Following up on my thesis that “remnant religion” still occupies us in ways simultaneously invisible and rampant, I’ve been thinking about movies, and science.
Maybe a dozen times in my life, I’ve tossed out the general question:
If you could live to be 200/500/forever (the question has varied with each asking), would you?
I’ve been amazed each time, not so much at the quantity of negative answers (a huge majority), but at the INSTANTANEOUS negative answers. No thought required, people somehow KNEW they would not want to live for extended periods.
From my point of view, the answer was an easy YES!! After all, you’ve got life, where fun things happen, where there are interesting things to learn, where there are a huge number of things to see and do. How could you not want more of that?
Some part of the replies contained what I eventually came to feel was the absolutely predictable counter-question:
But what if you lived forever and you just got sicker and older forever?
And I’d be like “WTF? It’s a hypothetical question. Why would you instantly assume the worst possible version of it?”
Yeah, but what if you DID just get sicker and older? You’d be stuck like that forever! That would be horrible!
Uh, yeah. But if that happened, you could, you know, kill yourself. I was sort of asking about eternal youth and health. Would you choose that?
I still wouldn’t want it. I mean, what if you got bored?
What? WHAT IF YOU GOT BORED?? Are you f*cking stupid?? You’d have the whole world to adventure in, healthy and alive for hundreds of years, and your first thought is that you’d GET BORED? Christ, if that happens, call me and I’ll come over and beat you to death with a shovel. Quickly, so it won’t be BORING. Faced with the opportunity of a radically extended lifespan, God save your poor, dull little self from getting BORED.
Gah. I constantly wonder at what goes on in some people’s heads, but I think I figured out what’s up in this case. It’s the Frankenstein story — the warning against hubris (overconfident pride or arrogance) — so basic in our culture it’s practically in our DNA.
In all its thousand different variations, Dr. Frankenstein pushes against forbidden limits and pays a horrible price.
Item: The Hollow Man. Kevin Bacon is a scientist involved in a project that can turn a man invisible. As the test subject who gains the power, it drives him murderously mad.
Item: 28 Days Later. Scientists experiment with a deadly virus, which escapes and lays waste to all civilization.
Item: Jurassic Park. After the initially glorious introduction of an island of cloned dinosaurs, things begin to go nightmarishly wrong.
The Alien films all carried a strong subtext of hubris, traveling too far, venturing too boldly, with Man’s inevitable downfall presented in the form of an unbelievably deadly alien predator. Ditto for the Terminator series, where men meddled with poorly-understood forces that unleashed unstoppable robotic assassins from the future.
By contrast, I suspect one of the strongest reasons for the popularity of the original Star Trek series, and its TV and movie sequels, is that it asked the question “But what if something GOOD could happen? What if we created a future of beauty and adventure?” Recent superhero films mostly avoid preaching against hubris, or at least find ways to show that it can be successfully overcome, envisioning beings with god-challenging powers as benefactors rather than bringers of automatic misfortune.
But back in the real world, it’s not uncommon for real scientific research to face automatic opposition. When Dolly the cloned sheep came along in 1996, legions of commentators — and large numbers of the public — had instantly negative reactions. Proposals to recreate woolly mammoths, to clone Neanderthals, or even the attempt to eliminate fatal childhood diseases, triggers instant negativity among large numbers of people. Not thoughtful caution that attempts to foresee problems and then find ways to work around them to achieve the worthwhile goal, but unthinking and instant opposition that desires the end of all effort.
Why? I can only imagine it’s because there are some things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Nobody should be allowed to try this stuff, because when humans PLAY GOD, something MUST go wrong.
This is yet another way in which remnant religion grips modern humanity and slows its progress into some better future.
To me, the thought of it is extremely annoying.