Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Utopias Never Work"

In both Body Surfing and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, I noticed several similarities between the stated goals of the Mogran and the Body Snatchers. Both sets of antagonists seek to seduce their targets with the ideal of peace and harmony, and the creation of a world where humans set aside their extremes of emotion in favor of a sort of passive subordination. In Body Surfing, Thomas/Foras explains to Michaela/Jasper that “with the Mogran assuming their rightful place at the head of the species, we can create an era of peace and prosperity and universal harmony” (388). In “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, Dr. Kauffman glorifies a world taken over by the Body Snatchers, calling it an “untroubled world” in which “there is no pain… Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them, life is so simple, believe me”.

Their reflexive rejection of such a vision gives the protagonists of both works a much-needed edge in pivotal scenes—and, in doing so, lends both works their moral tone. Both Miles and Jasper come to appreciate not only the inevitability, but the value of conflict in defining humanity—not conflict between individuals or groups, necessarily, but rather the conflict inherent in the extremes of passion contained in even one single human being. These passions don’t exist for the Mogran and the Body Snatchers… and never have those two species seemed so alien as when their inability to understand the reasoning of their targets throws them for a loop.

According to my interpretation, this internal conflict of passions is what allows the human characters in these works (and many others in stories with similar themes) to maintain moral codes**. Caught in a perpetual sort of cognitive dissonance, they (we) constantly question both our own motives and those we infer in others. There is one scene in Body Surfing that I feel is particularly explicit in this regard: After Leo explains his plans to Jasper (plans which are strikingly in line with Foras’s, despite the lack of alliance between them), Jasper responds as follows:

There were two questions Jasper could have asked. One was human, the other immortal. One implied causality and morality, while the other was merely an inquiry into process, an accumulation of data. Jasper, human still—at least in his mind—did not ask how. He only asked:


And Leo, immortal to the core, was caught off guard (270).

Only a human, this passage suggests, would struggle with the question of “why”. Only a human routinely allows opposing values and theories to share a space within his mind, and therefore, only a human is equipped to challenge the ideas presented by an outside force with honest evaluation. This concept is one that, in my admittedly limited experience, occurs relatively frequently within the science fiction genre—the idea that, as humans, we are both characterized by and gain our biggest advantage from the traits and experiences that we often think of as our weakest or most trying: our uncertainties (which beget fair judgment), our encounters with grief, loneliness, and pain (which beget the capacity to empathize), and the conflicts born of our stubborn allegiances to ourselves, our loved ones, our ideals, and our history.

** That isn't to say that the "moral codes" that emerge don't take some serious hits-- see Arlyn's post


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