Perhaps some quotes from two Pixar films will help explain my ‘position.’ The first is a pivotal scene from “A Bug’s Life”, in which the leader of the bad guys (bad grasshoppers, actually), Hopper, gives a motivational talk to his troops, who kinda sorta wanna chill, quaff beer, and pork out on snacks in the delicious Mexican sun, not go out of their way to Do The Right Thing and quash an ‘upstart’ member of the ant colony they tyrannize to sustain their way of life.
Hopper: But, there was that ant that stood up to me...I’m not interesting in discussing the 99% analogies that leap off the page here. I'm getting at something else. In my mind the grasshopper character “Hopper” is named after Dennis Hopper, an actor gifted at playing spooky bad guys. I mention this because it links us to a film which presents free riding ‘cool’ dudes in a very different light; “Easy Rider”. In “A Bug’s Life”, it is, in a sense, the bourgeois collective (the ants) who are the Good Guys, while the free riding fun lovers are assigned the antagonist’s role. In “Easy Rider” it is the other way around; the bourgeois collective must be rebelled against, escaped, as its cloying grasp limits freedom and smothers creativity. Furthermore, I can easily imagine a Pixar cartoon in which ants were characterless, rapacious drones, and grasshoppers sensitive, musical troubadours with poet souls yearning to create their most beautiful songs. ‘Evil’ is that which challenges us to leave our comfort zone behind, to move ‘beyond’ our current state to something ‘higher’ or ‘wiser.’ Evil is not intrinsic to one mode of life or another. Antagonism is inevitable in a reality which is complex and multifaceted. How we deal with antagonism is, in a limited way, up to us. ‘Evil’ creates the space in which progress can happen.
Thug 1: Yeah, but we can forget about him!
Thug 2: Yeah ... it was just one ant.
Hopper: You’re right! It’s just one ant.
Thug 2: Yeah, boss! They’re puny!
Hopper: Puny? Say, let’s say this grain is a puny little ant. [Pulls a seed-grain from a jerry-rigged liquor bottle behind the ‘bar’ and throws it at Thug 2. Grain bounces harmlessly off grasshopper’s exoskeleton.] Did that hurt?
Thug 2: Nope.
Hopper: [Takes another grain from the bottle.] How ‘bout this one. [Throws grain at Thug 1.]
Thug 1: Are you kiddin’! [Chorus of thugs laughs uproariously.]
Hopper: How about THIS! [Rips ‘grain dispenser’ from the bottleneck to let thousands of grains flood out, overwhelming the assembled thugs.] You let one ant stand up to us, then they all might stand up. Those puny little ants outnumber us a hundred to one! And if they ever figure that out, there goes our way of life! It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line. That’s why we’re going back! Does anybody else wanna stay? [Entire group dutifully ‘activates’ its wings as one, ready to ride off and do their duty.]
The next scene comes from “Ratatouille”, one of my favourite films. In this scene the pragmatic Rat Dad tries to show his idealistic son (Remy) the harsh realities of rat life. Dad takes son to see a store selling traps and poisons for killing rodents. The window display is gruesome for a rat; tens of dead rats hanging by their necks from various implements of death.
Dad: We’re here. [ It’s dark, but two flashes of lightning illuminate the rat corpses.] Take a good, long look, Remy. This is what happens when a rat gets a little too comfortable around humans. The world we live in belongs to the enemy. We must live carefully. We look out for our own kind, Remy! When all is said and done, we’re all we’ve got. [Walks off, thinking the lesson is over. Remy stays put.]“Ratatouille” is a better and subtler film than “A Bug’s Life” (in my opinion). It’s as if the two films represent two statements on the same problem, the earlier film taking a standard position (the ‘bad’ guy is defeated), whereas in “Ratatouille” the threat is transformed into a creative partnership. The later film deftly wields multiple antagonists, but the main ‘bad’ guy literally becomes the hero’s business partner. (I hope that’s not giving away too much for those who have not seen this wonderful film.) And for me this is what antagonism (‘evil’) is about; change. We either manage change creatively, or we don’t (though I’m loathe to present a binary!). And of course when we manage change creatively, we set up some ‘better’ situation which itself is antagonistic to some other system. A life without challenge cannot create anything new, cannot evolve. And in that melee, we each perceive (experience) comfort and discomfort, pleasure and pain, in greatly varying degrees.
Remy: No! Dad, I don’t believe it. You’re telling me that the future is ... can only be, more of THIS!? [Points at rat corpses.]
Dad: This is the way things are. You can’t change nature.
Remy: Change is nature, Dad! The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.
I am on holiday in Italy with my own family of four, my sister-in-law’s family, and my parents-in-law. Aside from my good self, everyone here loves Christmas, loves the toys, the gifts, the abundance, the drinking, the hedonism and indulgence. Lip-service is paid to ‘being together,’ but every day is about consumption, shopping, spending. And if not that, watching TV. The young ones play computer games. On (what is for me) the plus side, there’s been a fair bit of scrabble, and my elder daughter’s gifts were her own creations for the main part. One was even a piano piece she discovered online and learned with great self-discipline, then played to her aunt. And it is here my duality is highly visible to me (and you I’m sure). At Econosophy I write about deep societal change, less is more, transition to a resource-based economy. Here in Mirano I mention no such thing, stand on no soap box, seize no opportunity to berate my fellow revelers for their ‘mindless’ consumption. I am middle class, so would not enjoy the subsequent tensions, but deeper than that I realize we all walk different paths. There is no such thing as equality, except in the abstract world of mathematics and scientific measurement. There is no pure, clean path we must tread as one, loyally follow to reach one single destination, a city shining on a high hill, best for all, the best that humanity can achieve. Though I am romantic and idealistic, I know deeply such visions are exactly as ‘evil’ and divisive as that which I see as ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ in the world ‘out there.’ There is not one tune we should march in lockstep to which can possibly be good. Mess is beauty. Mess is mucky. Celebrate that.
And my duality (or hypocrisy) runs deeper than that rendering. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with enjoying Christmas in all its consumerist glory, with singing the Santa Claus-Coca Cola, Good Child-Bad Child song; with playing along with the ‘crowd,’ going with the flow. We are all of us socialized by the ongoing dance of our biology and the events we pass through. For thousands of reasons I become what I become, perceive as I perceive, desire, fear, hope as Toby Russell does. Pride of ‘accomplishment’ is misplaced, totally egotistical. I am the flow of my life, as are you of yours. That I go ‘against’ the mainstream is neither here nor there. If doom-based predictions are right, if our ‘greed’ were to cause civilizational collapse, would that be more or less ‘evil’ than a meteor wiping out life on earth? Or the sun exploding?
And yet none of this moral relativism detracts from my passion to fight for what I see as a ‘better’ system. I still love humanity, life on earth, Universe. Such feelings are expressions of what I am becoming, but have next to nothing to do with what I can ‘control.’ What these tendrils binding me to the mainstream do is humble me. Though I get angry at injustice and short sighted profligacy, perfection is not only an impossibility, striving for it is almost cruel. While I do not want short sighted profligacy to wipe us out, it is not because such would be ‘evil,’ but simply because I do not want that outcome. Fighting for what I want does not mean accusing others of being less Good than I am oh so nobly struggling to be. Such is not only counter-productive, it is short sighted. No one can be handed wisdom by me (however well written or reasoned); there exists no finished ‘wisdom’ that can be handed over. Each of us develops our own, unique wisdom; art is communicating it, sharing it. I would go so far as to say that is what living is, for amoebas, coral reefs, forests, herrings, hedgehogs and humans alike. And all together as Universe too, for life is not a separate or alien phenomenon, weirdly and inexplicably around for a moment until the ‘natural’ pitilessness of Universe can carry on as it was before. Life is as inextricably Universe as ‘barren’ rock drifting the depths of space, or as nuclear forces. And I say that knowing we do not yet understand anything, life most of all perhaps, not to mention time and gravity. So while I do get angry, and shout at Those Idiots, such does not help that fight which has chosen me; it just gets in the way, slows me down.
We are our own worst enemies. But without that defect, could we do anything at all? What would we be without our ‘enemy’ within? And thus, in my round-about way, I get to thank you, dear readers, for keeping me grounded, challenging me, offering me your wisdom in your art, and helping me change creatively, even if it hurts sometimes. And thank you too to those who don’t resonate with my art, who walk very different paths. Whatever we do choose and create, we’re in this together, in ways both great and small, intimate and remote. We would wither to dried flotsam were antagonism not in our midst. We get to try and enjoy it while it lasts.
Peace, pain, change and a good life to all!