Lately I’ve been reading Harmony. It is a thoroughly engaging book, with a great translation, a main character who gets things by her own hands, and a nifty text gimmick. It’s like some other book didn’t come out from the same publisher.
The biggest draw in Harmony is its world, where crime and disease are nonexistent. Everyone is pleasant and fit, destined to live long and happy lives. It sounds like a perfect world; it is most certainly boring.
And it is quite insidious–society has evolved in such a way that people don’t really own their bodies anymore. Since health is paramount, everything is done to ensure the quality of life, at the cost of the quality of one’s life experiences. You can’t get hurt in a playground, because it’s been specifically engineered to protect you from harm. You can’t bully a classmate at school, because the very notion of bullying has died out, the term itself becoming archaic. Without experiencing life’s lemons, how can you make delicious lemonade?
But enough of that. I’m just about halfway through the book. Pick it up yourself if it sounds your fancy.
Reading through Harmony’s sickeningly-sweet society reminds me of episode 5 of The Tatami Galaxy. In this iteration of Watashi’s campus life, he joins a softball circle, which turns out to be a front for a megacorporation, which turns out to be a front for a cult. While indeed providing a pleasant atmosphere for its ever-nice members, Watashi quickly discovers that something is clearly not right.
There is no negativity, no way to hurt others. If Watashi says something out of line, people would just change the subject. In the long run, he is shunned ever so silently, with nary a cruel world. How passive-aggressive, I thought. It made me sick.
The episode goes on further to show the irony of things. Watashi gets lulled into digging deeper into his circle to gain the favor of the chairman’s daughter, but he works himself to the brink of death, further complicating things by exclusively subsisting on the health food his circle peddles around. Even Ozu, who had been a hateful presence up until this episode, was a welcome face.
I am not aversive to kindness–on the contrary, this world could do with a lot more goodwill, but the type of kindness the societies in Harmony and this particular episode of Tatami Galaxy eschew is something I do not want. If I were in Tuan or Watashi’s shoes, I’d feel no different. I’d be disgusted, wanting to lash out at this cruel hegemony at every turn. Kindness can be taught. Kindness can be encouraged. But kindness isn’t supposed to be grafted into a person’s veins, stifling his other faculties. To be nice to a person is a choice, one that I alone should make. If everyone showered me with empty robotic kindness, I’d feel smothered.
I don’t really know. Maybe this is why I write characters who are generally pissed off at the world, and are often malevolent. But they are nasty because they choose to. Even Mazinger didn’t have the potential to become God alone–he needed the potential to become Devil as well, or things would be deadly dull.
And you know what? Much later on in that Tatami Galaxy episode, those frozen, smiling faces melt into hideous contortions of pure rancor that had been built up through the years. Better let that toxicity out while it’s manageable, kids!