So, as you can see, I sympathize with the feelings of the wistful Avatar fan. Pandora does seem like a lovely place. I like how the plants light up when you touch them. Also, I have always been a staunch supporter of the hammock. True, there are many dangers in the life of a Na'vi, but he is more than equipped to handle them. He can physically confront them directly, secure in the knowledge that if he dies, he is guaranteed that his spirit will be downloaded into the neural planetary network and will be accessible to future generations forever. The constant mortal danger of the Na'vi's life frees him from worrying whether or not he has led life well; his mere survival is validation of all of his previous life choices. Meanwhile, the Avatar fan's mind is free to second guess all of his previous decisions and worry constantly about what will happen when he dies. To the truly self absorbed, the life of a Na'vi seems comparatively nice. The grass is always greener.
But the Avatar depression runs deeper than merely wanting to live on Pandora as the Na'vi do. As one of the afflicted Avatar fans in the CNN article I linked to above said, "I really wanted to live in Pandora . . . but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth." There seems to be a feeling among the Avatar super fans that life on Earth could have been very much like that on Pandora, or perhaps more accurately, should have been like Pandora. That humanity pursued the wrong course and is irrevocably headed down a road that will never lead to us realizing our full potential and the full nature of our relationship with the Earth. As that same Avatar fan said later in the article, "I live in a dying world."
And who knows? Maybe they're on to something. After all, there were (and still are) large civilizations on this planet that bore strong resemblance to the Na'vi. The Native Americans are one, to use a local example. They lived a spiritual life close to nature and flourished throughout the continent. When the European colonists arrived, the two worldviews collided, the colonists eventually won out, and overran the continent. The culture that those colonists created there ended up becoming the dominant one throughout much of the rest of the world. Now here we are in the 21st century, caught up in all sorts of unimportant stuff like bath salts and Frasier reruns. We were cheated out of our collective destiny by our asshole ancestors with their guns and smallpox blankets. We should all be spear fishing and communing with tree spirits and having sex with 10 foot tall smoking hot blue women right fucking now.
But alas, the depressed Avatar super fan is stuck on this miserable planet, where we will all grow progressively colder and more distant from each other and our environment. We are seemingly resigned to this fate because we have conquered all of the other cultures who knew a different way to live. Those secrets are lost to us now.
Or are they? Maybe we aren't headed down the wrong path after all. Maybe a Na'vi-like life is exactly where humanity is going. Maybe we have always been going there and were destined to go there since our inception as a species.
All it takes is a little tweaking of the Avatar world as it is currently presented. Imagine that someone like Philip K. Dick wrote the movie instead of James Cameron. In this new version of Avatar, there would be a species of humans exactly like us living on another planet somewhere, only their civilization is much older and thus far more technologically advanced than us. On their planet, these technologically advanced humans have all come together to live as one planetary society. Unfortunately, life on their planet has become untenable for some reason. We can take the classic route and say that they polluted the planet to death. Or we can take another route and say that this one planetary society had solved the problems of war, poverty, and inequality and that their technology had largely solved the problem of our physically infirm bodies. Having overcome all of the problems of life, the members of this society were left only to sit and think for eternity about themselves and why they were here. Eventually, their minds became completely consumed by these thoughts and the turmoil that raged in their heads would be so unbearable, that some sort of escape was necessary to prevent madness. So the society creates elaborate entertainments to occupy their minds. Vast, fantastic virtual worlds are created and the people enter these worlds and play amazingly in-depth virtual reality video games with each other.
The society continues to steadily advance technologically and the games advance with it. Eventually, rather than creating virtual worlds, the society creates actual literal planets on which the games take place. Back on their home planet, complicated robotic systems are created to provide for every need of the physical bodies of these humans so that they may play their games on the other planets all of the time. People begin to live, work, love, and die all within the games. Over thousands of years, the people eventually forget that they are living in a game and simply accept their game world as reality. It would be just like The Matrix except for two crucial differences: 1) the world that these people go to is literally real (rather than existing only in their minds) and is thus accessible by anyone else in the Universe with a spaceship capable of reaching it; and 2) all of the people opted into the matrix rather than being forced into it by the robots.
In this rewrite of Avatar, there are only humans. The Na'vi are themselves all Avatars for actual humans, only they don't know it.** The Corporation who has stumbled upon the game planet Pandora is a separate, less advanced society of humans. Jake Sully eventually realizes the true nature of the Na'vi through his interaction with them and brings back proof of this to the Corporation at the crucial moment just before the destruction of the Tree of Souls. Once the people of the Corporation see that the Na'vi are really humans identical to themselves and that these humans are merely operating avatars to navigate Pandora just like they are, the Corporation is no longer willing to destroy the planet and its inhabitants. Half of the Corporation stays on Pandora to live in their Avatars as the Na'vi do and half returns home to figure out a way to reach the other society of humans and learn from them.
So here is the relief I offer to those afflicted with Pandora Separation Anexiety: Is it that hard to believe that our very own planet is heading down a similar path as the imaginary gaming society in my Avatar rewrite? The trend of human history leads toward the consolidation of society. Our systems of organization have evolved from a solitary hunter-gatherer to a tribe to a village to a city to a nation to a continent (the EU) and eventually to a planet. Our forms of entertainment are becoming more realistic and immersive; one need look no further than Avatar itself for proof of that. More and more people are surrendering more and more of their lives to video games at an exponential rate.*** My advice to Pandora-philes: stop wasting your time being depressed and instead try and figure out a way to remain alive long enough to see your glorious livable fantasy worlds become a reality. I doubt we have much longer to go.
But while we're here, let's take all of this one step further. Maybe transitioning to this gaming society is a part of the meaning of our lives and a natural progression in the ultimate destiny of our species. In his book The Singularity Is Near, futurist Ray Kurzweil outlines the argument that the evolution of scientific breakthrough is part of the evolution of man himself.**** That ever since man evolved the ability to create tools, it was his destiny to become one with these tools and evolve into something greater as a result.
Of course, this is already happening. The abacus was created to work with our brains to compute numbers more effectively, the pacemaker works with our hearts to ensure that they beat correctly, and Facebook works with our minds to better hold onto our memories and experiences. We are always becoming more and more intertwined with our technology. Even now, we are on the cusp of developing microscopic machines that will inhabit the body and regulate its functions. These machines will be a reality before I die. Is it not also reasonable to assume that someday these nanomachines will inhabit or brains as well and allow us to transcend our terrestrial planetary society by having access to a true planetary consciousness? Present day Twitter is the prototype for the planetary consciousness of the future. You can take a snapshot of the aggregate thoughts and feelings of millions of people by merely viewing the trending topics. This is an unbelievably amazing thing and to think, two years ago, it didn't even exist! Imagine if there was a tiny robot in your head that collected and reported all of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. What if every single person on Earth had one of these robots and they were all connected by the Internet? That would be a true planetary consciousness. It would be a world where all of this new age spirituality concerning interconnectedness and all of the mind-blowing breakthroughs in quantum physics finally came to a literal, actionable fruition in which spirituality and technology meld and the whole world lives as one. Just imagine it. There would be no countries. There would be nothing to kill or die for. There would be no religion or possessions or greed or hunger. Imagine a a true botherhood of man sharing the world. It's easy if you try. And it's not depressing at all.
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*Of course if it had been me inside Eddie Murphy, I would've gone through with the original plan to drain the oceans like a boss.
**I really thought that this was the way the movie would end. Obviously, it would be a very different movie this way. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
***I don't like to distinguish people who play video games from people who don't. The truth is, from board games, to charades, to playing cards, we are all gamers, we're just not all video gamers. But more and more people are becoming video gamers. Just look at Farmville, which has 69 million active players (which is more than all of the people who use Twitter). The growth of massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft has been exponential since their inception. Farmville and World of Warcraft are two sides of the same coin. World of Warcraft players are pulled into socializing with others through video games. Farmville players are pulled into video games through socializing with others. In the middle of the two is Second Life, which will probably be the most similar present day game to the future games that will become truly widespread across the world. A day will come when the majority of people on Earth play video games with each other, of this I am sure.
****Or if you prefer, that our creator gave humans the unique ability among all the other species on Earth to create elaborate tools for himself. Surely our ability to make these tools and become one with them figures into his ultimate plan for us, right?