Red Dwarf and the Gift of Life
by Zoran Kojcic
Red Dwarf is a British sci-fi sitcom that follows the adventures of the last human being in the universe, David Lister. Because he was being held in suspended animation as a punishment, Lister survived a massive accident on a mining space ship, Red Dwarf. After three million years, when the radiation is no longer harmful, the ship’s computer Holly revives him. Holly also brings back Arnold J. Rimmer as a hologram, to keep Lister sane. Rimmer was Lister’s bunkmate, and he was responsible for the accident on Red Dwarf. As a result of the radiation, an entire species of so called Felix Sapiens, or Cat people, evolved during those three million years. Most of them killed each other or left the ship, however, leaving only one Cat on board, who is aptly called the Cat.
In the episode called “The Inquisitor” the title-character is a self-repairing simulant who lived until the end of time and concluded that there was no God and no afterlife. The Inquisitor concluded that the purpose of existence is to lead a worthwhile life. After constructing a time machine, the Inquisitor traveled through space and time, judging every soul that ever existed, erasing those who wasted their lives, replacing them with those who never had a chance, sperm and egg combinations that never made it.
“The Inquisitor” calls to mind page 1 of Unweaving the Rainbow where Richard Dawkins says,
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”
The Inquisitor’s idea is to punish those who wasted their lives, and to replace them with those who didn’t get the chance to live. Before I was born, my mother had a misscariage. Thanks to this unfortunate event, I was conceived. I often think how the unborn girl never got a chance to live, breathe, see the sky or the snow, just as so many other unborn babies. We can wonder about what they would be like. Would they have any simmilarities with us? What would they have become if they had a chance to live? The Inquisitor claims that we have been granted the greatest gift of all, the gift of life.
Since none of the characters on Red Dwarf are achievers, they find themselves in big trouble. Lister asks, who is to judge, who gets to say what is worthwhile? The Inquisitor concludes that the only fair trial is for you to judge yourself. If you manage to justify your own existence, then you are free to go.
Can we, however, be fair and objective judges of our own deeds? Rimmer and Cat are able to pass the judgment because of their low standards; they have lived worthwhile lives according to what they were capable of and according to their own low standards. If we follow the Inquisitor’s logic in our world, we might wonder whether we should punish those who don’t live up to their potential? What about potential geniuses who don’t work hard enough? What about those who give up on life due to external circumstances? And how can we judge which circumstance can justify our mishaps?
At one point the Inquisitor says that the erased victim should have lived his life more wisely. We must each ask ourselves: have I lived wisely? Have I appreciated and made the most out of the greatest gift of all, the gift of life?
Zoran Kojcic, PhD student in philosophy at University of Sofia, Bulgaria. Zoran holds MA degrees in Philosophy and Croatian Philology from University of Osijek, Croatia. He teaches Ethics and Literature in high schools and works as philosophical practitioner with individuals and organisations. His main work deals with providing quality philosophical consultations and dialogue to individuals, workshops for companies and different activities with NGO’s and other organisations. Zoran is the author of philosophical novel Walk Through (2014) and he blogs at reddwarfandphilosophy.wordpress.com
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