Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meet the Robinsons - The Disconnect of Cause and Effect

Wilbur, a child of the late 21st century, raised in an eclectic, creative, and tolerant family, leaves the garage unlocked resulting in one of his father's time machines being stolen by a nefarious character.  Wilbur, fearing parental repercussions, sets off on a time traveling journey to set history straight before Dad gets home.

This is an adorable premise for a fun family film.  It is unfortunate however, that this premise is loaded with a brain melting paradox from its inception.  A paradox that if resolved in the script, would result in no movie plot at all.  The problem is not that the family has two time machines. (I mean really, how many do you need?)  No, the sad truth, is that this child can not exist.  This child is out of place in time and this purposeful displacement shadows a great mental plague in our modern thinking.

As I have discussed previously, our current primary and secondary education system is completely founded on "state" based education.  [State based education being the focus on fixed questions with fixed answers.]  The opposite of the state methodology is "systems" based understanding.  When understanding the world with systems, we quickly see the how things are constantly in flux.  Things grow and change with inputs, inter-reactions, and outputs.  These complex systems are identifiable, predictable, and follow principals and laws which we can conceptualize.

The film's great "bomb in the brain" premise is that Wilbur feels anxiety and fear about his father's reaction to his not locking the garage.  I sympathize with Wilbur's stated feelings, and I bet you do as well.  Almost all children feel anxiety relating to the predicted reactions of their parents upon discovering that a rule has been broken or a mistake has been made especially when it directly effects the interests of the parent.

See the paradox yet? If not, I won't give it away for you quite yet.

Let's look at Wilbur's family in greater detail.  An extended (and hilarious) sequence in the movie introduces each of Wilbur's family members while giving the audience an overview of the family's dynamics and shared values.  The family values: creativity, tolerance,  independence, humor, rationality, the questioning of assumptions, and peaceful parenting.  Later in the movie, we learn that the wild success of the family patriarch (Wilbur's dad) had in changing the world, was based on his persistance, open mind, and and level headed consideration in the face of emotionally turbulent experiences.

Let's look back at Wilbur's seemly reasonable prediction regarding how his did will treat him when he finds out the garage was left unlocked.  Wilbur describes the reactions in terms of, "I'm dead meat" and, "I'll be dirt when they are through with me."  Compare this language to the description of the family and father noted above.  See the bomb now?  Wilbur is not predicting what his parents would do to him; he is predicting what most of today's parents would do to their children.  In having the child of a future utopian family hold the emotions of children of today in non-utopian families is not an innocent error.

We absolutely know this paradox was put into the movie explicitly.  The film was produced by hundreds of individuals over tens of thousands of hours.  It was test screened to death, and was gutted and rewrote during The Walt Disney Company's purchase of Pixar Animation Studios.  An error of logic that big does not remain in a film under that much scrutiny unless it is purposeful.

Wilbur had no precedent for believing his parents would respond irrationally to his minor mistake.  A rational mind such as his father would already know that all people make absent minded mistakes and would predict this one.  A rational mind would not leave time machines in a garage with no security safeguards such that a 13 year old's error could alter the entire space time continuum.  An empathetic, caring mind, would not then even hint that the loss of the vehicle was at all the fault of the underage child who was not responsible for the construction nor the securing of that vehicle.

Why does the movie plot ignore the systematic understanding which shows that children's emotions, with regards to their parental relationships, are based solely on how they have been treated by their parents as they develop?  Why does the movie put forth the false premise that children naturally have irrational fears of their parents reactions?  Why does the film present that children simply are?  Children exist as mere instances, as mere states.  Parental behavior has no effect on how they perceive and respond to their world.

It is a comforting premise though, isn't it?  Comforting for parents of today who see that even the perfect utopian family has a child who fears his mom and dad.  They have a child who does not believe he can be honest and open in discussing his fears, actions, and perceptions of his world.  A child that believes truth is a dangerous commodity, which must be bottled, rationed, and handled with lead oven mitts for fear of it spilling would cause disastrous consequences.

For the children of today, this film shows them that all children, regardless of the quality or values of their parents, inevitably fear the consequences of errors or disobedience.  The resulting storm of parental resentment, humiliation, and control, is a force of nature which is independent of the individual parents involved.  In this way, the bad irrational behavior of their parents is shown to be something innate in parenting itself.  It effectively allows children to let their parents off the hook for their less than virtuous responses.

While this bomb in the brain paradox, disconnecting cause from effect and people from their actions, may be comforting,  it is also brutally destructive.  By portraying irrational parenting as an unavoidable normality, we doom the cycle of fear and control to roll onward.  By holding that the virtue of the parents has no effect at all on the thoughts and perceptions of children, we allow a moral loop hole for bad parents to slip out of the net of universal morality.

I invite you to do a Google search on the terms: Peaceful Parenting, Unschooling , and Non-Violent Communication, to access resources on respectful and consistent parenting techniques.

I also highly recommend this Family System's Therapist's YouTube video series which can offer you a framework for logically understanding you own past and present family interactions:


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