Posted by: terrapraeta | November 18, 2009

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Watching them come and go
Tomorrows and the yesterdays oh ho
Christians and the unbelievers
Hanging by the cross and nail oh ho

But if you pray all your sins are hooked upon the sky
Pray and the heathen lie will disappear oh ho
Prayers they hide the saddest view
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers they break the sky in two
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
You pray till the break of ALL.
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And you’ll believe you’re loving the alien
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
Believeing the strangest things (loving the alien)

David Bowie, Loving the Alien

I am, and have been all my life, a sci-fi geek. I love sci fi films, most of my reading-for-pleasure is in the sci-fi fantasy genre, I’ve been known to lose myself in video games of the RPG variety and I even play Dungeons and Dragons when I have the opportunity.

Many years ago, I watched the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. I don’t remember much at this point, so when I watched the remake last night it was almost like seeing something brand new. As far as visuals and acting, I’d say it was a pretty good film. The story was interesting, but I found myself having very strong conflicted reactions to all of it.

On the one side, the mere idea of an advanced alien race coming to Earth to save the planet from its human disease made me… well, smile, basically. Just because it phrased our destruction of the planet in a way that was, well, obvious to anyone looking. Of course we are to blame, and of course our behavior is totally inexcusable and anyone with any sense can see that. Then there were the scenes of the plague bugs decimating military installations, power plants and football stadiums. Boo ya! Cool.

But then there was the level at which it really disturbed me.

When the film ended, it was with the exclamation that we can change, and more importantly, that now we are on the brink of destruction we will change. Go us. But the question remains, how? It is left assumed that we can simply do things differently, because we are being “forced” to do things differently, and everything will be fine. No one has to die. No one has to suffer or do without. Its simply a choice that our governments can make and that’s all there is to it.

Naïve doesn’t begin to cover it.

Of course this is Hollywood. This is Sci-fi. This is contemporary culture. But because it is contemporary culture, how many people left the film believing it really is that simple?

Reminds me of one of the issues I continue to have with Derrick Jensen. I’ve been reading Endgame, Part I for the last few days (there will be a full right up on each volume as I get through them) and one recurring theme keeps stricking me again and again. He keeps talking about “stopping them.” Them being anyone with money, or power or influence in this country. And I believe, though I cannot be certain, that anyone with money includes the middle class and up. But even if it does not, I still take exception to that.

I grew up in the upper-middle, middle class (ie… we were doing better than most, but not truly upper-middle.) My parents may be foolish and republican and blinded by the facade of civilization, but they never made decisions that they recognized as being toxic for the world, or its future. I, too, spent a short part of my adult life in that same economic standing. I left it because I was not happy, my life seemed hollow and dull. But I did not actively encourage any of the things destroying the planet even when I did embrace that life (short tho it was).

On the flip, Derrick spends a lot of time in his books exploring the psychological trauma that all civilized persons undergo, from birth. So is it the case that some people (the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized) are excused from their guilt because of this trauma, whereas others (the wealthy, the powerful – remember on a world wide scale, this includes ALL americans) are not? Does he honestly believe that our leaders in Washington are consciously and intentionally trying to destroy the planet?

I don’t think so.

Now, it is true, I believe, that when W was in office, he made decisions that were specifically designed to satisfy biblical prophecy leading up to Armageddon. That’s disturbing on all kinds of levels. But just the same, in his mind, he honestly believed that this was best for mankind. So call him insane. Call him fundamentalist (synonyms, IMO), but that does not make him evil. (Some other things may make him evil, but in the same way that an abuser that started as a victim is evil.)

All of this is merely to say that I am not going to go around carrying the weight of guilt for the horrors of civilization. I didn’t do it, and pretending that I did would only paralyze me with grief and shame. But at the same time, I am not going to go around pointing the finger at anyone else, either. We live within a system that has repeatedly had “only the best intentions” (even when that was a blatant, self serving lie, it was still believed.) And those best intentions have created some of the most horrific and devastating effects the planet has ever seen.

So yes, the end of civilization will be a tremendous boon for human and non-human life across the globe. But finger pointing and best intentions aside, it will be neither easy, nor painless, nor without horrible loss of life. Individually, we need to stop thinking otherwise, and focus our attentions on doing what we can to create something better. Whether we survive it, individually, or not is irrelevant. But we can share ideas, imagine possibilities and share those thoughts with as many others as possible and THAT is what will enable humanity to find another way.

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Responses

  1. I agree that we need stop looking to place blame and stop trying to “stop them”. But,

    > in his mind, he honestly believed that this
    > was best for mankind. So call him insane.
    > Call him fundamentalist (synonyms, IMO),
    > but that does not make him evil.

    What he believed is irrelevant to his evilness. Actions make evil, not intentions.

    I disagree that because people “believe” their actions are good, then there actions are not evil. That seems just a fancy way of saying that the ends justify the means. (I’m not sure if this is what you were trying to say or not, but that is how I interpreted it.)

    JimFive

  2. Hey —

    ummm… no, I was falling back more on “the worst atrocities in history have been done based on the best intentions” Things like missionaries in Africa…..

    and yeah…. W may be evil. In fact, I generally assume he is, but I *do* tend to look more at intentions than consequences. Especially since so often the worst of it is the unintended consequences. I’ve had some pretty nasty unintended consequences myself, so I’m still focusing on the plank in my own eye 😉

    tp

  3. I guess that’s where I disagree. The fact that missionaries in Africa had the best intentions doesn’t negate the fact that the result of their actions was the destruction of entire societies. That destruction was evil(*).

    (*) Ok, I have a really hard time in ethical discussions because I don’t like any of the words. I don’t like to use the words “good” or “evil” because of the religious connotation (evil is what god says it is). I also don’t like “right” or “wrong” because those tend to degenerate into “Things we approve of” and “Things we disapprove of”. What I really want to say is that an action is morally correct if it enhances the perpetuation of life on the planet and an action is morally incorrect if it inhibits the perpetuation of life on the planet and most actions are morally neutral because they have no impact on the perpetuation of life. Destroying cultures in Africa inhibits the perpetuation of life on the planet and therefore is marally incorrect/wrong/evil. So if you have any suggestions for language, that’d be great.

    JimFive

    Sorry about the long aside

  4. Hey —

    Oh… I’m not trying to negate their actions. Quite the contrary. But I am more concerned with addressing the *causes* behind their actions than worrying about the ethics of thier behavior. They were civilized humans acting like civilized humans. Surprise surpise.

    And I *totally* agree with you on the moral/right/good language thing. And even your definition of moral and immoral. But back to the pointing fingers thing… we can point out immoral acts, or we can do things to try and prevent them from being possible/conceivable in the future. And that’s where my head is at.

    tp

  5. I agree with everything you wrote except:

    “we can do things to try and prevent them from being possible/conceivable in the future. ”

    My pessimism tells me that we can’t even do that. I am only heartened by the quote from Max Planck:
    “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents; it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning.”

    So teach your children well.

    JimFive

    Another aside. I have a nearly 3 year old child. It is nearly impossible for me to teach Em(*) “right” from “wrong” when I don’t even believe the words mean anything useful. On the bright side, I hope E’ll have a good grounding in philosophy.

    (*) Usage Note: Third person gender neutral personal pronoun E = he/she, Em = him/her, Es = His/Hers I try not to reveal the identify my child on the internet.

  6. Hey, tp, I tried to look up your essay There is nothing wrong with people and the link is broken. 😦

    I think both evil intentions and evil actions are a reality. Evil actions — meant or not — are the ones with the impact…

    I go with Jensen. We all carry responsibility for what is going on, but some people carry a lot more than the rest of us.

  7. Hey —

    Yeah… Max has a good point, there… and fundamentally I agree with it… but I do think that there are actions we can take, ideas we can express, relationships that we can engage in, that will begin to create a new paradigm for that next generation to embrace. And that is where I focus.

    My kid is sixteen now and whatever else I accomplished or failed to accomplish, he *does* use his brain and question anything that does not immediately make sense to him. Which, after growing up with me, is most things in this culture 🙂

    tp

  8. > I go with Jensen. We all carry responsibility for what is going on, but some people carry a lot more than the rest of us.

    I prefer Jason Godesky’s recent essay on personal responsibility that argued that personal responsibility is a red herring when dealing with systemic problems.

    JimFive

  9. Vera — try this: https://terrapraeta.wordpress.com/2007/12/11/nothing-wrong-with-people/

    Jason’s essay was inspired, I believe, by Jensen’s essay on “taking fewer showers”;-)

    And I, too, think they are both right in that. We cannot bear the grief, the horror, the responsibility for civilization and its actions. But there is a point, if you are approaching things systemically, where it is important to understand that we are inside of it. That makes the only reasonable recourse (if available at all) to be to get the hell out. Only from the outside can we stand tall and free and plot a different course. But then the problem is how to escape?

    tp

  10. Can you link Jason’s essay?
    Why would it be a red herring? I mean, to argue that I can save the world by recycling is BS, and Jensen says as much. But to assume that what I do is irrelevant is nuts as well.

    Aren’t we concerned and trying to figure out the mess because we have assumed responsibility?

  11. “if you are approaching things systemically, where it is important to understand that we are inside of it. That makes the only reasonable recourse (if available at all) to be to get the hell out. Only from the outside can we stand tall and free and plot a different course. But then the problem is how to escape?”

    Now youz talking! I did not mean responsibility for all the crap civ churns out. I mean for figuring out how to quit feeding the beast. 🙂

  12. Jensen’s essay: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801/

    the “red herring” is along the lines of blaming a poor person for being in poor health or fat, knowing that the poor have less access to medical care, to healthy food, to health clubs, ski vacations etc

    tp

  13. Jason’s Essay is at

    http://tobyspeople.com/ideas/personal-responsibility

    I would addto tp’s comment that the mantra of personal responsibility is a red herring in that it distracts us from the fact that the problem is systemic. If a poor person is fat as a result of a system that coerces them into eating bad food it is a distraction from the real problem to say “it’s their responsibility, they should eat better”.

  14. I did read Jensen. I am gonna peek at Jason’s essay, I did not read it. I figured it was a rant of his regarding fat and his inability to shed it.

    Off hand, I would say that a poor person eating crap is still responsible, to some extent, just like the rest of us. They have a harder time of it though. Just like the rich and powerful have a far easier time of it than the rest of us. Some responsibility is always there. And with it, begins change.

  15. Ah, sorry… I thought you were looking for Jensen’s essay, vera….

    just to clarify this whole poor-fat thing…. I have been very poor at times in the last two years. When I don;t have money, my first priority is food. Even so, during those times, raman is really tempting. the difference in overall health between eating raman everyday and eating a chicken breast and fresh veggies is HUGE and the cost difference is equally huge (if not even more so). So be careful there… think how much a bag of potato chips costs compared to an orange. and that’s not even getting into the heavier systemic issues of having enough time to cook, of not being so brainwashed by tv (your only “free” entertainment as far as pop culture is concerned) you cannot even consider cooking, and so on and so forth….

    tp

  16. I been poor too. I ate a lot of brown rice and veggies with yogurt and scraps of bacon the butcher saved for me on the cheap. And I did not have money for burgers or chips or sweets. 🙂

    Hey, isn’t unplugging the TV part of one’s own responsibility? Especially now when TV reception costs.

    I know what you are saying… change is not easy, and it’s harder when a person is scrambling. But if they don’t do it, who will? If Jason doesn’t put a priority on getting his food/exercise together, who the heck will do it for him?

    Of course, if he jumps and turns into a forager, then the system will do it for him. True enough.

  17. Vera,
    Imagine if Jason moved to a place, or got a job at a place, that allowed him to stop at a produce stand on his walk home from work. That is, a situation where it is convenient to be healthy, and inconvenient to be unhealthy.

    Then it becomes much easier to lose weight. Because, humans are lazy, and no amount of beratement is going to “fix” that.

    JimFive

    btw…I’m done for the day…Have a good evening.

  18. Hey Jim —

    Thanks for the good conversation today. Good stuff 😉

    Vera — of course we need to make our own choices… no one here (i suspect) would ever disagree with that. The point is simply that when you exist within a system that is pushing THAT way, it becomes increasingly difficult to move THIS way… and that is where the fat poor red herring comes in. Its easy to be healthy when you can buy organic produce, free range beef and all the desired seasonings and herbal supplements you want. Not so much when every meal has a budget of a buck twenty five. (Usually much less, in families)

    tp

  19. This has been fun, thank you both. I too need to ring off.

    Yes, no disagreement about system pushing this way. I think though that people confuse responsibility with blame. I would not dream of berating Jason.

    Humans are lazy. I think I will turn that into my thesis #1. 🙂


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