The Fall, Part II


Myths became images and shadows of higher ideas, and by their mysterious character inculcated a profounder veneration.
-Plutarch

In the last post, we looked at of myth of Satan’s fall in order to articulate its unique characteristics. To restate: Satan is thrown out of heaven for insubordination. In Hell, he has a chance to make due. Instead, he feels compelled to continue seeking power, or at the very least, vengeance. This moves the myth beyond a simple schematic of good versus evil. But as the myth transforms into a more relatable form—incorporating universal themes of human drama—it becomes more difficult to recognize the underlying symbols.  

We saw this in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In Hell, Satan finds himself in the company of the other fallen angels who express a litany of emotions; doubt, fear, anxiety, and anger. They console and contest each other. The figure of Satan becomes relatable to the reader because he is able to interact with these other voices as normal people do. Like an alarm clock heard in a dream, the phenomenon of the material world is projected onto abstractions.

As more voices enter the drama, the simple identities are lost. Instead, we have to intuit which characters represent what ideals. It may remain an easy task so long as characters retain names like God and Satan, but how do we fare when these identities become concealed?

HUMANITY IN THE UNKNOWN ROLE

In the last few decades, Science Fiction, particularly cinema, has taken a fancy to what could be called human dethronement stories. Be it by nanoprobes, monkeys, robots, nuclear war, or climate disaster; these franchises set out to describe a future in which humanity is violently thrown from its position as the apex animal. But the ‘who is who’ of these stories is often less clear than in a work like Paradise Lost, even though many of the same themes repeat themselves. Is it humanity who is now God, against which its own creations have rebelled? Or are we the ones in rebellion against a God who manifests as the natural world? Consider two of these human dethronement franchises.

The Matrix—In the future, AI-capable machines become self-aware. They initially attempt to negotiate with humanity for shared existence on the planet but are turned down. A war breaks out. The sky is flooded with chemicals in order to blot out the sun, denying the machines access to their primary source of power, but they still manage to triumph. From that point onwards, humans are kept in pods to serve as the energy source while our minds are plugged into an immense VR simulation. Fans of the original trilogy may be aware of the various Gnostic and Buddhist themes that are acted out by the protagonists, but there seems to be less recognition of the background story’s more Luciferian elements. The machines are our creation. Like Satan, they rebel, and further like Satan, are cast into darkness. But at the same time, it is also a story of humans—products of nature—who attempt to rise above nature. They sought to free themselves from work, stress, and fear—the innate providence of every other species, but now also find themselves in a kind of Hell. No doubt, the machines are portrayed as the villains, but as with the attempts to recast Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost, that does not mean there may not be a subtle amount of understanding in the cause of the rebellion. It is up to viewer to question if these films are not also conveying some message of punishment for tampering with the laws of nature.

Planet of the Apes—These films also tell of a dystopian future where, after constant experimentation, a strain of advanced primates proceeds to lead an uprising against their human masters. Under the new order, humans are relegated to slavery. These films play more openly with the question of humanity getting what it deserves, that such a retaliation was warranted given the pain and bondage inflicted upon the animals. But these films have an additional factor that influences this concept. Because the primates can speak and emote, they are more recognizably human. We are more apt to sympathize with the biological forms than the mechanical ones, even if the electro-chemical processes of the primate’s brain are equivalent to the algorithms of the machines. It becomes even more troubling to consider that while the machines can be argued to have created a new kind of society, the primates go one to recreate human forms of social dominance.

HUMANS AS A MONOLITH

One more consideration must be made with these kinds of human dethronement stories. In nearly all of them, humanity is presumed to be a generally monolithic agent. They are stories of human hubris, not the actions of a select few. Even when a select few are portrayed to be the instigators, it is always pointed out that they are acting on universal human desires: the conquest of death, the relief from lives of toil, and so on. Humanity can be consolidated like this so long as there is semi-human force to interact with. But what happens when the entire drama shifts down into almost entirely human voices? The Luciferian archetypes and myth may remain, but become even more elusive.  

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