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ITEM The Japanese call it karoshi – death from overwork. In the past twenty years m japan, sudden deaths among top executives have increased 1.400 percent16
A survey by the Japanese government found that executives average seventy hours per week: twelve-hour workdays, six days per week.17 It is not unusual for these executives to go without a single vacation day.18
When 1 was in Japan, I discovered that the workday was only part of the work assignment. The office-to-home commute usually exceeded an hour each way – adding another ten hours to the seventy-hour week. More than 9S percent of the people boarding commuter trains during rush hour and later were men. Dinner meetings-with clients, while on one level pleasant, rarely proved to be stress free since a good impression could create a deal and a bad impression could break a deal
How do Japanese executives prepare for this corporate subservience? A typical Japanese executive training program is called “hell camp.’’19 The executives are asked to do things such as stand on their heads and shout a fifteen-page speech backward. The executive does not graduate from hell camp until he passes through a structure Passing each step requires him to encounter a new set of humiliations.
Why does executive training look so much like subservience training? Is this really big men playing little boys’ games* Does it have its equivalent in the United States?
First, the purpose. Rent a video of Full MetalJacket – a portrayal of life in the U. S. Army, especially in boot camp The sergeant humiliates the men, kicks them, puts their lives at risk. Why? "Your purpose is not to be individuals – but to be a machine A killing machine A prerequisite is the devaluation of self: the man who values himself will not risk death on the front line. Military boot camp is America’s hell camp.
On a gut level, we have less trouble associating this subservience with army privates than with Japanese executives. Yet the similarity between hell camp and boot camp is that they both turn men into efficient machines by devaluing them as humans, thus making the malc-as-individual subservient to either the corporate goal or the military goal
What strikes us about the differences between the men in boot camp and the top male executives, though, are the perks, status, and income. These are really bribes for the individual to sacrifice individuality. The more the corporation or the army trusts an individual to serve its end consistently and intelligently, the more it gives that person perks, status, and income. Many men interpret this as standing out as an individual when, in fact, they stand out for their superior performance as a piece of the machinery.
The irony is that he is being honored as an individual for conformity to a group. The army uniform, the corporate uniform, the academic uniform, all represent his conformin’. Whether a promotion or a Purple Heart, each represents individual recognition for a superior level of conformity – a superior subservience to a larger machine. Within this framework he might make effective decisions, take total responsibility, and lead well, but he leads well because he knows the rules for leadership, and those he leads know the rules to follow. But the rigidity of the framework is what makes his individuality more akin to subservience. And in the process, men who reach high levels are often "high-level mediocres ”
Playing boys’ games is preparation for making their lives secondary to their roles. Put-downs, hazing, and daring each other to take risks – even of life – are preparation for the devaluation of self necessary to make a boy regard his life as less important than his role. First, his role in sports (basketball and ice hockey players are injured even more than football Players), then in an army, a company, an academic institution. . And gangs? Just poorly financed football teams Male adolescence is a universal male boot camp
Is it, then, men playing boys’ games or. . . boys playing men’s games?