Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby LaserGuy » Tue Nov 27, 2018 11:28 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:
ThirdParty wrote:
jewish_scientist wrote:There has to be an alternative way to view the Circle of Life that I am not seeing.
I'm not sure I understand your question, but have you considered the fact that if the carnivores stopped keeping the herbivore population in check, the herbivores would eat all the plants and the system would crash? So there's a sense in which all the animals, even the carnivores, are working together in service of the greater good, by each doing his own job.

Although that justification could work, but the problem is that is not the justification used in the Lion King. 'Group X needs to be in control of Group Y because Group Y would destroy itself if left to its own devices' is basically an argument form the Great Chain of Being. Although I do see many similarities between the Great Chain of Being and the Circle of Life, their is a vital difference. The Great Chain of Being says that some being are better than others, while the the Circle of Life says that all everyone is equal.


But everyone is very explicitly not equal in the movie. Lions are royalty. Hyenas are outcasts. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle. The Circle of Life as portrayed in the movie is like the divine right of heaven; it's the lie that kings tell the people to let them stay in power.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby jewish_scientist » Wed Nov 28, 2018 1:22 pm UTC

I thought about relating the Circle of Life to the Noble Lie, but I really only want to resort to that as a last resort. The problem is that argument is basically asserting that the Circle of Life does not have justification, because I, personally, failed to find justification. However, absence of evidence is the weakest form of evidence for absence, so I leave myself open to a lot of critic.
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Zamfir » Wed Nov 28, 2018 1:31 pm UTC

The Circle of Life as portrayed in the movie is like the divine right of heaven; it's the lie that kings tell the people to let them stay in power.
Yeah, it's something like that, though I am not sure if the divine right of kings is the proper analogy. That's a very intra-elite concept. It claims power for the monarch against other powerful groups, like other high noble families or city boards.

The circle of life in the movies seems to be more a claim of power of the entire class of lions, over the commoners. It's more like those medieval estate theories where the estate of noblemen 'serve' the great plan by protecting and guiding the other classes.

Scar in the movie seems to break several separate rules, each hinting at a different theory of lion kingship.

- He kills the king, which is seemingly not allowed. But he does so through treachery. That's interesting - there is an implicit suggestion that if Scar was simply a bigger lion than Mustafa and could kill him in a direct fight, then that would be a more acceptable path to the monarchy.

- he pretends that Simba is dead, making him the rightful heir. This one is explicit - it's a heriditary monarchy, and Scar's main crime is ruling while Simba is still alive.

- he'a bad king, causing droughts and making people miserable and the sky cloudy. This is where the circle of life comes in.

- It's not quite clear to me if the hyenas are part of the circle-of-life crime, or whether treason is a separate fourth crime of Scar. Same for the lionesses

The movie blends all of that together - Simba is the bigger (and more attractive) lion, and the rightful heir, and the better ruler, and not a hyenous traitor.

I wonder what would happen in a more conflicted case. What if Scar the usurper was a big and blonde lion who killed Mustafa in a fair fight, while Simba was a physical weakling? What if Simba was the uncle and Scar the son? What if Scar rules under blue skies and in balance with the circle, while Simba returns as head of a Warthog Army, promising communist bug-eating forever? What if Mustafa had the hyenas and the drought, making Scar's treachery the rescue of the land?

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Nov 28, 2018 4:41 pm UTC

Mufasa?
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby ObsessoMom » Wed Nov 28, 2018 5:37 pm UTC

The Lion King is no different from any other Disney princess movie, in terms of promoting the idea that it's no accident that some people are born into positions of power and privilege, and others are not.

Aristocracy rules! Because the rightful prince/princess is just inherently more good and noble and unselfish, and will make a better king/queen, than the villain who wants to rule society in his/her place.

Anyone who challenges that nice, orderly system of succession is evil. It's implied that Scar should have been as content with his lot in life as the gazelles seem to be with theirs. And we're told that Simba had no other acceptable moral choice but to participate in and perpetuate that system of birthright privilege, not for his own benefit but for the sake of the rest of society. Because maintaining the stability of the status quo is what social order is all about.

Compare and contrast these two songs:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Cecil Frances Alexander, All Things Bright and Beautiful, 1848


But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love

Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life

Elton John/Tim Rice, Circle of Life, 1994


TL;DR: We should all know our places, and stay in them. Because power and privilege in society is supposed to be inequitable. So everyone should shut up and accept it, and we'll all have hakuna matata:

It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
Hakuna Matata!

Elton John/Tim Rice, Hakuna Matata, 1994

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:23 pm UTC

Going all the way back to the original question why do you want to fit The Lion King into this framework? There are plenty of examples of anthropomorphic animals dealing with this issue, from Aesop’s the stork and the fox to Brian Jacque’s Redwall. Given that LK is also seen as a variation on Hamlet, the original problem seems to be a matter of forcing a work into a rather strange frame.
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:55 pm UTC

I don't think JS is trying to force The Lion King into a particular political philosophy, but rather wondering what real-world political philosophy is a match for The Lion King's Circle of Life philosophy. He only brings up Hobbes to say that the answer to questions like this usually seems to be Hobbes, but in this case it doesn't seem to be, which prompts him to wonder what it is in place of Hobbes.

I gave "trickle-down economics" as my answer earlier, but people bringing up the more direct aristocratic comparison shows that it's broader than that. It's any inegalitarian hierarchical philosophy that says that the people at the top deserve to be there because they're just inherently better, and that inherently better people like them being at the top is actually better for everyone else too. The country will prosper more, even the commoners, if the nobles run the government instead of the commoners; the economy will flourish more, even for the poor, if all the money flows to the rich instead of to the poor; etc.
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Zamfir » Wed Nov 28, 2018 7:59 pm UTC

As another tack, I found this:
https://safari-ecology.blogspot.com/2012/01/nitrogen-in-savanna-biome.html?m=1
Nitrogen is the typical limiting factor in the savanna ecology, so the circle of life is in practice mostly about nitrogen cycling

The article gives several examples of species with a key role in that cycle. It's about archea, termites, dung beetles and acacia trees

The effect of lions on the Circle is mentioned in another post - their presence causes grazers to graze further away from dense bushes, dropping their 'contributions' to the Circle in different patterns leading to a somewhat different spatial distribution of nitrogen. I guess that's how you become King.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed Nov 28, 2018 9:23 pm UTC

So I guess nitrogen-rich urea is what trickles down in Circle of Life economics?
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby commodorejohn » Wed Nov 28, 2018 11:21 pm UTC

ObsessoMom wrote:The Lion King is no different from any other Disney princess movie, in terms of promoting the idea that it's no accident that some people are born into positions of power and privilege, and others are not.

Counterpoints: Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.

(Also, sorta-kinda The Sword in the Stone, in that Wart is not born to nobility, but apparently preordained for it anyway.)
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby LaserGuy » Wed Nov 28, 2018 11:22 pm UTC

jewish_scientist wrote:I thought about relating the Circle of Life to the Noble Lie, but I really only want to resort to that as a last resort. The problem is that argument is basically asserting that the Circle of Life does not have justification, because I, personally, failed to find justification. However, absence of evidence is the weakest form of evidence for absence, so I leave myself open to a lot of critic.


It's not that uncommon for a piece of media to be attempting present one theme and accidentally provide subtextual support for another, even a theme that is contrary to its own intended message. Often these hidden themes are much more interesting because they reveal more about the author's underlying assumptions, prejudices, and values.

The Circle of Life isn't really presented as a particularly coherent theme or coherent philosophy in the story anyway.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby ObsessoMom » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:39 pm UTC

commodorejohn wrote:
ObsessoMom wrote:The Lion King is no different from any other Disney princess movie, in terms of promoting the idea that it's no accident that some people are born into positions of power and privilege, and others are not.

Counterpoints: Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.

(Also, sorta-kinda The Sword in the Stone, in that Wart is not born to nobility, but apparently preordained for it anyway.)


I don't think these are counter-examples.

Aladdin--Shows that if you are a princess, getting married by a certain age--presumably so that you can start transmitting your precious royal blood to another generation without delay--outweighs a law forbidding you to marry a commoner. That law is irrelevant because your own royal blood will prevail, no matter what. (Also, girls, no need to overthrow the patriarchy so you can seize the power to make decisions over your own life. Just use your influence to get Daddy to change the rules to your advantage on this one occasion, and then you can live happily ever after under the status quo.)

Beauty and the Beast--Shows that if you are an evil prince, the universe will find a way to redeem you, because your royal blood predestines you to become a good ruler, someday, somehow. Also, feel free to marry a commoner, because your own royal blood will prevail, no matter what.

The Sword in the Stone--Shows that if your father is a king (Uther Pendragon--Wart grows up to become King Arthur, remember?), it doesn't matter if you are the result of an extramarital union, and thus legally illegitimate. Your royal blood will prevail, no matter what, even if no one (including you) knows that you carry it. A magic sword will serve as Royal Blood Detector, thus confirming that you are qualified to be king of the land, even if you lack any political experience whatsoever.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Zamfir » Thu Nov 29, 2018 9:21 pm UTC

I was going to write that many stories reward a worthy protagonist with power and privilege, including protagonists who start out common. But that doesn't actually seem true for Disney animation movies, on a quick glance. I can't really think of another example, beyond aladin. Mulan comes close, but it's averted in the end. Though I don't have a good knowledge of all the movies

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby sardia » Sat Dec 01, 2018 3:16 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:
The Circle of Life as portrayed in the movie is like the divine right of heaven; it's the lie that kings tell the people to let them stay in power.
Yeah, it's something like that, though I am not sure if the divine right of kings is the proper analogy. That's a very intra-elite concept. It claims power for the monarch against other powerful groups, like other high noble families or city boards.

The circle of life in the movies seems to be more a claim of power of the entire class of lions, over the commoners. It's more like those medieval estate theories where the estate of noblemen 'serve' the great plan by protecting and guiding the other classes.

Scar in the movie seems to break several separate rules, each hinting at a different theory of lion kingship.

- He kills the king, which is seemingly not allowed. But he does so through treachery. That's interesting - there is an implicit suggestion that if Scar was simply a bigger lion than Mustafa and could kill him in a direct fight, then that would be a more acceptable path to the monarchy.

- he pretends that Simba is dead, making him the rightful heir. This one is explicit - it's a heriditary monarchy, and Scar's main crime is ruling while Simba is still alive.

- he'a bad king, causing droughts and making people miserable and the sky cloudy. This is where the circle of life comes in.

- It's not quite clear to me if the hyenas are part of the circle-of-life crime, or whether treason is a separate fourth crime of Scar. Same for the lionesses

The movie blends all of that together - Simba is the bigger (and more attractive) lion, and the rightful heir, and the better ruler, and not a hyenous traitor.

I wonder what would happen in a more conflicted case. What if Scar the usurper was a big and blonde lion who killed Mustafa in a fair fight, while Simba was a physical weakling? What if Simba was the uncle and Scar the son? What if Scar rules under blue skies and in balance with the circle, while Simba returns as head of a Warthog Army, promising communist bug-eating forever? What if Mustafa had the hyenas and the drought, making Scar's treachery the rescue of the land?

You're just describing the plot of Black Panther.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby jewish_scientist » Sun Dec 02, 2018 9:20 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I don't think JS is trying to force The Lion King into a particular political philosophy, but rather wondering what real-world political philosophy is a match for The Lion King's Circle of Life philosophy. He only brings up Hobbes to say that the answer to questions like this usually seems to be Hobbes, but in this case it doesn't seem to be, which prompts him to wonder what it is in place of Hobbes.

That is exactly correct.

Zamfir wrote:- he'a bad king, causing droughts and making people miserable and the sky cloudy. This is where the circle of life comes in.

I find the underlining parts really interesting. You claim that there is a causal relationship between Scar's actions and the weather. Do you care to explain this in a way besides the Circle of Life?
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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby Zamfir » Sun Dec 02, 2018 12:20 pm UTC

When Scar dies at the end, the rain starts falling immediately. I think we can safely take the drought (and the fire, and the sunless sky, etc) as metaphors for the misery caused by Scar's misrule. That ties to old traditions where the king is held responsible for the harvest (and presidents for the GDP)

In the beginning, Mufasa explains the circle of life in the context of his responsibilities as king. It's followed by 2 examples of what he does as ruler. First Zazu reports to him about political conflict among the animals (in a parody of human politics), and then Mufasa goes to chase away hyenas.

The movie makes very clear that Scar has passed on that responsibility about hyena fighting. The less explicit suggestion is that Mufasa was also good at managing the political conflicts among his subjects, and that Scar has also failed in that regard. Leading to the misery that's shown to us as a hellish, burning landscape.

Simba returns to the responsible style of kinging, shown as literal rain to quench thirst and extinguish the fires.

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Re: Circle of Life as Political Philosophy

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Dec 03, 2018 8:56 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:When Scar dies at the end, the rain starts falling immediately. I think we can safely take the drought (and the fire, and the sunless sky, etc) as metaphors for the misery caused by Scar's misrule. That ties to old traditions where the king is held responsible for the harvest (and presidents for the GDP)

In the beginning, Mufasa explains the circle of life in the context of his responsibilities as king. It's followed by 2 examples of what he does as ruler. First Zazu reports to him about political conflict among the animals (in a parody of human politics), and then Mufasa goes to chase away hyenas.

The movie makes very clear that Scar has passed on that responsibility about hyena fighting. The less explicit suggestion is that Mufasa was also good at managing the political conflicts among his subjects, and that Scar has also failed in that regard. Leading to the misery that's shown to us as a hellish, burning landscape.

Simba returns to the responsible style of kinging, shown as literal rain to quench thirst and extinguish the fires.
Specifically, the circle of life is the status quo, and the maintenance of that status quo is the king's primary job. The king is to hunt prey and police the hyenas. As Mufasa explicitly states, lions furthermore contribute to the circle of life by living long, natural lives, then dying of old age. Scar violates this by violently killing Mufasa (lions are not meant to die violently; this is a death reserved for their prey. Scar has reduced Mufasa to prey, and therefore broken the circle of life), then cooperating with the hyenas and allowing their status to be uplifted rather than forcing them to stay in their role.

The Lion King (and, by consequence, the circle of life) is ultimately about conservatism and the maintenance of the status quo. Everything is wonderful about Pride Rock up until Scar's ambition disrupts that status quo, and further damages it by permitting hyenas to occupy Pride Rock. Permitting hyenas to occupy Pride Rock is such a toxic decision that nature itself rejects it. When Rafiki (our moral authority in the narrative) sees the hyenas occupying Pride Rock, he shakes his head in disappointment. You can almost imagine him saying: "There goes the neighborhood" -- then packing his things and moving out.

Also notice (as has already been pointed out) that Scar is the effete, physically weak, mentally superior 'elitist' who wants to consolidate the power of the poor and marginalized to use against the righteous leadership of Pride Rock. Ultimately, these marginalized groups literally devour him the moment they realize he's just using them. He is a caricature of leftist collectivism; the weak intellectual elitist who empowers the marginalized only for the sake of satiating his ego -- to increase his own power and prestige. Hyenas don't need to be empowered. They need to be policed and controlled.

Simba and Mufasa are the strong, conservative leaders who understand this. The circle of life must be maintained, the chain of power unbroken, and the hyenas kept in their place. By breaking the chain and encouraging hyenas to rise from their station, Scar rejected his own duties as a lion in regards to protecting the circle of life. He rejected the status quo. Thus, he gave up the protections that status quo afforded him: he became prey, fit for consumption. As it is not fitting for Simba's new rule to be stained with the act of killing another king (even an unjust, false one), he ultimately leaves this task to the hyenas -- who (unconsciously or not) now understand their place. It is down below, consuming whatever scraps the lions deign to throw at them (in this case, the scrap is literally Scar).

The rain at the end is nature validating Simba as the new maintainer of the circle of life. It's akin to the rainbow in the Bible: A promise from God that so long as you maintain the circle of life, nature will be on your side. Do not kill your kings. Do not stray from your lane. Do not disrupt the status quo. Simba has learned these lessons, and thus receives God's blessing.

Rain falls. Music plays. A new king is born, and thus -- the circle is restored.

Simba has Made Pride Rock Great Again.


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