Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Social Contract of My Little Pony

Disclaimer: I've been through two courses of antibiotics over the last 2 weeks (ongoing) to fight a very painful and stubborn bacterial infection. I am (I think) of sound mind when I write this, but for anyone used to the crazed, blood-drenched rants of this Jack Bauer blogger, sit back and consider this a new side of my personality.  

Anyway, I've been out sick from work and I've had a lot of time to think about things- heck with all the computer tablets, laptops, TVs, etc. floating around my place, I can't be in a room without a computer if I tried. Information seeps through the walls and I realized most of it is poisonous and depressing. So, I've decided to take a vacation from "the news" and spend more time thinking about more positive material. Why fret over what the State Department is going to do about Syria when all my worrying in the past made no difference whatsoever?
My mind and soul longed for something positive but also reassuring in its form and message. And that was when I found "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" on the HUB Network.  I don't care where this show came from, what it's designed to sell or if there's even a general point to the whole deal. I have come away from watching this show KNOWING what changes I want to see in the real world, thanks to these chatty little equines.

The key word with these ponies is "Friendship." All decisions are made taking into account the interests of their friends. Adam, you say, this sounds like communism- just throwing away all individual concerns to satisfy the larger group. No, this isn't communism, which I think I've made clear is not allowed under my roof. This is social and civic responsibility in action. The ponies are active in helping solve individual ponies' problems. And guess what- most of the time the ponies get it wrong. That's certainly not a ringing endorsement for social engineering through a centralized power! Of course that concern isn't even relevant here- no, My Little Ponies is more likely based on the social contract in John F. Kennedy's New Frontier- ask not what these ponies can do for you but what you can do for these fellow ponies. 

In fact, the government where the ponies life in Equestria, is run by a monarch named Princess Celestia.  The Princess is a hands-off, decentralized ruler. She makes it her business to stay out of the lives of her citizens. But she does maintain a strong presence as a pony who will keep bad behavior in check and punish anyone caught horsing around too much.

Therefore, ponies are left to solve their own problems- and through this process of inevitable failure turned into success, a lesson is learned and hopefully always remembered. This is exactly what we had to endure through elementary education. We were forced to socialize with a group of peers, determine who we could trust and rely on those kids to help us get through the year. There are dark sides to that forced socialization as well- bullying and other mistreatment, but that too is a learning experience. Work it out, kids. And if you don't work it out, you may find yourself stuck with that issue for far longer than you could imagine.

And then, by the time you reach adulthood, you've also achieved a hardened seclusion from the world. You may be surrounded by people all day long. But when you're 6 that's your whole world, when you're 36, you've got a bevy of other things that occupy your mind. And your existence at work is less meaningful for you and for others. One day, you may leave or get laid off and think "I wonder how this place will run without me?" but oh, don't you worry, it will run just the same. And that's the point- what difference are you really making in the world in that job you've performed for years and years, and sometimes for so many hours a week?  It's not your fault, it's not your job's fault or your co-worker's fault. We just have to realize we live in very contained worlds. And we're also separated from many of those with whom we used to be very close- family and long-time friends grow and move and eventually pass away.  There's not enough "community" in our real lives. And without that connection, you can never make a meaningful impact.

That's where these ponies come into the discussion again.  I've watched a few episodes and I have a generally good grasp on their approach to storytelling at this point. The ponies are all workers- they all fulfill services for the community. 

So, step one: they are participating directly in their community through their economic productivity. Each pony not only has a role, she has value.

Step two: their social connections are fairly focused on a handful of peers. Ponies are not spreading their social time too thinly.

Step three: A simple set of morals govern their behavior. This does two things- 1) it creates a pattern of morally-just norms by which the ponies abide and 2) draws stark disapproval of ponies thought to defy those norms. It's a self-policing social order and it's highly efficient.  I'm telling you, I've see no cops on this show.

Step four: The lesson of forgiveness. This is a big one for the show- not that these ponies are stealing jewels and credit cards from one another, but for the larger notion that forgiveness really means forgiveness.  Holding onto anger or hatred does not fly in Equestria. The ponies gather their hooves and clip-clop to the next problem, not obsessing over the day's shenanigans. If this is what makes a society function fully- and for the larger benefit of the group, maybe there's something to consider more seriously.  Ponies see wisdom in moving on.  I'll think about that more, for certain.

And that's an introduction. There's plenty more to discuss which I'll do when the time is appropriate.


BigEasy said...

Forgiveness as a key to meaningful, impactful life is definitely not a new idea. But it is a good idea.

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