An 18th-century drawing of a public execution by saw in ancient Persia. Torture

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Things The Never Told You About The Samurai

weirdworm.com - April 27, 2010

There comes a time in every kid’s life when he starts wishing he was a brave warrior in ancient Japan cutting down hordes of treacherous ninjas like jonesing crack addicts cut random pedestrians for drug money. In many cases, the dream of becoming a samurai forever remains a fantasy, but considering all the stuff they never told you about these oriental warriors, it might have been for the best. You see…

5. THE SAMURAI WERE RAMPAGING PEDOPHILES

It’s nice to imagine that after a hard day’s work of slashing worthless enemies and being honorable, a typical samurai would retire to his room to meditate on the nature of life and death while sharpening his sword in preparation for tomorrow’s murder filled activities. In reality however, most of them relaxed atop a pasty 12 year old boy clenching his teeth and hoping the “master” will be “done” with him soon.

This type or relationship, akin to the Greek pederasty, was known as Shudo (meaning “The Way of the Young”) in medieval Japan all the way up to the 19th century. It was an officially and widely encouraged form of apprenticeship between an experienced samurai and a young boy, established to form strong, basically lover-like bonds between two warriors.

Back then it was believed that sexual relations with women weakened the mind and body, but that there was nothing better for one’s battle spirit than having rough bum sex with other men… until your young partner became a full pledged warrior (i.e. an adult). That was when the butt-love stopped because it was no longer considered appropriate.

Hey, who knew that NAMBLA was founded on the principles of the samurai code?

4. THE SAMURAI WERE ABOUT AS FAITHFUL AS A LONELY HOUSEWIFE

We’ve all heard how it supposedly was with the samurai: they would sooner perform impromptu bowel surgery on themselves before bringing shame to their master by surrendering to the enemy. Unfortunately, real life very rarely was that dramatic. While you certainly can find examples of such deeply troubled individuals in the annals of Japanese history, the majority of samurai tended to change allegiances (that is “masters”) more often than most of us change our underwear.

During the Sengoku period of Japan—literally “Country at War”—dozens of small time warlords literarily tore up the countryside fighting each other, trying to gain control over the archipelago. If every guy in their ranks killed himself the minute their side lost, the entire samurai population of Japan would have been reduced to nothing more than a handful of schmucks who were out sick the day this s?*t was going down.

Coming over to the strongest guy’s camp was a pretty standard thing to do in feudal Japan, and it definitely wasn’t in bad taste to bring your former employer’s head as a present for the new boss.

3. AT ONE POINT, THE SAMURAI SIMPLY QUIT THEIR JOBS

Everyone who has seen “The Last Samurai” usually comes to the logical conclusion it was the cold uncircumcised sting of technology and “modernity” that killed off this proud class of Asian warriors. Because, hey, it wasn’t like almost all of the samurai have given up on warrioring decades before the West came knocking on Japan’s door, right? Right?

Yeah, about that… when the Sengoku period of Japan ended and Tokugawa Ieyasu became the undisputed ruler of a new unified country, there came an era of peace… aka the warrior’s worst enemy. With no domestic enemies to speak of and the country completely cutting itself off from the rest of the world, the samurai found themselves hungry and without work. It was the era of the masterless samurai, the Ronin, traveling the Land of the Rising Sun with a sign that read “Will be a noble fighter for food”.

There did remain a very small fraction of samurai clans but only those who were smart enough to rent themselves out as body guards to lesser royalty or wealthier guilds. The rest simply sold off their swords (the very thing they used to call their “souls”) and became either merchants or farmers. Speaking of which…

2. THE SAMURAI WEREN’T THAT DIFFERENT FROM FARMERS

The Samurai were a very diverse social group. Among the non-aristocrats they certainly stood above everyone else but in the samurai social hierarchy, you could find both: a) warriors who were basically the politicians of their times, greatly respected and feared, and also b) the ones who only owned 3 square feet of land in some one-chicken village in the farthest corners of the country. Guess which group was the largest.

Their dominion over the land was unquestionable, no one is arguing that, but it was common for these so called warriors to live with the local peasants in very close communities, the only thing separating them from the plebs was that their hut was bigger than the rest’s. Not by much though.

Oh sure, when it came to ganging up on some local a?*hole the samurai kicked more a?* than a nuclear powered a?*-kicking machine, but rest of the year they had lands to govern, crops to plant and harvest, and the middle to low level samurai did most of that stuff themselves, as in by using their own 2 hands. Not really something they covered in the Bushido Code. Oh right…

1. THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS THE BUSHIDO CODE

As in, there never was a written down, revised or reviewed set of rules on how to be an archetypal bada?* warrior of an oriental feudal land. The Bushido Code / The Way of the Warrior, is in the same league as the “code” of washing your hands after peeing. Everyone knows it, it’s not actually codified in any law books and not that many people follow it.

The Code was more of an idea of ancient Japanese chivalry. Usually people who weren’t warriors themselves expected them to act accordingly to it. The problem is, a life strictly by the (nonexistent) Bushido book often got you killed – not really everyone’s cup of tea. It is not to say that all samurai were opportunistic cowards with less right to walk the Earth than a rabid weasel with AIDS. They simply, like all rational humans, thought of survival first and honor second.

And that (like it or not) very often called for them to be cunning, to switch sides and to stab family members in the back. You can talk about honor and s?*t like that till you are blue in the face, but it doesn’t count for squat if one day your entire clan gets wiped out because you bet on the wrong bastard to win the war.

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Torture’s Dirty Secret: It Works

I? recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honoring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world’s most famous victim of “rendition,” the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and “rendered” him to Syria, where he was held for ten months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.

Arar was being honored for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organization. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honored guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: The tenuous “evidence”–later discredited–that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?

In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, “not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so.” Fear of being the next Maher Arar.

The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: You are being watched, your neighbor may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear onto a plane bound for Syria, or into “the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay,” to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo–pictures of men in cages, for instance–at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved the new book by a former military translator, including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as “knowing/not knowing,” a vestige of their “dirty war.”

“Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful methods,” says the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer. “On the other hand, when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it’s undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible.”

And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU court challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Michigan, describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, board members have resigned–Hassan says his members fear doing anything that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has “stopped speaking out on political and social issues” because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.

This is torture’s true purpose: to terrorize–not only the people in Guantánamo’s cages and Syria’s isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist–the individual prisoner’s will and the collective will.

This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: “perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualizations obscure the purpose of torture….The aim of torture is to dehumanize the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time, set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities.”

Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there’s a problem: No one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool–least of all the people who practice it. Torture “doesn’t work. There are better ways to deal with captives,” CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced “nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques.” The Army’s own interrogation field manual states that force “can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

And yet the abuses keep on coming–Uzbekistan as the new hot spot for renditions; the “El Salvador model” imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture’s persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. “As a way to control them,” she replied.

Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture.

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95 percent of the victims of work accidents are men. Because women are cowards, and just want to rule from behind.

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How a radical misogynist fooled millions of people and hundreds of journalists

It’s virtually impossible to take a census of an online subculture — even the academics who study them say it can’t be done. But by all accounts, the number of people who actually follow Daryish Valizadeh is smaller than it looks.

Valizadeh, known online as “Roosh V,” is the self-styled prophet of a strain of radical misogynist pick-up artistry. He’s also the proprietor of an obscure virtual empire that spans three websites, a forum and 17 self-published books. (According to analyses conducted for The Washington Post by the firms Tweetsmap and SimilarWeb, Valizadeh’s international “hordes” can be mapped to a few clusters of readers in the United States, Canada and Western Europe.)

And yet, when Valizadeh proclaimed the objectively impossible — that his cult would emerge from the shadows on Feb. 6 and mass at 165 prominent public locations from Phoenix to Phnom Penh — millions of people, and hundreds of journalists, took his word for it.

The ensuing global uproar has manufactured publicity on a scale that few fringe Internet movements have ever dreamed of. By the time he “canceled” the faux-revolution Wednesday afternoon, Valizadeh had become a household name in places as far-flung as Winnipeg and Sydney — never mind that even social justice activists hadn’t taken him seriously.

“We only count real organizations as hate groups,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks domestic extremists online and off. Valizadeh’s rhetoric has all the markings of hate speech, she said; but at the end of the day, “he’s a guy with a blog.”

Unfortunately for Beirich and others like her, the line between “real” movements and mere Internet grumbling is becoming increasingly hard to see. For one thing, the Internet makes it virtually impossible to quantify groups like Valizadeh’s, which claim to command — but rarely produce — untold hordes of followers. Much like Anonymous, with whom Valizadeh has sparred, and Gamergate, with whom he’s sympathized, the “neomasculines” could hypothetically number in the tens of thousands … or consist of a few hundred keyboard warriors with a legion of sock puppets.

Valizadeh seems to fall in the latter camp: The last time he attempted something like Saturday’s canceled meet-up — a well-publicized, eight-city lecture series last summer — his largest crowd maxed out at 77 in New York City.

And while his flagship website, Return of Kings, is well-trafficked — averaging slightly less than 2 million views per month, according to Similar Web — that number is not necessarily indicative of the size of Valizadeh’s following. On both Twitter and Facebook, Return of Kings has fewer than 13,000 followers. The site’s accompanying forums have registered 19,600 accounts, but half have never posted.

Nevertheless, giving the impression that the “movement” is massive — or that it is a coherent movement at all — has immeasurable benefits for Valizadeh and Co. For one thing, it foments outrage proportional to the false front (thousands of pro-rape women-haters are massing in public squares around the world), but disproportional to what is actually happening (a handful of readers of a misogynist blog grabbing beers and grumbling). That lends critical credibility to Valizadeh’s claim that men like him are persecuted by a culture of feminist shrills. It also draws more eyeballs to Return of Kings, where he hopes to sell new books and find new converts.

“When extremists draw attention to themselves, it artificially increases their numbers,” said Thomas Holt, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University who studies fringe online groups. “These communities see a bump as people read the news and check it out. … And while we don’t know know how acceptance of belief happens online, exposure definitely matters.”

Valizadeh and his followers are certainly aware of that fact: In the past 72 hours, the blogger has bragged repeatedly about the growing traffic to his blog and the spiking number of Google searches for his name. On his forum, one adherent advocated more media participation: “Even negative publicity gets more men to join the cause,” he claimed.

But most telling, perhaps, is a Wednesday tweet sent by the prominent manosphere blogger behind “The Rational Male”: “ ‘Tribe’ meetings are more about inciting the protests for Roosh’s notoriety,” he complained, “than any real connections among men.”

While that suggests that neomasculines are far from gathering allies together in a city near you, it still concerns analysts like Beirich, who sees a growing trend toward virtualization among U.S. hate groups. More and more organizations are moving online, she said, and maintaining no trace in the physical world. Without protests, there can be no counter-protests. Without clear leaders, there can be no arrests or lawsuits.

“We are way concerned with hate groups operating online, much like we are with Islamic extremists,” Beirich said. “There’s always this potential for online radicalization.”

In the case of Valizadeh and the great global meet-up, the media only seems to have helped: For a brief period Wednesday, so many new people were on Return of Kings that the site actually crashed.

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