Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why are we as a people worth saving? Reflecting on Battlestar Galactica's finale

The reimagined Battlestar Galactica has been a wild roller coaster journey and now it is over. My earlier posting was a study on some of the ways BSG reflected current events and having watched the final episode I am in awe with how this tied up, and most especially how it relates to the themes I cover on this blog. For me the point of the ending was a demonstration of a way to end the cycle of violence, however I'm not quite in agreement with their apparent decision that technology is the root of the evil humans do to each other. As an ending of this show, the colonial humans are depicted finding a planet with primitive tribal people, then deciding to give up on their technology and go native, rather than rebuilding the society they knew. As if it's the technology that's the problem.

But before I get too far down this path, it's likely that a few of you readers don't know what Battlestar Galactica is. It's a fraking TV show, where frak is a swear word, where the human race is in danger of extinction, and... well, I've attached a couple videos to the end which may help you to catch the frak up.

All through this show humans have been in a war with Cylons. Cylons are robotic beings with blinking eyes that swing back and forth. Essentially the Cylons represent technology developed to a level we are beginning to glimpse. Machines with enough something to make us think they are people.

It was the machines which threatened humanity. It was the machines which had to be killed, for humanity to survive, and that was the ending. They killed off all the machines, except for the ones who helped them. But was this the only possible conclusion?

The Cycle of Violence throughout history

The series demonstrated a cycle of violence spanning thousands of years. A refrain all along has been "This has all happened before, and it will happen again." The context in which the show was developed is the terrorism filled world since September 11, 2001, and it sure does seem in our world there is a cycle of violence which goes on and on and on and when will it ever end. How can it end? How can we stop the pattern of killing each other? That's what I want to know, what about you?

Consider the war in Iraq, which just entered its sixth year. It's a stupid illegal war, sure, but it's a continuation of a cycle of violence as well. The Iraq war was perpetrated supposedly because of the September 11, 2001 attacks except that the Iraqi's had nothing to do with that attack, meaning the war was perpetrated really because of megalomania among the Neocon leaders then in control of Washington. Go back in recent and ancient history, and we find a long series of events not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the Middle East over generations. There was the prior war in Iraq, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the continuing fighting between Israel and her neighbors, on and on, including a 1920 war where Great Britain invaded Iraq to occupy the country for many years at a cost of thousands of British soldiers. But it doesn't begin there, it goes back further and further into our history.

War is a continuing practice of human societies. Is it something we really want to be doing? Not really. I think most of us want to live our lives on our own terms. But clearly there's something which drives human societies to war.

One can map patterns in the cycles of violence. A grudge leads to seeking revenge, a misstatement leads to misunderstanding leads to estrangement, on and on. Escaping the cycle of violence involves taking a different path than the typical pattern. It requires choosing differently than seeking revenge or otherwise using your anger to incite more violence.

Violence piled upon violence begets more violence.

I began to see this theme being present in BSG around season 4 episode 10. The Cylons had had their own civil war, the humans met the remnants of one faction in the Cylon civil war, and they made a tacit alliance. In the heat of a showdown between the humans and these renegade Cylons, Lee Adama took a different way than escalating the showdown. Rather than escalate and escalate, he proffered peace, acceptance, a handshake, and an agreement to work together. It was a difficult path which did not go down well with the fleet, leading to a bloody mutiny.

This show ended with humanity as a whole choosing to take a different route than continue the cycle of violence. They found Earth, our Earth, but 150,000 years ago, inhabited by primitive tribes of hunter gatherers wandering the wilderness. They were a technologically advanced race, they could have landed and built a city of technological marvels. But they chose to give up their technology and join the natives of this planet.

Why?

Does destroy the tool used to engage in violence end the cycle?

Are they thinking it was their use of technology which led to their problems? One view is that their problems came from developing the Cylons, that their technology rose up to equal themselves and became a danger to their survival. Hence they could be thinking that technology is the danger, and that to be safe they must give up technology.

The reimagined BSG began with a foreboding speech by Commander Adama

The Cylon war was long ago, yet we must not forget the reason why so many suffered so much in the cause of freedom. The cost of wearing the uniform can be high...but...

Sometimes its too high.

When we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction, but we never answered the question "Why". Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept responsibility for anything that we've done, like we did with the Cylons. We decided to play god, create life. When that life turned against us we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really.

You cannot play god and then wash your hands of the things that you have created.

Sooner or later the day comes when you cannot hide from the things that you've done anymore.

Why are we as a people worth saving?

All through the show the on-screen people never asked nor answered the "Why" question. They simply acted for their own survival. In the end they chose to give up their technology and start from a clean slate. Their clean slate created our society now, and the things Cmdr Adama said on the Galactica could be said about us today.

We, our people, our society, commits murder because of greed, spite, jealousy and more. We, our people, our society, still visits all our sins upon our children. And are we, our people, our society, accepting responsibility for our actions? No. We, our people, our society, is playing god, creating life, exploring the universe around us, etc.

Global warming and other dangers is in a way a response to the things that we, our people, our society, created. Our creations are causing great ecological and political harm across the world. Harm which threatens the survival of our society.

It isn't said in the series why the Colonial humans gave up their technology to go native on the planet they found. It is up to us to ponder why they would do that, and what we would do in that situation.

This is my pondering.. I wonder whether technology is the root of the problem. I think people can be angry with one another regardless of the technology they have in their hands. People can kill each other with rocks and spears and fists, just as they can kill each other with nuclear weapons.

Technology has an amplifying effect on everything we do. Using technology we can blow the tops off 50 million year old mountain ranges (to get the coal underneath), and using technology we can rain death upon whole continents. Technology helps us be more efficient at our conduct of war and murder because of greed, spite or jealousy. Technology helps us be more efficient at inflicting sins upon our children or our neighbors.

But is technology the problem? Methinks technology is a tool we use to amplify things we do, and that the problem lies within ourselves. It is humans who still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. It is not the machines which do that, it is human beings who choose to do that to one another.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

Well, there is a question hanging here. What happens when the guns become self aware intelligent beings in their own right? What happens when the guns can make their own decisions? Today the U.S. military is pouring megadollars into researching robotic weapons. Perhaps the U.S. will "pull out" of Iraq and leave behind a robotic army to continue dominating Iraq. In any case the roboticists are ignoring Asimov's laws of Robotics, violating the first rule of Robotics, and creating robotic machines whose design is to kill people. What will happen in perhaps 20 years when enough computing power can be on those robots that they behave and act just like people. Will those robots begin clamoring for their rights? Will they turn on us? And if they do is the "guns don't kill people" adage still true?

If our tools stop being inanimate objects that have no volition of their own, are we responsible for their actions?


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