For once, rather than viewing otaku as a cultural product of Japan, I want to take an alternative viewpoint by analyzing otaku behavior through a different lens. I will present evidence for thinking that each and every one of us can become an otaku, and that the so called cultural origins of otakuism, in particular, the obsession with waifu, play a far weaker role than we think.
It’s Not Just Culture
Cultural differences arise in populations that are arguably just as biologically similar in function as each other. Assuming you’re not a racist asshole, you’ll probably consider someone from another part of the world to be the same as you: a human being. But this runs into a similar problem: if we are to argue for unique aspects of individual cultures, we must then provide sound reason for the genesis of these characteristics. Thus, it’s safer to search for very human and universal biological or cognitive abilities that lead to behavior.
Now, I roughly outlined a possible reason for otaku to behave as they do in an earlier post from back in March. In it, I discussed the ontological commitments that otaku must make in regards to their 2-D wives, but at the time I didn’t mention any reasons for arguing how otaku beliefs come to form. This time I want to specifically discuss the possible mechanisms underlying cognition that have allowed otaku to become who they are, and why Japan had the perfect environment for the blossoming of otaku. However, I think that otaku behavior can be explained at a level more fundamental than that of culture. And the reason for striving to do so lies in the thoughts outlined earlier.
Cognitive Dissonance and the Commitment to Waifu
If you haven’t read this series of posts by Monsieur LaMoe over at Anime Diet, he has quite a lot to say about his personal experiences in Japan and America, and how they’re related to anime. One of the primary points he makes is the difference between soushoku-kei and nikushoku-kei individuals. Refering respectively to “herbivorous” and “carnivorous”, the idea is that soushoku-kei individuals follow the shy, timid, yet nice guy type that we sometimes attribute to individuals in the West.
There are several points worth addressing from his article. According to him, so-called “herbivorous” individuals are peaceful, born without the existence of the gene which codes for violent behavior. Girls, however, on a whole vastly prefer the so-called “carnivorous” men, who physically embody physical fitness and protection. Evolutionarily, this is an important aspect of choosing a mate; finding a fit and suitable mate will allow the best traits to be passed on to children, so that more of the children will survive to mate again.
Because of this preference for carnivorous men, the herbivores find themselves lacking in mates; some individuals choose to remedy this by resorting to the 2-D world for the perfect girl. Thus, we get the waifu phenomenon.
I think there is a critical assumption behind his argument that must be dispelled. It is the idea that herbivorous men are, by definition, incapable of protection. Look throughout anime and take a look at loser male protagonists who find themselves in completely unbelievable harem situations. Most of these characters aren’t completely devoid of good traits (the only one I can think of is Makoto from School Days, but everyone thinks he’s a little bitch). Those obsessed with waifu often fail to appreciate the fact that the girl in fact does like the guy because he can protect her in some way, even if it’s not physical. Perhaps he’s not the typical knight in shining armor, but it doesn’t change the fact that a certain element of the same evolutionarily critical traits are still there even in the romance of anime characters. Instead, perception is focused largely on the understanding that the girl provides, and the male character’s redeeming traits are ignored. This is an example of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance is Universal
Waifu enthusiasts who suffered at the hands of real women begin accusing the real world of being cruel and harsh, while convincing themselves that the 2-D world is filled with the perfect women for them. Waifu devotion is an extreme case of cognitive dissonance. Rather than attempting to understand the principles of courtship, and how to make oneself more attractive to the opposite sex, they misattribute their own potential problems to the inability of women to appreciate them.
Cognitive dissonance happens to everyone. Often, when we fail at something, we don’t want to think that the reason for our failure could be our own. We blame others, complain that we didn’t get enough sleep or didn’t study hard enough, and that the others simply don’t understand because that’s they’re ignorant people. We do anything but really accept the fact that we failed; and in the case of romantic relationships, a commitment to waifu is the same exact thing. Real women are ignorant of our awesomeness, so only 2-D ones are worth our attention.
If cognitive dissonance is really a universal aspect of how we think, then why only now has this waifu phenomenon surfaced? Again from my previous article, I argued that ontological commitment is absolutely necessary in the postmodern world, and that otaku fill this void by supplanting 2-D with the 3-D, that they come to believe that the anime world actually has meaning. Although humans have been doing this for thousands of years (a clear case would be religion and spiritualism), the postmodern world is unique because it is primarily a result of technological growth, information exchange, and wide-ranging networks of communication. Religion must ultimately refer back to the 3-D world, and thus a commitment to religious principles is the same as remaining committed to the societal institutions that the postmodern individual becomes skeptical of. The anime world is a clean split from reality with its characters never changing outside of how they’re meant to in a given series, and therefore are incapable of being a source of cognitive dissonance. In terms of time, Japan provided fertile ground for this shift to 2-D by rebelling against society after the economic bubble burst in the late 80s. As pressure from society got bigger and bigger, more NEETs and hikkikomori were born. And with their access to the 2-D world, a completely new ontology rose in place of their commitment to reality.
The Purity Fixation and Dissonance
My colleague Akira argues in this post that virgin waifu dedication is the result of a cultural obsession with purity, and that taking a wife holds implications of “owning” a woman. While I don’t disagree with this assertion, I think it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Even Western societies for the longest time held the same ideas, but if the West no longer thinks of marriage as the economic acquisition of a good (namely, the wife), then I feel that Japan also no longer thinks this way. If Akira’s claim held true, then we’d see a significantly higher amount of purity obsession in the general Japanese public.
But this isn’t the case. Just look at the amount of porn in Japan, and the average age that people lose their virginity. There’s simply no real cultural reason to be obsessed with purity. Then why is it that otaku are committed to virgin waifu?
The answer lies, once again, in cognitive dissonance. When society tells us that being a virgin is a sign of failure, and sex is a highly sensationalized aspect of life, then those who remain virgins must either accept the idea that they aren’t desirable as mates, or they can convince themselves that virginity is a valuable thing. If they become convinced of the latter, they think: “There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin. Love is about something else, and since real women go and fuck carnivorous men (who are actually inferior to herbivorous men), then those bitches are simply ignorant and blind.” Anime romances might not be torrid, but does that go for movies and television series in Japan as well?
Behavior and the Brain
Dedicating oneself to 2-D waifu is not necessarily a strange thing. Sexual attraction to such characters is not some freak accident, either. If I killed a kitten for every time I’ve touched myself while staring at some 2-D girl, cats would be extinct by now. In this post, 2DT briefly discusses the topic of how we come to be attracted to anime girls, even though they are, essentially, fictitious entities borne of our imagination and brought to life on paper in 2-D. If we look carefully at what the Madarame Thesis says, then there is only a small difference between associating a drawing of breasts to seeing a photograph of breasts to seeing real breasts. Although the first of these three is the least socially accepted source of sexual stimulation, it is actually the same thing as a photograph of breasts. However, the latter is more socially accepted.
The reason why a drawing and a photograph are the same lies in how the visual system works in the brain. We don’t see the world as it is. Often times, we’re easily tricked by visual illusions or miss out on stuff going on in our periphery. Instead of thinking about perception as the act of seeing objects out in 3-D space, perception is actually the processing of information through neural activation patterns in the brain. Thus, 3-D things are processed in the exact same way as 2-D things are. Once we reconstruct the pattern of neurons firing into a meaningful image, we “perceive” that thing out in the world.
My conclusion is thus: Because of how the brain is structured, our previously taken for granted concept of 3-D reality is actually no different from a 2-D one. Our perception and experience of the world is completely dependent on how the brain comes to map certain patterns of neuronal activity with concepts and meaning that we attribute to an external world. When otaku become ontologically committed to the existence of waifu, they aren’t behaving irrationally. They are actually taking a type of neuronal response and re-associating how they perceive of such an object. If all concepts, ideas, and even how we perceive reality lies in the connections between neurons, I don’t think it’s quite strange to see how “deviant” otaku behavior can develop out of individuals that are all born of the same species with quite similar genetic information.
I have the utmost respect for the bloggers I have mentioned in my post. Their work fuels many of my ideas and leads me to think about issues from multiple perspectives. There are few right or wrong answers in the world, and I value the discourse between all bloggers the most.
Images were found via google. They do not belong to me.