To avoid doing anything, wait for the right circumstances. – Mason Cooley
I’m sure my regular readers have noticed that, though I usually feature news items y’all send me within a week or so, there are times when I don’t even mention them in passing (much less feature them), even if they seem to be something right up my alley. Indeed, sometimes a dozen or more of you will send something to me, and that’s on top of all the times I see it on Twitter, yet I stubbornly refuse to give it as much as a nod. And when it does happen, some of you probably ask yourselves, “What is up with that?” Well, today I’m going to explain it, with the help of a recent example of the phenomenon.
The one-word explanation is “instinct”. As many have remarked, my bullshit detector is pretty finely calibrated; I can usually sense it no matter how expertly it’s hidden, and I can often produce an analysis of the exact breed and variety of the bull and tell you what he was eating besides. But at other times, I’m just not conversant enough with the background or good enough with math to figure out exactly what’s wrong with the story in question; I still know that it’s wrong, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. And so rather than rush to report something everyone else is nattering and opining about, and thereby look like an idiot when it’s invariably debunked, I just sit back quietly and wait for the other shoe to drop.
This particular case in point started back in July, with the publication of an article in Marie Claire which rehashed the perennial legend that young Japanese people have lost interest in sex (remember when the “herbivores” were taking over a few years ago?) Well, nobody noticed this new one (because it was Marie Claire, after all) until author Abigail Haworth rehashed it in the Guardian one month ago today…and then it took off, being quoted and discussed in many other media outlets. Needless to say, none of them bothered to do any original research to confirm the story; as in the case of “sex trafficking”, the parrots in journalists’ clothing at Time, Huffington Post, Slate and many other rags mindlessly reported the original, with the high level of critical analysis one might expect from a toddler or a spambot. I knew it was garbage from the get-go; Japan has one of the largest and most diverse sex industries on the planet. It equated dating with having sex, like the American researchers who obsess about “correcting” the large discrepancy between the fraction of men who cheat and the fraction of women, because they refuse to recognize that the majority of male cheating is carried out with whores rather than cheating wives. Furthermore, it claimed that a low birth rate was somehow evidence of lack of sex, as though the reporter had dispatched her story from some past era before the invention of reliable contraception. However, I was still reluctant to weigh in; I’m not an expert in Japanese culture, so it was conceivable that there was something beyond those two obvious errors that I was overlooking.
As it turned out, on this occasion I had been overcautious. The debunkings which started appearing a week later came to the same conclusions I had, with very little more to add; I had simply underestimated the institutional cluelessness of the modern media. In Global Voices Online, Keiko Tanaka quoted a number of criticisms of the piece, including one which pointed out that Haworth cannot read Japanese and was therefore at the mercy of a tiny number of sources. And in Bloomberg, William Pesek wrote:
…The real issue is that many avoid traditional, committed relationships out of doubts…based on economics rather than culture. If low libido were strictly societal, why do the Czech Republic, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Taiwan have fertility rates as low as Japan’s? I don’t see the global media characterizing those countries as sexless freak shows spiraling toward extinction…Part of the problem is cherry-picked data. Take the 2011 survey…on which sex-drought stories are often based. Its finding that 61 percent of unmarried men and 49 percent of single women between 18 and 24 of age weren’t in any kind of romantic relationship is mentioned up high. Rarely cited is this fact on Page 2 of the report: almost 90 percent of respondents intend to marry someday. And…71 percent of unmarried Americans aren’t in committed relationships [either]…Japan’s low birthrate…is a result of exorbitant living costs, elevated stress and diminished confidence…
So there you have it. Though both of those articles did add details of which I was unaware, I could have commented on the matter without hesitation and been largely right on. Ah, well; at least I’ll have a resource to refer back to the next time the “asexual Japanese youth” canard starts making the rounds again in 2017 or thereabouts.