Thursday, August 05, 2010
Mr AUTO, (Don't) Tear Down This WALL
It was once said that the greatest flaw of conservatism is that it doesn't present any view, whatsoever, of utopia.
Certainly, some intellectuals within conservative folds have often tried their hand at utopian imagineering. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged -- wherein the enterprising classes abandon their counterparts, reduced in Rand's mind to collectivist-minded chattle -- is a good example of this.
If WALL-E represnts any particular view of a utopian society, it's Atlas Shrugged turned on its head.
WALL-E presents utopia as any true conservative invariably recognizes it -- as a dystopia. Set nearly 1000 years in the future, the Earth of WALL-E is one abandoned by humanity. The wasteful excesses of consumerism have left the Earth covered in garbage and rendered toxic to life.
Instead, humankind now dwells on massive spaceliners, commissioned by the very mass-consumption-based companies that helped create the mess on planet Earth.
WALL-E (voiced, as it were, by Ben Burtt) is the last of thousands of robots left behind on Earth to clean up the mess. He spends his days compacting refuse into cubes, and building massive piles out of them.
EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight) was sent back to Earth to determine if it's safe to inhabit.
There's only one problem. The Axiom's co-pilot, AUTO (voiced synthetically with computer software), is under orders never to allow the ship to return to Earth and re-colonize, no matter the efforts of the ship's Captain (Jeff Garlin).
And the humans on board the Axiom desperately need to return to Earth. Presumably among the wealthiest and most prominant humans of their time -- after all, travelling into space for an indefinite period is an awfully expensive proposition -- the inhabitants of the Axiom represent not the self-sufficient and enterprising superman Rand imagines, but rather the aimless and sluggish masses they abandon.
Carried about on hover beds, the utopia created for these most wealthy and prominent of humanity has instead enslaved them, and transformed them into something unrecognizable even by the standard of today's epidemic obesity.
WALL-E and Eve ultimately become supporting players in the struggle between the Captain and AUTO. Eve was designed to ensure that evidence of Earth's inhabitability leads to a return to re-colonize Earth.
AUTO, acting in the role of the inflexible bureaucrat -- the foot soldier of progressive visions of utopia -- is determined to prevent her from accomplishing this mission. Orders, after all, are orders, and AUTO is under orders that are more than 700 years old.
In the end, WALL-E presents the Captain -- and the humanity he represents -- with a choice. On one hand they can reclaim their lost humanity, and forsake what seems to be guaranteed survival for the opportunity to, on the other hand, truly live with no such guarantees.
The notion of guaranteed survival in a world rendered perfect -- or at least as close to perfect as its creator can imagine -- is central to utopia.
Conservatives, on the other hand, must understand that reality is never guaranteed. Nor is the answer to simply abandon a world plagued by troubles in favour of building anew.
In the end, WALL-E -- a tool designed in a failed effort to clean up that mess -- becomes instrumental in helping reintroduce humankind to its humanity, even though he often seems as if he's simply being drug along for the ride.
Conservatism is just fine without a vision of utopia. IN fact, political ideologies that rely on utopian thought for their survival are all the poorer for it.