A Premonition from Wall-E

“You cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine.”

The beauty of Pixar movies is that they are not only for children to enjoy but adults as well. Many Pixar movies from Toy Story to Finding Nemo to The Incredibles carry important lessons regarding how to be caring, how to look out for one another, and how to stand up to injustice. Children enjoy the characters and the visuals while adults enjoy the lessons behind the main storyline. We understand how it can be painful to give up childhood toys in ‘Toy Story’, we understand the value of a new friendship earned as in ‘Finding Nemo’, and we deeply get the humdrum of the 9 to 5 day job that’s unfulfilling, but you need the money to survive or to feed a family as in ‘The Incredibles.’

The most powerful example of Pixar bringing adult anxiety and familiarity to life would be in its central ‘premonition’ in their hit film, Wall-E. What the movie ‘Wall-E’, released back in 2008, did was essentially predict where we are heading in 2021 potentially and where we could be by mid-century even though the movie is set in another eight centuries in the 2900s. The central ‘premonition’ or prediction that the film Wall-E makes is about the state of our beloved Planet Earth in the far future although that future in 2021 seems a lot closer to our collective reality than it was even thought of back in 2008. In the Pixar film, the Earth has become a garbage-strewn, hopelessly polluted planet with corporate greed, blatant consumerism, and environmental collapse being the norm rather than the exception. On top of all that, there are robots who do 99% of the labor that humans used to do.

In a particular scene that has stuck with me over the past decade is the sight of exceedingly overweight people in electric motor-scooters being hypnotized by their screens, totally oblivious to the environmental damage and neon advertising signs now in their periphery. In this bleak vision of the future, humans have let themselves go while robots have picked up the slack. Robots steer the ships through space and like Wall-E, they are forced to find a planet for recolonization that can suit humans now that the Earth has become an open-air garbage dump. Poor Wall-E.

Although you could say that this vision is a bit nonsensical in that everyone on Earth has become hopelessly dependent on robots, screens, and consumer goods to make it through the day, you cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine. 

While the film does not mention how did the Earth get so polluted where it’s become inundated with garbage everywhere or how did humans get so overweight, you can tell the writers were using a possible worst outcome scenario if we don’t try to look after ourselves better and to look after the planet that we love. ‘Wall-E’ takes the dystopian vision of the future to the extreme, but I would say that they are trying to take us to the worst-case scenario to make it clear how bad things could still get if we don’t start cleaning up our own act.

In 2021, who could argue with the fact that there are some sadly overweight people who cannot get around without motorized scooters, the fact that there are certain people who interact more with screens than other human beings, and that the fact that there are certain areas of the planet that have ceased to be livable because they are indeed open-air garbage dumps. The brilliance of a premonition is that it is essentially one vision of the future, and it does not necessarily mean that it will come true. This premonition of the movie Wall-E is not just a dystopian vision but a warning to humanity. Even back in 2008, we were warned that if we don’t start taking care of ourselves and the planet, life as we know it in the future will be worse. To those of you reading this article who would say, “It’s just a Pixar movie and is just fiction! Why should we take a fictional Pixar movie seriously?”

To that critique, I would say that there is often truth found in fiction and just because it’s not a true story and is an animated movie does not mean we should not take the film’s central message seriously. If you see the entire film, the average viewer should realize the main message of Wall-E is to always take responsibility for one’s actions because if one person doesn’t in terms of neglecting their health, their lack of care for others and the planet, and to obsessed with the latest technology, that one person’s behavior causes ripples throughout society causing life for everyone to get progressively worse.

The first part of the premonition where we can change our actions so that this warning does not come true is to stay active, eat healthy, and exercise. To end up like a person who is carried around on a motor scooter and can’t even walk around or push buttons anymore is no good way to go through life. Many people today live sedentary lifestyles and are less physically engaged than previous generations. Each person really must work at it to stay physically active if their work or lifestyle does not encourage it. Hopefully, Wall-E encourages more people to take the initiative to take their health seriously because being tied to technology, to consumer goods, and to the latest food fad can end up causing this part of the premonition to become a reality for more and more individuals.

The second part of the premonition where we can change our actions to stop this premonition is to lessen our addiction to technology. Screens are inevitably part of our present and our future, but we must continue to monitor our screen usage, encourage reading and other activities that are not done on screens, and to be able to take a day or more away from screens from time to time. In Wall-E, the people being carted around were staring at their screens continuously like zombies without being aware of the outside world. They didn’t even pay attention to Wall-E when he zips on by and he’s a living robot! I’m sure each of you reading this article has your own story of seeing someone on their phone as they walk across the street not aware of cars driving by or of someone else driving a car and staring at their phone screen rather than paying attention to what’s ahead of them on the road. Technology can help our lives out in many ways, but it is addictive, it is invasive, and it also can cause us to make deadly mistakes. Wall-E clearly warned us back in 2008 about the setbacks of being addicted to our screens.

The last part of the premonition that is most worrisome not just for individuals or for society but for the entire planet. Rampant pollution, poor air quality, lack of trees and vegetation are the main planetary problems highlighted by Wall-E. While the movie doesn’t cover how Earth became uninhabitable, it lays the blame squarely on human beings and our lack of care for the environment. The planet as depicted is filled with garbage, essentially having become an open-air landfill. Because of the Earth being ruined, Robots have must help humans find a new home but there is an underlying message there that how can we not ruin another planet when the Earth was not taken care of? When you can no longer breathe the air or drink the water, what good would a new planet do if the same mistakes are to be made? The environmental impact we are having on our planet has been known for decades and it was made known to the audience in Wall-E back in 2008 but it’s now getting late into 2021 and sadly, it seems as if environmental damage and climate change is getting worse, having greater impacts, and causing us to look more seriously at the fact that the planet might not be habitable for future generations to come.

When you look at Wall-E, you see an animated robot who is both goofy yet cares enough in trying to save Earth, which is seemingly past the point of no return in the movie. I hope we never get to the point in the far future when robots care more about the planet than we do to save it. Wall-E’s central premonition has come true in some aspects of life, but we do still have enough to change ourselves, our society, and our planet so that the premonition does not become a reality. There is indeed truth in fiction and Wall-E is an excellent film that shows us how if we don’t pay attention to the warnings laid out before us, we will make the same mistakes as the human characters do in Wall-E.

On Hierarchy

“For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.”

Hierarchy is one unavoidable aspect of modern life that can be difficult not to clash with from time to time. The bigger the group is, the more necessary a hierarchy is in order to ensure order and compliance. For most of human history especially in the hunter-gatherer period of our ancient ancestors, there were no formal hierarchies as people usually lived, ate, and communed in small groups where decisions could be made collectively and were objections or differing opinions were more easily able to be heard.

If you have a group of 10 or even up to 100, which is what human beings are able to hold in their memories in terms of remembering names, faces, and details about each person, such small-scale organization did not have a need for a strict hierarchy where one person was in charge of making all of the decisions or whose voice mattered more than others. On the contrary, consensus involved discussion, debate, and a common conclusion at the end of the meeting or congregation. If enough people did not agree with the decisions or the direction of the group, they would often create their own group and go their own way.

These small groups dominated for a long time in human history, but their longevity in terms of collective group decision-making was upended by the agricultural age and when people stopped roaming around the planet. Instead of being hunter-gatherers, the majority of humanity shifted to being settlers and farmers establishing larger and larger groups to form a collective society or nation where you would not know everyone in your group because that group was no longer autonomous. Agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial societies are made up of thousands or millions of people usually brought together under one flag, one state, or one nation.

While this civilizational approach has outlasted our ancient past as hunter-gatherers, our inherent need to be part of a group, to be valued, and to have purpose within that group has not gone away. These small groups had a measure of equality to them with everyone having a key purpose and having a voice regarding what issues or opportunities had come up. In a larger society, cooperation is harder to come by, inequalities can be maximized, and hierarchies are much more common due to the need to instill order and discipline among people of that society even when they feel like they are being disadvantaged in some way.

Hierarchies are not necessarily natural to us as human beings given our origins and our way of life that lasted for thousands of years but to me and others, it was a necessity in order to organize a large-scale society of thousands or millions of people. Hierarchy is not necessarily a bad system, but it can be abused by those who have power who are not held accountable for their actions or who cannot be removed from their leadership role if they do not serve the society’s interests and needs. The fight for democratic governance, for basic human rights, and for equal opportunities in a society; those values are not guaranteed especially when we organize around a hierarchy and give people power over others.

Whether it is the President of a country or the CEO of a company, a hierarchy has to be kept in check and when that leader or ruler is not making wise decisions for the people he serves in that role, there has to be a way to remove someone from that role in the hierarchy. While hierarchies are necessary in our modern world, there have to be ways for those who are subordinate to voice themselves and their views without fears of reprisal or retribution for speaking out.

To ‘speak truth to power’ throughout history has been the exception rather than the norm but for those who did it even when there were financial or personal risks involved, the larger society benefited from the actions of those people who did not remain silenced but spoke out. If a leader is committing injustices, if a manager is doing something illegal, or if a principal is abusing their power, they have to be held accountable and removed from their position especially the higher up in the overall hierarchy that they are placed.

By raising our collective voices, abuses, inequalities, and injustices can be minimized as much as possible if there are democratic safeguards created to prevent a hierarchical order from being abused. There will be those leaders who do right by their subordinates and who make their hierarchy more democratic but in case that does not occur, laws and institutions have to be able to hold those at the top of their hierarchies in check.

Whether it’s’ allowing a few of your employees at a company to have voting rights on the company’s board of directors or making them shareholders or part-owners of the company, these are a few ways to make hierarchies more responsive and fairer. By establishing term limits for those who run for public office and prevent them from being in that office for the rest of their lives so that they aren’t able to have power for thirty or forty years straight is another concrete way to control a hierarchy by allowing others to take charge. When a President or Prime Minister does something illegal or cruel, that hierarchy is not absolute, and they can be removed from office or even be charged with a crime so that people in the society will know that they are not above the law.

It’s not that hierarchies are inherently bad or negative, but they must be actively controlled and made more democratic by those who participate in them. The people who are subordinate to others within a hierarchy should be able to freely voice their opinion, concerns, or dissent when they disagree with their leader. A good leader should take into consideration those stakeholders or constituents who they are responsible for governing over and they should not prevent people from expressing their dismay or disappointment because a good leader will admit when they make a mistake and try to do better for the people under him or her.

The notion of a hierarchy having been around for all of human history is a fallacy and while it is not an ideal way to form a group with one person having power over others by claiming it, it is the only way to organize large-scale societies and nations. However, hierarchies that are successful are responsible to the needs of the people living in them, who want to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal for having done so, and to be able to vote, change, or amend the leadership from time to time so that the hierarchy does not become above the people but rather part of them in a democratic system.

While hierarchy has to be respected, it should not be absolute, and it must be as democratic as possible. A hierarchy that is unequal, unresponsive, and meant to be permanent will ultimately fail because that kind of hierarchy will lose favor with the people under it and will eventually be replaced with something better. If you find yourself under a hierarchical system that you find stifling and demeaning, don’t stick around and support it. Find your own group or place in the world where you can have a voice that is listened to, where decisions can be made as a small group if possible, and where an absolute hierarchy is unheard of and frowned upon.