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

New Federalist Article

…With a title that doesn’t really match the point. I didn’t want so much to make a simple ‘abortion kills more people than guns’ argument, but to point out how fundamentally different the two positions – pro-life and pro-gun control – really are.

Oh, well: go check it out for yourself 

Sample:

Of course the most obvious distinction is in the subject matter: one favors limiting or ending gun owners, the other limiting or ending abortion. Let’s consider the two subjects, for here the crux of the matter rests.

Gun rights deal with a person’s right to own a particular tool for a particular purpose. Put briefly, a gun is a weapon; weapons are used in fighting. People want to own guns so if they ever need to fight to defend themselves, their families, or their rights, they can do so effectively. There are obvious and legitimate reasons why they would want this, ranging from violent attackers to civil unrest.

But, although they have legitimate uses, guns by nature are open to abuse. They allow a person with evil intent to inflict more damage than he would otherwise. Gun-control advocates argue the potential for abuse is greater than the legitimate need for private firearms, at least with regards to certain weapons. In other words, gun control advocates wish to limit access to guns in order to limit their potential for abuse.

Abortion rights deal with a person’s right to do or have done a particular procedure. This procedure, by definition, destroys a human life: specifically the human life the people in question created by having intercourse, whether consensually or violently. They desire this because, to one degree or another, the life to be destroyed is unwanted or inconvenient and was not intended to be created.

 

Although the reasons for wishing to destroy this life may be understandable, abortion still destroys an innocent human life. Moreover, in most cases that innocent human life was created by other people voluntarily engaging in an act they knew could lead to this outcome. Pro-life advocates argue that deliberately killing an innocent human being simply cannot be justified, save in cases of direst need such as when the life of the mother is at stake.

In other words, pro-life advocates wish to forbid a particular action that, by definition, destroys a human life.

Note the difference: one involves a right of possession, the other of action. To own a gun says nothing of how it is used, and there are clearly legitimate reasons someone would want to own one. To perform an abortion, on the other hand, means to kill a human life, and the only question involved is whether such an act can be justified. Gun-control advocates argue that the undeniable potential for abuse outweighs the undeniable goods derived from gun ownership, while pro-life advocates argue that abortion itself is an unjustifiable action.

What’s My Line at the Federalist

My latest piece at The Federalist is now up, where I talk about the old gameshow What’s My Line?

Sample:

No one on the “What’s My Line” panel would have dreamt of asking a guest about his sex life, nor would the guests have dreamt of talking about it. But if they can see for themselves that a young lady is beautiful or a man is black, they didn’t think anything about acknowledging the fact. Noting physical appearance is considered perfectly normal, even polite, because it isn’t as if it were a private matter.

We, on the other hand, are so terrified of “judging” someone by physical appearance that it’s become considered rude to even acknowledge it, even though we find we can hardly think or talk about anything else.

 

My Federalist Little Pony

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Stop the Presses!

I just got paid for writing about My Little Pony: Achievement unlocked!

Read the whole thing here:

One of the best characters on the show is Luna, the Princess of the Night. She starts off as the villainous Nightmare Moon in the pilot episode, but after her defeat and redemption becomes a recurring heroic figure.

Her first appearance after the pilot has her trying to adjust to a world that is not only much different from the one she remembers (she was trapped in the moon for a thousand years; long story), but one in which she is basically the boogey man. Nightmare Night, the Equestrian equivalent of Halloween, is even based around placating her so she won’t gobble up young ponies.

Luna is understandably put off by this. She wants to be loved and admired, but the other ponies, especially goofball Pinkie Pie, constantly act afraid of her, and her odd, intimidating manners don’t help. She gets so offended that she threatens to eliminate the holiday.

But then, when Twilight (the show’s protagonist) finally catches Pinkie and tells her she doesn’t have to be afraid of Luna anymore, Pinkie cheerfully responds that she isn’t, really. It’s just being scared is part of the fun of Nightmare Night. Having the real-life Princess Luna there is like having Count Dracula show up to your Halloween party.

Then Twilight convinces Luna that, instead of trying to escape her spooky reputation, she should embrace it. As the reformed Princess of the Night, no one really knows how to take her. But as Nightmare Moon, the terrible mistress of darkness, she’s just an extra-special spooky attraction who makes the celebration that much cooler. Her willingness to play along makes her much more approachable.

We complain a lot about stereotypes, but I think most stereotypes are only harmful when applied indiscriminately to real-life people. But just in fun, or as part of a story, there’s nothing harmful about them. They’re part of our shared heritage and can serve as a link with different kinds of people. The incorrectly familiar is still familiar, but the unknown is simply unknown.

Embracing the horror-show version of herself instead of demanding to be accepted on her own terms gave Luna a connection with the other ponies, who then felt at least some familiarity with her and thus could relax in her presence, which allowed her to alter their preconceptions in a more organic and mutually respectful way.

That’s because whether someone’s ideas about you are accurate or even offensive is less important than whether they can actually talk to you, and you can’t talk to someone whose main topic of conversation is “Your ideas about me are wrong.”

Milo Murphy at the Federalist

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My next piece is up on The Federalist: this one about Milo Murphy’s Law, the latest show from Phineas and Ferb creators Swampy Marsh and Dan Povenmire.

If I could make a living writing about philosophy in cartoons, I would be okay with that.

It is one of the core beliefs of western culture that a man’s worth is measured, not by what happens to him, but by how well he faces it. Hector manning himself to face Achilles in a battle he knows he cannot win. Socrates choosing to drink hemlock rather than betray the truth. The saints enduring tortures rather than renouncing their faith. Whatever the turn of fortune’s wheel, a man’s response is what really counts, not the changing clutch of circumstance. Milo is the cheerful, family-friendly embodiment of this doctrine: a middle school Job with a sunny disposition.

By contrast, the modern idea, born of the likes of Marx, Freud, and their ilk, is that circumstance, society, “privilege,” or whatever other pseudo-academic synonym for “luck” you prefer, is what truly makes a man what he is. Whether it is ascribed to genetics, psychology, or economics, it amounts to the same thing: the idea that fortune, not action, determines a man’s destiny.

The antagonists in Milo’s world adopt this deterministic view, such as his classroom rival, Bradley. Bradley resents Milo, not just because his presence promises a disaster in the near future, but more because he’s jealous that Milo gets all the attention. He thinks that, if only Milo weren’t around, everyone would admire him instead.

Except Bradley is a boring, stuck-up grump, something that would remain so even if Milo weren’t around. He’s so focused on competing with his classmates (“In your face, other people!”) and on how they’re supposedly keeping him back that he doesn’t even consider how he could better his situation.

Read the rest here