Smallfoot – Objectivism vs. Subjectivism

Smallfoot Several months ago, I watched the movie Smallfoot in the theater, and its message really resonated with me. For a children’s movie, its theme was very philosophically mature — maybe even more mature than most movies made for adults today. Plenty of reviews online say that this movie is ‘cute and funny for children while also being well-made, but unoriginal and kind of forgettable’. I must disagree. Sure, it’s not perfect, but I find this movie extremely original. I believe that Smallfoot tries to reveal a step forward for us as a society that is invisible to many people. This movie exercises a theme that has hardly ever been brought to the big screen in these post-modern times without catering to Christians in the western world – this movie is about searching for the absolute truth.

As I was watching this movie, I sensed that the writer really felt the weight of todays ideological war between objectivists and subjectivists. To clarify what I mean by these two terms, I define objectivists as people who believe in facts over opinions and subjectivists as people who believe in opinions over facts.

As a Christian, I also felt that this story was written by somebody who is moved by the Holy Spirit. After a little bit of research, it turned out that my intuition may not have been far off.

According to Movieguide.org, the script was written by a Christian screenwriter named Clare Sera. In an interview, she expresses her awareness of the dangers of demonizing people who aren’t us, especially because we all sin. She says it best like this: “I’m so tired of us making monsters of each other. Which is the major theme in the movie. I understand it’s an easier narrative to dismiss someone if you think they’re evil, and it’s fun because it makes you all the more righteous! But I’m not God. I don’t know who’s righteous or evil in His sight. I just see every single person falling short of His Glory and that includes me.”

What does demonizing others have to do with objectivism or subjectivism? I will answer this question with another question: Do we rely on our own subjective illusions/opinions about other people, or are we patient enough to learn the complex, objective truth about other people that might reveal that they are less different from us than we originally thought? Sera said, “I understand it’s an easier narrative to dismiss someone if you think they’re evil, and it’s fun because it makes you all the more righteous!” Whenever we dismiss others as being completely evil, we can never be wrong in our own eyes. In the same way, whenever we believe that we can never be wrong, or that we don’t have to change, we can’t prevent ourselves from believing that other people are evil. I see no way of escaping this cycle of cause and effect.

Due to the gradual development of subjectivism over the past few decades this mindset has grown into a monster. If a subjectivist has a negative opinion about another person, they will most likely count their own feelings about that person as being completely valid before taking the time to know him/her. We are seeing this happen whenever people get dismissed or attacked for denying that the patriarchy is a grand conspiracy to hold women down.  I can say that I don’t feel oppressed as a woman, and a subjectivist would be likely to brush it off or call me ‘privileged’ for some other reason.  We are seeing this happen whenever people question the motives of the “Black Lives Matter” movement because this movement has been put on a pedestal without any clear, objective meaning behind it, and without a clear answer to why they regard the statement “It’s Okay to be White” as being a disgrace.  To a subjectivist, the truth is relative even when taking other people into consideration.  If people seem good, they are completely good.  If people seem bad, they are completely bad.  If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.

IT IS A DUCK.png

We all have tendencies towards acting on our own subjective thoughts even if we’re trying to be objective. We see this happen in the movie when Migo (a yeti) assumes that Percy (a human) doesn’t have any language skills because Migo only hears gibberish when Percy talks.  Percy assumes that Migo is a scary monster who wants to eat him when, in fact, he’s just trying to be friendly.  I see this happen whenever people think that I have nothing important to say because of my struggles with face-to-face interactions.  However, I am certain that there have been many times when people were interested in trying to understand the things that I was trying to say, but I didn’t recognize it in the moment. My mind’s view of you is extremely flawed, as is your mind’s view of me.

We live in a time when it seems that the harder we try to connect with others, the more other’s opinions will create a distance between themselves and us. These opinions, or illusions, can be enforced with religions, -isms, and world-views as represented by the machine in the movie (spoilers ahead).

snow covered mountain

We are told at the beginning of the movie that the yetis believe they live on a mountain that sits on the back of mammoths and float on a massive sea of clouds, and that there is nothing underneath the mammoths but darkness. We are also told that they believe the sun is a giant glowing snail in the sky — it doesn’t wake up until a yeti hits a gong.  This job currently belongs to Migo’s dad — a job that’s expected to be inherited by Migo in the near future.

After Migo explores the world underneath the clouds and sees no mammoths or darkness, but instead encounters the truth of human existence, he begins to question everything that he was taught. The Stonekeeper, an elderly yeti who wears the community’s laws on stones like a suit of protective armor, learns about Migo’s discovery of humans, aka small feet.  Out of fear for the community’s future the Stonekeeper reveals their grim history of trying to befriend humans to Migo — He told Migo that a long time ago humans attacked yetis before they got a chance to know them.  Soon after this the Stonekeeper reveals the massive machine that keeps the illusion going – a machine built inside the mountain that creates steam around it to maintain the illusion that they are floating on clouds. As the Stonekeeper is revealing this factory of turning gears and puffing steam to the younger yeti he raps these words:

“Every job and every task as pointless as it seems

all of it ensures that this important machine

keeps turning and turning and spinnin’ around

so those below don’t look up and those above don’t look down

and they’ll look ‘cause even if they hear of these atrocities

the only thing stronger than fear is curiosity.”

What kind of curiosity is the Stonekeeper talking about? Is he speaking about the curious notion that humans may not be purely bad, but instead, nuanced, and curious themselves? Is he referring to the curious thought that history might be more complex than he assumes it is? At the beginning of his rap he says “…we used to live down there but there were actions that we could not forgive down there.” By not being curious himself he seems to be denying that humans can ever be curious, or open-minded about yetis.  A lack of curiosity regarding the objective truth about other people will naturally lead to unforgiveness.

It’s a lack of forgiveness, and a lack of belief in other people – it’s a lack of belief that we can or need to change, and that other people can and should change, that causes us to hang by the thread of subjectivism. It won’t hold. I’m seeing the thread break. Our world is politically polarized right now. This ideological war is subjectivists vs. objectivists.  The subjectivists seem to be leftists, and the objectivists seem to be libertarians (classical liberals) and conservatives.  On one hand, the subjectivists are holding on tightly to their own opinions about other people; on the other hand, the objectivists are Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, and many others who believe in objective truth, all the while watching the train wreck that is happening on the far left. As we watch this train wreck, we notice how a lack of forgiveness over the sins of our ancestors, and a lack of desire for knowing the objective, nuanced, and often messy truth about who we all are as human beings can destroy us.  We do not want to become like the subjectivists. What can we do about this problem? Can we be curious? I believe that the more we allow ourselves to learn about how human nature unites us, the closer we will come to the transcendent truth.