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"The idea that a movie that condemns the use of force to take what isn’t yours is anti-capitalist is just weird, and says more about the people who would make this argument than the movie itself."

This misses one important thing: The film portrayed the nasty behavior of the "capitalists" as the essence of capitalism. Polluting the environment, driving primitive people off their land, using force to take what is wanted, crass indifference to life, spiritual emptiness, etc. were all presented (by virtue of showing no contrast) as simply the way an advanced, capitalist culture is by its nature.

That's why the film is anti-capitalist. The film doesn't condemn the use of force - it condemns modern, advanced, capitalist cultures as evil because such force is (allegedly) inherent in them.

Identifying the villainous humans as capitalist is superficial because it is the result of accepting the first easy conclusion that occurs to you without attempting to integrate other things that you know. All we see is technology and corporate structure in addition to a off-screen government. That is also compatible with fascism, communism, mercantilism, or socialism. The fate of native americans may be the analogy that springs to mind most easily, but two better analogies would be Cortez vs. the Aztecs or Pizarro vs. the Incas because those men were both imperialists seeking a metal to send home. Both men had a technological advantage and financial budgets in place for their expeditions but neither Cortez nor Pizarro were capitalists.

The view of humanity presented is pessimistic and misanthropic, and it is anti-capitalist only because it is anti-human. But even the misanthropy is undercut by the actions of the scientists and the arc of Jake Sully.

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I've been out of this thread for a while, but looking over the last few pages, it seems that Jake Elisson has the right track, in general. The Na'vi were tribal in nature. Their culture forced people to do things like risk being ripped apart by giant bird-creatures in order to be an adult and given all that comes with that status. They accepted a collectivist morality and political system, and their civilization was (as evidenced by the above) at least partly "barbaric" in nature. Heck, they even called themselves "the People", how can that not be a collectivist system?

A collectivist system does not respect rights, by its very nature. The principles which allow rights to even exist are not recognized in any form. So, such a system has no moral authority whatsoever, and no right to anything at all. So, in my opinion, in many places on this planet, there is no such thing as a government, merely mob (both by "mob" as in mobs of people and "the Mob" as in a criminal organization) rule. Venezuela, obviously Somalia, N. Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. are examples.

From that, the People had no claim, as a collective, to that tree. Individually, they did not recognize the concept of private property, so I don't think one can claim they have it. But more importantly, even assuming this is so- the Home Tree was at best an example of something which had been "produced" as a result of the work of generations of Na'vi without a conception of private property. It is, roughly, akin to a trail created by hundreds of people walking that way over and over day after day for weeks, months, years. Now, perhaps I'm wrong, but all of those people do not have a right to that trail. Nor do any of them individually have any right to the trail. So, in a similar way, the people in the Home Tree have no right to it, because it was produced by none of them individually, and they have no individual claim on any part of it. So, I'm not really violating their individual rights by telling them to leave.

One other important point, is that the back story for this movie (which Cameron has stated in interviews but never bothered to say in the movie) is that humanity's interstellar travel abilities are largely dependent on unobtainium, and the supremely dominant power supply for their civilization is based on unobtainium as well. So, for the humans, getting a supply of unobtainium isn't just about profit, it's about the survival of large numbers of people, and the maintenance of their civilization. (Roughly akin to oil, if it was localized, say, only in Saudi Arabia, but the whole world used it and got 80% of their power from it in some way or another). And the Na'vi could easily have left Home Tree, since the movie depicts thousands of other Na'vi living in all sorts of other places on Pandora, and there were, as the humans said, lots of trees around in any case. So the humans were in a near lifeboat situation, the Na'vi didn't have a right to the Home Tree in the first place, and their leaving would not have meant their destruction. In those conditions, I see nothing particularly wrong (especially since the Na'vi were going to kill them if they'd tried any other way).

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So, for the humans, getting a supply of unobtainium isn't just about profit, it's about the survival of large numbers of people, and the maintenance of their civilization. (Roughly akin to oil, if it was localized, say, only in Saudi Arabia, but the whole world used it and got 80% of their power from it in some way or another). And the Na'vi could easily have left Home Tree,

Well as I've stated above, I disagree with this assessment of the movie. In particular to your response, the humans need for unobtainium did not give them a right to the property of the Na'vi nor the right to take their lives by force. Their need was their problem, not the Na'vi's. It really doesn't matter how easily they could have left, it was their home, they had a right to live and stay there and the humans should have sought what they needed elsewhere. But really since it wasn't in the movie, it is immaterial.

I think this will end my participation in this thread.

Thanks all.

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Sorry, but I disagree. It is enough.

Then _every_ human being who ever lived at at least the tribalist level had a "rudimentary" grasp of rights - which empties the term of all meaning. The cognitive distance between that alleged grasp in a primitive's mind and in the mind of say, an Englishman circa 1492-1688 (i.e., prior to the first published explicit statement of the principle) is so vast that calling the former grasp "rudimentary" is like calling a parrot's grasp of English rudimentary.

The idea that the Na'Vi were fighting for their rights is for that reason (among many others) just projection or wishful thinking. What the Na'Vi (or any stone age tribe) did in this situation was just territorial behavior. I doubt that any writer now working in Hollywood would even _want_ to write a screen play about defending rights - those writers don't accept the principle themselves (and neither does James Cameron).

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Identifying the villainous humans as capitalist is superficial because it is the result of accepting the first easy conclusion that occurs to you without attempting to integrate other things that you know. All we see is technology and corporate structure in addition to a off-screen government. That is also compatible with fascism, communism, mercantilism, or socialism. The fate of native americans may be the analogy that springs to mind most easily, but two better analogies would be Cortez vs. the Aztecs or Pizarro vs. the Incas because those men were both imperialists seeking a metal to send home. Both men had a technological advantage and financial budgets in place for their expeditions but neither Cortez nor Pizarro were capitalists.

The view of humanity presented is pessimistic and misanthropic, and it is anti-capitalist only because it is anti-human. But even the misanthropy is undercut by the actions of the scientists and the arc of Jake Sully.

It is very dubious to believe that any system other than a rights-respecting one could make a journey of the sort the humans did in this film. Additionally, they were quite clearly _Americans_. Also, the profit motive was explicitly attacked in the film - such a motive is incompatible with anti-capitalist systems. On top of that, James Cameron and Hollywood as a whole are anti-capitalist, and so wouldn't do a film indicting socialism et al when it is so easy and natural for them to indict capitalism.

Putting all of that together, there is no _way_ that the system being criticized is anything other than capitalism.

In any case, "... anti-capitalist only because ..." is still anti-capitalist, which what I'm claiming is a primary theme of the film.

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I've been out of this thread for a while, but looking over the last few pages, it seems that Jake Elisson has the right track, in general. The Na'vi were tribal in nature. Their culture forced people to do things like risk being ripped apart by giant bird-creatures in order to be an adult and given all that comes with that status. They accepted a collectivist morality and political system, and their civilization was (as evidenced by the above) at least partly "barbaric" in nature. Heck, they even called themselves "the People", how can that not be a collectivist system?

My T'salagi ancestors called themselves "The People," but that did not make them communists.

A collectivist system does not respect rights, by its very nature. The principles which allow rights to even exist are not recognized in any form. So, such a system has no moral authority whatsoever, and no right to anything at all. So, in my opinion, in many places on this planet, there is no such thing as a government, merely mob (both by "mob" as in mobs of people and "the Mob" as in a criminal organization) rule. Venezuela, obviously Somalia, N. Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. are examples.

From that, the People had no claim, as a collective, to that tree. Individually, they did not recognize the concept of private property, so I don't think one can claim they have it. But more importantly, even assuming this is so- the Home Tree was at best an example of something which had been "produced" as a result of the work of generations of Na'vi without a conception of private property. It is, roughly, akin to a trail created by hundreds of people walking that way over and over day after day for weeks, months, years. Now, perhaps I'm wrong, but all of those people do not have a right to that trail. Nor do any of them individually have any right to the trail. So, in a similar way, the people in the Home Tree have no right to it, because it was produced by none of them individually, and they have no individual claim on any part of it. So, I'm not really violating their individual rights by telling them to leave.

Complete rubbish. This is rationalizing an immoral act under the color of Objectivist thought. This same argument was used on the other thread in regard to Native Americans.

One other important point, is that the back story for this movie (which Cameron has stated in interviews but never bothered to say in the movie) is that humanity's interstellar travel abilities are largely dependent on unobtainium, and the supremely dominant power supply for their civilization is based on unobtainium as well. So, for the humans, getting a supply of unobtainium isn't just about profit, it's about the survival of large numbers of people, and the maintenance of their civilization. (Roughly akin to oil, if it was localized, say, only in Saudi Arabia, but the whole world used it and got 80% of their power from it in some way or another). And the Na'vi could easily have left Home Tree, since the movie depicts thousands of other Na'vi living in all sorts of other places on Pandora, and there were, as the humans said, lots of trees around in any case. So the humans were in a near lifeboat situation, the Na'vi didn't have a right to the Home Tree in the first place, and their leaving would not have meant their destruction. In those conditions, I see nothing particularly wrong (especially since the Na'vi were going to kill them if they'd tried any other way).

Regardless of their dependance on unobtainium, this in no way justifies the invasion and wholesale destruction of a people's home. The humans had no right to make them move - it was not their property. This is the same justification that was used to take the Black Hills in violation of a treaty, just as land was taken from the Nations regardless of other treaties. Using this same rationalization, the US should then be justified in the invasion of Saudi Arabia and the wholesale desruction of it's inhabitants. After all, they are just barbarians, and we can just take their shit because we have a need.

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I've been out of this thread for a while, but looking over the last few pages, it seems that Jake Elisson has the right track, in general.

No he's not, and neither are you. All human beings are fully human, this is not conditional upon their level of knowledge.

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It is very dubious to believe that any system other than a rights-respecting one could make a journey of the sort the humans did in this film. Additionally, they were quite clearly _Americans_. Also, the profit motive was explicitly attacked in the film - such a motive is incompatible with anti-capitalist systems. On top of that, James Cameron and Hollywood as a whole are anti-capitalist, and so wouldn't do a film indicting socialism et al when it is so easy and natural for them to indict capitalism.

Putting all of that together, there is no _way_ that the system being criticized is anything other than capitalism.

In any case, "... anti-capitalist only because ..." is still anti-capitalist, which what I'm claiming is a primary theme of the film.

Worse, anti-man.

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It seems that there is a detail that obscures the issue of right in the film which may have something to do with the disagreement.

As presented, the navi, animals, and plants are all directly connected in such a way that the whole planet is actually a single biological entity. As such the navi are not as much individuals as they are cells in the one life form on the planet. Mining and destroying part of the planet is literally an attack on the one conscious entity life.

The humans had already tried trading with them but there was nothing that they wanted. This implies to me that they had no values as such. Of course he contradicts and convolutes this premise by giving them personal ambitions and desires. The young soon to be leader is susceptible to jealousy, at least, which implies that something that the humans had to trade, he could have used to accomplish his private, personal goals. So it seems like the planet is a perfect collective when he wishes, and then a bunch of individuals with separate, as well as common, purposes when he pleases. It's a clever conceptual trick actually.

aside: After seeing the movie, talking about it and reading about it, I just noticed the pun

unobtain-ium

unobtain-able

cute.

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As presented, the navi, animals, and plants are all directly connected in such a way that the whole planet is actually a single biological entity. As such the navi are not as much individuals as they are cells in the one life form on the planet.

A good example of lack of individuality is the borg from Star Trek. All the minds are permanently connected and everyone is directed by the hive queen. No individual choices are possible.

Not the case with Na'vi. They could connect or disconnect at will and the planet was not directing their actions. They did not connect to get "orders" - the purpose was to communicate information or to get control over the mind (and actions) of animals (each time it was their choice for their purpose).

The humans had already tried trading with them but there was nothing that they wanted. This implies to me that they had no values as such.

The second does not necessarily follow from the first. It can imply that they had no values in common or that what they were offered specifically was of no interest to them.

Also, Na'vi clearly had values: made individual value choices, experienced loss, acted to protect what they valued often at great risk to themselves, displayed personal desires and ambitions, worked hard to deveop abilities and took pride in excellence.

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A good example of lack of individuality is the borg from Star Trek. All the minds are permanently connected and everyone is directed by the hive queen. No individual choices are possible.

Not the case with Na'vi. They could connect or disconnect at will and the planet was not directing their actions. They did not connect to get "orders" - the purpose was to communicate information or to get control over the mind (and actions) of animals (each time it was their choice for their purpose).

The second does not necessarily follow from the first. It can imply that they had no values in common or that what they were offered specifically was of no interest to them.

Also, Na'vi clearly had values: made individual value choices, experienced loss, acted to protect what they valued often at great risk to themselves, displayed personal desires and ambitions, worked hard to deveop abilities and took pride in excellence.

I've read the thread and think that I understand and partially agree with your position. I just think that he did a very good job of blurring the lines between collectivity and individuality invoking one or the other at his whim.

Since most of the antagonists were barely more than children in their behavior and emotionality, it is believable that they didn't offer the right things, in which case I would have liked for him to create villains that were a little bit believable.

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Two interpretations. One common premise: the artist is trying to convey something relevant to life on Earth.

Interpretation A:

Cameron wants to inspire an appreciation of nature in the audience. To do this he devotes most of the film-making to rendering in 3D CGI the beautiful world of Pandora. Pandora is like the wilderness of Earth, but sexed up to make it more appealing, in other words, romanticised. Pandora has jungle, but the trees and plants are larger and more magnificent than those on Earth. The people and all other lifeforms on Pandora can connect with a sort of neural 'Plug'n'Play' biological USB cord, which allows for healing of ailments, sharing of knowledge, storage of ancestral memories, and symbiotic person-animal connections/relationships. The people can not only ride on the back of horse-like creatures, directing them with thought alone, but can even fly on the back of bird-like creatures. If they fall from the sky, the forest flora will probably cushion their landing. The people are still threatened by predators but since they are intelligent they adapt to avoid danger, thereby negating the need to cull the beasts. They all live happily in a big homestead with all the food they need provided by nature.

Once the outsider (and the audience) has fallen in love with Pandora and its people, a threat is introduced in the form of people who are ignorant of this value and not adverse to destroying it when it's an obstacle to some other value. The outsider and some other like-minded outsiders try to convince the aggressors that what they are destroying is not merely a forest but a goldmine of biodiversity with huge scientific potential and the assets of an idyllic civilisation. They wont listen so heroic battle ensues to protect this greater value from the unjust aggressors.

Interpretation B:

Cameron wants to inspire opposition to industrialisation in favour of preserving ancient culture and landscape. To do this he presents an exaggerated vision of pastoral bliss with a society content enough to reject outside trade, and pits this against corporate greed for a precious mineral. The corporate people were prepared to peacefully negotiate for permission to mine on the native land, but only as a face-saving operation to avoid 'bad PR,' not for any principled moral reason. The corporate industrialists have not established equilibrium with their home environment, and as such are prepared to endlessly consume/exhaust natural resources wherever they go, symbolised by the name 'Unobtanium,' meaning their thirst (greed) will never be quenched. When negotiation fails they use a private army to seize the land, and the film shows the horror this causes the native inhabitants. Stirred by a sense of injustice, a few corporate mercenaries defect to the natives and lead them to victory in the ensuing war. The surviving corporate people are then captured and humanely sent packing - because the primitive tribal people have a greater capacity for mercy than the ruthless corporate men. The main character starts the film in a wheel chair but ends as a walking native, implying that technology is morally crippling the human race and unless we get more in touch with nature and return to primitive ways of living, with tribal togetherness, we are doomed to become miserable monsters. Industrialism is a black hole, bound to destry everything because it knows no limits such as rights, justice or mercy. Or at the very least we must learn to respect any cultures of that kind, or indeed any cultures different to our own, because the value we don't appreciate still exists for those peoples.

------------

Hmm. I think the movie clearly didn't have much to say about rights, because it never elaborated on the rights of anybody or the depict any sort of judicial system. It quite simply aimed to induce a sense of injustice to get the audience emotionally involved in the film - we can argue all day about what rights theoretically were breached but the fact is most people in the world do not even understand this collective vs. individual issue like Objectivists do. I'm sure James Cameron doesn't. I quite frankly do not think he is especially philosophical -- remember Sarah Connor's 'you men, you don't know what it's like to nurture a child…' speech in T2? Or the class stuff in Titanic? Laughable. His films are all about the aesthetics and Avatar certainly delivers on that front. The corporation is the stock villain in this case but it could just as easily have been the American government - except that having ACTUAL U.S. marines gunned down during battle as the bad guys would have been totally untenable for a Hollywood movie. The nature thing is not particularly deep either, I mean these people WORSHIP nature, and then at the end we quite literally get DEUS EX MACHINA (or should that be deus ex nature?) with all the animals uniting to defeat the mercenaries. The characters and themes are archetypal but only to make the story more compelling, not for any deep philosophical commitment (or if there was one, it failed miserably).

Edited by Tyco
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Complete rubbish. This is rationalizing an immoral act under the color of Objectivist thought. This same argument was used on the other thread in regard to Native Americans.

You need to give an argument for why an illegitimate government has a right to anything. Or why my analysis of a trail created by many over decades is either a) fundamentally flawed as an analogy or B) is flawed in some way as to its conclusion: that the trail is no one's property.

Now, the Na'vi's tools and personal possessions were there's, certainly. But the tree itself was no one's, at least as to the best of my ability to determine.

Regardless of their dependance on unobtainium, this in no way justifies the invasion and wholesale destruction of a people's home. The humans had no right to make them move - it was not their property. This is the same justification that was used to take the Black Hills in violation of a treaty, just as land was taken from the Nations regardless of other treaties. Using this same rationalization, the US should then be justified in the invasion of Saudi Arabia and the wholesale desruction of it's inhabitants. After all, they are just barbarians, and we can just take their shit because we have a need.

It may not be their property, but since the Na'vi had no concept of property, and since the Home Tree was not any of their's and collective property through voluntary pooling of justly acquired property does not apply here, and since their government was illegitimate, then the Na'vi have no claim to it either. The Na'vi civilization can survive (and thrive, apparently, from the other examples scene in the movie) without the Home Tree, the humans will not be so lucky without unobtainium. The Na'vi were warned. Perhaps the method was a little violent, but the idea of moving in to mine is not problematic.

Now, to my knowledge, the movie does not detail any "treaty" of any kind with the Na'vi. I disagree with the very concept of making a treaty with an illegitimate government. But if you do so, then you are claiming it to be legitimate, and so you are not free to ignore such a treaty when you wish. At best, you can declare an actual war with said "legitimate" government, or however else people actually break treaties (I imagine wars, normally). But to simply ignore it because you retroactively decide that the government you made it with is illegitimate is simply wrong.

As for your allusion to Saudi Arabia: You do not have the right to slaughter everyone in the country (they have rights nevertheless). But they have no government, and as such it would not, on principle be wrong for us to invade and take over. We could, for example, fix their laws so that everyone is equal before it, get rid of its barbaric punishments, support free enterprise (denationalize the oil industry for example), end the bans on behaviors (no more burkas, no more bans on alcohol, drugs, etc.). Life in Saudi Arabia would actually be far better if we were to do so. Now, I do not think it would necessarily be worth the cost to the United States to do this, but it would not be wrong on principle, since their is no legitimate government, and we could make it a rights-respecting part of the world. Whether it is moral or immoral depends on if the benefit to America is worth the cost (probably not). I don't think that process/analogy in particular applies to the Na'vi, but I thought I should respond anyway.

Edited by nanite1018
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A boring rainy Sunday inspired me to finally see Avatar. In 3D no less.

Here are my thoughts.

1) Fantasy v. Reality:

It's difficult to make ethical judgments about a fantastical situation. Some have commented that Cameron switches contexts around as it suits him. This is true. My biggest problem with the fantasy world of Pandora has to do with what we don't know about our own human evolution. Clearly, Pandora's ecology was a literal, living, intelligent being. Yes, intelligent. The difference between this being and humans is in the nature of our values. Like any living thing, life is the top value of this entity. However, its life is dependent on an ecological 'balance', and therefore it will not act necessarily in the interests of individual creatures - even against alien foes. The lady alien had to tell the avatar guy this, even as the avatar guy argued to the world-mind that if the humans weren't defeated now, they would eventually overrun the planet and destroy its ecology - mentioning, significantly, that Earth's ecology was destroyed by human civilization. More on that later.

My main concern is how such a world would evolve. First, why would all life evolve a common neural network? Diversity in life is the result of survival of the fittest as species compete for naturally occurring resources. There is the example of an ant hive, but even those forms of life develop castes - all similar to each other. I suppose a 'hive' ecology could become completely diverse, but I doubt it. More importantly - why would intelligent bipedals develop in this ecology? What in the world could be the need, in reality, for intelligence? Humans developed it, I believe, because it assisted in adaptation to new environments. But the Na'vi are 'linked' to nature. Their birdies and horsies are their means of adaptation, and mind you that horses and cattle were domesticated by human intelligence. The Na'vi depend entirely on their ecology. Maybe, big maybe, the world mind developed, and 'created' the Na'vi for fun or whatever. This raises questions of how ethical it is to bring intelligent life into existence without providing it a means to provide for its own existence. Do parents own children? Well, no, but for now let's just start out saying that the whole scenario of Avatar is fantastical and hard to relate to reality. This gives rise to my impressions from the film.

2) Where Avatar went Right:

It went right inasmuch as it was similar to reality. If you compare the Na'vi to Indians, and recognize it as a parable for such, then it is a parable about property rights. It's hard to argue that the Na'vi didn't own their tree. There is a lot of mention of tribal society, and how it doesn't respect individual rights in this thread. Although the tribal government doesn't have legitimacy - so it cannot claim to be a legal authority - the individuals in that tribe still own what they've produced, even if they don't see it like that. Or, in another sense, there is no part of that tree that has not been adapted for use by someone.

Put it this way, if I find a cave, and live there, I've adapted it for my use. I may not have so much as hung a skin from the opening, or painted on the walls, but I recognized the cave as a shelter and used my mind to choose to locate there. You can't blow up the mountain for gold anymore then you could if I had built a castle on top. The difference is that once I leave the cave, it is just a cave, whereas the castle is a lasting product that doesn't require me living there to own it.

There may be no legitimate authority to broker the abandonment of the tree, but it is still owned. Figuring out how to deal with it is a doozy, and appealing to the tribal government may be the only recourse. Consider that after Communism, in say Romania, the apartment the government let you live in was deeded to you. The individuals may not have explicitly owned that property beforehand, but if anybody did, it was them since they collectively produced the buildings. This is the difficulty of collectivism, its messy, but the law is the law, and to whatever extent property rights are held even if through a collective arrangement, if there is a vacuum otherwise, the collective arrangement is a necessary starting point.

The humans would have been free to talk to the Na'vi, Radio Free Pandora - if you will - and convince them one by one to abandon the tribal life. If enough decided to do this, they could change their political system - perhaps with, but not necessarily, a little revolutionary violence. Then they could assign rights to 'branches' of the tree, and make laws concerning the preservation of the roots. They could even allow digging 'under' the tree via side-shafts that are filled in by their approval. But this is up to them, and need on the part of humanity absolutely does not constitute a justification for infringing on the Pandorans' rights.

To compare to primitive society: a tribe could not reasonably claim to be a legal authority over plains just because they hunt there, or a forest just because they live near there. But it could claim an absolute right to the buildings and cultivated land in its village. No Westerner, ever, was justified in destroying and sacking a native village just because the people were not as politically developed. Even if a tyrant rules over a people, the most a foreign power can do is overthrow the tyrant, not impose a government. In other words, a person may be free to live in a collective or not. When he has no choice, it is ethically okay to use force against that collective in defense of his rights (if you, or most likely he, so chooses). If he has the choice, and chooses irrationally, you cannot overthrow the collective.

Now if the humans had made a human 'wonder world' for disaffected Na'vi to run to, and this pissed off the tribalists, who waged war, and the humans merely retaliated......

3) Where Avatar Went Wrong:

The biggest flaw of Avatar is a glaring philosophical statement that is completely false and contradictory. I mentioned earlier that Pandora has a world mind, evidenced fully throughout the film. This does complicate things, because this mind would be an entity with rights. But I mentioned that it must intelligibly communicate them in order to have them respected. In any event this world mind, and its role in contrast to the state of the ecology of Earth - according to the film - highlights the real philosophical message of Avatar.

At the end, the avatar guy tells the world mind that humans have devastated their own ecology, and will devastate Pandora's if they aren't immediately repelled. This betrays the first philosophical contradiction.

Mystics who love the environment claim the existence of a pure 'spirit of nature'. Yet, their arguments for environmentalism always boil down to a utilitarian argument generally called sustainability. They admit that humans must exploit nature in order to survive. They admit that this is the first value to consider: exploitation of nature as a source of life-sustaining resources. The reason is because the death of an ecology would mean no more resources to exploit, which is their main argument for environmentalism. This irony is important to remember as they claim that man has no right exploiting nature for his own needs. The argument evolves into the mystical realm as the sustainable 'balance' of the ecology that is technically meant to benefit humans, doesn't regard human life as its top value. Thus valuing human life becomes the argument for devaluing it.

There is a legitimate argument for sustainability. Generally, rational people will try to preserve important resources in order maintain their long-term happiness. But Pandora's world-mind entity as a concept, particularly in contrast with the Earth of the film, betrays the true philosophical message.

On Pandora there is a literal mind and 'spirit' of nature. It interacts physically and directly with the plants and creatures. The most telling moment was when avatar guy, and alien girl are talking about it. He says he wants to convince it to help fight the humans. She says it doesn't care about things like rights of the Na'vi and so on, but rather only acts to maintain 'balance'. Or in other words, the mind of the ecosystem acts to maintain a utilitarian sustainability. Therefore, it must violently fight the humans who have over consumed their own ecosystem. (funny how consumption of resources seems oddly different then production of greenhouse gasses, but I suppose eco-warriors would tell us that we'll destroy it all eventually, somehow)

He specifically says that humans have killed their 'earth mother'. Well, there is no neural link between life on earth!! There is no earth mother! There is no entity which must preserve balance in order to preserve its life and identity! The only analogue - and there must be one because the contrast was made by the filmmaker - on Earth for the 'all mother' would be the 'motherland'. That is, the state. The state is the all-knowing, all caring force of utilitarian sustainability. The filmmaker is saying, even if he wouldn't admit it, that because we don't have the valuable all-mother ecology on Earth, we ought to have the next best thing - a authoritarian utilitarian technocratic eco-state. The mythos itself doesn't imply this, but the contrast in the narrative does.

So yes, Avatar is anti-capitalist and anti-man. But no, the company had no right to force the thingys from their tree. Uninhabited patches of land they could have bulldozed, so long as the 'all mother' never communicated its displeasure with such an activity.

Final thought: trading shiny pots for all of Manhattan was legitimate (if you ignore that no trade was really necessary). The intellectual value of something produced by Western civilization - the novelty - of it, I think would be more than worth a bunch of land that nobody really used. Likewise, surely the 'all mother' would have accepted a trade of say - hearing the mind of human beings, learning of the novelties and new ideas of their culture and history - for a bunch of metal she didn't need. Conflict wasn't necessary, and the idea that the Na'vi wouldn't trade their tree for 'anything' was absurd and pessimistic. It was viewing it from the wrong context.

If the Na'vi understood that the humans could, but wouldn't, attack them no matter how badly they needed the mineral, and would only obtain it through trade, I am sure they would understand the value of Western Civilization and capitalism and consider trading. Even if their only concern was the 'needs' of the Earth. Then again, if they knew that the humans would destroy the planets' ecosystem, why should they budge?

In the end, the Na'vi failed to fight the humans - it was the planet that fought them off. The planet was within its rights as an intelligent living being to protect its existence from a group of people that in the movie universe apparently were ready to ravage nature. This means the proper thing happened. Well, the planet had the responsibility to communicate its existence first, before killing everyone, but by this point I have to end my discussion.

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You need to give an argument for why an illegitimate government has a right to anything. Or why my analysis of a trail created by many over decades is either a) fundamentally flawed as an analogy or B) is flawed in some way as to its conclusion: that the trail is no one's property.

The tribal government doesn't have a right to anything, but the people in the tribe do. The extent to which individuals in the tribe choose to trade over their property to the collective is the extent to which that collective legitimately owns the property. Or does your utility not own the power cables that go under your lawn? I mean, it's your lawn, so you should be able to dig up the cables and just use them, right? The power company is a collective arrangement, so it doesn't have any rights? Yes, the government provides an opportunity to write a contract where you allow the company to put their property in your property (well, in reality it's a monopoly imposed arrangement, but I'm speaking ideally). But, no, the absence of a perfect government does not erase contractual arrangements, however primitive, in a tribe.

Yes, it is irrational to choose to serve a collective, but that is the choice of the individual who joins it. Just because they were 'brainwashed' doesn't make young tribalists' devotion to their tribe illegitimate. Only when they force tribal law on others who do not accept the collective do they err. And you may only act against those situations.

As for your trail, as long as I was using it I'd have a right to it. If I was pulling my cart on the trail, and stopped for a minute to rest my beast, and you threw me off - yes, that would be an infringement on my rights! You wouldn't own the trail anymore than l. The Na'vi were using the tree, all the time. If they abandoned it, they could not claim it again, unless they established a legitimate government which negotiated with the humans.

As for your allusion to Saudi Arabia: You do not have the right to slaughter everyone in the country (they have rights nevertheless). But they have no government, and as such it would not, on principle be wrong for us to invade and take over. We could, for example, fix their laws so that everyone is equal before it, get rid of its barbaric punishments, support free enterprise (denationalize the oil industry for example), end the bans on behaviors (no more burkas, no more bans on alcohol, drugs, etc.). Life in Saudi Arabia would actually be far better if we were to do so. Now, I do not think it would necessarily be worth the cost to the United States to do this, but it would not be wrong on principle, since their is no legitimate government, and we could make it a rights-respecting part of the world. Whether it is moral or immoral depends on if the benefit to America is worth the cost (probably not). I don't think that process/analogy in particular applies to the Na'vi, but I thought I should respond anyway.

Except that they believe in the legitimacy of that government - a lot of them at least. That isn't to condemn those trapped in that system who desire individual rights, they deserve those rights. You can overthrow the Saudi government all you want - but you can't take homes people are living in and kick them out just because the government was bad and there's oil in the basement. If anything you do your best to determine who actually deserves to own what, and deed it out to them as individuals. That is your responsibility as conquerer.

If we wanted to take land from the Indians, all we had to do was say "You are illegitimate, we are, here is why." When they fight us, if we really want to bother enforcing rights in their territories (defined by ability to project force, not by tribal mysticism), we have to have the power to do so. So we send in the General Custer, whoop them, and establish ourselves as the legitimate government. But at that point we still owe individuals their property. Their cultivated land, their homes, and so forth, are theirs still.

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Yes, it is irrational to choose to serve a collective, but that is the choice of the individual who joins it. Just because they were 'brainwashed' doesn't make young tribalists' devotion to their tribe illegitimate. Only when they force tribal law on others who do not accept the collective do they err. And you may only act against those situations.

As for your trail, as long as I was using it I'd have a right to it. If I was pulling my cart on the trail, and stopped for a minute to rest my beast, and you threw me off - yes, that would be an infringement on my rights! You wouldn't own the trail anymore than l...

Now, maybe I'm missing something. But I believe there was an essay (I think by Rand) where the issue of the trail was addressed, and that it would be perfectly fine for me to go in and put a toll on it, because nobody owned it. Perhaps I am mistaken, and I can't remember where it was. Maybe you remember something about it? The individual Na'vi did not create that Tree, all of them did without ever really meaning to. As it stands, they had no real right to it.

Now, if you wanted to make the argument that the Tree wasn't the Na'vi's but Eywa's, or whatever the planet-tree-spirit-thing was called, you might have more of an argument. However, I don't know if property rights apply to an entity which is made up of other, independent entities (the trees, presumably, can survive independently). I'm not sure how to even begin to tackle that problem, and I'm certainly not certain if the entity, whatever it was, was a conscious rational being with full rights of its own. I doubt it, but that's really sort of up in the air.

Except that they believe in the legitimacy of that government - a lot of them at least. That isn't to condemn those trapped in that system who desire individual rights, they deserve those rights. You can overthrow the Saudi government all you want - but you can't take homes people are living in and kick them out just because the government was bad and there's oil in the basement. If anything you do your best to determine who actually deserves to own what, and deed it out to them as individuals. That is your responsibility as conquerer.

If we wanted to take land from the Indians, all we had to do was say "You are illegitimate, we are, here is why." When they fight us, if we really want to bother enforcing rights in their territories (defined by ability to project force, not by tribal mysticism), we have to have the power to do so. So we send in the General Custer, whoop them, and establish ourselves as the legitimate government. But at that point we still owe individuals their property. Their cultivated land, their homes, and so forth, are theirs still.

I agree that we should give individuals their property. But I don't see how the idea applies in this case, because the Na'vi didn't create the tree, it was just there, and any modifications happened a long time ago, through the actions of thousands of them, probably without much planning, and certainly without any belief that anyone owned any of it (and so ownership would now be impossible to determine). They cultivated no land, and they had no real homes. It seemed, from what I saw, that the tree was inconsequential, and that everything in it could easily be moved without any consequences (if they'd listened).

I don't see how you own any cave just because you're in it. You didn't make it anything, you just are sitting there, maybe with your rucksack unpacked on the floor. Well, if I want to turn the cave into a mine, I can tell you to move, because I'm mining here, and a legitimate government gave me permission to in this ungoverned place (i.e., the rights-respecting one on Earth; similar to those of the Europeans who came to America). If you don't move, I'll start to drill while you're still inside, your choice, but I'm still going to be mining here whether you like it or not. And if you shoot at me, then I can shoot back (just as the humans did). I see no reason why you just sitting somewhere somehow makes that area yours. You didn't make it, no one gave it to ya, so it ain't yours.

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I see no reason why you just sitting somewhere somehow makes that area yours. You didn't make it, no one gave it to ya, so it ain't yours.

And it ain't yours either. Anarchy and war necessarily result from the libertarian evasion of the material requirements of life, of property rights.

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Put it this way, if I find a cave, and live there, I've adapted it for my use. I may not have so much as hung a skin from the opening, or painted on the walls, but I recognized the cave as a shelter and used my mind to choose to locate there. You can't blow up the mountain for gold anymore then you could if I had built a castle on top. The difference is that once I leave the cave, it is just a cave, whereas the castle is a lasting product that doesn't require me living there to own it.

...

To compare to primitive society: a tribe could not reasonably claim to be a legal authority over plains just because they hunt there, or a forest just because they live near there. But it could claim an absolute right to the buildings and cultivated land in its village. No Westerner, ever, was justified in destroying and sacking a native village just because the people were not as politically developed.

Exactly. Rights, including property, are one thing: politically sanctioned entitlements. The principles from which they are derived are another. While there may be a lack of a legitimate governing body to grant rights, that does not negate the underlying principles: ie. the proper way to interact with fellow men.

It was immoral for the corporation to overlook that the Na'vi had found this tree before them and converted it into their homestead. By initiating force they undermined the whole basis of property: that your labour, hence your possessions, are an extension of your self and thus part of your life. Every man has an unequivocal (natural) right to his life regardless of any other circumstance.

If I find a stick or a bone and decide to use it as a splint, club, lever or whatever, it becomes my possession through the application of my mind. I imagine people might object that what where does this 'finders keepers' rule end? Can I claim the whole forest I hunt? but

1. the Na'Vi were not even claiming their forest they were tolerating outsiders and claiming their homestead

2. the whole, vast forest cannot be under the 'application of the mind' of a few hunters

3. that's why you have a legitimate government to settle these more complex matters. the matter in this case is relatively simple

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I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding that many here hold as to how tribal councils operated among Native American nations that needs to be addressed. I see tribal governments frequently referred to as "collectives", and the statement that N/As had no concept of property or individual rights. This is incorrect. The rights of the individual were supreme within tribal structure. The property that you owned belonged to you and your family, not the larger clan or tribe. One kept the fruits of one's own labor, be it a basket, a dwelling or the game that one hunted. Property was not put into a common larder and distributed based on "need," although one was free to contribute to the upkeep of the old, crippled or injured as one saw fit. "Chiefs" or headmen were elected by unanimous consent to fulfill certain roles in tribal governance, usually one to govern during times of peace, making day to day decisions affecting the group as a whole, which were hashed out among a council of adults who have proven their worth - all had their say. Also, there would be a leader designated to take charge in times of war, who had demonstrated excellence in leadership and had the confidence of the other members.

That being said, any individual and his family were not bound by the decisions of the leadership. They could, at any time refuse to participate in a war party, for whatever reason - and not be held in derision because of it, as it was their right as an individual. If one disagreed with the overall performance of the leadership, one could move at one's whim and live with another unit of the tribe in whom one had more confidence.

The concept of tribal territory, comprising hunting grounds and living areas, is based on the hunter/gatherer/agricultural basis of the tribe and the area in which they lived. The Eastern tribes had more established villages (and some settlements numbered in the thousands, before European introduced disease eradicated large swaths of the population), with permanent dwellings and extensive agricultural development (such as my T'salagi [Cherokee] ancestors). This is an artifact of the geography. East of the Mississippi, there was extensive forest-land and the land lent itself to agriculture. As we move further West, onto the plains, the land lent itself to extensive hunting as a primary means of sustenance, as the Bison provided all that one needed for a comfortable existence, supplemented by small scale agriculture. Hunting territories were jealously guarded because they were essential to the very survival of the tribal unit. It is the cultural difference with that of the European settlers that caused the great conflict - the settlers saw the land as unowned and unoccupied, while the native Americans did not. They also did not grasp that tribal units operated as extended families, each autonomous but belonging to a larger tribal structure that gathered annually. Thus, when the US government made a treaty with one tribal unit, they failed to understand that that one individual did not speak for the tribe as a whole, and that others may not recognize a deal struck with one individual who had no authority to speak for them.

This is the culture of the sovereignty of the individual held supreme - a far cry from the "collective" label thrown about so lightly here.

I suspect the N'avi operated in much the same way in the film.

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This is the culture of the sovereignty of the individual held supreme

If primitivism meant individualism, I'd move to the Amazon jungle tomorrow. But there's a reason why we're braving the likes of Obama. Primitivism is not so much fun when it's up close and personal.

There is a movement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage) in olden time Europe which holds that a state of lawlessness is the ultimate freedom, and they did identify American Indians as free, in silliness such as this:

I am as free as nature first made man,

Ere the base laws of servitude began,

When wild in woods the noble savage ran.

They (and you) are very much in contradiction with Objectivism. Just because you're using the same word, doesn't mean you mean the same thing by individualism. To Ayn Rand, an ideal individual isn't someone who runs around the planes relying on "the Bison" to provide "all that one needs for a comfortable existence". Such a man would quickly discover that "the Bison" doesn't have the cure for smallpox, even if he never finds out that there are things more comfortable than eating bison meat all day.

Rand's idea of individualism and humanism is very different from that of Romantic Primitivists. There is nothing rational or moral about the "individual" and the society you're describing:

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows. (Rand)

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Rand's idea of individualism and humanism is very different from that of Romantic Primitivists. There is nothing rational or moral about the "individual" and the society you're describing:

Not having access to Aristotelian logic the various native americans were not capable of great feats of abstraction, but neither were they guilty of great crimes justified by rationalism. They did not have any "-isms". But to say there was nothing rational or moral about their lives is hyperbole that if taken literally is a denial that they are human beings. They had common sense and common values, so it is not literally true that there was nothing rational or moral about their lives. There had to have been common sense and simple morality or they could not have survived.

European primitivism is a rejection of integration. It is caused by an epistemology that rejects any kind of abstraction in principle, in particular any philosophical principles concerning organizing society. It rejects philosophy. Actual primitives don't reject philosophy, they simply don't have it. Willfully embracing primitivism is evil, being an actual primitive unaware of the issues involved is not evil.

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