(Part One can be read here.)
wendeego: With this episode, Shinsekai has separated itself from myriads of other dystopian fiction. Contrary to what earlier episodes implied, this is not just a show about an incredibly cruel and restrictive “utopia.” Neither is it a show about the necessity of resistance against society. Instead, Shinsekai may be a show about balance: between the creative recklessness of PK users and the stability of a society created to keep them confined.
From the very beginning, viewers are predisposed to hate Shinsekai’s society of psychics. Not only is there a thread of wrongness that runs through much of the first few episodes, but the actions of the authorities speak for themselves: brainwashing, conditioning and possibly even murdering unsuitable children. Add to that the fact that the establishment has consistently lied to the cast about the past thousand years of history, and to that the fact that all of these twelve-year-old children have been engineered by society to have sexual intercourse with anyone or anything in times of intense stress. With this in mind, there are moments seeded throughout (the Ri’jin priest, for example) where it is hinted that the society of Shinsekai only wants the best for its children, even as it alters their very biology without them knowing. But that means nothing in the face of the possibility that if the situation called for it, due to her biology/training Saki might have had sex with her mother without even flinching.
The problem is that as this episode proved, PK is dangerous. As soon as Saki succeeds in removing Satoru’s cantus block earlier in the episode, he goes on a rampage, murdering dozens of queerats without even flinching. Saki barely manages to restrain him from walking right into the middle of a camp and just slaughtering everybody; when she suggests that something is the matter with him, he pauses for a second, as if it did not even occur to him what he was doing. PK may be immensely useful, able to do everything from capturing giant crabs to levitating trees. But leave it unchecked and madness happens.
This also happens to make the show’s early pre-episode history lessons especially important. The first episode depicted the initial uprising of PK users. They revolted against humankind by exploding innocent people. The second episode depicted an empire run by PK users, proven quickly if unsubtly to be exceptionally cruel. Near the beginning of the false minoshiro’s info dump in episode four, the actions of the first PK user were revealed: upon receiving his powers, his first actions were to exploit them for the purpose of sexual abuse. In each and every one of these cases, the capability of PK has brought out the worst in people. Think of it that way, and it’s no wonder that what remained of society attempted to bind and restrict PK users in any means possible in order to bring a little peace to the world. This, of course, brings us to Shinsekai’s utopia.
This does not even begin to justify the actions of our protagonist’s society. By restricting the actions of its populace, it could be argued that the society of Shinsekai is just as much to blame for Satoru’s attraction to the dark side of PK as is PK’s own allure. But by realizing that the founders of Saki’s society had very clear, valid reasons for their horrifying and indefensible actions, the choice becomes clear. On one side lies a society that controls everything from your behavior to your own biology. On the other is the nearly limitless potential–and danger–of PK. Our heroes find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, an unfair society and selfish individualism. The only chance at salvation might be finding a way to navigate straight across both poles, combining the creativity of PK with the overarching morality of something like religion.
Remember: at the beginning of this episode, Saki doesn’t break Satoru’s cantus block through violence. She does so by taking control of the same prayers and rites that blocked Satoru in the first place, and helping him towards self-fulfillment and enlightenment. If the cast of Shinsekai is to have a happy ending, it might only be possible by working with the system, rather than against it. But with six episodes down and a world left to be seen, it’s likely that this analysis is invalid, our view of the world is incomplete, and the story of Shinsekai has only just begun.
gallifreyians: Obviously last week’s episode, “Getaway”, was deeply about the change Satoru exhibited once Saki released his Cantus back to him, and while wendeego would like to argue that the root of Satoru’s violence exists in the very nature of PK users, I would have to attribute the outbursts of violence — of all the PK users, both contemporary and past — directly to the societies which raised these people.
For me, everything boils down to choice; Satoru’s society has never been given him the choice to express his PK abilities at his own pleasure, and so this opportunity to do whatever he pleases is so incredibly overwhelming that Satoru almost hast to default to violence for the pure and simple reason that he has never had that kind of constructive outlet (or even the option to feel violence itself) before. An apt but rather inadequate comparison I can draw is one to abstinence-old sex education; children in the modern American education system are overwhelmingly told to not have sex, and only to not have sex. Health classes shove that message down the throats of students, precluding the discussion of any other idea — so when sexual desire inevitably comes along, American high school students are complete unprepared to make the right choice for them and for the situation they are in. Furthermore, schools that teach sex ed that encompasses the idea that it just might be okay to have intercourse are proven to have higher abstinence rates than schools who teach the same-old “YOU WILL GET PREGNANT AND DIE” mantra of the sixties.
Just like schools that teach abstinence-only education, the society of our protagonists shoves Buddhist and Hindu teachings about dharma and karma down their throats and then takes this a step further by forcing them to follow those teachings through uncompromising biological and psychological conditioning. To act surprised by horrible things Satoru does in episode six is ridiculous, because how else is he supposed to act now that he is free? The contemporary society we see in Shin Sekai Yori enforces the message “Don’t use your powers for what we think of as evil!” consistently and then uses rather simplified versions of Buddhism and Hinduism as justifications for this without allowing for any internalization of the actual content of the Buddhist and Hindu ideologies themselves. The founders of this contemporary psychokinetic society, as The Librarian explained in episode four, rationalized their decision to do all of this — the Buddhist/Hindu education, the biological and psychological conditioning, and the selective removal of ‘problem’ children — by saying, “It’s all for the best; besides with all of these measures in play — with this perfect system —, nothing we can think of can cause destabilizing violence.”
Except, of course, the dissolution of the system itself. And why is that? Why does their system, which by all reasoning should be fool-proof, fail like it did with Satoru when it is removed from the equation? It is because this system does nothing to change the people it operates on as actual individuals. How do you create a permanent change in a person? How do you take someone prone to violence and reform them into an upstanding citizen who wont go on a serial rape-and-murder binge? Here’s a hint: it’s not by rigidly forcing them to conform to a set of ideals about how to be a proper human being. You can permanent change in a person by allowing them to change on their own — you can create everlasting change if you allow someone to naturally take in the ideologies you want them to learn and allow that individual to make them their own ideals. I can think of no better example of this kind of internalization of ideas that I’m taking about than in the justice system of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy1 is known contemporarily as the Iroquois League and historically as the Five Nations or the Five Nations Confederacy (Six Nations after 1722), meaning I am talking about the Iroquois nations that followed the Gaianashagowa (The Great Law of Peace and Power): the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and the Seneca, followed later by the Tuscarora. The Gaianashagowa provides guidelines for how the nations are supposed to conduct themselves, in many aspects of life — rather like dharma — yet provides nothing that is, or could be interpreted as, a justice system. As per the Gaianashagowa, five American2 nations lived without a criminal justice system. Can you imagine modern America — or any other modern country for that matter — if we didn’t have criminal and civil justice laws? Everything would descend into a pandemonium of people doing whatever the hell they want and breed a new society of intense personal satisfaction with a complete disregard for the individual and basic fundamental rights. However, did this happen with the Haudenosaunee? Uneducated racists would say yes, and that is why ‘Murika crushed these savages along with those tea-drinking bastards back in Reverlution. However, if you are not racist and taken a look at actual American history, you can see that within the Haudenosaunee, both as individual nations and as a larger confederacy, there is no documented history of crime. “Why did the Haudenosaunee have no crime?” you ask, then. Here we get into the nitty-gritty sociological issues that have earned my section the title of “Sociology”; I would posit that the reason the Haudenosaunee did not appear to even have the need for a justice system lies in the deep intrinsic cultural differences between the New World and the Old World.
We all know that American societies (including but not limited to the Haudenosaunee) participated in a practice known as Mourning Wars, in which a nation with a depleted population would invade the villages of another nation and carry off people for adoption into a new nation, and this practice the Americans did not exclude the colonial Europeans from. Given modern expansionist and post-expansionist notions about Americans and their relationship with Anglo-Americans the normal response to this is to say that, since the European colonists of the time are white and not American, they must’ve immediately run back to their friends, families, and communities as soon as humanly possible. This, however, is decidedly not the case; levels of return from being ‘carried off’ by Americans are so low that they actually preclude being caused by Stockholm’s syndrome and, furthermore, there are numerous cases of victims of Mourning Wars who are rescued by colonial Americans actually returning to the nation that had originally kidnapped them. Men and women — after being inducted into this new culture — would consistently choose Native Americans over everything they knew. This also includes children, having been kidnapped by Americans and then returned to their homes, leaving behind their biological parents and everything else they’ve ever known to live a life with their adoptive nation. Sure, even with adults this is a big thing but to see this occur almost universally, and even among children, points to something so much bigger than Stockholm syndrome.
The reason this kept happening during the European colonization of North America is the same reason that I posit they had so little crime: that the American communities offered so much more to the individual in terms not only of self-expression and identity, but also a greater sense of community and belonging. European and European colonial society, while certainly appreciating the value of individual rights, was alienated by the idea of self-expression and the development of a unique identity outside of the narrow social norms of the time. The Americans as a whole were the contraire of this, and encouraged individualism and self-expression — the Gaianashagowa actively protects the right of expression! “But so does our modern society! The society that birthed the first psychokinetics had these values as well, and looked what happened to them.” There is s distinct difference between the individualism of the Americans and the individualism of our globalized civilization, and that is how the relationship between individuals and between the individual and the collective is taught.
Going back to the Gaianashagowa, The “Great Law of Peace” that governed the Haudenosaunee, one can find very fantastic information about the interpersonal relationships practiced by the Americans. Sachems (chiefs) and Clanmothers (matriarchs) form the heart of the Haudenosaunee government, and — rather unlike Old World governmental figures — are seen as entirely subservient to the people3. This subservience even goes so far as to demand that a Sachem give up all of his material possessions once he attains this title as well as pass on any gifts he receives henceforth directly to his people4. Yet, despite the idealism of that law, it was practiced. Yet, despite the requirement of living in total austerity, being a Sachem was held in the highest regard and universally desired by Haudenosaunee men.
The Haudenosaunee developed a system of education that allowed for extreme forms of self-expression kept protected by the ultimate law of the land while simultaneously placing stress on acting for the collective community. And furthermore, this system worked. During the chaotic, violent, and cannibalistic period between 1200-1300 CE the five nations of the Haudenosaunee suffered from extensive in-fighting and endemic violence, yet by the time 1300 CE5 this violence is completely redirected outward. Shin Sekai Yori‘s scientist society, however, did not have the same kind of luck as Deganawida and Ayenwatha (the dudes who the Gaianashagowa is attributed to) with their stabilization of Japan. To stabilize Japan after centuries of chaos, the scientific community had to take drastic measures like altering the genome to get their point across — and that simply crosses a line. As the history of the Haudenosaunee teaches us, order can be established out of chaos peacefully and prosperously without sacrificing basic human rights. However, to ‘create’ (force) peace, the scientists not only corrupted Hinduism and Buddhism, making them hallow excuses, but also committed atrocious acts which directly violated the rights of PK users. Somewhere along the line the scientists stopped looking at these people as people and came to see them only as violent animals that needed to be subjugated and controlled — and I cannot ram home how wrong that is. There were other options that could’ve been pursued to eradicate violence in Japan, and the one that makes the most sense — the one that would’ve led a much happier ending than Satoru’s story — is the path of the Haudenosaunee.
Had Satoru and Saki grown up is a community much more like an idealized Haudenosaunee community, they would’ve both been able to express themselves on levels that would skyrocket their personal growth and work out on their own the kind of people they want to be without the brian-washing that they currently experience. Had their society been based off of the Haudenosaunee, Satoru would’ve had a more constructive outlet for any violent feelings than repressing them until he finally breaks. Had the society of Shin Sekai Yori been based off of the Haudenosaunee, the scientists would’ve been able to get what they wanted — a free stable system of equals who aren’t under the constant threat of collapse — without having to resort to their non-ethical methods. Because, didn’t the Haudenosaunee have exactly what the scientist wanted?