Avatar reveals Truth (in more ways than one)
There is a lot of talk in both spiritual and film industry circles that Avatar is a landmark epic that brings to the masses (in 3D no less) the truth about our human nature and its vital interconnection with the trees, the birds and bees, and the Earth itself. It is this interconnection, or Oneness, that so many prophets from Rumi to Rilke have shared with us in an attempt to free us from our existential suffering.
The movie does – to some degree – achieve this most important of tasks. Sigourney Weaver – playing a critical-thinking scientist steeped in an observational tradition which denies the provability of Spirit – even exclaims as she dissolves into the Oneness (‘Aywa’ on Pandora) at death; ‘It’s True’.
This is arguably the loudest and most purposefully accessible communication of this insight to the public in the whole of Western history. Millions of people across the US and the world, many who have never been in contact with a mystical tradition, will see this film and (hopefully) dwell on the message.
Whilst this is a huge feat, and clearly a deeply personal magum opus from blockbuster-churning James Cameron, the film also reveals some ingrained beliefs in the communal psyche that are still helping contribute to the considerable problems we find ourselves facing as we start this new decade. We ignore them at our peril.
These pernicious myths lurk in the deepest recesses of our Western minds, ruling our behaviors without us even knowing it. And philosophy (and therefore philosophers, which to my mind means each one of us) is here to help expose the assumptions and conventions that impede our ability to live in harmony with each other, and our selves. Not co-incidentally, the bringing to light of the psychological myths that underpin the entire Western socio-economic system is the entire focus of my flagship workshop (and book), Radical Spirit.
For any who have not seen it, in the film the indigenous people of the planet Pandora are under siege from a resource- and profit-hungry American corporation which is funding a private army to steal a magnificent new energy source. Sound familiar so far? I’m sure it does to the 6 billion indigenous peoples of Africa, America and Asia who are still suffering to provide us with the stuff we so desire, as they have done since colonial times.
Soon, some of those Westerners turn against their pay-masters after a wonderfully moving and beautiful process of spiritual and emotional enlightenment as they begin to understand the sublime beauty of Nature, and the inner peace on offer when living in balance with it. But it is here where those myths and assumptions – ‘noble lies’ as Plato called them , convenient lies as Al Gore probably would – are so starkly revealed.
The hero now begins to rally the natives to repel the enemy – using the exact same violence and aggression that they the perpetrators employed. I am not sure Gandhi or Nelson Mandela would approve of violent revolt against even the most destructive of enemies – the violence almost invariably gets recycled and appears at some point later in time as another round of warfare. Just look at how WWII was in many ways caused by the pain and indignation felt by the public (well, at least their leaders – but that is another story) after WWI – which itself was a knock on effect from the imperial tussles and wounds of previous centuries.
So many of us fall back on our ancient belief that violence is the ultimate answer – that the so-called ‘just war’ is the way forward if negotiations and sanctions break-down, without stopping to consider non-violent approaches to social transformation (which Gandhi called Ahimsa). These ways of thinking, unusual in the West, are what have led to some of the greatest permanent and peaceful transformations in human history – the decision of the British to relinquish the vast expanse of The Raj (which had fuelled Britain’s economy and imperial ambitions for 200 years); and the remarkably violence-free eventual shift to full Black rule in previously war-torn South Africa 20 odd years ago (compared to Kenya or Zimbabwe for example).
This is relevant not just on the macroscopic level of geopolitics, but also on the well-trodden emotional pathways walked in our everyday lives. How many of us want to lash out in word, thought or deed at the boss who acts aggressively to us; the critic that pans our work; the competitor who gets the sale or the gal – or anyone who seriously invades our space and ruptures our boundaries? And, more to the points, although it may feel good at the time, how often does this create lasting fulfillment for any of us?
Even more revealing is that a little later on, after hundreds of locals have been maimed, burnt and killed by the American war machine, the hero and mysteriously all the natives he has been leading, all focus their attention on healing the one aforementioned American scientist, and not the rows upon rows or seriously hurting (and seriously inferior) locals. So pernicious is our belief that we in the West are somehow special (and deserve cheap flights, cheap oil and multiple cars and houses no matter how many people live in poverty to pay for it) that I doubt many film-goers will spot this as it seems like our privileged it really is the natural order of things.
Whilst I – as someone who is 100% dedicated to sharing the message of our Oneness, and its importance in creating a more equitable, sustainable and healthy global society – was blown away by the power of the movie in delivering this most dangerous of ideas… I was also saddened to see these equally important myths held up to be vital and true.
Unless we all start to question our foundational ideas – the ones that sit behind all our thoughts and behaviors – we are unlikely to be able to overcome our knee-jerk reactions to stress and danger (of which the future holds plenty) and will tend to fight with every weapon at our disposal to put ourselves first… even if we do it for the right reasons.
Above all, for those of us engaged in the enormously challenging but equally rewarding task of creating media content that enlightens whilst it entertains, we must endeavor to be as rigorous as possible in our creativity to ensure that the messages we communicate are free of the noble lies that drive us ever onwards towards suffering and unsustainability.