So you may have noticed the latest argument in the anime fandom concerns how to respond to Naofumi’s treatment of Raphtalia as his slave. Should he be praised/defended because he improved her living conditions and treated her better than her previous owner? Or criticized because, well, he owns/owned a slave?
Obviously, one can do both. It’s not like we have to pick only one choice, like some warped ethical multiple choice quiz.
What I’ve seen less discussion of, and which is potentially more interesting, is the problematic nature of how she was set free.
Disclaimer: I am not saying she should not be freed. Of course she should. It’s just that there are a few tiny problems with how it was done.
The king and his daughter (the people supposedly interested in freeing her) gagged her, hauled her off, and even dismissed her own view of the matter out of hand without any interest in hearing what she had to say. What more effective way to tell someone, and a woman at that, “You have no agency”?
As Naofumi ultimately acknowledges, both he and they only saw Raphtalia as a tool, that is, as a thing rather than a person.
The same motif appears again when the heroes of the Sword and the Bow point out that someone interfered in the duel. When asked why none of the people spoke up about it, the two heroes revealed that the king had ordered the people not to. He forced them to be silent, just like Raphtalia. To him, they are all just tools as well.
Is this what passes for freedom in this country? Because it doesn’t look very free.
It doesn’t matter whether they are called slaves or not. It doesn’t even matter if they have some limited choice over things like what they can eat. (As a slave, Raphtalia also was given that choice.) If the choice to say what you wish only exists at the will of another, you’re a slave.
In the ethical tradition I grew up in, we used two Latin words to make this distinction: uti “to use” and frui “to enjoy”. We are supposed to use things, and enjoy people. “Enjoy” here has the sense of the pleasure that comes from, say, watching your child learn and grow, or having a delightful conversation with a friend over a beer (or the beverage of your choice; I won’t judge), or playing sports with your team. (This last example is rather Shonen-like!)
In short, frui is the enjoyment that we get from the Other as other. It’s the pleasure found in someone because they are different from you.
Hatred, discrimination, and everything that goes along with them don’t arise merely because people are different; the problem appears when we try to make what is Other into what is Not-Other, to reduce it to our own identity. By seeking to extend our identity to another, we’re trying to turn them into tools for our own will. Things to be used.
So both Naofumi and the king had it backwards. The difference is that Naofumi finally saw his error and changed course. So I’m really hoping he and the free Raphtalia can develop a new appreciation of, and enjoyment of, each other.
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