I won’t presume that, considering the staff assembled for the show, Yamakan and co. had any intention of representing or critiquing Daoism, but I write this anyways since it’s a fun analogue to draw with something I heard recently. Spoilers after the break.So, to go against the grain sort of, rather than reading into the sci-fi elements or making a comparison to dystopian novels such as Brave New World, I’m going to pull out something from around 600BC(E) to, well, maybe not so much inform, but just accentuate the watching of this episode, which other than introducing a conflict, makes a number of realities much clearer now (how much more apt is the comparison of Soma with the Fractale system now?).
The specific Daoist text I’m interested in is the Dao De Jing (道德經), one of the key texts of the Daoist movement, coming right out of Spring and Autumn/Warring States China, where basically the foundations of all the key Chinese (and consequently, most East Asian) philosophic schools were founded. Of key interest, are the excerpts where formulations on proper rulership are made in the Dao De Jing, and the one that most specifically interests me, is the following (D.C. Lau translation):
Therefore in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones.
He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.
The most relevant part of the excerpt, of course, is the first sentence. In Daoism, which was formulated in the turbulent twin eras of Spring and Autumn era and the Warring States era in China, they came upon the idea that all chaos and suffering on Earth (re: China) happens from disharmony with Nature. And the fastest way of falling into such a state, is contention amongst men. The source of this contention, is pinned on civilization itself. While the essential ideal of Daoism at the time would then be to revert back to hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes (unlike anarchists, Daoists more or less recognize the ultimate need for some sort of loose government, even if the minimalism of bureaucracy is stressed greatly), even in 600~BC China, that was essentially a pipe dream. So what do you do?
Well, first, you, as ruler, should shred off as much of the bureaucracy and formal rituals as possible (contrast this with Confucianism, which takes these things as essential for harmonious human life), while seeing to essentially 4 goals. “[Empty] their minds”: to deny the populace dangerous ideas, that would then lead to causing contention. “[Fill] their bellies”: to ensure the people are afforded the basic material wealth they need to subsist and be satisfied. “[Weaken] their wills”: to ensure that they hold no ambition or feeling of privilege, such that they don’t contend to raise themselves above their peers to form some sort of hierarchy. “[Strengthen] their bones”: ensure that the people are physically healthy.
The following two missives after those basically follow the 4 before as natural effects. So how does the Fractale system attempt to fulfill the 4 main edicts (though, obviously, the existence of Lost Millennium means it has failed somewhere along the line) of this ideal, Daoist government?
Rather than straight up denying knowledge, the Fractale system (as administrated by the Maidens/miko) performs the Star Festival routinely to meet both the emptying of minds and weakening of wills together, as featured in this episode.Rather than bothering to create the requisite conditions for people to remain ignorant and unambitious, the Fractale system takes the brute force method of simply destroying the specific, dangerous knowledge and the roots of those ambitions, using a pseudo-religious ritual, paired with the threat of lost privilege, which is really just a guise for a means to an end: keep the populace’s mind empty and lacking in ambition, particularly for power.
Furthermore, with the use of doppels, the necessity of work is apparently solved (though, people are allowed to work if they so desire, it seems), meaning so long as you are connected, you continue to receive the necessary tube nutrients to stay alive, and a regular allowance to spend on apparent “luxury goods”, though any urgency in needing an advance on that allowance is destroyed by the guaranteed nature of it.
Finally, while the Fractale system does not seem to provide anything particularly robust to keep the people exercised, the instant universal healthcare should essentially solve any issues with that, fulfilling the “strengthening” of “the bones”.
In the place of the ruler, we have the seemingly ego-less Fractale system, which while requiring a small class of miko, apparently, to administrate things such as the routine Star Festival, does not seem yet to privilege a class over another. There is essentially no decision-making, and outside data collection and the nanomachine “updates”, the Fractale system essentially does nothing. Through inaction, the Fractale system manages to create what is a fairly ordered and harmonious society, without the need for stratified people or obligations between people.
Of course, the only catch is, the Fractale System we see in the show, is in a state of decline. Whereas it may have performed its duty perfectly before, blind spots are appearing, or its routine is becoming imperfect. Thus, the rise of the Lost Millennium.
Now, how does this Daoist Utopia differ from the one in say, Brave New World? The primary difference just comes from the lack of stratification within society. Whereas the latter essentially programs and limits people in their potential from birth, the former allows the people to develop normally, and simply destroys danger on a routine basis in a painless, simple procedure.
In this nature, it would seem that thus far, the Fractale system has much more in common with an ideal Daoist government, than dystopias such as those of Brave New World, though Fractale intersects the latter in the need for an opiate of the masses, whether it is the Fractale system itself, soma, or the lotteries of 1984.
Certainly, I don’t have any illusion that modern Daoists would want anything to do with the world shown in Fractale, and the existence of Lost Millennium is a heavy demerit to the “perfection” of the Fractale System. But how would the Daoists of the Spring and Autumn era, or the Warring States era, feel about the overall tranquility of the society overall? Even if it isn’t a clandestine peace, how would the mobility and low-level of satisfaction feel to them? Where would they draw their scruples?
With all that said, there is little doubt that Confucians would be disgusted by the Fractale system and its destruction of the essential bonds of society. As for the Mohists, I can’t say I know well enough to judge, though at least the lack of partiality may impress. And well, I don’t think the Legalists need commenting upon.
Are there any other philosophies that would appreciate the Fractale System, at least, in its peak? Philosophies aren’t really my strong suit, so my ability to draw the connections with Pre-Qing Daoism was just mere coincidence. Perhaps there is a more apt comparison?