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Law and Politics in Battlestar Galactica:

On Concurring Opinions, lawprofs Daniel Solove, Deven Desai, and David Hoffman have a fascinating interview with Ronald D. Moore and Dan Eick, creators of the outstanding science fiction TV series Battlestar Galactica. The interview focuses on the many interesting legal and political issues the show tackles and will be appearing in several installments over the next few days.

As most sci-fi fans know, Battlestar Galactica is a reconceptualization of the 1978 television series of the same name. It focuses on the story of a "rag tag fleet" of human survivors of a devastating Cylon attack on their home planets which has wiped out nearly all of the human race. The show has taken on a wide range of legal, political, and moral issues.

The series' mostly left-wing politics are very far from my own. In addition, I have some reservations about the way the show's premise is set up. For example, the "colonial" humans' political system seems far too similar to that of the United States, given that these humans supposedly developed in complete isolation from Earth for thousands of years. Many of the show's moral and political dilemmas seem a bit trivial in a setting where most of the human race has already been wiped out through genocide and the few survivors are in grave danger of suffering the same fate. In such an extreme situation, drastic measures such as the use of torture and suspension of due process are surely justified (assuming that they really are effective in staving off annihalation). The show's attempts to make these questions seem difficult strike me as unpersuasive. The more difficult question, of course, is whether these and similar measures can be defended in the much less dire circumstances we face in the real world. To a certain exent, BSG's creators were boxed in by the scenario they inherited from the original 1978 series; there is sometimes a poor fit between the show's basic premise and the issues they want to explore.

Despite these reservations, BSG is one of the best and most thoughtful science fiction TV series of the last 30 years and the Concurring Opinions interview has many interesting insights about the show's treatment of legal and political issues.

Tom R (mail):
(1) Left-wing? What planet are... Look: The military are heroes. Civilian peace activists are either (a) deluded fools, (b) Cylon infiltrators, or (c) terrorists themselves. Smart, clever, hip characters (Eg, Starbuck) believe in the Gods and pray to them. Baltar, while not quite as cartoonish a traitor as in the 1978 version, is vain, narcissistic... and a pro-choice atheist.

True, Adama is an atheist too, but he thinks the Kobolian religion is a useful social tool. And he has an extremely strict view of the military chain of command.

I do admit there are left-wing elements. Colonial society is depicted as having near-complete equality of the sexes (eg, female priests). While some express doubts about Roslin as President or Cain as an Admiral, this is because of their lack of experience, not their sex.

Moreover, the S-3 episode "Dirty Hands" presented a nearly Marxist view of what postColonial society is evolving into: where labour requisitioning, born of necessity, is hardening into an hereditary caste system that reinforces the centuries-old disparities of wealth and power among the twelve Tribes/ Colonies. Baltar may be a vain opportunist, but his question - "Do you think the Fleet will ever be commanded by someone whose surname is not Adama?" - is uncomfortably close to the mark. Do we want the Adamas to become, like the Atreides or the Skywalkers, another dynasty born to rule over and protect lesser mortals because they alone possess the genes that make them superheroes?

But apart from "Dirty Hands", BSG is a conservative show, because it posits that liberals, if their survival is really threatened, will jettison their liberal absolutes ("no torture", "abortion by choice"). It's good Red against bad Blue, and I don't just mean the laser torpedoes.
2.21.2008 9:21pm
Lysenko (mail):
Personally, it was one depiction of BSG's legal process that led me to stop watching the show. I managed to gut it out through the increasingly incoherent Cylon segments (for a achine race that "Has A Plan" they certainly do a lot of petty squabbling and flailing about), but the conclusion of the third season's trial had me throwing up my arms in disgust.
2.21.2008 9:22pm
Ilya Somin:
The military are heroes. Civilian peace activists are either (a) deluded fools, (b) Cylon infiltrators, or (c) terrorists themselves. Smart, clever, hip characters (Eg, Starbuck) believe in the Gods and pray to them. Baltar, while not quite as cartoonish a traitor as in the 1978 version, is vain, narcissistic... and a pro-choice atheist.

I don't this is the way the show intends these characters to be interpreted by the audience, particularly on the peace issue. As for religion, yes Starbuck is religious. But she's a pagan who believes in multiple gods. It is the Cylons who have monotheistic religious views that are intended to evoke those of the real world Religious Right (as well as those of radical Islamists, of course).

But apart from "Dirty Hands", BSG is a conservative show, because it posits that liberals, if their survival is really threatened, will jettison their liberal absolutes

They certainly don't jettison them completely. Indeed, in the interview Moore says that he intended to portray the Colonials as holding on to as many of their principles and legal constraints as possible. To the extent that they do jettison their principles, the show means to condemn them for doing so more than praise.
2.21.2008 9:50pm
Teh Anonymous:
I have nothing productive to say. Just want to predict griping about making Starbuck a chick within the first ten responses.
2.21.2008 9:56pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
For example, the "colonial" humans' political system seems far too similar to that of the United States, given that these humans supposedly developed in complete isolation from Earth for thousands of years.


Plus, they speak English. What are the odds of that?

Come on.
2.21.2008 10:15pm
Tom R (mail):
> "yes Starbuck is religious. But she's a pagan who believes in multiple gods. It is the Cylons who have monotheistic religious views"

How does this make the Colonials any more palatable to, say, a secularist left-liberal? If gods are a superstition and a nuisance, why the more the merrier? (As they say - Unitarians believe that there is, at most, one God).

As for liberals jettisoning their views... I recall Rawls himself, peace be upon him, suggested that the Basic Liberties themselves could be suspended if the very survival of the society was at stake. However, even though (as Ilya's noted), the BSG scenario is much closer to extinction than post-9/11 America is, it is not always "just on the verge of extinction". Especially after the occupation of New Caprica, when the Cylons seemed to have had a change of policy (the Sixes outvoted the Cavills) and decided that humans were to be assimilated rather than annihilated.

(Indeed, if I can nitpick, it was one rare weakness of the New Cap story arc that MoorRon &co didn't show why the Cylons decided to keep the humans as pets rather than exterminate them as vermin. I kept expecting some sort of compulsory indoctrination of the children, demands that humans vow allegiance to "God" in the singular, some kind of social experiment. Along the lines of "V" - which New Cap was a clear homage to - "Amerika", James Clavell's "The Teacher's Story", and that "Star Trek: TNG" episode where Worf found a penitent Romulan commander who'd devoted his life to raising Klingon orphans and teaching them to be good, civilised, vegetarian Romulans).
2.21.2008 10:16pm
Oren:
The start of the second season (Battlestar Baghdad) was a bit too overdone for my taste but the rest of the show has been pretty even handed. The religious elements (polytheism vs. monotheism) has been the real kicker for me.
2.21.2008 10:24pm
Hoosier:
(Because this site hasn't been geeky enough up to this point.)
2.21.2008 10:45pm
DangerMouse:
The more difficult question, of course, is whether these and similar measures can be defended in the much less dire circumstances we face in the real world.

I have never seen Battlestar Galactica, but I you're opening a pretty wide hole with this question. Suspension of due process is one thing, as it is only a practical measure to be achieved in the pursuit of good. But torture, real torture, is objectively evil, and that objectively evil thing is known from our reason, our conscience, and our religious heritage. Even if a religious heritage similar to Judeo-Christian teachings was absent in the universe of Battlestar Galactica, human reason and their consciences would inform people that torture (real torture) is wrong.

That said, of COURSE it can be defended. Anything evil can be defended by those who commit evil. And you'll always find your bootlicking lackies who are ready to fall on their knees and worship the latest chic dictator, murder, or debasement of humanity. The world is full of people gladly handing their souls over to the devil. And I'd expect that in the universe of BG, it's no different. But that doesn't make it right.
2.21.2008 10:47pm
Kovarsky (mail):
If you are a consumer of science fiction and you have a problem with heavy handed political imagery, it would behoove you to find another fetish. :)
2.21.2008 10:49pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
"Star Trek: TNG" episode where Worf found a penitent Romulan commander who'd devoted his life to raising Klingon orphans and teaching them to be good, civilised, vegetarian Romulans


Romulans aren't vegetarians.
2.21.2008 10:49pm
Ilya Somin:
"Star Trek: TNG" episode where Worf found a penitent Romulan commander who'd devoted his life to raising Klingon orphans and teaching them to be good, civilised, vegetarian Romulans



Romulans aren't vegetarians.


If I remember correctly, the Romulan objected to hunting and eating raw meat, not to meat-eating as such. And, yes, I am enough of a geek to know exactly what TNG episode you are referring to.
2.21.2008 10:54pm
Ilya Somin:
But torture, real torture, is objectively evil, and that objectively evil thing is known from our reason, our conscience, and our religious heritage.

Torture is indeed an evil. But the extermination of all of humanity is an even greater evil. If the only two choices before you are A) torture some Cylon prisoners, or B) the destruction of what remains of the human race, choosing A is probably the best option. As I said in the post, that by no means proves that we should use torture in the very different circumstances of the real world. But the BSG situation is very different from ours.
2.21.2008 11:00pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
For example, the "colonial" humans' political system seems far too similar to that of the United States, given that these humans supposedly developed in complete isolation from Earth for thousands of years.


Perhaps, but can you think of a more logical way of designing a government for twelve worlds?
2.21.2008 11:06pm
Nessuno:
Ok, I sympathize with Ilya completely on his skepticism about the show. I have a list of movies and actors I will not watch or support a mile long. I take what little power I have to boycott seriously.

At first, I loved the miniseries/pilot, but abandoned the show early on because of distracting moralizing and the absurd moralizing over irrelevant issues during a time of existential peril (ie "Bastille Day").

Luckily, I came back to the series last year and watched all those episodes I missed. I'm very glad I did. In the end I think the conservative themes far out weigh the left wing views, even where that is not intended.

The "peace" protesters, for instance, are utterly infiltrated by Cylons, and end up being complicit in the destruction of one of the most important ships they have left. There really is no masking that their naivete and ignorance led them to that end.

And the show emphasizes military strength and vigilance even when so many want to be complacent. Spies, saboteurs, and infiltrators are a sad reality in their world, like ours, despite the denials of the anti-war crowds there and here.

The occupation episodes on New Caprica were clearly the most left wing and anti-war attempts that the series made, and yet it still wasn't that bad. The humans were meant to be like Iraqis (how original), but even then the show clearly shows certain elements as going way to far, as when they start to use suicide bombing. Ultimately, though I think those episodes fail to be persuasively left wing because they fail artistically. As a previous commenter pointed out, the premise of the occupation is very difficult to believe. The ruthlessly genocidal Cylons suddenly try to make nice(-ish) by allowing a settlement? They try to explain it, but it is so unconvincing that the Cylons-as-America-in-Iraq metaphor falls on its face. As a viewer though, the climax of the Pegasus/Galactica rescue was a great payoff.

As for Ilya's religion critique, I don't agree at all. Yes, the Colonials are pagans, but they are clearly parallel to American religious society. In fact, some planets are "fundamentalist" literalists and pro-life, while others loosey-goosey Episcopalian types, a contrast clearly meant to evoke modern America.

The monotheism of the Cylons, though, is interesting, and I don't think anyone can be sure what to make of it. After all, they speak of the "creator", but remember they are machines. So while they come across as talking about God (and clearly they think of their creator as God), it might not be a true god they are referring to, in the end. (The Caprica Cylon always tells Baltar that God has a "plan" for him, but that parrallels in ominious opening credits to the show which warn of the Cylons "And They Have a Plan.") Also, the Cylon religious faith is wrapped up in a sort of cyclical prophesy (especially in the most recent season and Razor) that has no analog in Western religions.

In the end, what makes the serious so great is that it treats most of the issues in a pretty sober way. Torture, for instance, is both portrayed as necessary at times (e.g. on Boomer to divulge saboteurs on the ship), and revolting in others (e.g. use of rape as torture for no goal other than revenge).
2.21.2008 11:25pm
Bama 1L:
Torture is indeed an evil. But the extermination of all of humanity is an even greater evil.

Okay, but many of us believe that it is never permissible to do evil--even to achieve good--and would cite Romans 3.8 in support of that proposition. I think that is where DangerMouse was coming from.
2.21.2008 11:33pm
DangerMouse:
If the only two choices before you are A) torture some Cylon prisoners, or B) the destruction of what remains of the human race, choosing A is probably the best option. As I said in the post, that by no means proves that we should use torture in the very different circumstances of the real world. But the BSG situation is very different from ours.

It doesn't matter how different things are. Objectively evil doesn't mean you get to do it just because there's other bad things out there. What you're posing is an idiotic scenario, consistent with television rules but are asking us to apply our moral reasoning to a situation in which we're supposed to pretend that television rules don't apply. And by television rules, I mean a situation in which you are faced with a choice between extermination or torture. The real world isn't like that. And if Battlestar Galactica were, in fact, real, it wouldn't be faced with a situation like that either. There is never, ever, in the history of the entire universe, ever going to be a situation where you're faced with a choice between outright extinction of humanity or torture. There is no "ticking clock" scenario, not when it comes to torture of al-Qaeda, not when it comes to torture of science-fiction badguys. It is a ridiculous, idiotic thing, and only a believer in television rules could think it a reality.

In the real world, we're faced with choices that induce us to commit evil, but those choices are not the hard choices. They're the EASY choices. Because upholding good in the face of evil is the difficult thing to do.
2.21.2008 11:40pm
jim47:
One of the things I like about BSG is that it seems more interested in portraying political conflict than taking sides. There are very few good guys in the series; there is no one in the series that is portrayed as the one who is always right.

Roslin, Adama, Tigh, Baltar, Cain, Zarek and others are all portrayed as fallible humans; some of the best things are done for selfish reasons, some of the worst things are done for good and pure reasons. Roslin is at once the hero but also a deeply disturbing leader; she shows the dangers of a powerful leader at the same time that her competence is shown to be a necessity. The closest the show comes to characters that is "right" are Helo and Apollo, and they are both very conflicted moral figures.

What is intriguing about the show is precisely that it exists in a counterfactual scenario where the rules of normal society break down. It explores which things can go, and it explores the human cost to those who find themselves faced with doing horrible things.

It strikes me basically that a well done piece of fiction, one that tries to have realism, and which tries to confront important themes, is beyond politics. It can be used to advocate any belief system that actual reality can be used to advocate.
2.21.2008 11:47pm
DangerMouse:
Sheesh, my last post was complete gibberish. All I was trying to say was that ticking clock scenarios are unrealistic and only exist as a mind exercise in order to break down our resistance towards evil. They only exist as a fantasy.
2.21.2008 11:47pm
Crane (mail):

The military are heroes. Civilian peace activists are either (a) deluded fools, (b) Cylon infiltrators, or (c) terrorists themselves.

I don't this is the way the show intends these characters to be interpreted by the audience, particularly on the peace issue.


Seriously? How many peace activists have appeared on the show so far that haven't fit into at least one of those categories? There was really only one significant group, that sabotaged the military and planted bombs while claiming that the Cylons would be totally friendly if not for the humans' nasty old military-industrial complex. New Caprica may have had its share of collaborators, but none of them seemed to actually believe the Cylon presence was a good thing.

In the environment of the show so far, it is literally not possible for a sane and rational human character to believe that the Cylons can be persuaded to let humanity live in peace.
2.22.2008 12:34am
rlb:
The most unconvincing thing about the Baghdad Galactica "occupation" episodes was the sheer stupidity of the idea that tens of millions of robots that don't sleep couldn't successfully watch over 30,000 humans.
2.22.2008 1:04am
Jamesaust (mail):
"mostly left-wing politics"

Huh? Religious suicide bombers, authoritarian life-and-death (for civilians) decisionmaking, banning (and criminalizing) abortion, rampant militarism, tortured mothers stripped of their newborns in military hospitals (a la, fascist Argentina), etc., etc. I can't recall a more inane argument since I read some (other) blog insisting that Hitler was so far right her was actually a Leftie.

Well, its no "24" to be sure!

Perhaps it's just the completely unsupported assumption of this statement that seems shocking (to anyone who has watched the show), but I suspect it's more likely a fine example on the paucity of substance in our cultural lexicon for terms like "left-wing" or "liberal" or "conservative."
2.22.2008 1:05am
Oren:
The ruthlessly genocidal Cylons suddenly try to make nice(-ish) by allowing a settlement? They try to explain it, but it is so unconvincing
I was convinced, at least in the sense that once the Cylons developed different models they started to have an internal politics that was absent before they differentiated. Coupled with the unexpected results of their 'perfect plan', one could imagine the havoc that would wreak on the rigid mind of a just-turned-sentient computer.

Brother Cavill at one point openly remarks that the Cylons now consider the genocide of the human race to be a mistake, a line so hilarious (in that gallows humor sort of way) that I had to pause and laugh it out. I don't know if it was intended to be funny but there was such a perfect inflection of his voice that I just couldn't help it.
2.22.2008 1:32am
Oren:
The most unconvincing thing about the Baghdad Galactica "occupation" episodes was the sheer stupidity of the idea that tens of millions of robots that don't sleep couldn't successfully watch over 30,000 humans.
Not to be a complete nerd at nitpicking but they can't devote their entire race to babysitting the humans.
2.22.2008 1:34am
rlb:
How long would it take an entire race of robots to build 30,000 more robots, one to watch every person every hour of every day?
2.22.2008 1:37am
Linus (mail):

Objectively evil doesn't mean you get to do it just because there's other bad things out there.
I don't understand what you mean by "objectively evil". How can you know whether something is good or bad without any context? And I also think you need to realize that many times, the decision to not choose, is a choice. So, when faced with two choices, both bad, how do you choose what to do? Rather, how does the moral system to which you subscribe dictate how you should choose?


Okay, but many of us believe that it is never permissible to do evil--even to achieve good--and would cite Romans 3.8 in support of that proposition.
This raises the same question. When faced with two bad choices, what do you do? And does your belief system really just entail defining the "evil" act you committed as "good" retroactively based on the "good" it achieved? I don't understand how you can separate the act from the consequences and the context, and still have any comprehensible or useful idea of "good" or "evil".
2.22.2008 1:44am
Oren:
I don't understand how you can separate the act from the consequences and the context, and still have any comprehensible or useful idea of "good" or "evil".
There are some things that, on principle alone, are repugnant to the values that form the very core of my ethical existence. No consequence or context will ever change that.
2.22.2008 1:52am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Oren wrote:

There are some things that, on principle alone, are repugnant to the values that form the very core of my ethical existence. No consequence or context will ever change that.

Is torturing machines one of those things?
2.22.2008 1:57am
rlb:
Or, how long would it take a race of machines to build a 30,000 cell prison and march the entire human population into it?

Heck, my rinky-dink state almost certainly has more people than that in prison right now.
2.22.2008 2:03am
Oren:
Is torturing machines one of those things?
Lol, seriously? Of all the counterfactual questions you could possibly ask...
2.22.2008 2:07am
Cornellian (mail):
Roslin is at once the hero but also a deeply disturbing leader; she shows the dangers of a powerful leader at the same time that her competence is shown to be a necessity.

Heck, just portraying a politician who actually has some real skill and who isn't corrupt or an idiot or both is a very rare thing in television land. Having Roslin face tough decisions with no obvious, correct answer is one of the things that makes the show great.
2.22.2008 2:54am
Nessuno:
Jamesaust:
I can't recall a more inane argument since I read some (other) blog insisting that Hitler was so far right her was actually a Leftie.

I'm pretty sure the argument is that the German National Socialist party was nationalistic socialist movement. I know, crazy.

rlb:

How long would it take an entire race of robots to build 30,000 more robots, one to watch every person every hour of every day?

I really hate defending the New Caprica premise, but I should point out that the idea the Cylons had was in part to get on friendlier terms with the humans. So going all totalitarian wasn't the idea.
2.22.2008 3:39am
Oren:
I'm pretty sure the argument is that the German National Socialist party was nationalistic socialist movement.
Next we are going to hear about how the German Democratic Republic was a democratic republic.
2.22.2008 4:43am
Public_Defender (mail):
My favorite part of the Baltar trial was the discussion between Baltar and his "lawyers" after he won. Baltar wanted to discuss publicity and other plans for his reintegration into society. His "lawyers" basically said, "Dude, we were your lawyers, not your friends. Our job is done. Good bye and good luck."

I've had similar discussions with soon to be ex-clients.
2.22.2008 6:03am
hugh:
The trial of Baltar (lack of any crim procedure evident not withstanding) shows us why it is foolhardy to try war criminals using normal criminal procedures. Too much of the evidence needed by the prosecution is unavailable (and may never be available). Too many witnesses are dead. Too many witnesses are members of the enemy forces or government. Too much evidence has been destroyed, left behind, or is in possession of the enemy.

What should your criminal law procedures be when you are in that kind of situation? Granted, that trial was one of the most awful things I had to watch in a long time...almost as bad as the trial in the classic STAR TREK episode "Court Martial."

The show is popular because it has interesting and engaging characters trying to work their way through a dangerous situation. Many of the shows in the first two seasons were excellent...some of the best tv I ever remember watching. The third season was a bit of a letdown. Still, I am happy for the dozens of excellent episodes aired.
2.22.2008 6:20am
Jones (mail):
Simply insanity,absolutely interesting! http://www.spymac.com/details/?2345831
2.22.2008 6:48am
duce:
I loved the original as a kid and had no interest in watching the new version, until now. I'm going to have to buy those suckers.
2.22.2008 9:50am
eforhan (mail):
Ilya, I had the same reservations of BSG...though my big question was always, "Why do they wear neckties?"

It's definitely brought to us from a left-leaning mind. Even the abortion episode didn't conclude abortion was wrong from the idea that they have rights too, but rather that it was sheer numbers. Apparently the value of human life is greater as supply dwindles.

How the colonists would act would irk me too. You're the last 40k or so of humanity and you won't rally behind your only defense? What the heck? I could only reconcile this as some sort of post-traumatic shock and/or clinging to the now-futile ways of the past.

Well written shows can have ideological viewpoints. I don't think we mind questions such as, "Is genocide of a robot race actually evil?"

But outright preaching is a different matter, which is why I believe the series went downhill fast in season 2.5.
But the
2.22.2008 9:51am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Oren:

Is torturing machines one of those things?

Lol, seriously? Of all the counterfactual questions you could possibly ask...

A counter factual question?
2.22.2008 9:52am
Brian Mac:
Dangermouse, I find your moral absolutism pretty implausible (although it's no doubt very satisfying). The need to choose between greater and lesser evils isn't purely fictional, and life often throws up trade-offs in which no matter which option is taken, the health of someone else will be harmed (e.g. in the regulation of toxic substances which serve public health functions, like flame retardants).
2.22.2008 9:55am
cjwynes (mail):
Torturing a cylon is only an issue for anybody because it looks like a human now. If it were a box on wheels, we wouldn't be having that discussion.
2.22.2008 10:30am
c.gray (mail):

How many peace activists have appeared on the show so far that haven't fit into at least one of those categories?


The Ceylons destroyed 99.9999% of the human race just a few months earlier. Many of the deaths were inflicted _after_ the unconditional surrender by the President of the 12 Colonies, who died pleading with the Ceylons to give some hint of what they wanted. Their intent throughout most of the series is obviously the complete genocide of the human race. Under such circumstances, only an idiot or an agent provocateur would participate in a peace movement. Everyone else would be consumed with a lifeboat mentality, at least in the near term.

Anyway, I think its a serious mistake to assume the show takes a particular political line one way or the other. Instead the writers explore various political &social themes in a fairly open-ended fashion. The two big questions are should one go to defend the things one loves or defeat ones enemies? And how does one prioritize competing loyalties to family and society, friends and faith?

These questions don't usually have obvious answers, in real life or on the show.
2.22.2008 11:07am
The Unbeliever (mail):
There are some things that, on principle alone, are repugnant to the values that form the very core of my ethical existence.


Good definition. But it is a fair question to ask what you were to do if your actual existence were threatened. As I'm sure you're aware, your ethical existence ceases to exist once your physically existant body gets vaporized. Is it existentially better to unexist than to physically exist minus your ethical existence?

(Apologies for playing so heavily on the word, but I found Oren's term incredibly amusing.)
2.22.2008 11:15am
Guest101:
Ilya, I think you have to be just a tad paranoid to seriously contend that BSG has a left-wing agenda. As others have said, the show contains elements from which support could be drawn for just about any political perspective, but it would be a mistake, I think, to interpret it as an endorsement of any particular view. What makes BSG so great, in my view, is that it is much more interested in exploring difficult political or philosophical problems from all angles than in trying to propose any specific answers, and that it does so more effectively than any other show out there-- indeed, it seems to be skeptical of rigid ideologies in general, rather than favoring one side over another. Obviously there are left-wing elements, just as, as noted above, there are right-wing elements, but a central theme of the show seems to be the damage that ensues when adherents of either side hew too closely to their own ideological preconceptions, and that ideologues must retain the flexibility to adapt and compromise their abstract principles if they are to survive in demanding circumstances.

I heard a rumor a few months ago that BSG might not be able to complete filming of the final season due to the writers' strike-- does anyone know if that problem has yet been resolved?
2.22.2008 11:24am
DG:
Some of the confusion arises because the creators of the show are indeed quite left-wing. On the other hand, they are also incredibly pro-military, which can be tough to do when showing atrocities and torture, but they pull it off. And not in the silly "we support the troops" bumper sticker kind of way, but in showing that the most admirable (although not always correct) characters are military - even some of the bad guys, like Cain.

Of course, some of the moralizing is a bit tired - its ok for Starbuck to waterboard Leoben and for Roslin to summarily execute Cavil, but its wrong for Cain to have Gina raped? Would it have been wrong for Cain to just shove Gina out the airlock?

Still, the most "moral" characters like Helo and Lee Adama are shown as arrogant jerks sometimes, while the most morally questionable characters are also shown as heroic, like Cain and Tigh. Thats why its good drama.
2.22.2008 11:48am
Calvin Pantinga:
I support the motion made by several others that while the writers are almost certainly on the left, they are good writers and have explored many hard decisions from different angles. I have remarked several times to my wife that it appeared they were at least considering an apology of a conservative stand (i.e. in some above mentioned situations, particularly the 'peace activists.') I also agree though that the Baghdad Galactica episodes were embarrassingly simplistic 'allegory.' What was particularly interesting about those episodes was that I distinctly remember that at the start of the second season I saw more unsolicited press and promotion of the show...gee does the media have a bias toward fiction that it interprets as criticizing the right?

Anyway. I can really see both arguments here and indeed think that they have explored ideas for different sides. Maybe the writers are kind of gaming the audience anyway. One the one hand, it might be easy to see a Richard Dawkins like influence that belief in a monotheistic God w/ a plan leads to single-minded destruction. But then again, the Razor episodes demonstrated a possible change in the story arc for this 'god' w/ a plan? Have to wait and see what season four brings to make up my mind.
2.22.2008 11:50am
Guest101:

Of course, some of the moralizing is a bit tired - its ok for Starbuck to waterboard Leoben and for Roslin to summarily execute Cavil, but its wrong for Cain to have Gina raped? Would it have been wrong for Cain to just shove Gina out the airlock?

Why do you assume that the show intends you to draw those conclusions? I think it's far from clear that any of the moral judgments you assume are intended are in any way implied by the episodes in which they occur. As I said above, it seems to me that a great strength of BSG is that it focuses on posing difficult questions rather than providing neat and certain answers.
2.22.2008 11:59am
gregh (mail):
How seriously can you take a show in which--while humans are technologically centuries ahead of us--they have to all communicate using landlines? I keep waiting to see if ship-to-ship communication is handled by two guys waving flags at each other.
Did I mention the WWII surplus trucks they were driving around on New Caprica?
2.22.2008 12:33pm
Toby:
Gregh

All digital communications are venues for for cyber attack. It a pretty basic premise of the show, and explained in some form or another every few episodes. THe BSG herself survuved the attack because it was an old model beofre the fully networked models came on line, and so was not vulnerable to cyber attack.

It a faily important fact to have missed.
2.22.2008 12:52pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
How seriously can you take a show in which--while humans are technologically centuries ahead of us--they have to all communicate using landlines?

(A) That technological detail is specifically explained in the opening episode of the miniseries.

(B) Even setting aside the explanation given on the show, wired communications will always possess certain advantages over wireless communications (less susceptible to jamming, more difficult to intercept, etc.). In fact I can think of only a single advantage to wireless communications and that's portability. Believing wireless communications are inherently superior in all respects to wired communications is committing the same error as thinking touchscreens are inherently superior to physical keys/switches/etc. in all respects. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages.
2.22.2008 12:53pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
I need to be faster on the keys....
2.22.2008 12:55pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The one technical issue that I find a bit annoying about BSG is that it was established immediately that the conventional hand weapons are useless against centurions and the only way to destroy one was with some sort of explosive shell. Yet without fail whenever there's a ground battle the colonials continue to fire their useless weapons at the centurions instead of equipping everyone with explosive rounds.
2.22.2008 1:38pm
Carolina:
I was a fan of the old show as a kid, and was one of those people who was pretty unhappy with the "re-imagining" of the series, so I didn't watch it.

I watched my first episode a few months ago - it was an incredibly hackneyed parable about Iraq with humans trying to kill the Ceylons via suicide. I found it unwatchable. It was like a high school drama trying to address "important issues."

What am I missing. A lot of smart people seem to like this show, and I liked the old one as a kid, but the episode I saw was just dreadful.
2.22.2008 1:44pm
Happyshooter:
But torture, real torture, is objectively evil, and that objectively evil thing is known from our reason, our conscience, and our religious heritage.

Our current criminal justice practice of sending men to hellhole prisons for punishment is torture. Handcuffing someone when you arrest them is torture. The question is where the line is that makes it illegal torture, and what is justifed torture.
2.22.2008 2:03pm
Happyshooter:
Under such circumstances, only an idiot or an agent provocateur would participate in a peace movement. Everyone else would be consumed with a lifeboat mentality, at least in the near term.

I have done some reading about the jews in the death camps which suggested that the jewish capos would remain horrible tyrants even when the guards were not looking. Coming over to the thinking that your masters want when they literally have the power of life and death over you is not such a odd thing.
2.22.2008 2:13pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
What am I missing. A lot of smart people seem to like this show, and I liked the old one as a kid, but the episode I saw was just dreadful.


I think the problem might be that you started watching in the middle of the story rather than following the story from the beginning. There was a lot of back story that lead up to the characters landing on New Caprica and without knowing that back story, it's harder to follow along some of the subtler details that make it such an engrossing show for so many.

Also a lot of fans of the new BSG hated the New Caprica storyline so it's entirely possible that you just happened to watch what even most of the hard-core fans would agree was a terrible episode. Sort of like if the first time you started watching Stargate-SG1, it was an episode with Jonas Quinn instead of Daniel Jackson.

BTW: I was and remain a huge fan of the original BSG (got it on DVD in the Cylon centurion case) which was IMO a vastly underrated show. There are some fans who insist that you have to like one or the other (sort of like the TOS vs. TNG fights) but they're both excellent and very different shows. I think what trips some fans of the original up is that they see the new BSG as a sequel to the original and I think it's best if you just regard it as an entirely different show that happens to use some of the same names and concepts but has vastly different characters set in a much different fictional universe.

And if you do decide to give it another go, I would strongly suggest watching either the miniseries first or starting with Season One.
2.22.2008 3:09pm
Tom R (mail):
> "conventional hand weapons are useless against centurions and the only way to destroy one was with some sort of explosive shell"

The boarding-party centurions in "Valley of Darkness" were described as some super-duper new model that only explosive shells could stop. Common or garden centurions can be brought down by ordinary bullets. Of course, this then raises the question why the Cylons didn't simply upgrade all centurions to the new model.

Also, everyone please watch your spell-checker so it doesn't rebel against you and change "Cylon" to "Ceylon".

Slightly OTC... One thing that impresses me with New BSG is that we seem to be getting nearly all the good bits from Old BSG, but on a slow drip, and when they feed organically (no pun int) into the story. Eg, the question of "We're sick of running and fighting; let's find a planet, settle on it, get rid of our weapons, and seek a modus vivendi with the Cylons" was eventually got around to, but at the end of season 2 (New Caprica) rather than the second half of the pilot (Carillon); and it was thought through in much greater detail. I don't doubt that we'll see Boxey play a role again eventually. Moore blogged that they'd tried to work him in but it never quite fit.

Likewise, if we're patient and wait long enough (1.3 seasons), we get to see Cain and the Pegasus, albeit this time Cain's tactical differences of opinion with Adama revolve around treatment of prisoners rather than reckless counter-attacks, ie, on sodomy rather than Gomorray.
2.22.2008 3:19pm
Tom R (mail):
... having said that, one of the good bits of Seventies BSG the Moore crew haven't used (yet) is running into other human colonies that aren't capital-C colonies, and which therefore might have been spared by the Cylons if the Galactica's fleet hadn't found them. Granted, this device got overused a lot (Carillon, "The Lost Warrior", "The Magnificent Warriors", "Experiment in Terra") and dodged the question of: "Well, here's another human small-c colony, why not settle here, instead of doggedly seeking an Earth that might not exist?" If the answer is "Because they don't want us dragging them into our war with the Cylons", wouldn't that apply to Earth also? Maybe you could write it that the lost colony humans have mutated after centuries on their new planet, a` la "ST: This Side of Paradise", so the Cylons don't recognise them as "human" any more... Oh, well, by blogging that idea I've killed it, I guess.
2.22.2008 3:29pm
Colin (mail):
Cain's tactical differences of opinion with Adama revolve around treatment of prisoners rather than reckless counter-attacks, ie, on sodomy rather than Gomorray.

Sublime.
2.22.2008 3:39pm
Public_Defender (mail):

Why do you assume that the show intends you to draw those conclusions? I think it's far from clear that any of the moral judgments you assume are intended are in any way implied by the episodes in which they occur. As I said above, it seems to me that a great strength of BSG is that it focuses on posing difficult questions rather than providing neat and certain answers.

I agree. I'm a liberal who loves the show. One great feature is that they give you factual scenarios that both sides can use to debate an issue, but they also show how their imperfect characters deal with it.

Another great aspect of the show is good and evil. Good an evil clearly exist, but no one character is (OK, maybe the preacher) is either purely good or purely evil. The show is in large part about how imperfect people exercise their free will.

I have the lawyer's disease of needing to know the ending of anything before reading or watching it, but I won't even watch the previews of BSG. I love unexpected plot twists they take me on (and yeah, the Starbuck thing at the end of the last episode was way to predictable, but that's an exception).
2.22.2008 6:19pm
Guest101:

Torture is indeed an evil. But the extermination of all of humanity is an even greater evil. If the only two choices before you are A) torture some Cylon prisoners, or B) the destruction of what remains of the human race, choosing A is probably the best option.

The annihilation of the human race is a greater evil only if humanity's survival can be said to be morally desirable. Your assumption is one that the show spends a lot of time challenging, going back to Adama's question in the miniseries about whether, and why, humanity deserves to survive at all, and Boomer's (or Athena's?) statement to him a couple of seasons later that "maybe you don't." The Cylons (at least the early-season Cylons) would argue that humanity's sins deprive it of any moral right to existence, so that the commission of evil for the purpose of averting that end would not be justified, while most humans would argue the opposite: that any evil inflicted on a Cylon doesn't "count" because Cylons are not human. Both positions are probably wrong, but the question of whether the continued existence of humanity is morally justified, or the more fundamental question whether we can even have a meaningful moral discussion about such things as the moral right of a sentient race to survive, is one of the many philosophical questions that BSG does a great job of exploring.
2.22.2008 6:38pm
Tom R (mail):
All right then. Maybe it's because most political films or TV shows written by those on the Left usually depict right-wing people (or, at least, people who do "right-wing" things) as having horns and tails (or at least spats and monocles).

So the mere fact that Galactica doesn't give Roslin a sneering opposition Quorum member - played by Donald Sutherland, quoting the "literal scrolls" to prove that dark-skinned Gemonese are cursed, while raking in bribes under the table - may give the impression that Eick and Moore think right-wingers are not only tolerable human beings but correct on the merits of the issues in dispute, which is a different thing.

(Curiously, the most hard-right (militaristic, hierarchical, cold-bloodedly violent) major character in New BSG is also a lesbian. Now that's off the usual ideological grid, at least in the 17 years since "Basic Instinct".)
2.22.2008 6:41pm
Tom R (mail):
> "only if humanity's survival can be said to be morally desirable"

I don't get it... if one human, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, waterboards a Cylon "skinjob", this means a different human - say, the little girl with the teddy bear in pilot episode 1 - "deserves" to perish?

That's one extreme interpretation of virtue ethics.
2.22.2008 6:45pm
Cornellian (mail):
(Curiously, the most hard-right (militaristic, hierarchical, cold-bloodedly violent) major character in New BSG is also a lesbian. Now that's off the usual ideological grid, at least in the 17 years since "Basic Instinct".)

Are there any lesbian characters in new BSG? I haven't seen the last several episodes, but unless they introduced someone new recently, the series does not have any lesbian characters (or gay male ones either, for that matter).
2.22.2008 7:40pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Are there any lesbian characters in new BSG?


Yes, Helen Caine and Geena (the version of Six that was aboard the Pegasus).
2.22.2008 10:12pm
rlb:
Well, then the Cylons could have built 10,000 neat little 3-bedroom suburban houses in a neat grid, and marched the entire population, sans guns and explosives, over to it.

Why didn't they?
2.23.2008 12:06am
Tom R (mail):
[Spoiler from "Razor" - avert eyes NOW if you hate spoilers:]

"Razor" shows a backstory that Gina (brunette Num 6) and Cain were lovers before the Cylon attack. Which explains why Cain took Gina's betrayal so very personally, and gave Thorne carte blanche to do whatever he liked to the captive by way of "interrogation methods".
2.23.2008 2:06am
Tom R (mail):
Solove et al's quizzing Moore/ Eich about the episode "Flesh and Bone", where Starbuck tortures the Cylon, reminded me of my two conflicting reactions when I first saw the show. First: an amalgam of Bentham and Shakespeare: "if you prick Cylons, do they not bleed? The question is, can they suffer?"

But against that: recalling that there is a tradition in science fiction of showing alien, robotic or other non-human enemies mimicking children or other vulnerable humans to deliberately play on adult humans' reluctance to inflict pain or harm on them. Examples: Mystique in "X-Men" morphing into a child... the Autonomous Mobile Swords in "Screamers" (based on a Phillip K Dick story) which mimick children, teddy bears (!), etc... even James Tiptree Jr's "The Screwfly Solution", alien invaders "infecting" males with violent misogyny so no one suspects they're the vanguard of an alien invasion.

No, I'm not saying that's a lay-down misere in favour of torturing Cylon skinjobs, just that it possibly raises further complications: not just that they "aren't human", but they can be designed to play humans for their weaknesses (as Number Six played different weaknesses in Baltar).
2.23.2008 7:21am
Toby:
Just Dropping By

Maybe slower, but your comments were more complete and had the additional advantage of better spelling.

I also liked the secondary meme on the folly of assuming higher tech is always better tech.
2.23.2008 10:44am
Joe Bingham (mail):
I just can't believe this many people commented in this thread.
2.23.2008 2:10pm
fishbane (mail):
I just can't believe this many people commented in this thread.

Why not? The topic has everything people in these parts love - politics, explosions, law, sexy people, the moral basis of politics, edge-case decision making, robots...
2.24.2008 10:37am