Try as I may to give the upcoming Neill Blomkamp sci-fi actioner Elysium the benefit of the doubt, the more I hear from star Matt Damon, the more I stand convinced the film could have just as easily been titled Occupy Space Station. Promoting the project on the Late Show with David Letterman this week, Damon joked about his 2012 flop Promised Land, a film produced on the presumption that American audiences love a good yarn railing against oil fracking. “You and I are the only ones who saw it,” he told Letterman after the host claimed to have liked the environmental tale.
Naturally, when one movie preaching against the evils of capitalism and development fails, Hollywood tries and tries again. Damon describes the forthcoming Elysium as an attempt to cloak the social commentary of Promised Land in sci-fi garb. Truth be told, the tactic may work. The science fiction and fantasy genres boast a long history of controversial social and political themes going back to 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Stick forehead ridges or antennae on a painted head and you can recast real-life tensions with alien stakeholders, lowering audience resistance to embedded ideas through making the players unreal.
Letterman turned serious on the topic of fracking, making the ridiculous claim that “water is disappearing from the planet [because of fracking], we’ve poisoned and drained the great aquifers underneath the great plains.” Damon took the opportunity to tout his non-profit, which seeks “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all, in our lifetime.” The hand-wringing commenced.
Every 21 seconds, a child under the age of 5 dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation.
The irony of Damon’s concern takes shape when we consider his opposition to capitalism, development, and the free-market process. All of these things enable the world’s poor to rise and enjoy the benefits of modern civilization.
Water.org, Damon’s non-profit, prefaces their vision with this declaration:
The water and sanitation problem in the developing world is far too big for charity alone. We are driving the water sector for new solutions, new financing models, greater transparency, and real partnerships to create lasting change.
In other words, they look to lobby governments to apply force to the problem. That’s a strange prescription when you consider Damon’s account of a publicity stunt to promote his cause.
Earlier this year, I went on a toilet strike. I stopped going to the bathroom, and I did that for about six months to draw attention to the fact that two and half billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. Actually, more people have cell phones than have access to a toilet.
That last fact shouldn’t surprise Damon. In fact, it should inform a reevaluation of his entire approach to the sanitation problem. I bet you, the ever-so-well-informed reader, can immediately identify the critical difference between the distribution of cell phones and sanitation. Can’t you?
That’s right. Cell phones are generally provided by private businesses while sanitation is generally controlled by centralized government planning. If an African wants a cell phone, he can save up and buy one. If he wants a toilet, he has to wait until the state pipes one out to him.
Damon should come to understand that his buddies in the green movement spare no expense to retard development on behalf of the planet. Dying kids amounts to a win by the calculus of Damon’s pals at the Sierra Club, who value wilderness above human life. If he really wants to improve longevity and quality of life in the third world (and everywhere else), he must abandon his statist advocacy and embrace liberty. Let people pursue their values and profit from their effort. Then kids will have all the clean water they could ever need.