Avatar — The New Testament of the Church of the Left

26 01 2010

So against my better judgment, I decided to fork over a bit of my hard-earned cash to multi-gazillionaire James Cameron in order to take in his latest big-budget extravaganza Avatar. I freely admit that I came to the movie prepared to hate it. After reading quite a few of the reviews and seeing pretty much the whole story in the trailers (I liked this movie the first time I saw it when it was called “Dances with Wolves”) I was braced for the inevitable political sucker punch. I wasn’t disappointed. It wouldn’t be a James Cameron movie after all if it didn’t take a smack at conservatives, Republicans, the military, corporations, technology and contain the underlying Marxist world view that shows up in much of Cameron’s work.

Despite all that, I found myself enjoying the movie. Nobody does popcorn-chomping eye-dazzling action-packed spectaculars better than Cameron and Avatar shows off Cameron at the top of his game. The movie is stunningly beautiful. The world of Pandora is a lush Eden crafted with the eye of an artist and the latest in cutting edge technology to be completely appealing and wondrous to a crowd of people safely ensconced in a comfortable theater seat in a climate controlled environment (remember that, it’ll be important later). The incoherence and stupidity of the plot set aside, Avatar is a fun movie, essentially a beautiful sci-fi landscape painting created by a master.

What I found most interesting though, is that Avatar is incredibly valuable as a roadmap to the mindset of the modern left wing mind. It is, essentially, the New Testament to the anti-Church of the Left.

Allow me to explain that. If you’ve ever read the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, they predicted years ago the alteration in character that would come over American politics as Baby Boomers began to take the reigns of national power. Baby Boomers are a “Prophet” generation. Prophets:

“… are values-driven, moralistic, focused on self, and willing to fight to the death for what they believe in- and they can convince other people to join them in the fight. They grow up as the increasingly indulged children of a High, come of age as the young crusaders of an Awakening, enter midlife as moralistic leaders during an Unraveling and are the wise, elder leaders of the next Crisis.”

Thus what we’re dealing with in modern American politics is a Left that is no longer a political force but a religious one, one that recognizes no separation between the political, the personal and the religious and is not averse to using secular politics as a club to push its agenda. It no longer just defines itself by what it opposes (western culture, individualism, capitalism, Judeo-Christian religions, patriarchy, industrialism) but has congealed a sort of “anti-church” built on philosophical pillars every bit as dogmatic, irrational, intolerant and inflexible as anything proposed by a Crusading Pope.

Basically what this philosophy seems to boil down to is a classic return to Eden myth as portrayed in “Avatar.” This difference is in the character of that Eden. Rather than an impersonal and patriarchal sky god, the centerpiece of this faith is Gaia, the warm, matriarchal communal spirit of the Earth. This is represented in the film as a literal biological link between the Nav’i and the native wildlife as well as a bio-electric network that links all the planet’s life in a sort of communal oversoul. Humans have sinned against the Earth Mother through all of those things I previously mentioned. As the main character in the movie says, he comes from an Earth with no green, where the humans killed their mother — the goddess within the planet.

Once the tenets of the new religion become clear, so much of modern Left-wing thought also becomes clear. Everything from the zealous belief in global warming (persecution of “deniers,” humans as a disease giving the Earth a “fever”) to the Messianic appeal of Barack Obama, to the embrace of socialism, the sinful nature of unapproved extravagances (SUVs, fur coats, McMansions, processed foods), the attempted suppression of heretical texts (FOX News, talk radio), and the enshrinement of perfect equality (of outcome, not opportunity) as the be-all and end-all of social organization.

If there is a philosopher I loathe more than Jean-Jacques Rousseau, I am hard-pressed to think of him. As awful as modern monsters like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn are, they don’t hold a candle to the influence of Rousseau’s theory of the “Natural Man.” Check out this passage:

“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody. ”
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, 1754

That may very well be the most damaging passage written in all of human history and Rousseau’s fingerprints are all over “Avatar.” The Romantic and frankly racist idea that mankind in a state of nature is somehow living a better life than those who utilize technonology reminds me of a comment written by P.J. O’Rourke (paraphrased) about how the only people who call the jungle a rainforest are those who have never been there. The irony of “Avatar” is that Pandora is exactly what Rousseau envisioned — natural people living in harmony with the land, sleeping in a tree that literally envelopes them in love when they lay down for the night — and it took the most sophisticated technology mankind has ever invented to create it.

It’s no concidence that people like Cameron, who view the natural world through the windows of an 8,500 square-foot bungalow in Malibu or at the wreckage of the Titanic through the glass of their own personal submarine, have a Romantic view of nature. Like Marie Antoinette and her court who used to play at being peasants once a year in a suitably cleaned-up peasant village, James Cameron and his ilk sit at the top of technological pyramid supported by an enormous amount of infrastructure built by people who work harder for much less money in much less glamorous circumstances. Life for folks like Cameron is so nerfed and removed of it’s rough edges that they don’t even realize how utterly removed from the reality of life for 99.9% of humanity throughout history they really are.

Thank goodness you're one of those hot aliens, otherwise I'd never betray my own species for you.

At one point in the movie, the main character say that the Na’vi want nothing from us, that all we can offer them is “light beer and blue jeans.” Ya know, for the majority of humans who live lives as “natural” as the Na’vi, that sounds like a pretty good deal. We tend to forget that rattlesnakes, tornadoes, smallpox, a 35-year life span, 40% infant mortality and rancid food are also “natural.” These are all things that Cameron has never experienced but I guarantee that the Na’vi have. Of course, neither have I, but the difference is I’m appreciative of the collossal level of human ingenuity and industry that has worked for two million years to give me a really comfortable life and I never take it for granted. Nor would I make a movie that called me a monster for encouraging others to improve their own lot in life.

It’s not for nothing that Cameron is taking flak for his comments in Entertainment Weekly that he “likes ecoterrorism.” I’m sure he does — at least until it’s his own house that gets burned or his own movie set that gets sabotaged. For “kings of the world” like Cameron, money and jobs and economic disruption are just unfortunate things that happen to little people. They don’t really count anyway, after all. They’re just proles who’s major function in life is to fill theater seats in Cameron’s movies.

Indeed, it’s sort of ironic that even within the movie, the characters rely on a technological solution — transferring their conciousness into a cloned body — to get back to nature. Without that technology, they can’t even breathe the air. I think that’s a metaphor also, but not quite the one Cameron meant.

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On V, Obama and the Worship of the State

5 11 2009

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So I watched the premier of the the “re-imagining” of “V” on ABC last night. The series is, of course, a retread of the early-’80s vintage piece of sci-fi cheese that starred the Beastmaster, Jane Badler’s sexy shoulder pads and the blonde chick from The Greatest American Hero. The storyline remains the same. A race of aliens that look just like human beings land on Earth bearing a message of peace and an offer of technological assistance in return for our friendship and a chemical they need to survive. Naturally there’s more to the “Visitors” than meets they eye and as they insinuate themselves more and more into our daily lives, they gradually begin to assume a fascist control over our world, sparking the inevitable rag-tag resistance filled with photogenic rebels.

The good news is, the re-make is actually quite good. I enjoyed it and since everybody knows by now that the aliens are actually carnivorous lizards disguised as humans, the producers wisely chose to get that minor revelation out of the way in the first half hour and move on to the real meat of the story which is apparently a criticism of the Obama Administration and the cult of personality which has grown up around our President — particularly the slavish nature of the mainstream media. It’s tough to miss if you’ve been paying any attention at all to, like, life since the coming of The One. At various points Anna, the leader of the Visitors, makes pretty speeches to the frightened citizens of Earth, addressing themselves to protesters against the aliens’ presence, telling them that embracing change is difficult but that we must resign ourselves to it and promising them all kinds of goodies if only they’ll place themselves in the Visitors’ caring hands. At one point, Anna tells reporter Chad Decker (played by Party of Five’s Scott Wolf) that the Visitors would like to become the Earth’s sole health care providers — literally offering us “Universal” Health Care.

It’s Wolf’s reporter character that makes the criticism most obvious. Decker is a pretty-boy talking head on a cable news channel who has dreams of being a real reporter (a story idea he comes up with is praised by his boss and then handed off to another journalist while Decker is directed to return to his TelePrompTer). Yet when presented with an opportunity to be a real reporter, Decker muffs it — twice. First he actually shuts down fellow journalists who have the temerity to ask Anna some semi-tough questions, telling them to “have some respect.” Having shown himself to be pliable, Decker is then offered the opportunity for the first one-on-one interview with Anna where he’s told to “not ask any questions that might put us in a bad light.” When he objects, he’s told his big exclusive will be cancelled unless he plays ball. He does so and delivers a softball interview, only to be offered an ongoing exclusive arrangement with the Visitors that basically turn Decker into Anna’s Chris Matthews. On accepting this arrangement, he’s actually told by one of the Visitors that “sacrificing one’s principles for the greater good isn’t a bad thing.” That, of course, could be the motto for the Obama Administration.

The big thing though, is the worshipful attitude that the public begins to adopt about the Visitors. They are literally the “Deus ex Machina” — the machine out of the sky that has come to solve all our problems. It’s also the element that’s most changed with the original series which was a pretty explicit analogue for Nazi Germany and a forceful fascist takeover. The difference is mainly in tone. Rather than an explicit takeover, the new series seems to be more about gradually conditioning the populace to depend upon the Visitors for everything and turning gratitude into worship. It’s not for nothing that one of the lead characters in the new series is a Catholic priest who is dismayed rather than overjoyed by the suddenly filled pews in his church (he disagrees with the Pope’s acceptance of the Visitors as God’s creations by pointing out that rattlesnakes are God’s creations too.) He realizes that times of strife can awaken religious longings in people in search of security — longings that can be subverted by those looking for power by replacing God with the State.

It’s this theme that resonates most strongly with Obama. Now before the objections start, I am NOT comparing Barack Obama to Hitler or a Nazi. What I am saying is that — as Jonah Goldberg points out in “Liberal Fascism,” — both American liberalism and fascism share intellectual roots. Both are ultimately concerned with the proper ordering of society and the proper redistribution of wealth along regimented, almost militaristic lines in the interest of complete equality and fairness of outcome. The problem with that, of course, is that that is incompatible with individual free choice, so naturally that’s the first thing that has to go. There’s also the idea of the State as cornucopia — the font of all good things. At the heart of this idea is the belief that it’s the responsibility of the state to care for its citizens in loco parentis, — a key point of contention for those like me who would like the State to stay the Hell out of our business.

Of course, bringing this up irks Obama supporters no end. Thin-skinned as our Dear Leader seems to be, they seem offended by the idea that a mere science fiction series might be criticizing Obama or worse — pointing out the almost religious cult of personality that’s grown up around him — so they do their best to dismiss it. I’ve heard everything from the fact that this re-make was in development before Obama was elected to it being a mistake to read too much into an action-adventure series to the fact that the storyline is a pretty solid match for the original. The last seems pretty ridiculous to me. It’s like saying that the new “Battlestar Galactica” wasn’t about the War on Terror because the original series was a sci-fi re-telling of the Book of Mormon (which it was, by the way.) As for not reading too much into it — this is science fiction people. This is the genre where, as Rod Serling pointed out, “A Martian can say things a politician can’t.” Metaphor and allegory are as natural to the form as rockets and rayguns. Why get so upset? I got over the Anvilicious “red energy is the source of all evil, blue energy is the source of all goodness” political commentary in Astro Boy. You can get over this.

The original “V” showed the “1984”-esque face of fascism — the “iron boot stamping on a human face, forever.” The new one shows the kinder, gentler sort of fascism, the “Brave New World” –esque universal nanny state. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with it and whether Obama’s supporters can be as tolerant of criticism as they claim to be.