Humanity has come a long way since Man first roamed our beautiful planet we call Earth. In the last 1000 years, mankind has seen extreme growth in population, wealth, consumption and intelligence. Looking on a grand scale, almost everything we have in our world today was designed and built within the last 100 years. During less than one percent of our time on Earth, we have travelled to space, landed on the moon, created technologies that allow us to view things all over the world in a matter of seconds in the palm of our hand. In all of the time that man has walked the Earth, we have never faced the daunting possibility of global termination. In the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore exposes these very realistic possibilities: The possibility that humanity may not have much time left here on Earth if we continue to live and consume the way that we do. Early on in the documentary, Al brings up a quote from Upton Sinclair that foreshadows the purpose of this paper response; “You know, more than 100 years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote this, that "It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it" (Gore, 15 min). With that being said, this documentary is a direct reflection of various works we have studied in this course, and the connections will be explained in depth throughout this paper.
In order to understand the documentary, it is imperative that we understand the manifestation of civilization over human history. In The Heart of Darkness, the idea of civilization is centered around the Congo River located in Africa. The Europeans start to invade the land to collect the Earth’s natural resources. Specifically, in this case, the Europeans were seeking Ivory. Marlow makes note of these actions in an extensive quote:
Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency -- the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force -- nothing to boast of. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind -- as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness (Conrad 5).
Within this quote, we find the icon of European explorers. The lively motives of the Europeans are inverse to those native to the African land near the Congo River. Emphasizing the part of the quote that touches on ‘devotion to efficiency’ is contrary to what the European colonists seek. The Europeans see the Earth’s natural resources as capital gain for endless consumption where the African’s see the Earth’s resources as precious blessings. This ties into Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth when he talks about humanity’s overconsumption of goods and natural resources, looking at the world as a source of resources rather than a source of home. When using the phrase home, it can be interpreted as humanity’s only universal place to live. This is just an early indication of what is to come in the future.
Continuing on the idea of the Congo from class discussion, the themes of the river can be divided into two similar categories: not only do they seek capital gain from the land, but they emphasize the importance of pushing their ideals and lifestyle onto the natives who have lived on the land for years. Instead of working together, they force their livelihood and beliefs onto the natives, and when the natives retract from accepting these ideals and values, they are slaughtered. An Inconvenient Truth touches on these ideas too and provokes the question, why? The answer to the Europeans would be that Ivory was Luxury Trade – a bi-product of Capitalism.
The Heart of Darkness proved to be an excellent parallel in comparing itself to An Inconvenient Truth. Fortunately, it is not the only work in the course that can be tied deeply to the documentary put on by Al Gore. In class, and in our readings, we discussed the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft: Gemeinschaft is a lifestyle choice that focuses on family & community, close intimate bonds, the idea of Unity and quality over quantity. In contrast, Gesellschaft focuses on self-interest as a driving force within people and can be related to Capitalism/Imperialism. Based on the understanding of these two foreign terms, they can translate into the message Al Gore is trying to send when he says, “You look at that river gently flowing by. You notice the leaves rustling with the wind. You hear the birds; you hear the tree frogs. In the distance you hear a cow. You feel the grass. The mud gives a little bit on the river bank. It's quiet; it's peaceful. And all of a sudden, it's a gear shift inside you. And it's like taking a deep breath and going, "Oh yeah, I forgot about this" (Gore, Introduction). The idea of Gemeinschaftcan be directly attributed and related to this quote. It ignores the idea of capitalism and embraces the beauty around oneself, and instead of seeing that land as resources for consumption or financial gain, the area is appreciated and the beauty admired.
Although we live in an imperial/capitalist society, we must not forget that Earth is our only home. As we continue to live each day, we also extract more and more resources. The result of this is unfortunately the death of our homeland. Al Gore spent years compiling evidence and data, travelling all over the world to get a better grasp at what is happening to the world around us. Unfortunately, a significant percent of the global population is living by the Gemeinschaft ideals. Al Gore recognizes this and sheds light on the issue. He does not disagree with capitalism and its positive benefits to society, rather he shows us the consequences of living in a capitalist society the way in which we do – focusing on overconsumption and forgetting about our planet’s breath-taking beauty.
- An Inconvenient Truth. Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Perf. Al Gore. 2006. Film.
- Conrad, Joseph, and Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness ; And, the Secret Agent. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.