'Lost': The (de)evolution of The Others' morality
"Lost" fans know that it's generally not a good idea to trust Ben Linus. He'll probably fry your brain through twisted logic and emotionally manipulate you to do his bidding, but you'll never actually trust him even while performing acts that go against everything in which you believe. But today, as a thought exercise, we're going to try and take Ben at his word for once.
This solitary time? At the Pala Ferry, bidding Michael and Walt goodbye:
Michael: My friends--I was promised you wouldn't hurt them.So let's assume NOT that The Others are in fact the good guys, as he states. Rather, let's assume that when he tells Michael this, he believes that he is telling the truth. "Good" and "bad" are of course in the eye of the beholder. The actions taken by The Others against the survivors of Oceanic 815 certainly don't cry out that they, not the survivors, are the heroes of this particular piece. But then again, you know what they say about the road to hell. Or, for instance, the runway for an airplane.
Ben: A deal's a deal.
Michael: Who are you people?
Ben: We're the good guys, Michael.
In trying to figure out the purpose of The Others, we must carefully consider the code of conduct under which they govern themselves. This being "Lost," we have at best a small glimpse into the workings of their society. Think of the full view being a clear front window of a car. Our current perspective is that of a driver trying to navigate traffic with a mud-covered window offers a mere sliver by which to view the traffic ahead. We've only seen the group in a few, relatively recent time periods, and often through the eyes of a person outside their culture. But solider on we will, because seeking these answers will take up a lot of Season 6.
Codes of conduct derive from a society's purpose. In other words, rules, regulations, and senses of right/wrong derive from that group's particular notion of utopia. A democratic society has its own complex set; totalitarian regimes have another. Trying to ascertain a sense of "right" and "wrong" for The Others presupposes we know the end goal of the group. The reason I framed today's assumption (that Ben believes himself to be leading the good guys) as such is due to the fact that while the current iteration thinks they are maintaining the path to utopia, they have in fact systematically charted a course towards their own demise.
So much of the actions taken by The Others over the course of the show derive from a need to protect The Island. For them, threats come from the outside world, staining the pristine land with their greed and need. In 1954, they killed a group of U.S. soldiers attempting to conduct hydrogen bomb tests. In the late part of the century, they waged war on The Dharma Initiative. In the early part of the 21st-century, they fought those from Oceanic 815 and The Kahana. It would be easy to paint these people based on these few actions as survivalists worshipping the local god known as Jacob, content to let the rest of the world be so long as they could live on their own small piece of paradise.
But Jacob's actions seem to contradict this notion. He's not for isolationism; he encourages outsiders to come to the shores. Why? "Progress," is the word he chooses when speaking to his nemesis in "The Incident," a word that calls to mind a Darwinian approach to the social structure of the Island. Seclusion isn't part of the equation in Jacob's mind. Think of his work as evolution, but not necessarily on a genetic level. He's aiming to change the very nature of humanity, to be sure. But he's also looking to increase man's capacity not to use tools, but to use their hearts and minds in a way that propels them to the next stage of existence.
Heady stuff. (Pretty pretentious as well, I know.) But science fiction consistently deals with humanity at the crossroads of its own history. Yesterday, I intentionally referenced Stanley Kubrick's "2001," a movie in which encounters with giant, black monoliths propel humanity to the next stage of its existence. Likewise, "Star Trek: First Contact" shows man's first warp drive flight raising their status in the eyes of other alien races. These are moments in which man's inherent capacity suddenly expands, revealing a larger reservoir than was previously considered. These are the moments Jacob seeks. And these are the moments that The Others have prevented through their misconception of their leader's wishes.
Jacob's "hands-off" approach might be the only way to guarantee that mankind lifts itself up on its own, but leaves a whole lot of room for misinterpretation. Maybe Jacob views the Island as the perfect place in which to mold humanity into better shape, but somewhere along the way those he brought there decided that Jacob wanted his chosen ones to stay there forever. Seen in that light, outsiders were largely seen as threats, foes, contaminants. The social, psychological, and humanistic evolution suffered by large of diversity in the gene pool.
Maybe that's why it suddenly became so damn hard to have children.
Tomorrow, I'll look at the issue of childbirth, and the most famous baby daddy in Others' history: Charles Widmore. Until then, what's your take on The Others? Good or bad? Vote and discuss below!
Ryan invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group.