The philosophy behind the hunger games
Reflecting on it (The Hunger Games) can on its own way be downright philosophic; a doorway that leads to thinking about our own lives. There’s another famous doorway associated with thinking, near the birthplace of western philosophy in ancient Greece. At the entrance to a temple dedicated to the god Apollo in the city of Delphi, someone had inscribed two sayings- “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess”- that many ancient philosophers took to be pithy summaries of the wisdom we need to live well. Clearly, the residents of the capitol and our leaders alike have missed the boat when it comes to avoiding excesses and they don’t seem very self aware.
Like Katniss, life has taught me (and many others out there) the importance of self control and hence the constant examination of our motivations. Her hunger for answers is contagious. Therefore, as we ponder the parallels between her world and ours, we too are beset by a swarm of questions that descend on us like a horder of tracker jackers bursting from their nest.
How far, we wonder, is our own world from that of Katniss? Could our nation succumb to the same evils that ravage Panem? Or has it already succumbed? Perhaps we’re already on our way there. The similarities between our world and the futuristic dystopia portrayed in the hunger games don’t end there. Watching the horror that Katniss and her fellow tributes endure in the arena, we wonder how human beings can justify atrocities like that. And then we remember that not so long ago, and also currently, powerful elites in the west and our very own Africa have and are still sponsoring their own hunger games.
The more we reflect on the world of the hunger games the more questions rain down on us like the little silver parachutes that carry food and medicine to Katniss and Peeta in the arena for like those lifesaving gifts that the tributes receive from their sponsors, good questions nourish and sustain us when we venture into the arena of thought.
And so, fortified with questions, we persist in wonder. Why do we enjoy watching others suffer? Do ordinary rules of morality apply when we’re fighting just to survive? Could we be controlled and manipulated as easily as the citizens of Panem? Are we already being controlled in insidious ways that escape our notice? Then, when questions like these get too weighty and we want to retreat from the field of battle into the gentler precincts of romance, we find ourselves wondering which of her two suitors Katniss should choose and we ask ourselves: How do we make similar decisions in our lives?
The more you watch, the more you question, as the events unfolding in Panem invite you to ponder the meaning of art, music, science and culture- in short, the whole messy business of being human. These questions are hard to ignore. Pretending they aren’t real won’t make them go away.
Questions like these are the focus of philosophy; the most powerful tool we human beings have forged for exploring the meaning of our lives. It’s as indispensable to anyone who wants to think as Katniss’ skill with a bow and arrow is to her survival in the arena.
The trilogy is a cautionary tale about what human society could easily become. It depicts a world not so different from ours. A world where children are slaughtered for entertainment, power is in the hands of nearly untouchable tyrants and workers starve as the affluent look on and laugh. At the same time, it offers us an opportunity to think about how those evils might be foreshadowed in our world and to reflect on the extraordinary capacity for goodness and heroism that dwells inside the most seemingly ordinary people. After all, extraordinary acts of goodness by ordinary people might be our best hope of salvation. But the time for thinking, reflecting and questioning is now, lest we find ourselves buying ‘tesserae’ for our children someday.
So as we approach Christmas and the year 2018, let us examine ourselves and the world we live in and determine if that is the world we want our children to grow up in. Let us make the right decisions not for ourselves but for coming generations. Let us make the world a better place.
The Mzangila family wishes you a merry Christmas and prosperous and happy New Year 2018.
Adios. Nos vemos de Nuevo en 2018. (Good bye. See you again in 2018.)