From Caste System to Space Sweepers

I’m always attracted by sci-fi works, or more specifically, space operas. What’s so-called space opera is telling stories, which originated in real life, in a space-era setting. Recently, there’s a new outstanding work available via Netflix: Space Sweepers (2021). This film talks about inequality, apartheid, and genocide.

As I am reading works by Lévi-Strauss, it comes to me that apartheid seems to be the only way to solve the problem of overpopulation so far, even in a sci-fi setting. Back to three thousand years ago, India tried to solve the population problem by the caste system. However, this is tragic for mankind. As Lévi-Strauss put it: “In the course of history, the various castes did not succeed in reaching a state in which they could remain equal because they were different.” and “When a community becomes too numerous, however great the genius of its thinkers, it can only endure by secreting enslavement.”

It appears that there are two ultimate society forms in nowadays sci-fi works. One form, featured with Elysium (2013) directed by Neill Blomkamp, is enslavement. While the others, featured with the Star Trek series, believe that space is the final and yet interminable frontier of mankind. In other words, there will always be planets where no man has gone before.

Perhaps, how we understand the problem of overpopulation is just as limited as how Malthus understand it in the 1800s. But, anyway, it is just a little depressing that sci-fi works—representing the boundary of human imagination—reach the same conclusion as what thinkers in India came to three thousand years ago.

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