Galaxy Express 999 eps 001-003 – On Titan’s Paradise Law
Upper-class Earthlings in the 23rd century pay a fortune to exchange their human bodies for mechanical ones, thus gaining virtual immortality. Their poorer counterparts dream of mechanization as they starve in slums circling the great Megalopolis. Tetsuro and his mother set out for Megalopolis in search of that dream. His mother dead at the hands of the vicious hunter Count Mecha, Tetsuro finds an unlikely partner in the mysterious Maetel. She offers to take him on the Galaxy Express 999, a space train whose final destination is an equally mysterious planet where anyone can be mechanized for free. He takes her offer.
I might be the only person who considers himself a Leiji Matsumoto fan without having seen Space Battleship Yamato, Captain Harlock or Galaxy Express 999. Well, enough of the OVAs. I’ve just started watching Galaxy Express 999 and I’m planning to blog on some aspects of the show.
By the end of the third episode, the message of the series rings loud and clear: mechanization is bad. It is better to live and die in the flesh than to live forever as a cold machine. An example of this occurs at the Galaxy Express’s first stop, planet Mars. Here Tetsuro finds a third economic class (intermediate between Earth’s mechanized upper class and non-mechanized lower class): the mechanized poor. Martian industry has collapsed and the mechanized Martians who cannot afford to leave the planet suffer in potentially eternal agony. Late Capitalism at its worst (think Detroit).
At the next stop of Titan, the so-called Paradise Law reigns supreme: “Do what you will except to take away another one’s freedom”. Immediately upon arrival, Maetel is abducted by a Titanian, exposing the problems inherent in the law:
1) the Titanian abducts Maetel.
2) to abduct someone is to deprive them of their freedom.
3) therefore the Titanian is breaking the law, but…
4) to arrest him now would be to deprive him of his freedom so…
5) the Titanian gets to keep Maetel.
The Law of Paradise is unenforceable, which actually turns out to be fine for the Titanians as an old woman explains to Tetsuro that taking someone’s freedom in Titan is a sin (codeword for: there is no punishment but in your conscience, if you care). The True Law of Paradise then seems to be: “Do what you like but keep your gun at the ready”. Tetsuro proceeds to rescue Maetel with many Titanians getting killed in the process, which in Titan is just par for the course. Throughout there is a strong suggestion that it is somehow the mechanization process that has made Titanians into such merciless hedonists: for example, in the fact that Tetsuro is hunted in Titan just as he and his mother were victims of human-hunting back in Earth.
The True Law of Paradise has one huge advantage over other universal laws out there: it’s consistent. It compares favorably with Nietzsche’s, for one. Nietzsche’s Will to Power is the notion that humans (and all Nature along with them) are of necessity struggling to maximize their power. Nietzsche analyzes altruism and finds that even when people try to help their neighbor they are really just helping themselves. So far this makes sense. Evolutionary biologists have provided lots of examples of how helping others can ultimately increase your share of the gene pool in the next generation, and so forth.
But here’s the problem. Nietzsche attempts to take this notion of Will to Power and turn it into a rallying cry, a program, a Law for human action. In Thus Spake Zarathustra and the Antichrist he praises an ideal warrior/philosopher type and attacks Christianity and common morality for being against nature. He wants people to act according to the Will to Power, but by his own theory people are already always acting to maximize their power so what’s all the fuss about? The mere attempt by Nietzsche to write polemics and to persuade us to act in a certain way betrays a contradiction at the root of his worldview. Nietzsche was too clever not to realize this, and he agonized over this issue in his notes, but he couldn’t resove it. A deconstructionist could have a field day here.
The Titanian, on the other hand, would say this: “You want to be a Christian, that’s fine. But you better put an electric fence around that church, because if thieves come and steal the pews, you’re on your own.”
Let’s look at Kant’s own universal moral law: the Categorical Imperative. It goes something like this: “Act only in such a way that you would be happy if your rationale for acting that way became a universal law.” Say my cousin wants me to help him to build a house. I think: if all people helped their cousins build their houses, would I be happy? Sure, there’d be harmony and prosperity all around. Now, say the same cousin wants me to help cover up a crime. I happen to know that if he went to prison his mother would be all alone and possibly die. My cousin’s a nice guy, and I’m very sympathetic. So I think: if all people helped their cousins cover up crimes, would I be happy? No, not at all. That would be a nightmare. Therefore I turn my cousin over to the police.
The flaw in the Categorical Imperative is that you can get any result you want by just tweaking the premises to be used. I could say: if all people helped their cousins to cover up a crime when their mother depended on them for sustenance and the cousin was a good person who had made an honest-to-God mistake, would I be happy? By narrowing the situation down I make my actual desire (to let my cousin off the hook) get closer and closer to the imperative.
As for the Titanian, he’d say: “Whatever. Do as you like.” As consistent as this may be, the results are horrendous and Maetel and Tetsuro rush back to the train early preferring to wait for departure rather than do more sightseeing in Titan.
Tetsuro is just a boy and he’s pretty obsessed with mechanization, so will need to get this message of the evils of living on at all costs drilled into him over and over. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for 113 episodes, would there? For us the viewers, on the other hand, the notion is obvious as well as familiar to the point of being a platitude. Still, the tale is in the telling and it will be interesting to see if Tetsuro ever meets with a universal law that we can all be happy with.