Avatar's premise is pro-naturalism and, it does highlight the perils of modern-day business paradigms that are obsessed with profits. This seems to have found dissonance with Mr Salam and, prompted him to write an interesting piece...at the risk of receiving a Na'vi arrow where it hurts:
pix from here.
For the last 200 years, humans have grown taller, stronger and healthier. This progress has been fastest in the countries that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, yet it has spread throughout the world, sparking a transformation that economists Robert Fogel and Dora Costa call techno-physio evolution, "a synergism between technological and physiological improvements that is biological, but not genetic, rapid, culturally transmitted, and not necessarily stable."
After thousands of years of ignorance and stagnation, a kind of miracle happened that radically transformed humanity's relationship to the wider world. This explosion of wealth has been periodically interrupted by war and famine, yet it has never been fully undone. And though it has involved serious downsides, the prospect of returning to a primeval state strikes most of us as insane. Modern life can be exhausting and even demeaning. It is, however, preferable to spending most of one's waking moments foraging and hunting in a desperate struggle for survival.
Or is it? That is the question James Cameron asks in his brilliant science-fiction epic Avatar. The villains of Avatar are, well, you and me. Rapacious humans from an environmentally devastated Earth have arrived on an alien moon called Pandora in search of a precious resource called "unobtainium." The only hiccup is that the richest source of unobtainium lies beneath the habitat of the Na'vi, a race of long-limbed humanoids who live in blissful harmony with their environment. So naturally the humans, being ruthless and acquisitive by nature, decide that corporate profits matter more than the lives of the Na'vi, and they launch a brutal military assault that, as you can no doubt guess, ends in tragedy. Throughout the film, the Na'vi are portrayed as superior to the humans. The irony of Avatar is that Cameron has made a dazzling, gorgeous indictment of the kind of society that produces James Camerons.
Though the Na'vi are at least as intelligent as the humans, they have not built a technologically advanced civilization. Rather, they rely on the forest in which they live to provide them with sustenance and mental stimulation. Vicious predators constantly engage the senses, so there is little time to, say, write novels or play videogames. All flora and fauna are linked together in a shared consciousness that tribal leaders can access through concentration and chant. The only Na'vi we ever meet are part of this ruling caste, and so we have no sense of what keeps the Na'vi masses occupied. One has to assume that they live in a constant state of trembling awe at the beautiful world that surrounds them.
At the risk of sounding needlessly negative, I'm pretty sure that I'd prefer baking bricks in the hot sun, guzzling motor oil, or jumping rope with barbed wire to spending an afternoon living among the Na'vi, perhaps the most sanctimonious and frankly boring humanoids ever portrayed on film. But the Na'vi are actually worse than just boring. Because the struggle for survival is the only source of meaning in their lives, the Na'vi celebrate physical courage and martial valor above all else, with the possible exception of mastering the admittedly cool ability of talking to trees.
In a sense, capitalism is the villain of Avatar. Yet what Cameron fails to understand is that capitalism represents a far more noble and heroic way of life than that led by the Na'vi. As Abraham Lincoln noted in 1858, the unique thing about the industrial revolution wasn't that humans invented steam-power and other ingenious inventions. In fact, a steam engine was manufactured in ancient Alexandria without ever being used. But that society didn't value the invention and spread of labor-saving devices. Instead, it valued physical courage and martial valor. The truly revolutionary thing about the industrial revolution was the rise of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial society doesn't value the ability to murder mammoths or members of the neighboring tribe above all else. It values the ability to develop useful ideas and devices and practices that had never been seen before.