Shinsekai Yori stands out, not only as an anime series, but as a piece of dystopian fiction. The aspect of it that initially struck me was how its society used the sexual intercourse of its individuals to benefit itself as a collective. This has been done before in dystopian writing, but the manner in which it is done in Shinsekai Yori is unique (or at least rare). Here, I discuss the use of sex in Shinseaki Yori by comparing it to its uses in the dystopian societies of Plato’s Republic and Huxley’s Brave New World. Then, I offer some concluding remarks on the use of sex in dystopias in general.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Young Galaxy “The Angels Are Surely Weeping”
In the first half of Plato’s Republic, the character Socrates is concerned with conceptualizing the ideal city. Ancient Greek cities were much more like independent territories with their own individual cultures than what we know as cities today. So, we can think about what Plato is doing as laying out his blueprint for a utopian society. The ideal city has a class of citizens known as the guardians who are responsible for all aspects of city management. A sizable chunk of the Republic details how the lives of the guardians will be regulated such that their ability to protect the city as well as their devotion to it are maximized.
Sex is naturally one of the items that is heavily regulated. Guardians can have sexual intercourse only during certain annual festivals and at no other time (and only with other guardians). The children born from these unions are taken away from their mothers almost immediately. Offspring of Plato’s ideal citizens are to be raised by the community, rather than by the nuclear family. This arrangement yields guardians without a loyalty split between the city and the family; the city is their family.
Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World features a dystopian society which treats sex quite differently. Recreational intercourse is considered a virtue by the World State. Monogamous or romantic relationships are seen as outmoded; thus, sex has become this communal activity. One of the many mantras of the citizenry is, “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” While there are deep implications here concerning the World State’s attitude towards individualism, for our purposes here we can simply think about it in the context of sexuality. To bluntly drive the point further home, there is also a mantra exclusive to the made-for-TV movie version of Brave New World that declares, “Promiscuity is a citizen’s duty.”/
Pregnancy is a non-occurrence in the world of this novel. Sexual acts and the reproductive process are conceptually and actually split. This idea is so endemic (like all ideas in this society) that a popular fashion accessory of the women of Brave New World is a belt for holding contraceptives. Children are “decanted” rather than born in the World State. They are engineered in Hatcheries and educated in Conditioning Centers. As in Plato’s Republic, the society in Huxley’s Brave New World shuns the nuclear family.
Now we come to Shinsekai Yori:
When stress or conflict arises, bonobos resolve it through sexual contact. The sexual contact occurs not only between mature males and females, but also between immature bonobos and those of the same sex. Necessity dictated that human society quickly become a ‘Society of Love’ like the bonobos.
The event that altered the course of history in the world of Shinsekai Yori was the coming-to-be and subsequent increase of people able to use psychokinesis (PK), roughly one thousand years before the story’s main character was born. Unfortunately (inevitably?), PK was brought to the attention of the world through its misuse by a mentally disturbed person to wantonly slaughter innocents. A brutal history of PK-infused warfare ensued shortly thereafter. When the human race was on the brink of destroying itself, a group of PK users established a society for their kind (it is unclear from the anime if the society is global or localized) based on the principle of genetic modification in order to prevent any PK user or group of users from being able to wipe out humanity.
This is where the above quote comes in. Those who crafted the new society were looking for a means of diffusing any violent desires or instincts, so they conceived of the idea to alter human genes so that stress and conflict trigger sexual urges rather than violent ones. Humans were engineered to function in groups as bonobos would. As you might imagine, such alteration entails its share of consequences, especially for the youth. Add the “bonobos modification” to the mixture of hormones raging independently of stress/conflict, and you get a people with a hyper-sexual adolescence.
Middle school hallways are practically dripping with lust, as young couples share looks and caresses between classes. Of course, these urges and their resultant trysts are encouraged by the superstructure of society. Professors are cool with the grope-fest, so long as it doesn’t go on in class. As the characters grow older, get married and start families, these displays calm down significantly. However, the anime never addresses the obvious question of infidelity.
Shinsekai Yori distinguishes itself from other dystopian fiction in its use of sex. Clearly, the purpose of sex is quite different in this society of PK users. We see it employed as a chiefly procreative device in the Republic and as a solely recreational one in Brave New World; however, in Shin Sekai Yori, though child-bearing is a benefit of sexual union, the main purpose of sex is to prevent humanity’s destruction. Sex will save us, basically. The introduction of both psychics and genetic modification creates a use of sex that is unique in dystopian fiction.
The Republic‘s is the only society of the three that does not allow homosexual union (at least among its guardians). I suppose this is partly the result of the fact that, in the 400s B.C., Plato lacked the inspiration for the kind of sci-fi conceit required to bring children into the picture in some other way than natural childbirth. Go easy on the guy. While Shinsekai Yori agrees with Huxley’s work on the matter of homosexuality, it diverges from it on the matter of the family. That its inhabitants feel the love of the family unit seems to be important to the PK society, for safeguarding not only the society but also the human species. Unlike Plato’s guardians, PK users are raised to feel devotion to persons (Mom, Dad, sibs) prior to loyalty for society itself. Likely, the idea is that love for concrete individuals, rather than abstract concepts, reinforces the genetic re-wiring away from violence.
The authors of all three works rightfully consider sex as an important part of human life. Though Plato thinks it part of humanity’s lower nature, he is well aware of the power of sexuality as a motivating force. Any kind of plan for a monolithic, controlling society just has to account for sex in some way, especially because of its obvious relationship to the family. Sexuality cannot be left alone or allowed to “live unchecked” in a dystopia. Thus, despite differences in each society’s’ attitude toward sex, the fact that there is an official stance on it and prescribed actions regarding it in all three societies speaks to its (perceived and actual) importance.
At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, I think it is worth point out that none of these dystopias “work” permanently. Plato’s has yet to be implemented, Huxley’s is revealed as something that won’t make people happy and the society of Shinseaki Yori ultimately falls apart. There are certain, essential parts of human beings that can only be controlled for so long before there is some violent reaction; sex is one of those parts.
You might be thinking: “Sure, Plato’s dystopia oppresses sex, but in Brave New World and Shinsekai Yori, you get to have sex with whoever you want, however often you want. How is that controlling?” Well, the level of promiscuity practiced by these societies is achieved through mind control or genetic manipulation. These processes are dehumanizing ones. Also, sexuality is something that is tied to the self in some deep and mysterious ways. The “more sex” dystopias sort of take the freedom of choosing sexuality (certainly degree and maybe also kind) and sexual partners (you may have been more discriminating or even monogamous under natural circumstances) away from individuals. Again, this seems like a process that strips away human dignity. Think about the title of this post, “On the Use of Sex.” Sex doesn’t strike me as something to be used, certainly not for anyone other than participants; rather it strikes me as something to be given or experienced by choice.