparing them the anxiety of confronting each new situation on their own, and delivering them from any need to think for themselves.
By tuning in, by merging themselves with [Aum Shinrikyo guru] Shoko Asahara’s ‘greater, more profoundly unbalanced’ Self, they attained a kind of pseudo self-determination. Instead of launching an assault on society as individuals, they handed over the entire strategic responsibility to Asahara. We’ll have one ‘Self-power versus the system’ set-menu, please.
Theirs was not [‘Unabomber’ Theodore] Kaczynski’s ‘battle against the system to attain the power process of self-determination’. The only one fighting was Shoko Asahara: most followers were merely swallowed up and assimilated by his battle-hungry ego. Nor were the followers unilaterally subjected to Asahara’s ‘mind control’. Not passive victims: they themselves actively sought to be controlled by Asahara. ‘Mind control’ is not something that can be pursued or bestowed just like that. It’s a two-sided affair. Continue Reading