Finding Liberty in WALL-E

The Mises blog published a scathing critique of Wall-E, an animated film about garbage and the future last week. In principle I agree with the critique, I enjoyed it much more before I watched WALL-E though. The film does make a statement about lifestyle, consumption and even obesity, I would hesitate to call it anti-capitalist or anti-liberty though.

It is easy of course to suggest that the definition of capitalism relies on the idea that it breeds corporate monopolies like Buy’n’Large. The trouble is with this sort of association. ‘Free Markets’ are not about single large corporations taking over the world, they are about small competitive enterprises. Anti-trust law is a free-market phenomenon to that extent.

To me the homogeneity aboard the axiom, where everyone wore red or blue, drank the same food and had little time to pursue creativity or innovation was as real an analogy as one could get to Stalinist Communism or Communism in China before they ‘opened up’. The problem with centrally planned States is that they decide (representation does not work for the economy as it does for politics) for the people, centrally planned economies choose prices (leading to disastrous consequences) , decide what needs to be produced and also as history tells us- decide what people’s careers, lives and even homes should look like.

The problem is not ideological- its economics. When people vote for communism, they vote for central planning. Look at Zimbabwe (where people have NOT continued to vote for central planning) where one dictator decided expanded public expenditure was a good thing, printed money and drove up the money supply to inflation rates well past the 1500 % mark. People cannot predict the price of bread in Zimbabwe beyond 1 hour.

WALL-E is also a story about love. It is also about how people and in this case robots always gather together to fight authoritarianism. Certainly its message to ‘return to agriculture’ carries an ‘environmentalism’ tag as did the lovely animated movie ‘Happy Feet’; and neither is very pleasing when you know that most environmentalists lie about virgin forests, global warming, bio-fuels and waste!

However I think one could find liberty in WALL-E. What could be more libertarian than a fight for choice, a fight against authority (or authoritative robots)? What could be more libertarian than love?  On balance I think its better to spend an afternoon watching beautiful animation which teaches children to defy authority than to quibble about a film’s political message- when all it takes to change minds on most issues, is a wee-bit of research.

Dance away

One of the things I will always regret is not continuing to dance. As a child (as in most South Indian households, though mine doesn’t strictly qualify as one) both my sister and I went through the motions of learning Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music and so on… I remember the pangs of jealousy when my sister got to perform on stage before I did with a whole bunch of acclaimed dancers.
One of my cousins too is a qualified dancer now. Over the years I attempted to keep up dancing and singing and even playing an instrument but somehow never managed to get around to a sufficient level of expertise. So here I am someone with a sense of rhythm and well… that is about it, really.
There’s definitely something I love about Indian Classical dance forms though. Maybe it’s the fact that they manage to combine theatre and dance so exquisitely together. Or perhaps I find the movements, the beats and the feeling overpowering.

This verse by Tirumular sums it up nicely:

“We bow to Him the benevolent One
Whose limbs are the worlds,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language,
Whose costume is the moon and the stars…”
“The dancing foot, the sound of the tinkling bells,
The songs that are sung, and the various steps,
The forms assumed by our Master as He dances,
Discover these in your own heart,
So shall your bonds be broken.”

The beauty of it is that dance is a means of communication. This makes them the dance of the mind, the soul, the being and the universe at the same time. Few things possess such a quality all at the same time. Its all about bliss and harmony… central to all that governs the Aesthetic tradition in India, the Rasa theory in fact. One could argue that there is little innovation (as Dr. Rekha Jhanji does) in Indian art, strangely though it takes nothing away from the sensuous quality of Indian dance. Due in part to the fact that the Indian aesthetic tradition was never really about the artist as much as it is about the form and meaning of what it seeks to depict.