In Japan, the number of elderly people commiting crimes is increasing because they want to go to jail. In jail they have company, they are treated well and confinement is preferable to the extreme solitude they suffer from. Freud wrote an essay entitled “Criminals from a sense of guilt”[1], referring to subjects who commit crimes in order to have their unconscious feeling of guild reduced by the legal sanction. Now we could add a new variety: criminals from a sense of solitude. 

In Japan, it is mainly women who steal a sandwich in order to receive a one-year prison sentence. A year with assured company, and the ear of the guards who, according to the testimony of some convicts, are kind and patient. When freedom is regained, the stay can be renewed with the theft of a second sandwich, which gives access to five more years (recidivism is severely punished in Japan). Total, six years less lonely. 

It’s curious. In many parts of the world, confinement is unbearable for so many people, while in Japan there are people who have an extreme craving for it. There are also “criminals from the sense of insufficient pension” in this country, which is more than just a feeling. You can even save money in prison, as Toshio Takata says, an old man who threatened a woman in the park with a knife. He had no intention of hurting her, simply of scaring her enough to call the police. Eight years of confinement guaranteed him a roof, food, and some money in his pocket when he left. For Toshio, business was not so bad. 

Erich Fromm knew very well that freedom is frightening. It is also frightening to the armed protesters in the USA demanding the end of the confinement. They believe they are demanding freedom, and do not realize that in the name of freedom what they are really after is dying. Human beings cannot bear too much of either life or freedom. For a large majority, life and its uncertainties are something they prefer to avoid; freedom is too heavy a burden to carry on their back. That is why people like Bolsonaro, Trump, and others can be leaders adored by the masses, because they lead them to death and slavery.

The difference between a neurotic and a pervert is that the former is more likely to go to jail. The second always manages to evade it. We have plenty of examples of this everywhere. There are neurotic politicians and perverse politicians. The former do everything wrong in order to be punished, even at the ballot box. They have hardly any enjoyment at all. The latter, on the other hand, enjoy everything they want. They do not pay the price or lose anything. This is the talent of the perverse. And when they end up in chains due to some judicial miracle, they have friends who get them the best conditions even when confined.

With his “Robinson Crusoe”, Daniel Defoe (who incidentally also wrote a lesser-known work, “Journal of the plague year”, about the plague in London in 1665) has left us a whole reflection on isolation as a stimulus for moral regeneration and the reinvention of life, a message that in these times we see emerge like flowers of promise, bouquets of good wishes about the true value of life. Defoe considered the human being “the most miserable of creatures”, for having condemned himself to chasing empty mirages. Robinson turned necessity into an inspiring muse, and he rebuilt on his island an existence based on repentance. He found gold, and to his surprise realized that it was not worth mining from the earth.

Defoe was one of the great moralists in the history of literature, he spent time in prison for his political ideas and ended his days locked up, hiding from his creditors. Now, plagued by this storm that many saw coming but that nobody wanted to accept, we have been shipwrecked. The ship has sunk and there are those who think that we are going to resurface in better shape. That like Robinson, we are going to grow vegetables and return to the state of nature that Rousseau spoke of. A world without airplanes, without banks, and without inequalities. A group of French ecologists have sent a video to Macron proposing that we get rid of airplanes and return to the sailboat as a means of transportation. At my age, it would take me a long time to get from Madrid to Buenos Aires by sailboat. But there is always time for dreaming…


Translated by Roger Litten


Freud, S., (1916) “Some Character-Types Met Within Psychoanalytic Work”, in Standard Edition, XIV, p. 310.