There is much justifiable concern in Japan and Britain about rising levels of crime and bad behavior, especially among young people. The responses have been varied, including the usual calls for heavier punishments combined with “zero tolerance” policing. Yet few have much idea how this is to be enforced without a reversion to old-fashioned and now generally unacceptable measures.
The answers must be sought in the attitudes prevailing in the home, in schools and in society. An important element must be the teaching of ethical behavior and, of course, the setting of good examples by older people who can, and often do, behave selfishly — although this is much easier said than done.
In Britain, it is said, one in three men under 30 have been involved in criminal behavior at one time or another. The appalling behavior of British football hooligans has become a matter of national shame, although it has to be said that the nationals of other European countries have also been involved in some nasty incidents. One of the worst features of British hooligans has been the shouting of antiforeign and chauvinistic slogans, demonstrating once again that many British people have yet to grow into Europeans and overcome their isolationist island mentality.
The government has been trying to deal with the problem of hooligans traveling abroad by depriving them of passports and by other measures, including limiting the traditional right to trial by jury. These measures have been rightly criticized as a threat to civil liberty. Adequate safeguards must be built into new laws. Certainly we need improved policing and tougher sanctions on bad behavior, but increasing the prison population will not provide an answer. Prisons are a breeding place for criminals. Increased fines and tougher community service measures might help if our magistrates courts can be persuaded to follow appropriate guidelines.
It is widely recognized in Britain that the problems often stem from the fact that the norms of acceptable behavior have become too relaxed. A major problem arises in homes where there is only one parent, struggling to keep the family fed. The absence of a father probably leads to less home discipline. The government has been trying to give more help to single-parent families and to ensure that absent fathers pay their share of child maintenance.
Truancy has been a major problem for British schools, and needs to be tackled vigorously by schools, police and families. Another problem is that schools have often been forced to keep disruptive pupils in classes where they make the life of teachers and fellow pupils a misery. These children should be segregated until they learn to behave better and the powers of head teachers to impose such sanctions need to be reinforced. More support must be given to teachers to prevent bullying, which remains a problem in many schools, both public and private. Parents must also be persuaded not to spoil their children by giving them too much pocket money and allowing them to behave badly at home and in public.
Social norms are important. It is fortunately no longer acceptable to drink and then drive. Sexual mores were too strict in the past: Now many think that they are too relaxed. We need to persuade young people that they must think through the consequences of their acts. Will their behavior damage the lives of their children? Will it hurt others, such as their partners, if they are disloyal?
Some argue that we need a religious revival to ensure that Christian ethics, with their emphasis on “loving thy neighbor as thyself,” will once again guide our actions. The Dalai Lama, however, has suggested that religion is not a necessary basis for the formation of a universally acceptable ethical code.
Here in Japan, the old guard, worried by the rise in youth crime and the breakdown of discipline in homes and schools, argues for a reversion to prewar ethical teaching (“shushin”) and that Japanese youth need to be taught to conform and obey in order to recover a society based on social harmony (“wa”). I do not think that this is the right prescription. The American emphasis during the Occupation on “social studies” may not have been right for Japan, but it was in any case undermined by the conservative-minded education bureaucracy. Ethics must to be supported by reason and argument. To remain competitive in the modern world, Japan needs more young people with minds of their own and initiative, not simply good team players. Ethics should indeed, perhaps, become a school subject, but it should be taught through rational discussion and argument.
A particular problem for young people in Japan remains the entrance-examination system, which has led to the development of the so-called education mother. The emphasis on homework has led to breakdowns and dropouts. Many mothers and some fathers have tried to compensate by spoiling their children and giving them too much pocket money. This is an especially difficult problem in families where in the past there would have been four or five children and now there are only one or two.
There are no easy answers in either Britain or Japan, but all the issues in this short article deserve to be debated by thinking people in our two countries.
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