Examining Shin Sekai Yori – Eugenics

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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EDIT: Thanks to Ari and Kuromitsu for pointing out that Mamoru was targeted for his mental state, not his power.

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  1. I have been thinking about this a lot actually I am very glad someone else also has been picking up on this.

  2. Sounds like an interesting anime. Maybe with this and the new Ghost in the Shell series the western fanbase will quit complaining about “too much moe, ecchi, fanservice” and “why can’t we get more serious anime?!” for awhile. Ah…who am I kidding -.-

  3. Eugenics driven by ego are the worst and not something that will lead a population to something better.

    In our society we have extinct natural selection for the most part, science created chances for nearly everyone sometimes I think it would be better with some selective elements inherited diseases, allergies and so on. But in human hand something like this is always doomed to fail. Well and today there are no wild animals who will eat the weak and old people anymore.

    I recently read an article about partially eugenic gender selection in China, not from the state, but the people them self do it. Out of tradition boys are preferred over girls. I will not go into detail, but some facts were quite shocking. The related UN article mentioned that parts of China will run out of females in 2020 if things continue. The state took some measurements against discrimination of females with laws and financial inducements.

    Maybe one good part of the new society is that it gives the born children a chance, to prove them self qualified at least. I kinda liked that they killed cheater boy *lol*.

    The question is, if there will stay remain a village for Saki to lead?
    Wieselhead recently posted..Chihayafuru – anime review

    • Eugenics driven by ego really is a terrible thing and it’s sad to think that it’s still happening in some parts of the world.

      It was good that the cheater had a chance, but I think they could’ve tried to reform him like how many judicial systems now reform criminals. It allows them to remain in the society and changes their behaviour.

    • I don’t quite remember about the details myself but I remembering hearing some shocking things about China’s parenting. The parents actually “control” the birth of their children, since a one-child policy had been issued by the government. Since China prefer boys over girls (they are probably statistically smarter, or perhaps they could do more jobs, manual labor for example), I think it’s easy to guess what happened to those “extra” girls, it’s a bit disturbing to mention it, but they are either aborted or killed, at best, they are either discarded and the best of the best outcome would be that they are adopted by someone else. Now that when I think about it, China’s child governing system had been basically practicing eugenics 24/7.
      Kai recently posted..DDD: Junk the Eater – An Exquisite Introduction to the Madness

      • Most parents would rather have a boy because they carry on the family name/heritage. When people get married, the bride becomes a part of the groom’s family, so in the eyes of some people, it’s like their family has ended.

        I guess they didn’t realize that if everyone had a boy, then their family line would end anyways because they can’t find girls to marry.

  4. While your discourse was interesting, it may be is better to start with even more fundamental problem to the whole thing : The society just isn’t maturing enough offspring to maintain its population.

  5. Actually, I think Mamoru was more targeted because of his memories and his weak emotional state, since Satoru said that Mamoru’s Canti was about average in episode 13.

    Maria makes it very clear in episode 16 that their type of system isn’t working. I can only hope that Saki’s able to save the rest of humanity in time.
    Ari recently posted..Sasami-san@ganbaranai Episode 3

    • Thanks for the correction. I think they could still have stabilized Mamoru without much effort. The group system that they have provides a lot of emotional support.

  6. Just some clarification because there seems to be some misunderstanding here.

    -Reiko didn’t die because her power (NOT “CANTUS,” DAMN YOU FANSUBBERS) was weak. It’s because she had only a shaky control over her power, which is one of the signs of both conditions that the people in this world fear.

    -The boy from Group 2 was eliminated not simply because he cheated but because he went against established rules, presumably not for the first time. Again, this is dangerous behavior, one of the signs of a potential akki.

    -Mamoru was targeted not because his power was weak – it wasn’t! I have no idea why people think it is, I’m starting to think it was a translation error. Satoru said that Mamoru’s power was average. However, he reacted very badly to the news of memory modification/etc., and as Tomiko warned Saki, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In Group 1 and in the village itself, Mamoru was one of the weakest links. So they made an admittedly hasty decision to eliminate him. During the cat attack it turned out that in his messed up mental state he lost control over his power, so ultimately, the decision to eliminate him was correct. The question is whether he would have ever found himself in a situation like that without being terrified that he would die.

    • Also, I would just like to point out that in this world there’s no such thing as “weak” power. The people all have pretty much the same power, what differs from person to person is the level to which they are able to control it. Some people are able to use it for incredibly delicate things (such as messing with their own biology, using it as a telescope, etc.), others are happy if they’re able to mend a broken vase or something. Still, whatever level an individual is able to use their power, firm control over it is absolutely required.

    • Yes, perhaps my choice of description was poor, Reiko had poor control over her power, it wasn’t necessarily “weak” as you pointed out.

      Thanks for the correction regarding Mamoru. I got a little caught up talking about powers, but it was indeed his mental state that led to him being picked for disposal. My problem with the decision to get rid of him was that he clearly had strong emotional support from his group, and if he had been shown the same from the adults, he probably would have become more stable.

      • But the thing is, the fact that Reiko had no control over her power meant that she pretty much had to die, sad as it is. Same with the boy from Group 2. Culling kids exhibiting potentially dangerous behavior or conditions is a terrible and brutal practice, but for these people it’s pretty much the only way of making sure the rest of the society is safe.

        As for Mamoru, well, the issue that caused him such a great distress was something most adults weren’t even aware of, so he couldn’t have expected any support from there. (And support from Tomiko & Co. would have defeated the purpose of Tomiko’s experiment.) There’s a chance that he might have pulled through with support from the rest of the group… but frankly, I lead toward “probably not in the long run” because the others, especially Saki and Satoru, were very adamant on digging deeper and deeper into something that distressed Mamoru to no end – and it also upset him when they were trying to do it behind his back. :/

        I guess they could’ve saved Mamoru by wiping his mind very thoroughly and then hypnotizing him for good measure so he would forget about the things that upset him, but that would’ve meant losing his friends (and I’m sure it would’ve greatly upset Maria so…).

        • I can’t say I know everything about their society, but I wonder why they couldn’t just seal Reiko’s power rather than kill her. Since they keep a close eye on everyone, they would’ve known right away if she tried to unseal it.

          I was more surprised that they killed the boy from Group 2. I would consider methods employed by some countries today to reform criminals to be effective and Saki’s society has had centuries to develop that. Considering the heavy use of myths and legends to control people, I would not think it would be hard for them to have reformed him.

          As for Mamoru, it’s hard to say what would have happened to him if the adults left him alone. Maria clearly wanted Saki and Satoru to stop because she was worried about Mamoru and having her comfort him might’ve been enough since he was in love with her. On the other hand, he is a bit uptight and doesn’t seem to like breaking the rules. I guess it’s hard issues like this that are causing the adults to go to such extremes.

          • The problem with sealing people’s power is that the power is still there, they just can’t access it to use it. But what happens when someone’s power works partly independent from her will/conscious, as with Reiko? It might start leaking all over the place. No control over one’s power is the main symptom of gouma, after all.

            As for the boy, as we heard in episode 4, they do place a great emphasis on education and psychology, but these alone are not enough. Also, the boy is not a criminal, he just has a potentially problematic personality, despite all the hypnosis and conditioning that he had received, which makes him again, a potentional danger.

            I think the main problem is that they don’t really have a choice but to dispose of potentially problematic elements preemptively. They can’t afford to wait for confirmation because once someone turns into an akki or gouma it’s too late. They catched Shun too late and this resulted in the death of an entire village. :/

            As for poor Mamoru, yes, it’s hard to tell. I think if Satoru and Saki stopped looking for the truth and Maria comforted him he would have pulled through. Or maybe even if he had been given some more time. But who knows. :/ I can see how the Education Board’s decision was too hasty, but on the other hand it’s easy to see where they come from.

          • The more I think about it, I lean more towards the idea that they should’ve killed off everyone with powers rather than everyone without powers when they established the current society. That would have eliminated all of the problems that they’re having now, but I guess it was too difficult to kill a group of people that could destroy the entire planet.

            Anyways, they’re in quite the predicament now; I’m looking forward to seeing if humanity will survive to the end of the series.

  7. Pingback: Examining Shin Sekai Yori – Equality | Nopy's Blog

  8. You bring up some good points!

    I think eugenics inherently is a problematic method, but what makes it extremely difficult to pinpoint as ethically wrong is the world that Shinsekai is based off on. The environment is so toxic, so brutal, that every creature is pushed to survive no matter the cost. The PK Users’ society is constructed on that fundamental idea: safety and survival. With that in mind, plus the almost matter-of-fact tone of the presentation of this new type of ‘eugenics,’ we can almost suggest that the show itself seems to say that there’s nothing wrong.

    Except. We have Saki. And Saki’s mindset is a perfect anchor to the distorted, skewed world of Shinsekai; she is uncompromising in her beliefs, but she truly thinks that there is a middle ground where one can live and survive without being eradicated out of pure paranoia and fear. Karma Demons and Fiends are real; but it’s also important to understand that the reason they exist is because they aren’t offered the best environment. Mamoru is the perfect example: he was ordinary and never lost control of his power, but it was because the Committees were so afraid that he exhibited typical signs of a Karma Demon/Fiend that they chose to chase him down – a terrible mistake.

    I think the bigger question the show seems to ask here is if humans are WORTH surviving. Do the people of this town, even with their brutal methods – are they worth surviving this war? Or should the queerats kill them, for their horrific crimes of eugenics and slave labor? It’s a tough question, because in a way, the PK users are directly responsible for the monsters they create. You reap what you sow, and through eugenics and controlling the queerats, the PK Users have enjoyed a stability of life at a much greater cost. It’s a tough dilemma, and I look forward to see if the show offers an answer – if any at all.
    illegenes recently posted..Lost and Found; Shin Sekai Yori Episode 23

    • Whether the humans deserve to live or not is certainly a good question. They have done some horrific things and no crime goes unpunished so it seems the problems they are experiencing now are a direct result of what they have done in the past. Then again, shouldn’t everyone have a second chance to change things? I am looking forward to seeing if the story will give them a second chance or not.