Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Log Horizon anime.
Human rights, at least as they were initially conceived, trace their origins back to the Age of the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophers were attempting demonstrate an objective value in humanity that, if not altogether rejecting the existence of a higher power, can stand independently from reasons of religion (i.e. Humans were God’s chosen people). Many rulers of old based their legitimacy to lead on divine law (They were God’s chosen rulers), which to some Enlightenment thinkers could be tantamount to tyranny. Europe was also recovering from the bloody religious wars that took place just before the Enlightenment, their traumatic memories spurring advocacy during the period itself for the separation of church and state. What the Enlightenment philosophers came up with in response to the supposed irrationality of religiously-motivated oppression and violence was the concept of the law of nature, divorced from divine mandate. Core to every fiercely debated Enlightenment interpretation of the natural law was entitlement drawn from rationality. Humans are rational beings. Because humans are rational beings, they are inherently and universally entitled to certain rights. These rights were natural and inalienable.
It is by this understanding that it is unreasonable for natural rights to be violated arbitrarily by other rational beings, and provides a justification for rational beings like human ones to take up arms so as to have these rights establish respect. John Locke believed that men were entitled to the rights to life, liberty, and property in his Second Treatise of Government. Thomas Jefferson reinterpreted these rights for men as the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the American “Declaration of Independence,” the official reason for the American colonies’ separation from the British empire. This document would become one of the inspirations for the later French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” the official manifesto of the French Revolution. Decades later, like the American one before it, the French document became one of the blueprints for the “United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights.” The reasoning behind human rights is grounded in theories concerning natural rights that were originally formulated in the Enlightenment era. The designation of rationality and the entitlement that comes backseat with it expanded overtime, being applied first to white men, and then to all men, and then to all men and women… to all humans.
Quite apart from the more typical low-brow affairs that trapped in a fantasy world isekai shows busy themselves with, Log Horizon also concerns itself with the topic of natural rights in a video game. In typical isekai set-up, Log Horizon’s real-life human players are trapped in the MMO world of their fantasy playground, attempting to figure out how to get by in their familiar yet unknown surroundings. In not-so-typical isekai fashion, Log Horizon’s trapped player characters (the “Adventurers”) find themselves arguing around a round table of whether NPCs (the “People of the Land”) also possess natural rights. At its core, natural law dictates that the Adventurers, by their nature as humans, hail from entitle them to certain rights. These natural rights exist under the understanding, whether designated by a God or not, that human beings exist for their own sakes — as ends in themselves, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant, the late Enlightenment figure. However, the Adventurers know that the People of the Land, by their nature as human pixel fantasy facsimiles, were created by real human game developers. We, the audience, know that NPCs in MMOs are not exactly human. They are a digital resource for players for engage with for their entertainment. The People of the Land were not originally created for their own sakes, but for the Adventurers’.
It’s not totally unexpected then that some Adventurers have continued treat the People of the Land as mechanics to objectively exploit. As they rob their goods and even take their lives, these particular Adventurers prejudicially continue to regard the People of the Land with the chattel-like mentality that they always understood their existence by. By their original nature as NPCs in a fantasy MMORPG, the People of the Land were created to serve as the property and playthings of the Adventurer player base. In light of these cases of exploitation and the larger round table discourse on natural rights in the anime during the Akihabara round table discussions (from protecting Adventurers from being exploited by other Adventurers to protecting the People of the Land being exploited by Adventurers), what’s the rationale then to claim that the People of the Land should be accorded the same freedoms, dignities, and protections as the Adventurers? Why should the Adventurers People of the Land natural rights even when they were not exactly created as human beings in the first place?