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March 06 2011

Liberty and Serenity. "I'm from the interstellar government, and I'm here to help you."

Another discourse on the unexpectedly libertarian vision of "Firefly."

Is Serenity all that libertarian, considering it's corporations that control the government?
Aren't libertarians against any kind of central government ?
They are, but they aren't against corporate power, and unless I'm really mistaken, Blue Sun (the corporation) is hinted at being the one controlling the government, rather than the other way around. I could just be be confused though...
I guess that doesn't negate the film expressing libertarian sentiments per se, however.

[ edited by F_TB on 2011-03-06 22:49 ]
I'm not sure about the difference between libertarianism and anarchism. I think libertarianism is very much like anarcho-capitalism, and that really does sound like Serenity.
Anarcho-capitalism is the extreme wing of libertarians, but most are in favor of SOME government, just extremely limited - like roads, currency, domestic national defense. Not so much social services - public education, anything that smacks of affirmative action or any kind of corporate regulations in general, minimum wage, etc etc. Essentially, privatize as much as possible, keep government as small and limited in power and reach as possible, and let the market decide everything rather than put restrictions on business owners for anything. And anything stricter then that should be decided by states or on the local level rather than federal.

[ edited by F_TB on 2011-03-06 22:56 ]
libertarianism is very much like anarcho-capitalism

No, it really isn't. Libertarianism isn't opposed to government; it acknowledges the necessity of it. Anarcho-capitalism, by contrast, is actually a no-government philosophy.

As such, "Serenity" is a indeed a film full of libertarian perspectives.

fixed spelling

[ edited by Vague That Up on 2011-03-06 23:00 ]
I've seen Firefly described as Marxist, Protestant, left-wing, right-wing etc. You pays your money and you takes your choice.
Yes, the hustle and bustle of TV production generally breeds communal, collectivist works with no place for individualism, for greatness.

Heh, axe to grind much ? ;)

Not sure 'Firefly' "...clearly positioned itself as an anti-big-government show...". It certainly positioned itself as anti corrupt government and it's fair to say Mal was anti big government (or any at all really - Mal was the libertarian's libertarian in that I doubt he even felt government was necessary to defend property, liberty etc.).

Liked the point about the 2nd amendment providing next to no protection (these days) against a tyrannical state, that's not something i've seen many libertarians admit (they're usually very big on that and - obviously - the market in my experience). Other than that, some contentious language and opinions about 'Serenity' which will no doubt get some folk's backs up and some (to me) fairly amusing rhetoric about the perils of the state actually trying to promote the welfare of its citizens (heaven forbid ! ;). Not a new perspective necessarily but, y'know, another one ;).
Sigh. No. Libertarians come in many flavors. They have in common four things:

* The ultimate good is people doing what they, individually want to do.

* The only legitimate use of force is to protect someone from coercion by someone else.

* Governments are a kind of coercion. Indeed, the famous quote (who it is escapes me right now) defines a government as having a monopoly on the use of force in a given geography.

* Since governments are coercive, and coercion is a bad thing, less is more.

The various strains of libertarian thinking propose different solutions - different balance points - for this conundrum. As for the idea that libertarians are somehow capitalist hegemons, again no. Libertarians tend to dislike mercantilism, oligarchies, regulatory capture and similar because these things harness the coercive power of government in aid of corporations or other large organizations. You end up with a corporation calling the shots while the government makes everyone watch a Fruity Oaty Bar commercial ... for their own good, or something.

Many libertarians see this kind of capture as inevitable, once government gets involved in enough stuff. Since they (we) don't like things like the uniformed storm-troopers keeping Asian folks from providing fish pedicures without a cosmetology license, we're for less of that kind of free-floating power. It's like chum for sharks. Inevitably it attracts them, and inevitably the government gets co-opted. So, given that we can't prevent that kind of capture, have the government do less. Or, until we can prevent that kind of capture, if you prefer, but some of us would like a demonstration before we'll believe it.

As a kind of individual freedom, libertarians are for free markets while differing on whether or how much the government needs to intervene to make that happen. In general libertarians are for people being free to do as they wish, while differing on what government needs to do, and not do to allow that to happen. So, this corporate capture of the Alliance / Blue Sun is decidedly un-libertarian. Libertarians (OK, we libertarians) claim that governments that try to do too much, draw this kind of capture.

As for Mal, libertarians come to the POV either intellectually, or empirically first. I'd say Mal is the later. The ones who get there intellectually first tend to be economists. Mr. Whedon mentioned somewhere in the FireFly / Serenity commentary that he - Whedon - probably wouldn't like having dinner with Mal. Mr. Whedon's occasional political comments sometimes read like "government should do better" and "better people in government would do the right thing." While I agree with Mr. Whedon's goals, I'm with Mal on government being the problem not the solution. With the best of intentions, the power to do big things creates bait for the sharks.

I'd enjoy dinner with Mal, not just because he looks like Nathan Fillion and talks in witty one-liners. I'd enjoy it because we both believe, empirically, that every once in a while the government actually does protect you from coercion or ensure fair dealings, usually by accident. Meanwhile, best to count on yourself and few people you know you can trust.
I don't think a movie could get less Marxist than "Serenity". Marx's picture is in the dictionary next to people "who (swung)... round to the notion that they can make people better". Taking Marx from "Firefly"/"Serenity" just makes someone the worst Marxist ever, and I'll say that's up to and including Joss if that's what wets his whistle.

And, yes, I'd say that "anti-big-government" is an accurate representation. There's no implicit or explicit qualifier about corruption in lines like "that's what government's for, to stand in a man's way" and "a government is made up of people, usually notably ungoverned". If anything, Mal's great quotes on the nature of government seem to treat government as a thing per se corrupt that needs constant scrutiny. And in this I believe he is correct.
@KingofCretins To be fair, libertarianism HAS been described as the "Marxism of the Right"...;p
Possibly because many adherents of both tend to have the same ideological "enthusiasm" ? And I suppose also that the ultimate aim of both is a small (or even non-existent) state.

It's like chum for sharks. Inevitably it attracts them, and inevitably the government gets co-opted.

Yeah, I feel the same way about (unregulated) free markets. As to the rest, sure, there are different kinds of every political persuasion, who disagreed ?

If anything, Mal's great quotes on the nature of government seem to treat government as a thing per se corrupt that needs constant scrutiny.

That's why I said Mal is anti big government (or any government it would seem - in that sense he's not really a libertarian).

I don't think a movie could get less Marxist than "Serenity".

You could cast it as an ideological struggle between the haves and have-nots, an overthrowing of the state by the proletariat. Bit of a stretch IMO but that's the thing with ideological lenses, everything becomes a nail.
I doubt that a society organized along libertarian principles could survive a decades-long voyage in a slower than lightspeed spaceship. Libertarian ideas probably traveled along with the colonists, but putting them into practice would not have been possible until there were societies living on a frontier.

Organizing the transport of large numbers of people and DNA libraries of all the species needed to create viable ecosystems from scratch, and terraforming multiple planets and moons to make them habitable, will have taken enormous resources precisely at the time when earthly civilization was running short. Only very large and powerful organizations such as the largest national governments and multinational corporations would have the wealth and might to attempt mustering such resources and diverting them from the struggle for existence on the home planet.

The Alliance seems to be run by technocrats, which is what one would expect from an American-Chinese collaboration. Big corporations have never been known for respect for the rights and welfare of individuals. Considering the nature of the organizations that brought humanity to the new star system, it's amazing that it's as well governed as it is.
It wasn't quite as tidy as a spaceship with colonists on though, we see many ships take off from Earth-that-was, each of which may well have been run along very different lines (we don't know if they're independent or all under the Anglo-Sino alliance banner or whether that alliance even existed at that point or sprung up later). To me a bigger objection against them being a libertarian society to begin with is, it seems hard to see how the Alliance could arise from that sort of society, particularly when it's so spatially distributed (though they do have apparently instantaneous communication which makes a solar system wide organisation at least possible).

(as you say janef, a large corporation could achieve what was necessary and there's nothing in libertarianism that precludes those right ? Quite the reverse if anything)

But the main point is surely, the 'verse isn't libertarian, that'd be a very tough claim to defend IMO. The claim is that the show is libertarian i.e. promotes libertarian ideals and that's easier to defend (Mal certainly promotes some ideals that're pretty close).
Stopped reading at "imminently".
I gave him the benefit of the doubt on that one and assumed he meant "I love it now but very soon it's going to become forgettable trash".
"Firefly clearly positioned itself as an anti-big government show, which is singular, as far as I know"

Someone hasn't seen Babylon5.

I certainly disagree that Serenity "is not a great movie", I'd put it in the top ten SciFi movies, maybe the top five.

And this: " ...and suffered from the lack of a good director"

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