The Sinister Right? Handedness and Morality in Parasyte: the maxim

Shinichi: Human life is precious, isn’t it?

Migi: I don’t understand. I only value my own life. I have never considered the life of any other being valuable.

Shinichi: You are an animal. An insect.

Migi: Is that your attempt to be disdainful?

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Human discrimination of left hands enjoys a long and illustrious tradition. Despite left-handers making up approximately 10% of the world’s total population, many common tools, such as scissors, machinery and desks are designed specifically for right-handed people. Besides this functional oversight, left handers have been subject to discrimination in variants of degree, a bias that shows up heavily in many languages, including English.

How many times have you heard that “right” is good and correctness and so “left” must be “wrong?” It’s in one’s best interests to wake up the “right” side of the bed, to be on the “right side” of your boss, and to be someone’s “right-hand man”–someone who’s reliable and capable. In Latin, the word dexter describes the right hand side, and from which the English word “dextrous, dexterity”  (which means skillful or skill) comes from. On the other hand (pardon the pun), sinister refers to the left-hand side in Latin.

While our left-handed bias seems fairly asinine, lateralization of brain function is a real thing.  You might have heard people call themselves left or right brained, with left brained people being more logical, analytical and objective and right brained people being more intuitive, creative and subjective. You might have even taken a pop quiz or two testing out whether you’re right or left-brained.

While these assessments are fun, they’re not entirely accurate. Actually, we shouldn’t put much stock in their results at all, since recent research has shown that the lateralization of brain function isn’t as dichotomous as once thought, and that higher thinking functions, such as math or writing, require both sides of the brain to work cooperatively. Other brain functions still more complex, including moral judgment and contemplating, require the body to access multiple parts of the brain in both the left and right hemispheres.

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In Parasyte, Izumi Shinichi’s right hand is invaded by a cannibalistic parasite, which is later dubbed “Migi” or “right”. So right from the get go, Parasyte challenges the notion that the right hand is the “righteous” one as Migi quickly demonstrates that he has no interest in helping Shinichi to defend humanity and only interested in its own survival.

While we can dismiss the author’s decision to have Migi attack the right hand as opposed to the sinister left, I’d argue that having Migi occupy the right hand is crucial to the themes the story explores in Parasyte. At its core, Parasyte is a coming-of-age story, of an adolescent confronting the realities of the adult world through a variety of channels, which involve separation from parents, developing independence, finding intimacy in others, and of course, the refinement of one’s sense of morality.

One cognitive characteristic that separates children and adolescents from adults is one’s sense of morality. Children and teenagers tend to have a very black and right sense of moral righteousness. They have a strong sense of what’s good and evil, righteous and cruel.  It is only when one’s moral standards expands into a spectrum of grayscale that one gains the moral sensibilities of an adult.

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It is this sense of morality that Migi’s invasion instills into Shinichi. Shinich’s first reaction to Migi’s complete lack of empathy for humanity is one of righteous contempt, which Migi calmly notes.

“You call me an akuma [devil]…I believe that, among all life, humans are the closest thing to it. Although humans kill and eat a wide variety of life forms, my kind eat merely one or two kinds at most. We are quite frugal in comparison.” -Migi

The reason why Shinichi and (we) find Migi’s logic so hard to accept is because we’re used to judging things from a human standpoint. We see and think of ourselves as rational, self-aware beings capable of making complex decisions–which we are–but what we often overlook is humanity’s capacity for great wisdom and compassion is also at the very least, equally matched by our potential for great destruction. Animals might not be capable of being moral, of knowing right from wrong, but humans are the only ones who take lives not out of necessity for consumption but for sport or an act of malice.

Migi’s conquest of Shinichi’s right hand is not just a physical one but a moral one as well. Shinichi, now alienated from his right hand in the most literal sense, is subsequently alienated from a child’s moral sensibilities.* Though he resists this change, we see him adopting some aspects of Migi’s cold logic through his journey, with trauma (both physical and mental) accelerating this change.

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What do you do when you see a dead dog?
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Throw it away in the garbage bin, of course! It’s not cool to “litter”, yeah?

I wouldn’t call what Migi and Shinichi have friendship but they do have a properly symbiotic relationship. The line where Shinichi begins and and Migi’s end is a line that becomes more blurred as the two find a way to not only survive together but for their ideologies to complement one another.  Much like how the left and right hemispheres of the brain cooperate to perform complex activities, Migi and Shinichi work together as one to take down other parasites. Shinichi adopts the cool rationalism of Migi that enables him to better cope with trauma and danger, while Migi appears to inherit some of the emotional qualities he initially lacks.

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So what does Migi ultimately represent? A more objective kind of morality? Amorality? At this point in the story, this isn’t entirely clear.

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However, in the most recent episode where Shinichi, in a fit of anger at Kana’s death, rips out the heart of the attacking Parasyte, it’s notable that he does it with his left hand as opposed to his right. In other words, this act of vengeance is one executed entirely by Shinichi, and one completely divorced from Migi, who cannot help but be impressed by Shinichi’s relentless strength. But are we impressed?

parasyte06 Dear God, I hope not. Aside from the irony that the left hand–which is traditionally regarded as the “sinister” side–is the human one, this scene is sobering and heart-wrenching (figuratively and literally!) While Shinichi might get some satisfaction out of finishing off Kana’s killer, he is left with more pain and guilt because he realizes that nothing can bring her back. For all of his newfound strength, he can’t even protect one girl (though you have to give him some points for trying).

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There cannot be right without left just as there cannot be a left hand without a right one. What Migi might come to represent is not so much righteousness but balance. As we’ve seen so far, righteousness can be dangerous. It leads people into perilous situations and make it difficult for them to adapt to situations. We see emotion as a good thing but emotions in excess can cloud judgment and impair reasoning.

Whoa, chill man.
Whoa, chill man.

Shinichi’s experienced a lot of suffering at the hands of Parasytes and as the body count of those he holds dear continues to pile up, his sense of justice is going to fuel a lot of anger. And angry people tend to make dumb decisions. Migi’s calculating logic might be construed as cold, but it may be just what Shinichi needs to temper his rage and see a solution out of the mess that the parasytes have created. The right hand, in this case, might be “right” after all.

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*Note that when I say “child”, I’m not saying that children aren’t capable of moral judgment. I’m just saying that their moral system is simpler, more naive, and less nuanced.

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4 thoughts on “The Sinister Right? Handedness and Morality in Parasyte: the maxim

  1. Would love to see your thoughts on Parasyte now that it’s finished and concluded on what I thought were pretty lofty ideas. Just discovered your site and really enjoying all your articles!!

    Like

    1. Thanks and welcome to Anime Monographia! Yeah, Parasyte did explore a couple of pretty ambitious ideas, though the ending was a bit more heavy handed than I preferred. I have some thoughts on the ending of Parasyte but nothing that could be a stand alone post.

      Like

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