Prophecies Fulfilled – Housen vs Toutaku

[SPOILERS for Volume 4 of the Ikki Tousen manga.]

Toutaku vs Housen

Toutaku vs Housen

I predict something about a future event, and the event occurs as I predicted it.  Prophecy → Fulfillment.   But it’s not all cut and dried like that.

If I say in jest: “Tomorrow my brother will lose his umbrella on the subway”, and the next day he actually does lose his umbrella on the subway, is this a prophecy fulfilled?  Most of us will say “No, it’s just coincidence.”  So there must be a causal connection between the event and the prophecy, i.e. the event causes the prophecy.  The prophet somehow comes to know that this event will occur, and it is out of this knowledge that the prediction comes forth.  Since this is a case of the future having an effect on the past, most scientifically-minded people will simply dismiss prophecies as superstition.

However, there is still a way for science and prophecy to be reconciled.  If we believe in a perfectly mechanical, deterministic world, then exact knowledge of the current state of affairs should allow us to predict any and all future states.  The problem here is that this sort of knowledge would be insanely detailed, in fact inhumanly so.  And that’s all depending on the world being deterministic, a theory which many are not in agreement with.

Toutaku, or, is it the flag of the Japanese economy?

Toutaku cheating Fate?

A completely separate issue, though just as relevant, is the problem of what precisely constitutes fulfillment of a prophecy.  Let me bring up two examples from the infamous Oracle at Delphi.

1) Croesus, King of the wealthy Kingdom of Lydia, asks the oracle whether it would be advisable to attack the Persian Empire.  The oracle replies: “You will destroy a great empire if you do”.  Croesus proceeds with his campaign and is utterly defeated.  Lydia is destroyed.  [Story from Herodotus]

2) Back when Rome was a monarchy and Tarquin the Proud was King, his three sons go to Delphi to ask which of them would be the next king.  Brutus (ancestor of Caesar’s reaper) goes along with them.  The oracle says: “The first man to kiss his mother will rule.”  The three princes immediately embark to see their mothers.  Brutus walks out of the temple, trips on purpose, and kisses the ground on falling.  The Earth is the Mother of All.  Brutus defeats the Tarquins and becomes one of the first consuls of the Roman Republic. [Story from Livy]

Were these prophecies fulfilled?  Even in Antiquity, Delphi was accused of giving out ambiguous prophecies that could always be interpreted as turning out to be true, to the glory of the oracle and the filling of its coffers…

***

The year is 192 AD.  Dong Zhuo, the brilliant and ruthless warlord, has set up a puppet emperor on the throne of the Han.  At this point he is seemingly all-powerful.  However, opposition to his brazen ways builds up.  A minister in the court, Wang Yun, manages to convince Dong Zhuo’s adopted son, Lü Bu, to assassinate the warlord.  This is the end of Dong Zhuo.

So much for the historical context.  In Ikki Tousen, several young Japanese warriors (called toushi) acquire Magatamas, magical jewels that possess the souls of the main actors in the Three Kingdoms drama of 1800 years earlier.  The Magatamas are a blessing insofar as they nurture and amplify the power of these fighters.  They are a curse insofar as they drive their wielders toward the same actions and passions that doomed the Chinese heroes so many centuries ago.

In that sense, then, the more literate toushi can more or less predict what will be the outcome of their struggles simply by reading the chronicles of the Three Kingdoms.  This is not necessarily case of the future influencing the past, but rather a set destiny that repeats itself and is therefore known to all.  Everyone can be a prophet here.  [An interesting question, which Ikki Tousen so far hasn’t dealt with, is whether the original history of the Three Kingdoms itself was fated and prophesied.  Was this drama determined and determining, or just determining?!]

Triumphant?

Triumphant?

Toutaku (= Dong Zhuo)  has a tyrannical grip on the 7 fighting schools of Kanto, Japan.  Shishi (= Wang Yun) outwardly submits to Toutaku while behind the scenes plotting his downfall.  He engineers a falling out between Toutaku and his right-hand woman Housen (= Lü Bu).  Housen is extremely aware of the Chinese past and she desperately attempts to resist this “betrayal” but eventually gives in.  She faces Toutaku confidently, with the fate of the Magatamas to back her.

Already there are several details that distinguish Dong Zhuo’s fall from Toutaku’s.  The most significant is that Shishi pretends to be someone else (Saji Genpo) in order to eliminate his enemy.  A paradoxical strategy, inasmuch as it is by changing his personality that Shishi achieves the same result as Wang Yun in the past.  In other words, if Shishi hadn’t hid himself Toutaku would not have fallen so easily, because Toutaku was very aware of History.  But in hiding himself, he ensures events do not occur in exactly the same way.  Does this qualify as fulfillment of prophecy??

During Housen and Toutaku’s battle, the severely weakened Toutaku jumps off a cliff rahter than die at the hands of Housen.  He explicitly states that he’s committing suicide in order to beat fate.  But he dies nonetheless, and in battle with Housen.  The high-ranking toushi were all anticipating Housen’s victory over Toutaku.  Did Toutaku’s action change this in any way?  Or does this still qualify as fulfillment of prophecy??

***

The psychological element has to be taken into account too, as I think you could make a case for the Ikki Tousen story so far being a series of self-fulfilling prophecies.  Housen was quite mistreated by Toutaku.  Maybe this was because Toutaku secretly harbored the thought that she was or could become more powerful than him.  At the same time, this mistreatment could have made Housen unconsciously want to kill him, and so the prophecy or fate of the Magatamas could simply be the excuse she needed to act out her true desires.

In Norse legend, we have the case of the god Balder.  He dreams of his death, and his mother tries to ensure that nothing will be able to hurt him at all.  The result is that Loki, the scheming trickster god, is motivated to figure out a way to kill him, and eventually does.  Balder was the most beloved of the gods, and Loki the most scornful and the most hated, so he might have been using the prophecy as an excuse.

Irrelevant but Revealing

irrelevant but revealing nonetheless

Freud has a wonderful example concerning Julius Caesar, which I’m going to paraphrase from memory.  On the morning of a projected battle, Caesar walks out of his quarters.  He slips and falls on the doorstep.  He takes this as a bad omen and decides to postpone the battle.  Now, according to Freud, this was the right decision to take.  But this is not to mean that Freud believed in omens.  Rather, Caesar’s stumble was a result of nerves and insecurities: his body was preventing him from going.  So the omen is nothing more and nothing else than Caesar’s calculation that today was not the day to fight.  Instead of thinking this consciously and saying it out loud, for which he could have been accused of cowardice, he assigns it to a prophetic omen and lives to fight, more prepared, another day.

So, could it be that the prophecies that are fulfilled are those which we ourselves make, or, if made by others, that we select to come true??  I don’t know, but it’s food for thought…

~ by Haloed Bane on June 1, 2009.

5 Responses to “Prophecies Fulfilled – Housen vs Toutaku”

  1. Great read. Coincidentally I read another post on inevitability that should be very relevant to your interests [->]

    I know little of the psychology re self-fulfilling prophecies, but I have reflected on memory, history, and possibility:

    What determines my behavior in the present, is not the past per se, but the future (specifically, my concept and expectation of the future in terms of possibility).

    Let’s say I have this project I want to pitch to the boss, and so I go to her office to ask for a meeting, to which she agrees.

    I present, and what she says is “we’re not ready for that idea right now.” and I am dismissed.

    This moment now becomes past/history, and is accessed via memory. From this memory, consider the conclusions I may draw:

    – My boss hates me.
    – The organization is slow/incompetent.
    – I am underappreciated/wasted here.

    While all are valid feelings, they are made with very little evidence.

    What’s important to note then, that my behavior now is determined by this.

    Will I have the motivation to invest effort for the next project?
    Will I look forward to interactions with the boss?

    Why should I? The future of these paths have no possibility. My concept and expectations, if I can use a teacup analogy, is full; it is full of history/the past that I access via memory.

    This is how I imagine how self-fulfilling prophecies work, and is part of my understanding of behavioral determinism.

    The ‘freedom’ here can be applied to historical research (get the facts straight), creative re-interpretation of history (to remember love, not pain), or simply acknowledging then ‘releasing’ the history and removing it from the ‘future concept’ (nihilism).

    I’m sympathetic to annihilating history from the future. It doesn’t belong there and has no ‘real’ overarching meaning. I can always remember love later.

  2. Thanks for the link, I hadn’t read that post. Memory..oh memory.

    “While all are valid feelings, they are made with very little evidence. […] Will I have the motivation to invest effort for the next project? Will I look forward to interactions with the boss?
    Why should I?”

    And what if you actually didn’t want to get your plan accepted? You really wanted out and “sabotaged” the presentation somehow so that you’d have an “emotional excuse” to be done with the whole thing. In this case it’s really the past (your pent-up feelings) that determined your actions, or your future insofar as you were already planning to move on.

    This sort of mental processes are all very interesting…

  3. Well, in the case I presented, I the agent wanted the project approved – which is a default way of being for project owners.

    In the case you presented, the project is self-sabotage (in itself a consequence of ‘further work on projects (this is in the future)’ is undesirable, has no possibility. The pent up feelings are a result of entertaining a future of no possibility beyond history repeating itself. So sabotage it is.

    This is how self-fulfilling prophecy works out in this case. Yes, it is quite interesting – and for me spices up the dynamic of behavioral determinism discussions.

  4. As with wishes and fortunes, the best prophecies always seem to be a little ambiguous, if not outright double-edged. It’s not terribly difficult to bend the perception of events so that the prophet was correct from the very beginning.

    On another note, perhaps this other comment better belongs in your previous post talking about Ikkitousen’s Chinese roots, but I find the use of Magatama rather interesting – the word magatama refers to jewelry associated with the nobility of Japan’s ancient, near-prehistoric past (the Jomon era), and in Shinto their shape represents that of the human soul; it is interesting that they house Chinese spirits. The inference may very well be that Japan’s ancient nobility, in wearing the magatama, also adopted the character and custom of the Chinese heroes in them, and perhaps implies that the Magatama have influenced Japanese society through history?

    Perhaps the way in which the Magatama are portrayed in Ikkitousen is perhaps a metaphorical expression of how Chinese cultural values were transmitted to Japan On the other hand, it might simply be the “rule of cool” operating and throwing out random references.

  5. @vendredi

    I think you’re right on target with the magatamas. One of the Three Imperial Treasutes is a magatama, isn’t it (I think it’s enshrined in Ise).

    The dilemma historically for the Japanese is this: China is too big and too old to discard, it’s influence on Japan too obvious to explain away. So the strategy then taken is this: let’s admit China is at the beginning, but then let’s say that Japan is at the end, and that the end of something is greater than the beginning. And the magatamas in Ikki Tousen serve that exact purpose.

    It’s similar to Christianity, now that I think of it. Many Christians initially wanted to dismiss Judaism, but the transition from one to the other was too much in the light of history to cover up, so they had to assimilate the Old Testament and find the New Testament in it as its fulfillment, and thus greater. That way, the founder of Christianity happens to be there from beginning of Genesis as the son of the deity (retrocontinuity).

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