Summer reading: Harmony and the soft tyranny of paternalism


Author: Brian T. Hodges

The Japanese science fiction novel Harmony, by Project Itoh, is a timely cautionary tale about the struggle between individuality and government control.  Itoh shares his intricate and multi-layered vision of a world in the not-too-distant future where much of the population has been lost to disease and war.  Advances in medicine and nanotechnology, however, have made disease and aging relics of the past.  And because each human life is viewed as a precious resource for the betterment of global society, the World Health Organization, which has displaced nation states, forms local “admedistrations” to monitor each person’s physical and emotional health and administrate medications to fix any deviations.  In Itoh’s world, much of humanity has willingly subjugated itself to this culture of “medical correctness.”  Privacy is anathema.  Each person publishes his or her health output so that everyone can see that he or she is a productive member of society.

But, despite the reach of government control, the spark of individuality cannot be extinguished.  Miach Mihie, a teenage girl, discovers the concepts of individuality and freedom.  Miach conspires with her friends, including the story’s narrator Tuan Kirie, to commit the ultimate act of rebellion against the global health administration – they attempt suicide.  Only Miach is successful, which sets into play a series of events that explore the meaning of individual freedom, consciousness, will, and soft totalitarianism:

    You already know what we are capable of.

    You’re frightened. You’re angry. You are experiencing many emotions.

    These emotions are real. Treasure them.

     Our society has been engineered to suppress your emotions.

     You are being crushed beneath words of kindness.

     This is not written anywhere. It is not the law.

    Yet it binds you all the same. Never has there been a generation so self-regulated. Never has there been a civilization so weighted down by rules not generated from within, but without..

     No one can say what’s really on their mind. Since we were children, we have been told that we are vital resources to our society. Our bodies do not belong to us, they belong to society at large. They are public property.

    Haven’t you had enough of it?

Like most great dystopian literature, Itoh’s story holds a mirror up to the reader’s expectations.  In Harmony, Itoh exposes the suffocating paternalism of a health-obsessed government, but then asks the reader whether the resulting “utopia” is worth the loss of privacy, will, and personal freedom.