When governments go wrong

culture

In the space of a couple of weeks I found myself watching three dramas (one a drama-documentary) which had striking parallels I hadn't anticipated. It was pure chance that I saw all three so close together in time, but the effect was a bit creepy.

The first was the Torchwood mini-series, Children of Earth. An excellent series (though full of over-the-top sci-fi stuff, as you might expect), Children of Earth explored some quite serious themes concerning ethics and morality. I don't want to give away any spoilers if you haven't seen it, but it asked the question, would you trust the government to make a difficult ethical decision? The answer was a resounding "No way!" because the Government is made up of imperfect people who have their own needs and those of their families at heart, rather than those of the country.

Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution was a drama-documentary about the aftermath of the French Revolution, and included some interesting details I hadn't known about before. Of course, the French Revolution started with a very noble, humanist idea (liberté, égalité, fraternité and all that), but somehow it ended up with what amounted to people being convicted of 'Thought Crimes'. Any dissent was punishable by death, and even showing fear or anxiety while being tried was taken as evidence of guilt. As Simon Schama put it, with an out-of-control dictatorship in charge, who could convict you of a totally trumped-up crime, any sane person would be mortally afraid.

Finally, we saw V for Vendetta, a film I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. It is set in Britain in the near future, where an apparent terrorist threat has allowed a dictatorship to take over the country and destroy civil liberties in the name of protecting the people1. They do nothing of the sort, of course, and institute a repressive, totalitarian regime that Robespierre would recognise. It's also a cracking action-thriller, but the political and ethical issues lifted it above the level of similar films.

The message that I took away from all these films is the danger inherent in governing bodies thinking that they can make decisions for the populace, and force people to think in certain ways. You may start out with good and benign intentions (like Robespierre), but it always ends in tears and executions.

1 Sound familiar?

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