Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949):
Like the fellow says: in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
Zorg in The Fifth Element (1997):
Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder, and chaos. Take this empty glass. Here it is, peaceful, serene and boring. But if it is destroyed… Look at all these little things [robot cleaners]. So busy now. Notice how each one is useful. What a lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and colour. Now think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people who’ll be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny weeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus adding to the great chain of life.
You should recognise the sentiment, from certain Nietzscheans, Social Darwinists, and teenage boys with coffee table books about military hardware. It’s also the philosophy of the Shadows, as expounded by Morden, Anna and Justin at the end of Babylon 5 Season 3. It’s an old thought. In the Western tradition, it goes back to Heraclitus
Heraclitus is famous for the aphorism, “You cannot step twice into the same rivers”. He thought that an explanation of change was foundational to any theory of nature. This led him to promote conflict, as he saw strife as something that led to change.
This view of the world was opposed by Parmenides, who argued that change is an illusion and that everything is fundamentally static. This view is one espoused by Grant Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and the Vorlons—though each draw very different conclusions from this starting point.
I’ve never had a kind word to say about the Vorlons. They stink of death: there’s a place for everyone, and everyone should be in their place. But there’s humanity in a million years (in The Deconstruction of Falling Stars), mostly incorporeal, wearing Vorlon-style encounter suits, using Vorlon hyperspace technology. There is something to be learned from them, the show suggests.
I’ve written very little about what the Vorlons are up to, what they wish to teach, and I’ve never written anything about the Shadows (except to argue with the show’s abuse of the word “evolution”). Right now I’m not sure what I would write about. Despite the presence of the two Koshs and augmented Lyta on Babylon 5, we are never told the Vorlons’ intentions until the very last (Into the Fire), when they crack under Sheridan’s pressure:
There is only order and obedience! You will do as you are told!
The Shadows, by contrast, are very chatty when directly confronted (Z’Ha’Dum and Into the Fire), and it’s easy to see their philosophy in action, and reflected in various others. I guess the Minbari since Valen are an expression of Vorlon philosophy.
So is there something to the conflicting philosophies, or were they selected as thesis and antithesis so that Sheridan could reject them as too black and white? Was there ever a genuine choice to be made, or were the Shadow Wars just shadow boxing? I’ve said before, the multiplicity of the parts of Babylon 5 build a uniformity of view. But have I ignored the First One philosophy because there’s nothing to it, or do I think there’s nothing to it because I ignored it? A question to keep in mind.