I recently spent a family vacation in Disney World (yes, the one in Orlando, Florida). Though I tried simply and mindlessly to enjoy my family’s vacation, I kept thinking about the founder of this mega-corporation: Walt Disney.
I grew up watching Disney films, and I have spent several summer vacations at the Walt Disney World Resorts, so, as a child, I had a strong fondness for Walt Disney. He was the one who brought magic to life on the big screen.
As I grew older, I began to see Mr. Disney in a more negative light. I thought his corporation sought nothing but money, and that he was too obsessed with the idea of technological progress.
This most recent family vacation enabled me to revisit both perspectives.
During every trip to Disney World, my family and I ride the “Carousel of Progress,” usually because the line is short and the ride is fully air-conditioned, allowing us some escape from the Florida heat. The “Carousel of Progress” explores Disney's goals in relation to technological progress. Now, normally I would pay no attention to the ride, but this time, I noticed something that I had not before.
I learned from the ride that Mr. Disney did admire technological progress, but not exclusively. In fact Mr. Disney thought that technology could make life better for the family.
Today, you'd think technology and the family were incompatible. The more technology develops, the more the family seems to be left out of the picture. Individualism dominates the world we live in. Cellular phones and internet communications equally occupy parents and children, reducing the quality time spent with the other.
This isn't what Disney had in mind. He hoped technology would improve family life, not destroy it, and his company sought to strike that balance between technological progress and the institutions that define humanity. So even Walt Disney, one of the biggest proponents of technological progress, saw its limits. He desired only that it would be used in such a way as to benefit the institutions that were already in place.
It's here that Disney actually parallels Thomas Aquinas. In his description of the Christian virtues, Aquinas explains that the key to achieving virtue is moderation. Extremes of any type lead to vice, while virtue pursues the balance between two extremes. Disney too, it seems, believed in moderation as being the key to technological progress, using technology to our benefit but not to the destruction of the core institutions of human life.
Unfortunately, this is not the route that modern American society is taking. Instead, we use technology to undermine some of the most important institutions of human life, such as the family.
By finding this Thomistic balance, maybe we can bring the truth of Disney's vision to life.