Posted by: johnhourihan | November 20, 2012

The fiscal cliff and the Samurai

Why is it that no matter what the laws are or how we change them we never seem to be able to get the economy right?
I learned the answer to this many years ago from a girl named Kimiko.
I know Okinawa in my early 20s was probably not the best time and place to learn lessons of the history of civilization, and worse than that, a young bar girl was probably not the best choice of teachers.
But from her I did learn that laws are powerless if people won’t obey them or find ways to get around them. That is why we face a fiscal cliff, and that is why politicians are helpless to prevent our economic problems.
Nestled in the darkness of a perfume-soaked corner table in a Kadena Circle bar called the Brown Derby, I learned why Republicans couldn’t fix our economy, and why Democrats can’t fix our social predicament, And why we the people are the only ones who can fix it, but probably won’t.
It’s historical.
Kimiko was Japanese and, by day, a martial arts instructor, so I asked her about something that held my interest at the time— the samurai.
I told her how I loved the honor and tradition of samurai warriors. I wanted to learn all I could about these ancient Japanese who fought off Kubla Khan and walked ancient times with integrity, honesty and loyalty.
She laughed at me.
We sat in the flickering light of the one candle in the center of the table, several quart-sized bottles of Orion beer and a few bags of ika tempura for nourishment. She sat on my lap and told me a story of honor her father had told to her before he sold her to the bar to pay off a bad debt.
There was a time, she told me, when samurai from different groups
would come together in battle, fight honorably and then be treated well for their efforts by those in charge. After a while, in order to prove they had fought and were worthy to be paid or to be honored for their bravery, the warriors were told to cut off the head of an enemy and bring it back to the camp as proof of their participation in the fight.
From that time on, many of the best warriors would go into the battle, quickly find a likely suspect, cut off his head and leave the field, their day’s work done.
To make matters even worse, many of the weaker warriors would come late to the battle and cut off the head of a dead enemy warrior and bring it back with him. It happened so often those who had instituted the rule had to now create hearings where they would inspect the heads to find out if it had been hacked off while the warrior was alive or dead.
The valor was stronger before the rule was instituted, since rules lend themselves to being outsmarted.
In the beginning, the loyalty and integrity of the samurai was totally earned, and the system was honorable. Once the rule was instituted, however, those at the top and bottom found more satisfaction in defeating the system than in defeating the enemy.
For us, our system is built on middle-class, hard working men and women who still believe in the day-to-day battle of an honest day’s work for an honest dollar. It is based on those who believe in doing their best to follow the rules, pay their taxes, pay their bills, earn their living, and live with honor and integrity.
With our country, however, as with the samurai story, the top and bottom of society have learned to work the system to their advantage, thereby wrecking the system.
Those whose greed destroyed our economy, both at the top and bottom, are still out there waiting for the new set of rules so they can figure out how to wreck it again.
So she told me that as long as some people spend all their time devising ways to defeat the system, even the samurai, even the most honorable profession in the history of the world, would fall apart.
Then she said, “Now, buy me a drink or I’ll cut off your head and bring it to the shogun.”
She had a black belt in jiu-jitsu, so I bought her a drink.



  1. So there is no way out of this perdicament is there. Just wait for the credits to start rolling.

  2. If we don’t all get pushed off that cliff in January I think I’ll have that drink too.

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