The Agrarian Clean Slate

I look forward to hearing more from Peter about Battlestar Galactica, and I wish he or I had more good things to say about the final season. Much as I enjoyed both works, I hope that BSG and its obvious counterpart Wall•E don’t become the sci-fi standard bearers of our era, since their transparent craving for the supposed authenticity of the land will seem so pat to future generations. We can do better, can’t we? A double feature of Idiocracy and Children of Men does a better job of exploring our modern anxieties, for example.

For all its flaws and simplifications, I think Wall•E (or at least its amazing outro ) had a better angle on the place of land and agriculture in sustaining the human soul. The pudgy humans who return to Earth after life on the Axiom regain, through cultivation of the land, something that has been lost amid stultifying abundance and atomization. The survivors of the Second Cylon War, on the other hand, throw themselves at the mercy of the elements in hopes of burning away the violence and social complexity that humans have accreted over generations. Through self-imposed hardship and austerity, they will not only repair the damage to their souls that life as fugitives has done to them, but they will get a do-over of all the mistakes that ensue when brains outpace hearts, to paraphrase Lee Adama’s monologue.* While the medicine might be the same, these are two very different ways to diagnose the modern condition and to speculate as to how we might heal ourselves, as cultures and individuals. A greater appreciation for the limits of land and season might help us become more human in ways that we have lost, but sudden agrarian austerity would not, as I keep yelling, reset our moral senses to some prelapsarian default.

*Of course, the tacky little denouement of BSG implies that humanity’s do-over is futile, but that scene is best ignored or forgotten.