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Us vs. Them – The Limits of Humanism in Suisei no Gargantia

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vlcsnap-2013-06-10-14h59m37s43Humans are very social creatures. We form groups based on anything we can think of whether it be where we were born, the color of our skin or the beliefs we hold. Unfortunately, these groups tend to be contradictory and hostile towards one another which may be manageable on an individual level, but becomes a wholly different matter when dealing with large segments of the population. This manifests itself in racism, nationalism, sexism and religious intolerance, just to name a few.

The Us vs. Them mentality that these groups foster is at least partially responsible for the vast number of wars and conflicts that plague our world. Racism brought with it slavery and oppression. Nationalism almost always fans the fires of international war efforts. Religious intolerance lead to the Muslim invasion of Europe and the subsequent Christian Crusades; it is currently responsible for the terrorism that is running rampant in the Middle East. You don’t have to look far to find a troubling issue that is caused by the animosity between groups.

From an intellectual standpoint, these groupings are appalling as they generally only appeal to the lowest common denominator of society. This is especially true in the case of political ideologies where the possibility of complete agreement in a group is slim to none without a healthy dose of indoctrination and group-think.

But at the same time, from a practical standpoint, these groupings are essential to the advancement of humanity. The fact of the matter is that groups of people have the ability to rapidly “get things done”. Although the change might not always be for the better, I’m inclined to agree that any change is better than maintaining an unhealthy status quo (at least in the long run).

Political parties are a clear example of the positive implications of groupings. Under normal circumstances, people are not so similar that they can easily rally around a set of very specific ideals and policies. Just imagine if there was a different political party for every single combination of government policies. Any representative government would be in a constant state of gridlock, or even worse, the nation would be ruled by any vocal minority that managed to maintain a semblance of unity. Look to Nazi Germany or, more recently, the Middle East, to see how extremist minorities can easily rise to power when the progressive majority divides itself into a plethora of smaller political parties.

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But fear not, there is an answer: humanism. The basic premise behind humanism is that there should be only one group, and that group consists of all of humanity. Now at first glance this might seem like a good idea, but if humanity is “us”, then who is “them”? “Them” tends to be an array of abstract concepts like war, poverty and greed, but how do you fight against these without fighting against other humans? Maybe there’s a way and maybe there isn’t, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume that humanism is a viable ideology. The question I pose is: What makes one human?

Spoilers – Suisei no Gargantia: Episode 9

Suisei no Gargantia dropped a bomb on the audience last episode with Ledo’s realization that the Hideauze are actually genetically modified humans. To summarize, humanity split into two groups with transhumanists supporting genetic modification on one side and humanists on the other. There was a large war, and apparently it continued for so long that both sides eventually forgot the origins of the conflict.

Does genetic modification make you less human? We all have natural mutations in our DNA that make us who were are, but we are still considered normal humans. Why would controlled genetic modification cross the line and strip one of their human rights?

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Suisei no Gargantia takes this idea to an extreme, but at the current time, we’re not too far off from our own ethical crisis regarding genetic modification. In 2003, after a 16 year long project, scientists successfully finished analyzing and identifying 99.99% of the human genome. This opened the door into new kinds of gene therapy which is a mild form of genetic modification. Whether we want it or not, the lures of further genetic modification are far too strong for scientists to ignore, and we are likely too see more and more advanced gene therapies over the course of our lifetime.

Will humanity be able to deal with such a major issue peacefully or will it lead to further internal conflict similar to the situation in Suisei no Gargantia? Is it not morally reprehensible to intentionally limit the advancement of humanity? Or is the fear of a genetic meritocracy a legitimate reason to outlaw genetic modification and punish those who practice it?

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2 thoughts on “Us vs. Them – The Limits of Humanism in Suisei no Gargantia

  1. “What makes one human?”

    I’m not actually sure if the anime really answered this question, or if it has an answer. Do you think in the end it will simply be defined, as Gargantia implies, in an “Us vs. Them” manner? And do you think Humanism will ever triumph without devolving into human war and conflict?

    • I’d like to believe that being human is defined by something more than just our DNA. If you regard that as true, then it will forever be a societal definition that fluctuates on a case by case basis. But then again, what’s so different from calling one group of biological humans “less than human” and our current system of war and conflict? In any event, I don’t think humanism will ever gain any popular appeal until a tangible “them” appears.

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