The Thing I Like About …

Elysium: the part where the machines realize that there are people in need of medical attention.

Elysium is an orbiting city for the elite – for the people who “deserve” safety, peace, health, and happiness. Everyone else gets to sort it out on a crowded and ill-used Earth. The powers that be have absolutely no reason to change the way things are, except to make themselves the elite of the elite. Their lives of luxury are thin disguises that barely hide their deep and abiding fear – fear that they’ll lose everything that they have, that they’ll be relegated to the ranks of those who work hard and gain little. The only thing that gives them relief from the fear is to be able to see the huge and widening chasm between their lives – rich, well-fed, healthy – and the gritty lives of the “rabble” … so the “rabble” need to be kept as low as possible, and as far as possible from the gilded walls of Elysium.

But of course the machines that are in charge of dispensing health care don’t have any fears. They don’t have any needs or wants. They have only their programming, which tells them to treat the sick, the injured, the starving. They act on their programming, and treat the “rabble” exactly the way they treat the elite.

We have a lot of disparity in our world; even in economically stable countries, there’s often a wide gap between the haves and the have-nots. Too often, there’s a small group of have-mosts and hordes of have-nothing-at-alls. Movies like Elysium point out the frustration and chaos and heartbreak of that dichotomy, and the reality for which they’re a metaphor can seem like a series of insurmountable injustices.

When we see the machines in the film being the only entities that treat everyone equally, we might very easily say in jaded accents, “Typical! People don’t even have as much sense – or soul – as machines! Ain’t that the truth!”

But people made this movie.

People build machines and program them. They write movies about the dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots. They put messages and morals into their films for the education of the audience. And the audience are also people – people who recognize the message in the film because they were already aware of the problems to which the message refers. They like the movies because the message is already something they thought was important.

People wrote the end of the movie – the part with the solution, and the justice, and the fixing, and the progress.

Our “programming” tells us to feed ourselves and our young, to keep ourselves and our young out of danger. Our programming tells us to protect the “herd” as a whole. It tells us that the dichotomy illustrated in the movie is not optimal or good. It tells us that things “should” be better, and that love is positive, and that everyone should get along and care for one another. Our programming may be written very differently from that of a machine, but it’s still there.

The only thing interfering with it is our fear.

We don’t have to get rid of the orbiting luxury city. We don’t have to get rid of the elite. We don’t have to get rid of the “rabble”. The machines that seemed to “have it right” when the humans had it all wrong? – they didn’t “get rid” of anything. They added. They included. They accepted.

And they didn’t have any fears.

When we see the machines going out to render medical assistance to the whole population, we’re seeing the problem and the solution. We’re seeing the hope and the opportunity for us to do as well as we’ve imagined we can. We’re seeing our shame and our salvation. We’re seeing the acknowledgement that we already know what we need to do.

People caused the problems. People can solve the problems. They can be as good and effective and excellent as machines programmed for service. They can change and grow and build and fix. They can get it right … as soon as they stop being afraid.

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