This report is maybe twelve years old? Parliament buried it, and it remained buried, until River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear. 'Cause there's a whole universe of folk who are going to know it too; they're going to see it.In the DVD commentary on Serenity, Joss Whedon describes this as Mal's “St Crispin's Day speech”, and it's instructive to compare it against the original. Much as I love both the speech and the film, the comparison is not entirely flattering.
Somebody has to speak for these people.
You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you've all come to the same place, so now I'm asking more of you than I have before --- maybe all. [Because] sure as I know anything, I know this: they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people ... better. And I do not hold to that.
So no more running. I aim to misbehave.
Let us be clear: Whedon holds that schemes to change the human condition are doomed to fail, and that it is wicked to make the attempt; I do not want to complain about this. There was quite enough utopianism last century to last us for ... well ... some time. We are not free of its pull, and there is a certain tendency lurking around the so-called progressive strand in our society that cleaves to the idea that if only we could make this modification, this tweak, then everything would fundamentally change for the better. I am happy for someone in popular culture --- even better, given the topic, for someone in geek-cult culture --- to set up a stall in opposition to this.
But there is more to the speech than resolve against such overreaching folly. I spoke approvingly of Whedon's ethic in an earlier post, but it is not without its own self-indulgence. It is, of course, romantic, and in a wishful-thinking kind of way. Mal and the other Browncoats, the losing side in the War for Independence, are nothing if they are not the Confederacy: courtly, honourable, local, and resistant of the encroaching, homogenising, antiseptic modernism of their opponents. But the Independents are a fantasy of the Confederacy, defeated in an Honourable Cause without slavery or intransigence or any real wickedness of their own. (Cf. the Bajorans in DS9, who were contentious, superstitious, and caste-ridden, as well as being plucky and Unjustly Colonised.) This is having one's cake, and eating it, all at once.
The speech itself contains an indulgence more modern, and in its way more worrisome. Finally, it says, and reluctantly, I have been goaded into action by a decisive and indisputable evil: an evil with a conveniently vast and identifiable roll-call of victims. Now I can, and I should, act; and I will be justified in acting.
Am I wrong to see the image of a certain Western sensibility here? I mean the tendency, at once jaded and enthusiastic, that needs to label some evil as “genocide” before it can be seriously opposed; the demand that any worthy military effort must be assimilable to the fight against the National Socialist Party of Germany. There is a lot of this about, and it will not do: on the one hand, we did not know that the Nazis were going to perform genocide when we (rightly) chose to fight them; on the other hand, we (and I do mean we, i.e. including myself) have at least in the case of Iraq made war recklessly, while in the grip of the view that We Have To Do Something.
The calculus, in having recourse to violence, is just not this binary.