Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) is one of the most thought-provoking anime I’ve ever seen. The story deals with questions on the morality and ethics of society, politics, and personal relationships. One issue that is presented early on is that of eugenics, which is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.” This field of science has been largely frowned upon as unethical and even “evil” since the end of WWII, but does that mean it shouldn’t be practiced? Does the situation in which Saki’s society in Shin Sekai Yori find itself in justify its use of eugenics?
Note: this post contains spoilers up to episode 16.
Eugenics has been around since the ancient Spartans selectively raised superior children, but it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that it grew to prominence, pioneered by the United States and later adopted on a wide scale by Nazi Germany. While the United States practiced eugenics on a medium scale – sterilization of those deemed “unfit” and the enactment of laws limiting immigration from certain parts of the world – the Nazis went to greater lengths to control their population, resorting to genocide and selective breeding. These actions gave the Nazis a reputation as one of the most atrocious governments in modern history. Now imagine the horrors that would occur if eugenics was taken even further.
Saki’s society takes eugenic practices to a level that makes what the Nazis did seem like child’s play. In Saki’s world, everyone has a cantus, the ability to use psycho-kinetic powers. What happened to all of the normal people? They still existed when the current society was established, so genocide on a global scale must have taken place. Although the racially impure (those without cantus) have been eliminated, eugenics is still clearly practiced. Every child is screened to make sure that they have inherited the “self-destruct” gene that kills them if they kill another human. Weaker children like Reiko are disposed of, as are cheaters like the boy from Group 2. As Saki noted in the first episode, her school felt similar to a farm, except instead of breeding animals, her school was breeding children. Those that don’t meet a certain standard aren’t worth keeping alive. What would drive a society to breed their children like cattle? The Americans and Nazis were driven by ego, but Saki’s society seems to be driven by fear: the fear that a single individual could destroy everything. Does that justify their actions? Was there anything else that they could have done?
Amano Reiko was the first character in Shin Sekai Yori to be disposed of. Given the Minoshiro’s explanation in episode 4, it sounded like humanity was driven into a corner; differences and violence had to be eliminated or conflict would arise and humans would face extinction. Creating a homogenous society is believed by some as an effective method of reducing violent crimes, but Singapore with its low crime rate and mixed population, and Bangladesh with its high crime rate and homogenous population disprove that theory. It’s clear from our world (information that Saki’s ancestors would have had access to) that differences between people are not a source of conflict in a well-structured society. A society could have been set up where people with weak or no cantus could live beside those with strong cantus peacefully. Did Reiko have to die? Probably not.
The next person to be eliminated from the gene pool was the boy from group 2. He was disposed of because he cheated in a school competition, a sign of unethical behaviour. Unlike the situation with Reiko where she was born with a weaker cantus, cheating is a learned behaviour that has nothing to do with what you were born with and everything to do with what you were raised with. With that in mind, it seems almost ironic that he was eliminated as his existence indicated something wrong with their system and not his genes.
Further in the series, Mamoru is targeted by the cats because he has a weak mental state. This causes him to flee with Maria, creating two rogue individuals with not only the power to destroy a village, but a good reason to do so. This was obviously not the result that their society was aiming for and is another glaring flaw in their system. Mamoru and Maria had no animosity towards anyone in the village and they actually had good emotional support from their group. Had Mamoru not been labeled a target, they would have continued to live in the village peacefully.
On the surface, eugenics seems like a great way for Saki’s society in Shin Sekai Yori to control violence, but looking at the detail reveals that there are some major flaws. They have placed such a high emphasis on eugenics that they can’t see that it’s actually creating problems and crippling future generations. Other methods, such as fostering a culture of acceptance and peaceful resolution could have achieved a similar result without sacrificing countless children. They are so blinded by fear that they can’t see that their eugenics program will probably lead to their end one day. I just hope that Saki sees this and changes things when she takes over from Tomiko.
EDIT: Thanks to Ari and Kuromitsu for pointing out that Mamoru was targeted for his mental state, not his power.