Space Symphony Maetel 06 (I of II): Promethium’s Defense
What’s so bad about Mechanization?
There are two extreme positions regarding Mechanization. On one side, Queen Promethium and most mechanized individuals (though not all) believe that it is a superior state to mere humanity. On the other side, Commander Leopard and the LaMetalian rebels believe that mechanization is practically equal to death and despise it as such.
In this episode, Maetel makes it clear that she holds a middle position, that there is worth in flesh and blood bodies as well as in mechanized ones, and that they should all learn to cooperate and coexist with each other. It’s a very tough sell, since her mother is hell-bent on mechanizing everyone and everything (right down to the planet itself!) and people like Leopard automatically shoot on sight mechanized people even when obviously some of them must have been friends and even family members not so long ago.
There is a key question underlying this whole mess: to what extent does someone’s personality and character change after mechanization? Leopard’s resistance fighters clearly believe the change is fundamental and that there is no continuity between individuals. We have plenty of evidence that this hard line is wrong, though. There are several mechanized people in the Leijiverse who are, dare we say, quite humane. It is possible though that mechanization’s truly evil side effects take over gradually through time. Indeed, it might be that Time itself is the great culprit, as the more comfortable a human being grows with the notion that they may never die, the more alienated s/he becomes from her/his humanity and the crueler will be her/his treatment of all other beings as mere tools for her/his own infinite development.
If this kind of speculation is correct, then we can compare mechanization to a very slow zombification process. You remember how in zombie movies there is always a certain amount of time between the moment someone is bitten by a zombie and when s/he actually loses all consciousness and strikes out to get brains for dinner. The movie’s heroes are often placed in an ethical quandary: is it morally acceptable to kill a person who is destined to become a zombie two hours from now, even though right now they act and look pretty much normally (maybe a bit paler, but that’s it)? Of course, there’s always the policeman/army man character who’s ready to execute anyone immediately upon infection. Then there’s the more gentle hero who waits until the person actually turns before shooting them [a risky proposition, though it makes for great drama].
Leopard is obviously on the side of those ready to shoot.
On to the episode. The nth Promethium clone comes onstage and gives a memorable speech, starting with a question to the audience: “Why do you hate Mechanization?” The speech is punctuated by comments from the Queen’s detractors, but I think it can be taken as a whole and sustained defense of her actions.
It’s a very powerful scene visually, and I’m particularly impressed by how Promethium seems to be cuffed with a halo of light, because it reminds me of LaRela’s own halo. This might be an allusion to their epic struggle, which has gone on for hundreds of years. In any case it’s not how the Queen looks but what she says that is most important. Promethium’s rhetorical prowess is marvelous, the language employed is exquisite and Keiko Han‘s execution is perfect. I made a transcript of the whole thing and put it at the end of this post…
“Why do you hate Mechanization?” She actually asks this question twice. The first time she uses the verb kirau and the second time nikumu. Both mean “hate”, but there’s a lovely pun involved in the second term. Niku means flesh or meat, so Promethium’s question becomes an accusation: humans hate because they are made of flesh. Niku leads to nikumu.
Mechanization, Promethium adds, allows people to overcome all difficulties. Leopard interrupts her and claims humans will always overcome because they have hearts. “Do you Mechanoids have hearts?” he asks rhetorically. Much has been said of the meaning of the word kokoro (translated here as “heart”) in Japanese. It can mean soul and mind and all sorts of things, but I think for our purposes heart or soul work fine.
Leopard is implying that Mechanoids are heartless/soulless, simply put, they are monsters, not human. Promethium retorts that human hearts are incomplete (or defective) and that they will bring about the planet’s downfall. There might be more to this sentence that meets the eye. In the Queen’s very own, the hearts of people like Leopard will result in LaMetal’s destruction because of the resistance to the Mechanization solution in the face of impending meteorological doom. But remember that the whole reason LaMetalians are in this mess is because a young LaMetalian Millennial Queen, Promethium herself, took pity on Earthlings and blocked the removal of the LaMetalian population to that planet. It was Promethium’s old, imperfect, defective and fleshly heart that condemned her people to this disastrous course in the first place. The speech might be delivered by a clone of Promethium, but we can be sure this clone knows of what took place long ago back on Earth. I detect self-criticism in this line.
In a bit of a twist, Promethium seems ready to renounce the term “human” completely. She uses the phrase “you humans” and lists a number of failings: humans are forgetful and cannot learn from the past; worse, they 1) kill each other for food, 2) kill each other for territory, and 3) massacre each other because of suspicions and fears. Next, Promethium explains how these three horrible sins are founded on the weaknesses of human fleshly nature: 1) fighting for food is a way to stave off hunger (implied: Mechanoids don’t need to eat to survive), 2) fighting for territory is a way to make one’s life richer (implied: Mechanoids don’t need luxury or a high standard of living), and 3) suspicion and fear are devils birthed by none other than the hearts/souls that Leopard is so proud of.
The argument is quite strong, I think, although the facts on the ground as we have witnessed them so far in this series do undermine to a some extent. We have seen Mechanoids disdaining sections of LaMetal as being “unlivable” and we have seen humans working with each other in conditions of severe deprivation. In other series in the Leijiverse we have seen how hungry Mechanoids can get for certain “foods”, even though they technically can live without them. Finally, Promethium’s copious use of clones, isn’t it rooted in that textbook example of suspicion and fear, a ruler’s feelings toward her own people?
Commander Leopard opts to respond with a whimper: “There’s more to humans than just killings”. Honestly, if I were Promethium I would have laughed at this point. But I’m nowhere near as brutal as she is. Rather than demolish this weak abstraction, she brings the discussion right back down to the concrete fact at hand, straight to the jugular of the beast: “You do want to survive, right?” The Queen is channeling the quintessential Darwinist, or rather, the monstrous über-Darwinist that gentle-hearted folk fear in their own hearts, the one who looks at you and says: “That painting on your wall is nice, giving money to the poor is nice, but ultimately what your whole mind is set on is to survive, and that at any price, including the death of others.”
Promethium proceeds to recount what drove her to Mechanization in the first place. She speaks of migration plans and artificial suns, all of which failed. Since Japanese does not distinguish between singular and plural it’s impossible to figure out how many plans are being alluded to. Certainly, LaRela’s scheme was a migration plan, although Promethium might have tried another one later on. What is clear is that the Queen at some point decided that for better or worse the fate of LaMetalians was tied to the planet of LaMetal, and therefore how to perpetuate the people’s existence on the planet became the goal, even if bodies had to be replaced by something else. And she is very confident in her choice. “What else would you have had me do? What other way out was there?” She asks everyone these questions and even demands an answer, but significantly, nobody seems to have one.
Not to worry, impetuous boy # 44, oops, I mean Nazca, comes to the rescue. His claim is that Queen Promethium’s ulterior goal is to turn everyone into Mechanoids. If anyone other than Nazca had flung this accusation it would have been meaningless. Already in episode 5 Promethium gave a very public order to mechanize everyone on LaMetal, so what could possibly be “ulterior” about that?
But Nazca isn’t from LaMetal. In fact he is the only foreigner here. More importantly, he comes from a planet whose people have suffered forced mechanization by LaMetalian forces. Therefore what he says makes sense and can be backed up: Promethium isn’t interested in the salvation of LaMetalians anymore, she is consumed by a zealous desire to convert the entire universe into mechanized forms.
Promethium asks him: “Don’t you want to survive?” It’s an honest question, and now we realize that Promethium had really been toying with us all along. All of her words about LaMetal, all of that purported “context”, goes out the window. Survival for Promethium, true survival, doesn’t mean survival on the surface of LaMetal as the planet drifts farther and farther away from the warmth of its sun. By survival she means infinite survival, in other words, eternal life. Don’t you want eternal life? Is remaining human worth that much to you? This is the Queen’s angle.
The defense rests. The LaMetalian rebels decide to remain human and begin to stone Promethium. How primitive! How…human! It’s a great scene that seems to support the villain’s position to some extent. Promethium gives up on these “foolish lifeforms” and asks (or permits, maybe even demands) to be judged by their imperfect hearts full of nikushimi, i.e. hatred.
I’ll cover the rest of the episode in a second post.
[…] means that other people interjected at that point. This is my transcript and there might be some mistakes in it. Anyway, first comes the original for Japanese readers and then a romanized version so others can enjoy some of the rhythm and cadences.
なぜ機械化を嫌う？なぜ憎む？機械化すれば苦しみも痛みも寒さも飢えも、すべて超越することができるのだぞ。[…] その不完全な心とやらがラーメタルを滅ぼすのがわからんのか。お前たち人間は過去をすぐに忘れる。過去のデータから貴重な記憶を汲み取ることができない。不完全な人間の心とやらがこれまで人間自身に何をもたらしたか。わずかな食料を奪い合って殺し合い、くだらぬ領土争いでも殺しあう。そして猜疑心が恐怖を呼び寄せ、互いに殺戮の限りを尽くす。何のために殺しあう？食料を奪い合うのは飢えを凌ぐためだ。領土を争うのは自分たちの暮らしを豊かにするためだ。世界を滅ぼす殺戮は心という不完全な物が疑いという悪魔を生み出すためだ。[…] だが生き残りたい。もう忘れたか。なぜこのラーメタルを機械化しようとしたのか。皆が生き残るためではなかったのか。われわれの移住計画が失敗し、人工太陽も失敗に終わった。寒さと飢えがわれわれを襲った。私は皆を救いたかった。たとえどんな体になろうとも、この星で共に生き延びることを選んだのだ。私は望む者たちに機会の体を与え飢えや寒さ、死の恐怖から救ってやった。死にゆく闇に引きずり込まれていくこの星で生きる。それが唯一の手段だったからだ。他にどうすればよかったというのだ？他にどんな方法があったのだ？さ！答えられる者がいるなら答えるがいい。[…] お前は生き残りたくはないのか。それでも人間の方がいいというのか。[…] 愚かな生き物には何を言っても無駄ということか。さ！私を裁くがいい、憎しみという人間の不完全な心で。
Naze kikaika o kirau? Naze nikumu? Kikaika-sureba kurushimi mo itami mo samusa mo ue mo, subete chôetsu-suru koto ga dekiru no da zo. […] Sono fukanzen na kokoro to yara ga Raametaru o horobosu no ga wakaran no ka. Omaetachi ningen wa kako o sugu ni wasureru. Kako no deeta kara kichô na kioku o kumitoru koto ga dekinai. Fukanzen na ningen no kokoro to yara ga kore made ningen jishin ni nani o motarashita ka. Wazuka na shokuryô o ubaiatte koroshiai, kudaranu ryôdo arasoi de mo koroshiau. Soshite saigishin ga kyôfu o yobiyose, tagai ni satsuriku no kagiri o tsukusu. Nan no tame ni koroshiau? Shokuryô o ubaiau no wa ue o shinogu tame da. Ryôdo o arasou no wa jibuntachi no kurashi o yutaka ni suru tame da. Sekai o horobosu satsuriku wa kokoro to iu fukanzen na mono ga utagai to iu akuma o umidasu tame da. […] Da ga ikinokoritai. Mô wasureta ka. Naze kono Raametaru o kikaika-shiyô to shita no ka. Mina ga ikinokoru tame de wa nakatta no ka. Wareware no ijû keikaku ga shippai-shi, jinkô taiyô mo shippai ni owatta. Samusa to ue ga wareware o osotta. Watashi wa mina o sukuitakatta. Tatoe donna karada ni narô to mo, kono hoshi de tomo ni ikinobiru koto o eranda no da. Watashi wa nozomu monotachi ni kikai no karada o atae ue ya samusa, shi no kyôfu kara sukutte yatta. Shi ni yuku yami ni hikizurikomarete iku kono hoshi de ikiru. Sore ga yuiitsu no shûdan datta kara da. Hoka ni dô sureba yokatta to iu no da? Hoka ni donna hôhô ga atta no da? Sa! Kotaeru mono ga iru nara kotaeru ga ii. […] Omae wa ikinokoritaku wa nai no ka. Sore de mo ningen no hô ga ii to iu no ka. […] Oroka na ikimono ni wa nani o itte mo muda to iu koto ka. Sa! Watashi o sabaku ga ii, nikushimi to iu ningen no fukanzen na kokoro de.