Monday, October 16, 2017

Freedom Is Endangered But Not Extinct

In the last post I talked about the sci-fi series Extinct, created by Orson  Scott Card for BYU TV. There’s another theme I’d like to look at from that series—about freedom, or free will.

There are, among the few people who have been brought back to life 400 years after the extinction of humans, who are different from the handful who are the protagonists. This other group is called skin riders. There is a parasite, appearing as a glowing lump on the back of the neck, that joins with the human body. Ezra’s brother (from earlier earth days) is one of them; in fact, Silas is their leader.

The skin riders search out the humans, capture them, and try to make them join up.

In episode 2, Ezra has evaded the larger group of skin riders, and ambushes Silas alone. He overpowers Silas, and checks the glowing thing on the back of his neck. Here’s their first conversation [Ep2 40:58]:

Ezra tries to find out what has happened to his brother.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 2

: What is that?
Silas: Don’t hurt it. I’ll die if you do.
Ezra: What have they done to you?
Silas: Opened my mind. [others arrive] Don’t kill him!
Jaz: I won’t. [strikes Ezra, scene goes black. Ezra wakes at night near a campfire.]
Silas: If you try to run, I’ll call the others. You wouldn’t get far. I sent Jax to find your friend. (Ezra checks his own neck) We haven’t injected you. Jax wanted to, but…  I think it’s best if you choose to join us.
Ezra: I’ll pass.
Silas: Four hundred years and you haven’t changed. Nobody can teach you anything.
Ezra: Did the Sparks remake you?
Silas: The Sparks? Fascinating, aren’t they? How they can make anything—humans, clothing, a bologna sandwich, albeit a soggy one.
Ezra: That thing on the back of your neck—It’s alive, isn’t it?
Silas: A companion. It teaches me, comforts me, connects me to my brothers and sisters.
Ezra: I’m your brother, Silas.
Silas: You were. Join us and you will be again.
Ezra: It controls you.
Silas: Does knowledge control you? That’s what the companion provides. If I need to know how to start a fire, it shows me. It’s a gift!
Ezra: Can you remove it?
Silas: Why would I want to?
Ezra: Because it’s turned you into someone else.
Silas: Someone better, yes. What was I to you before, other than a disappointment? Now look at me. A leader. A spiritual advisor. I’m worth something now.
[flashback scene]
Ezra: You weren’t a disappointment, Silas.
Silas: Bankrupt at 20?
Ezra: Because you hired all those people, and you didn’t have the heart to let ‘em go when you should have. It makes you a bad businessman, not a bad person.
Silas: Doesn’t matter. I’m the person I want to be now.
Ezra: A slave?
Silas: A servant.
Ezra: Let me take you to the Sparks. They can heal you.
Silas: And go back to what I was?
Ezra: What you were was a better man, Silas.
Silas: My companion is very tired. (signals for Ezra to escape)
It appears, in a moment of weakness, the real Silas was able to come through, and that’s why he lets Ezra escape.

In Episode 4, Ezra’s wife, Lynn, is reconstituted (brought back to life as a human), but is quickly taken captive by the skin riders. She escapes but is eventually retaken. Somewhere in the sequence, one of the skin riders was killed by one of the other humans. At the moment Lynn is brought to Silas, he is going through a ritual about the dead man, removing his parasite (crystal in his neck), so his memories can be preserved. Anyway, Silas gives us this description of what that “Companion” does for them:

Silas: The humans kill our brother with one touch of their weapon. We offer them a companion to choose for them, to remove from them the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame. We offer them guaranteed joy, and they give us this.
He’s not, apparently, interested in the life and memories of the human, but of the parasite that inhabited him.

In episode 5, Silas is trying to persuade Lynn to voluntarily become injected with the parasite/companion. He starts out gently telling her how normal and improved they are. But when she asks what happens if she refuses to join them, the answer is pretty threatening.
Later he brings in a red drone, and produces a hologram of Lynn and Ezra’s daughter, but the hologram quickly disappears [Ep 5 12:38]:

Lynn: Is this what you’ve become? Cruel?
Silas: Death is cruel, Lynn. It rips us from those we care about, and buries them away forever. But what if I told you there was a way to connect with the dead? To see and feel their memories and knowledge whenever you needed them? Not with a machine, but with your mind?
Lynn: The crystal in your neck—
Silas: Always so smart. The crystal is the mind of an organism we call “a Companion.” It’s a friend, a counselor. But the human brain keeps getting in the way. Reactions are slower, decisions are muddled. There’s resistance.
Lynn: What do you want from me?
Silas: The drone and the Sparks wove the neural pathways in our brains. I want to block some of them, to give greater control to the Companion.
Lynn: I’m not a brain surgeon. I can’t help you.
Silas: I don’t need a surgeon, Lynn. I need a test subject. [pulls out a vial with a sharp end meant for injecting] You prick yourself. The companion does the rest. Once it’s taken root and you’re one of us, we can begin with the drone.
Jax: You should just stick her and get on with it.
Silas: You underestimate Lynn, Jax. She always makes the right choice.
But it’s not much later, a day or less, when he comes back and tries more persuasion [Ep5 23:26]:

Silas has Lynn captive.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 5

Silas: You still haven’t chosen to join us.
Lynn: Still weighing the pros and cons.
Silas: You haven’t changed, Lynn.
Lynn: Wish I could say the same for you.
Silas: You don’t know what you’re rejecting. You could be one with the Community.
Lynn: I’m one with my husband. That’s enough for me.
Silas: Technically, he’s no longer your husband. You were married “until death do you part,” remember?
Lynn: I remember. I remember you were his best man. And I remember the toast you gave. That you had everybody laughing one moment, and most of us crying the next. Because everyone knew you loved your brother. That’s what I remember. Do you?
Silas: I remember my knees shaking, my voice almost cracking, my heart pounding. Because I was weak and fragile. Now I’m not. I’m beginning to think you’re not going to make the right choice here, Lynn.
Lynn: I’m never going to join you, Silas. I’ll never give up who I am.
[he stabs her in the arm with the vile]
Silas: I didn’t want to have to do that. You’re angry right now, but when you have your Companion, we’ll have a good laugh about this. About how much fuss you made. Sleep well.
There’s a line in The Princess Bride where the Grandpa interrupts the story to say, “She doesn’t get eaten by eels at this time.” So, like that, I’ll say, she doesn’t become a skin rider at this time.

What I’m interested in, in these interchanges, are the enticements from the skin riders, through Silas. He offers freedom from error, freedom from weakness, freedom from “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.”

This is very much like the choice from the Council in Heaven—Lucifer’s plan. “I will take away your ability to make bad choices.” But that takes away humanness, and with it the ability to choose to be a good human being, leaving something far inferior.

Silas makes a show of offering a “choice,” but the choice isn’t really there; give in to having your self taken, or your self will be taken.

So, I was thinking of this “choice,” when I read an opinion piece from the New York Times called “WhyAre Millennials Wary of Freedom?” by Clay Routledge.

There are some disturbing statistics from the World Values Survey, the Pew Research Center, and other surveys:

·         Only 30% of Americans born after 1980 believe democracy (rule by the people) is essential, compared to 72% of older Americans.
·         In 2011 24% of young adults think democracy is a bad idea; they would prefer to be ruled over.
·         40% of millennials believe government should control speech they find offensive (not profanity, but rather ideas they disagree with).
·         20% or more of students of either party believed it was acceptable for student groups to use violence to prevent speech on a college campus that they disapprove of.
Routledge offers an explanation for why young adults have so little respect for freedom: “I propose that the answer is fear—the ultimate enemy of freedom.”

The Spherical Model can give us some perspective here. People who have not been brought up to understand the blessings of freedom live in the southern hemisphere, oscillating between chaotic tyranny and statist tyranny, unaware of the entire northern hemisphere of freedom. Those who seek power create, or at least point out, the chaos, accentuate its danger, and then promise to make everything calm. “Allow us to rule over you, and we’ll make what you’re scared of go away. But, if you don’t choose to be ruled by us, we’ll force you to.” That last part gets left unsaid, but it’s there in every tyranny.

As Reagan once said,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Freedom isn’t extinct yet, here in our world. But if those statistics are an indicator, it’s on the endangered list.

If you have any influence over a young person, let them know that real freedom is not freedom from financial concerns, interpersonal challenges, or “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.” Let them know what real freedom is for: to thrive, grow, and live a fully human, happy and sometimes painful but meaningful life.

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