i,Robot hit theaters almost a decade ago, based on the book by Isaac Asimov, published in 1950. The plot centers around two artificial intelligences, one a robot which is accused of murder, and the other a network administration program that controls an enormous array of systems across the nation.
Watching the film, one tingles with the sensation that these engineered devices are almost haunted with spirits beyond their blueprints. One would not expect to find a ghost in machines, and yet those ghosts persist. (Spoiler alert!) On the one hand, the robot accused of murder struggles to grasp the human nature he was given in artificial intelligence, whereas the program who is really at fault for the killing is discovered to embrace a malevolent method for a beneficent goal. Essentially, the program sees humanity as incapable of existing without war and death, and therefore decides to take over the world and suppress all these struggles by suppressing mankind.
In the end, a computer is a villain and a robot is a hero. (End spoiler alert!) And yet, both must have Free Will to qualify as either. Even Skynet of the long-standing Terminator series is described as having achieved “self-awareness” which led it to launching nuclear war on mankind. Why would self-awareness make a computer launch a war? Because it chose to survive.
Star Trek constantly explored the notion of the synthetic acquiring a soul. There was Spock whose human half constantly remained alien through his two lives. Next came Data, who strove to understand humanity and become human through various means. And the Doctor from Voyager spent numerous episodes tangling with the concept of being, ultimately becoming human in every way, save the organic frame.
Having run for so many episodes, Star Trek offered great opportunities for reversing the heroes, and making them villains. Spock’s alter-ego in another dimension is a ruthless dictator that would make the Marquis de Sade look tame. And one of the darkest episodes on Star Trek Voyager showed the holographic Doctor experimenting with classical literature, and becoming a Mr. Hyde to his normal Dr. Jekyll.
Humanity seems to be a necessary component of villainy and heroism. Our choices can make all the difference between the two. We cannot have the good unless there is some outline which also delineates the bad.
Learn Liberty is doing a free series on The Hunger Games and liberty, which is right up my alley, as anyone who’s read anything on this site can clearly tell. It will last one week, starting on Monday and is meant to be flexible. Definitely check it out.
Katniss Everdeen is an intriguing hero. She’s primarily a survivor, and the trauma following her father’s death and mother’s withdrawal deeply scarred her. She’s cold, even to those she cares about. In some ways, she is Snow’s perfect subject.
Whereas the villainous Snow means to keep people in line by narrow threads of hope, he wishes that everyone would simply do as the Capitol demands, and cast off whatever bits of feeling they have that may encourage them to rise up and refuse, or even revolt.
Katniss sees the oppression of the government as so overwhelming, that only survival is permitted, and so allowing herself to love is just not an option. Have children? Are you kidding?
Despite her will, she does love. She cares deeply about those few people that are close to her; Primrose and Gale, and even her mother. And when the Capitol’s hatchet makes to descend onto Prim, Katniss steps up to take the lethal strike. Say what you want about her chilly demeanor, there’s a profound depth of courage and caring to make that choice, and she does something similar when Gale is being flogged in Catching Fire. Of course, she also makes the deal with Haymitch to keep Peeta alive, rather than her. It fits, although there’s a sense that it may also be a pact for suicide, rather than a valiant effort.
Several friends of mine commented that Katniss’ demeanor toward others is really too cold and too bitter. Frankly, I think it’s about right given the conditions of that society and that family. One does not need to have a crowd-winning smile to be a hero. In many ways, Katniss is a hero because her actions are to do right, despite who sees it, oftener than not getting her and others into trouble. For instance, when she offers food to the Rue’s broken family in District 11.
She’s a wonderful hero bitten by a great deal of tragedy.
Oh, and for those who would like more District 11, check out my free fanfiction book Least of These! It was given generous reviews and is worth your time.