August 5, 2012 by Julia
I didn’t realize how angry I was until I got married, and one day my husband told me to stop yelling at him all the time. I explained that I wasn’t yelling AT him, I was yelling TO him because I was just so angry about such and such thing some Democrat said in the news that day. We eventually worked it out (I yell, and he basically ignores me), but I began to pay attention to how often I was furious. To be honest, it’s pretty much all the time. I tried writing in a journal, but waiting until the end of the day didn’t work, because my anger at specific things is quick to arise and quick to fade. Besides, I’m tired at night, and I would rather watch something on Crunchyroll or Hulu than get a cramp from writing in a notebook.
The problem is that these people say things that are so absurd that anyone with an education should laugh them out of the public eye . . . but they don’t! The lapdog media breathlessly repeat whatever stupid thing was said, and then I get mad because I know there are people who will not necessarily take the time to research and consider the accuracy of the statements like I would. So, we’ve got people promoting taking incremental steps toward an ideology which has, when fully implemented, led to the deaths of between 85 and 140 million people, and doing so while relying upon lies and doublespeak, and our “free” press doesn’t call them on it. It’s no wonder I’m constantly angry, right?
(you will hear me say this again, I’m sure, but for the record, I do not think President Obama is a socialist. I think he is a political statist with an unfortunate penchant for fascist economics. I cannot tell you how gratified I felt when Thomas Sowell agreed with me, although he probably never knew I felt that way)
Between my four years of political science classes during undergrad and my “hobby” of studying Maoist China, I’m aware of how collectivist ideologies get implemented, and what happens once they take hold. The idea terrifies me, and I’m very sensitive to rhetoric that smacks of class warfare and persecution for thought crimes–which leads to me to the anime episode that convinced me it was time to find a place where I could
talk rant about politics and how it intersects with my other hobbies of reading and anime.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to watch at least one simulcast show per anime season. For the summer, I’m watching Arcana Famiglia, Kokoro Connect, Campione!, and Sword Art Online (along with Accel World and Folktales from Japan from last season). Episode 2 of Sword Art Online, available streaming from Crunchyroll, pressed all of my anti-collectivist buttons at once, to the point that I sent Ish a message the day after I watched it, inviting him to blog with me about geekdom and politics.
Sword Art Online is about a virtual reality video game, which (for reasons still unknown) was created to trap 10,000 players in the virtual environment. If a player dies in the game or someone in the real world attempts to remove the VR equipment from the player’s real body, the player will die in real life. The only way to get out of the game is to beat all 100 levels. It seems to be the case that if one player or group of players beats the boss of a level, the boss is beaten for everyone, so in theory everyone will be freed if one person beats all the levels. Cue, of course, the main character, Kirito. Kirito was a beta tester for the game before its release, and he is apparently an experienced VR game player, so he is very good at surviving Sword Art Online.
The beta testers compiled all of their advice into a book, which players can pick up for free at various shops. Earlier in episode 2, one of the non-beta testers went off on a rant because over 2,000 people had already been killed, and because the beta testers allegedly had failed in their duty to share their knowledge with other players, thus becoming responsible for those deaths. One of the players reminded him about the book, and the issue was solved . . . until the end of the episode (and trust me, this is hardly a spoiler). Kirito defeats a boss, and all the players are, rightfully, happy and grateful, although a few people had died during the fight–until one dude accuses him of being a beta tester.
Now, here is where I got mad (See? Everything makes me mad). Kirito just got THE REMAINING 8,000 PLAYERS out of level 1. Everyone was grateful to him until it occurred to them that he may be a beta tester, and then suddenly it was all his fault that the people had died. They even invented a new insult, “beater,” which is a combination of “beta tester” and “cheater.”
The regular players exhibited classic signs of the politics of envy: a sense of entitlement to the achievements and rewards of people more successful than themselves and the need to blame those successful people for their own failures and imperfections. When a minority of people have more of something (money, talent, etc.) than the majority, the majority can “win” by making it a negative thing to have more and a positive thing to have less. This radical egalitarianism (or radical leveling) happened in real life during the Cultural Revolution in China, and was perfectly exemplified in fiction by Kurt Vonnegut in “Harrison Bergeron.”
I doubt Ito-san was consciously creating an anti-collectivist message by portraying the non-beta testers as jealous, greedy, and ungrateful, but that’s how it came off to me as someone who looks for such messages. These players could have traveled in a guild with someone of obvious skill, who would have helped them stay alive and perhaps get out of the game more quickly. Instead, they attacked him for his own success–after that success was used to help them, even–and alienated him, such that he completely walked away and left them to their own devices. Score one for the politics of envy, right? It reminded me of Maryland millionaires leaving after their taxes went up, or American millionaires suddenly not being millionaires for a while. You want to be ungrateful for what people are giving you? Okay, fine, then you lose everything, have fun with that.
The point of all this is that I want to rant about the political implications of my favorite books and anime series, which is why you’re reading this right now. I’m seriously considering putting my non-political rambling on a separate blog, but in the meantime, this is the place for you if you want to read about how anime and capitalism are both super awesome.