“Why is there no looting in Japan?”

With news continuing to pour out of Japan regarding the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, one journalist asks, “Why is there no looting in Japan?

And solidarity seems especially strong in Japan itself. Perhaps even more impressive than Japan’s technological power is its social strength, with supermarkets cutting prices and vending machine owners giving out free drinks as people work together to survive. Most noticeably of all, there has been no looting, and I’m not the only one curious about this.

This is quite unusual among human cultures, and it’s unlikely it would be the case in Britain. During the 2007 floods in the West Country abandoned cars were broken into and free packs of bottled water were stolen. There was looting in Chile after the earthquake last year – so much so that troops were sent in; in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina saw looting on a shocking scale.

Why do some cultures react to disaster by reverting to everyone for himself, but others – especially the Japanese – display altruism even in adversity?

This is an interesting question that I am sure a number of sociologists could respond to. This sounds like a Durkheimian issue about social coherence: what holds Japanese society together, even amidst disaster, while other Western societies have less social coherence in the presence of a disaster?

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