Noah (by Darren Aronofsky) is a powerful movie on several levels. It speaks directly to one of the most deeply ingrained archetypes of human consciousness: wrongdoing, then guilt, followed by punishment... sin, retribution and atonement... wrath of the gods over man's abuses and offenses against nature. Also, but not coincidentally, the contemporary world is desperately scrambling for solutions, in the face of rapidly escalating and accelerating environmental collapse, as a direct result of destructive, human activity. Yes, we have been quite naughty and are now dealing with some very frightening consequences. Regardless of one's feelings about the biblical origin of the tale, Noah delivers a clear and brilliant parable for our time.
The groundwork for the Noah morality play was set early in human history. People, aware of their connecting link to nature, even at a subconscious level, developed a sense of shame and guilt, of wrong doing and sin as a result of their acts. A consequent and equally strong need to appease and be forgiven by the offended gods arose. Disasters and destruction caused by natural phenomena (violent storms, droughts, floods, crop failures, famine, epidemics) were interpreted by the guilt-stricken populous as punishments dealt out by offended, wrathful deities.
Then, as now, the holy person, who, in most cases, was also the social/political leader, was believed to possess special powers and abilities. Foremost was the power to communicate directly with the great forces of nature. These fearsome natural powers were eventually personified as deities. They were given names and personalities much like people and were cast with specific rank within a hierarchy; again, in close parallel with the hierarchical structure of the developing human, social order.
Leaders, who possessed the dual powers of civil as well as spiritual/religious authority were considered by the citizens to be their representatives to the gods. They were given the responsibility to seek forgiveness and rewards, to offer, as penance, their sacrifices and acts of atonement, in the hope of mitigating their numerous wrong doings and offenses against nature.
The leaders, sensing the eager willingness of their subjects to be controlled and relinquish responsibility for their acts, even to seek their own absolution, seized this as an opportunity to solidify their hold. They began making rules that regulated and governed the behavior of the citizenry, and then, with a stroke of absolute genius, attached psychological rewards and opportunities to obedience and conformity, as well as penalties and punishments to disobedience and deviation. It was perfect.
On the other side of the coin, people were willing and eager, in fact relieved, by the opportunity to give up more and more of their freedom, power and best of all, their need to take responsibility for their acts and destiny.
"It's a deal. All you people hear that?" ("from "Factotum" by Charles Bukowski).
That was the elemental bargain that was struck: Relinquish freedom to choose, and act in exchange for being relieved of the burden of responsibility.
This agreement carried an assurance that individuals would not be blamed for their acts no matter how fundamentally destructive, regardless of consequences. After all, they were merely obeying orders issued by their masters; individuals who, by common agreement, by very definition, possessed special powers, were wise, superior, holy, closer to the gods. Leaders who assured them that the world was their gift; theirs to use as they pleased because of their superiority and specialness... because they were created in god's likeness. This basic agreement and the social system that developed from it has strengthened with time and operates today absolutely intact.
Unquestioned, passed at birth, from generation to generation, reinforced, armor- plated; the herd-leader template became an item of belief, an ingrained truth, a fundamental, definitive element embedded in the individual and collective consciousness of humanity -- the deal.
Social/political/religious factions were encouraged, by their leaders, to hold that their beliefs and values were truest and most sacred. Convinced that they needed to be defended and extended to those who had not yet been given the opportunity to embrace them, armies grew and warred. Butchery and conquest became holy missions and just crusades. Beneath the cloak of righteous conversion, wealth, lands, resources and dominance were added to the power bases of the wise leaders. We still do it today. It is our number one activity. Turn on your television to watch the current episodes.
Noah, hope you saved those plans for the ark. Good news, it doesn't have to be so big. Many species have already been dispatched.
A more developed treatment of the subjects of human behavior and environmental collapse, can be found in Joseph Carlisi's book, "Playing God on the Eve of Extinction", at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-keywords=playing+god+on+the+eve+of+extinction )
His paintings may be viewed at: http://www.josephcarlisi.com