The man who went on a “mass stabbing” last week and killed two people — fortunately the Japanese are smart enough to have gun control — is also a “hikikomori,” an adult so unable to cope with society that he’s remained dependent on his parents well into his 20s and 30s, and even his 40s and 50s. While the New York Times writer doesn’t directly attribute the condition to the Japanese economy or to Japanese culture, she does note that there is a correlation between a long-lasting recession, and a large population of adults who simply can’t cope with society.
I’m not exactly a “hikikomori” but I do identify with the condition. I’ve always had a hard time dealing with society. I’m in my 50s and unmarried. I’ve never had much of a career or social life. In the United States we largely take a moralistic view of the “hikikomori.” Men, especially young men, who can’t socialize with women are just bad people. They’re just sexist assholes. They should stop playing video games. They should just go out and get a job. On the flip side, a lot of radicals take an overly economistic view of the problem. The long term recession in the United State and the economic redistribution of wealth upward spurred on by neoliberalism has created a whole generation with no prospect of getting a real job or establishing a family. People struggling under massive student debt are unlikely to buy a house or get married any time soon. Some will just give up.
Personally, I think it’s both. If I had been part of my grandparents generation, I would have been far too concerned about struggling to make a living to worry about my social problems. If I had been part of my parents generation, I the rising tide would have lifted all boats, mine included, and my “white privilege” would have made it almost impossible not to joined the middle class. But as an early Gen Xer, I grew up with neoliberalism and the destruction of New Deal America. Our society has gone from one with a broad middle and upper working class to one that puts the upper middle class and the very wealthy up on a pedestal and consigns everybody else to social oblivion. Most people will work though it and do the best they can. But some people, people who were the victims of childhood bullying and abuse or people on the autism spectrum, will simply give up. In Japan, there’s enough wealth and enough of a structured civil society to give these people their old bedrooms to hide in. In the United States, they kill themselves with prescription opiates or wind up in prison. But in the end, it’s pretty much the same.