WALL-E at the Federalist

For the ten-year anniversary of one of my favorite films.

The film is often described as an environmental parable, or a caution against consumerism. Those things are present, but they are subordinate themes. The main thesis of the film is something much more universal, interesting, and timely. Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously said in “The Idiot” that “beauty will save the world.” In its own quirky little way, that is the central idea of “WALL-E.”

Little WALL-E has a great appreciation for beauty, as demonstrated in his introductory scenes, and when EVE appears on Earth he almost immediately falls in love with her. Beauty inspires love. His love for her leads him to try to care for her when she shuts down, then to follow when her spaceship returns to take her back. Love carries a sense of obligation and duty, and the courage and senseless determination to carry it out. Because he loves, he will do and face anything for the sake of his beloved.

This same pattern plays out with the captain of the Axiom, the ship where the human race “enjoys” endless leisure in an almost comatose indifference. He is at first merely curious about the strange substance called “dirt” that WALL-E brought into his chambers, and has the computer analyze it. Then, on seeing images of the Earth in its heyday, he is awed by its beauty and falls in love with the planet.

When he discovers what it has become, he realizes that he has a responsibility to his home. This sense of duty gives him the courage to stand up to the autopilot and at last take control of his own destiny. So, beauty saves the world because it inspires love, which in turn inspires duty, and with it the courage to carry it out.

Read the rest here

‘Incredibles 2’ at the Federalist

Latest essay is up at ‘The Federalist,’ this one on ‘Incedibles 2.’

Aside: there seems to be a lot of, shall we say, competing opinions on this film. I’ll say for my part I really liked it; it’s not in the same league as the original, and it has some very notable problems (I’ve heard they were on a hard deadline, which certainly is reflected in the film, but is kind of weird considering people have been asking for this movie for a decade-and-a-half), but it’s still very cool, very funny, and filled with, I think, very positive ideas. So, I recommend it.

Definitely see it before reading my essay if you don’t want spoilers.

The movie picks up right where the original left off: with the Parr family fighting the Underminer. The battle goes sideways, which destroys the public goodwill the family earned defeating Syndrome in the first film. As a result, the Parrs find themselves out of work, living in a motel, and without legal protection for any future superheroics.

 

As Bob and Helen try to decide what to do next for their family, they receive a tempting offer: a pair of billionaire siblings, Winston and Evelyn Deavor, want to hire Elastigirl to become the new public face of superheroes to gin up public support for re-legalization. This requires Helen to leave Bob in charge of the household for a few days while she does covert heroics, reversing the dynamic of the first film. Meanwhile, a mysterious new villain called “the Screenslaver” challenges the heroes.

The first “Incredibles” movie’s themes and story were as perfectly fitted as the heroes’ skintight costumes. It’s different in the sequel. Many character developments and plot threads lack satisfactory conclusions, and Mr. Incredible is particularly ill served by the story.

Yet this new film still has Brad Bird behind it, meaning it’s not just smartly written and entertaining, but also tackles some interesting ideas, especially for today. From what superficially appears to be a standard SJW storyline of female empowerment and male incompetence, the film diverges into a much more interesting, universal, and realistic set of conclusions.

Describing these will require spoilers, so I recommend you see the film before reading further. Quite apart from the characters and ideas, it’s worth the price of admission for the intensely creative superhero action scenes alone (my favorites being a backyard brawl between baby Jack-Jack and a thieving raccoon and a one-on-one fight between Violet and a new Super named Voyd).

Read the rest here.

Infinity War at the Federalist

A new Federalist article is up, this one based off of Avengers Infinity War and talking about some of the same things I’ve been writing about recently.

Sample:

In other words, Thanos is a classic student of Thomas Malthus: a believer in the threat of overpopulation, only on a universal scale and with a blend of Marxist utopianism. He points to poverty, hunger, and environmental devastation as proof of his theory and boasts that in worlds he has “balanced” (by conquering and massacring half the population) no one goes hungry. He believes that his efforts are necessary to create the best life possible for the most people, and he believes it so strongly that he is willing to do quite literally anything to achieve it.

Yet, though he is a monster, Thanos is also, for lack of a better word, a very human character. He does terrible things, but we see he feels the horror of them, and he carries himself at all times like a man bearing a tremendous burden. When the other characters reject his arguments, he doesn’t fly into a rage, but only shakes his head in sad frustration that he can’t make them understand. Again, he genuinely believes in what he is doing and thinks that he is the only one with the knowledge and will to do what has to be done. He feels he has been given a tremendous responsibility and must do whatever it takes to carry it out.

 

Thus, Thanos has a similar mindset to the Marxists and other leftists of the past century or so: he has a clear idea of the state of affairs that he is aiming to achieve, which he believes will eliminate the suffering he sees around him under the current system and save the world from a greater disaster down the road. Most importantly, he believes that anything and everything can be justified if it forwards this goal. The “agenda,” the final utopian state to be achieved, is more important than anything happening now, just as Marxists believed that “truth” and “justice” meant anything that forwarded the revolution.

Read the rest here

Larry Correia on Cooking Poor

The incomparable Larry Correia gives us another treasure of a fisk, this time tearing into an article where a guy tries to argue that fast food is actually more economical for poor people than grocery food

Let’s just say the author of the piece fails to put his case beyond reasonable doubt.

Mr. Correia, in addition to writing fast-paced, well-constructed stories of action and adventure, also frequently gives astute comments on political and economic issues. In so doing, and in apparent contrast to the author of this particular article, he has the advantage of actually having grown up poor. This time he comes to the task of mocking the ignorance of the arrogant armed with his mother, who provides first-hand insights into cooking while poor, as well as astute observations such as “what’s wrong with this asshole?”

Here’s a sampling of what you’re in for:

Article: You swap vegetable oil for olive oil, water for stock or broth, table salt for sea salt, etc.

Correia: My grandma used to run warm water through a chicken and call it chicken soup. I don’t think you’ve got a real strong grasp on what the word “poverty” means.

Read the whole thing.

On that subject, I’ve often noticed that most people of a certain ideological bent, though styling themselves as champions of the poor and downtrodden, often speak of poor people not only as if they’ve never met any, but as if the lower classes were a different species that they’d learned about solely through the official website of the local zoo (“The male hog farmer can hit thirty miles an hour when threatened”). There’s often not only ignorance, but a great deal of ill-disguised contempt (contrast the way, say, H.G. Wells portrayed the lower classes with how G.K. Chesterton did).

To the people who advocate a wholly egalitarian society and would overturn civilization in an attempt to eliminate poverty, the poor are ignorant, benighted children who must be awakened to the reality of their situation by their more educated and more intelligent superiors. To those who believe in tradition, Christianity, and the maintenance of order, even hierarchical orders, the poor are dignified human beings with great virtues and wisdom all of their own, who ought to be aided whenever they need it, but left free to manage their own lives whenever possible. This is one reason I’ve never found collectivist, revolutionary, or leftist ideas in general to be very convincing.

Anyway, read and enjoy the difference between actual knowledge and experience and someone speculating wildly in order to make himself look smarter and more enlightened than he really is.

 

Cardinal Virtues Begin on Catholic Match

Over the next few weeks, CatholicMatch will be running a series of articles I wrote on the Cardinal Virtues. The Introduction went up today:

When we only have ourselves to consider, we can (and many do) distract ourselves with hedonistic indulgence, with ever more novel and transgressive pleasures, or, failing that, with the bitter delights of resentment towards a world that has ‘cheated’ us and so live what seems a tolerably happy life even without virtue. But when we share our lives with someone else, when we’re responsible for not just our own but another’s happiness, it’s much harder to fake contentment.

The other person generally doesn’t let us get away with it, and, assuming she’s just as bad as we are, we get to experience the abrasive, sandpaper-like results of vice without the anesthetic of self-approval. This is one reason why so many relationships fall apart, and why they often end so acrimoniously.

Basically, to have good relationship requires good people; you can’t live well together if you don’t know how to live well in the first place, any more than you would suddenly be able to draw well just because you’re partnered with someone who doesn’t know how to draw either.

Read it all.

David Warren Gets It

David Warren of Essays in Idleness eloquently says something that has been on my mind for a long time: that most of what we call ‘freedom’ is really a rejection of freedom.

We flatter ourselves, not only by the sins we commit, but by our modern conception of what sin is. We think that we are enacting “some momentous alternative to the good,” when really we are just being thick….

…And we, from pride, compliment ourselves when we have “gamed the system.” Having demeaned not the devil, but God, in our grey “agnosticism,” we praise the ruthless and successful, and sneer at all the humble “losers.”

Our whole conception of freedom has been reduced to the dumb idea that we are “free to choose” in our own – very short-term – interest. And we protest only obstructions to that paltry freedom, including the obstructions of Nature, which made us (to give only one example) male or female.

We are unacknowledged antinomians, and that is why we cannot understand that freedom from sin entails freedom from the law. For if we were free of sin, we could do as we pleased without transgression. But as we are not, we have to be restrained. The real choice is between humility and humiliation…

 

He concludes by pointing out that Rousseau got it exactly backwards: man is not “born free and is everywhere in chains,” but is born in chains and must achieve his freedom, which he does through humility and discipline.

Definitely read the whole thing.

New Years’ Resolutions at Catholic Match

My latest Catholic Match post is all about New Years’ Resolutions (and is largely written to myself):

One way or another, we are afraid to change, afraid to set aside what we’ve carried for so long, even though it’s a burden to us. We may genuinely want to make the change, or at least, we may intellectually acknowledge that the change would be good for us, and on a certain level believe we would be happier afterward. But still we are afraid to go through with the procedure.

Part of this is simply the fear of failure: we worry that we won’t have the courage or the ability to see it through.

We’re worried that if we reach for the big dream or the big goal, we will fall on our faces. If we ask the cute girl out, she may laugh at us. If we try to get into shape, we may find the work too hard. If we try to change careers, we may fail.

But we’re not just afraid of failure: we may be equally afraid of success.

See, the thing about success is that it always carries its own set of problems, pressures, and responsibilities. If we get into shape, we then have to maintain it by constant diet and exercise. If we start dating the cute girl, we then have to work at the relationship with all the hardships and sacrifices that entails.

Read the rest