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Copyright 2004, 2008 by Rick Crawford

Case Study:	The Myth of Irreversible Technological "Progress"
	or	Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle

Many Americans have an unquestioned, almost religious faith in a
cluster of concepts involving technological "evolution/progress".
They believe that *something* technological, which they call "progress",
is: (1) inevitable, (2) irreversible, (3) monotonically non-decreasing,
and (4) "good" for humanity in general, because otherwise people
would not buy a particular artifact, thus causing its "extinction".

However, sometimes belief #4 is qualified with a clause that says,
in effect:  Ok, a particular artifact might generally be *bad* for
humanity, but there's nothing we can do either to prevent its invention
(once it has been discovered/imagined), or its production/distribution,
because all technological "progress" is *inevitable* and *irreversible*.

This is summarized (in heavily value-laden rhetoric) as,  "You can't
turn back the clock," or, "You can't put the genie back in the bottle."

This article addresses one such genie -- the gun -- and how it *was*
successfully "re-bottled" for over 200 years in Japan, producing
"good" results for Japan, while simultaneously in Europe, by contrast,
the genie stayed out of the bottle, with devastating results.

(This article also serves to deconstruct the simplistic view of "society"
as monolithic, by noting the opposing interests of different social factions,
and the dynamics of often-oppressive power relations.)


Although guns and gunpowder were invented by the Chinese, it was Europeans
who invented the first "successful" gun.  Europeans arrived in Japan in 1543,
introducing the gun in the midst of a highly volatile period that Japanese
historians call the "Age of the Country at War".  During this period,
Japan was ruled by hundreds of competing warlords.

Guns were soon widely adopted in Japan.  Japanese improved the primitive
European gun technology, and succeeded in mass producing guns long
before the Europeans.  (Japan had been the world's leading arms exporter
for centuries.  E.g, in 1483, Japan exported 67,000 swords to China alone.
Japanese swords were far superior to European swords, and could cut
through armor "as easily as a sharp knife cuts a tender rump",
according to a European visitor in the 1560s [Perrin].  A film exists
showing a Japanese sword from the 1400s slicing the barrel of a modern
machine gun in half.)

By 1560, guns were playing prominent roles in large battles between
Japanese warlords, and many warlords possessed far more guns than
entire countries in Europe.  (E.g, in 1584, "Lord Ryuzoji Takanobu,
who ruled not quite 1 of Japan's [then] 68 provinces, arrived at a
battle with 25000 men, about 9000 of them gunners."  Five years
later, when Queen Elizabeth sent an army to France, it consisted
of 3600 men, fewer than 1100 of whom carried guns.  [Perrin])

But it soon became apparent to the samurai that guns threatened the
Bushido code -- their system of personal honor and military virtue --
because bravery became a disadvantage when a swordsman charged a gunner.
Perrin describes one incident in 1584 at Komaki, where two opposing
generals found themselves unable to fight *because* they had guns:
"The result was an impasse.  Not only were there ... no individual heroics,
neither general would allow his cavalry to attack at all against
the other's guns. ... In the end the two commanders made an alliance,
and went off to fight other armies that were less constricted
by their own technology."

By adopting the gun, "skill had been moved back from the soldier to the
manufacturer of his weapon, and up from the soldier to his commander."
[Perrin]  Individual heroism and glory in battle became impossible.  [_1_]

In 1588, to consolidate power relations via the social class hierarchy,
Japanese peasants were forbidden to own not only guns, but even swords.
In 1607, Japanese shoguns took their first tentative steps toward
regulating the production of guns.  The year 1637 marks the last
significant *use* of guns in Japanese battles for over 200 years
(although gun production continued, on a dwindling scale, until
almost 1700).  The use of guns was never forbidden by law in Japan.
(E.g, samurai continued to use guns for hunting animals, but not for
battling members of their own species).  Rather, Japan's reversion
to the sword seems to have been a gradual, collective, cultural decision
(a collective decision by the upper classes; the lower classes had no say).

It must be emphasized that Japan *selectively* rejected the gun;
it did not reject other avenues of social or technological "progress".
Indeed, Japanese society flourished during its next 200-plus years
without guns, and Japanese technology in many fields of math, science,
and engineering, outpaced that of Europe during this same period.
In 1858, the American Consul-General wrote of Japan (still without guns),
"It is more like the golden age ... than I have ever seen in any
other country."

The reasons Japanese society came to reject guns are complex,
but one reason in particular stands out:  Upper class samurai valued
the skill, strength, grace, and courage required to use the sword.
In contrast, guns could be aimed and fired by lower class peasants
lacking martial virtues.  Samurai didn't mind dying in battle (they
*glorified* in that), but they very much objected to dying at the hands
of anyone wielding a gun from a "cowardly" distance -- especially a commoner.

This same attitude prevailed among European lords and knights as well.
Therefore European lords likewise tried to regulate guns.  For example,
in 1523 (since Europe had adopted guns much earlier than Japan),
under King Henry VIII, England's Parliament passed an Act that
prohibited anyone with an income below 100 pounds/year from owning a gun.
This meant that only the upper classes could own guns.  But that Act
was difficult to enforce.  In 1601, France established the death penalty
for anyone who made ammunition without a license from the government.

But unlike Japan, European attempts to "re-bottle" this genie failed.
(The reasons are complex and include contingent factors of history
and geopolitics, including Japan's island geography that discouraged
outside invaders and allowed the shoguns to maintain a near-monopoly
on imported saltpeter used to make gunpowder.  But another highly
significant factor was that the Samurai class comprised roughly 7-10%
of Japan's population, whereas Europe's knight/warrior class was only
about 1% of its population.)

Europe's failure to control gun technology (whether by
legal or cultural means) had devastating consequences.
Although gun violence was common throughout Europe, it
probably reached its climax in Germany during the Thirty Years War:

Between 1618 and 1648, men used guns against one another
so enthusiastically, that the combined population (of both sexes)
among all the German states was reduced by more than 37%.  

In some German states, only 1/3 of the population survived.
Cannibalism became fairly common.  Men were so scarce that
the Catholic church urged priests to marry, and urged other men
to have two wives.  In Vol. 1 of "A History of Modern Germany",
Holborn paints a stark contrast to Japan's apparent "golden age":

	"A barbarism from which death was the only release
	 had settled over Germany."

Historical Epilogue:

Japan's revulsion against guns in warfare might well continue to this day,
had not Commodore Perry forcibly arrived in 1854.  The 64-pound naval guns
of Perry's fleet provided an incentive for Japan to adopt firearms for
defense against external invaders.  To build up national strength,
an alarmed and reconstituted Japanese government ordered firearms
to be mass-produced, and instituted a universal draft -- the former
peasant class now had guns.  This shifted the balance of power both
externally (vis-a-vis other nations) and internally (between social classes).

But no society is monolithic, hence opinions were divided.  Some samurai
welcomed these changes, but other samurai objected to the loss of their
privileged status -- they presented a threat to the new political order.

By 1876, Japan's power center had come full circle from the edict of 1588
that had disarmed the threat of the peasant class:  This time, the government
forbade any private citizen (especially samurai) from wearing swords.
Some samurai responded -- with their swords -- in the Satsuma Rebellion.

The outcome was predictable:  Guns prevailed against swords.  Henceforth,
"progress" in Japanese military technology would be measured by its success
against external nations, not by how it shaped the internal character,
values, and social structures of those wielding the technology.

(One wonders whether the old ethic of the sword might have prevented
the 1937-1938 Rape of Nanjing, in which Japanese troops gang-raped,
then killed more than 20,000 women -- ranging in age from 7 to over 70.
Japanese depravity was so atrocious that even the German leader
of Nanjing's Nazi party tried to stop the 2-month horror.)

Ethical Epilogue:

Many ethical frameworks help explain Japan's decision to reject the gun:
The *Consequences* of uncontrolled gun use for Samurai values had
become apparent.  To use guns in battle meant a loss of *Kantian*
integrity and respect for any samurai who lived by the gun, and a
disrespectful death for those who died by the gun.  *Virtue ethics*
also apply to the courage and skills involved in living by the sword
rather than the gun (since our character is shaped by the tools we use ...
and by the tools that use us).  And *Social Contract* ethics provide
an escape from what otherwise would be a Prisoners' Dilemma regarding
which opposing samurai army should give up the gun first.

In viewing the profound transformation of Japan's class hierarchy from
the peasant disarmament of 1588 to the samurai sword disarmament of 1876,
it might be tempting to argue that firearms technology serves as the
"great equalizer"; that "the right to bear arms is the right to be free".
Indeed, Japan's peasants had been severely repressed:  up to two-thirds
of their crops were confiscated as taxes by the upper classes, and unlike
the samurai, lowly peasants did not even have surnames.  

But in Germany between 1618 and 1648, similar firearms technology served to
"free" approximately 7.5 million people to enjoy the "equal rite" of death.

Moreover, back in Japan, widespread adoption of the gun did not so much
equalize power relations as it did shift them from the military to the
economic realm:  The samurai's wealth was threatened mostly by inflation,
whereas taxes on farmers remained extremely high to pay for the re-armament
program.  It is unclear that the status of women improved significantly
in practice, despite changes in law.

Note that if taken to its logical conclusion, the techno-equalization argument
would justify equal access by North Korea and Al Qaeda to nuclear arms in 2004.

Question for thought:  Since the varying outcomes of Japan and Europe
demonstrate that the notion of Technological Determinism is flawed,
yet the notion of technology as Value-Neutral is also discredited,
do any simplistic theories remain to explain interactions between
society and technology?  If not, perhaps a more complex and nuanced
theory is appropriate!

	"Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879"
	 -- Noel Perrin.  (1979, David R. Godine).

	"Guns and Government: A Comparative Study of Europe and Japan"
	-- Stephen Morillo.  Journal of World History, Vol.6 No.1 (1995).

	"Feudalism in Japan" -- Peter Duus.  (1969, Alfred A. Knopf).

	"Japan from Tokugawa to Meiji" -- Frank E. Smitha.

	"Global Connections: A World History", Chapter 16 -- Peter C. Perdue.

	"World Scarred by History:  The Rape of Nanking"



[_1_]:	The era of individual glory was already on the decline,
	due to changes in battle tactics that favored formations of
	(cheap) peasant spearmen rather than (expensive) mounted samurai.
	Firearms accelerated this growth of "unskilled" infantry,
	and made this transition obvious to the samurai.  [Morillo]

POSTSCRIPT 5/19/08:  

For clarification, here are 2 questions. 

Did the issue of "putting the genie back in the bottle" actually 
take the form of a Prisoners' Dilemma, in Japan and/or Europe?  
I.e, would a Defector (who secretly stockpiled guns and gunpowder) 
gain an insurmountable advantage? 

And/or, did Japan succeed because it was a "closed society" 
(with its island geography), and did Europe fail 
because it lacked such geographic barriers? 

(1) I've found only one claim that the
shogun had a near-monopoly on saltpeter [Smitha], and the author
never responded to my request for a reference.  Noel Perrin did not
mention that, which seems an inexcusable omission, unless that "fact"
was unknown when Perrin did his research.   But *if* it's true,
then the incentive structure did *not* constitute a Prisoners' Dilemma.
Because if the shogun had dominant firearms power but declined to use it,
then unless a Defector could accumulate enough gunpowder to launch a
decisive first strike, there would have been a *dis*incentive to use guns.
(The difficulty of re-bottling a techno-genie depends on how
 the internalized benefits vs. externalized costs are distributed.)

(2) Let's assume there was no saltpeter monopoly, and so the situation
really was a Prisoners' Dilemma.  A closed society doesn't fully explain
things (since Earth is closed too).  But here, perhaps the important
underlying factor (what we really mean by "closed") is that all players
were known to each other, at least by reputation, and they could be
fairly confident that others shared similar notions of honor, i.e,
that winning via guns was not worth sacrificing personal integrity
and the social way of life-and-death by the sword.  This shared
value system served as the enforcement mechanism for a social contract
to not use guns in warfare.  (Also intriguing to speculate that the
samurai may have feared the sore losers might push the doomsday button
by giving gun production technology to the peasants ;-)

(3) Note that in both cases (1) and (2) above, my assumption is 
that the "players" in the potential Prisoners' Dilemma were the 
Warrior-Luddites (the samurai and knights).  That is, the Peasants   
did *not* constitute "players".  That's because the Payoff Matrix 
for Peasants was completely different from that of the Warriors. 
(If Peasants were included with Warriors in a single game, 
 or if Peasants played only against each other, then 
 in neither case would the resulting game constitute 
 a Prisoners' Dilemma.) 

My sense is that the Warrior-Luddite caste succeeded in Japan, 
but failed in Europe, primarily due to the relative power differences 
between Warriors and Peasants.  That is, European knights never 
got the chance to face the challenge of a Prisoners' Dilemma 
among themselves, because they lacked sufficient control 
over their Peasants' technological capabilities.  

(OTOH, if Europe's knights somehow could have prevented the Peasants 
 from obtaining gunpowder, yet without any knight having sole control 
 over gunpowder, then, indeed, the knights would have faced 
 a Prisoners' Dilemma among themselves.) 

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