Kokka no Hinkaku Chapter 1: The Limits of the Modern Spirit of Rationality

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In his JDate profile, right-wing math professor Fujiwara Masahiko would list “Japan, Japanese, bushido, moral education, lifetime employment, decision-making by feeling” in his Likes column and “capitalism, democracy, the United States, stockholders, decision-making by logic, globalization” in his Dislikes column. Thanks to the book’s banner, we know all this before even diving into the text. I am assuming we actually go and read the book to find out why these subjective views are not just opinions, but well-argued political positions. 「国家の品格」(Kokka no Hinkaku) is a polemical work, attempting to provide arguments for a return to a more “Japanese style” of social organization, and thus we should take the time to consider not only his opinions, but the evidence he uses in support.

Chapter One — 近代的合理精神の限界 — opens things up by looking at the West’s world conquest in the Modern Era. And to warm us up for where the argument is going, Fujiwara writes on the third page:

「産業革命の家元イギリスが七つの海を武力によって支配し、その後をアメリカが受け継いだ結果、いま世界中の子供たちが泣きながら英語を勉強している。侵略者の言葉を学ばなければ生きていけないのですから。

もしも私の愛する日本が世界を征服していたら、今ごろ世界中の子供たちが泣きながら、日本語を勉強していたはずです。まことに残念です。」

“England — the head of the Industrial Revolution — ruled the seven seas through military force, and as a result of America inheriting this afterwards, all the world’s children are now crying as they learn English. You cannot live without learning the invaders’ language.

If the Japan that I love had taken over the world, the world’s children would be crying as they learned Japanese. Such a shame.”

Before we get confused on the matter, this statement pretty clearly demonstrates that Fujiwara is not against forced cultural imperialism as much as he is upset at who succeeded at world conquest. If only the Japanese had been the ones to take over the world! Also, note his opinion that everyone around the world hates learning English, which I am not sure is the case. I remember Bavarian fifth-graders being extremely enthusiastic about English during my home stay, although their tears may have been saved for our absence. Nevertheless, his association with “study” and “crying” seems to suggest a certain hostility towards foreign language learning in general.

In the next section — entitled “The West Were Savages” — Fujiwara explains that Japan was much more “refined” (洗練された) in olden days than Europe was. Take the year 1500, for example. He stacks up multiple Japanese literary classics against the “only example of literature I can think of” from the West: The Cantebury Tales. And Europe didn’t even have unified countries, my friends — compared to Japan, which had been unified since antiquity.

1500 is an interesting time to pick for this comparison, especially seeing that Japan experienced massive and devastating civil war for two hundred years between the mid 15th century to the early 17th century. He also lists England as a “non-unified country” which is only correct if he is using “イギリス” to mean “the United Kingdom.”

This somehow segues into a rant against nuclear proliferation, and then into an anecdote about gun-wielding Belgians who are afraid of Eastern Europeans rolling into town and jetting off with their expensive cars. All advanced countries are facing increases in crime and breakdowns in education and family. What is the cause of this? In Fujiwara’s opinion, it is the modern spirit of rationality — the very same one that led to 19th century imperialism. He then directs his ire against the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which preached “self-determination” for Europe, but not Asia. Fair enough. I know Ho Chi Minh was bummed about that too. But too bad for Ho, communism is also a failure, along with “Competitive Society” and “Meritocratic Society.”

Most of this is just exposition without much explanation, so on page 25, I am psyched to hear why exactly “thorough meritocracy is flawed.” Here Fujiwara presents the nightmare situation of promotion based on ability: A company where all employees are rivals, senior employees refusing to let younger employees in on know-how, total instability by employees convinced they are surrounded by “enemies.” (This explains, I guess, why Western firms with meritocratic hiring practices do so incredibly poorly in the global market.) Fujiwara proudly states, “I am against a thorough meritocracy. I am for a social system based on lifetime employment and aged-based promotion.” I guess he doesn’t mind that the traditional Japanese stable employment system never applied to 90% of Japan’s workers. He does admit, however, that being against meritocracy is seen as “uncool” (かっこ悪い) around the world. And then ends the chapter with, “Extreme competitive society and meritocracy is beastly society.” QED, brother.

To end things out with a kick, Fujiwara literally spends the last four pages explaining why stock derivatives are the “time bomb” that will destroy capitalist society. (Update 2010: Wait, he may have been right about this!)

Overall, Fujiwara makes a lot of points common to liberal positions in the United States: the market cannot solve all social problems, the state should provide a safety net, imperialism is bad, management practices solely considering stockholders are bad. But through associating the entire West with its most extreme political and economic forms — which will be a running theme of the book — he assumes that we need no extra rhetorical step to elucidate why and how the traditional Japanese system — and not a Galbraith-esque state-moderated capitalism, for example — can remedy these problems. We will have to wait until the next chapter for persuasive arguments.

On to Part Two: The World Will Be Ruined with “Logic” Alone

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

38 Responses

  1. alin Says:

    This is history repeating itself but your yellow monkey way of looking at things surely doesn’t help. paniked, blind-spotted and revolted you’re basicaly mistranslating what he’s saying. (you’re basically saying how revolting it would be if an american or west-european person had written something like this.)

    his association with “study” and “crying” seems to suggest a certain hostility towards foreign language learning in general.

    not necesarily, you’re mis/over-reading, it’s simply that crying here is used as a metonymy for child/baby-hood. a common figure of speech. (you can surely find this itself problematic but then you’d find X0% of say kanji problematic for various political incorrectness-es.

    Fujiwara is not against forced cultural imperialism as much as he is upset at who succeeded at world conquest.

    that’s yet another figure of speech, and it’s surely meant to be read as such. (if marxy somehow got the job to do the translation it would read like Mein Kampf /gotta say i’m not here to defend fujuwara just trying to somewhat put things in some sort of perspective/.

    you forget that the ‘japanese’ way of looking at things, exemplified by fujiwara is local not global. it is not it that made japan want to supposedly take over the world in the 30s, then again in the 80s but it finding itself in the middle of a hostile environment growing, and swelling and oozing out like the thing at the end of Akira, the anime. in the early 20thC, up to some point, japan was actually the model country , and inspiration for colonized countries like india , various countries in africa …

  2. marxy Says:

    it’s simply that crying here is used as a metonymy for child/baby-hood.

    I am assuming you are being serious here. I would hope you go out and read the book before you assume that Fujiwara is the kind of writer who wields “metonymy” in his literary technique. The guy writes like a math professor.

    I’m not exactly sure how to respond to these criticisms, as they seem to be suggesting that a “Western reading” of the book is impossible.

  3. marxy Says:

    Also the use of “crying” seems to go together with the “forced” learning of the “invaders'” English.

  4. marxy Says:

    And also, later in the book Fujiwara does take an extremely hostile stance towards kids learning foreign languages. So even if I am over-extrapolating here, he basically flat-out admits the same sentiment later on.

    I will say that his rambling style does resemble a certain mode of Japanese essay-writing and should not be counted against him.

  5. thedaniel Says:

    Ah! That rambling style I remember so well from learning the “japanese way of writing essays” in college.. Sort of:

    Statement A

    which is loosely connected to:

    Statement B

    which is dubiously linked with Statement A for:

    Anecdote C;

    each of which is tossed into the Woodchipper of Inductive Reasoning to produce:

    CONCLUSION X

    (amirite?)

  6. alin Says:

    haha, so why did nansen chop up the cat?

  7. marxy Says:

    Joshu wanted to walk upside down.

  8. Momus Says:

    Perhaps Alin is right that a Western reading of this book is not really possible. For instance, spot the obvious mistake here:

    “Japan, Japanese, bushido, moral education, lifetime employment, decision-making by feeling” in his Likes column and “capitalism, democracy, the United States, stockholders, decision-making by logic, globalization” in his Dislikes column. Thanks to the book’s banner, we know all this before even diving into the text. I am assuming we actually go and read the book to find out why these subjective views are not just opinions, but well-argued political positions.

    Why make that assumption, when the author has titled his chapter “Limits to the Modern Spirit of Rationality” and listed decision-making by feeling as a “like” and “decision-making by logic” as a dislike? Surely the implication is that this is a book for those who “feel with” the things it says, not for those who want “well-argued political positions” based on the very things the book is rejecting?

    Acceptance of your basic mindset means Fujiwara must lose. Acceptance of his basic mindset means you must lose. Let battle commence (and be very frustrating and dull indeed).

    It’s worth remembering Marcel Mauss’ definition of habitus (and yes, that name does sound like a French-German Mickey Mouse, ho ho American ho):

    “The totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to “go without saying” for a specific group — in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of ideology.”

    Fujiwara has decided to say what goes without saying, and be discursive about something that is, like so much in Japan, a question of “feeling with”. The interesting question is whether your own “rational” attempts to deal with Japanese culture are not, at base, also habitus: feeling against.

  9. Chris_B Says:

    mamus sayz Perhaps Alin is right that a Western reading of this book is not really possible

    Or perhaps since momus cant read the text in its original form all he can do is take shots at marxy’s brief summary. Not to mention the fact that momus earns his beans & franks from perpetuating the myth that Westerners can never really truely understand Japan/The Japanese.

    Full Disclosure: my reading skills arent up to this text, I’m just going to sit back and see what marxy has to say and take what is said as what is said. Since I aint qualified to comment on a text I cant read, I wont even try.

  10. Momus Says:

    The irony is that, while Marxy may understand the words, that may be all he understands, because of his willed inability to “feel with”.

  11. Chris_B Says:

    give it up momus, all you can understand is that the book exists and marxy wrote something in english. neither you nor I can verify the veracity of the meaning or feeling. the least you could do is have the grace to admit it.

  12. Momus Says:

    “Verstehen was used by Max Weber to describe a process in which outside observers of a culture (such as anthropologists) relate to an indigenous people on their own terms, rather than interpreting them in terms of the observers own concepts. Verstehen involves a kind of empathic or participatory understanding. It relates to how people in life give meaning to the social world around them. This concept has been both expanded and criticized by later social scientists. Proponents laud this concept as the only means by which researchers from one culture can examine and explain behaviors in another… Critics of the concept of verstehen such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Dean MacCannell counter that it is simply impossible for a person born of one culture to ever completely understand another culture, and that it is arrogant and conceited to attempt to interpret the significance of one culture’s symbols through the terms of another (supposedly superior) culture.”

  13. Chris_B Says:

    such amazing cut and paste skills!!!

    still dont counterpunch the fact that were talking about a book, something which requires reading rather than feeling. after reading said book, feelings may come into play, but before that all you can do is judge it by the cover.

  14. Momus Says:

    After admiring my cut and paste skills, did you read the paragraph? And perhaps try to locate Marxy on that continuum? That’s right, you can’t! Because he’s way, way to the right of either of those positions!

    Anyway, I look forward to his account of his American feelings about this Japanese book. I suspect they’ll be pretty much the same as his American feelings before he read this Japanese book.

  15. marxy Says:

    But isn’t the converse that Fujiwara has no right to comment on capitalism, democracy, Locke, Hobbes, Weber, Calvin, English, logic, math, non-pentatonic scales, etc.?

    I think the idea that one cannot read a book in another language and criticize its arguments is totally laughable if this were not an ex-Third World, “Oriental” culture we are dealing with. How dare all those American scholars comment on Bourdieu!

    With all that verstehen, the problem is that this is not about art and culture; Fujiwara is suggesting ideas for social organization – which in itself is a modernist, rationalist activity with concrete goals of order and prosperity. Where I will always disagree is that I reject the supra-anthropological view where everything becomes a distinct and unique “culture” once you cross borders and languages, totally incapable of all understanding. Even if you can never get some kind of perfect comprehension, delving into the language, the culture, the history, the literature, the internal critics, the external critics – it all gets you much closer to the central order and meaning, than viewing it all like roses and denying that this new breed of flower has anything like “thorns.”

  16. Momus Says:

    Fujiwara is suggesting ideas for social organization – which in itself is a modernist, rationalist activity with concrete goals of order and prosperity.

    I hardly think he’s advocating that American business re-organize along the lines of bushido principles, though, is he? He’s simply making a case for your hated “Japanese particularism”, surely? He’s interested in winning his fellow Japanese over to a particular reading of their own culture and history. I’d be interested to know if he blames Japanese youth for losing the spirit of obligation, for instance.

    Where I will always disagree is that I reject the supra-anthropological view where everything becomes a distinct and unique “culture” once you cross borders and languages, totally incapable of all understanding.

    Good, so you reject the Bakhtin / MacCannell critique of verstehen. But you remain silent on the Weberian concept itself: should “outside observers of a culture relate to an indigenous people on their own terms, rather than interpreting them in terms of the observers’ own concepts”? Or do you also reject this “empathic or participatory understanding”?

  17. r. Says:

    one again, momus, unwittingly (?) in the spirit of the Colbert Report, promises to “feel japan at you”…
    feelings. nothing more than feelings.

  18. marxy Says:

    should “outside observers of a culture relate to an indigenous people on their own terms, rather than interpreting them in terms of the observers’ own concepts”?

    For example, lifetime employment. This is not a system handed down from time eternal. It was invented in the 20th century as a specific solution to a labor problem. If Americans had been host to the same problem, would they have moved in that direction? Seems possible.

    What most scholars of Japan reject is taking all explanations of Japanese behavior as “cultural” before examing the economic, social, and historical circumstances – or accepting Japanese self-explanations at face value. If someone tells you something about themselves (that they may believe to be correct) and you find out through other channels that this is incorrect, is it rude to suggest otherwise?

    He’s interested in winning his fellow Japanese over to a particular reading of their own culture and history.

    But his reading requires a negation of Western concepts, and he spends almost 80% of his time criticizing the West as the only way to play up his alternate solutions.

  19. alin Says:

    the problem is that this is not about art and culture;

    i find these wiki stats interesting:

    Their breakdown of the major themes of nihonjinron is as follows:

    * General books:
    o Nihonjinron written by philosophers — 5.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by literary/dramatic authors — 4.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by social/cultural anthropologists — 4.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by historians and minzokugaku (folklore, 民俗学) scholars — 4.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by economists, political scientists, and legal scholars — 4.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by natural scientists — 4.0%
    o Nihonjinron written by linguists and literary scholars — 3.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by diplomats, social critics, and journalists — 3.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by psychologists — 3.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by foreign scholars — 4.0%
    o Nihonjinron written by foreign journalists — 5.5%
    o Nihonjinron written by other foreigners — 7.0%
    o Others — 5.5%

  20. Momus Says:

    one again, momus, unwittingly (?) in the spirit of the Colbert Report, promises to “feel japan at you”… feelings. nothing more than feelings.

    What, an American comedian has refuted Max Weber? Why didn’t I read about this on the front page of the Anthropologist’s Gazette and Almanac (incorporating Cultural Relativism Monthly)?

  21. Momus Says:

    What most scholars of Japan reject is taking all explanations of Japanese behavior as “cultural” before examing the economic, social, and historical circumstances

    And economic, social and historical circumstances in a given society aren’t cultural?

    All money logic, in and of itself, is just money logic, and yes, common to all cultures with money systems. But you’re really saying nothing until you talk about the cultural stuff. What do you buy with your money? Why? And for answers to that stuff you need to ask people, and see with the answers they give you.

  22. r. Says:

    an American comedian has refutes Max Weber, a Scottish pop musican supports him…hey, that’s amore!

  23. P P Says:

    it is not it that made japan want to supposedly take over the world in the 30s, then again in the 80s but it finding itself in the middle of a hostile environment growing, and swelling and oozing out like the thing at the end of Akira, the anime. in the early 20thC, up to some point, japan was actually the model country , and inspiration for colonized countries like india , various countries in africa

    alin: are you saying that japan should not be faulted for its actions because the environment was hostile? or am i unable to understand this because i am not japanese? what exactly are you saying?

  24. alin Says:

    alin: are you saying that japan should not be faulted for its actions because the environment was hostile?

    No

  25. Adamu in Connecticut Says:

    I’ve read this far, and I’ll vouch for the accuracy of marxy’s synopsis. You can take all the factual sections of this blog post and get a decent idea of what Fujiwara is saying.

    I didn’t get to the end of the book yet (I’m hoping to pick up the 2,000,002nd copy of the book in Narita airport on my way to Thailand this Thursday), but the introduction to the book I felt was pretty revealing. He admits that his opinions on the West were basically formed after teaching for 3 years in the US and 1 in the UK. The US, he felt, relied far too heavily on logic for its decision-making processes because of its “melting pot” of cultures. The UK, on the other hand, had a well-developed sense of culture and tradition (he recalls fondly later on that British gentlemen have a habit of testing other men’s knowledge to gauge how smart they are).

    The conclusion I drew from this was that Mr. Fujiwara made no real attempt at understanding America (I can’t vouch for the UK but his understanding seems awfully simplistic) except in the usual oyaji way of comparing it unfavorably/favorably to Japan.

  26. nate Says:

    for all momus knows about this book (other than what marxy, alin, and the mutantfrog mention), the last chapter could pull out that Japan should literally eradicate the other races of East Asia. Is he really doing more than defending a bona fide japanese person, with whom he may or may nor agree, because marxy disagrees him?

    we’re already all quite aware that momus believes Japan is to be protected from negative evaluations on Weberian grounds, even if other countries aren’t… but why should we draw the line at “societies”? Is there any special magic that says we have the right to judge an individual, or say, his blog, without walking a mile in his moccasins?
    And why the presumption that if someone were to properly verstehe a society, that he or she wouldn’t critique it? How would the outside obsever really know just how much the critic understands the society?
    Judgement need not lay strictly in the hands of the artists.

  27. Agro Says:

    I also read the book and I am glad I can share somebody’s opinion on it.

    If I can summarize some points in the discussion tha followed Marxy’s first posting,
    I would say:

    1) Mr.Fujiwara’s arguments are not logically explained, but are expected to sound “right”
    to the reader;
    2) still commenting on these arguments is worthwhile just because they can ring right to
    so many Japanese.
    Put differently, we should not expect a logically enforced thinking (he hates the stuff!),
    but still it is thinking.

    I might personally agree that the English-learning crying kids are just a funny image,
    but it is also a spy of a mentality where language learning is seen as
    a hard and unpleasant effort.
    Surely the diffusion of English is a sign of American (and former British) imperialism,
    but nowadays language learning is mostly seen as a pleasant and rewarding experience.
    In Fujiwara’s mindframe, as it will appear evident further on in the book, there is the
    regret for Japan having lost the war, and not being the leading superpower.
    In that world, Japanese could happily give up learning foreign languages and everybody
    else would have to learn Japanese.

    On a factual basis, and here again I think it is more evident in the rest of the book,
    Fujiwara’s personal but also cultural experience with the West seems limited to the US
    and Britain, and again I think
    he has pretty outdated ideas of Britain (but here I am not really entitled to comment, as
    I never lived there).
    When he talks of Europe, he tends to identify with Britain.
    Henceforth, the European literature becomes the English literature.
    As an Italian, I think that Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio coud make the result of
    the literature match a little more uncertain (and Boccaccio probably won’t mind resorting to some
    Materazzi-style swearwords to ennerve the opponents – but Shonagon and Murasaki would surely
    react in the most delicious way).
    But again, comparing Japan with the whole of Europe seems a pretty futile exercise (while
    the statement that Europe’s economic growth relative speed compared to other parts
    of the world increased only after the XVII century is scholarly accepted).

    What I would be curious to understand is how much these opinions (millions of copies sold apart)
    are actually supported by the Japanese.
    I think that elsewhere was mentioned the divide between the Japanese politicians and the public,
    where the former are absorbed by issues which might be irrelevant to the public.
    It is the case of a “controlled” democracy where the politician caste creates its own
    self-referential agenda.
    This might explain why the political debate in Japan is , at public level, very stagnant.

  28. marxy Says:

    And economic, social and historical circumstances in a given society aren’t cultural?

    Here is where we disagree: you (ignore your Marx) and believe culture is the driver of economics, financial organization, and politics. I see culture as the result. Obviously there is interplay, but I see many facets of Japanese culture as a result of the fact that power and money have long been the exclusive realm of a small group of elites. If you see things the opposite way – that a culture exists regardless of hard structures and historical circumstances – you are obviously going to be offending by an attack on it. If culture is “predestined” from birth like race, then attacking culture is akin to blaming someone for the color of their skin. If culture is a product of intentionally created structures, then the debate is more complex. And this is the 100th time we have had this discussion.

    Also, your “why do conservatives read my blog” is not particularly fair since you are casting all non-cultural relativist Leftists as “conservatives.” Marx was a universalist, not a relativist. That doesn’t make him right, but it does not make him Right either.

    What, an American comedian has refuted Max Weber?

    He is comparing your rhetorical tactics with the dominant mode in conservative pundrity right now where people like Bill O’Reilly downplay facts/reality and emphasize “feeling” as a way to prove their points.

    The conclusion I drew from this was that Mr. Fujiwara made no real attempt at understanding America

    Here is a good out for you debate-squashing Relativists: Fujiwara’s book is not valid in the sense that he is overreaching his own verstehen limits. So not only am I guilty in attempting to read his book. He is guilty for writing it.

    I also read the book and I am glad I can share somebody’s opinion on it.

    Stay tuned for the next installments and keep me in check when I go into strange territory!

  29. Martin Webb Says:

    How tiresome for you Marxy, to be dogged by such a contrarian readership.

    None of your comment crew seem to be capable of confronting the most pressing issues raised by your more hard-hitting posts. Enough with the petty sniping and tired old cultural relativism debate.

    Does nobody find it disturbing that two million copies of Fujiwara’s revisionist rant have found willing purchasers?

    How public-spirited of you to take the trouble to buy, read, digest and denounce it. Thank you.

    While it does seem incumbent upon contemporary thinkers to search for ways in which to radically reform the ubiquitous capitalist model, any such tweaking of the prevailing system should not be underpinned by nationalistic nostalgia for practices that have brought prosperity only at the cost of that wonderful Utilitarian benchmark “happiness.”

    I eagerly await the next installment on this topic.

  30. marxy Says:

    Thank you for the comment, Martin.

    Does nobody find it disturbing that two million copies of Fujiwara’s revisionist rant have found willing purchasers?

    I think it would be natural for people to be interested in a book that appears to give an educated professor’s defense of the “traditional” Japanese system. The question is whether they are actually satisfied after reading Fujiwara’s rather weak arguments and picky sniping at the West.

  31. r. Says:

    thanks for explaining that one to nick for me, david!

    just for the record, i have a very good japanese friend who works at the 外務省, and he tells me that most of the younger (mid 30s and under) workers there detest fujiwara’s book, since it goes against most of the work they are trying to do to normalize japan’s relations with its asian neighbors.

  32. William Says:

    Chris,
    Your comment above (“…such amazing cut and paste skills!!!”) and Momus’ penchant for commenting on books he hasn’t read (and can’t read?) remind me of something that someone said at a party a long time ago about him. It went a little something like this: “Over the span of his fledgling career as a writer [remember, this was quite a few years back] Momus has become increasingly uninterested in non-googleable truth.”
    Enjoy,
    William

  33. Chris_B Says:

    William: I took a guess that it was from wikipedia based on the writing style. I was right.

  34. Momus Says:

    That must have been an extraordinarily dull party, William.

  35. john Says:

    Does nobody find it disturbing that two million copies of Fujiwara’s revisionist rant have found willing purchasers?

    Ann Coulter, Dan Savage, and Bill O Reilly have similar writing styles to what is displayed here and their books have been best sellers in America. Thanks to freedom of expression, I don’t find it disturbing that there are millions of people (amongst a population of 200-300 million people) who agree with their views.

  36. marxy Says:

    I don’t think Ann Coulter has actually gotten anywhere near 2 million copies in sales (mostly because no one reads in America.) I would also state that Fujiwara is a lot closer to the mainstream and not saying crazy things just to shock people.

  37. nate Says:

    I think the ann coulter comparison aint so fair. I’m guessing fujiwara doesn’t regularly call for murder of journalists, and praise the slaughter of other countries’ citizens. She has, however sold over a million covers hardback (according to the nyt).
    This guy has some screwy ideas, but they’re much closer to mainstream church-going christian beliefs in america than any sort of american extremism. Were he an Amerikaner he’d be leading peaceful anti-abortion protests and anti-darwin letter writing campaigns.
    Just golden-aging + nationalism… in a sense, not that different from tom brokaw.

  38. marxy Says:

    A little more on the right than Tom Brokaw – but I get your point.