Sunday, June 5, 2011

Firefly: Fact and Value Aboard "Serenity"

This is an example of Romantic fiction as elucidated by Ayn Rand in her book, The Romantic Manifesto.  These characters act on the basis of their values.  While they each know their self-interest, for each that is different, based on their personal life experiences.  Thus, the show is about morality: beliefs becoming actions.  Those different goals bring tensions and conflicts.  

 This show ran 14 episodes in 2002 before it was canceled.  It was recommended to me by another libertarian, who is not an Objectivist. His brief mention on the Objectivist Living discussion board stressed the anti-authoritarian frontier theme.  I think that he missed the more salient perception.   This is not bootleg Romanticism, or smuggled values, but the real deal.
The hero is Malcolm Reynolds.  He owns a spaceship, Serenity, that hauls cargo and passengers.  Serenity is a "firefly" class ship, called so because the tail lights up when power is engaged.  These are sublight ships.  The story is set in the early 26th century.  FTL does not exist.  Terraforming does.  China and America have united to dominate Earth; and Earth dominates the Alliance of human worlds.  (There are no other sentient species.) Reynolds had been a "browncoat," a fighter in a sessionist faction whose revolt failed.  Now, he seeks the frontiers, not quite far enough away from the Alliance.  His crew of three consists of a former combat comrade and her husband who is the pilot, and also an engineer.  Also along for the ride are a hired gun, a non-denominational Christian "Shepherd," a professional Companion (prostitute), and two refugees, a doctor and his sister.

 Each of them has a defined self-interest.  Usually,  those coincide, thus the crew can function.  Often, however, their values are in conflict as their different goals require independent choices in each situation. 

The ship's hired gun, Jayne Cobb, was bought out from the men who hired him to kill Malcolm Reynolds.  Cobb says, and Reynolds understands, that if the deal is ever good enough, he will turn Reynolds over to the Alliance.  Yet, Jayne Cobb is there, at the ready, when he is needed because it is in his self-interest to do so. 
"... value is objective (not intrinsic or subjective); value is based on and derives from the facts of reality ... Every proper value-judgment is the identification of a fact: a given object or action advances man’s life (it is good): or it threatens man’s life (it is bad or an evil). ... since every fact bears on the choice to live, every truth necessarily entails a value-judgment, and every value-judgment necessarily presupposes a truth.  "Fact and Value" by Leonard Peikoff, Ph.D. here.
Malcolm Reynolds is a smuggler.  He achieves that by not getting caught and having the right-looking papers.  He and his crew do not need the attention that comes from having the doctor and his sister on board.  They are fleeing the Alliance because Simon Tam broke River out of a government lab that was deconstructing her super-genius mind.  But Captain Reynolds knows himself and his values.  Doctor Tam and River are his passengers, even as they endanger his mission. 

On The Altasphere here you can find a review of Firefly that centers on creator Joss Whedon's fight to keep the integrity of his work. 

The enduring attraction of this work is evidenced by the continued "fanfic" (new fiction in the universe created by fans, usually canonic, sometimes not).  The Firefly Fan site is hereThe Firefly Wiki  includes characters, actors, a lexicon of the universe, and a guide to the Chinese spoken in the show.  You can watch the show on Hulu,, and Xfinity.Comcast.  If you watch it on DVD, you can enjoy the backstory and commentary about the struggle to create and maintain the integrity of the work.  A movie, Serenity, was released in 2005.  Much more about Firefly will be revealed by your web browser.

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Reflections on Atlas Shrugged Part 1
Nerd Nation

1 comment:

  1. My understanding of Star Trek history informs me that the show was originally sold to NBC as "Wagon Train to the stars," a frontier theme. I did not perceive its socialist edge until "The Next Generation." Firefly, I never understood; but this blog helps. These days, I see the physical frontier as the birthplace of enterprise, and having one as a necessary and sufficient condition for the survival of economic and political freedom.


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