Friday, June 10, 2011

Sci Fi. Politics. Choices.

I’ve been watching the British sci-fi series, “Torchwood” for the last week or so.  It is part of the Dr. Who franchise and set in Cardiff, Wales.  Torchwood has branches throughout the UK and this branch is headed by Captain Jack Harkness, a handsome rake of a man. Torchwood handles alien encounters on earth.

Now, stick with me.  The point of this is yet to come. After two seasons of watching Torchwood manage alien situations, in the third season they encounter something much worse – political reaction to an alien incursion. Let me sum up the story and I will explain why this is still plaguing my mind.

Over the past thousands of years, these aliens arrived on earth, planted terrible plagues and wiped out large portions of humanity.  In 1965 they approached Torchwood and announced they wouldn’t destroy earth if humanity would provide twelve children.  Poor decisions were made and twelve children from an orphanage, who were assumed to be the least and the lost were delivered into their hands (yup, bright lights, alien sounds – just what you’d expect). 

They returned in 2010.  A politician who had been part of the 1965 decision is still working and rather than ask Torchwood to help, decides to cover it up, since letting the public know what had happened would raise great ire.  He continues the cover up and when the aliens tell him to build a chamber, does so with the support of those higher up in government than he (all the way to the Prime Minister).  They go so far as to murder anyone still alive who knew about the 1965 decision, including Captain Jack (who doesn’t really die because of another cool scifi idea). 

They are at the precipice of a very slippery slope.

An alien ‘diplomat’ arrives (into the specially designed chamber) and after discussion, they finally discover what the aliens desire - ten percent of humanity’s children.  The leaders of the globe’s nations are apprised, appalled and work begins.

The original politician returns to the alien and offers 62 children.  This is the number of children the UK government knows could go missing without garnering public attention.  The alien kills people in the immediate vicinity in his fury, then insists everyone on earth will be destroyed unless they receive ten percent.  The deadline is set and we move to the Prime Minister and council.

They debate and discuss and agree to meet the alien’s demands, but how?  The discussion is as sickening as you can imagine.  They choose not to tell the public and to come up with a ruse to gather the children.  Then they discuss which children should be in the lottery.  Obviously their own children will not be used.  They chose to avoid the upper class schools, because those children had better grades and would likely be doctors and the intelligentsia that would assist in rebuilding society.  So, it fell to schools in poorer sections of the UK, where grades were lower.  (By the way, their basis for gathering this information was government testing of students that had been occurring for schools to receive funding.)

As I watched the story progress, with military being used to scoop up children, ripping them out of mother’s arms and away from teachers trying to protect them, chasing them through city streets, beating adults who tried to stop them, the panic growing moment by moment in the streets and in the hearts and minds of the political leadership who saw a deadline fast approaching and not enough children to hand over, my heart just wrenched.

The morality of the political leadership deteriorated into nothing. They were so intimidated by the greater power; they were willing to allow something as heinous as the destruction of children to take place.  They covered it up because of their fear of retribution and their shame.  They made decisions regarding who had a right to live, without regard to equality.

This slippery slope is something I believe we all face – deciding who is and isn’t worth the protection of the government.

In the last few weeks there has been discussion regarding Florida’s intention to force welfare applicants into mandatory drug testing.  I’ve seen comments stating that since taxpayers support the welfare system, and many taxpayers have to take drug tests to work in their job, this is appropriate behavior.  No … the private sector is very different from the government and the moment we allow the government to begin taking away the rights of those who have little or no voice is another moment we begin tipping over the precipice down that slippery slope.

The government’s job should be to protect everyone – even from itself.  And if it won’t do so, then the populace should stand and demand that protection.  The least and the lost who have no voice – whether they are drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, or young mothers who are trying to raise children on their own – deserve as many rights as the rest of us who live better than we should, with food on the table, access to our own drugs and alcohol, parties and depravities. 

We should never agree to rights being stripped from a certain group of people.  We should never allow a government to reduce itself to doing so, because when it is hard-pressed to make a decision, rights will be stripped from everyone in order to protect those in power.  While they justify it as protecting the greatest number of citizens, the truth remains the same … when a small group is sacrificed to protect a larger group without impunity … no one is safe.

How did the story end?  Well, it wasn’t pretty.  Captain Jack figured out how to destroy the alien and frighten the aliens away from earth, but in doing so, he had to sacrifice one thing that was closest to him – his grandson.  He didn’t give the child a choice either – maybe the child would have chosen to be that sacrifice, we’ll never know.  It was a Catch-22 situation and no one won.  The strange thing is, sometimes that happens. 

Sacrificing others is never the right answer.  Sacrificing yourself … that’s an entirely different story.

I’m not finished thinking about how we treat those who are the least and the lost.  I’m probably not finished writing about it either.