Human Nature in Action
It is human nature to categorize. Seemingly embedded in our genetic code is the intrinsic need to quantify and measure our reality to then find our place in it and navigate around. It helps us make sense of the world. This is exactly why the Saiya-jins and other aliens within Freeza’s empire use the Scouter to navigate new worlds and encounters.
The psychologist William James states in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), “The first thing an intellect does with an object is to classify it along with something else.” As children we learn to categorize the objects around us. An apple is a fruit, a flower is a plant, a dog is an animal. Likewise as adults we first categorize people and places, and only then do we know how to interact. For example, the social responses we give to an animal are far different than to a gentleman. Observing differences among people and categorizing them (or choosing not to) is what leads to the development of a unique worldview.
Try to imagine living in a society like Vegeta’s where power is all that matters and self worth is defined by a number. All the warriors identify or interact with others with their own number and the number of the other person in mind. The first thing they do when they meet someone new is measure them with the Scouter. Likewise, the first thing they do after landing on a new planet is check the Scouter for high power levels. It is a habitual, reflexive action.
Even Goku’s father cared nothing for his son. In Dragon Ball Z: Bardock, The Father of Goku TV Special (1990), his squad mates ask Bardock if he would like to go back to Planet Vegeta and visit his newborn child. Bardock says “To see the lowest-class warrior without any promise at all? What kind of fool would make that trip?” This is what the Scouter does, it strips people of their worth and turns them into a number. A society built upon these numbers denies its own humanity. How fitting that in Dragon Ball this society consists of aliens and mutants. There is no “human” among them.
It also tells us that if we only pay attention to that which is measurable through external instruments, then we’ll become blind to the wonders of potential and possibility in all that isn’t. In life, what you see matters much less than how you see it. Worldviews change the reality of what one perceives and responds to. Conflicts arise when worldviews collide and one person isn’t able to let go of their notions or expectations built up by the perceptions they created over time. For example, Vegeta uses the Scouter’s numbers to validate his own self-worth and invalidate others. He thinks of himself as the greatest and everyone else as worthless trash, including those who are more powerful because his father taught him that he is a superior being. Are they really trash, or is that label due to his perception?
Vegeta is the product of his environment. He was born a Saiya-jin and prone to ruthless fighting, but his upbringing made him even more violent, compassionless, selfish, and angry. These characteristics are evident throughout his entire life, and as he rises up he pushes others down in order to validate his own ego. A stark contrast to Goku.