This is my personal thoughts, opinions and musings place. I will also rant about things, especially politically-correct things that irritate me. And sci-fi. Did I mention sci-fi? There'll be lots of sci-fi stuff here. And movies, too. Mmmmm... Movies

Monday, May 02, 2005

Science Fiction and the nature of evil

Having watched so much sci-fi, especially Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis, I wanted to write something about the nature of evil, especially as it is portrayed in those two shows. There are sci-fi movies out there that also talk about evil, but I will be ignoring those, mostly because movies are too short to expand a lot on their ideas. Even Star Wars, popular though it is, falls in that category, especially the modern movies. Be warned, however; this is not going to be a short post.

Before I begin, I'd like to point out that yes, I do in fact know that this is all science fiction/ fantasy and therefore not real. One could argue that to pull ideas about the nature of evil out of sci-fi stories is ludicrous. But really, if movies can make stupid political points and moronic statements about the environment and have a sizeable portion of the population believe every word of it, I can certainly entertain the idea that the nature of evil is explained in popular sci-fi shows.

For those who don't already know, the basic storyline in the Stargate universe, which is shared by SG1 and Atlantis, is that millions of years ago, a highly advanced race of... humans... developed and built a very large number of stargates across at least two galaxies. Stargates allow virtually instantaneous transportation of people and objects between two stargates, regardless of distance, which effectively makes the galaxy a very small place. There are ways to defend the various stargates, but it's the most effective method to move reasonable numbers of people. If you want to send a large number, use a ship.

Now, here's where we get to the meat of the matter, so to speak. After having creating all these stargates, these advanced humans, called the Ancients, disappeared. They left several planets, populated by humans, including Earth, to fend for themselves, and completely wide-open by invasion and attack by an alien enemy, one of whom is the Goa'uld. The Goa'uld are a parasitic race that takes over the normal mental and motor functions of the hosts(humans, now, but earlier other species) they inhabit. They also use highly advanced technology, both their own and any Ancient tech the can scrounge to enslave countless primitive people across the galaxy. They act as Gods to these primitives, making them work unto death, sometimes literally, for them.

In the Pegasus galaxy on the Atlantis show, things are a little different. The Wraith are the dominant lifeform, and are at the top of the food chain; they consider humans nothing more than self-raising cattle, and in fact keeps whole planets where human herds are allowed to increased, and are then “culled” regularly. In neither galaxy are the Ancients anywhere to be found.

The reason I go into all this is to set the stage for a discussion about evil. If you look at the definition of the word, you find it is wildly apt for the whole Stargate saga. The Goa'uld are certainly evil; they cause untold suffering among millions upon millions people across the galaxy, and they commit genocide on a regular basis. Their society, a crazy mixture of Ancient Egyptian mythology and super high-tech, is basically slave-driven. Their people, the Jaffa, serve them not because they love them, but because they've been lied to, convinced in the divinity of the Goa'uld. One must serve one's God, and all that. And in the name of their God, the Jaffa spread terror and pain throughout the galaxy. Unfortunately, unlike other Gods, the Goa'uld live among their people and cause untold suffering among the Jaffa for any failure to obey their every whim, and so God's wrath really is something for the Jaffa to fear.

What about the Wraith in the Pegasus galaxy? Well, to a degree, they're also evil. Not because they consider humans as food, but because they, too, use their power to spread terror and pain throughout the galaxy. Humans at least try to be humane in animal husbandry; the Wraith do not. They revel in their power to cause agony, and enjoy it very much. They won't even think about an alternative food source, because their power is absolute.

One distinction that the dictionary definition doesn't make is active vs passive evil. Both the Goa'uld and the Wraith commit what I will call active evil. They go out into the wide universe at large and commit attrocities. It is an evil of action, of determination, of extending one's own dominion. But is that the only evil that there is?

The Ancients of both SG1 and Atlantis fame are, in my opinion, guilty of what I will call passive evil. Through inaction and all-overriding arrogance, they allowed hundreds of planets in the Pegasus galaxy to fall into the hands of Wraith, who for hundreds of thousands of years used the populations of those planets as food. In our galaxy, they allowed Earth, the cradle of human civilization in the galaxy, to fall under the dominion of the Goa'uld, who used the advanced technology of the stargates the Ancients created, and other such ridiculously advanced technology to extend their dominion across the galaxy.

When given a chance to put right even a portion of the evil they have caused, the Ancients declined, going so far as stripping one of their own of his powers and making him human again, in punishment for attempting to help the lowly humans. Human fate may be, as the Ancients have said, in human hands, but faced with the overwhelming power of the Goa'uld, it is scant comfort. Personally, I think that passive evil is, in some ways at least, worse than active evil. It can be very attractive to wash your hands off of everything, to claim well, not our fault, we're not going to get involved. It prolongs suffering, however, and is morally ambiguos.

Neither of these shows, SG1 or Atlantis, are the best showcases of modern Liberal ideology. Diplomacy often comes at the point of a gun, or a staff weapon(a great little energy blaster that can double as a close-in melee weapon), as the case may be. There isn't much point in being diplomatic with the Goa'uld, after all; they're not much interested in it. They much prefer peremptory ultimatums followed by a description of what will happen after failure to comply with their demands.

The shows present us with evil for evil's sake, and shows us a way to deal with it. You can stick your head in the sand and hope it'll all go away, but there are people out there that hate us, not for what we are or what we do, but merely because hate is all they have, and they're willing to kill us all because of it. You can't reason with hate like that, you can't talk it out of its goal of galactic conquest, because quite frankly, it thinks you a bit silly that you'd even consider the notion that it needs to talk things over with you. Sometimes, the only way to deal with evil is to pick up a gun and shoot it dead, or paint your Goa'uld with a laser target designator and launch a missile at it. They actually had a scene like that; the Goa'uld in question brushed at the laser dot a few times before he realized what it was, then his face settled into an “Oh shit!” expression and moments later, he vanished in a fireball; it was quite funny.

The point of all this is that the show gives us a choice when confronted with evil. You can stick your head in the sand and justify away your lack of action, but that only works when you're so powerful you've ascended to another plane of existence(the Ancients) and nothing in this Universe can actually harm you, not even the Goa'uld). You won't make any mistakes this way, of course, because you have not actually done anything. Or you can fight, and yes, make mistakes that sometimes have dreadful consequences. That's the chance you take when you take any sort of action. We can't forsee all consequences of our actions, but is that really reason enough not to try?

I hope this makes some kind of sense, since I'm still sick.


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