Thursday, July 25, 2013

Context and 'Motivations' Part 1

I managed to complete my collection of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis seasons a few months back and have finally had focus to finish watching them. I have heard from both my recent Star Trek and Stargate behind-the-scenes watching the idea that science fiction is particularly well-suited to allow us the ability to consider various elements in our reality from a safe distance. Then we can explore potential meanings, decisions, outcomes in a sort of simulated experience which will hopefully give us pause to reflect and evaluate our own situations. This is actually how I approach all stories, but today's posts are particular to Stargate Atlantis.

A brief context for the story. The stargate 'is an alien device' which allows the user to be transported from one gate to another. Once found and put into use, a reference was found to 'Atlantis' and once found, a group went to set up something of a base. The thing is, it's not in the same galaxy which means it's pretty well cut-off from Earth. In their galaxy, they all-too-quickly discover that humans are not alone on the top of the food chain. In fact, the 'Wraiths' think they hold that position. Kind of like the Brendan Fraser Mummy, these beings suck the life out of their victims as their food source, but they use their hand instead of the misty sucking you see from Harry Potter dementors. Whatever the case, the wraith have been pretty much the undisputed kings-of-the-galaxy until our people show up.

Properly disturbed, they never-the-less have no intention of serving as another herd for the wraith to harvest ('cull') and between fighting off attacks and seeking ways to eliminate the danger to all humans on whatever planet, the largest source of conflict in the story is understood. Like SG-1, there is a main team of adventurers/explorers who venture from Atlantis built up of four members - the alpha-hero, the brain, the heart, and the muscle. There is also the leader and the doctor filling out the primary cast. Teyla, the 'heart', and Ronan, the 'muscle', both come from different home-worlds in this new galaxy - Teyla as a leader of her people, and Ronan as a former military man from a world wiped-out by the wraith for fighting back.

Ok. That should be sufficient to follow the thoughts of these two posts. By the end of season two, the doctor has put together a type of virus designed to try to turn the part-human wraith completely human. In the episode 'Michael', a wraith is captured and forcibly turned to test how well the virus works. Initially, 'Michael' cannot remember anything upon waking, but the viewers see that something unusual is happening and there is much debate about how much to tell him. Teyla tries to befriend him, and Ronan actively has to fight off the urge to just kill him. Ultimately, 'Michael' realizes something is wrong and comes across proof showing his original state.

This happens to be one of the seasons I already had access to and each time I see this episode, I am rather frustrated with the way things play out. It is true enough to real-life, which makes it fully legitimate, but that is part of what frustrates me. There are a few conversations between Michael and Teyla after he learns the truth where he asks what right they had to do that to him and she missed a critical opportunity that could have led toward peace. When Michael, understandably hurt for all the lies his brief time as innocent human held, asks 'why?' Teyla answers from an also understandable but unproductive psychological state saying it is better to be human because 'the wraith are evil'. This motivation allows the debate to be about rights to existence which must ultimately rule in favor that all have a right to exist on the simple fact that they do.

Instead, the better answer would have been that making the wraith human would ultimately benefit everyone, instead of just the already humans. Instead of denying the right of wraith existence, however correct it is to seek to preserve the human existence, the best answer is not found in seeking to 'destroy the enemy' but rather to eliminate the impetus for fighting. When the ultimate motivation is for peace rather than destruction, actions that are 'selfish' in the above scenario become an honest attempt to bridge the gap and create an intermediary for peace. Then, should the wraith decline a peaceable solution and continue to prey on humans, at least they would know they had done the best they could have and there would not be such condemnation that 'us verses them' inevitably brings.

I suppose it is ultimately the 'us verses them' mentality where I see this being so applicable to real life. I see it on the global scale of religious fightings, moral arguments, and political machinations down to the individual arguments within families and communities. I see it in feuds and debates and the continual seeking for dominance by one group over another. And I think of the broad strokes of the battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites in The Book of Mormon.

From the very beginning, there is a hatred of the Nephites by the Lamanites. The former have and generally accept Christ and follow the Law of Moses until Christ comes and the latter have no inclination for the religious but are obsessed with their supposed right to dominate and dictate. Not all Nephites are good and the ones who are bad have a bad habit of stirring up the hornet's nest and bringing the war back again and again. The Nephites, when they are living righteously, just want to live out their lives and have peace. This is their motive. The Lamanites, like the wraith, see it as their natural course to prey and take and kill the lesser beings.

In one of my most favorite parts of The Book of Mormon, Ammon and some others from the Nephite side not only want peace for their people, but want to share that possible peace with the Lamanites. While they did not have to worry about becoming food if they were caught, they did venture bravely and boldly into Lamanite territory to try to bridge the gap. Ammon was caught and managed to talk his way into being a servant to the king instead of the morning's entertainment. Because of his willingness to see the 'humanity' in the enemy, a goodly portion of the Lamanites came to recognize that just because they'd been raised to see murdering Nephites as a normal, acceptable way of life, that was not actually so. Thousands literally laid down their weapons of war and buried them as a symbol of turning away from the bloodshed.

The wraith and the Lamanites are not exact parallels, but I imagine that the continuation of the book of Alma (where the story of Ammon is found) would be similar to how the wraith story could have played out. Not all the Lamanites wanted peace and they hated the Lamanites who accepted it. After killing a good thousand or more of the now peaceful ones, a guilty conscience brought more to the ways of peace and anger drove the rest to greater hate for the Nephites. Years of war and battles (which would have happened either way) and the Nephites ultimately survived because they fought from the side of the moral right. When they lost the ability to claim pure motivations, they did not survive.

Like the people of Atlantis, I think we often come into trouble with a conflict between a good goal and faulty motivations. Making Michael was not in-and-of-itself a bad thing so long as it was approached with the proper direction. But when motivated by fallacies, it leaves the realm of acceptable and enters dangerous ground. Instead of making a friend of Michael, they made an enemy - one that did not need to be made.

The good news is, Atlantis and Michael are fiction. We are perfectly able to slow down and consider, examine ourselves and our motivations, and I would particularly encourage you to do so whenever interacting with an 'enemy'. It may not go your way at first, or at all, but there is great strength that comes from peace of conscience in knowing you did the best you could. And for more good news, if we do happen to mess things up, we can admit it and literally through the grace of God have the ability to try better next time with hope that it can make a difference.

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