This is a little dated, but I saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” a while back. For those of you sci-fi buffs, it is a remake of the classic 1950′s movie, – with a very important political message of course.
Granted, the original had a political message as well. In the original, the alien Klaatu came to earth to warn us not to extend our human violence beyond earth into outer space, or else the league of intergalactic nations will have to destroy the earth – or whatever. The modern version has a more contemporary algoric message. “You earthlings are destroying the earth with your SUV’s – prepare to be eliminated so the earth can regenerate itself…” I stomached the movie in the hopes that there would be some cool special effects (sadly, there were not enough) – after all, what movie isn’t political any more.
Now, one scene stuck out in my mind. Klaatu meets a scientist who is intelligent enough to contemplate the gravity of the situation (in other words, he’s a liberal). The scientist, played by John Cleese, was awarded a Nobel Prize in “biological altruism”. There ensues much pleading with Klaatu by the scientist – and ultimately by the leading lady who of course succeeds -, but the die is cast. Alas, humanity has been given ample chance but now Gort, the mechanical robot, is scheduled to disassemble all “non-essential” life (i.e. humans) post haste.
The not-so-subtle message is that mankind must evolve to become more altruistic with regard to the planet and recognize our reciprocal relationship with it or else perish – along with the earth, the innocent victim of our excesses.
“Biological altruism” is a Darwinian term for behavior that is developed through evolution, or so it is believed, which solely benefits another at the expense of one’s self and in the end benefits the group as a whole. This is difficult to explain in Darwinian terms, since evolution is a selfish process not an unselfish one. However, the explanation is doable. This behavior evolves into complex relationships in sophisticated species – like us.
Here is the contradiction. Ultimately, as the movie instructs, we the most advanced species on the planet must eventually come to grips with the relationship that we have with the planet and act altruistically with respect to it. This is an inevitable, environment/evolution-driven result. For example, Klaatu (Keanu Reaves) indicates that “some species don’t get it” (paraphrase) and they need to be removed. “There are only so many habitable planets in the galaxy, you know. we have to keep them all working”. Thus, those species that do not evolve to the point of “getting” the altruistic imperative are out. Their very survival depends on their “getting it”. This is therefore an absolute moral imperative. However, the reference to biological altruism is meant to state unequivocally that this absolute moral truth is a consequence of our evolution.
How is this contradictory?
For one thing, there is no guarantee that an evolutionary trajectory will necessarily lead to this earth-friendly conclusion. Klaatu’s species’ evolutionary trajectory obviously did lead there, but how does this then become the overriding, moral, altruistic truth? Sounds kind of arbitrary to me. Did Klaatu’s species establish it because it was the first to “make it” and “get it”, or did it somehow discover this absolute truth? What if Klaatu’s species had gone the way of the aliens in Independence Day, in which it exhausts the resources of a planet and moves on to the next to plunder. That formula seems to have worked for the aliens in that movie. In that case, the “biologically altruistic” way would have been one of resource exploitation, not sustainability. Especially once they had developed those cool advanced space ships/arks to allow them to go to the various planets which they would then plunder. With no limitation as to their mobility, who says they have to be careful not to destroy their own planet?
Now, of course I’m being facetious – it is painfully obvious to sustain the planet we are on. We all know that. However, the issue is absolutism.
The point is that the left engages in absolutism but denies it – in my opinion because, among other things it opens the door to a tacit admission to the existence of a God, and heaven forbid we don’t want that (pun intended). As Friedrich Nietsche pointed out, if there is no God there can be no morality because there can no absolutes derived from humans. Humankind evolves but our mortality-based perceptions are necessarily relative. Thus, if there are absolutes, they didn’t come from us.
Therefore, Klaatu’s species (read: “the left”) is free to be planet friendly, but it may not impose it on us – particularly not at the penalty of death. We may very well come to the same reasoned conclusion – we may not. But don’t use absolutism (neither leftish nor rightish absolutism can be “proven”, it can only be espoused) to make your “open and shut” case. I don’t care how intimidating your big mechanical robot is.