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Avatar and the Principles of Libertarianism

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February 22, 2010 – Comments (13)

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James Cameron’s Avatar has shaken the entertainment industry in the past couple months, raking in more than $2.3 billion so far in the box office worldwide. I first saw the film in January and was blown away by the incredible visuals, a detailed exploration of the Na’vi culture, and what I thought was a masterfully told story (as common or predictable as it may be to some). Unfortunately, some conservative and libertarian writers condemn the movie as a wackjob combination of pro-Green, anti-military, and anti-capitalist thinking wrapped into a movie. However, when I saw the movie I thought it strongly reinforced the importance of private property, individual rights, and protection against central force.

Consider the planet Pandora, where the “savage” Na’vi tribes have made their residence for generations. Their planet is their property. When a human corporation backed by hired mercenaries (hardly a constitutional military used for national defense) establishes itself on the planet to further the exploration and mining of a valuable mineral called Unobtanium, they face severe blowback from the tribes. One of the first scenes in the movie shows a massive vehicle returning to base with several arrows stuck in the tires. The tribes understandably felt threatened and saw the human tactics as an invasion of their property. Is this really an attack on the principles of peaceful exchange common in a free market?

The Omiticaya tribe that is prominent in the film does not need anything the humans offer in return for the mineral whether it be roads, education, medicine, etc. Is this really unreasonable? Does an owner of a product not have the right to negotiate the terms of a transaction? The Na’vi are not being selfish, the humans simply do not have a product or service that is more valuable than the land itself is already worth to the Na’vi. It is the same as if someone was offering $10 for a family heirloom that you will never give up. Just because you refuse their offer doesn’t mean they can take that item by force, as the mercenaries in Avatar did.  Once again, this reinforces peaceful and voluntary exchange in a free market.

Many libertarians who have written about the movie do not especially appreciate how the Na’vi tribes operate through a cooperative community structure. They debate if the property rights displayed in Avatar are individual or collective. Either way, it does not hurt the message of freedom and voluntary interaction. All people, this planet or not, have the right to live as they please so long as they don’t intrude on the rights of others. In other words, if I really felt compelled to I can walk around butt naked in my house but that doesn’t mean I can jump into your house displaying myself whenever I choose. Just the same, if people want to live in a voluntary community structure as the tribes on Pandora do, they absolutely have that right. They can’t force people into that structure, but on the flip side a person or collective group such as the human mercenaries can’t prevent them from living peacefully in such a structure either.

Libertarians also seem to be greatly distressed by Ewya, the “spirit in all living things” that essentially is the deity or God of the Na’vi tribe. I have even read a comment that suggested this was a “totalitarian” approach that destroys individual liberties. Is this really any different than the very libertarian concept that all individuals are from God, our Creator, and all individuals are born free? Many libertarians strongly believe that God is in all living things (all people, anyway), and this principle strengthens individual liberty, it does not reduce it. Is it inconceivable that God is in all living things on Earth as well, not just humans? Regardless, the spirituality of the Na’vi can hardly be called anti-libertarian.

I have come to disagree with many libertarians’ view of communities. I was born, raised, and currently live in an intentional spiritual cooperative community that was founded more than forty years ago. The people in the community live simply, have similar goals spiritually, but they hardly have given up their rights and abilities as individuals. Voluntary cooperative communities strengthen individual liberties and happiness by providing an environment that allows you to live with people of common goals and work together to further those goals. Cooperative communities are certainly not enemies of freedom. In fact, I believe communities will start popping up worldwide as the economy and current government structure weakens and people recognize that living and working together has its benefits on both a mental and physical level. Since I myself have lived in a cooperative community my entire life, the cooperation of the Omiticaya tribe in Avatar does not present itself as a structure that is anti-capitalist or far-fetched. Cooperative communities can and do indeed work, and libertarians should recognize this sooner rather than later.

Lastly, there are those who call Avatar something along the lines of a “typical Hollywoodized, Green crazed, environmental spew package.” Okay, maybe not that bad. I read an article that discussed this from a more liberal perspective, and the author made an excellent point: how is being pro-environment a bad thing? Those who work to protect the environment and demonstrate the beauty of nature can hardly be called crazy, anti-American, or anti-capitalist. Sure, there are many disagreements between the ideologies on the role of the environment and how to protect it. Personally, I think the environment is best protected through individual property rights (out of which can stem collective rights through individuals voluntarily joining cooperative communities) and local initiative. The Na’vi tribes demonstrate these principles perfectly. They understand, see, and interact with nature on a daily basis, thus they work their hardest to protect it from foreign intruders who do not have the same values (the human mercenaries). When libertarian-minded individuals write off environmentalists as wackjobs, it weakens the freedom movement. No one can argue against clean air, water, and land, and it should be through discussion of all ideologies that we come to a common understanding and implement strong solutions with regards to the environment. Bickering and attacking other ideologies won’t strengthen principles.

Certainly others came away from Avatar with a different feeling or message than I did. Regardless, it was easy for me to see the underlying principles of libertarianism in the film. It is not anti-military: it strikes at the principles of preemptive attack, aggressive war, lawless corporate mercenaries, and invasion of private property. It is not anti-capitalist: rather, it clearly demonstrates the right of an individual or group to maintain their property as they see fit and decline an offer that isn’t to their liking. And is it pro-Green? Certainly. But I do not call myself anti-Green, and I don’t think other libertarians do at heart either. We don’t want a dirty environment and a complete disregard for nature, do we? It is time that we productively show, through honest discussion and analysis, that we can work together with people of all beliefs and demonstrate to our best abilities the benefits of freedom. It might be crazy, but I see Avatar as a grand display of freedom’s benefits, not as its enemy.

13 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On February 22, 2010 at 11:17 AM, eldemonio (98.90) wrote:

I see Avatar as a hidden message of pro-communism that intends to usurp our American freedoms through Hollywood special effects.  Na'vi spelled backwards is Ivan.  Ivan is a very common name in Russia, formerly the USSR.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.

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#2) On February 22, 2010 at 12:02 PM, ReadEmAnWeep (48.99) wrote:

I watched it in 2-d the first time I saw the movie. That was a huge, huge mistake. They spent massive amounts of money and it was definitely not on writing or acting. It is worth it to see it in 3-d to see the effort they put into that. Other than that it is no good.

You can go rent Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, or Ferngully to get the same movie without the 3-d.  

In the end they have neat special effects but it will only be useful in 3-d theaters. It completely loses its value when it goes to blu-ray.

Years from now, when special effects are even better, it will be forgotten.

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#3) On February 22, 2010 at 12:17 PM, jmt587 (99.88) wrote:

I don't think ReamEmAnWeep even read your post.  Great one!

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#4) On February 22, 2010 at 12:38 PM, TMFCrocoStimpy (95.45) wrote:

LOL @ eldemonio

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#5) On February 22, 2010 at 12:52 PM, russiangambit (29.27) wrote:

#1 - Lol, I didn't see that one coming. Ivan is not a very common name in Russia, actually, it is very antiquated. The most common name is Alexander.

I didn't see the Avatar is a picture of a communal paradize either. That kind of life already exists here on earth, all you need to do is just live it. You can do it in your own  backyard, nobody is stopping you. No communism required. I saw it as nothing more than a tribal way of life. But I am not sure I could give up internet, for one. I guess, the tree of souls was their version of the internet.

 

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#6) On February 22, 2010 at 1:09 PM, USNHR (32.03) wrote:

Unlike everyone else in America, I haven't seen the movies. Your points do seem to be well thought out. When I eventually do see it, I'll keep them in mind.

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#7) On February 22, 2010 at 5:20 PM, HooDaHeckNose (96.18) wrote:

eldemonio, you make me weep for the lost intelligence of the human race.

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#8) On February 22, 2010 at 5:51 PM, whereaminow (20.57) wrote:

David Krietzmann,

I would like to hear more about the cooperative community you live in.  When I think of cooperative communities the only thing I can conceptualize are the failed socialist cooperatives in the Northeast in early America, like the Oneida cooperative that eventually became an ordinary capitalist business venture.

As for Avatar, I agree that it sent a strong message about the sanctity of property rights. I am not aware of any major libertarian writer that rejects the idea that collective organizations - if they are entered into voluntary - can associate in this manner.  Freedom of association dictates that we must respect people's voluntary decisions to join collective organizations.

My only problem with the movie, outside of a sometimes formulaic and predictable plot, is the treatment of the Navi themselves as the typical cardboard cutout super awesome environmentally friendly native people that the Left imagines the American Indian to be.  Simply put, the record of American Indians and environmentalism is human, not a cartoon caricature.  They were splendid in some areas and not very good in others.

Furthermore, American Indians did not all live in collectives that rejected property rights.  Only in areas where there was abundance did these collective societies exist. In any area of the Americas where resources were scarce, the American Indians had developed property rights.

In the movie, the Navi lived in abundance and we are told that they also respected nature.  However, in real life, the opposite was true.  In areas where American Indians had to deal with scarcity they had a far superior record of environmentalism than their cousins who lived in abundance.

From an economic perspective, this makes perfect sense.  The story of the Navi, however, is just a story and I'll leave it at that.

Finally, the use of the military to economically exploit a rival culture rich in resources is not inherently American (pretty much standard for every Empire), but the history keeps repeating itself.  Kinda sad that particular point of the movie would be so true to life.

Thanks for the thoughtful post

David in Qatar

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#9) On February 22, 2010 at 8:45 PM, TMFPencils (99.81) wrote:

Hi David,

The cooperative community I live in is Ananda Village in Nevada City, CA: http://www.Ananda.org. Currently I'm short of time but I'll definitely discuss it more when I have the chance. Cite Ecologique is another community in Quebec and New Hampshire that is worth checking out.

Also, real quick, would you be interested in having some of your blogs reposted over at Freedom Chatter with full credit given to you? Your work is great and I'd love to spread it around if you're interested. Let me know here or at FreedomChatter@gmail.com.

I'll try to respond in the next couple days to the other points you brought up, I'm at the school dorm and the internet is very slooooow.

Best,

David 

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#10) On February 23, 2010 at 12:10 AM, SockMarket (42.43) wrote:

eldermonio,

I think you missed the point, you should go see it again. But try to find a brain first. 

 

pencils,

great writeup. I look at it more from an environmental standpoint (I am more of a treehugger than most on here) but your points are excellent. 

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#11) On February 23, 2010 at 1:11 AM, DaretothREdux (43.75) wrote:

eldemonio,

I told a joke once and nobody got it. It really does suck when that happens. What's even worse is when people don't get the humor and then feel the need to insult your intelligence....

David,

I have some issues with the movie I may point out but you have given me a new perspective on what I considered to be a movie of "all flash and no bang."

I may tell you later....but it might ruin the movie so maybe you would prefer I that I not...

Dare

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#12) On February 24, 2010 at 12:49 AM, TMFPencils (99.81) wrote:

Hi Dare,

Nah, definitely tell me your thoughts on the movie. I've read a lot of critical work on the movie so I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Basically my thinking is this: even if the writers weren't blatantly attempting to create a libertarian movie (which is likely) they still managed to display some key and important principles that libertarians strive to. Avatar can be a great ally of explaining the principles of property rights, individual liberty, localism, and a constitutional military.

Anyway, be sure to share your thoughts on the film.

Best,

David 

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#13) On March 10, 2010 at 5:35 PM, eldemonio (98.90) wrote:

Dare,

Have you ever listened to the Phil Hendrie show?  Basically, he takes a current event, creates a fictional character with a ridiculous take on it, and then takes calls from people who have no idea of what is going on. 

For example, after Corey Stringer died of heat exhaustion, Phil Hendrie interviewed a fictional high school football coach (played by himself) who argued that any decent football program can expect to "lose" 2-3 players a year during 2-a-day practices.  Well, you can imagine the kind of red-necked calls that came in from people oblivious to what was really happening. 

It does suck when people don't get your jokes.  However, I'm not too worried about oblivious people questioning my intelligence.

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