Postmodernism , cyberpunk and views of the future : On Fractale

While I still don’t have much to say, or perhaps, still withhold my judgement on other shows this season such as Madoka Magica, something about Fractale appeals to the amateur philosophy-lover in me. Whenever we have a show about the future, surely, the philosophies involved tend to bring our philosophies into question. What I want to talk about today, is perhaps, not exactly wholly postmodernism and cyberpunk per se, but on Fractale’s depictions of a ‘perfect utopia’.

For one, it seems like an extreme version of a socialist society. In socialist societies, such as Singapore (to an extent), the needs of the people tend to take up a rather large part of decision making, making policies to suit the people and so on – to sum it up neatly, it practices the importance of societal welfare.  Common , or public ownership is emphasized : in a sense, everyone is treated fairly, and well. America and the UK have some policies that have a tinge of socialism in them as well.

Canada even has a ‘War Veterans Allowance’ ,which is a form of financial assistance granted to qualified persons in recognition of their services during war.

What if we take this even higher?

What if we ensure that everyone is given a fair and just system – regardless of personal faults – at every level? Almost sounds like Communism, doesn’t it? (Some people have tried to link socialism to communism, after all.) Well, in Fractale it’s even more extreme. From what I can glean off Clain’s little textbook on the Fractale System:

‘..by embedding a Fractale Terminal[ in one’s body], and periodically sending [their] life log to the Sky High Hovering Server, everyone can receive a basic income. It’s a world that knows nothing of war, where a person’s livelihood is guaranteed even if they don’t work.”

Everyone doesn’t need to struggle, and everyone can be happy -isn’t that the goal of life?

To be happy?

Well, there goes an argument against the ‘ultimate goal of life is happiness’ saying. Let’s say I give you the option to be hooked up to a machine, which grants you the option to be happy forever. However , you can’t be unhooked from it once you’re on it – would you want to be hooked up to such a machine?

No, definitely,as most people asked this question tend to answer. Why? For most people, they say it isn’t true happiness. It’s hollow, it’s empty, it’s meaningless. Some philosophers even say happiness comes after struggle. Well, it’s the same here. Happiness has become nothingness in Fractale. Clain can make his parent’s doppels disappear at will, and everyone seems to have nothing to live for.

No goals, no aims. Everyone uses a doppel, everyone’s starting to use ‘data drugs’, and Clain is clearly dissatisfied. He hoards onto ‘olden technologies’, the computers and home videos we have now. He doesn’t open himself much to his parents, and judging by the looks of things, everyone is even more content with using their doppels instead. Clain’s parents don’t even live together.

“Fractale is indeed, a 22nd century god created by mankind.” In cyberpunk and postmodernist  studies, a common theme has been the rapid advancement of technology and decline of social order, part of postmodern literature. In Fractale, high-tech systems allow the people to project their existences as ‘avatars’, to earn money without working, to be completely safe from harm – a society completely under control. The Fractale system has the ability to track its users, to collect data from everyone  – to become god – but at what cost? Society has completely changed from what we have today.

No-one ever needs to struggle to gain anything any more. There isn’t a goal in life, there isn’t any reason to work any harder than the next guy, there isn’t even motivation to live on without using a doppel at all – where’s the motivation , the point in working hard, both to live and attain this happiness?

Society and the world in Fractale has been sculpted into a padded cell. Everyone can live in comfort, society is in peace – everything seems to be right in the world.

Only problem? The human aspect of people, of living, of life itself, has gone missing.

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45 Responses to Postmodernism , cyberpunk and views of the future : On Fractale

  1. Ex14 says:

    i think, it’s an interesting way to live, on one hand it might be boring and meaningless, but on the flip side, there wouldn’t be any suffering due to the lack of money, food and all.

    ….

    Tbh, I think i’m just lazy XDD

    • Valence says:

      True, but as the chinese saying goes, the one who stays full the whole day, doesn’t have anything to live for, and thus has the hardest time living. It’d be boring, meaningless. There will be nothing to look forward to , there isn’t the warm feeling of family bonds since everyone’s actually apart and just using their doppels, there isn’t any more reason to not use one’s doppel at all – living a false reality. No suffering , maybe? To a very small extent, anyway.

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  3. In a sense we all long for that free time, only to fill it. Just fresh from my holidays, I personally found that though the first few days of doing nothing were wonderful, I find that of course, I wanted to do something.

    In a sense, what I think is that with free time comes the instinctive desire to do something one loves.

    • Valence says:

      Free time, but free time appeals to us as we’re busy most of the time. What about free time as our default states? What if we’re free all the time? Boredom? Longing for something to do? I can relate to you on the holidays part though – it was okay at first but it got really boring soon after….feels hollow and empty.

      • In the case of something like Greek culture, Greeks were known best for some of the most groundbreaking philosophical debates known to men. Common examples of famous philosophers could usually toss out at least one Greek name or two.

        Greek is famous for it’s culture and arts. Though technically it is supposedly idle by the fact that most of it’s populace did not need or require to work a lot of the time due to their time of peace as well as relatively strong economy paired with peaceful society, they usually found work that they loved to fill their time. As such many historians and sociologists (or anyone who actually stops and ponders it for a while) now believe that the idea and notion of free time does naturally lead one to do something they love and learn from it. As a character from the Pellinor Quartet once said while living in that fictional world’s Golden age, ‘if one believes that he is most happy by being alone, then by all means he can choose to do nothing and still survive because society cares for all. However, most people realize that eventually, they do want to do something they actually like.’

        • Valence says:

          Yes, greek culture contributed a lot to the development of philosophy. The example I used on how we derive happiness is actually a question posited by Epicurus , who could have been said to be the father of Hedonism .

          Although the Greek were indeed famous for how they were supposedly idle all the time, the case here is different from the one in Fractale. While for the greek their idleness was due to peace and a good economy, like what you said they did find things to fill their time – meaningful things , of course. Did they not suffer once? Surely, they suffered at one point or another. They struggled, they must have felt angry, or sad, but no-one can help them. Once they overcome the challenges , they find joy in doing so -perhaps even relief. (‘Emotional catharsis’ would be pushing it a tad too far.)

          I think we use our free time to do things we like , simply because it’s so….self-explanatory. We like what we do. And when we have the time, we will do what we want.

          • shumbapumba says:

            This discussion of happiness lends itself to the philosophical study of alienation and freedom. Lot’s of philosophers have different takes on the concepts but one I feel is pertinent here in terms of free time and work is Karl Marx’s ideas. He believed that one of the key factors that separates us from the animals, defining us as human, is our ability to do labour. He believed that it is through ‘being at home’ in our labour that we achieve freedom. We are essentially free in our humanity. (He goes on to dismiss capitalism as commodifying labour and hence alienating the worker – capitalism abolishes freedom.) So, regarding this discussion, in the Marxist sense, without labour, our humanity is threatened, we become idlers and, by default, alienated. Fractale, whether intentionally or not, seems to embody such ideas. (Note: I haven’t seen it ^^)

            • Valence says:

              I doubt Lectin’s seen it too, but it really does bring up some philosophical questions, doesn’t it?

              Marx wasn’t a radical philosopher, although his ideas were brought to extremes. Capitalism, he argued, essentially turned everything into commodities- including the people involved, time, labour, and et cetera- removing the human element from work. Fractale has embodied the extreme opposite of this – everyone is now free – of everything. No labour, no motives, no restrictions. But at what price? Clain feels alienated, and the population seems to be under some form of vast mind control. What is the price of happiness?

              What is happiness?

              • shumbapumba says:

                Once again, sounds a lot like Huxley’s ‘A Brave New World.’ The citizens in this are programmed to enjoy their work – in the Marxist sense, manufacturing their freedom in labour – while also making doing nothing – idling – and being alone, undesirable. So, freedom and community are manufactured, happiness is guaranteed, however our humanity is neglected. But it raises an interesting question: Would you sacrifice your freedom/humanity for guaranteed happiness and illusory freedom? Most people I imagine would not buy it, but I think it would appeal to a fair few. Once again, ignorance appears to be bliss…

                • Valence says:

                  Brave New World is even more extreme in the sense that everyone is manufactured from birth to do a particular job, without any choice.

                  Ignorance is indeed bliss..

        • Actually, Epicurus created Epicureanism. Democritus was the one who started hedonism, and Epicurus continued on with that idea.

          Greeks, along with majority of humanity would have to suffer at one point or the other. The point with it is that sufferings do make the pleasures of life stand out much more, thus the point that Fractale may possibly be a bit too vanilla on the idea of happiness. It lacks a counterpoint to compare to.

          • Valence says:

            Whoops, got my philosophers mixed up xD But anyway, Epicurus did contribute to the development of Hedonism itself.

            Maybe Fractale just isn’t as deep as I make it out to be. I doubt it actually involves the idea of happiness, and that it takes any of this into account.

  4. Azure Hoshizora says:

    I’m really more concerned about the fact that everyone gets income without working… So who are the poor souls who are working to sustain the system itself? And how did Clains parents even give birth to Clain in such a society? *random*

    Basically its like living life in a really fanciful birdcage… But I personally find the idea of socialism mildly attractive (or at least when you compare it to communism it sounds kind of better). But life would just be incredibly boring and dry. The system might work better if it included structured and planned challenges to give people a false sense of achievement, IMO.

    People always want to be happier than they already are *sigh*

    • Valence says:

      Clain’s parents give birth the same way normal parents would…. the sustainment of the system is what interests me. Money and income could be worked out on its own, but how the system even manages to keep running is interesting. And what would happen if the system shuts down?

      In Fractale, life is structured, yet fragile – everything seems to be okay, nothing needs to be resolved, and there is no true happiness to the clearminded.

      Ignorance is bliss..

      • baka~ says:

        This may be a biased statement but after reading a few chapters of the manga and watching episode 1 before dropping the entire series, I remembered that movie “The Matrix”and on one scene there, it was said that the architect created a perfect Utopia in the matrix to keep people under control. But since humans are a primitive and barbaric race, they rejected that perfect system.

        Oddly enough, Fractale seems to be the idealization of that perfect system but having a contradictory narrative (with the matrix) by showing how boring such a perfect utopia can be (from my perspective) and how this somehow destroys the proverb “No man is an island” (do you even consider eating with “family” despite not being physically present?)

        • Valence says:

          I try not to drop shows on the first episode, so yeah. I think if this show actually has any Matrix vibes, the people of back then must have not known the power of the perfect system. Refer to the ‘textbook’ he found. A world without war, and income for all. Keep in mind the setting, and all of these would look in arm’s reach.

          Fractale shows the country-life lifestyle these folk live -it’s the 22nd century, but we see nothing of technologically- advanced buildings, but of 19th-century houses in the countryside. It’s like with the advance of technology, society has bowled over itself.

          • baka~ says:

            Well, after reading a few chapters, I have to admit that it was good but my interest meter won’t go any higher for it so it had to go.

            But going back, now that you mentioned it, I never noticed that despite the technological advancement, the architecture used for local housing was quite simple … Even the “Sanctuary” that Phyrene came from wasn’t that much grand…

            • Valence says:

              Maybe it’s the change of taste, or even, this subconscious sense, this subconscious desire to go back to the simple olden days? We don’t see much technology in the show – even the flying machine they use reminds me of a second-generation zeppelin crossed with a hot-air balloon – nothing like the planes of today.

        • Azure Hoshizora says:

          lol, dropped already? I made it a point not to touch the manga until I finish the anime (IF i finish it). Though honestly, Kana Hanazawa is the sole reason why I’m still watching it… Anyway, now that you mention it, Fractale does mildly remind me of matrix…

          They certainly need to at least make doppels look human though… It’d feel kinda creepy to eat with my mom, who’s face is a pair of giant lips…

          • Valence says:

            As far as I know, they did some pretty drastic changes to character design…. and I was completely unaware that Hanazawa was in this show. More reasons to finish watching.

            Also, I wonder whether the person who created the Doppels was a little bit too much of a postmodern artist..

            • Azure Hoshizora says:

              Noticed the design changes too, from all the pictures of fractale floating around, compared to the anime itself… Kana Hana as Nessa… I just can’t get over the discrepancy between Nessa and Kanade… Bad comparison…

              The postmordern designs are more likeable than Madoka Magica’s though… But I’m not a huge fan of postmordernism…

    • Anonymous says:

      Imagine you had the replicator technology from star trek which allows you to create matter from energy (using the same e=mc2 formula). Then imagine you had a zero point energy condenser from stargate (something that extracts energy from vaccum).

      You have unlimited energy and a way to convert that energy into ANY matter. Now do you need to mine, farm, cut wood, etc any more? What if i could input the design of an ipod and bam, one ipod created.

      This is the very basis of a society where “payment” (basically an exchange of labour for resources indirectly such as food) becomes obselete. Currently we’re still far from it but crawling towards the ability to do this.

      • Valence says:

        That would be simply a theory, but if we manage to be able to do this, I suppose the whole system of the world will be changed. Why work? What morals do we adopt? Our basic system – our behaviour as humans will be modified by the prospect of this unlimited energy supply, energy supply being something which bands certain countries together today. Such a world with this invention will eventually lead to the segregation, or dare I say, isolationism of certain countries and societies from the world..

        • Anonymous says:

          Initial violence might happen but only because those have nots will want to join the haves. Forced segregation is unlikely to happen. Think about it. What is the cost of giving such technologies to everyone?

          Power? But power derives from a need to have control over resources (including labor). With unlimited resources, what’s the purpose of power?

          Losing money? But money is a tool used for exchanging goods in a portable form. When goods are unlimited, what is the use of money.

          Lack of land due to population explosion from people who have no restrictions on their family size? Statistics point out that the infant mortality rate and the need for labor in third world countries are the reasons for a large family. Both will be very much reduced if they can create any medicines or food or materials they want. Even if the worst case happens, with this sort of technology, you already have unlimited air, food, water and building materials. These are the main components for colonization of other planets.

          Now voluntary segregation might happen (similar to how Clain is living by himself) but humans are built as social animals, so there will still be places where humans will socialise and gather.

          Now as for morals, i find that basic morals are just social laws. They exist to faciliate social behavior. For example, killing the guy you’re talking to is not very conducive to social behavior = killing is wrong. Stealing from others creates an environment where suspicision rules the day, hindering social gatherings = stealing is wrong <- though stealing in an environment where everything is free is redundant.

          Now there are some morals that are not basic but enforced by religions. Tithes, veils, etc. Those are morals specific to a certain society that has accepted through action or silence the adoption of those morals. These morals are the ones most threatened by unlimited resources.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The idea of a breakdown in social links should be seperate from the idea of goals. In a society like Fractale, you can still have goals and especially when you have no need to do something to survive. The need for recognition from society, the need to satisfy the eternal curosity, the need to measure your own limits through competition all play a part.

    You probably have heard of people whose work is their hobby, thus is their work recreation? The guy who listens to music in Fractale, what is to say that he will not think “wow this is good, i want to play this” and pick up guitar playing(<- i personally did this) ? Then later thinks that he could write music?

    Apply this "cause and effect" method to the large picture. It can give a very complex view but also gives you the possibilities of what could happen.

    • Valence says:

      Can still have goals – can being subjective of course. I suppose the concept of happiness in such a society would be warped since the need for recognition from society, and this need to satisfy one’s eternal curiosity, et cetera would be missing, the way we derive happiness might be different. Perhaps in such a world goals are unnecessary – everyone lives a carefree, idle life. Then what’s the point in living? It’s something we might not be able to understand.

      Problem is, we see that Clain is dissatisfied with the world. His treatment of his parents, he hoarding ‘old-age tech’, and it’s even hinted that music itself is a thing of the past – what are the chances of him getting the resources he needs to make music? Hell, people might not even know how to make – even not know what is music to begin with!

      Cause and effect method isn’t exactly applicable here since we’re talking about a different environment with factors unaccounted for , since they are completely impossible to predict, but true, possibilities are endless.

      • Anonymous says:

        Getting from X to Y is not really the point of living but rather IMO living is the point of itself. As you live, you experience. As you experience, you feel. As you feel, you live. It may sound stupid at first glance.

        For Fractale, it seems to be a social commentary on the breakdown of human to human bonds. The idea of “sitting down together = family” for example. Clain’s dissatisfaction seems to stem from that rather than a lack of goals. The interest in old things as you referenced shows he does have a goal -> “collect old stuff and experience them”.

        In episode 3 you see this guy lying on a beach chair that seems to be using headphones and there’s a 3-dimensional wave in front of him. I believe that the guy is listening to music. Another example is the song of the star that they keep singing. It shows that music still exists

        As for how you could make music, even if all knowledge of music instruments had been destroyed and no emulation software exists (like MIDI), music still can be made by rebuilding musical notation through assigning a random symbol to a certain note that can be sung. Eg Rather than “A#” being used to represent the sound of A#, i could use “1” to represent A#. Its not readable by anyone else but for the purposes of making music, its good enough.

        From what is shown though, humanity in Fractale still has knowledge. Clain being unhappy that the storage device he shoplifted was a teaching program on Fractale shows that its not the first time he experienced such a type of program as he identified it quickly.

        The cause and effect method i was talking about was for taking a situation, identifying the possibilities then identifiying the possibilities of those possibilities, etc. Much like muti level nested switches or if/else blocks in programming

        • Valence says:

          What I meant was that music was rare, since Clain talks about how he hoped for it to be ‘one of those Music data’ when using an old memory-card based piece of hardware for music. I suppose you’re right there though.

          Also, identifying the possibilities for this situation is harder as we do not have any means to judge whether our predictions/possibilities are even possible or not, or even possibilities that we can’t fathom. I’ll just wait for more episodes to come out.

  6. Yi says:

    It’s like what some people say… Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I think everything should be taken, had, done in moderation. A right amount of struggle is kind of important for the human experience.

  7. Nopy says:

    This reminded me of every social studies class I had from grades 7-12. We always discussed socialism vs capitalism and every once in a while someone would note that if you wanted to be taken care of for the rest of your life, all you had to do was kill a police officer in cold blood. Since there’s no death penalty in Canada, you would get thrown in prison for the rest of your life.

    Prison’s not so bad though, you get 3 meals a day, a warm bed, health checks and any necessary medicine, and new clothes when your old ones get dirty. It actually provides everything you need without having to lift a finger. Some people are happier in prison than outside, so they commit crimes just to get in.

    • Valence says:

      We’re discussing crime and punishment in our school, and now we’re talking about the death penalty and whether it was right or wrong. I suppose while you actually (technically, anyway) would be taking care of for life if you get imprisoned for life, that isn’t exactly what I meant, but I suppose there exists rare cases where people want to go to prison.

  8. I found it interesting how, in this world where everyone is supposed to have true happiness, no problem, everyone chooses to be apart from each other. Clain’s parents don’t even choose to stay around their son. I think it’s that view of humanity that’s really grabbing my attention in Fractale. It makes me wonder, if I had the choice, would I want to be away from everyone, be uprooted and able to just travel wherever, even not living with my own child?

    Whatever happened to people caring about each other? In a world like this, where Clain can send away his parent’s doppels no problem at all, where are the human ties at all?

    I dunno. It just throws me off a bit.

    • Valence says:

      I suppose Clain might have actually stopped seeing them as humans and more as Doppels. Doppels can appear anywhere their users choose, but it’s different from having the person actually there. The human connection is missing. There’s a difference between talking to someone on the phone, chatting over the internet and talking to someone in person. Likewise, in this almost picture-perfect world, the human side of people has gone missing.

  9. shumbapumba says:

    Loving the discussion this post/show has generated. Lots of interesting ideas. Everyone deserves a pat on the back i think.

    • Valence says:

      I like it when the blogosphere gives new life to a regular show, don’t you?

      The show’s concept is interesting enough, can’t wait to see the rest of the episodes.

      • shumbapumba says:

        Yeah i do! I would like to see it now, especially given my current research into cyberpunk anime. It sounds like it could be relevant, at least thematically.

        • Valence says:

          Thematically, yes, but it isn’t exactly cyberpunk in the strictest sense..

          • shumbapumba says:

            Yes, that’s the impression I’m getting, but I’m interested in how the sub-genre – if it even is a genre? – has mutated over time. Questions I’m looking into: in what form does cyberpunk exist today? Is their such thing as post-cyberpunk? etc.

            • Valence says:

              Perhaps, but cyberpunk is indeed a very wide genre, with crossings into postmodern literature so often that sometimes I think that most postmodernist literature could qualify as cyberpunk. Depends on perspective really.

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