What makes us human?

The biggest issue in A Measure of Salvation, IMHO, was the question of what makes us human — a question that’s core to BSG and has been addressed in many different ways in the show to date. Are we human because we can love? Because we hate? Because we can reproduce?

When Adama and Roslin stood face to face over the decision of whether or not to exterminate Cylonkind, it struck me as a huge role reversal. In the miniseries, Adama’s position was like Starbuck’s: “Fight ’em ’till we can’t fight any more.” Roslin, on the other hand, stood for reason, demanding that saving humanity take precedence.

Now we find Roslin wanting to kill ’em all in the name of survival while Adama wants to save humanity — by preventing them from doing something that makes them less human. And there’s the core of this post: Genocide is a sub-human act.

While I totally agree that Helo was way out of linedoing what he did — and his comment about the Cylon(z) trying to live with humans on New Caprica — he was dead on in terms of humankind “giving up a piece of their soul.” Adama agreed. Lee didn’t.

The most common argument for Cylon genocide: “They’ll kill us all if given the chance.” For this argument to succeed, we must assume that every single Cylon would try to kill every single human if possible. And, as Helo (so badly) pointed out, Athena serves as an evidence that we already know that to be untrue.

The argument thatthe Cylonsmight eventually change their minds and fight humanity again doesn’t — in my opinion — really bear a lot of discussion as it doesn’t differ significantly from any of our Earthly experiences with war. Would it have been correct to exterminate all Germans after WWII on the premise that they might fight again? Of course not. To accept this particular segment of the pro-genocide argument, one must also assume that the Cylons wish to kill humans simply because they’re Cylon — and as mentioned above, there’s obvious evidence to the contrary.

Consider the difference between war and genocide. In war, one forces an opponent to change behavior through the application of force — by either forcefully denying orcompellingspecified behavior or by creating a situation so bad that the enemy is brought to one’s point of view. In genocide, one simplyexterminates the enemy.

From a practical perspective, there’s also a lot of evidence in the show to convince us that it’s possible to defeat the Cylons with conventional warfare alone:Without their resurrection ships, they’re mortal just like humans. When faced with (final) death, they sometimes cave in and do things they don’t want to do. Thus, they can indeed be compelled to behave differently (re: Simon in A Measure…) or convinced to change their minds (re: Athena).

As I said in Podcast #15, Adama seems to understand that in terms of Cylon sentience, it’s in for a penny, in for a pound. Either you accept the Cylons as sentient — and accept that they’re not all the same and can indeed win a war without genocide — or you decide they’re not sentient — no plan? — and are just machines to be exterminated.

Why can’t his son beas intuitive? Are they suggesting that he has to get shot before he can find his soul?

4 Responses to "What makes us human?"
  1. rodviking says:

    I just don’t understand why they think that they would exterminate the whole Cylon species by following Apollo’s plan. The Cylons don’t fly all together in a single fleet, do they? And besides that, I assume they still have a lot of people (units? copies?) in their home planet, isn’t it?

    But then again, the whole plan was a mess. Why did they have to wait until AFTER the jump to rush into the Cylon cell to execute them? In the good old days Adama would have one of them with a gun in his/her mouth waiting in the CIC for the jump. And why kill all of them, when one would suffice? Why not keep the rest for intelligence or something like that?

  2. Pike says:

    I had a similar thought reading Chuck’s post. Introducing the disease to the pursuing fleet would not necessarily carry the disease to every other Cylon. The fact that they had a resurrection ship implied that they were effectively on their own. There is a possiblity that subsequent Cylon ships would encounter it and be infected too, but again, they’d be on their own. Eventually even the Cylons would determine that area to be a no-go zone. And if basestars selfdestruct when they die, as seems to be the case, there’s even less possibility of that. Thus you’re talking about something on the level of nuking a carrier fleet is definately threatening you, not just wiping out the species.

  3. Eyeless says:

    This episode really annoyed me, frankly. Generally, I find the characters on BSG to be pretty level-headed and logical, but this was ridiculous. Helo is now my least-favorite character, and I like Lee more now than ever. But anyway, here are my issues with it:

    First. Helo’s “logic.” No matter how well the Cylons may fake emotions like love, there is no actual BEING feeling anything. Athena is just a collection of circuits (or whatever) acting within the exact specification of its programming. It’s not murder to deconstruct something that is built. Nor is it genocide to destroy a lot of them. Helo is delusional to think that Athena “loves” him. Love requires two people, not one person and a program designed to simulate love. The Galactica crew has obviously no concept of the soul, equating the displaying of emotion with the actual feeling of emotion. But then what makes humans special if that’s the case?

    But secondly, even if we concede Helo’s argument that Cylons are equal to humans in value, he’s still being idiotic. Killing an infected Cylon near a Resurrection ship would not obliterate Cylons, it would obliterate only the fleet around the ship. Which is directly threatening Galactica. Which is the point of a battle, for heaven’s sake. To destroy the opposing fleet.

    Third. Even if we ignore that too, and assume that it would wipe out all Cylons, in addition to assuming that Cylons are morally equivalent to humans, killing them all is the right thing to do. Helo says that maybe some of them are nice like Athena. Fine. But you can’t very well take them each on a date before deciding which ones die. The Cylons committed genocide. They should have to pay for that, and it appears from what we’ve seen so far that they’re not exactly remorseful over the mistake.

    The war will only end when one of five things happens. The Cylons stop fighting, the humans stop fighting, the Cylons go extinct, the humans go extinct, or they draw up a truce. They had a truce which was broken by the Cylons in the Holocaust, so that eliminates option five. Obviously we don’t want humans to go extinct. The only way for the way to end correctly is if all Cylons are dismantled.

    Helo should be charged with treason. And in the middle of a battle, no less. Couldn’t he at least have warned them before endangering all of their lives because he wants a robot lover?

  4. Browncoat Bryan says:

    I don’t know. I’d probably give the order Roslin did, but not for the reason Lee gave. In regards to the notion that the Cylon(z) (with you there, Chuck), are sentient, I agree completely with Helo. It’s a hard call and I couldn’t back up Lee by saying “they’re just machines”. That strikes me as wrong. For those of us who are religious and follow the Abrahamic traditions, it would be the same as saying God/Allah has every right to wipe the human race out because we’re nothing but cells, based on our behavior (granted, there are some televangelists/terrorists out there who think they’re helping with this plan).

    I would give the order to infect the Cylon fleet because they would pose a danger to Earth. To me, it’s not a philosophical decision about sentience and non-sentience or whether or not a thinking machine with emotions or simulated emotions can be considered a person. Come on, how many of us cried during the last Star Trek movie when Data “died”?

    To me, it’s a purely strategic decision. The Cylons destroyed the Twelve Colonies and attempted to subjugate the Colonial survivors. Now, they’re headed for Earth. Who knows what they would do when they finally arrived at Earth? Let’s face it, looking at things from a military perspective, we should deduce that the Cylons would reach Earth first. They have superior numbers, superior technology, and superior intelligence (in Baltar and his calculations). Also, look at their track record. Based on all of this, I would say drop the B-bomb on them, too. It would be a very hard decision and I probably would lose part of my soul, as Helo says. But I have to think about the people on Earth as well.

    As I said before, it’s a toughie. But, I have to be the hard-ass even though most of the time, I have a soft and creamy middle.

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