Okabe and Localism

A couple of weeks ago I found the time to play through the two main paths of Steins;Gate 0. My contentions regarding time travel logic and artificial intelligence aside, it’s a good game. It follows the protagonist of the original Steins;Gate, but one with a far more darkened hue. Having lost the will to fight, Okabe chooses the beta world line to shorten his losses and save his childhood friend, leaving his would-be lover to die. Okabe faces a war with his own biased mind, to take back control of it and to save his everyday.

At the beginning of the story, Okabe wants to convince himself that his Future Gadget Lab didn’t matter. Filled with grief and self-blame, he starts visiting it far less frequently, which makes his friends and hopefuls worry. This isn’t the alpha world line anymore, SERN doesn’t care about him or his friends, but the funny thing is that World War III is still on schedule. What makes Okabe move again is the realization that his everyday has been lost, even before WW3 hits Tokyo and his friends die one by one.

The Everyday with the capital E. There are many different parties involved in this conflict, but the most interesting and most relevant to draw parallels with Okabe is Russia. In the beta, they are the first party to experiment with time travel. Their plan was to manipulate time to restore the glory days of USSR, which as you may recall had been in collapse throughout the 1980s and has formally dissolved in 1991. Most of my readers these days are probably millennials with no real recollection of the 90s, but to be honest, that’s not that far back. For Mother Russia, the everyday that they wanted to save was the haze of year-round Lenin parades, successes in space exploration and foreign policy matters, low unemployment rates, and a union of nations the likes of which the newly-born European Union could hide in shame from. As hazy as these memories were for the Russian actors, with the right manipulations in place they could become reality again.

But why start changing things in the 1980s? Why not plunge back to the time of the Manhattan Project and steal American nuclear technology? Why not jump even further back? I’m confident that there are earlier points in time at which Russia’s time travelers could ensure the supremacy of the Federation for centuries to come, but I think there’s a very real answer as to why this didn’t happen. People actually like living in the present. They don’t want to drastically alter their everyday, unless what they are living is complete Hell. They like their family and friends, they like their neighbors, they like their surroundings. The idea of changing the past to such a degree that the time traveller wouldn’t be able to personally benefit doesn’t sound very appealing, not even to patriots. With manipulations on the world branch level, there’s a good chance that he wouldn’t have been born in the first place.

To Okabe, saving the world was of secondary meaning. Only when he realized that doing so is a necessity to save his everyday, and that there is no escaping the bad end, did he start moving again. Both Russia and Okabe Rintaro are bound by their subjective experience of the world. Come to think of it, most contemporary time travel stories fiddle with events inside a very narrow time interval. A common pattern: The antagonist did something bad in the past, the protagonists go back to revert it. OK, but why not eliminate the conditions for which bad shit happens in general?

Another thing must be made clear. The world will see the birth of another super genius like Makise Kurisu. That may not be the case in the immediate future, but the very fact that time travel is possible in their world will almost surely bring about new struggles for the generations to come, to keep the technology out of the hands of ambitious nations. In other words, by prioritizing the importance of his everyday, Okabe revealed himself as one self-serving motherfucker. The entirety of Steins;Gate 0 is an exercise in exploring which limited option is best for him.

As the parliamentary elections in Slovenia draw closer, this notion of locality is at the forefront of every debate. Should we support migrants or should we better support our own struggling nationals? Should we look to strengthen our relationship with the core EU states, or do we go to Orban and Visegrad instead? Do we want to build an inclusive superstate without borders, or are we skeptical of the EU’s longterm success with its current power politics?

I believe there is a Steins;Gate, a middle road somewhere in between the extremes. Having lived through the effects of the economic policies following the recent global financial crisis however, it’s hard for me to put aside all of the very personal resentments that have accumulated, regarding bad policies. Intuitively, I know that a borderless world with long-lasting peace should be something to strive for, however an implicit defense of a global configuration under which this becomes impossible has me backing the localists, for now.

I love my girlfriend, I love my family, I love my friends, I like my coworkers, regardless of the country they come from. What matters is that these people constitute my everyday, which I’ve put a lot of effort into constructing. If you ask me about Yemen, on a fundamental level I don’t care about Yemen. I hear about Yemen, I sympathize with the Yemenis, but really, what can I do about their situation? What can virtually any European nation do about the crisis there? For a Slovenian national, to pull for Yemen’s future is wasted, inefficient effort at best.

But I do think I can contribute to improvements in the local far more effectively. I can help my family and friends in a number of ways, I can clean up my neighborhood, I can join a protest against dumb totalitarian policies, and I can become a statesman, or vote for a statesman that will aim to reduce corruption. I can help prevent the country from experiencing the same fate as Yemen is.

All of this in the hopes of ensuring that my everyday continues. On this point, regardless of your standing on the political spectrum, we’re probably not all that different.

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