Avatar – The Five Rationalities

The characters of the new James Cameron movie AVATAR demonstrate the five risk rationalities of Cultural Theory.

Jake Sully is the Fatalist.  He takes over for his brother with no training and no idea of what might happen next.  Fatalists believe that the future is unpredictable.  So in the mind of a Fatalist, this day is no different from any other.  They never believe that they know what is coming next.  Jake also has some Individualist characteristics with his No Fear ethos.  The Individualists believe that everything will work out – so No Fear is an extreme form of their rationality.  Jake Scully evidences a change of rationality over the course of the movie.  The threats to the Na’vi and the Great Tree cause him to shift to the Egalitarian point of view of the Na’vi.

The Na’vi are pure Egalitarians.  Egalitarians believe that the world is in a delicate balance and that resources are finite.  Pure Egalitarian societies would not grow or change very much over time.  They would enforce a very strong degree of uniformity of belief, which the Na’vi evidence with their very intense initiation ceremony.

Parker Selfridge represents the Individualists.  Individualists believe that raw materials are infinite, because new science will always develop ways to exploit the raw materials that are available.  Individualists believe that the best ideas and people will prevail.  Might makes right is a very Individualist point of view.  Parker believes that because the Humans have superior force, then they have a right to the unobtainium by any means.  Individualists believe that risky situations will all work out because the universe will always revert back to the situation where Individualists were in total control.

Colonel Miles Quaritch and the military forces represent the Authoritarian rationality, but not well.  A true Authoritarian would believe that there was a limit to what could be accomplished – a view that the world has boundries within which one must operate to be safe.  Quaritch changes into a more Individualist point of view over the course of the movie.  Instead of trying to learn and work within the boundaries of the world he finds himself in, he works to change those boundaries to ones that he prefers, which is a more Individualist point of view.

Dr. Grace Augustine represents the Hermit, seeking to understand the world, but not necessarily to change it.  She sometimes acts more as the Authoritarian expert, trying to define and set down the boundaries within which it is safe for humans to operate and sometimes more like an Individualist when she tries to change the world theough her schools.  But you sense that the schools were more of a stalling action to allow more time for study.

Important note:  Individualists and Authoritarians are not always villains.  Individualists do not all believe that might makes right.  They do believe that individual achievement and individual rewards should go hand in hand.   Individualists are largely responsible for “progress”.  So if you like your electric light better than a candle, thank an Individualist.

Authoritarians do not all run armies.  They are usually the key people in any hierarchical system.  They are the backbone of governments and the legal profession.  Authoritarians are responsible for the idea of the rule of law.  So if you like to walk down the street in safety thank the Authoritarians.

Fatalists are not all action heroes either.  Most drug addicts and alcoholics are Fatalists.  Fatalists buy most of the lottery tickets.  Generally Fatalists do not control much of the world.  Fatalists are the perennial outsiders.  They also make up many of the ranks of the very talented computer specialists – the prototypical computer nerd is a Fatalist all the way.  Hackers are Fatalists.

Pure Egalitarians groups tend not to last for very long among humans.  Some have fantasied that Native Americans were like the Na’vi – in a stable long term relationship with nature.  Others have suggested that  there was constant war among the different groups that kept them from having the luxury of peace to develop more advance technology.  Most attempts at Egalitarian groups fail due to the tendency of Egalitarians to believe strongly in purity of common motivation and thought.  Egalitarian groups would totally lack adaptability.

Hermits are the scientists and monks who study the world, trying to understand it but not to have any influence over it.  They generally only leave their world when they take on another rationality and decide to try to act on their knowledge.

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