This is the last essay write-up on Gatchaman Crowds’s first season. Am I “done” with covering all the series has to bring up? Not even close. My old episodic write-ups bring up many ideas I don’t even touch on here, such as The Bystander Effect of the Diffusion of Responsibility, or many more masks for me to discuss. But, Gatchaman Crowds doesn’t believe in chewing one’s thoughts for them, and as I hope I made clear through these series of posts, the more I delve into this show, the more I actually have to discuss. I could be talking about this show for months to come. So, before we delve into the OVA and then Gatchaman Crowds insight, it’s very fitting we finish with this write-up on the nature of good decisions, which is both useful for readers to keep in mind in their daily lives, and as something to keep in mind as one watches and then thinks of Gatchaman Crowds Insight. This is a question, which underlies Gatchaman Crowds, and is re-opened in Insight.
This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that rose in my mind as a result of watching the show. There will be spoilers for the entire first season of the show.
This may sound trivial, but Gatchaman Crowds is very much a show about making decisions, and a particular one above all else. Rui’s arc specifically is about making a decision, about making a choice. Well, I’ll discuss in a bit why it may not be as obvious, but first, I’m actually going to take this show to task for raising the question that’s asked of any decision, whether it was a good one, and pulling a fast one on us in terms of what the answer to said question is, at least in this season. But first, let’s discuss decision-making and what makes for a good decision in general.
Most people, when confronted with having to decide whether a decision someone made is a “Good Decision”, and doubly so when it comes to a decision made within a story, take an approach we can call “Consequentialism,” where a decision (or any action, really), is judged by how it turned out. If we look at the big and obvious decision that Rui has to make within the show, of whether to trust the population with the power of CROWDS, we can see that the answer keeps morphing, from it being a power for good early on, but when limited to the trusted few, to it going out of control, and then the liberation of the power bringing it not under control, but back to the realm of good results. And then, with a tiny spoiler, season 2 re-opens the question again, and keeps hopping back and forth between whether this decision was a “good one”.
So this doesn’t seem like a good way to judge, right? Cause how can a decision alternate between a good and a bad one? And I’m not talking about making the same call at different periods in time, but a singular decision, once made. It might seem that the issue with the criterion of consequentialism is one of “subjectivity,” of relying on where you stand, but it isn’t. The opposing method(s) is just as subjective, and consequentialism is still reliant on “objective value judgements”, just at differing stances. So what do we do?
First, let us dispense with the notion that consequentialism is only problematic because the value judgement for a specific and immutable decision changes as new events come to pass as a result from it. No, but the base idea is problematic, because hindsight is 6/6 as they say (or 20/20 if you measure in feet rather than meters), so the criterion for whether a decision was good or not has to come before the decision is made, or otherwise we’ll never be able to judge whether making a decision to not do something has been the right call, when we obviously can’t know, not for certain, what would’ve happened had the decision been made.
So let’s take a specific situation, an example, and run it through several permutations to see what we think. You meet a rich person, they tell you they bet $50,000 on a 99.9% failure chance (1-in-1000) to make 100 times as much money (so they only stand to gain 10% of their risk), and they tell you they made it, and ended up with $5 million. You whistle in appreciation, and the consequentialist approach says that he’s made a good call. But rather, he was lucky, and it had a good outcome. But it doesn’t seem as clear-cut in this case, so let’s look at several permutations.
The first, this isn’t a rich person, but someone for whom this is their entire life’s saving. You might whistle in appreciation even so, but if they had told you their significant other got very angry over them potentially (“potentially”, a 99.9% chance) losing their entire joint savings, you might have understood the significant other. Doubly so if you had come across this story before the decision whether to gamble or not. But still, it might’ve been a foolish decision, but are “foolish decisions” wrong? Perhaps, and perhaps not.
So let’s look at a couple of more clear-cut cases yet. In the first, this person has to pay a ransom, or he and his entire family will die. The ransom is $50,000 – the amount of money he has. Would gambling this on a 99.9% losing chance a rational decision at this point? It isn’t, as they have the money, and even if they tell you they did gamble and did win, you’ll shake your head over how irrational their decision has been. Final situation, same as above with the ransom, but this time the ransom is for $5 million, and the person in our example has no other ways to raise money but use his $50,000 in the 99.9% failing bet. Should he? He must, in fact, as any move except winning is a losing move, which also means that any non-gambling move is a losing move.
And here in the final two examples, it’s clear that there’s a “good decision” and a “bad decision”, regardless of the outcome, and so, even prior, we could look at the decisions we all make as good or bad, based on the information people have, or should have access to at the time they make the decisions. Part of said information deals with risk versus reward. I mean, we all make the above decision in microcosm when we buy a lottery ticket, and while it may not be rational from a money-winning perspective, the risk is usually inconsequential enough for this decision to be neither “good” nor “bad”, just not fully irrational, and actually serving to fulfill another reward-avenue, that of enjoyment, of risk-taking, and of dream-having.
So let’s get back to Rui’s decision. Sadly, or thankfully, depending on how much you haunt yourself for the decisions you make after you’ve made them, most decisions don’t have such clear-cut situations, and the likelihood of any event happening is hard to attach a number to – Moreover, while we know what happened as a result of our action, we don’t know what would’ve happened otherwise, so we can’t really test the risks as they might have manifested, and whether we overestimated them. And likewise, if our projection proves too optimistic, we can’t really tell whether our original projection was possible, or was a mistaken to begin with.
But let’s look at the decision Rui is struggling with. What is the risk? The risk is the destruction of the planet and an end to mankind and civilization. I mean, that’s what Berg Katze thought it’d end up doing, and Berg Katze is the expert on giving the inhabitants of a planet just enough rope to hang themselves. And what about the potential rewards? Utopia, where mankind is freed from lionizing heroes and being unable to realize their wishes to help others, and to create a better world with their own two hands, even if it’s their digital avatars’ hands. So, on one hand the risk is the annihilation of everything on the planet, and on the other hand, we have utopia. Is the risk worth it? Probably not, because there’s no going back once we’re all dead, so it might be better off to go slowly and surely and build things incrementally, slowly rolling out the system – which is the rational decision that Rui had made sometime before the series has began, and whose results we view within the show.
And then Rui gives the ability of CROWDS to, well, everyone. He does so under some duress, to fight off the Neo-Hundred, but he could’ve still only given it to the people of the city of Tachikawa, or only people X had checked before who seem “Responsible and Good Meaning,” but he didn’t. Is his decision “good” in the rational sense? Not really. But the show knows we’re all judging things from a consequentialist point of view, so it had the decision turn out well. This is the one time the show actually took a somewhat anti-rational stance, of appealing to emotions directly, and giving us an easy answer, rather than having us think whether it’s a good decision. Now, it actually uses this point as the springboard for second season’s entire discussion, so I’ll put it aside for now, but this is indeed a low point for the show and deserving of criticism.
Unless, it wasn’t really this decision that the show cares about. While this is the plot-decision that Rui’s story revolves around, and much of the story besides, it’s not his character-arc-decision. That would be the decision he makes, which led to this one. The decision Rui makes is to trust in people, to trust that most people are naturally good, and will stamp out wrong-doers, rather than believe that people are by nature bad. Even Berg-Katze doesn’t believe that most people are bad unless provoked, which is why he doesn’t have X give the CROWDS ability to everyone from the get-go, but first looses the Neo-Hundred upon the world, to spread fear and anger, and then he believes that when others gain the ability, they’d turn to anger themselves.
Rui makes a decision that isn’t really in the realm of rationality per se, it’s an emotional call, but the risk and rewards are also within the realm, within the realm of being able to trust others, of being able to live without a mask. He makes a decision to trust people. And whether we think that’s a “good decision” or a “bad” one says much more about us than the decision itself. Just as Rui’s decision says more about him, and the world he wants to live in, than reflecting anything “rational”. And giving CROWDS to everyone? It’s a symbol. Not just by the show, but also Rui symbolizing to himself what sort of life he wants to lead, and what sort of person he wants to be – one that can live in an equal society, and one who believes in his fellow humans.
And when we judge him, we shouldn’t judge him by how his decision turned out, but by how it could’ve turned out, and by what we think of his motivations. And can we judge him? Well, we’re humans, so we always judge. Even if it’s not rational, but emotional. Imagine that.