Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to Avataristan

If you haven't seen Avatar, you will. All reports indicate that this amazing movie combines story and image into a completely compelling whole as few movies have before.

The question to ask afterwards is this: which side are we on?

Are we the Na'vi, a people smart enough to have figured out how to live in harmony with our planet, to pass on to the next generation something as good as we got?

Or are we a people who are brave and bold to kill those we consider more primitive than ourselves, until they recognize our superiority, adopt the flags
and parliamentary system we set up for them, and hand over the goods?

And most of all, are we brave enough to keep killing the primitives until they learn to stop being Guilty of Defending themselves against our just and righteous occupation?

We, today, in our Asian wars, have no doubt in our exceptional nobility; we have a long list of good deeds we've done to reassure us. (Much of the list of good deeds done by our ancestors, but what the heck.) I know and work with many of our troops; as individuals and groups they are fine people.

The problem is not our troops. The problem is us; We The People who send them to subjugate those we fear and those we feel superioir to. We order them to bomb the heck out of people and replace their indigenous murderous thugs with our preferred set of murderous thugs (but on the plus side, we insist that our preferred thugs talk about human rights before and after they rig an election.) And we expect the rest of the world to accept our innate American nobility, our superiority of intellect and of virtue, our exceptionalism, because after all we won WW2 some 50 years ago, and today we are sacrificing an awful lot to bring civilization to the savages.

"We did not ask for this burden," we tell the world, "And please don't compare it to Kipling's White Man's Burden. We're multiracial, y'know. So you can be sure we aren't bombing you into civilization out of racist disdain for you or your false religion. We're doing it someone from a different country than yours killed a lot of our people, and because we are a noble nation that knows what's good for you better than you do!"

Does anyone wonder why it's so hard to get other nations to join our projects of war? Except for our Anglo-Saxon bellophilic friends, "Coalitions of the Willing" members have to be bribed to join us. India and China have borders with Afghanistan; you'd think they'd have an interest in maintaining stability there. It's almost as if they think nineteen boxcutters is not worth spending trillions of dollars in a war on the far side of the planet, or even in a war next door.

Or perhaps they've just put in a little time investigating the extraordinarily decentralized Afghanis before deciding to turn them into a unified nation. (That's a project that took us from 1789 to 1865, and there were some pretty nasty bumps along the ways.)

We, as a nation, have pissed away the goodwill built up through the generations, and We The People didn't even get a T-shirt out of it ...
"...Obama declared, "The plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms."

The fact that the global security so underwritten was, like that ensured by other empires past and present, derived from the subjugation, exploitation and death of countless people - described by Obama in strikingly imperial tones, as "tribal" and unable to "reason" - cannot be mentioned.
Their deaths, in the millions in Vietnam, in the hundreds and tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention in Latin America and Africa during the Cold War) are left unremarked...."

--- Mark Levin, "The end of American exceptionalism"

And so back to Avatar.

It's entertainment. That's what it should be; movies that preach are always crappy.

But if it does challenge us to question why we might occupy another people's planet, it's only a short step to question why we're occupying another people's land on the other side of our planet.

Of course, the parallel is not complete. The Asians that we habitually explode are not 3-meter-tall blue aliens; they are genetically indistinguishable from Americans. They are human!
More to the point, the corporate goons in Avatar have an obvious motive: plunder! In Asia, our motive as a nation is messier; we (as a nation) gain nothing from occupying them; rather, it is our privateers and war profiteers would reap the plunder of those nations ... and for the most part, it's plunder taken from the pockets of We The People ourselves.

Portraying this on the big screen is beyond the power of even John Carpentar, for it would require the Na'vi to invade and plunder themselves.
It may suffice that Avatar may cause a few people to think twice about the nobility of occupation.

If you tell a story that has deep truths in it, then it's a better story ... and it just might make it easier to face what We The People are doing.

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