[extropy-chat] Sigh!... fi

Mike Lorrey mlorrey at yahoo.com
Sun Oct 9 18:32:09 UTC 2005

--- Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:

> http://www.locusmag.com/2005/Features/10_Westfahl_Serenity.html
> Review of Serenity, by Gary Westfahl
> <the film ... asserts that certain sorts of knowledge should never be
> employed ­ specifically, knowledge that might be used to "improve"
> the nature of humanity. The problem with the evil Alliance, Mal
> explains, is that they think "they can make people better," and Mal
> disagrees: "I don't hold to that. I aim to misbehave." Of course,
> when the only evidence on hand of efforts to improve humanity is a
> drug that turns some people into inert statues and others into
> crazed cannibals, the film's deck is pretty much stacked against
> human-transforming technology, and one might also protest
> that "making people better" could be said to include putting them
> in spaceships and giving them terraformed worlds to live on, which
> nobody in the crew of Serenity seems to object to. >

Westfahl is distinctly off here. I saw Serenity last night, and the
context of the movie was clearly against only the use of state power to
force people to fit into a mold of what the state considers proper.
"making people better" in this context was to make them behave better
according to the states definition, i.e. being good little citizens who
never break the law or get uppity to their betters.

It was not against human-transforming technologies per-se. The two
examples in the movie, of the drug "PAX" used on an entire planet,
intended to deter their agressive tendencies, only to eliminate all
motivation to live in 90% while turning the rest into crazed cannibals,
clearly demonstrates the risks of unintended consequences that
transhumanists must deal with, and is a metaphor for a current day
phenomenon that is not being reported on sufficiently, or properly: the
society-wide use of psycho-pharmics, particularly the state-mandated
use of them on children in government schools, against the will of the
children or the parents, which has resulted in well publicized cases of
mass violence by improperly diagnosed children. The planet Miranda is a
metaphor for Columbine.

The other example is the character River Tam, who was taken from her
elite school by the state and subjected to human experiments, torture,
and brain damage in order to make her a psychic, and then exposing her
and her powers to the minds of monstrously evil government leaders who
had committed the heinous crimes at Miranda, giving her memories which
drove her fragile mind insane. Here again, the theme is the abuse of
government power by a government that on its face claims to act for the
benefit of all humankind, with the 'best of intentions', but is in fact
corrupt and evil in its acts and non-public motivations. The pursuit of
River Tam  by the Parliament Operative isn't that she is a dangerous
weapon that could hurt members of the public, it is that she knows too
much about the Miranda incident and threatens the stability of thepower
of the Parliamentary leadership. Thus her example is NOT that
human-altering technology is bad, but that it is wrong to force it upon
a person, and worse, to cover up that crime.

There are plenty of examples of people using advanced technology for
good in the movie. Mr. Universe, for one, is a cypherpunk-type who can
hack any part of the Cortex Feed, and uses his talents to broadcast
truth to the public. He has a massive complex at his disposal, and
lives alone with his robot.... girlfriend. As Westfahl mentioned, we
see people using spaceships and terraforming, and many other
technologies, so the problem isn't any latent luddism in the movie, it
is that his premise is wrong. 

"Better" has several definitions, only one of which is 'improvement'.
As "better" is actually part of "good", we see: "Pleasant; enjoyable:
had a good time at the party. Of moral excellence; upright: a good
person. Benevolent; kind: a good soul; a good heart. Loyal; staunch: a
good Republican. Well-behaved; obedient: a good child. Socially
correct; proper: good manners. Welfare; benefit: for the common good.
Goodness; virtue: There is much good to be found in people." It is
evident that the Alliance Parliament's goal is not improvement in
performance and potential of the average citizens capabilities (unless
they are firmly under the control of the Alliance), its goal is to make
citizens more pleasant, moral, upright, kind, loyal (especially loyal),
well-behaved (that too), obedient, socially correct, proper, and

That the Alliance is misdirected in this is evident in the Parliament
Operative: he is a monster, capable of executing a person on a whim, he
hold no name or rank, and is therefore immune to prosecution. With
immense martial and rational faculties, he is intently focused on his
orders to the exclusion of all else and regards himself as a superior
judge of facts, which helps him rationalize his murders. The concept
that orders could be illegal does not occur to him, as he is above the
law, as are his superiors. He does, however, know that he is a monster,
who commits evil acts, rationalizing that he does them in order to
achieve the future 'perfect world' that he dreams about, but knows he
himself is not fit to live in. 

In the end, after he has been defeated and the truth of Miranda is
broadcast, he is rational enough to call off the hunt, as obviously the
threat that the Tams posed no longer exists: the secrets they knew are
no longer secrets, the damage of public disclosure is done, killing or
capturing them will serve no rational purpose. In this, we see that he
does have the seeds of nobility in him. He may redeem himself to
humanity someday. Those who have followed the series "Firefly" may come
to the conclusion, as I have, that Shepherd Book, the preacher on board
Serenity, was once a Parliament Operative who redeemed himself through
the priesthood in his retirement. His knowledge of the inner workings
of the Alliance government, as well as his ability to get the alliance
off the crews backs once, his familiarity with combat and weapons, etc.
all point to him once holding a similar position, particularly his
knowledge of the existence of Parliament Operatives.

Mike Lorrey
Vice-Chair, 2nd District, Libertarian Party of NH
Founder, Constitution Park Foundation:
Personal/political blog: http://intlib.blogspot.com

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