Grassroots Commentary

The Avatar, Fern Gully Effect

Mike Junge · May 2, 2016

This plot must be the perfect marquee standard, because it has been timeless and enduring. Reinvented over and over again by novelists, publishers, and producers looking for a dependable and profitable emotional hook, the inevitable storyline pits the human condition and/or the natural world against corporate greed and/or military extortion. In the case of the Avatar, a yawningly predictable plot juiced up with amazing computer graphics, it is all of the above.

And why shouldn’t Western writers and Hollywood insiders use this tired old story over and over again? It’s a theme that obviously works — and doesn’t take much creative effort to craft another version fit for public consumption. It’s another fine example of free market capitalism doing its thing (even if most in Hollywood would cringe at the use of those words).

The problem is that we have raised at least two generations of media-immersed consumers who don’t seem to recognize the difference between simplified Hollywood storyboards and real life. Over the years I’ve seen this mankind vs. corporate greed plot become a core belief for some in my own family — and I would bet the bank that you have observed it in yours as well.

Proof of the Avatar/Fern Gully effect is easy to come by. A quick study of Western universities and environmental organizations would provide enough evidence that a real journalist (should one such be found) could not fail to make the connection.

A great many students — and more troubling, a quorum of faculty in western universities — are unequivocal in their belief that any overt pursuit of corporate profit is evil. For them it is (and has always been) a simple and obvious truth. So obvious in fact, that there is no need to quantify evidence or challenge the theory — or even acknowledge it as a theory.

It’s as much a fact as their core belief in military overreach and conservative power mongering. The robber barons of the late 19th century are still alive and wreaking havoc on an innocent world.

Any attempt to point out the positive free market impact on poverty, on scientific progress — on civilization itself — will get you a dismissive wave of the hand and pitying stare. Evil greed is as universal and uncompromising as gravity. So get with the program.

Likewise, there is no need for academia or progressive politicos to challenge doomsayer Al Gore and his passionate environmental following. Government operatives currently in power have even decided to (if possible) make it illegal to challenge the very concept of climate change. For them, mankind’s wonton destruction of mother earth is no longer a theory but a core belief. Climate change is beyond reasonable challenge even though there remain many in the scientific community that are not convinced and who repeatedly point out that much of the science behind climate change has been effort to quantify a prevailing (and political) theory rather than a disciplined pursuit of truth.

According to my acolyte notes, the ice caps should be gone now, the polar bears should already be extinct, and NYC and Florida should be underwater. Did I fall asleep and miss the apocalypse?

There is nothing new in unshakable core beliefs. They are simply part of what makes us who we are. For millennia the world’s religions have struggled to define religious faith. How can you have an absolute belief in something that you cannot touch, cannot eat, and cannot breathe? If you have adequate faith, proof is redundant.

There are core beliefs in the world of science too. We cannot prove that there was ever a big bang — but it is an explanation for an expanding universe when the force of gravity (as we understand it) should be pulling the universe together.

The secular world has an absolute belief in Darwin’s evolutionary conclusions, even though it cannot explain why sharks are still sharks and why there are tool-wielding apes that have not managed that magical transformation into superior beings. On what full moon are Congo chimpanzees going to build tropical-leaf cocoons and emerge weeks later as satient beings?

Core beliefs do not require common sense or worldly evidence. I believe in the sanctity of my Christian beliefs, and I believe that the lifestyle my Christian beliefs promote is a force for good in this world. I believe these things in spite of considerable historical evidence to the contrary. It is comforting to me that others believe what I believe, regardless of their education, their race, or their station in life.

Like religion, the Avatar/Fern Gully effect is not a consequence of education. If anything, the core belief is more profound for the highly educated. It’s a matter of free will. For our media indoctrinated Western civilization, the evils of corporate profit and the distrust of military strength have become hardened beliefs. It’s truly a matter of faith.

I personally know a brilliant financial planner who seems to have a literal sixth sense about the markets. I would have no difficulty trusting this person with my worldly wealth. But I’m amazed with how deeply she believes that corporations are perfectly willing, or perhaps even anxious, to poison the earth and destroy the animal kingdom. No doubt black hearted CEOs sacrifice office haunting virgins on profit encrusted alters too.

I’m not sure that it is even possible to convince her that it is rarely (as in almost never) in a corporation’s best fiscal interest to pollute the planet. Or to convince her that corporate profits drive the economic engine that keeps most of us, including herself, gainfully employed. For this otherwise affable and intelligent person, the lack of actionable evil-doing evidence on corporations is simply more proof of the depth of the conspiracy.

The Sierra Club has become her chosen congregation and progressive politicians control the reins of salvation. As a financial planner she is fearless — but you can bring her to tears with a few words of doubt about her chosen vocation as planet guardian.

A few years ago I met a young corporate attorney who had graduated near the top of his Ivy-League class and spent a long summer interning with a Washington, D.C., law firm. This turned out to be culturally difficult assignment for him. In spite of his best efforts, he just couldn’t see beyond the beltway dance and the ever-present gyrations of lobbyist.

He had graduated university knowing — not believing, but knowing beyond any shadow of a doubt — that the military and the military industrial complex were in the business of waging Middle Eastern wars for profit and self-preservation. He was shocked at the access these hate-peddlers had to the political elite.

He left the D.C. scene for a straightforward, if not very exciting, career in corporate law. His outside-of-work energies are now dedicated to progressive politics and the various political watchdog organizations that influence the left wing of the Democrat Party. He’s another one of those who will be profoundly disappointed when Bernie doesn’t pay off their considerable student loans.

I believe that this honest (and by most measures, smart) young man will grow old believing that freedoms, including the freedom to associate with the activist organizations that he so vigorously supports, exist simply because they are inherent. The modern world he lives in would simply never challenge the freedom of expression that he enjoys, and any challenge to these freedoms in recent history were aberrations. A flag is just colored cloth, and patriotism is a dangerous distraction.

You can’t argue with these people! Any supposed facts that do not support this progressive world view are obviously manufactured by powerful and wealthy men who own Wall Street and despise Main Street. Evil men who use the military to extort the word and export their selfish agendas. God help us!

Here is what should be frightening. These two people, the financial planner and the Ivy League attorney, are not in any way unusual. They both have faith. Their brand of personal faith may have simply replaced traditional faith. They are the new “salt of the earth.” They live next to you — and they vote.

We’ve long been entertained by the Avatar/Fern Gully effect. With a little computer-generated magic to boost the visuals, it makes for great movies. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start taking serious the danger that this overworked plot represents when digested as a world view. At its base, the Avatar/Fern Gully effect is victimhood — and victimhood has become the 21st century drug of choice.

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