Are we evil? may be not, but we are no saints either

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

The following was a mail I intended to send to friend as a response to her observation that the recent trend in the sci-fi movies seem to be projecting humankind as villains, and that might be a reflection on how we are seeing ourselves now. I ended up sending the mail to a wrong person with the same name. Today I came across this mail when I was looking for something in my sent folder. This mail seems to be correctly summarizing on what I think about us, as a species.

The observations that you made in this post are interesting. However, I think that it’s a little far-fetched idea to infer that we started looking differently at humanity, from a change in the trend of sci-fi movies. This changing trend in the movies might have a more conservative explanation; that is that the old genre of ‘mean machines, and bad aliens vs us’ got too boring?
Just yesterday I was reading about Avatar’s background; seems like Cameron is more in agreement with you though:
<quote>
have a conscience “that maybe in the enjoying of it makes you think a little bit about the way you interact with nature and your fellow man”.[48] He added that “the Na’vi represent something that is our higher selves, or our aspirational selves, what we would like to think we are” and that even though there are good humans within the film, the humans “represent what we know to be the parts of ourselves that are trashing our world and maybe condemning ourselves to a grim future”.[48]
</quote>

Your post got me thinking about the ‘humane’ nature of humanity. Do you really think that as a collective, we stand for all the wonderful things associated with humane nature? I would like to think so, however the evidence is overwhelmingly on the  other side.  I think  we have among us people at all levels of humane – inhumane spectrum. IMO this humane-inhumane curve more or less follows a normal distribution.
However the situation is not hopeless IMO, at least not yet anyway. We might have within us the capability to move towards the good , and it seems that is exactly what had been happening for the past few centuries:

Hopefully the trend will continue.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey, that friend you’re referring to here is me!! 🙂 I just wanted to say a couple of things….

    One, in my post I did not mean to imply that being humane makes us wonderful, or better or any such positive thing. I just was pointing out how the qualities we used to say makes a human different from an otherwise superior machine has changed lately. Earlier books n movies tried to justify that our sense of judgement and thinking and feelings make us better than machines. Even if we have evil amongst us, and do many mistakes, due to all the other negative side-effects of it, we’re better off with it than not having it at all – it’s a cost we’ve to pay types. Nowadays, human beings are shown devoid of such qualities. Totally. Selfish and irrational, they lack good judgement. They will arrogantly go about doing things w/o any compelling logical reason to do so. It feels like they’re now trying to justify why we’re the biggest mistake of nature.

    Two, I feel all stories stem from some imaginary projection of some observations from reality, and so I think it does have some small iota of relation to how we see ourselves today. In that sense, I do not agree that the ‘only/major’ reason movies have changed is because the old stuff got boring and did not have the same entertainment value to sell. May be, from where we stand today, we’re not able to imagine creatively how and why we can still be better than machines?

    Three, I found the premise of Avatar quite unintelligent and superficial and too simplistic. To me, Cameroon’s views pasted here sound like a hollow corporate justification for making the movie this way. To me, Avatar’s appeal was its visuals alone. May be sci-fi today is about that and not the stories of future.

    • Nobody says:

      1a) From where we are standing today, it’s clear that the machines of the future will be able to think, judge, and feel. There are already prototypes of systems that are demonstrating what can possibly be viewed as very rudimentary form of these quintessentially human qualities. If judgment, thinking, and feelings are what make us better than machines, then in a distant future where machines have these capabilities, we can no longer claim to be superior. Well, we can be proud of the fact that we created those machines in the first place. It looks like machines are part of the evolutionary tree. A logical next step seems to be hybrid forms of creatures that are part biological and part electronic/mechanical : http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_blackmore_on_memes_and_temes.html

      1b) I think we are not on the same page w.r.t. humans being shown devoid of humane qualities these days. May be I should watch those movies that you mentioned to get your perspective. I don’t think you could accuse ‘Avatar’ of this though. There were both good and bad people in the movie.

      1c) ‘biggest mistake of the nature’, we might just be; If the current rate of destruction of nature continues, there might not be any nature left to regret her biggest mistake 🙂

      2) I completely agree with you here. BTW, what is this need to tell ourselves that we are better than machines, or better than anything else for that matter?

      3) I agree that Avatar didn’t have much of a story. I watched Avatar before reading anyone’s views, including that of Cameron’s, on the movie. I was deeply touched by the movie. For me, it is not a story from the future, it is a story from the past. Replace Pandora with America circa 1500, and see if you can appreciate what I saw Avatar as.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Regd 1b – Okay, now I see the missing link. All my talking was wrt to the bad guys alone. I meant that the bad humans look stupid nowadays. Not intelligent, rational, logical, gray ones from before… whose reasoning we almost fall for.. if you know what I mean? Good ones are more or less the same – slightly over the top emotional, highly moral and fair, a bit impractical folks.

    Regd 1c – I donno if we can surely say the nature would not have been destroyed by other animals. I think being selfish is not very specific to humans.

  3. Nobody says:

    OK, I think I now understand what you meant by our perception of ourselves has changed. Leaving aside the exaggeration that is typical of the movies, I think it’s a good thing we are able to acknowledge our mistakes. Realizing our mistakes is the first step to fixing them. For a long time, the paradigm guiding the world had been what was said in Genesis: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We are finally at a place where we can clearly see how fragile the ecosystem is, and what we have done to it. Let’s hope we would have the prudence to act before it’s too late.

    I agree. If it’s not us, it’s likely that some other species might have filled in the spot and done exactly the same thing. However that doesn’t absolve us of being the ‘biggest mistake of the nature’ in the current scenario. Also, nature has built-in checks and balances to make sure over-proliferation any particular species won’t bring down the entire ecosystem. Perhaps, we are the first species to successfully bypass those checks and balances. The higher level mental faculties that have enabled us to achieve this, also give us the wisdom to realize the doings of the ‘selfish gene’. Ultimately what matters is whether we succumb to our primary animal instincts or whether we have what it takes to listen to our conscience and let our actions be guided by our higher level human qualities.

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