A Naive Idea, Often Repeated
An idea advanced by Japanese writers, directors, and thinkers in general, goes something like this: if we only understood what was in each others’ hearts, war would cease and we would become a better, more advanced race with eternal peace among ourselves.
This is naive.
Let’s get right to the point, and take Japanese society as an example.
In Japanese society, humans are packed like sardines as a matter of course. One of the key reasons this society has a low incidence of violence in spite of the crowding is that offenses are apologized for instantly and with the veneer of sincerity. Profusely apologizing as a signal of heartfelt contrition defuses innumerable situations, avoiding a vast amount of violence by stopping incidents mid-way.
Now let’s add the psychic ability to understand that the other party’s apology is completely insincere.
There would be rivers of blood.
The Gundam View
Now, if you take a franchise like Gundam, especially Gundam 00 (leading up to the Gundam 00 movie), you essentially have this idea, writ large, punctuated by large robots and mass violence to show us what we need to evolve away from.
Essentially, the metaplot is that an incompletely evolved human race, taking small steps or even large steps towards enlightenment, but not all the way there, is condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past until humanity all becomes newtypes, i.e. a new type of human being. This has become invariably associated with psionic insight, culminating in “resonance” between two psychics that puts each into the other’s head (with the individuals represented naked on-screen to visually punctuate how the walls are down).
In Zeta Gundam, an incident like this between one of the villains (a woman) and the main character resulted in the woman taking vicious offense to what was, unintentionally, but still vividly in her own mind, a violation of the armor she put up around herself to keep people out. Rather than finding enlightenment, she reconfirmed in her own mind that politically oriented violence was a far better way of getting people to do what you want than trying to appeal to their better selves.
Also, more to the point, stopping war when you haven’t won makes defeat permanent and she wasn’t going to accept that at all.
For this, said main character considered her one of the sources of evil poisoning the world. And I’m not saying that she wasn’t; rather, the world itself had a lot of issues, so believing that weapons are one way to change it isn’t crazy. One can call it evil, but it certainly isn’t the stupidity people claim it to be.
In other words, that’s an example of the negative view: psychic ability won’t save us until we change ourselves so that we are worthy of this kind of connectivity with each other.
But there are problems with that.
The Cyborg 009-1 Hypothesis
In Episode 2 of Cyborg 009-1, a show featuring a shapely and intelligent lady/ secret agent/ cyborg, a psychic girl is pursued by agents because the ‘Western Bloc’ powers deem psionic mutants to be a threat that has to be rooted out. Agent 009-1 (9-1 for short, goes by Mylene) is sent to confirm the killing of this child after four intelligence agents died in the process, the last of which was filmed shooting himself in the head with his own pistol.
The actual killing was meant to be done by a special forces unit or something of that ilk, but it goes terribly wrong, with the parents dying to conceal (at first) an underground escape route that the girl uses to get away. While pursuing, the men of the unit start fighting and killing each other left and right. Finally, the captain hunts for her with Agent 9-1 watching with some horror as the man is forced to shoot himself as well.
She sees the girl, clearly created to resemble a younger version of herself, alone behind a tree, looking out. The girl finally shrieks and runs off.
Agent 9-1 realizes that the girl is like a mirror. The only power she has, one she did not choose, was to use the violent urges and intentions of other people against themselves. Agent 9-1 wasn’t there to kill her, nor was she inclined to do so, and therefore nothing affected her. (Quick note: Psi wave blocking devices were not powerful enough to stop her. This includes 9-1’s own, the same kind as the captain’s.) So, the captain’s wanting to kill the girl so badly, and resisting all efforts to stop him from doing so, is what led him to shoot himself in the head.
Agent 9-1 ponders if the girl is a new kind of humanity, and if humanity would get along with each other if people knew what lay in each other’s hearts. At any rate… who was the real monster in this whole story?
What I like about this is, Agent 9-1 (Mylene) may have an opinion, but there’s no attempt to force the viewer to agree. It is all too easy to argue that there are no heroes here, and that is the tone the show takes in general. It’s a thinking man’s ambiguity.
I happen to think it’s a surprisingly good show in general.
The Ultimate Groupthink
The problem I have with the newtype awakening concept isn’t so much an issue of practicality.
It’s an issue of morality.
If we were able to peer into the heads of others and know for real what they were thinking, and not just what images they learn to project for deception purposes (a logical step), we would then have the ultimate tool for enforcing pure conformity of thought. Whatever thoughtcrime people commit would be evident, and could be punished. The perpetrator could be eliminated altogether, leaving an ideologically cleansed people behind.
So yes, maybe in the end we’ll all get along… because those who think like we do will be the only people left standing.
Personally, I think we need our individuality. We need our mental distance. Like the director of Paprika tried to convey, albeit in an overly psychedelic manner, we need our dreams as refuges from other people. The more these sacred boundaries are trampled on, the less we can call ourselves individuals.
Even in Japan, people have their individuality. There may be great social pressures to subsume that individuality for the greater good, but it’s still there, and there is arguably no deeper need for a Japanese person than to have that individuality respected, especially because they’re afraid to show it without knowing it’s OK first.
Mutual mental invasions make the world smaller. Too small. We wouldn’t be able to live with each other. The human race could even have a hard time surviving. We’re social creatures, not a hive mind, and there’s no reason we should be a hive mind. Because that’s the only way mass thought swapping could wind up, really. A collective thought entity that eliminates complexity and individuality because it isn’t… convenient.
I’ll take this world as it is, rather than go for that ideal, which is, well… people just refusing to look at the other side of it.
This is where I think the old Star Trek with Captain Kirk would’ve had an advantage over others. The show’s writers had a deep, fundamental respect for humanity, and didn’t think we should be in such a rush to discard that humanity, even after meeting races many people would – and if nerd enough, do – laud for having “superior” methods of thought sharing, social organization, or even that fanatical devotion to logic thing. Often, a show would have a simple message in the end: there is too much of a good thing in this universe. Progress must be natural and not forced, or we lose something precious.
I understand that there is a Japanese wish for war to just magically go away forever, but losing the peace through surrendering our individuality and humanity is no victory for the human race. – J