The Lorax, Evolution and the American Corporate Machine

The Lorax is an awesome movie. You should watch it.

Most notable among the themes in this film was its take on the ideology behind the corporate machine that is the cause of all the Truffula Trees being cut down.

One of the main characters in the film, the Once-ler,  started off as a genuine entrepreneur with a novel idea about how to make a product, the Thneed, which ends up being a massive hit among those whom he is marketing to. The catch is that in order to produce the Thneed, the Once-ler needs to cut down the beautiful Truffula Trees, home to a number of little creatures. As demand for his product increases, the destruction of the Truffula Trees becomes a growing issue until the entire forest has been cut down and used for the profit of the Once-ler. Throughout this process the viewer can pick up on the mentality shift of the Once-ler as greed and corruption slowly get a hold of him. The lyrics of the song “How Bad Can I Be”, sung by the Once-ler, showcase this brilliantly:

Well there’s a principle of nature (principle of nature)

That almost every creature knows.

Called survival of the fittest (survival of the fittest)

And check it this is how it goes.

The animal that eats gotta scratch and fight and claw and bite and punch.

And the animal that doesn’t, well the animal that doesn’t winds up someone else’s lu-lu-lu-lu-lunch (munch, munch, munch, munch, munch)

I’m just sayin’.

This leads into the chorus which says:

How bad can I be? I’m just doing what comes naturally.

How bad can I be? I’m just following my destiny.

What stuck out to me was how a particular view of human history was appealed to in order to justify the corporate machine that the Once-ler was creating to make money at the expense of the story-world’s natural resources.

Human’s, according to this account of human history, are a part of an inherently violent system called evolution which is governed by the “survival of the fittest” principle. Basically, the stronger person lives on and the weaker person becomes lunch. This principle is then universalized and applied to social and economic contexts and thus begins to serve as the legitimization of corporate greed and oppression. Businesses, within this narrative, must expand at all costs lest they become “lunch” to another more innovative business.

Eat or be eaten. Sounds like a pretty violent story.

But must evolution be told with a violent slant? Are we really stuck in a system of nature that encourages violence and competition?

The answer is no and Philip Clayton is going to tell you why:

This view of evolution which sees the emergence of complex life forms like humans as the result of cooperation and symbiosis as opposed to violence and competition has huge implications.

For one, it makes the theory of evolution easier to swallow for theists. A grand narrative that has cooperation as it’s central theme is absolutely compatible with belief in a loving God who desires the flourishing of the earth’s creatures.

Moreover, to appeal to the story of evolution as if it legitimated the American corporate machine is no longer acceptable. When corporations expand to the point of causing harm to the poor as well as the earth and its resources–such expansion cannot be said to be the inevitable result of the evolutionary process. This is not “natural” behavior nor is it anyone’s “destiny.”

Violence, rather than being a necessary byproduct of the story we find ourselves in, is an intrusion into God’s good creation.


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