“If you’ve got to kill all my friends to survive, maybe it’s time for a change.”
– Marty Mikalski, Cabin in the Woods
What this particularly means, in context of the movie, is that humanity does not deserve to survive if it means the willful sacrifice of humans.
It is a deeply profound and always profoundly relevant statement, isn’t it? Humans are locked in a struggle to survive, to keep our lives for as long as possible, to keep what is ours as long as possible, and to keep safe those we care about as long as possible. To this end, we have often found ourselves in the position of having to compete with other living things – beasts of every kind, plants that are in our way, and other humans – and either triumph or die. To further the ultimate goal of preserving ourselves and our own, we have often trampled each other with little to no remorse. Which leads naturally to the question, where do we stop? What do we refuse to sacrifice? Can we even be moral if we withhold what is needed “for the greater good?”
I can recall several stories which speak on this, and it is never truly an easy question. And yet, we need an answer.
There are at least two stories in the Kaiju Rising anthology which deal with humans being sacrificed. One of them is to empower the machine which humanity’s defenders use, and it’s such a terrible cost that it drives one of them to embittered drug use before he makes the sacrifice of himself. The other is the offering of young girls to appease a monster and keep everyone else alive, and it ends with the entire populace paying the price for their sin.
Another short story in Tales of the Night, if I recall correctly, had much the same, with a group of humans enslaved and forced to offer their daughters once every few years to a terrible monster. No one in that society was able to smile until the monster was defeated, their very joy ripped from them by cruel necessity.
I’ve spoken at length about the principle of sacrifice in Attack on Titan, which shows both the pros and the extreme perils of entertaining a willingness to sacrifice anything for one’s people. Ultimately, it leads to devastation and genocide.
In Battlestar Galactica, Commander Adama has to seriously entertain the assassination of a superior officer. He nearly goes through with it until he relearns something: survival is not enough; we have to be worthy of it as well.
It’s the same principle Black Lightning holds to as he becomes the leaders of the Justice League in Young Justice: that they will not become the same as their enemies in order to defeat them. Instead, they will hold each other accountable and hold to their principles, the best parts of themselves, that they gain an honorable victory or at least go out on their own terms.
Of course, people talk about saving the many at the cost of the few, but Robert Heinlein answers that in Starship Troopers:
“How often have you seen a headline like this?—TWO DIE ATTEMPTING RESCUE OF DROWNING CHILD. If a man gets lost in the mountains, hundreds will search and often two or three searchers are killed. But the next time somebody gets lost just as many volunteers turn out. Poor arithmetic . . . but very human. It runs through all our folklore, all human religions, all our literature—a racial conviction that when one human needs rescue, others should not count the price. Weakness? It might be the unique strength that wins us a Galaxy.”
And Star Trek is but one of many science fiction stories which displays in numerous ways how monstrous it truly is for the good of the many to trample to needs of the one or the few.
It seems to me that humanity is wrestling with the notion itself, with the very idea that one may have to sacrifice one life in order to save another. At one end, there are those who use “the greater good” as a justification of every terrible thing they do, even billing themselves as heroic for what they do to their fellow man, taking everything from them. At the other, there are those who refuse to give anything of theirs for no better reason than their own selfishness. In the middle however, are the people who voluntarily give of themselves, but refuse to allow society to become a parasite upon its own people.
That selflessness which finds a balance, where the many and the few work together instead of eating each other, that is what convinces me that humanity is still worthy of survival, no matter our many flaws and mistakes.