It was the highlight of the Oscars: Auli’i Carvalho singing the hit song from Disney’s Moana. She performed with poise, power, and even perfection, showing a maturity beyond her 16 years. The quality of her voice seems perfect for this song, which is certainly the anthem of the hour, comparable only to the Frozen anthem from Disney’s last smash hit.
The performance was wonderful and the music compelling but there is another reason why this song has become such a major hit: it is about a girl stuck in a central plan who can’t shake off the desire to follow her dreams and discover new things.
It’s a desire that burns in all of us, especially in these times of government management in so many areas of life and the social and economic order. The push to rebel, to shake off the plan, to go your own way, to disrupt the system that is planned for us, to find that individual value within that can make the world better, abides in all of us.
Hollywood, Listen Up
It even lives in that room filled with Hollywood stars whose political outlook represents the polar opposite of this song. These people who gathered there owe it to themselves to listen more carefully to Moana’s song to understand why the free economy, unencumbered by State control, unleashes the creativity within. If they took the text seriously, they would be less excited to lend their voices in support of the social-democratic statist project of which they are such predictable partisans.
As Moana sings, we live in a world where “everything is by design.” We feel the need to do what we are told, to take on the role that is expected of us. We are not to expect progress beyond the lot into which we are born.
Moana, destined to be the leader of the island as the successor to her father, has been told a thousand times since birth that this is what she must do. But she just can’t shake the sense that there is something else out there that is calling her, something else she might be destined to do.
Maybe you have experienced this: that sense that your future is set for you, by family design, by birth, by circumstance of time and place. Then one day, an idea appears in your mind, like a match that has suddenly been struck. You can do something else. You can go your own way. You can forge a new path. Your next thought is fear: what if you don’t get support, what if you fail, what if you make a fool out of yourself? It can all happen. But you still must act. Something is burning inside of you and you can’t make it go away.
You Must Have Freedom
For the overwhelming swath of human history, there were very few ways to act on this feeling. The notion of progress in one generation, of one person’s ascending or progressing or gaining wealth or going his or her own way, was simply not possible. The demands posed by the need to secure our lives, feed ourselves, and do our duty to the community were too strong.
These chains of expectation, security, and destiny defined most of human history until the gradual dawn of the capitalistic age in the latter part of the Middle Ages, when feudal structures began to weaken, cities began to bustle, average people began to earn and spend real money, and a middle class began to form. Opportunity for the average person was born.
This was the European experience. What’s wonderful about “Moana,” a story about Pacific island native peoples and their search for food and security in some unspecified past time, is that it reveals how the desire for progress and improved lives is a universal feeling. The desire to achieve and break away from a static world burns within the human soul.
Change Inspires Action
On Moana’s island, the community has learned to feed itself through strict assignment of roles. As an earlier song in the movies explains: “We share everything we make.” There are basketweavers, fishermen, specialists in maintaining boats for fishing, and so on. All they need is a chief to coordinate everything.
Moana was next in line for that role.
The system works fine so long as it never changes. The population needs to stay as it is. The food supply must not become unreliable. In other words, such a society can be functional only so long as it never seeks progress and doesn’t encounter the need to adapt to changed conditions.
Eventually in the story of Moana, such a change does occur. The food runs out. This inspires her finally to act on her dream. But notice that the dream of making a change was always in her heart, even when the plan and the tradition was working. She still longed to do something that was her own achievement and the realization of her own individual volition.
The best explanatory verses are as follows:
I know, everybody on this island seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know, everybody on this island has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I'll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?
See the light as it shines on the sea it's blinding
But no one knows, how deep it goes
And it seems like it's calling out to me, so come find me
And let me know, what's beyond that line, will I cross that line?
See the line where the sky meets the sea it calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know, how far I'll go
The drama of the movie is about the outrageous risks she takes, the skills she acquires as she undertakes her quest, the character she builds within to withstand threats and unexpected foes, and how she is eventually rewarded for going outside the plan.
We Are All Moana
It’s a beautiful story, one that touches us deeply, and all the more so because of the social and economic problems the young generation faces today. They are stuck in school and told to comply. Their only role is to know what is already known, and march through the steps that have been pre-planned for them.
Some rebel early. Others walk the walk but, as they reach the end, grow increasingly fearful that the plan isn’t really going to work. They know others who have gone the full route, ending up with the reward of a college degree, but then find themselves lost in the job market, betrayed by their elders. They further encountered a system of public administration that is, for all intents and purposes, a conspiracy against their own success.
So yes, many people are starting to catch on. They see the line in the sky where it meets the sea and want to find out what’s out there. They hope that the wind stays in their sail. They set out to discover. And one day, they will know how far they will go.