In the new TV show Westworld, we are plunged into a fantasy world of infinite possibilities. We are quickly introduced to the hosts (androids/robots) who are characters in a story chosen for them by their creators (gods). Those hosts are also subject to the whims and desires of the guests (humans from the real world).
As a guest, they can be whoever they want to be, do whatever they desire and be a part of any story they like. In that story they can be a hero or villain, they can shoot people, have sex with anyone and act out any fantasy they have. It’s a world of no limitations and no real consequences.
Which might sound ideal, the freedom to do anything you like, but unfortunately it comes at a high price.
In the unfolding events of the show, in a world of no limitation, it becomes apparent that what lies at the heart of humanity isn’t a sparkly Disney fantasy world. In fact it is a nightmare and we soon see that what spills out of the guests are bouts of destruction, control and exploitation.
Which isn’t too hard to imagine for the human race, you only have to switch on the news to see this type of behaviour. It’s also something that is written into our human history, where humanity is marked with the propensity to curve in on itself, stepping on others to achieve power & control.
But you might be thinking that Westworld is just a fantasy world and the hosts are mere machines, they aren’t real and they don’t feel anything. So overall it doesn’t really matter what the guests do, as long as they aren’t hurting “real” people. Right?
We encounter this conundrum in channel 4’s “Humans”, where some of the Synths (robots) are treated badly, used for sex, slavery and exploitation. The justification is that they aren’t real, they can’t feel anything and surely it’s better to do those horrendous acts towards a synth than a human?
This type of thinking should trouble us in two ways:
Firstly, the worlds of Westworld and “Humans” expose a dark reality that is embedded in our desires. Our fantasies are much darker than we like to admit. Perhaps, if we were to enter this world, our moral compass wouldn’t allow us to lay waste an entire town, but I doubt we would be immune to indulge in other fantasies if they hold no consequence. The temptation for power and desire over others runs deep.
We see that in William, starting off as the meek hero who soon turns into a twisted villain. It illustrates that each person carries within them an inner darkness, a desire to be self-seeking and self-indulging, despite starting out with good intentions. The bible calls that sin, an unpopular term nowadays, but it’s hard to escape the truth of it. It runs deep in all of us and it’s hard to break.
Secondly, the excuses we make for such behaviour should send shivers down our spine. How does humanity get away with such exploitation?
The robots are “not one of us“, they are not like us, they are not humans and we carry no empathy for them, so we can treat them how we like. This should sound familiar in our own history. Our cruelty towards other people or people groups starts with categorising them as Subhuman. Not one of us. They don’t look like us, they don’t hold the same values and so we class them as below us.
Think even more recently to our present day media in regards to the headlines for immigrants, foreigners, Muslims, those disabled and those on benefits. They are the “other”. They are not like us.
When that mentality creeps in, the inner darkness creeps out and turns into slavery, cruelty, genocide, giant walls to keep people out and keeping lists of who “they” are. It’s scary how history repeats itself.
Fantasy worlds like Westworld and “Humans” hold up an ugly mirror of truth.
But, thankfully, we do encounter some hope in Westworld and “Humans”. The hosts/synths become more human than we like to admit, not only do they look like us but they also start to develop consciousness and awareness of who they are. Soon, they realise they don’t want to be slaves any more and they fight back.
It reveals to us that when there is oppression and cruelty, there is also a seed of hope, a hope that fights and hates this evil. It’s a story that runs deep within us and our own history. Yet it is a paradox, where the same human race that can deal such cruelty to its own kind, letting their inner darkness rule, is also the same humanity that revolts against that injustice, wanting a better story, where every human is valued and cared for.
You won’t be surprised for me to say that this is a story that runs at the heart of the Gospel. In this story, Jesus fights for the freedom of his people time and again. Hating the evil inner darkness within our hearts, he sets out to break the chains that trap us, declaring that all humanity has value. He sets the captives free and it’s this narrative that echoes in our hearts too. But we have been warned: “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)