In July 2016, international newspapers reported a shocking massacre that happened at a care facility in Midori Ward, Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan in which 19 people were killed and 26 others were injured. This brutal homicide is considered one of the worst crimes committed in the country’s modern history. The stories revolved around the murderer Satoshi Uematsu and his motive to ‘euthanize’ disabled people based on his idea that it would be “for the sake of Japan and world peace”. He broke into the facility at late night and went room to room, stabbing the victims in their necks as they slept. This incident stirred up a justice outrage not only within the Japan society but also across the globe with people condemning it as a hate crime rooted in Fascism and ableism.
I would like to make use of the Just-World Hypothesis to give a subjective explanation of how the murderer might come to conduct such act of so-called social vigilance. According to the Just-World Hypothesis, people get what they deserve for what they do, to the end of good people being eventually rewarded and bad people being eventually punished. In other words, it encourages the idea that people should attribute consequences to the result of a universal force that remains the world a morally fair place. On the one hand, such a belief plays an important role since we need to rely on action-consequence ideas like that to plan and predict our lives. However, on the other hand, this hypothesis has been accused of human desensitization to the world’s injustice by means of rationalizations for the sake of discomfort reduction such as victim blaming.
The case of Sagamihara stabbings can be deemed an extreme example of the latter. Satoshi Uematsu rationalized his brutal killings by saying in a letter that he was “saving from unhappiness” both the disabled victims and those he believed were burdened with taking care of their lives. In his eyes, people with disabilities were of little worth and as a matter of fact the world would be better off without them; therefore, they deserved to be purged of their miserable existence. Despite his several attempts to appeal for the legalization of ending the lives of the disabled in cases where it was requested by their guardians, this bold idea never reached to the authority. This is when he came to make his second rationalization that he himself should carry out the world-serving task. After the execution, he turned himself in and was arrested, just like he predicted on a Twitter post days ago. He did everything naturally like it was no big deal and accepted the sentence with no remorse. For him, the whole incident was a major assignment necessarily done for the good of this just world.
It is true that the belief in a just world is capable of making humans feel more comfortable with the universe and its capriciousness, but it also has social implications. An interesting study found that the believers in a just world tend to “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.” The Sagamihara stabbings demonstrate a much more significant level of this notion in which the believer himself determinedly conducts the punishment. Since belief is a highly subjective thing, it can be extremely difficult to deal with. Some suggestions for modifying the belief in a just world include early education of critical thinking employed by parents, teachers, and the media. Moreover, there should be more large-scale practices by institutions like the government to tackle the problems while gradually reducing a sense of justice impotence which may result in an extreme just world attitude.