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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: The ghost in the shell

All things change in a dynamic environment

Update : 03 Jan 2021, 12:20 AM

There is a very interesting midsection in the 1995 cyberpunk masterpiece Ghost in the Shell. The protagonist -- Major Makoto Kusanagi -- traverses the seedy underbelly of what I assume to be Tokyo, looking at the mishmash of the skyscrapers all around after giving a profound monologue of being confined by her own self. 

The landscape is a mishmash of this culture and that, an urban nightmare that is indistinguishable from the landmark cities of today’s world. Of course, one of the primary ethos of cyberpunk is a landscape that has lost its identity, both due to untamed capitalism and the demands of the great machine. In today’s world, everything is connected. And when everything is connected, everything is the same. 

And in a world bereft of meaning, in a place where this supposed high tech results in a lower state of life, people inevitably become like ants in a giant colony, where the average person is indistinguishable from the next. This loss of identity is a central theme in today’s world, from going against the fates in an effort to find meaning in Blade Runner, to trying to find one’s own place inside the numerous cogs that make up this world in Dance, Dance, Dance; the age that we live in certainly looms grim. 

Still, the human spirit perseveres. And if people can’t express themselves, if people can’t show their individuality in their individual lives, they will certainly look to other alternate, sometimes even nefarious means. 

Even before its inception, the internet has been a topic of curiosity for the inquisitive. And as it has become ubiquitous with the turn of the century, it has become a place where one can truly express who they are. It’s a place with no borders, just as it is a place with no regulations. Just like the barren deserts of the forgotten Westerns, it is a place with no gods, and no masters.

As such, you can find everything on the internet. From militant fan groups to soft core pornography, it has become a shady marketplace of sorts that one would only previously find in the back alleys of Bangkok. And due to the interconnectivity it has brought to the table, the loss of heritage has only worsened, to the point the cyberspace of Bangladesh and the cyberspace of the US are almost indistinguishable. 

In theory, this is bad. You would often even hear critics and activists cautioning against this rising trend, as it would mean the breakdown of barriers that have been in place for generations. But ultimately, is it such a bad thing? Again, I get that losing something should never be celebrated, and in this global age, the uniqueness that comes with our heritage is breaking apart. 

But if we can make something out of this, if we can salvage something new out of this cesspool of melted ideas, isn’t that something we should cherish?

Take Bangladesh for example. Foreign culture has always had an effect here, and through an almost invisible form of cultural imperialism, a lot of our values have been replaced by Western ethos. But on the output side, I would argue that this has done more good than bad. 

People have started talking about parental abuse, and this particular conversation is gaining a much-needed traction. Would we be able to think like this without the influence of other cultures? Maybe. But in a global space where ideas are regularly pitted against each other, this process of enlightenment definitely gets facilitated. There are tangible harms for this sort of powerplay (blind worship of the West and a particular country in the East comes to mind). But again, I would argue that more good has come out of this process than bad.

But the process itself is a slippery slope, and it can result in something terrible. For example, parents have been regarded as gods in the West even just a century ago. Through a kind of global solidarity, the tide has started to turn. But due to the West’s position on top of the global hegemony, the credit has ultimately been stolen by the white man. 

The internet is a rabbit hole of information, and it has created the perfect climate for the dissemination of propaganda. Even here, countries with influence -- such as the US and Japan -- can and will try to turn this into a nationalistic issue, and take all the credit.

That is why this is something that everyone should immerse themselves in, and try to use to their benefit. When it comes to the intellectual elite -- especially in Bangladesh -- there is a sort of disdain for this kind of mixed culture that is doing more harm than good. 

The loss of humanity?

If art is a search for the truth, then today’s landscape has to be acknowledged for what it is, and we have to move forward from there. A common ethos of cyberpunk is the degradation of identity in this connected plane, and how it leads to the loss of humanity itself. I don’t agree with this, and I don’t think anyone should. 

It’s a very puritan way of thinking, and in today’s world, it is very outdated. That’s why, the original Ghost in the Shell has become one of my favourite films, and I think it is one of the few films that actually takes the genre forward. In it, we follow the cyborg Makoto Kusanagi, who wonders about her place in world with no identity, and where she is trapped by her own limitations. 

During the climax, the AI known as the puppet master approaches her, and offers a chance for both of them to merge. A lesser film would have the major refuse this offer, to prove that the human conscience is better than a bunch of 1s and 0s. But the major knows this to be untrue, and she yearns for a way to transcend her limitations. But still, at the end of the day, under a body made of steel and flesh, she is ultimately human. 

And like all humans, she is afraid. And to that end, the puppet master tells the major: “All things change in a dynamic environment. Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you.”

Nafis Shahriar is a student of business and a freelance writer.

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