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Stop.

I said they lived there collectively, not that they had collective rights.

You are making things up. You are now declaring that collectives do not exist.

Just realize that collectivism is the idea that the individual is subordinated to the group. The value of the group is above that of the individual so that he is owned by the group. In the real world collectivism means poverty, enslavement, and death.

A collection of rationally selfish individuals with inalienable right is not a collective in that sense. It's an entirely different thing.

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The Na'vi are a tribe. Their direct parallel in this world are Native Americans. In that context, within tribal society, each individual is his own sovereign. While there are accepted norms of behavior expected of an individual as a member of the larger society, the individual is free to pursue his own path. With both the Na'vi and Native American societies, their actions and lifestyles are rational and appropriate for the circumstances in which they live/lived.

In both cases, it seems to me, you have a technologically superior, but morally inferior, group imposing it's will upon another by force of arms. This is wrong, and the mindset that rationalizes such as appropriate is disturbing.

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You might be interested in this post of mine. And in case you missed them, I referred back to and elaborated on it in these three posts.

Ok, you said:

In our present context here on Earth, we say that rights apply to man, since they are derived from man's defining characteristic: the fact of reason being his primary means of survival. If at some point we discover another species that shares this essential characteristic, then we will extend the scope of rights to include individuals of that species--but if we discover a new species that is only similar to man in other, non-essential characteristics, then it would be a mistake to apply rights to that species.

There was no evidence in the movie of the Na'vi using reason as their primary means of survival; in fact, their fundamental distinction from man was that they survived by "connecting" with lower animals and NOT by reason.

False. They made tools and used those tools to hunt. They had an innate ability to connect with other life forms on the planet, yes, but they were the only species shown to use that ability TO connect with other life forms, so they were using that ability as a tool as well.

It has been mentioned that they were able to speak, which was supposedly indicative of their possessing a conceptual faculty--but in reality as opposed to fiction, a species would not evolve the ability to use language unless it needed it for its survival; if a species like the Na'vi could speak a language, it would only be an indication that they once used to be rational animals and still retain their linguistic faculty as a vestige. They would in effect be what the viros would like man to become: an ex-rational animal that has stopped using reason as its way of survival.

That's quite a stretch - but the Na'vi were also engaged in some types of negotiations with the humans. There had been a school established for the Na'vi as I recall, so the Na'vi were still using their reason in some facility.

A rather broad interpretation of the concept of ownership, but okay, I'll go along, in a sense the beavers can be said to "own" their dam. But I still don't see why it is in the corporation owner's rational self-interest to stop building the bridge just because the beavers are there.

You need to prove that the Na'vi were the equivalent of beavers before I'll continue to humor this line of discussion.

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False. They made tools and used those tools to hunt.

OK, let's move on to your response to what I wrote about the tools:

That's quite a stretch - but the Na'vi were also engaged in some types of negotiations with the humans. There had been a school established for the Na'vi as I recall, so the Na'vi were still using their reason in some facility.

Calling something a stretch is not what I would call an ironclad refutation, and "as I recall" doesn't sound quite convincing either. ;) If you have to dig for it in your memory, chances are it's not the most relevant feature that they had.

The fundamental thing about the Na'vi was that they were the opposite of a technological civilization: not just a primitive society that had yet to rise to a higher level, but one that identified with and stood for a brutish form of existence and would not progress. The purpose of Avatar was to attack technology and the virtues that make it possible--first and foremost among them, rationality. The Na'vi were the concretization of the author's ideal: the anti-rational animal. The animal that could live by reason if it wanted to, but didn't want to because it was opposed to reason. The movie had to include a few elements of potential or actual rationality to show that the species could have been like man, but these were either:

  • instances of them having a choice to be rational and choosing not to;
  • remnants of rationality that would eventually atrophy in reality; or
  • necessary for the plot but contradicting the fundamental characteristic, which means they could not exist in reality.

You need to prove that the Na'vi were the equivalent of beavers before I'll continue to humor this line of discussion.

I wasn't going to continue this line of discussion, but then you said that all sentient beings owned where they lived. Beavers are sentient beings.

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Define "a brutish form of existence." I saw no evidence in the film of brutishness on the part of the Na'vi, but did on the part of the human invaders. As regards technology, if we possessed the ability to tap into a naturally occurring worldwide neural network, and use it to our advantage, why would it be necessary to invent an inferior version of the same, such as a laptop or PC? That would be a step backward.

Edited by Maximus
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So they are not rational animals. As I have already explained and already referred back to twice.

But you still have to show that such a Na'vi exists. (Or alternatively, show that a nonexistent entity can have rights...)

You quoted my So? interrogation by itself. What about the accompanying observation? Actual persons are doing that [being irrational] right now all over the world, that does not turn them into a different species of subhumans.

You found no evidence in the movie of the Na'vi using reason as their primary means of survival, but the movie is filled with Na'vi conceptual beings speaking, thinking and discriminating between better and worse based upon their understanding of their world.

Your method in evaluating this movie appears to be one of working backward from the identification of an objectionable theme to finding a way to reject it. Regarding the Na'vi as beavers would do the job, but the Na'vi are not beavers and the evasions and rationalizations you are going through are as harmful as the movie's theme. I wonder if you find actual environmentalists in the real world to be subhuman?

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The fundamental thing about the Na'vi was that they were the opposite of a technological civilization: not just a primitive society that had yet to rise to a higher level, but one that identified with and stood for a brutish form of existence and would not progress. The purpose of Avatar was to attack technology and the virtues that make it possible--first and foremost among them, rationality.

I think the purpose of Avatar was to attack technology, capitalism and the military. I do not for one moment believe that the director genuinely considered *rationality* at all, neither in the plot nor the various characters.

The Na'vi were the concretization of the author's ideal: the anti-rational animal. The animal that could live by reason if it wanted to, but didn't want to because it was opposed to reason.

You are equating the use of reason with the use of technology. A rational person can choose not to make use of technology. You are also assuming that the Na'vi had deliberately shunned technology completely

The movie had to include a few elements of potential or actual rationality to show that the species could have been like man, but these were either:

* instances of them having a choice to be rational and choosing not to;

You mean like when the Na'vi chose to allow a human to experience their society?

* remnants of rationality that would eventually atrophy in reality; or

Such as?

* necessary for the plot but contradicting the fundamental characteristic, which means they could not exist in reality.

Such as?

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You know what, guys? Let me hypothetically grant you all your premises. Let me imagine that one or more Na'vi individuals had an objective property claim on the tree and the humans were guilty of violating it. Even in that case, the humans would be admirable producers who made one out-of-character misstep, while the Na'vi would still be pathetic losers who only won as a result of divine intervention. The message would still be anti-technology, anti-capitalism, anti-man, and anti-reason; the movie would still stink, and I would still see the producers as the true heroes in it. Instead of the black versus white that it actually is, it would have a somewhat diminished contrast--but it would still be easy to tell the brighter side from the darker one.

The intention of the director, however, was NOT to make a naturalistic movie. He did NOT want to paint in shades of gray, but to concretize the two sides of a fundemental choice. One of the species stood for the choice to live qua man, by reason and the technology that reason makes possible, while the other represented the choice to give up reason and "rejoin nature."

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I would first like to express my complete agreement with what Capitalism Forever has written in this thread so far.

I am not sure whether this precise point has been made yet, but I think one important issue here is that one should not automatically grant all of the premises of a work of propaganda. In other words, when we see the Na'vi using language and simple tools, we should not automatically conclude that they are rational, and therefore possessed of rights. Similarly, when we see the humans looting and pillaging, we should not automatically conclude that they are nihilistic thugs.

Suppose someone were to write a story about a peaceful, prosperous nation, called "Commutopia", in which every citizen is hard-working, benevolent, and absolutely loyal to the wise ruling party. Commutopia is then attacked by an army of ruthless killers with dollar signs painted on their uniforms, who wander around burning things, impaling infants, and comitting other atrocities, for no particular reason which is ever explained. Eventually, a brave band of peasants unites and drives out the invaders. Upon hearing this story, would we be compelled to praise the band of peasants and condemn the invaders? After all, was the government of Commutopia violating the rights of its citizens? No, every single individual citizen voluntarily agrees to abide by the will of the collective (the author states this clearly). Did the invaders act rationally and respect rights? Clearly not. If I were to hear this story, I would refuse to accept its premises, and would choose the side of the invaders over the "heroes". I found myself doing exactly this near the end of Avatar; I even began to admire the "evil" marine commander after a fashion: I saw him as a symbol of capitalism and the military, who was being slandered by a corrupt director. Note that my example above is essentially Avatar with environmentalism replaced by communism in the theme.

In general, any story is an account of fictitious events, which is being relayed by the story's creator. Is it even possible to disbelieve this account? My answer is yes. If at the end of the Harry Potter series, it was revealed that Voldermort is good while Harry is evil, readers would rightly disbelieve this revelation, since it contradicts the rest of the story. What about things like magic or faster than light travel, which are clearly impossible in our universe? My answer is that in fiction only the essentials are subject to this kind of disbelief. We can believe the magic in Harry Potter, or the technology in Star Trek, but we should not believe the situation I presented in my propaganda example above.

Should we disbelieve the fictional "facts" presented in Avatar? Yes. A tribe of jungle savages is not a perfect, utopian society. A capitalist civilization capable of space-travel is not a gang of nihilistic barbarians. Military commanders are not mindless, sadistic killers. Advanced technology is not powerless in the face of nature. Machines are not ugly abominations and untouched nature is not a beautiful paradise. These are the essentials of Avatar, and they contradict the facts of reality.

Edited by Tenzing_Shaw
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The intention of the director, however, was NOT to make a naturalistic movie. He did NOT want to paint in shades of gray, but to concretize the two sides of a fundemental choice. One of the species stood for the choice to live qua man, by reason and the technology that reason makes possible, while the other represented the choice to give up reason and "rejoin nature."

I can agree that the director's intent and the theme were wrong and even evil, but demonstrating that requires a higher level of thought than the shortcut of assigning the Na'vi the status of animals.

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I object to the term "savages." This is a dismissive term that has been used to justify exploitation of indigenous people on every continent on this planet.

And it is disgusting to see this on this board. And all it took is a bit of blue paint.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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I am not sure whether this precise point has been made yet, but I think one important issue here is that one should not automatically grant all of the premises of a work of propaganda. In other words, when we see the Na'vi using language and simple tools, we should not automatically conclude that they are rational, and therefore possessed of rights.

I agree about not granting the premises, but it wasn't even a premise in this movie that the Na'vi were rational. The premise was exactly the opposite: they were the ANTI-rational animal.

One premise that the movie did have, though, and one that we should definitely not grant, is its pro-mysticism stance. The connections to the animals and the deity Eywa were, on the one hand, clearly intended as representations of human superstitions and religion, but on the other hand were shown to be scientifically observable and to have causal efficacy. This is clearly a contradiction, and we should not accept it: something is EITHER supernatural and therefore only exists in men's imagination OR it is real and available to sense perception and therefore secular.

Cameron attempts to place the plot in a setting where what I've called "environmental theology" is true: a place where Gaia-worshippers have a real Gaia to worship and where tree-hugging is a real profession. The posters here have accepted that premise and argue, in effect: "Those guys were working hard hugging trees, so didn't they have a right to the fruits of their labor?" No, they were not working hard hugging trees, because that's a contradiction, and you cannot have a hypothetical scenario based on "A is not A." If we want to make a rational assessment of the movie, they were just hugging trees and that's it.

(Or alternatively, it could be "They were just working hard and that's it," but that's not the kind of movie Cameron has ever made.)

Suppose someone were to write a story about a peaceful, prosperous nation, called "Commutopia", in which every citizen is hard-working, benevolent, and absolutely loyal to the wise ruling party. Commutopia is then attacked by an army of ruthless killers with dollar signs painted on their uniforms, who wander around burning things, impaling infants, and comitting other atrocities, for no particular reason which is ever explained.

I agree that this would be an obvious smear on America and bad enough as such, but it is worth noting that in Avatar, the humans are not brutal monsters who have some non-essential resemblance to Americans, but are in fact as American as apple pie--and that is what Cameron holds against them. Far from committing atrocities for no reason, they

  • go to the planet as part of an immensely productive business venture,
  • go out of their way to try and deal with the Na'vi as rational beings, by trade, and only give up when it becomes clear that the Na'vi reject all trade on principle,
  • then remove the tree without any intention to hurt the Na'vi,
  • and after that, they are ready to go on with their business and leave the Na'vi alone; it is only when the Na'vi declare war on them that they begin to target them.

The only mistake the leaders make is to trust Sully not to go native.

The movie represents a new low in that the humans are, as far as a dispassionate rational analysis reveals, completely virtuous, and it is only on the emotional level that we are made to see them as evil. It is a concretization of the good along with the injunction to hate it for being that.

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They (Na'vi) were depicted as hunter-gatherers, not "tree-huggers." From the standpoint of their means of survival, it would have been foolish to want to destroy that which ensured said survival (their environment).

The argument still seems to come down to "they do not value the same things which we do, therefore, they are irrational. Being irrational, they are inferior. Since they are inferior, and we hold their values as worthless, we may initiate force against them and steal their shit." B)

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They (Na'vi) were depicted as hunter-gatherers, not "tree-huggers." From the standpoint of their means of survival, it would have been foolish to want to destroy that which ensured said survival (their environment).

So what was their means of survival, reason or "the environment" ? Make up your mind.

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So what was their means of survival, reason or "the environment" ? Make up your mind.

This is a false dichotomy. Modern hunter-gatherer societies can't even just rely on "the environment". They have to use their reason to get what they need from it, which is why Rand had the insight that reason is man's tool of survival. All men use it, as they must...reality demands it. I would argue that a member of a tribal society is actually less protected from not using reason than someone living off the dole in a modern industrial society, because death is so much nearer.

Most people in the world use reason instrumentally (unfortunately) and don't apply it in a consistent fashion to all of their high-level abstractions. But that does not mean we deny them their rights. I agree with Maximus and Sophia that by your line of reasoning absolutely terrible and rights-violating treatment of actual human beings living on this planet now (not in a movie) would be justified, and I reject that.

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Given the standard of individual rights, I think the answer as to how you treat other people is in accordance with how they treat you. The extent to which a savage society violates your rights is the extent to which you can treat them with reciprocity.

The Na'vi were violating no human beings rights, so they should have been left alone.

And I don't think the American Indians or any primitive tribes had much freedom. They were heavily controlled by the tribe and by the superstitions they held to, and I believe they were savages. The Apache, for example, were definitely savage. Savagery refers to the way they treat each other and the sort of rituals they engaged in. As George Reisman pointed out, we all have ancestors that started out as savages. It's not an insult, it's just a fact. Otherwise the word "savage" has no meaning.

As to "reason", all men must employ reason just to survive, so it's a requirement for survival. Reasoning is done without explicit understanding, but on an implicit level for people who lived in prehistoric times. Explicit and consistent application of reason, however, is only possible today when we know what reason is.

The Na'vi were meant to be environmentally friendly tree huggers. That was Cameron's idea, and it's his movie, so I don't see how anyone can deny that.

At the end of the day the Na'vi are an unrealistic idea. Men can survive in harmony as the Na'vi did. Men must use reason and exploit their surroundings.

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,

[*]go out of their way to try and deal with the Na'vi as rational beings, by trade, and only give up when it becomes clear that the Na'vi reject all trade on principle,

[*]then remove the tree without any intention to hurt the Na'vi,

On your first point above, the Na'vi never demonstrated that they reject all trade 'on principle', they merely rejected any trade for their home. The humans never tried to trade for anything else other than what was under their home.

On your second point above, I call BS. The mere fact that they intended to take down the tree to get the unobtainium one way or another shows an intent to either hurt them physically if they got in the way ( like by trying something silly like protecting their home) or by hurting them in virtually every other way by destroying their home.

The humans had no moral claim to destroy the home of Na'vi.

Edited by RationalBiker
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The movie represents a new low in that the humans are, as far as a dispassionate rational analysis reveals, completely virtuous, and it is only on the emotional level that we are made to see them as evil. It is a concretization of the good along with the injunction to hate it for being that.

This is a good point, and it actually makes Avatar much worse than the example I gave. In saying that no explanation is given for the violent behavior, I was primarily referring to the marine commander, who is written as simply enjoying killing (it is not clear that he even cares about the Unobtanium). Also, you are correct in saying that the Na'vi being rational is not a premise of the film. My point here was that one should not automatically infer from the details given in the film (their language and tool use) that they are rational.

Any work of fiction makes claims about reality only in its essentials. The seemingly semi-rational behavior of the Na'vi is non-essential; their mystical "connection" with their environment is the essential. The whole film could have been remade with the Na'vi not exhibiting any civilized behavior at all, and it would be the same film in terms of fundamentals (the purpose of the traces of civilized behavior is to get the audience to identify more with the Na'vi). When Ayn Rand described John Galt's motor in Atlas Shrugged, was she trying to imply that such a device is actually possible? No; the specific nature of the device is non-essential. When I evaluate the essentials of AS, I conclude that they are true, even though Galt's motor is impossible. When I evaluate the essentials of Avatar, I conclude that they are false, and some incidental traces of rationality possessed by the Na'vi cannot change this.

When I say that I am on the side of the humans in Avatar, I am looking only at the essentials of the story. When I do this, I see an advanced, rational civilization defeated and humbled by the mystical forces of unthinking nature. If Avatar means anything in reality, this is it.

It is impossible to correctly evaluate any work of fiction without identifying its essentials. Without doing this, one would be forced to attach significance to such things as Animal Farm being about farm animals, Harry Potter being about wizzards, or John Galt building an impossible device.

I object to the term "savages." This is a dismissive term that has been used to justify exploitation of indigenous people on every continent on this planet.

And it is disgusting to see this on this board. And all it took is a bit of blue paint.

Let me first say that I proudly stand by my use of this term.

Savage:

5. Of peoples or (now somewhat rarely) of individual persons: Uncivilized; existing in the lowest stage of culture.

It is revealing to examine the etymology of the word savage (see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=savage). When I used the word savage as I did, I was in fact closer to its original meaning (the Na'vi lived in the forest, and were clearly "untamed" and "wild"). The fact that this word came to denote violence and ferocity is interesting, since civility is indeed often proportional to cultural and technological development.

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Edit: I see Thales has beaten me to it on defending the use of the word savage! I also agree with his statement.

Edited by Tenzing_Shaw
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Any work of fiction makes claims about reality only in its essentials. The seemingly semi-rational behavior of the Na'vi is non-essential; their mystical "connection" with their environment is the essential. The whole film could have been remade with the Na'vi not exhibiting any civilized behavior at all, and it would be the same film in terms of fundamentals (the purpose of the traces of civilized behavior is to get the audience to identify more with the Na'vi). When Ayn Rand described John Galt's motor in Atlas Shrugged, was she trying to imply that such a device is actually possible? No; the specific nature of the device is non-essential. When I evaluate the essentials of AS, I conclude that they are true, even though Galt's motor is impossible. When I evaluate the essentials of Avatar, I conclude that they are false, and some incidental traces of rationality possessed by the Na'vi cannot change this.

When I say that I am on the side of the humans in Avatar, I am looking only at the essentials of the story. When I do this, I see an advanced, rational civilization defeated and humbled by the mystical forces of unthinking nature. If Avatar means anything in reality, this is it.

It is impossible to correctly evaluate any work of fiction without identifying its essentials. Without doing this, one would be forced to attach significance to such things as Animal Farm being about farm animals, Harry Potter being about wizzards, or John Galt building an impossible device.

The (in fact non-mystical as depicted) "connection" of the Na'vi with their environment would be completely irrelevant to the theme of the story and the audience watching it if Na'vi are not regarded as persons that can be understood and sympathized with. Jake's movement from the human culture to the Na'vi by learning the language, skills and history reinforces that they are people. Cameron does not just tell us the Na'vi are people, he shows us over and over so that the point cannot be ignored (he is a skilled director in his adherence to the principle of "show don't tell"). The movie could not have worked with a barbaric or truly alien Na'vi, it is essential to the premise of the story that they be regarded as persons with whom one can converse, learn from, respect and win respect from, and even fall in love with.

Everything in the plot depends upon judging that the Na'vi meet a commonsense inductive criteria for being persons. They were specifically designed to meet that criteria, the bodies not being off-putting and their thinking and actions and emoting being comprehensible to the human audience. It is a defensible position to say the Na'vi were an unbelievable premise and reject the entire movie, but it cannot be claimed that they or their behavior is not essential to the story. I see essentials of Avatar as incurious, short-sighted, careerist bureaucrats being defeated by what they had not taken the time to understand. Cameron's choice to clothe the good guys and bad guys as he did is a smear and essential to his purpose, but not actually essential to the story. The non-scientist humans in this story could be replaced by Imperial troopers from the Star Wars fictional universe with no consequence to the plot or theme.

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The (in fact non-mystical as depicted) "connection" of the Na'vi with their environment would be completely irrelevant to the theme of the story and the audience watching it if Na'vi are not regarded as persons that can be understood and sympathized with.

I agree that making the Na'vi seem like people is essential, as in necessary, to the story. The reason for this is the environmentalist deception that things like civility, culture, learning, and romance are compatible with the abandonment of man's means of survival. When I said that it was inessential I meant rather that it was not essential to the deeper meaning of Avatar, which is that unexploited nature is superior to technology. Also, the "connection" of the Na'vi to their environment wasn't non-mystical. In order to make something non-mystical, it is not sufficient to simply invent some scientific-sounding phrase such as "data flow network" (I forget the exact wording). Again, this deception was included in the film for specific propaganda purposes: the goal is to plant in the viewer's mind the vague notion that environmental mysticism concerning our "connection" with nature can be justified scientifically.

I see essentials of Avatar as incurious, short-sighted, careerist bureaucrats being defeated by what they had not taken the time to understand.

I disagree. Almost every scene in the film is specifically designed to present a contrast between human technology and the mystical connection with nature possessed by the Na'vi. In the battle scenes near the end, we see helecopters being destroyed by flying animals, ground machines being routed by massive, insensible jungle beasts, and a marine in a powered suit defeated by brute strength/agility and primitive hunter-gatherer tools. The final battle as a whole shows technology being overcome by brute strength of numbers. The central manifestation of this contrast is of course Jake's two bodies: his limp, crippled human body which must rely on technology vs. his Na'vi body which is presented as the epitome of exhuberant vitality. During his training with the Na'vi, Jake's excursions into the forest show him using his strength, agility, quick reflexes, and even his emotions (when he must "bond" with the flying creature, or when he courts the female Na'vi), but never his reason. In the end, Jake scorns medical treatment for his legs in favor of a mystical ceremony which will cause him to switch bodies. Every scene showing technology has an empty feel, with subdued colors, and a lower level of excitement. Every scene showing nature and the Na'vi features brilliant colors, and heightened excitement. As I recall, near the end of the movie, one of the Na'vi even makes an explicit statement to the effect that the humans will be stopped from destroying Pandora as they destroyed Earth.

As an engineering student, it was also interesting for me to observe that the human technology in the film is ridiculously designed to the point of being deliberately ineffective. For example, the machine which sets out to clear the Na'vi from the vicinity of the tree apparently possesses a single visual sensor, comically protruding from its hull. Once Jake easily disables this sensor with his bare hands, the operators of the machine are left blind! In order to destroy the tree near the end, the human commander's plan consists in dropping crates of explosives out of an open cargo-bay. In reality, a space-age civilization would probably have the technology to extract the Unobtainium without the Na'vi ever noticing a foreign presence.

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