Jean Baechler’s gene of death and repentance as offsetting vital force
Sociologist Jean Baechler’s “Strategic Theory” of suicide (1979) illuminates the death seeking behavior we witness in Bleach. The most recent example of character carrying his own death, is “D”, the clownish “Lethal Dose Death Dealer” (Bleach Chapters 601-2). D says: “when I think about [my power], I’m always feeling like I’m close to dying”.
Baechler defines suicide as a type of human behavior, a way of life rather than a circumscribed act. He advances a theory of suicide as one of five strategic solutions to “existential” problems – problems perceived to affect the whole of one’s existence. Existential problems are natural for reflexive beings, beings that distinguish between the subjective “I” (the abstract, devoid of content and irreducible self of the first person perspective) and the “Me” (the biological and social composite identity).
According to Baechler there are five possible solutions to existential problems. All five responses are “natural” in the sense that they are immediately and continuously available to the subject: reflexive beings are continuously carrying them inside along with the problems themselves. The five types are
1) a bargaining between objective conditions and subjective aspirations which ends up producing a compromise solution,
2) an imaginary obliteration of the objective data and construction of a private world,
3) a real or imaginary obliteration of the subject (real or the symbolic suicide, the obliteration of the “Me” by the “I”).
4) removing one of the elements in the objective situation (crime or misdemeanor), and
5) suppression of both sets of data, objective and subjective (the “apocalypse”).
Using Baechler’s example of five possible responses to the objective condition of unrequited love, the pool of solutions is 1) renounce one’s affections and bestow them elsewhere, 2) convince oneself that one is loved but the beloved is forbidden to declare it, 3) kill oneself, 4) kill the other, 5) kill the other and then kill oneself.
Out of the five, only the first behavior exhibits adequate “vital capacity”. Vital capacity is defined as capacity of integrating oneself in a present typical network of solutions, the capacity to tinker and work out more or less imperfect fitness or compromise between the two sets of data, subjective and objective. The other four are connected to a lack of adequate equipment, a genetic “vital incapacity”.
Vital capacity can reveal itself as deficient either by a shortcoming or by excess. If it appears as a shortcoming, it condemns the individual to live perpetually below the level of his real possibilities, it renders him incapable of seizing the opportunities available to him, and it prevents him from creating a personality that would allow him to make his way within the career he has embarked on (…). These are all the cripples of life, incapable of creating solid and satisfactory bonds, of succeeding in their job, of making their way in the world. If there is an excess of vital energy, the consequences are no better; in fact, the individual is obliged to live below his potential, to go off the beaten track, and to make his way as a renegade. As he is no longer supported and helped by the net of typical solutions, he is forced to invent a personal plan for life and to expend considerable energy bringing it about. The risks of defeat are enormous because he is running into [ever higher] obstacles (Baechler, A Strategic Theory).
This classification of solutions reveals Urahara as “the great tinkerer”. His humanist humility and ethics of inviolability of persons place him in the service of generic life as fitness. He exemplifies strategic behavior one. His corrupted version, Kurotsuchi Mayuri, is a trespasser. He moves from behavior one to behavior four. Mayuri is a strategic tinkerer fascinated with diversity but displeased with the idea of inviolability of persons.
The problem to which these solutions respond is inadequacy between two sets of data, subjective and objective. The main antagonists in Bleach, such as Aizen or Juha Bach, have a greater than adequate vital capacity. Their subordinates, a smaller than adequate. (Loyalties are then easily explained by the desire to compensate: Sternritters are naturally attracted by Juha Bach just as Arrancars are naturally attracted by Aizen.)
But all theories have to face the hard cases. All theories of personality and behavior applied to Bleach must face the exceptional Ichigo. Ichigo holds a power greater even than Juha Bach’s, who is a monster literally beyond comprehension (his name’s other reading is hallowed or untold – “Yhwach”). In theory his vital capacity is deficient by excess. His inadequacy should rush Ichigo toward his own demise. Why then does Ichigo integrate so well within his family, highschool, Soul Society?
One possibility is that his humbling feelings of guilt connected to his mother’s death tame that power and thus place it in the service of life. All great prophets in the Old Testament subject their super-natural powers to this type of self-limitation. For instance Moses performed miracles sufficient to kneel the Egyptian nation (Exodus) and yet Moses was the most humble man on the face of the Earth (Numbers 12:3). The prophets’ humility is not an arbitrary choice, but grounded in irreducible feelings of shame and guilt before God.
The idea of humility and repentance finds its most extensive scope in the Christian tradition. For Christians the norm of humility becomes universal. God is humbling himself before God (God the Son before God the Father, and possibly the Father before the Son in His recognition that his Old Law, Old Plan failed to elevate man), and God is humbling himself before man (God the Son incarnates as Jesus). In imitation, man should also humble himself before God as well as before man.
The function of the universal norm of humility is to offset death. Judeo-Christians have a simple explanation for death: it is the fulfillment of sin. As a consequence of original sin, which is a manifest excess of vital capacity, humans become unfit to the holy life built for them (Genesis 3:3). Once sin begets death humans carry death within themselves until their death matures (James 1:13-15). In Demons, that process is more intense and the end more impending. Demons’ excess vital capacity is at once suffocating feeling and rush for death (Mat 8:29-32).
For Judeo-Christians the offsetting force against this rush is repentance. Since this world is the world of sin, an adequate equipment to tinker and successfully compromise between subjective and objective data is adequacy to the world of sin, and thus, the perfect fulfillment of death (Colossians 3:3). Vital capacity, the gene of fitness to ungenuine life, is, for Christians, not only ineffective against the genuine gene of death, but adulterous with it (James 4:3-10; James 5:1-3). Conquering death requires a different equipment. The gene of genuine life is adequacy to God’s subjective meanings. The sign of its fruition is humility based on repentance.
The same offsetting force could explain the equilibrium in Ichigo. As the rush towards his own demise is the fulfillment of his excess vital capacity, Ichigo’s offsetting “constant rebirth” is the constant fulfillment of his repentance. Remarkably, while both contemporary psychology and Christian theology are similar in their therapeutic advice to concentrate on what humans share rather than on their relative differences, theology makes the exception the rule. From this perspective, Ichigo’s exceptional case is important because it’s “normal”.
Secular psychology on the other hand points to behavior one, to livelihood, to Karakura town and to Urahara as a role model. Secular psychology denies the relevance of monstrous exceptions such as Ichigo as fictional. In response, religion would claim that since a secular humanist behavior of type one is as arbitrary as anything centered in man, it risks emptiness. Urahara, for all we know, displays a secular and humanist humility which, from a religious point of view, is vulnerable to that emptiness. Upon becoming captain, Urahara “decides” to care about the 12h Division, basing that decision “in himself”. From a religious point of view, if Ichigo’s or Rukia’s inner sunk worlds are not yet the rule, then they should be, at least more than Urahara’s. These characters are consumed by guilt but constantly refreshed by repentance, Ichigo in connection to his mother, Rukia in connection to Shiba Kaien.
Surely for a humanist this normative suggestion is as intolerable and exaggerated as religion itself. Is there a way to arbitrate between the two views? I don’t know; using Bleach to arbitrate seems at once an extravagant compliment paid to humanism and a sign of humility. But one observation is that more viewers identify with Ichigo and Rukia than with Urahara. Their intuition is that Karakura town is too vulnerable as principle or center of life.