Colonialism By Any Other Name…

10.9 The Empress of Mars

The Empress of Mars provides a one-sided view of colonialism and empire state building. On the one hand it rightfully critiques old school colonialism as practiced by the major western powers until the 1960s. On the other hand, its stark and blunt portrayals of old school colonialism masks the dangers of neo-colonialism which often uses the language of self-defense and humanitarian intervention to disguise its true selfish purpose. It is easy to see how antiqued and horrible the Victorian soldiers’ attitude towards Mars is. But it is important to remember that modern actions are not above reproach. The fact of the matter is that we try to hide the horrific actions perpetrated by western military intervention throughout the world.

In the Empress of Mars, the Doctor, Nardole, and Bill come across a handful of Victorian British soldiers…on Mars. And needless to say their attitude is a bit…well dated. This is most vividly and humorously expressed when the soldiers scoff at the notion of a female police officer.

BILL: Well, we’re sort of police. 
DOCTOR: Speak for yourself. 
BILL: What, you can deal with big green Martians and, and, and rocket ships, but you can’t deal with us being the police? 
GODSACRE: No, no, no, no, no. It’s just such a fanciful notion. A woman in the police force. 
BILL: Listen, yeah? I’m going to make allowances for your Victorian attitudes because, well, you actually are Victorian.

But their dated attitudes are also expressed in their frequent references to the British Empire. Tied with notions of empire are of course individual greed.

 

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One striking aspect of this conversation is how blunt and nonchalant Catchlove is. He freely admits that their purpose is to gain personal wealth and to expand the British Empire. Today, while you might hear such candid discussions in leaked government memos or conversations, “empire building” is now often discussed in terms of self-defense or humanitarian intervention. This is not to suggest that old-school colonialism also did not pretend to adhere some higher humanitarian or divine mission, but they were also pretty clear that they believed it was their divine mission to conquer and tame “savage” civilizations. Today the conversation centers around notions of self-defense and helping the marginalized, even though modern western military action often endangers both national security and the very marginalized groups it claims to save.

In this episode, it becomes clear early on that Catchlove is the villain of the story. And for many of us today, we can clearly point to how devastating and awful European colonialism was. Acknowledging the awfulness of the past and making reparations to those who suffered is a must, but at the same time, such an attitude makes it easy to pretend that our modern day actions are not as horrific as those committed in the past.

For instance, the war in Iraq was based around false notions of self-defense. The US claimed it needed to attack Iraq because Saddam Hussein was tied to al Qaeda and had weapons of mass destruction.  The nation was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks and the Bush administration attempted to exploit the nation’s renewed thirst for military violence and the wider world’s sympathy for America’s pain in order to ram through their military and political objectives. Of course, as it became increasingly clear Saddam Hussein had no ties to al Qaeda.  (Shough he did support other terrorist organizations at some points during his reign. See Trump’s Saddam.)

When it became clear that the there were no weapons of mass destruction or evidence of Saddam Hussein’s ties to al Qaeda, justifications quickly took on a humanitarian tone. Conversation shifted to how horrible Saddam Hussein was.  Of course it was true. Hussein was a vicious dictator and as a dictator the rights, freedoms, and even lives of his citizens mattered little. His concern was with political power. However, if that were truly the impetus behind the 2003 war in Iraq then Saddam Hussein should have been removed a long time ago. And if concern for human rights really is the basis of American military intervention, then allies such as Israel and Egypt would be at the receiving end of our military might rather than beneficiaries via money and arms. The discourse on human rights often serves to legitimize unjust western action regardless of the consequences.

In addition to claiming that the only reason they helped this ice warrior that they decided to name Friday (see how colonialism has no qualms about renaming the people and lands they have conquered) they have turned him into little more than a glorified butler/slave. Though of course, as it becomes clear, the belief that Catchlove and the soldiers have control over “Friday” backfires spectacularly.  A key part of European colonialism was turning the portion of the population that survived disease and slaughter, into slaves. Modern western intervention, often depicted as fighting for the rights of marginalized groups, of course rejects enslaving the population. Yet westerners seek to control the population in other ways including by enforcing their notion of democracy which is less about human rights and more about capitalism. This  form of capitalism  seeks to place western and private interests over the needs and desires of non-western nations.

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In this case, the Doctor is warning Catchlove and the other British soldiers to leave. Mainly for their benefit since the Doctor recognizes that Friday was tricking the British. But Catchlove stubbornly refuses to leave because Mars is now the property of the British Empire. Plus, of course they belong. The British have a mandate from their empire and from God to conquer. They belong everywhere. One may be tempted to say, “well, there. Today, such a notion of owning another country is completely off base. At least for westerners.” (SARCASM ALERT: Because westerners are supposedly the most enlightened of people who are above petty political squabbles revolving around “owning” others.).

But while western powers may not claim to “own” other people or their countries, there is a continued presumption of the right to use their land at will. For instance, the United States continues to build bases throughout the world, in developed and in developing countries.   While the bases need to be built with the support of the hosting nation, American imperialism thinks nothing of building/maintaining thousands of bases throughout the world-something it would loathe to allow other nations to do.  Moreover, because the US is such a power house, it can threaten to withhold much needed aid to any country that refuses to give in to US demands.

In The Empress of Mars, the critique of British colonialism is obvious. Catchlove in particular is portrayed as selfish, egotistical, and greedy. He does not even pretend to hide the fact that he and the other British soldiers arrived on Mars to gain riches nor does he gloss over his belief that Mars rightfully belongs to the Empire. Yet this bluntness also hides the nefarious character of modern day western action throughout the world. Whether or not recent foreign interventions such as the war in Iraq can technically be called colonialism is up to debate, (though I personally view it as a form of colonialism) western action continues to devastate and is often based on the notion that western countries have a right and duty to intervene in other countries affairs or to topple governments. The language used to disguise such misadventures reference self defense and human rights, but the aftermath is filled with death and destruction.  In other words, modern western countries have more in common with the likes of Catchlove then they would like to admit.

 

 

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The Dangers of Seeking Security over Freedom

Season 10, Episode 8: The Lie of the Land

BILL: They’re doing something to us. The Monks. I can’t think straight.  It’s like they’re saying they’ve been here forever, and I know they haven’t, but part of me is starting to think that it’s real. Every day I have to, I have to remind myself that everything that you, me and the Doctor did actually happened, and it wasn’t just a dream. Why do it? That’s what I don’t get. They invade somewhere, take control. Why go to the trouble of changing the past? 
NARDOLE: However bad a situation is, if people think that’s how it’s always been, they’ll put up with it. That’s ninety percent of the job done.

In the episode, The Lie of the Land, we see the consequences of Bill’s decision to ask for the Monk’s help in order to save the Doctor. Not only have the monks turned the world into a dictatorship where freedom is limited and the monks are worshipped as heroes, but they have managed to change history to such an extent, that their presence is viewed as being a permanent part of the landscape. They have managed to trick humanity into believing that they saved humanity numerous times from disasters and that their dictatorship has been going on for decades, if not centuries. As Nardole points out, people will put up with a situation if they believe that the situation is just how things are. Bill, however, manages to hold on to the truth: the Monks are lying; they are ruthless  totalitarians who claim to have provided security and safety to humanity when in reality they only bought back widespread bondage and slavery.

The most shocking part for Bill, is the fact that the Doctor seems to have decided that the monks were correct after all:

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Bill, is rightly incredulous at such thinking, especially coming from the Doctor. And as viewers, we are supposed to side with Bill. We of course, just like Bill, have an inkling that either the Doctor is faking or something must have happened for him to spew Monk propaganda. No one in their right mind, if they had a choice, would believe that authoritarianism amid the violation of human rights would bring security and safety. Of course, history proves that people fall for that lie again and again.

Both Hitler and Stalin rose to power during periods of incredibly upheaval. Their respective countries had just been devastated by war: World War I (1914-1918) and the Bolshevik Revolution (1917). Hitler took power in a context where Germany suffered not only the loss of millions of its citizens, but their defeat was one of utter humiliation. The Treaty of Versailles created new boundaries for Germany while giving away some land to the victorious allies,  the Germany military was defanged: their numbers drastically reduced and limitations imposed on the types of weapons they were allowed to have, (though the allies, were also supposed to eventually disarm) and Germany lost all its colonies.   However, the most humiliating clause forced Germany to accept full responsibility for World War I, making them responsible for all material damages aka they were forced to pay reparations.  The economic situation worsened with the onset of the great depression.

The time period before the Russian Revolution was one of oppression.  In the 1890s Russians were suffering under exploitation and severe famine. The advancement of Nicholas II to the throne did nothing to initially appease the growing pains of industrialization that Russia was undergoing. The ill fated 1904-1905 war with Japan did not improve matters and the Russian intervention in World War I left an already exhausted citizenship even more on edge. However, the 1917 Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the tsar dynasty, did not lead to peace and prosperity. In the immediate aftermath, Russia pledged into a devastating civil war.

Both Hitler and Stalin solidified their support and their power by claiming that security for the people would come only under Hitler and Stalin’s authority and the implementation of their ideals. The two dictators became the physical manifestation of all the hopes and dreams that Germany and the Soviet Union hoped to achieve. Of course, there was pockets of opposition, however, those who opposed Hitler and Stalin had to reckon with an extremely powerful personality cult. While viewers look at the worship of the monks in The Lie of the Land as ridiculous, it parallels the cults that surround real life dictators.

Dictators promise to provide strength and security in response to total obedience. The Doctor, although, he is still pulling Bill’s leg in this scene, makes some very good points about the nature of free will and humanity’s inability or unwillingness to learn from history:

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The Doctor slams humanity’s ill use of free will while also regurgitating the argument made by the monks and totalitarians/state governments everywhere: “things were going downhill and a strong, authoritarian figure needed to take control.”

While this type of thinking is not as extreme in modern western countries, the reality is, that the notion that security comes at the cost of liberty is alive and well in so called democratic countries. The “War on Terror” and the domestic and foreign policies implemented in its name, are the direct result of this twisted belief that prioritize security over all else. We see this in the so called “material support for terrorism” cases that the FBI brings which, instead of catching high ranking, powerful terrorists, often nets the mentally ill, mentally disabled, and/or poor.   (For an in-depth look at this travesty of justice check out the series, Trial and Terror by the Intercept). The language of security is being used to go after undocumented immigrants,  those applying for asylum,  and now legal residents.

It is natural for humans to want a measure of safety and security. Especially in the light of terrorism, natural disasters, war, and other forms of violence. But the problem arises when people think that dehumanizing others, creating a false history, and slowly curtailing individual rights will lead to security. No, it only leads to even more death and destruction. We might not be worshiping powerful dictatorship like aliens-but the devastating consequences of believing in the myth that “national security” can be guaranteed is all too real. We see it in the shoddy FBI terror cases and the brutal Gestapo like tactics of ICE.

10:7 It Begins with a Whimper

Season 10, episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World

DOCTOR: The end of your life has already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see, and every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere, unnoticed, in silence or in darkness It has already begun.

When our little worlds that we have constructed come crashing down, we often assume it is the result one major event. We begin to divide our life into two distinct phases: the “before” phase and “after” phase.  We look fondly at the “before” stage-where everything seemed perfectly normal. Life was good or at least stable and predictable.  we had certain beliefs and relationships that we were so sure about, and we understood our world. The larger world is tough and unpredictable but we each have our own little worlds where we go for comfort. But the “after” phase is filled with pain, uncertainty, chaos. Our little worlds are ripped apart and the compass we used to guide us no longer works.  We wish we could turn back time and stop that one major event from occurring. But the reality is, major events are the cumulation of thousands of smaller events.   Catastrophes rarely come out of nowhere-instead they accumulate over the months and years.

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At first the Doctor assumes that the end of the world that the Monks foretold is going to come via a break out of World War III. After all, he monks placed a pyramid right smack dab in the middle of a hotspot where Russian, Chinese, and American soldiers are stationed. The assumption, not entirely invalid, is that somehow an event will be triggered that will cause infighting amongst the countries with the three greatest armies. Moreover, all three countries are nuclear powers (out of the three, China supposedly as the least. Though when it comes to nuclear war, you don’t need many cause to global disaster) . Additionally, the US, Russia, and China are allied with other countries that have access to nuclear weapons. This is the type of war that would make the previous global wars look like small skirmishes in comparison.

MONK: The human race is about to end. The chain of events is already in motion. Life on Earth will cease by humanity’s own hand. Observe. 

But of course, such an event is almost a bit too obvious. I mean, most of us, if we know that a major catastrophic event is going to happen, will try to do whatever we can to avoid it. If I see a car heading towards me and I have time to step out of the way, that is exactly what I am going to do. But if it is dark, foggy, or storming outside and I can barely see two feet in front of me or hear the sound of an approaching car, chances are I won’t see the vehicle until seconds before impact. In a similar way, the Doctor points out that the monks are using misdirection.  They want humanity to focus on the obvious threats while allowing smaller threats to go unnoticed until it is too late to stop them. What the Doctor and the others need to look out for is something small that has the potential to snowball into a global event.

In real life, we often focus on the major life catastrophes that can come out of nowhere: freak accidents, major illnesses, terrorist attacks, mass shootings. Yet even those major events are composed of thousands of smaller incidents that went unnoticed. Safety instructions that were discarded, misread medical reports, individuals who are acting a bit off. Yet we don’t pay attention until the event is so beyond our control that there is nothing we can do to stop it.

This weekend a part of my world shattered. A former mentor, someone I trusted, someone I cared deeply about, someone who had guided me through some of my difficult moments in grad school was recently arrested and charged with a crime. Without going into details-this crime, was not a “victimless” crime and from the little bit that has leaked out, it also doesn’t appear to have been a one-time thing. The behavior sees to have been repetitive and compulsive and something that this person kept well hidden, until eventually the actions came to light.

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I thought I knew this person. Yes we hadn’t really talked since I graduated, but still. I knew this person. I had worked with this person. I had long conversations, lunches, and even spent Christmas with their family. Yet I couldn’t see this coming. There are some people I know who it wouldn’t surprise me if they got in trouble with the law. It would be sad, but it would also be one of those, “I didn’t know this person would do this, but I’m not surprised.” Not so with this person. And I’m left wondering, how could this happen? This person has destroyed his life and shattered those of his loved ones. I can’t help but ask, “why” and “how could they let things get so bad?” I don’t have answers to those questions but I imagine that when the behavior started, it started off small. It started off as a mistake or as something that wasn’t a big deal, let alone illegal. And it probably didn’t impact this person too much. This person kept going to school, working, raising a family, etc. But somewhere along the line-things changed. It became a compulsive behavior that took over their life. It laid waste to everything that they had not just once but multiple times. Their career, their family, and future plans were destroyed. The fall seems so sudden to those of us who are watching from the outside, but I can imagine that for this person, the fall was a long time coming.

DOCTOR: And whatever it is will kill all life on Earth, not just humans. Plague discriminates. So this isn’t a plan, it’s a mistake. Somebody, somewhere, is doing something that’s about to blow up in everybody’s face. 

In this episode, the Doctor has to try and look beyond the obvious for what could spark a global disaster. The notion of a bio-chemical attack is obvious, but the Doctor rejects the notion that this would be an intentional action. The problem would not be in some lab where infectious disease are created or where top-secret military biological weapons are kept and/or tested. No, it would be the result of a small, almost indiscernible accident. This is how disasters often start. Small, unimportant incidences take on a life of their own. Mistakes become habits. Habits become addictions. And before anyone knows what it is happening the truth comes out and people’s worlds are shattered. It’s not a global catastrophe but for those involved, the world they once knew is obliterated. And the blast impacts numerous people from the center to the periphery.

I thought I knew this person. I thought my bullshit detector was pretty good. But the person who was arrested is a stranger.

Doctor: …Long story short, misplaced decimal point resulting in a bacteria that turns any living thing it touches into gunk. 
BRABBIT: So why is it going to end the world? Has it been dispersed already? 
DOCTOR: Ah, no, it’s still in the lab. I think I can contain it. 

In the episode, the only way to contain the bacteria was to destroy it. But even then, the Doctor’s previous actions-specifically his lying to Bill about being blind, has its own unintended consequences. Bill isn’t going to let the Doctor die so she gives the monks consent to rule the world.

Likewise, it is the little actions, the hidden actions, the little events that make up life that can quickly create a monster that unwittingly destroys your life and the lives of those you love. Little mistakes quickly add up. Things done in secret, often come to light.  And at a certain point, it becomes difficult if not impossible to stop what you have started. I still care about this person and always will. I pray that this person receives the help that they need. I pray for their family and friends who must be devastated. I believe in a God that loves everyone. I believe God loves this person, their victims, and their family and friends. I pray that this person knows how much God still loves them. I pray that their victims know that God never abandoned them. I pray that someway, somehow, all those involved will use what occurred to help others-particularly those in danger of being taken advantage of and abused.

As for me, picking up the pieces is not an option because that assumes that what was broken can be recreated in this case that is impossible. I’m left wondering, who can I trust now? (Yes yes, God, but let’s be real, we also need other humans). Can I trust myself and my judgments about other people? People have let me down so often, I’ve been abused, neglected, and abandoned by those who were supposed to care for me. And then this happens. And I wonder, where and when along the way could this have been stopped before things got so bad?

10: 6 At the Point of Death

Season 10:, Episode 6: Extremis

Doctor: Memories are so much worse in the dark.

Darkness is often associated with sin, hatred, fear, and danger. This use of darkness is a common trope in music, movies, books, tv shows. It also has societal manifestations-in which dark or black people including kids are regarded as dangerous threats to be eliminated by the state. And at first, this episode of Doctor Who seems to continue with the, “darkness is bad troupe.” The Doctor is blind-a condition that he thinks may be permanent. He does whatever he can to act as if he can see-relying on technology and Nardole to be his eyes. Being blind has plunged the Doctor into a physical world of darkness. But this physical darkness pales in comparison to the darkness that continues to reside in the Doctor. In fact his physical darkness, makes the internal darkness that much more clearer.

The Doctor is a pro at distraction. He finds ways to distract himself-albeit momentarily from all he has experienced in his thousands of years. And part of that distraction involves being able to see the wonders of the physical world and the universe. He still gets excited when he encounters something new, despite all he has already witnessed during his travels. But with that gone, hiding becomes that much more difficult for the Doctor.

Darkness-both physical and metaphorical forms are described in terms of hiding. People fear physical darkness because of what they may find in the dark alley or in that dark house. But of course, what they fear is the fact that they will have to confront whatever awaits them. The light serves as a warning about dangers ahead. You hopefully use the light to navigate treacherous paths. But in the darkness you are vulnerable. In the darkness you have to face whatever it is that scares you. I think that is the real threat that darkness presents.

FIGURE: Greetings, sinner. Only in darkness are we revealed. 

I am both attracted to and repelled by the darker aspects of life and the world. My research constantly forces me to face the ugliness of those in power. Simplistic notions such as patriotism and democracy often give way to the excesses of nationalism and governments’ obsession with national security and power. What is often betrayed as patriotism is nothing more than an excuse to espouse nationalistic and xenophobic narratives. And democracy often gives way to national security concerns where even the US justifies the use of torture and the abandonment of the judiciary in the fight against terrorism. Authoritarian governments have justified the oppression of their people through the narrow lens of national-security.

Many government figures in the US and abroad want to forget about the past or given token recollections for past damages. This is seen most explicitly by how governments deal with the issue of “enforced disappearances” or people who have been abducted and imprisoned by the state, or authorized representatives (such as paramilitary groups) or political organizations that are not involved with the state but are actively fighting against it (such as guerilla groups). It is in essence a form of extrajudicial detainment and the entity responsible for the abductions often refuses to provide the location of the kidnapped or denies having them. This is seen particularly in authoritarian governments (though the US also participated in enforced disappearances to a limited extent via CIA black sites and in military prisons abroad. )While non-state actors also kidnap people-since power rests in the state, the state is able to do harm to a broader section of society for a longer period of time.  Many countries, even those who have transitioned to democracy, often struggle with acknowledging the past. They often want to move ahead with the future while leaving thousands of family members and friends wondering   if there is any possibility of their loved one returning or if they will ever be able to provide their beloved child, son, daughter, spouse, or friend with a proper burial. (For some examples see Argentina under Pinochet or modern day Egypt under SiSi.)

FIGURE: Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

Many citizens also want to forget about the period where enforced disappearances were a daily threat. It is as if by ignoring the darkness they can make sure that it never occurs again. But of course that isn’t true. Evil doesn’t go away just because you ignore its existence. And this brings me to the part of me that is repelled by the darkness. More specifically my own darkness. On my blog I am pretty open about my emotions and my struggles, but in my everyday life, I often do whatever I can to ignore the darkness within myself and I suppress my emotions. I am disgusted by political violence but I will confront it and study it and advocate against it with all my might, but when it comes to focusing on my own personal life and emotions-I will run the other way but I can never run quite far enough. And while my research sometimes provides a distraction, it just as often also fuels the despair I feel. In an attempt to not feel at all, I end up feeling too much.

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Despair. Hopelessness. I go through phases where those emotions are not quite as intense. They remain stuffed in the background like white noise-always there but simply a minor irritant. (Yes I know some people find white noise relaxing. Not me). Other times, despair and hopelessness have me trapped. And I ask, why do I keep going? Why am I still here? It feels cruel. The Monks in this episode of Doctor Who have basically created an alternative reality that is pure hell. The intelligent people know that the world they are in are fake and they seek to escape it by “committing suicide” but then they become trapped in another fake hell-hole.  I don’t personally believe in a physical hell so if I kill myself I’m not worried about burning in hell. But I’m not sure that death would provide much of an escape. At best (or at worst?) it would simply transfer the hell to other people. So I ask God to “turn me off.” (If I die as a result of actions not of my doing, that somehow seems less selfish and cruel to others than killing myself.)

DOCTOR: I don’t believe much. I’m not sure I believe anything. But right now, belief is all I am. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

But yet when I do manage to confront my own darkness and not just the darkness in the world, I find that I can’t give up. I can’t give up on God, on me, or on the other people in the world who are fighting to make a better world.  A lot of times, I’m not sure what I believe-do I believe in a loving God or not? Do I believe that there is good in the world or not? Do I believe in hope or not? And intellectually, I’m not sure I believe in any of those things or as the Doctor said, “I’m not sure I believe in anything.” Yet here I am. And when I do get the courage to face my own darkness in conjunction with the shit going on in the world I find that deep within my soul, I do believe…in goodness, in compassion.  And I only recognize that when I run into the darkness rather than away from it.

10:5 Our True Faces

Season 10, episode 5: Oxygen

ELLIE: Everything’s so messed up. The trivial stuff just falls away. You realise life can be so brief and so, I just want to tell you, if we do get through this, I want to have a baby! With you! And as soon as my radio’s fixed I’m going to tell you just that. 

I’m tired. Not so much physically tired as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually tired. I don’t know if I am burnt out or if I am just going through a phase. But being awake…is a chore. Communicating is difficult. I just…want out. I can’t imagine it getting any better-in fact, I only see it getting worse. Life has never been peaceful or tranquil-as long as life has existed and competition for resources was a requirement of survival we have had violence and bloodshed. And while some scholars argue that numerically speaking violence and death have decreased as a result of technological, societal, and medical advances, these improvements mean very little to the millions of people throughout the world who are dying from human greed and selfishness.

At earlier points in human history one could argue that we didn’t know better. The notion that there are universal human rights that should be applicable to every person regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion is relatively new and evidently isn’t universally practiced. But in theory, most countries, including some of the most vicious dictatorships often at least give enough lip service to the notion of human rights that they take great pains to hide, deny or minimize acts of torture and injustice. I can imagine that if we were to bring someone from the late 1400s or 1500s to see the modern world they would be confused, impressed and maybe even frightened by the medical and technological advancements we have made.  And perhaps they would find the large-scale discussion of human rights and democracy to be strange. Though of course once they scratch the surface they would find how for all of our talk about democracy, equality, and human rights and for our vast medical and technological resource that human cruelty continues unabated.

In this episode of Doctor Who, Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor come face to face with the outer limits of late stage capitalism. Initially, Bill is, of course, enthralled with being in space, especially when she is able to look out a window and see a section of the vast universe before her. But this awe is quickly forgotten as she, the Doctor and Nardole, become aware of the danger they are in; a danger not the result of a weird alien creature but a danger created by human greed.  In this stage of capitalism everything is commodified-including the very air that those on the ship need in order to survive let alone work their jobs. That’s what unchecked greed does-it zaps the wonder of life

SUIT: Oxygen is available for personal use only, at competitive prices. 
DOCTOR: It’s only in the suits. Personal use. They only have oxygen in the suits themselves. 
SUIT: Any unlicensed oxygen will be automatically expelled to protect market value. 

In order to survive those on the ship need to have access to air-and in this case that means they need to buy it. The notion that air-a basic human need can be commodified and sold seems not only ridiculous but cruel and raises certain questions about the morality of such a society. What is it like back on the planet where the crew comes from? Is air sold there? What happens to the poor in such a society? Do they even get to exist? They would have to, since capitalism, as practiced seems to rely on a steady stream of poor bodies that can be used and discarded at will. But while the notion that air can be sold appears ridiculous and cruel-it is of course but an extreme version of what already occurs on a daily basis. In the US for instance, medical care, housing, and food are treated as privileges not rights. Both the poor and increasingly the “middle class” are finding themselves struggling to survive.  Medical bills not only devastate people economically-destroying credit and eating up any savings a person may have been able to put away-but it kills.  The medicine individuals need to live often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. In one of the most technologically advanced nation in the world, who boosts of being the “oldest democracy” people are dying because insurance companies and the multi-billion dollar health industry, to say nothing of the government, have determined that the lives of individuals are not as important as profit.

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While Bill and Nardole initially want to leave and go back to the Tardis at the first hint of danger, the Doctor pushes back against such a sentiment. In this case, he doesn’t exactly lecture them on the virtues of helping others, but he provides a light rebuke. by running away and hiding from danger, knowing that there are four survivors somewhere on the ship, what would they be revealing about themselves? When as a society we allow people to die from lack of medical care, or when we demand that access to guns is more important than the lives of elementary and high school students, what are revealing about ourselves? When we turn a blind eye to the atrocities in Syria, which despite the near defeat of ISIS appears to be getting worse  what are we saying about ourselves? What are we saying about humanity? When we ignore the cries of black and brown bodies demanding that we hold the state accountable for their violence, what are we saying?

DOCTOR: There was no hacking, no malfunction. The suits are doing exactly what they were designed to do. What your employers are telling them to do. 
IVAN: And what would that be? 
DOCTOR: Save the oxygen that you are wasting. You’ve become inefficient. You even told me. Your conveyors were down. 
ABBY: So everyone had to die? 

We are saying that certain lives don’t matter. When we claim that healthcare is not a “right” we are saying that we don’t give a damn about those who struggle with physical or mental disabilities. We are saying that we don’t care if people who are sick-die. We are in essence practicing a form of survival of the fittest-where only the healthiest or wealthiest survive. When we demand action after a puppy dies after being placed into an overhead bin for a three hour flight but we ridicule children and adults who demand gun control measures after every mass shooting, we are saying that a puppy’s life is worth more than that of children gunned down in school or adults slaughtered at a concert. (Not saying what happened to the puppy was correct-it should not have happened. But neither should mass shootings.) We are saying that damn it MY GUN is more important than the lives of other people.  And I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where my life is worthless because of my lack of wealth, my skin color and sexual orientation. I’m tired of living in a world where I need to explain to people why we need to care about how state violence perpetrates non-state violence beyond issues such as “terrorism.”

DOCTOR: They’re not your rescuers. They’re your replacements. The end point of capitalism. A bottom line where human life has no value at all. We’re fighting an algorithm, a spreadsheet. Like every worker, everywhere, we’re fighting the suits.
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Towards the end of the episode the Doctor talks about a ‘good death”-which he and the others do manage to avoid-this time. But I find myself attracted to the notion of a “good” death, whatever that means. Can suicide ever be considered a “good death?” I don’t know-perhaps not-but at this point I just want to say, “fuck you” to a society that will continue to devalue life and put profit over compassion. To me, telling society, to go to hell, seems like a good death. It won’t change anything, but damn it, at least I won’t have to be so tired anymore.

10:4 Knock Knock

The Landlord in Knock Knock is holding onto false hope-this false hope tells him that if he just sacrifices six people every 20 or so years, then Eliza-the person he loves-will never die.  He transfers this false hope to her and he disguises the false hope in lies.  For 70 years he told Eliza that she was his daughter and that she had to trust him. He knew what was best-he stated that the lives lost-were necessary.  In one striking scene, the Landlord stops the record that had been playing on loop-the record that was keeping Bill’s housemate Pavel trapped- he not yet part of the house but also not fully human. He claims:

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But I would argue that hope itself isn’t a distraction or cruel-but false hope is the type of cruel hope that the Landlord describes. This is a hope based on lies and it leaves destruction in its wake. It can be difficult to separate false hope from true hope. Is it false hope to believe that, for example, you and your family might be spared in a war zone? It is false hope to believe that your friend, who is desperately sick may survive a life-threatening cancer? Does hope need to have a strong possibility of succeeding in order to be “real?” If so, then what is the point of hope? I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer to that. Hope tends to verge on the impossible. But for me one of the key markers of false hope is the devastation it leaves in its wake and the belief that preserving this hope is all that matters-even at the cost of other lives.

DOCTOR: What do you remember of the past, Eliza? 
ELIZA: My father, he knows what’s best. 
DOCTOR: Yes, the lice preserve the appearance and the voice, but not so much the memories. He’s not your father, am I right? 
LANDLORD: No! Stop talking! 

If you are Christian, regardless of where you fall on the conservative-progressive spectrum, hope plays a central role in your theology. Especially important is the hope that God stands with you and others who are suffering and that all the pain and suffering in this world does not have the last say. God’s love is bigger than all the destruction and suffering in this world. How Christians express this hope can differ depending on whether one identifies as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic etc. But hope itself is a key part of Christianity. Unfortunately, the hope that Christianity presents-particularly to those who are marginalized has become warped over the centuries. This hope which pushes back against oppressive societal and religious structures, which attempts to destroy the inequalities between the haves or the have nots, has been co-opted by those in power to create anguish and distress. The hope of a God that cares for all and stands against injustice has instead become a hope where violence is king, where the “other” aka anyone who is different from you gets thrown into hellfire, and where the rich are seemingly much more important than the poor. Jesus-the one who eschewed most earthly forms of power and prestige is instead transformed into a modern-day Herod or  Tiberius Caesar. The heart of Christianity is transformed from a focus on a radical, redemptive God, to a power-hungry God, bent on protecting the status quo. Some Christians seek to hide the gospel in a bunch of bullshit lies and when someone dares to counter their lies-they become angry and desperate, like the landlord in Knock Knock they demand silence.

ELIZA: Father, what’s the matter? I don’t understand. 
DOCTOR: Your father would have had better things to do than playing with insects in the garden. But he isn’t your father. When you were ill, he was sent out of the house by the doctors who are failing to save his mother! 
ELIZA: His mother? 
DOCTOR: Eliza, he’s your son. Your loving son. 
ELIZA: My son? 
LANDLORD: (crying) Forgive me. Forgive me

The lies that the Landlord told Eliza came crumbling down within one night. The life that he had managed to build over 70 years disintegrated because Bill and the Doctor were able to recognize the truth and speak it. The Doctor tears apart the lies and false hope that the Landlord used to keep his mother, Eliza alive. The amazing thing is that even after the truth has been brought to light, the Landlord continues to pine for the lies and false hope. He rejects the possibility of a new life and instead wants to hold on desperately to the normal life that ended when he was a kid.

 

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Over the centuries Christianity has become the servant imperial power. Even with the end of “classical” colonialism Christianity is used to justify wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, that force the poor to struggle to survive, and that okays horrific abuse-if done in the name of Christ. And the crazy thing is that so many Christians prefer this false and warped Christianity. This form of Christianity pretends to offer freedom but in reality, it traps people in their own selfishness and it punishes those unlucky enough to have dark skin or to be on the receiving end of western bombs. This form of Christianity says death-particularly the physical death of the “other” is a necessity. And while I think some Christians know that this Christianity is false and yet they choose to hold onto it anyway, many others genuinely believe the lies they have been told. So when others present a different version-one that calls out blind nationalism and militarism, one that claims that Christ is not synonymous with state power-they become angry.  

LANDLORD: Eliza, finish them now. Take them, or you’ll die! They’ll destroy you! 
DOCTOR: What’s the point in surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world? When did you last open the shutters? 

The false hope this form of Christianity espouses is one that results in the division of humanity based on shallow differences and it breeds contempt, violence, and hatred. What is the point in believing in a God that is just as bad or worse, then some of humanity’s worse dictators? What is the point in believing in a God that has no qualms about “blessing” some individuals, while allowing others to die horrific deaths or experience intense suffering? But letting go of this god can be difficult. It can be scary to open up the window and see that there is something different out there. Likewise, it can be scary to let go of a hope we have held onto for so long that it becomes a core part of our identity. Even if we find out that this hope was nothing but a bunch of lies.  This form of Christianity-based on imperialism, power, greed, and violence will never completely vanish. Humans will always choose to hold onto lies that provide them short term benefit but that are harmful and that ultimately result in the destruction of themselves and others. But there is a different way of seeing the world. There is a different way of viewing God and faith.  The God I turn to is one who loves all-but stands with the marginalized. This God isn’t obsessed with nationalism or military might. There is no set script-some forms of Christianity say-if you believe this, pray this, or do this-then life will be good. But that’s not how life works.

Knock Knock ends with all of Bill’s housemates surviving-but of course the ones who had become part of the house decades ago-were lost. That’s the danger of false hope-once you refuse to hold onto it, you can move forward, but it can be difficult to repair the damage that has already been done. But in letting go of the lies-you  just might help bring about a better future. At least, that’s my hope.

10:3 Thin Ice

Doctor:… if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?

Current US President Donald Trump ran on the platform, “Make America Great Again.” His campaign attracted swaths of the population that felt as if the global economy had left them to behind. However, instead of blaming those with power, these voters blamed the vulnerable: people of color, immigrants, children, and refugees. In the minds of some voters, making America great again apparently meant making America white again. And instead of ushering in a new economic utopia where the heyday of industrialization reaps benefits on factor workers, coal miners, etc and other blue-collar workers, the beneficiaries have been the economic and political elite-from both parties. Republicans leaders get to try and shove their racist, poverty hating political agenda through and Democrats have the opportunity to reinvent themselves as heroes of the vulnerable and marginalized, although in reality Democrats have been all to happy to use marginalized groups for votes and then ignore them when in power. Both Republican and Democrats claim to want to create a more prosperous country, but what does this country look like and is it a country worth serving let alone fighting for?

Which lives matter?

In the episode, “Thin Ice” the Doctor berates Bill for being upset about that a child is killed.  I, for one, do believe rage has a time and place, and I view Bill’s rage as justified, it must also be acknowledged that rage instead of being an impassioned cry for justice can be used to mask hypocrisy and a thirst for power.

BILL: Save him. 
DOCTOR: I can’t. He’s gone. 
BILL: Do something and save him. 

Bill watches helplessly as a child is killed right before her eyes. The fact that the death is bloodless one does nothing to eliminate the fact that the child’s life is snuffed out.  Bill begs the Doctor to do something and is angry when he nonchalantly responds that he is unable too. If I am not mistaken, every companion, at least in Nuwho has expressed some sort of disgust and shock at the amount of lives lost during the Doctor’s journeys. They often serve as the Doctor’s conscious, reminding him that the people and/or creates slaughtered often had hopes, dreams, etc. In other words, the companions, at least at the start of their adventures with the Doctor, serve to remind him that those killed shouldn’t just be another number added to a long list of those killed. I empathize with Bill in this scene. I believe that her outrage at the child’s death and the Doctor’s seemingly uncaring attitude is genuine. I do think that the Doctor dismisses her anger all to quickly. However, the Doctor also provides numerous thought provoking arguments when he tries to counter Bill’s rage. His arguments can be applied to those who are relatively privileged and hold a measure of power.

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Understandably, a good portion of Americans find themselves angry and powerless in the face of the Trump administration. As a result, many people, particularly those who may have been politically indifferent now find themselves politically engaged. I am not trying to knock those people or their new-found activism. I am however positing a question that I think needs to be taken seriously: is this new-found activism based on a passion for justice or simply on a fear that the current administration’s policies will negatively impact their lives and their families? In other words, will this sense of rage continue whenever President Trump is no longer in office?

Let’s be honest, it is human nature means to care predominately about issues that directly impact our lives. Moreover, there are so many cases of injustice that it would be impossible for any one individual to adequately deal with them all. It is ok to hold some causes dearer to the heart then others. But the reality is, that many issues are intersectional-meaning they do not just stand alone. And my fear is that the focus only on events that impact our own personal lives means that the marginalized who are often screwed over regardless of who is in power are overlooked. For example, the women’s march in which women of all races, ethnicity, etc participated is great. But where were the white women when black and brown lives were protesting the deaths of unarmed and mentally ill people at the hands of the state? Where were the protests against the Obama administration’s increased use of drone strikes, which murdered numerous innocent civilians? Yes, some argue that the Trump administration presents a much direr existential threat than previous administrations. I am not here to debate whether or not that is true. But I argue that his administration didn’t simply come out of thin air. His election was the result of numerous political, social, and economic factors conflating. In other words, ignoring the plight of others because their pain does not directly impact us-eventually comes back to bite us in the ass. Injustice builds upon injustice.  It is easy to look at the suffering of others and believe, “that will never happen to me.” History demonstrates again and again that such an attitude is fool hardy. The distinction between oppression that directly impacts us and oppression that does not, is a useless and arbitrary one.

DOCTOR: You know what happens if I don’t move on? More people die. There are kids living rough near here. They may well be next on the menu. Do you want to help me? Do you want to stand here stamping your foot? Because let me tell you something. I’m two thousand years old, and I have never had the time for the luxury of outrage. 

Like I said before, I believe outrage has a vital place in social justice movements. I especially believe that those who are part of groups that have historically been the victims of state oppression deserve to have their outrage acknowledged. Far too often, their outrage is suppressed in the name of “peace.” But it is important to acknowledge that outrage, especially on the part of those with privilege, can serve as a way to avoid taking concrete action and making difficult decisions. Outrage that doesn’t lead to action is useless. I mean, many Americans are outraged at the horrific treatment Native Americans underwent during European colonialism and the beginnings of the American empire, yet these very same people ignore or downplay the continued suffering of native Americans. Or, many Americans condemn the slave trade and express anger that many of America’s founding fathers supported such a horrific system yet they show a shocking apathy towards state sanctioned murder of people of color at the hands of police.

A worthy future?

DOCTOR:… What makes you so sure that your life is worth more than those people out there on the ice? Is it the money? The accident of birth that puts you inside the big, fancy house? 
SUTCLIFFE: I help move this country forward. I move this Empire forward. 

There is no denying that Trump and the current Republican Party express a blatant disregard for the well being of those who do not look like them or have their vast resources. In this context it is easy to want to view the established Democratic Party as saviors. But rhetoric needs to be matched by actions. The Republican Party has made it clear that they do not value the lives of immigrants, children, or the poor. They are willing to hold hostage or completely cut the already inadequate American safety net. Democrats have capitalized on this by giving the appearance of standing up for justice. No, they claim, they won’t give up on DACA recipients. They will fight for healthcare for children. Yet their actions have been less than stellar. I would argue that the Republican Party represents the Sutecliffe that the Doctor and Billy see-openly arrogant and racist. While the Democrats represent the popular image of Sutecliffe and the one he holds of himself: charming, advocating progress, etc. But the empire that both parties endorse is one that views certain lives as expendable. The current Republican Party-especially the far-right branch openly admit their disdain for people of color, women, LGBTQ, people from “shithole countries” (aka non-western ones). While the Democrats are subtler: they will stand up for DACA recipients until it no longer benefits them. They will listen to Black Lives Matter advocates, at least until the election season is over.

I think it’s time that Americans-regardless of their political leanings really consider the type of country they want to be a part of. What values should we hold dear? How do we define progress? Because right now, the United sates views the suffering and deaths of the “nobodies” as a necessary price to pay for progress.  And the result is a country not worth boasting about, much less fighting for.

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