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Who would win in a fight: astronauts or cavemen?

25th February 2007 (17:16)
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Over on atbvs, AoQ has just reviewed A Hole in the World, and naturally enough the question of Astronauts v Cavemen has sparked off much discussion. Even though it’s obvious to all right-thinking people that astronauts would clearly be the winners in a fight, some misguided souls apparently disagree: so I thought I’d set out my ideas here – taking the question both literally and (probably more interestingly) as a metaphor for the series.

First, taking the question literally. Some people seem to see this as a question of brains versus physical strength, as though astronauts are all scrawny, intellectual egg-heads. But in that case, wouldn’t the question have been “scientists versus cavemen”? In reality, most astronauts have been serving or former military personnel, and all are carefully chosen and fully trained to be at the peak of physical fitness. They also benefit from a modern diet – look at ancient suits of armour in museums to see just how tiny people in the olden days were compared to us. True, the average Paleolithic hunter-gatherer would probably enjoy a high-protein diet and plenty of exercise, so would be fit and healthy compared to, say, a mediaeval peasant. Even so, I think the advantage of strength and fitness would clearly belong to the astronauts – and that’s even ignoring the fact that, as members of the armed forces, they have probably been trained in modern hand-to-hand combat techniques.

One of the terms of the argument in the episode is that the astronauts “don’t have weapons”. I’m going to assume that this means they don’t get to bring any of their technology with them to the fight, not that they’re barred from making or adapting any tools during it. (And that the same restriction applies to the cavemen). Now, I’ll concede that “primitive does not equal stupid”, and the cavemen are going to be able to plan ambushes, make use of terrain, and improvise weapons from natural materials. But so are the astronauts! And the big advantage they have is their modern education (including, in most cases, military basic training and officer command school).

In pre-literate societies, knowledge comes from experience or oral tradition, which is great as long as you’re doing the exact same things that your ancestors always did. If the environment changes or a situation crops up that’s outside your group’s communal experience – such as fighting a group of astronauts – then you’re in big trouble, because you have no precedents to base your behaviour on. But the modern people can draw on the experience of not only their own family and neighbours, but any person throughout history who’s written down their knowledge. The cavemen might have an initial advantage – for example, if the battlefield has flint nodules lying around, they may be able to fashion a handaxe from them while the astronauts are still wondering and experimenting with the different rocks to see which ones can be made into tools. But the caveman might walk straight past the yew coppice without noticing it, because he’s never heard of a bow and arrow and can’t even conceive of a weapon that can kill him from a hundred paces away… until it’s too late. Likewise, a caveman may be able to make fire by banging flint and iron pyrites together, but be unaware that you can also do it with a friction drill – the astronaut might never have used either method, but should be aware of both of them.

So the answer is that the astronauts should always win… as long as they don’t get trapped into playing the game the cavemen’s way. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the message of Angel Season 5, which brings us neatly to the metaphorical part of the question. :)

In the episode, it seems clear that astronauts represent modernity, and cavemen the ancient powers such as Illyria. A Hole in the World shows our heroes employing all the tools of modern science and technology, from the extensive multi-million dollar W&H laboratory to their “really good” jet aircraft, to try to save Fred - but it’s all in vain. Illyria, the caveman, triumphs… and in her last bleak moment of lucidity, the dying Fred acknowledges it. “Cavemen win. Of course cavemen win.” After all her bravery and defiance throughout the episode, refusing to admit defeat, refusing to accept that there is no solution, she finally surrenders to despair. It’s a defeat not only for her, but for the whole of Team Angel.

Or is it?  Fred may be gone, but her influence, her memories – arguably, her soul (that was consumed by and thus integrated into Illyria) – achieve the impossible; they humanise an Elder God. By the end of the series they turn her, much to her own bemusement, into one of the most powerful Champions for Good on the planet. The caveman chooses to become an astronaut. She even becomes an aficionado of that most modern of electronic technological gizmos, the Playstation.

The message here is that awful things happen, but the human spirit can still triumph in the end. As I explained above, I don’t really accept that the caveman-astronaut metaphor is primarily about strength versus intelligence, or rationality versus instinct. Cavemen were just as capable of intelligent reasoning as we are (this is where I plug Hiywan’s Story as my own take on a stone age tribal culture), but they were restricted to repeating what they knew, or what their parents knew. They may not have been stupid, but they were ignorant. That’s why fifty thousand years of human history went by between the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel, while in the last hundred years we went from primitive aircraft made from canvas and plywood held together by wire and glue, to being able to buy a little electronic box for your car that communicates with a satellite spinning 12,600 miles out in space, to tell you your exact position anywhere on the Earth.

Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel; people like Fred can die pointless, painful deaths not because they deserve it, but because they simply got in the way. Some people just accept that, and bow their heads and shuffle along the same old paths hoping that fate won’t notice them. They’re the cavemen.

But astronauts defy the bonds of gravity and reach up to touch the heavens. They live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be.

They may not always win, but being defeated isn’t a sin. Giving up is. By the end of season 5, Angel had realised that.
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Comments

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th February 2007 23:06 (UTC)

You know, I was very condfident that you'd be one of the people replying to this post. I didn't, however, expect five separate replies... ;)

Anyway, I think you're taking the approach that cavemen are an analogy for basic raw instinct as opposed to rational thought, while I see it differently - cavemen are the people who [choose to] live in a cave, while astronauts are people who reach up to the skies. (Not that your metaphor is necessarily wrong - in fact, given the 'Beer Bad' evidence I mentioned in my reply to Foamy, I suspect Mutant Enemy would see the same metaphor. It's just not how I see cavepeople.

In Angel's fight with Hamilton, Angel wins. And why? Because he is, at the most basic level, a caveman (vampire demon) and he wins when he unleases that primitive force

Hmm. I disagree that Angel's simply releasing his primal inner demon. He doesn't flail wildly at Hamilton, much in the fashion of, oh, let's say, Spike; instead he recognises his opponent's mistake and coolly, deliberately uses his own advantage to exploit it.

True, it's symbolically important that he uses his vampire nature to win in the end; but to me that's a question of him finally accepting his full identity after a century of trying to pretend that Angelus is a totally separate person. He doesn't win because he sheds the 'false' trappings of civilisation, but because he learns to integrate both sides of his personality.

Fred dies because the price of saving her is too great for the astronauts to pay. The caveman would not comprehend it, and would have saved her.

You're saying that the cavemen would have chosen to murder hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings? I'm not thinking that's exactly a point in their favour... ;)

Recognising that people not in your own family or clan are still human and worthy of respect is one of the finer achievements of the last couple of hundred years...

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 27th February 2007 10:26 (UTC)
Fred/Illyria morph by amavel_bel.

I didn't, however, expect five separate replies... ;)
Sorry 'bout that. That's what happens when RL is busy and computer time is all chopped up. And when I keep getting new thoughts! You don't mind spam, surely? *g*

while I see it differently
In which case the enitre argument becomes moot, because we're talking about different things. But I agree that if we take things the way you see them, then the astronauts win.

He doesn't flail wildly at Hamilton, much in the fashion of, oh, let's say, Spike
Careful now...

"I slew the white-haired one first."
Illyria, 'Time Bomb'

Why? Because Spike had been studying her, and was the one who might be able to defeat her in battle. Spike is a very intelligent fighter.

He doesn't win because he sheds the 'false' trappings of civilisation, but because he learns to integrate both sides of his personality.
The more I think about it, the more I'm sure that that's the answer. The cavemen/astronauts argument is a distraction. It's about integrating the two - and it's the most basic metaphor on both shows: For 7 years Buffy struggled with who she was - the girl or the slayer, because apparently they were always pulling in different directions. In the end of course she could be both. Angel for so long struggled with accepting his demon, but when he did, he won. (And this is foreshadowed all season 5!)

I'm not thinking that's exactly a point in their favour... ;)
Oh no. But that's what Buffy was willing to do in 'The Gift' (more or less).

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