By Contributor Daryl Geffken
I watched Pixar’s “Wall-E” with my sons the other day. Before you judge me, realize this: the landscape at home is all about 5-year-old and 2-year-old boys so I spend a fair amount of time either in space, in Disney, or both.
The intent of the movie is to illuminate that humanity is trashing our habitat, but there is still a hope that we can reclaim the value of the land rather than rest on our laurels for convenience’ sake; a grand and good concept, for sure.
This time as I was watching (yes, I’ve seen it enough times to cause tendonitis in my typing fingers were I to key-stroke that many 0’s), I realized a nuance I hadn’t noticed before. The villains in this film are far from the proto-typical Disney/Pixar milieu. There are two main sets of antagonists. First, there are robots. Not the evil robots of ‘50’s sci-fi horror films, all maniacal and twisted. These are robots that have been programmed by humans who thought they were doing the right thing. Second, there is a system that has solidified a state of apathy.
One of the things I have been realizing lately is the fact that a vast majority of people do not harbor maniacal, society-destroying tendencies (even though I feel that way as my blood-pressure skyrockets from the actions of the dufus in front of me who seems to be driving in a manner who is hell-bent on crushing all that is fair and good in the world). You may have realized this already. Kudos to you. Personally, I need to step away from my judgments of others, and pause. I must realize they are not placed on this world to piss me off or give others grief. Most people are motivated by what they understand to be the right course of action.
Take our upcoming national elections. Democrats are leftist commies intent on thwarting happiness. Republicans are selfish and entitled, only seeking a greater tax break. Large government undermines the concept of personal responsibility. Jesus didn’t ride an elephant. There will be quite a bit of polarizing rhetoric that fingers an opponent’s malicious intent. I think we should look past such tripe. And though I believe our two-party system begs for a systemic overhaul in many ways, I don’t believe the individuals within it are as demonic as many might seek to portray them. I will grant that some are people seeking to hold on to power, but I believe at the heart of their motivation is the promotion of what they understand as “good.” Lesson to apply: the next time you have an experience with another person that alters your expectation of what is right/fair/expedient/etc., pause for a moment and try to understand why that person is acting the way they are. Overwhelmingly, it is not to mess up the world. They may be following their programming, and it may not be bad.
Now as for the system; I posit a strong portion of Americans currently live in a context that is built upon convenience, consumerism and privilege. Often in a way that is detrimental to a majority of the world, and often in a way that is unknown to those who are favored (insert, middle- and upper-class white protestants here). Privilege is a disgusting and nasty thing, I am discovering. Those of us who are in a status of privilege tend to believe what we experience should be normative (that means that we expect everyone else to want to live like we do). How presumptuous is that?
This is a blog, the very form of which mandates me to keep things short and pithy. But this system must be broken. It must be challenged. There are a myriad ways to do this and each one seems necessary to me at the moment. What I want to remind us is this: our strongest opposition will come not from an enemy, but from people who are well-intentioned, have great value and are interpreting our actions as the very thing that will destroy their cherished way of life. The onus is upon us — as world-changers — to honor them. This is not an easy thing by any means. It will bring about continual self-evaluation and reflection as we encounter our own personal roadblocks caused by a fear of self-sacrifice. I’m on board for the ride, however. To quote the captain of the Axiom in “Wall-E,” when confronted with the risky decision between taking responsibility for his people and the earth or maintaining the status-quo-72-degrees context of convenient life, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.”