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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Star Wars Debate: Episode III

Andrew responds to my earlier post over at his blog. I feel as if he could not be more wrong ever under any circumstances.

(His comments in italics and quotes)

"Can the leader be considered democratically elected when he used his powers of mind control to influence the voters? I mean, this one just seems obvious; maybe the Emperor wasn't "evil" based on this fact, but you also can't call him "good" because he got his powers legitimately. He didn't."

Powers of mind control? He orchestrated a war and clearly used duplicitous methods to engineer a state of panic. Gee-Dubzz did this, and I hardly think he has control over his own mind, let alone anyone else's. I don't recall any specific circumstance where he somehow forced someone to believe something with force-magic or Jedi mind tricks. If I'm not correct on this point with reference to a specific instance, I'm pretty sure the majority of the senate (the tens of thousands of them) voted based on their perception of an impending danger to the galaxy, and not because Palpatine somehow suspended their rationality.

Most of this was the logical outcome of a clearly corrupt senate, anyway. The Republic as portrayed in the first movie is evidently not disposed to act on behalf of a planet under seige by an independant organization (trade federation), even after that organization also attempts to assassinate their negociators. If, as you say, the senators were not acting as democratic conduits for their respective populi, then their rule was no more legitimate than Palpatine's. At least under the Empire, they have stability and certain planets cannot wantonly attack other planets without any governmental intervention.

The only remaining question is whether there are any circumstances under which people can legitimately cede their autonomy to a dictator. I don't think this is precicely a closed question, especially given how strongly Federalistic the Galaxy is going to intrinsically be, but in general I do not think this makes the Empire an immoral entity even if the individual representatives are acting immorally in becoming contractual signatories.

"My next point will involve a discussion of the claim that the Rebels were basically terrorists. For now, recognize that just because Iraqi insurgents use suicide bombings, that doesn't justify our use of torture (I assume that any of my regular readers agree with me on this point; if not, feel free to dispute it and I'll explain my reasoning). Or, to use Garthur's civil war example, Lincoln might well have used the Death Star against South Carolina, and the US might well have benefited in the long run. But, that wouldn't have made it right."

I feel as if torture is disanalogous here. One of the biggest reasons not to use torture is because of how ludicrously ineffective it tends to be, and how the disutility to the individuals being tortured is so vastly out of proportion to the usefulness gained by the torturer. There are also many policy reasons not to use torture, such as reciprocity and so on.

In the case of the Death Star, if the elimination of a city in open rebellion would save more lives than would be lost, I'm not sure how Lincoln's use of the Death Star would not be justified. If, by killing 100,000 people who are inciting conflict, you save the lives of 1,000,000 soldiers and civilians who are perfectly content to sit at home and watch reruns of M*A*S*H (which I am assured FX played 18 hours a day, even in 1860), it doesn't strike me as particularly immoral. It's okay to send 500,000 Union troops to raize a city in open rebellion, but not okay to just raize the city from afar? We need to give rebels a fair shot at winning to be just, even if it invokes further loss of human life?

There are arguments out there about how wars need to be horrific to provide a significant deterrant against them, but I'm not sure that's what you were going for here. Unless you take the stance that the north was unjustified in executing the war per se, I don't see the objection here.

"Ah, good, the old Clerks argument. The movie makes the claim that independent contractors become legitimate military targets at the point where they willingly agree to work on a military installation at a time of war (ie, while kidnapping followed by beheading is not a legitimate tactic, the private security contractors employed by American firms in Baghdad are legitimate targets). In addition to seeing the logic in this, I would go a step further by pointing out that there are such things as the Army Corps of Engineers. In all likelihood, the Empire similarly had uniformed workers who by any standards would be considered reasonable collateral damage if not legitimate targets in and of themselves."

Again, this strikes me as faulty. Can you really say that anyone who willingly puts themselves in the proximity of fighting makes them a valid target? To me, it seems as if killing the Red Cross, even if it's not done via kidnapping and beheading, would be something immoral if done by the insurgency. The mere presence or involvement of military action doesn't revoke any moral obligation someone interested in executing a just war has to avoid civilian casualties. If that were the standard to be used, flying a plane into the Pentagon is moral, because it was involved in the execution of hostilities abroad. It would likewise mean that the US would be justified in firebombing Fallujah. Not all of the people killed in the Death Star were likely military contractors, and it's equally likely that many of them were coerced into service, hence never justifying their death.

"Oh, and what instances of suicide bombings? That one really just has me confused."

I am referring, of course, to the scene in either RotJ or A New Hope where a rebel ship is shot, and he flies into the bridge of one of the destroyers.

"Agreed. But that doesn't make the rebellion immoral. I mean, Virginia and Maryland almost went to war with each other not long after the American Revolution; that's because Virginia is a bunch of douchebags, not because the American Revolution was inherently immoral."

No, but in the case of the American Revolution, it was against a foreign government who was clearly engaged in exploiting the Americans for monetary gain. It's important to note exactly how laizzes faire the Empire appears to be. Other than the bit about Cloud City's mining operation permits, they don't seem to do much of anything to inhibit each individual world's governance. The Ewoks are still supersticious heathens, the Jawas and Hutts still run their deals, and so on. There is strong evidence that the Empire really doesn't do much besides consolidating their power.

Moreover, post-Colonial America had the infrastructure in place for a government to take over. States were largely autonomous from Britan, in addition to operating in concert with one another. You'll notice that Virginia and Maryland didn't go to war with one another, probably because they recognized the interdependance they had as well as the pressure from other, nearby states. No such check exists in the Star Wars galaxy against planetary exploitation. In the case of the American Revolution, there was a significant chance that the outcome of the revolution (if successful), would be meaningfully better for the Americas. No such guarantee exists for post-Empire Star Wars, and in fact, it's very likely that wars would take place in such a power vacuum.

"As a sidenote (I can't believe I'm about to say this; I swear I've never actually read any of these books), I believe these problems are directly acknowledged by the 'Expanded Universe' books. In fact, I think the post-Empire struggles are the major focus of a large number of those books."

Never read the books, can't comment. But even if they magically allow for an impromptu government to be set up, it would be incongruous with the rest of the universe to suggest that everyone suddenly gets along with a few bumps along the way.

"Herein lies [one of] the point[s] that George Lucas wished to make: There are shades of grey in the world. He made a brilliantly fun (minus Jedi) escapist fantasy in the original trilogy, but he knew that it really was just fantasy. The prequels show the other side, the tragedy that leads to Luke's adventures. In his typical fashion of clunkily written dialogue, Lucas hits us over the head with this point when he tells us that only a Sith deals in absolutes. The point is that you are supposed to consider these issues. You are supposed to realize that the Jedi aren't purely good and that the Sith may root their evil in good desires. After all, Anakin really did wish to bring peace to the Galaxy. He just slaughtered a whole bunch of innocents and used fear as a means of eliminating freedom in the process."

This is where I really disagree. The only morally ambiguous character in the entire six-movie set is Anakin, who generally wants to be good (and is eventually redeemed in Return of the Jedi.) The Emperor is considered objectively evil and manipulative. Darth Maul, in Episode 1, was practically the devil, right down to the red face and horns. Other than Anakin, people are either good or bad. Sometimes good people misguidedly do bad things (though oddly, bad people never accidentally do good things - apparently only good people can be tricked or manipulated. An interesting side note.), but this doesn't alter the fact that there is a clear division of Good vs. Evil, in the first three movies as well as later. After Episode III, you can clearly delinate between who was "good" and who was "bad," even if, for plot reasons, it's not clear until then.

Even the Jedi Council, who are temporarily portrayed as unwilling to act, eventually realize the error of this path and are actually vindicated in the end. If it weren't for the actions of Anakin, none of this Empire nonsense would have ever actually come about.

The comment of Liam's that is not addressed elsewhere in this post:

"Garthur provides a contradiction which is so obvious it baffles the mind (at least the bored mind that has time to devote to this.) For some reason it's ok to kill a billion obviously innocent non-combatants on a planet just because their leaders are planning a rebellion. However it is apparently not ok to kill soldiers on a massive weapon and the people who are helping to build the aforementioned massive weapon."

As I mentioned, the justification for the elimination of Alderaan is that it poses a direct threat to the safety and security of the Galaxy. The Death Star does not, and my point was moreso that the Rebellion seems to have no moral high ground to speak of, as they are also engaged in terrorism.

Comments of Steve's:

"The Empire is evil because its vision of the good is security through technology. Economic supply and stability of authority are not the ultimate goods of government because they cannot be. There ideal extension is literally anarchic, rule by no one. Since SOMEONE has to eventually have executive power to make sure things work, all the the technology of the Empire does is eliminate the "need" for judicial and legislative authority in the galaxy."

There is a lack of judicial and legislative authority on the Federal level in the galaxy, but this doesn't affect people at the Planet level. There are courts, religions, and ways of life on the various planets that go virtually undisturbed - and the end goal of any form of government is to, in essence, allow people to live their lives free of coercion. If the effect of allowing for the Executive to use its war powers without oversight from the various planets is more de facto freedom for the individual star systems, I see no particular objection.

Even so, what we're quickly finding out (and what is evident from history on Earth), is that the checks and balances are basically a myth that only works so long as someone is willing or able to enforce it. Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR and GW Bush have all done things that are clearly outside of their legislated authority. Yet they can still literally do it, even if they cannot legally do it. History is rife with examples of an executive who decided they were not privy to checks and balances. One of the most famous examples is Andrew Jackson, who, instead of heeding a Cherokee victory in the Supreme Court barring the US government from taking Native land, executed the Trail of Tears.

"Not to mention that the Death Star was designed not to wipe out the Rebels, but instead to eliminate the need for Interstellar Federalism. Turning Regional Directors into direct control of their star systems, but totally at the mercy of an executive who can destroy an entire planet. The Rebels want a New REPBULIC, with the isntitutions and checks and balances that would be necessary to maintain a vigorous galactic commercial governance that would allow people's habits to be turned towards pursuing their own vision of the good life and creating a space in which the philosophers are safe in society not as rulers (as in Plato) but as the guardian class in an intergalactic Madisonian frame. That's worth fighting rebellion for."

The problem is, that Madisonian frame is what is created by the Death Star. By making war (even in the form of rebellion) basically impossible, each individual government could rule as they see fit. One of the biggest advantages the Empire has over any of the historical governments is the lack of jingoism or values. They value power for power's sake, not to perpetuate Communism or Capitalism or Manifest Destiny. Once they've gotten control of the universe, and have the potential to do whatever they want, they have no specific incentive to actualize on the potential for subjugation. They aren't going to Christianize the Indians, or whatever. One of the big, visceral and intuitive objections to the Empire is that they might do something bad, or they could become tyrannical in the same way Stalin might. But there are no Gulags, or end goals in conflict with any of the values held by the universe at large. They are simply creating stability and security for its own sake.

cranked out at 5:45 AM | |

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