Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Final Cut

Recently I've seen the movie The Final Cut, a science-fiction thriller about a future where babies get implants that record every single moment of their lives up to their death. Robin Williams, in another one of his recent subdued roles, plays the role of a "cutter", a person who cuts together people's "life-movies" to play at funerals. His work becomes particularly interesting when, while starting work on the life of a corrupt administrator of an implant company, he discovers someone that may be related to a memory he has carried guilt about all his life.

It got mostly bad reviews, except for Roger Ebert. I think that's quite unfortunate. Critics mostly criticized the plot. I thought it was a great plot. For one thing, most of us can relate to the idea of guilt carried from something we did when we were too young to reason (I certainly do). The issues of privacy raised by the implant are also questions of great import, which should make us pause. So far issues of privacy have always been issues of either crime (such as cameras in the streets) or workplace abuse (which is what I consider drug testing is), but nothing resembling this kind of issue.

So what the fuck am I doing reviewing a movie on my blog ? I've never done that before. Well, there are two reasons, both of which have to do with theism.

First, there's the issue of privacy rights - many people in the Final Cut universe rebel against the implant because it means the end of privacy rights. Since anyone could have an implant - and theoretically not even know it - there does not seem to be any way to act naturally anywhere. One person is reported to have killed herself a few months after learning she had an implant, as she simply couldn't stand the pressure. So even though the government is not the one recording the data, or using it, and "cutters" are professionally bound to secrecy, there is still a possibility of your words and actions being captured, that exists at all moments. The only possibility left is to exclude from one's life anyone who has such an implant - which seems a priori impossible.

This also relates to the question of God. In my entry "Who wants to be a ghost ?", I discussed how even the possibility of being constantly observed would be enough to radically change our behaviour, and how this shows that Christians are hypocrites because they don't act any different than we do, let alone radically differently. The idea that your life is recorded is perhaps less frightening as your life being observed by God, in that the recording will not be used to judge your fate. So it's more of a theoretical anxiety, an existential anxiety, while the anxiety that an honest Christian would feel is a very real and important anxiety.

It would certainly be an important social experiment. So here's another interesting issue : what would such a social experiment tell us about human morality ? It seems possible that an individual, in this scenario, would come to terms with the implant by realizing that any consequence from it would only happen after his life. So there is definitely a possibility there that does not exist with the omniscient god scenario.

Secondly, the implant is very much religious in many aspects. For one thing, it is imposed on children without their consent, just like religious brainwashing. Unlike religious belief, parents are encouraged to admit the deed at a certain age, but this is not as important because, unlike God, the implant is real and still has real consequences even if one knows the truth. Like religion, the implant serves as a sort of knee-jerk, irrational replacement morality - the anxiety of having one's actions recorded forever. The implant serves a religious purpose - getting over grief, funerals. The cutters are bound to a professional code that is akin to priest-parishoner confidentiality. Finally, the implant causes social problems and turmoil on a global scale, like religion.

So the anti-implant groups are, if we follow this analogy, atheists. But this is a very unflattering comparison. The anti-implant groups are a rebellious sub-culture, they protest at people's funerals, and some of them will stoop to killing to help their cause. So they actually sound more like Christians. The implant is like the Christian meme, and the anti-implant groups are like Christians. It's a very weird dynamic. I think it might actually make the movie more interesting than it would have been with a straightforward religious comparison, although I would like to watch a movie made on that premise too.

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At 12/20/2005 2:01 AM, Blogger BlackSun declaimed...

Hey Francois, The Final Cut is one of my favorite films. Especially because I'm a "cutter" myself, or more colloquially, editor.

I see what you are saying about those who were protesting the implants, but I saw them more as Luddites (who are kind of religious, I guess). Really I thought this movie was very prescient, kind of like Minority Report or I, Robot, both of which deal with likely future scenarios (LFS). The Final Cut is also an LFS. The type of brain augmentation predicted by Kurzweil, will not only become desirable, but essential. We are headed toward a society of total transparency and total monitoring. It will be unavoidable.

I discussed this in "Privacy Follies"

This is one of the reasons I'm so adamant about government reform. We will need benign governments, or the concept of individuality will cease to have any meaning.

I didn't think the idea of sealing the records until death was realistic at all. That protection would last exactly until the first witness to a murder refused to talk. Then the records would become discoverable in court, and any concept of privacy would lose its meaning.

But this is not all bad news. Because if we really believe in ethics, and can form and maintain ethical governments, we should not care if we are being observed. In fact, it could be argued that if everyone observed everyone else all of the time, we'd have no choice but to become a more tolerant society.

That's because deeds done in secret are the root of not just corruption, but hypocrisy, which are both at the root of intolerance.

On the day no one can hide from the dark side of their humanity, we will all for the first time be safe being human.

At 12/20/2005 2:38 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Why is it that all the intelligent, socially-conscious movies always seem to slip past me? The same thing happened with Equilibrium.

At 12/20/2005 7:39 PM, Blogger The Atheist Messiah declaimed...

I haven't heard of "Equilibrium", but I saw "The Final Cut" and I loved it. I'm already a Robin Williams fan ever since "The World According to Garp", the Mork and Mindy series, and more recently, his "Live on Broadway" standup.

I hadn't considered the attainment of peace through the invasion of privacy, but immediately it sounds like the idea of preventing further war by going to war.

I realize that is an incorrect analogy, but I'm just saying it sounds self-defeating at first.

At 12/20/2005 8:16 PM, Blogger BlackSun declaimed...

Messiah, I'm not sure if you're referring to my comment. But I want to clarify that I'm not saying we should all consent to total privacy invasion. If we do have our privacy invaded in the future, it may happen for reasons that we'll come to accept, and there may be an unexpected upside.

With the present state of government, I would totally oppose this, of course. But that's the beauty of sci-fi; we get to explore and imagine future scenarios as thought experiments long before they come to pass. We can then be more prepared for their implications.

Unfortunately, most people today mistrust technology and therefore identify much more with dystopian scenarios. Therefore they sell a lot more movie tickets.



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