Friday, January 15, 2010

'Avatar' meant so many things to people who can't enjoy a movie for movie's sake anymore . It reminded some of the word 'mindless greed' that has, of late, become capitalism's evil twin … the love-hate, ever-straining, long distance relationship we seem to have with Mommy Nature … the notion that behind every successful science lies an evil businessman and that military people are the most lethal, misfit tourists to be scorned these days in alien lands … the disregard and disrespect for the culture and the values of other societies by nations overplaying their self-appointed reformist roles with spurious ulterior motives (That's right! The statement is left intentionally vague ) … and among many other things, Hollywood's playful reaffirmation of pantheistic ideas.

The age of humans conceding defeat in a science fiction movie has dawned.

Let me begin by saying that I cannot conclusively refute any of the above arguments. In fact, I would go to ridiculous proportions to believe that Nature, if given a chance would have prevented the emergence of humans by distracting the chimps with gizmos and lesser/negative libidos, there by, preventing any further constructive evolution. Nevertheless ….

My beef with the movie Avatar is that it portrays a skewed battle. The obvious plotline of Avatar pits the war between evil science Vs. not so technological, yet humble nature-worshippers. If it amuses anyone to draw a parallel into the present world we live in, the battle seems laterally inverted. Doesn't it? The real battle today is actually between the humble conclusions of science (that we have no choice but to see ourselves as an integral part of the planet's ecology) Vs. the evil, not-so-technological myth-busters pumped up with arrogant prejudices. The victorious in the movie is a society whose structure is modeled on superstitions and not-so-wrong intuitive reverence to their habitat, and they luck out in their battle against a scientific civilization. It seems that the movie handpicked only incomplete traits from the scientific and the nature-worshipping worldviews for the sake of the story. There is an unmissable underlying theme that casts only a dark image on science while giving a clean chit to the ignorance in the daily life of a superstitious setup. For one thing, societies run on too much dogma and superstition have greater chance of instability than in an otherwise democratic society.

Can we hope to just get through our problems by shunning science and adopting some feel-good ideologies. I respectfully disagree. The process of scientific thinking has and will have to play a key role in making us realize our humble position and deliver us from our internecine lifestyle a.k.a. who the heck do you think can come up with a fusion reactor? At the risk of stating the obvious, the problem is not with the products of science and technology, it's the pre-conceived notions and misconceptions in our assumptions about our place in nature. We could have been respectful of nature and did science rather than historically use science to exploit it. But, how are these notions (clearly out of the field of science) influenced ? To partially answer the question, I quote the following from Joseph Campbell's "Myths to live by" :

(you may read this later... scroll down for the continuation)

Justify FullThere is a ridiculous nature-boy sentimentalism that with increasing force is taking over. Its beginnings date back to the eighteenth century of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with its artificial back-to-nature movements and conceptions of the Noble Savage. Americans abroad, from the period of Mark Twain onward, have been notorious exemplars of the idea, representing as conspicuously as possible the innocent belief that Europeans and Asians, living in older, stuffier environments, should be refreshed and wakened to their own natural innocencies by the unadulterated boorishness of a product of God's Country, our sweet American soil, and our Bill of Rights. In Germany, between wars, the Wandervögel, with their knapsacks and guitars, and the later Hitler Youth, were representatives of this reactionary trend in modern life. And now, right here in God's Country itself, idyllic scenes of barefoot white and black "Indians" camping on our sidewalks with their tomtoms, bedrolls, and papooses are promising to turn entire sections of our cities into fields for anthropological research. For, as in all societies, so among these, there are distinguishing costumes, rites of initiation, required beliefs, and the rest. They are here, however, explicitly reactionary and reductive, as though in the line of biological evolution one were to regress from the state of the chimpanzee to that
of the starfish or even amoeba. The complexity of social patterning is rejected and reduced, and with that, life freedom and force have been not gained but lost.

… talk by the Japanese Zen philosopher Dr. Daisetz T. Suzuki,which opened with an unforgettable contrast of the Occidental and Orientalunderstandings of the God-man-nature mystery. Commenting first on the Biblical view of the state of man following the Fall in Eden, "Man," he observed, "is against God, Nature is against God, and Man and Nature are against each other. God's own likeness (Man), God's own creation (Nature) and God himself -- all three are at war." Then, expounding the Oriental view, "Nature," he said, "is the bosom whence we come and whither we go." "Nature produces Man out of itself; Man cannot be outside of Nature.", "I am in Nature and Nature is in me."

The obvious lesson of all of which is that the first step to the knowledge of the highest divine symbol of the wonder and mystery of life is in the recognition of the monstrous nature of life and its glory in that character: the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think -- and their name is legion -- that they know how the universe could have been better than it is, how it would have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without life, are unfit for illumination. Or those who think -- as do many -- "Let me first correct society, then get around to myself" are barred from even the outer gate of the mansion of God's peace. All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it.

May be, I am reading too much between the lines. It's after all a story. How can a story be wrong or right? Frankly, only problem I have is what people are finding sexy about it. May be, we can interpret the story in a symbolic way. The mineral 'unobtainium' could be interpreted as the material equivalent of the Vedi concept of dharma (Virtue) in which the roots of the tree of (Na'vi) life are founded. May be the battle presented between mankind and the Na'Vis in the story represents the battle within our each own individual hearts - a constant duel between the spiritual experience of feeling human and the material fixations within us. The final battle between is won due to the intervention other organisms of Pandora connected through a bio-botanical neural network. This could signify the emergence of co-operation and connectivity among our own species to solve our problems. Why, as I write, almost $9 million have been donated online by Americans within 3 days for the victims of the Haiti earthquake - a splendid exemplification of internet and connectivity redefining our humanity and the way we feel about it.

Isn't art interpretation fun? If you can keep under three profound sentences … almost anyone could have a career in it :).

(Oops !!! I guess there were plot spoilers earlier)

Thanks to David Brooks of NYT for giving me the idea for this post.


Chaty said...

Nice one sashi! Its remarkable that more than $10 millions have been raised - the credit surely goes to the technology (texting and internet) behing it. I think there is a lesson to be learnt from this - to have more people do something, that something should be made very easy (basically, we humans are lazy!). I am sure people were always generous but the technology has now made it extremely easy - no remembering addresses, writing checks, and mailing!!

SASH said...

Thanks, Chaty ... amazing, isn't it the way it has truly redefined the possibilities of helping each other out ... the world flattens even more :)

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