We Live, Unequally

They Live (1988) is a celebrated message movie:

John Nada, a generic drifter who finds his way to Los Angeles as the film begins. … Nada wanders through Los Angeles, gets a job as a construction worker, and is led by a new buddy named Frank to a shantytown. …

Once Nada stumbles upon a package of special sunglasses, the secret is out. When he wears these glasses, he sees subliminal messages everywhere. ”Marry and Reproduce,” says a billboard on which a bikini-clad woman pitches vacations in the tropics. ”Consume,” says a sign advertising a close-out sale. ”This Is Your God,” says a dollar bill, and on the newsstands magazines put forth slogans like ”Honor Apathy” and ”Obey.”

What’s more, the glasses enable Nada to see just who ”they” are: the rich and powerful who, through these lenses, become skeleton-faced ghouls with glittering metallic eyes. (more)

Naturally Nada immediately goes on a murder-all-aliens rampage. Wouldn’t you?

I sure hope not. The movie seems to suggest that one should murder all non-kin elites in any society where elites use psychological tricks to keep non-elites from feeling outraged and going on murderous rampages. (Like pretty much every society ever known.) You might argue that the movie only suggests mass murder for non-kin who are ugly very-distant relations. But then why celebrate this as a “message” movie? Are we supposed to see murdering elites as a metaphor for, say, frowning at them?

The movie tries to transfer xenephobia of space aliens to elites within a city, even when there are no obvious signs that these elites aren’t paying their way, by being more productive. In the movie, aliens bring world peace, let humans continue to live peaceful lives, bring advanced tech, and integrate Earth’s economy with distant planets to achieve gains from trade. None of which, according to this movie, excuses them:

What do these things want?
They’re free-enterprisers.
The earth is just another developing planet. Their third world.
Deplete the planet, move on to another,
They want benign indifference,
We could be pets or food,
But all we really are is livestock.
We need an assault unit.
Someone to hit them hard. (more)

Look, there is a vast space of possible societies, with an incredible number of possible dimensions. Yes, humans are primed to watch for and resist dominance, and to be suspicious of outsiders. And yes maybe more equal societies are better, all else equal. But an overwhelming focus on that one dimension of inequality risks neglect of the other dimensions, which taken together are vastly more important. We should seek social arrangements to help us search this vast space for more productive possibilities, including the possibility of peaceful mutually beneficial trade with outsiders. Even if that increases, horrors, inequality. Or, double horror, subliminal advertising! Really.

Imagine a movie depicting a hero upset by some lazy poor folks on welfare, who then goes on a rampage murdering poor folks. Would this be celebrated as a thoughtful message movie, reminding us all of the importance of hard work? Not a chance.

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  • Anonymous

    For those who want an actual implementation of human rights, dignity etc, the subliminal messaging would be a genuine downside- if it actually worked, it would be an interference with such rights.

  • nazgulnarsil

    deceit implies unfair trade.

  • wophugus

    You are criticizing a movie with an anti-materialism message by saying that the antagonists were maximizing everyone’s material welfare. That’s pretty stupid.

    To the extent the movie is a polemic, it’s point is not that aliens were bad because they had more stuff, they were bad because they were warping everyone’s values and fostering a consumerist culture on them. They were getting everyone focused on consumption and the nuclear family and crap like that when they should have been focused on more important things, presumably things like fantastic fight scenes and quips from 80’s wrestlers. You can find that a facile and unconvincing message, but that’s the message.

    • wophugus

      I mean, that’s why the aliens were bad to John Carpenter within his critique of 80’s culture. They were bad to Rowdy Roddy Piper’s character because they looked funny.

  • Vitali

    nazgulnarsil, in one of the final scenes of the movie you can see that the riches–the actual owners of the goods to trade–are aware of who the aliens are. There’s no deceit. And we can assume, the trade is by and large fare.

  • Ely

    If in real life, a collection of lazy, poor people wielded power over elites, then the reversed movie you suggest would be popular. This is a double standard that I am quite happy exists. It is a cartoonish way to satiate frustration over power inequality. As the Gini coefficient drops, I predict interest in plots like these also drops.

  • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

    They Live is fantastically entertaining. Roddy Piper’s character is deliberately romantic -consider that in a real world of They Live, John Carpenter would be one of the alien yuppies, just like you and I would.

    Quentin Tarantino chooses a more deliberately ironic title with True Romance, but it’s the same basic concept.

    It’s an earthy romance, the idea that a red-blooded everyman can conquer dehumanizing systems while maintaining his earthy humanity. It’s entertaining, not prescriptive. I think it doesn’t sin because it’s fun, not distracting. To engage a movie like “They Live” in these kind of tone deaf terms is to engage in bad faith epistemology, IMO.

    It’s the same concept at Will Smith punching out an alien in Independence Day -the difference is that in They Live! its artfully done.

    • richard silliker

      True Romance,

      great movie.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Anyonmous and nazgulnarsil, do you really think mass murder is the appropriate punishment for subliminal advertising?

    wophugus, I didn’t mean to talk only about material gains, but instead total gains. Is mass murder really how one should respond if you dislike advertisers trying to “warp” your values to get you to buy their products?

    Ely, many people who suffer higher than average tax rates feel themselves victims of democratic power wielded by those with less money but more votes. Do you really think a movie where such folks murder poorer voters en masse to vent their frustration would be popular, or gain critical acclaim?

    Hopefully, could the alternate movie I describe also be fun and entertaining, and so earn your respect? Would critics who decried mass murder there also be “tone deaf”?

    • ThereIsNoJustice

      “Is mass murder really how one should respond…”

      Sure, if that’s the only way to fight back. It’s not like he can tell other people that, hey, aliens are brainwashing you all.

      The way it sounds (I haven’t seen it), this is a movie about freedom. And having someone warp your values is much worse than them killing you or putting you in a camp or prison. What you believe determines who you are as a person, so to destroy or undermine your real values means corrupting you as a whole. This is one of the reasons zombies used to be so scary. It’s your friends and relatives, but they want to eat you now — or you want to eat them now, if you’re the zombie. These people are supposed to love you. So that kind of value corruption is more horrifying than plain death ever could be.

      • J

        “And having someone warp your values is much worse than them killing you or putting you in a camp or prison”

        I have to disagree with that one. I’m pretty sure you would too, if it actually came down to that choice.

    • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

      Prof. Hanson, the alternate movie you describe Romero’s Day Of The Living Dead, which -if anything- is even more celebrated as a thoughtful message movie.

      Zombies is our metaphor for the dumb and irrational masses, alien overlords our metaphor for non-earthy, quanty technocrats, vampires our metaphor for rent-seeking but non-technocratic elites.

      In 2011 I side way more with the technocrats -I think we have both a zombie and a vampire problem, but I think the zombie problem dominates

      I agree They Live! fails as political analysis, but it wins as awesome entertainment, just like great zombie and vampire moves (John Carpenter, one of my favorite director, suceeds in all three genres IMO).

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        The Zombies of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead just aren’t enough like lazy poor welfare recipients to make that count as the counterfactual movie I asked folks to imagine. Characters aren’t killing zombies out of moral outrage, but out of direct self-defense.

      • FredR

        You should see Contagion. It’s like a love-letter to technocrats.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Robin, didn’t you notice that these “elites” did not limit their activities to subliminal messages. They killed people. Or are you thinking that since the people they killed were not “elites” their deaths don’t matter? Who is exhibiting xenophobia here?

      In the original short story, the aliens killed people and ate them.

      http://web.archive.org/web/20071211153131/http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/9412/8oclock.html

      That is why they wanted a high human reproduction rate, so there would be more food for the aliens.

      This movie came out in 1988, a decade after the Vietnam War, where poor people were drafted, sent to Vietnam and “consumed”, through direct deaths, injuries, PTSD and the suicide that comes from being in war.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/13/cbsnews_investigates/main3496471.shtml

      A lot of those killed in Vietnam were volunteers. Naïve kids who didn’t know what they were getting into, those who didn’t have a better option and who bought into the subliminal and not so subliminal “God and Country” messages.

      The same thing that is happening today in Iraq. There isn’t a draft now, but with unemployment in the 18 to 24 age civilian work force at 17%, and with naïve poor kids getting the “message” that if they are not working then they are “lazy poor folks on welfare”, naïve poor kids can make mistakes that naïve rich kids don’t.

      What has the Iraq war accomplished? Sort of the same thing the Vietnam War “accomplished”, gigantic profits for the military industrial complex, a gigantic deficit, a complete neglect of domestic needs, and a using up of military personnel, and a gigantic future health care bill for those veterans who now have PTSD.

      But hey, if those non-elite veterans can’t hack it, they shouldn’t have joined the military when they were 18. With luck, they will commit suicide so the VA won’t have to pay for their health care, so the real elites can have lower taxes on the profits they squeezed out of the military industrial complex. [/sarcasm]

      • lemmy caution

        Right. Wikipedia describes the alien’s motivations in the movie:

        “. For example, the aliens are blamed for carbon dioxide and methane emissions – “They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” With the aid of human collaborators, the aliens are also responsible for using up the planet’s resources so quickly: essentially, “we’re their Third World”.”

        We are allowed to kill sentient aliens that are trying to take over the world using mind-control.

    • wophugus

      John Carpenter is not actually suggesting that the right response to our consumerist culture is to murder people. He’s making the satirical point that if blue collar people ever woke up to just how banal and ugly our commercialized culture is, they would murder people. He doesn’t even believe *that*, just like Johnathan Swift doesn’t believe the english would eat babies, but satire is about exaggeration. Do you think the point of robocop is that corporate culture is full of murderers we should let rouge police summarily execute? The violence in both those movies is meant to present a hyperbolic, satirical point, not to be an endorsement of how to deal with real world issues.

      I’d also point out that the ultimate goal wasn’t murder qua murder, it was to destroy the device brainwashing people.

      Anyways, there are lots of satires where the protagonists murder non-elites. Normally the people being murdered have *some* sort of social status for storytelling reasons (it is easier to identify with the underdog), but, for example, in natural born killers the vast majority of their victims aren’t elites. As for movies where the satire is all about how non-elites deserve death, I would reiterate that this satire is not about how all *elites* deserve death. John Carpenter was wealthy and successful when he wrote this movie, more high-status than you or I will ever be. He doesn’t have it in for high status people.

    • Anonymous

      I haven’t watched the movie, but as I understand it the world portrayed is one where subliminal advertising works and has long-term effects- hence, this is brainwashing most of the human race. That’s going far enough to justify an all-out assault.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      I haven’t seen more than bits of the movie, though I did read the short story where there is a plausible reason for killing the aliens (they eat people) and Nada’s actions seem like that of a homicidal maniac.

      ThereIsNoJustice, is there such a thing as non-“warped” values? Aren’t all of us subject to social influence? If we lived all our lives in a cave without any other human contact, would we even have comparable opinions/values at all? In the case of “They Live” in particular I agree with Bryan Caplan that most of the subliminal messages amount to “help your genes as much as possible”.

      I haven’t seen any Romero beyond “Night of the Living Dead”, and I didn’t think of those as metaphors. They’re just a horde of scary things, like “The Birds” or the rats from “Three Skeleton Key”. To my mind a closer example of Hanson’s suggestion is “Death Wish”, in which a “rich fuck” (in Jeff Goldbloom’s words, though I haven’t seen that either) goes around killing lumpenproletariat. His justification is not based on welfare etc but that these people attack him and he fights back. There is also “Falling Down”, but the protagonist is not really a hero.

      daedalus2u, I don’t know about Vietnam but in the 21st century it is simply not the case that war is carried out by the poor (AFQT tends to screen them out). There was a flap back when John Kerry flubbed a line about the importance of education that led to people looking into military demographics and finding the median family income prior to enlistment was slightly higher than the national median.

      wophugus, the analogy to Robocop (which I haven’t seen) fails. It’s not about the plausibility of a situation, but justifying a reaction to a scenario.

      • ThereIsNoJustice

        TGGP: Yes, there are non-corrupt values. If you are convinced through argumentation and an honest consideration of alternatives to arrive at your values they are not corrupt. Unfortunately, almost no one arrives at all or most of their values this way, so many people hold some values which may as well be planted into them by aliens.

      • IVV

        ThereIsNoJustice:

        How do you know that your belief that “If you are convinced through argumentation and an honest consideration of alternatives to arrive at your values they are not corrupt” was not itself planted in you by aliens?

        Because, let’s face it, it was espoused by people we looked up to in our formative years. It even looks really cool because it returns power to the individual away from the “system”–something that looks really, really good when we’re young, intelligent, capable, and powerless. It’s attractive and pernicious… which makes it suspect. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong or bad, but shouldn’t we question it?

    • Ely

      Ely, many people who suffer higher than average tax rates feel themselves victims of democratic power wielded by those with less money but more votes.

      If people with less money have more votes, doesn’t this imply the Gini coefficient is high (assuming votes are distributed equally)? If so, then I am happy the wealthier person feels this way, although my perception in America is that lack of votes hardly makes a practical difference to the freedom of someone who is wealthy enough.

      I believe movie themes like the one you summarized are popular because equal distribution of “participation in the process that leads to practical control over one’s life” is viewed as an intrinsic human right regardless of how lazy, rich, ignorant, or hard-working a given person is. Most people feel this right is distorted by wealthy ruling elites, and I mostly agree.

      Also, they did just make a movie based on Atlas Shrugged. Tea Partiers seemed to like it.

    • Ely

      Ely, many people who suffer higher than average tax rates feel themselves victims of democratic power wielded by those with less money but more votes.

      If people with less money have more votes, doesn’t this imply the Gini coefficient is high (assuming votes are distributed equally)? If so, then I am happy the wealthier person feels this way, although my perception in America is that lack of votes hardly makes a practical difference to the freedom of someone who is wealthy enough.

      I believe movie themes like the one you summarized are popular because equal distribution of “participation in the process that leads to practical control over one’s life” is viewed as an intrinsic human right regardless of how lazy, rich, ignorant, or hard-working a given person is. Most people feel this right is distorted by wealthy ruling elites, and I mostly agree.

      Also, they did just make a movie based on Atlas Shrugged. Tea Partiers seemed to like it.

  • Anonymous Bear

    It seems like the real trigger here is “Conceiled alien invation without our consent”. It triggers associated concepts like “declaration of war” and “hostile occupation of domestic territory”, and the traditional glorified response to that is, of course, mass murder (i.e. violent rebellion and warfare).

  • Ross

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but aren’t the aliens quite murderous themselves? Don’t they kill anyone who discovers their secret? If all they were engaged in was subliminal advertizing, Robin might have a point.

    • Ken S

      I thought the same thing from reading the description of the movie on Wikipedia. It says:

      “When the aliens realize he can see them for what they truly are, the police suddenly arrive. Nada escapes and steals a police shotgun; while evading the police, he accidentally stumbles into a local bank filled with aliens.”

      It seems implied that the police are up to no good and that it is not a legitimate use of force against Nada…. shouldn’t Nada have had the right to blackmail the aliens now that he had their secret?

      It is also notable that he shoots the oppressors using a weapon stolen from their own ranks.

  • Michael Wengler

    Robin identifies with the aliens! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    The movie seems to suggest that one should murder all non-kin elites in any society where elites use psychological tricks to keep non-elites from feeling outraged and going on murderous rampages.

    Leaving aside whether murder is appropriate, I think it is a perfectly valid inference that if someone is playing tricks on you to keep you from feeling outraged, then that should justify you being outraged once the trick is exposed. This seems pretty common-sensical to me, unless you are the sort of person so craven as to assume that your social betters always have your best interests at heart.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Or so craven as to want to signal to your social betters that you think their interests are always more important than your own, even if their interest is in eating you.

  • http://quomodocumque.wordpress.com JSE

    It’s been about six months since I saw this movie, but as I recall, the protagonist’s response is not a genocidal attack on the aliens, but an assault on the transmitter that masks the fact that the aliens ARE aliens. I take the value promoted by the movie to be “it’s worth trying to ensure that the things you believe are true,” not “kill people who trick you.”

    You write “In the movie, aliens bring world peace, let humans continue to live peaceful lives, bring advanced tech, and integrate Earth’s economy with distant planets to achieve gains from trade.” but in the movie, as I understand it, it’s clear that the aliens aim to achieve gains for THEMSELVES from trade but intend to depart in the near-to-medium term, leaving human beings to fend for themselves on a planet depleted of natural resources. This seems like a reasonably good justification for destroying the transmitter.

  • Will

    If the aliens are depleting our resources, that is a drastic problem. It’s an existential risk. And yes, it demands drastic solutions.

    It strikes me as more of a wishful fantasy than a message movie. Imagine, the movie says, if domination, deceit, inequality, our desire to consume products that don’t make us happy, etc., were not fundamental problems of the human condition? Imagine that they were caused by a small, easily identifiable alien race? Then, again, mass murder might be an appropriate solution.

    When you take that and interpret it to real life, you have to tone down the message. They Live is obviously not a pro-mass-murder movie. It can be interpreted as a number of reasonable messages, but they are, indeed, messages that people enjoy hearing.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Nada is killing aliens long before he gets any idea of destroying the alien transmitter. There is no sign in the movie that Earth resources are being depleted any faster due to aliens than we’d deplete them ourselves, or that we are getting any less of a price for them. The world that humans live in is pretty much like the world they think they live in, in terms of what value they can achieve in their lives. It is only the existence of aliens, and subliminal ads, on which they are deceived.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    I haven’t seen the movie in ten years or more, but it seems clear that it is a somewhat Marxist parable about the development of revolutionary class consciousness. And it’s equally clear that Robin Hanson, perhaps due the fact that he works for the alien overlords is on the other side politically.

    That’s not to morally justify either side, but it seems to be that trying to understand this movie without the bringing in the context of actual political violence is kind of stupid. Without its metaphorical mappings (and not just to some abstraction of “elites”, but to actual elites, just as the protagonist is a portrayed as an actual member of the underclass), it’s just a dumber-than-average action flick.

    • http://hopefullyanonymous.blogspot.com Hopefully Anonymous

      ” it’s just a dumber-than-average action flick.”

      No, it’s art, not “a dumber-than-average action flick.” Let’s get the Rainbow’s End aesthetic wars started!

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    The most important resource that humans have is human capital; the productive thought and labor of humans. The aliens are depleting that resource by diverting it to consumerism using deceit and mind control and killing any humans that resist.

    In the short story, the aliens programmed Nada to die at 8 AM the next morning. That is just as much killing him as shooting him would be. When Nada is programmed to die, he has done nothing against the aliens except recognize them and what they are doing. Nada knows that the aliens are actively trying to kill him before he lays a finger on any aliens.

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste. But in a competitive world, wasting other people’s minds makes you more competitive. Wasting the potential labor of the unemployed raises the status of the employed, but makes the whole society poorer because of the lost productivity. That is the biggest “cost” of the current high unemployment, the lost GDP that will never be made back up. But because no one “owns” it, no one cares about it being lost.

  • http://liveatthewitchtrials.blogspot.com/ iamreddave

    The Jonathan Lethem book goes into many of these issues. So I do not think it is fair to say it is celebrating the cold blooded murder of the gouls.
    Reason includes it in its years best books http://reason.com/archives/2010/12/30/the-year-in-books/1

    Even Tyler Cowen likes it
    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/11/what-ive-been-reading-1.html

  • Kitty_T

    One of my favorites! I’d agree that it is really more wish fulfillment fantasy that a critique to be taken seriously – seeing whomever is the designated villain of the piece get their violent comeuppance shouldn’t generally be taken as an assertion that summary execution by the hero would be justifiable in the real world – but if you’re going to, or going to respond to people who do, it does remind me of a bit in the The Life of Brian: “Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?” “Brought peace?”

    Now I eagerly await your analysis of Torchwood Miracle Day – secret elites cause humanity to become immortal, but also control who gets to remain in existence and who is destroyed.

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  • Jeffrey Soreff

    Huh? Even libertarians acknowledge the evil of fraud.
    If an elite used deception in support of inequality that
    benefited them of course slaughtering
    them is justified. Why is this even a question?

  • https://plus.google.com/118376752237626707461/buzz Matt Prather

    Anyonmous and nazgulnarsil, do you really think mass murder is the appropriate punishment for subliminal advertising?

    Is mass murder really how one should respond if you dislike advertisers trying to “warp” your values to get you to buy their products?

    Obtuse beyond all belief and all credibility! Let me spell things out for you, although I am surprised that I have to do so.

    “They” were ruling the world with deceit and downsizing the very lives of the masses they deceived — killing the poor by economic means, first in the third world, then in the first world. They were lying about what was going on the whole time, and selling to the first world the illusion of permanent luxury and wealth afforded by the rapid depletion and pollution of the world’s resources, until the day comes when it is no longer the most profitable thing going.

    They had intentionally created a world order in which not everyone can win, but when we sell out and join the bad guys, then and only then can we “win” and have nice things.

    Since you are wise enough about man’s nature to make this statement:

    The movie seems to suggest that one should murder all non-kin elites in any society where elites use psychological tricks to keep non-elites from feeling outraged and going on murderous rampages. (Like pretty much every society ever known.)

    then you ought to be wise enough to know that murder has always been “fair” means for men to use in matters of politics and rule. You know that we all say we don’t condone murder or mass murder, but you also know that psychological tricks and murder are facts of human society as it has been and as it is today. (You only state that rulers use tricks, but I assume you are savvy enough to realize that they use murder as well.) You ought to be able to see that the alien rulers in the movie used direct murder and also economic disenfranchisement to stay on the top, forever.

    So I think it is being obtuse of you, yourself, Robin Hanson, to point out the imparity between how people might perceive a role-reversed “mass-murder movie” and how they generally perceive the message of They Live. Would people appreciate a movie in which elites go on a vengeance killing spree against the poor? No, surely not as many people as who appreciated They Live. Your point stands there, per se.

    I, for one, could appreciate such a movie, would not revile the premise, and would acclaim the movie if earned it in its execution. Maybe the world would be a better place if the strong openly went to war to stay strong and stay in power, and saw the poor as inhuman aliens. One could argue that this is the premise of Atlas Shrugged, but I don’t think that is quite so — and I have digressed too far here.

    What I was trying to say is that the ruling aliens were in fact killing the people they ruled, in the third world first before turning on the first world’s citizens. I would also gratuitously admit that when Nada decides to shoot up every alien inside of a bank, he is not being a noble hero or role model. But on the whole, Nada and the human resistance are essentially acting in self-defense, since the first world citizens themselves are increasing getting squeezed to death in the imagined future world of They Live.

    I’ve just re-read your post and I realize I shouldn’t be surprised at your obtuse defense of your argument since your argument itself contains this terribly obtuse defense of aliens and elites:

    The movie tries to transfer xenephobia of space aliens to elites within a city, even when there are no obvious signs that these elites aren’t paying their way, by being more productive. In the movie, aliens bring world peace, let humans continue to live peaceful lives, bring advanced tech, and integrate Earth’s economy with distant planets to achieve gains from trade.

    I give up. There’s no arguing with someone whose head is really that far removed from the facts of the movie and the facts of reality. “The aliens might just be paying their way by being more productive…” NO! They are controlling things like tyrants and use deception and cronyism to keep themselves in control of wealth and power, without any motive to make the world economy fair and just, or even just sustainable. That’s in the movie. And it’s also in reality.

    It’s such an ivory tower, establishment economist shill way of thinking to call the ruling class “more productive”. But, hey, brother Hanson, don’t worry. You are serving the tyrannical world order very well with this mindset. Your place at the table is secured by your false interpretations. The rhetoric and general thrust of your argument here are exactly what aliens and elites will reward you for saying, and the best part of it all for you is that you really believe yourself! I can’t reward you for realizing the errors of your thinking here, but they can reward you for not realizing it.

    So enjoy yourself and enjoy musing on technology and economy in the future. The real-world elites are going to control the technology and the economy of the future to secure the world order of the future as it suits them — you don’t have to be a conspiracy kook to recognize the Orwellian security state that they are building right now, with control of the important technologies and of the money being directed by elites in the Department of Defense, the national security intelligence establishment, the cartelized Wall Street and European financial houses, and the tightly controlled mass media channels. You can’t stop them, so I guess you might as well deceive yourself into believing that They are beneficial for the people they rule, that the killing of tyrants is no more just than the killing of the disenfranchised poor. And I guess it’s beneficial to the masses of homo hypocritus if you to try to downplay the message of They Live, since they are even more powerless than you are to change the agenda.

    As long as you don’t put on those sunglasses, brother, you can see the world as you are intended to see it, and you will not want to change the world order. Maybe I should take mine off.

  • William

    It should also be noted that Nada decided to murder the aliens only because he was all out of bubblegum.

  • Matt Prather

    I lol’d.

  • jb

    Been thinking about this a fair amount all weekend.

    One way to think about it is how would we feel if, say, modern Englishman secretly ruled over 1700s India – they had given the Indians the illusion that they have a democracy of their own, but, instead, the English were running the country. And due to advanced technology, they were able to increase India’s access to the rest of the world’s trade networks. They were also selling off India’s natural resources, distributing some of that money to Indians, but keeping some for themselves.

    Now, the question becomes – how much – how much are the Indians being lifted out of squalor into a better life? How much is England taking in order to provide this lifting? If India is growing 1% faster in the short term, but England is ravaging the natural resources, and India will be a hollowed-out shell in another 10 years, and shrink 25% each year until everyone’s dead, that’s hardly a good tradeoff for India.

    And the fact is – we don’t know, because there’s no transparency. And if we did know, we would almost universally recognize that the long term consequences are terrible.

    A second argument – in the case where humans control other humans – the humans can interbreed – the elites impregnate the locals, and new people are born with some of the genetic traits of the elites. Over time, there would be propagation of new and valuable genes across the elite/peasant barrier. A long-term equalizing force. Not at all viable with aliens.

    A third argument – human elites have at least some legitimate concern for the viability of the planet, and the terran species upon it. Even if they are rapacious, most humans, especially those with children, have a strong incentive not to ‘shit where they eat’. This is manifestly untrue of an interstellar species, who has absolutely no disincentive to massively pollute and corrupt the planet, and then happily move on when the Earth is no longer able to support complex life. We’ll be extinct, and they’ll be rich. In that scenario, it doesn’t matter how much they lift us out of poverty, if the entire species is dead as a result.

    You put too much faith in the benevolence of these aliens, Dr. Hanson – I personally feel that if the aliens can’t show themselves openly, they are making decisions that they would rather keep hidden, because they are not in our best interest.

    Having said all of this – if the alien species was only modestly exploitative, but was contributing significant growth to human technology and human capability, and had no plans to rape the planet and run, but to run a business, and lift humans out of intergalactic poverty as a side-effect, then, and only then (IMO) is there an argument that perhaps justifies this kind of intervention. But even so, it seems strained, at best.

  • Ernie Bornhemer

    there is a vast space of possible societies, with an incredible number of possible dimensions. Yes, humans are primed to watch for and resist dominance, and to be suspicious of outsiders. And yes maybe more equal societies are better, all else equal. But an overwhelming focus on that one dimension of inequality risks neglect of the other dimensions, which taken together are vastly more important

    Two things

    – What does Robin mean by “that one dimension”? If he means dominance, isn’t that a decent proxy for all the other dimensions of inequality? I don’t understand this passage, someone (preferably Robin) please explain.

    – The way Robin qualifies his opinion of equality makes me think he doesn’t believe it’s important in itself, but rather only in terms of other values. Is my perception correct? If so, this is a terrible view of equality. In my view, equality is one of the important measures of a decent society. .

  • Doug S.

    Imagine a movie depicting a hero upset by some lazy poor folks on welfare, who then goes on a rampage murdering poor folks. Would this be celebrated as a thoughtful message movie, reminding us all of the importance of hard work? Not a chance.

    It’s called Atlas Shrugged.

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