Wednesday, 20 May 2015

21. Stranger than fiction: The rejection of the weak

Many of the latest* science fiction TV series and movies picture a futuristic dystopian world that has involved instead of evolved. Instead of peace, harmony and more tolerance, there is more separation and conflict. Either chaos or the system itself alienates the poor, the weak, and build walls to separate the uncivilized who need to fight for their survival (eg The Hunger Games series). But why are we collectively fantasising with this sort of future? 

Science fiction experts often point out that it is a genre that is actually based in very real aspects of life: our anxieties, fears, our view of the world. For example, they describe Star Trek as an optimistic 60s vision of the world, tolerant and diverse (a team composed by men and women of different races), going out to space as Victorian expeditioners to teach others about civilization. 

  • Invasions in general were a reflection of the anxieties over the tensions between empires first, the cold war later on and terrorist attacks to this day (the latest invasions attacked big landmarks, creating an subconscious link with the attack to the twin towers). 
  • In particular, aliens are mostly about our view of the "other", our fear of the other: other nations, foreigners, terrorists. Alien is of course a very scary other with a parasitic life cycle that ends up killing you. One of the exemptions was ET. ET is a positive take where the "other" was the hostile adult world seen through the eyes of the child: we cannot see the faces of most adults, adults are holding guns against children (only a re-masterisation done later changed many of the guns to look like walkie-talkies) and even the camera is at a child's height. But the child, Elliot, gets in contact with ET, this short-but-adult alien, who turns out to be someone who's lost and just wants to go home. Through this encounter with the ET, he also meets an adult, "Keys" -the government agent- who remembers how he felt as a child: an alien-adult that becomes an adult with a face, a dream and a story. 
  • The change of the millennium, or even the mystic 2012, brought a lot of apocalyptic movies, etc, etc. 
  • You see the point, right?

The so-called migrant crisis, with people fleeing from civil war zones and extreme poverty, seems to come close to the dystopian worlds of some of these sci-fi/SF stories.

This cartoon has been shared on social media. Simon Kneebone, the Australian cartoonist who drew it, tried to explain why people are sharing it

"The issues are complicated and complex. I think that we perhaps have mixed emotions, that we might not always be comfortable with. We feel for the refugees but are threaten a bit as well. The cartoon sidesteps getting bogged down in the angst, and says simply that we all fellow humans on this planet… And where we happen to be on the planet isn’t that important. I think it is being shared because it resonates with our inner human."

How much complex can it get? Has anyone ever come up with a good solution to a civil war? An authoritarian leader to unite everyone in fear? External intervention that imposes itself violently and denies self-determination? Let the war take its course and accept that mass killings will happen?
How complex can it get when the countries shutting their doors to the people fleeing these areas are seeing the sales of the weapons to the war zones going up 25%?
How complex can it get when the argument to reduce the budget for the rescue missions in the Mediterranean is that rescuing people actually encourage more to take the risk? Of course that meant, deaths should work as a deterrent.
How complex can it get when people feel pity or even mercy but does not want their country to receive migrants?

The premise of this blog is that everything that is happening in the world is somehow a fractal representation of what goes on at all levels of society, down to our own minds. There has always been a divide between the weak and the strong. And the strong tend to show no mercy, even cruelty towards the weak. Ethnic cleansing, racism, child abuse, chauvinism and violence against women, animal cruelty. There is always a weak one**.
It's curious to see how economic theory tried (and keeps trying) to justify tax cuts (increasing benefits) for the rich as a way of providing stimuli to do their jobs of creating more wealth better, whilst also justifying reducing benefits (taxing) to the poor as a stimuli for them work harder. Of course, here the words tax and benefits are important to the narrative but basically the paradoxical logic seems to be "we need to make things more difficult for the weak for them to try harder, and easier for the strong... for them to work less hard(?)". I don't know. I said it was paradoxical.

But of course, this is false strength. It is strength defined by the rejection of what's weak, instead of the acceptance, integration and the resolution of weakness.
Ai Weiwei's son, 6 year-old Ai Lao who lives away from his father in Berlin***, said to him by phone: "In fact, your persecutors aren't that much better off than you. You may have to run away from them -- but they have to run after you all the time, too." Through his son's insight, Ai Weiwei concluded that the angst and insecurity he feels reflects the state of China angst and insecurity, instead of its strength. Read the Spiegel's interview to Weiwei here.

When trying to understand any of these issues, past or present, the immediate thing to consider is our weak, vulnerable, poor, hungry side we tend to hide from the world. And reflect: How do we treat it? Are we rejecting it as a way to build up a (false) sense of strength? 
Are we hearing its needs, feeding it with love? Do we know what do we need?What's our lack? How do we feel in front of someone who can see it? Are we willing to stand for it or do we hide in shame? How do we treat ourselves when we get sick? When we failed? When we get rejected? Do we treat ourselves with love or try to build a wall around that experience to hide the shame? In the age where people are "branding" themselves and only present a perfectly curated version of their lives in social media, these questions are very relevant. 
Are we strong enough to offer a helping hand to our own weaknesses? So how do we ever expect society to do it if we are not able to?


*I mention the latest films, but not forgetting films like Metropolis (Germany, 1927) that touched similar topics.

**Stories about slave classes rising (clones in Cloud Atlas, robots in i-Robot, Terminator, Matrix) are also related to this separation of weak and strong, but seen through the eyes of who's in control: the ones in power fear the rise of the ones that follow orders -the unconscious- they fear losing their supremacy and power. It is not very difficult to pair these anxieties with actual pieces of news: a few days ago, Johann Rupert said he cannot sleep at night at the thought of a social upheaval. In any case, the theme of slavery is surprisingly recurring in fiction and more and more in the news.

Let's bear in mind that robot's etymology: derived from the word robota, meaning forced labour. Even if this theme literally deals with the fear of technology, it is also about the fear of creation and parenthood, more specifically "imperfect" creation, responsibility and recognising the individuality of what's created. 

*** After the publication of this post, Wei Wei had his passport returned by the Chinese authorities and have reunited with his family.

Other links:
The Guardian: Italian coastguards: military action will not solve Mediterranean migrant crisis
Russell Brand - The Trews: Australia: still a prison colony?