What Avatar Can Teach Us About Humanity?

Having seen Avatar recently, I was struck not only by it’s visual virtuosity , but even more so by what is says about humanity’s moral thinking of these days.

Avatar wasn’t made to promote a social message – Cameron isn’t known for his political activism. He is a gifted movie director with a narrow interest in his trade, and Avatar is Cameron’s exercise in imagination and mastery. What strikes me about the movie is that it’s underlying message is not so much promoted by a liberal agenda, as it reflects the state of our current moral thinking in the West. The fact that the movie was received almost universally warmly, without creating any controversy, despite it’s seemingly harsh view of the humanity of the future, goes to show that it’s message sits well with our internal beliefs and values.

Equality and Universalism

Since the Enlightenment the idea that all men deserve respect and dignity, unevenly but steadily won ground in the Western thinking. Slavery has been slowly abolished, women have been given the right to vote, homosexuality has been decriminalized. Today we live in a world in which racial, sexual and religious prosecution has given away to tolerance. Minorities still endure difficulties , but more so from archaic perceptions (“physicist is an unfeminine profession”) than from actual inequality (a woman can be a physicist, if she wants to).

Avatar signals the latest development of our moral thinking: as long as they seem anthropomorphic, behave rationally (in terms of human logic) and show human emotions, all species (including alien ones) deserve the same freedom and respect, humans do. Even though the creators went a long way to make N’avi noble and likeable, it’s still  says something about our ability to empathize with an alien culture. Comparing Avatar’s N’avi with District 9’s “prawns”, shows (unsurprisingly) that  it’s easier for us to empathize with aesthetically-beautiful culture whose motives we understand than with an alien society that has a complicated social hierarchy and unattractive looks.

Mind vs. Body

Through the movie the protagonist’s mind is shared by two bodies. It constantly shifts from controlling the body of human marine to that of a young N’avi warrior. We receive without hesitation the fact that it is the same person that inhabits these bodies. And that means that in our technological age, we believe that our personality is not defined nor limited by the human body, but rather resides solely in the mind, which can be copied and transferred . In a way, this is a return to the christian dichotomy of the body and the soul. But while christian thought dictates that the body is impure and sinful, our thinking regards it simply as a dumb shell that can be substituted, or even done without. The ideas of cyberpunk, virtual reality and mind uploading have apparently prepared us to accept this line of thought.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that we totally disregard the body – face is the last remnant of our attachment of the personality to the body. That’s why the creators had to make N’avi face somewhat similar to it’s human counterpart.


Avatar’s ecological theme shows that ecological sensitivity lies in the heart of the Western consensus of today. Surely it doesn’t mean that we are all tree-huggers, far from it. But it does say something about our level of awareness of the issue. If in the 70’s Dune’s ecological message was breaking new ground , Avatar’s reflection on the subject lies in the mainstream.

Hollywood’s treatment of these subjects is obviously superficial, but never the less it is useful as a mirror for our state of moral thinking. And it indicates that despite a natural skepticism we all share, our technological progress is accompanied by a moral one.

5 Replies

  • You know that usually I like your posts very much 🙂
    Unfortunately, this is not the case,

    It is exactly this kind of neo-liberal tree hugging philosophy that creates most if not all problems of the modern society.

    Equality and Universalism…Sounds so lovely.
    Well guess what? reality is different my friend.
    People were not born equal, nor will they ever be.

    This is the kind of thinking that causes culture hating barbarians to raise their heads.

    The examples are vast.

    Give the blacks rights, and call them “African Americans” – what do you get? You get ghettos of lazy black drug dealers.

    Give the niggers in Africa autonomy. – what do you get? hordes of paramilitary gangs that butcher women and children.

    Give the Muslims land, legitimacy, and “right to peacefully coexist” – what do you get?
    you get my point.

    I clearly remember telling you back in 2006 when we stood in line in bamtsa, that if Obama is elected it will be very bad for israel, because he is an antisemit, since he is black.

    You laughed.

    Well who was right, in a back perspective?

    Some people were born to be slaves.

  • So you are saying that the expansion of personal freedom in the West is responsible for such diverse phenomenons as laziness and poverty in American inner-cities, anarchy in Africa, fanaticism in the Muslim world and Obama’s view toward Israel?
    Well, where should I begin 🙂 ?

    Your examples are invalid:
    Muslim world – countries in this region are ran by authoritarian regimes that suppress any kind of personal freedom. You confuse ethic self-determination with personal freedom. It’s the lack of Iran’s people’s freedom that allows it’s regime to promote fanaticism.

    Africa – most African states are ran by corrupt power groups, that worry about personal enrichment, not their populations’ well-being. Poverty and anarchy are the result of inability and lack of will of the governments to invest in education and impose order.

    America – you can see African-Americans successfully integrate into American society in every walk of life. Poverty and crime are still existent, but these must be dealt with by investment in education. America’s public education system is incredibly bad.

    The Big Point:
    Hatred, violence and anarchy are not the result of expanding freedoms. They are the result of corruption, poverty and lack of education. And these can be only dealt with when people can choose for themselves, who to elect and how to live.

  • Lets just agree to disagree.
    I think human rights and freedom are reserved for civilized people, and not barbarians.

    I want you to tell that manifest about education, to the Ethiopian citizens of our country –
    who despite being given the right to it – prefer to, no pun intended, shit on the street – instead of studying.

    Or to the Sudanese “refuges”, who while staying in a jewish country allow themselves
    to initiate antisemitic attacks against an elderly man.

    You are just taking something and calling it by another name.

    They are not fucked up as a race –
    No sir.
    It’s Corruption and poverty that cause them to be that way.

    We wouldn’t be in the situation we are currently in,
    if that monkey on the capitol hill, would know his correct place in the world –
    flipping burgers.

  • Come on man, your words remind me of Neo-Nazis talking about Jews being responsible for all their problems. Saying that some race has some inherent defect is not only morally unacceptable and scientifically refutable.

    20th century has shown us how dangerous is this path. Let’s not forget it’s lessons.

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