The Conversation

Okay, maybe I WILL have to see this LEGO movie to break the philosophy deadlock

In response to The LEGO Movie Has a Progressive Streak:

I never thought I'd be picking apart the philosophical underpinnings of a movie about toy blocks, but considering your response alongside what Mollie wrote, I've just got to settle it for myself.  And here I was, hoping it would be the "Atlas Shrugged" of toy commercials.  

Even sight unseen, I can give the filmmakers some credit for making it something deeper than just a toy commercial.  I hate to beat up on modern LEGO too much, for fear of lapsing into fuddy-duddyism... but, by gum, when I was a kid, LEGO didn't look like anything outside of your mind's eye.  You did the best you could with about five different rectangular blocks in two colors, red and white.  One day, knowing of my love for the toy, my parents got me a bucket that included some blue blocks.  Mind.  Blown.

A movie about these things is fertile ground for a discourse on creativity and individuality.  The parts of that discourse pitched at adult viewers will sail right past kids who just want to run home and play with LEGO Batman, so clever screenwriters will make it work on multiple levels.  At the basic level, kids can appreciate a story about unleashing creativity and resisting conformity.  Adults may wonder where the power to enforce conformity comes from.  Hint: it's not evil corporations.

That's an interesting point about the corporate-government fusion common to so many fantasy dystopias (and all over the freaking place in the real dystopia taking shape outside our windows.)  I've always thought the world of speculative fiction inherited much of this from H.G. Wells, who was an early prophet of centrally-planned utopia, in which the wise and brilliant would use compulsive force to build a better world.  Throughout the 20th century, we saw more of the "evil corporations taking over the world" trope in sci-fi.  The point lost on all the eager socialist consumers of these visions is that when corporations become the government, it's the "government" part that makes them dangerous.

(The "Alien" universe you mentioned is an interesting case, because the original movie doesn't really say anything about the evil corporation running the government; it's one more component of the paranoid atmosphere surrounding our doomed crewmembers, but there's no reason to suspect the evil company wouldn't get in a great deal of trouble with the authorities for what it has done.  That's why they diverted a space truck crewed by blue-collar working stiff astronauts with an android ringer in their midst, isn't it?  If the evil company ran the government, why wouldn't it send a better-prepared military ship to investigate the Distress Signal of Doom?)

We rely upon lawful government to impartially enforce laws that protect our economic liberty.  When the government becomes a player in the game, it drops that referee whistle.  The abuses envisioned by these dystopian Evil, Inc. fantasies require compulsive force to execute, just as in the real world of the modern era, Big Business is an eager consumer of the anti-competitive force Big Government sells.  I know many people object to the term "crony capitalism" because it's not capitalism.  The "crony" part entirely neutralizes the free and fair competition integral to capitalism, resulting in something that bears only a superficial outward resemblance to the capitalist ideal... and it mostly keeps that vestigial capitalism around to use as a hate fetish when its plans fail.

Pretty big stuff to explain to kids, of course, but maybe we ought to start sooner than we usually do, so they can be armored against a culture that teaches absolute submission to enlightened activist leadership.  Perhaps a good place to start would be explaining why "President Business" wouldn't be much of a threat if he was just "Mr. Business."  Or maybe just tell the kids how LEGO blocks are created and sold.


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