Star Wars: A Democratic-ish but Patriarchal Discourse on Ethics
I am of life. To exist in (inegalitarian, alienated) human society, I need a guarantor. So, Who made me?
The Star Wars series locates this weird, infantile, alienated, possibly patriarchal question as the root anxiety spurring our ethical and political choices as we grow older; and Star Wars shows the political consequences of how we are able to settle on this (socio-)psychological question–a decision, a judgment we must take responsibility for, we cannot evade, once we recognize the question. Though to be clear, you don’t have to recognize the question. Han Solo doesn’t worry about it.
Well, also, there is a very common way to evade responsibility, see below, but that way dehumanizes you, turns you into part of the war machine, a Stormtrooper to show the cards.
I find the question odd. I don’t know why life needs a guarantor, why this should be the anxiety. Whose culture is creating this anxiety? To be transparent again, I really suspect it’s an inability, conferred by patriarchy, to accept coming from a female, coming from Earth. The question does give more reason to creepy philosophical efforts to break down the ontological divide between humans and the commodities they produce and which are owned by an elite in an inegalitarian social order. Anyway, I do know why life needs to protect itself from human tyranny. But the anxiety that this should spur is the anxiety over whether you can organize other people.
From orphaned hinterlands farmboy Luke Skywalker to orphaned hinterlands scavenger Rey, the main audience-avatar character walks us through their variable processes of settling the root infantile anxiety with a judgment that commits them to a democratic ethics, and puts them on a democratic political path. Another, side model is Han Solo, a skilled, strategic orphan who doesn’t care about patrimony, but unlike his girlfriend the Mother of Dragons (Qi’ra), is naturally oriented toward cooperation with democratic organizing, a “good guy” as Qi’ra pronounces. We don’t know what is propelling Qi’ra toward the Dark Side. A lack of options path-dependently leading to a lack of democratic confidence, apparently.
We also see in the distance, by contrast, that the para-princes Darth Vadar and Kylo Ren arrive at contrasting decisions upon that root infantile anxiety, a commitment to a contrasting Dark Side political path and ethics. (There’s also some indication that mother-attachment propels the Dark Side ethico-political decision. This can be read as trashy 1970s cultural psychology, or it can be read as a diagnosis of exception-fetishizing conservatism: When the conservative rejects life, he has to create a pocket of exception–typically Mother and Wife–to sustain the advantage of his own nurture.)
Pursuing the freaky, infantile dread-hope, Who Made Me?, down into its dark hole, the protangonists and antagonists can find no father, no parent, no god, no protective, recognized lineage. Just the self. But it is not clear what this means. A decision is required.
We see that the emotional responses to this discovery are variable and consequential; but, contra conservatism, the emotional response flavors–but does not determine the consequent ethical and political judgment. The interpretation of what it means that one does not come from a direct, parental Maker, a protective lineage recognized by all, does determine one’s ethics and politics; and in the Star Wars cosmology, the interpretation is to a large extent a fateful choice of reason.
There are two possible opposing ethical-political interpretations containing judgment: 1) I made me. Man is will to power. This is a conservative insistence that there must be a monadic originator. 2) I make myself. I am (Wo/man is) life, a diverse collective in development/(We are Groot, to borrow another narrative). These opposing interpretations entail judgment, and thus ensuing ethics and politics.
As a sociologist, I would have to point out that the interpretative choice is generally overdetermined by the built social environment. In that sense, interpretation is not usually, really a choice of reason, but a reflex instilled by institutions. Thus, most people slip the responsibility, and hegemonic liberals call this deference virtue.
For example, the Abrahamic religions instill the need for, and so overdetermine the “choice” to reassert an abstract monadic originator, as the alienated, individual, willful self, substitute for God the Father. Thus the Abrahamic religions reproduce inegalitarianism and inegalitarian economies. Because this overdetermined “choice” means no shared space for development, most of us become processed down into dehumanized, violent Stormtroopers, or, in its less-destructive version, sheep. The “Great Men” that end up on the top of the pile dominate and own. Society flinches, genuflects, and reflects upon the Ubermensch the myth of their apotheosis.
The Star Wars narrative doesn’t precisely deny the social, built environment. Rather, it places the responsibility for the interpretation/judgment on the individual because it is interested in the ethical torch carried by a small, beleaguered band of comrades in the long historical moments when institutions do not reproduce the collectivist, democratic, Light Side I am of life judgment.
The Dark Side decision is idealist. In the discovered absence of the mythical consciousness-giving father, as the culturally-foreign, alien-ness of complex, developing life (See also Vanderbeek’s Annihilation) is rejected in favor of the choice to incorporate the mythical God into the individual self, the moment of judgment is fetishized (See Carl Schmitt). All emotion and rationality recoils and wraps around the individual self’s will to power against all else, all others. Because humans are objectively a social (part of) life, the idealist Dark Side decision requires working in tension with that reality, working strategically with other Dark Siders, idealists, enemies all, to kill them when you can, to assert your will, to torture all others into serving as your voice, your idealist self.
By contrast, the Light Side decision reconnects to philosophical materialism. It is oriented to development, and full human expression, including connection, organization, and balancing reason. Understanding that one is not a wanted, recognized projection of a superhuman father into a guaranteed space of existence, but that as life, one becomes onesself, the self is developed, in the materialist approach is foremost recognition that the self is material, existing in a unique interstice, and connected. “You’re not alone,” Rey tries in vain to convert Ren; the Nietzschean idealist is unmoved, and I say, enthralled. The materialist Light Side is a mutualist ethics of creating the space, organizing the infrastructure, relating with others– for life to develop into its own complex, historical, changing self. It foregrounds proliferating and activating full human capacity, working with others, as opposed to imposing one’s self upon, diminishing and obliterating the others.
In the Disney corporation’s hands, it’s hard to say where the Star Wars discourse on ethics will end. They have performed above expectations, particularly in Rogue One, and yet there is much foreshadowing that the Ubermensch and the democrat will be reconciled in some sort of neoliberal alliance between Rey and Ren. Or perhaps, more hopefully, the Light Side Resistance will be taken up by the stableboys and the class conflict will continue and advance.
The great tactic of conservativsm, a la Strauss, is lying to the hoi poloi, the repository of conservatives’ misanthropy. Conservative Austrian tactician and Anglo-American consultant Friedrich von Hayek best formulated this tactic for the modern era, in portraying the elite-owned heap as a porous social formation, full of degrees of freedom putatively for all, while portraying universally-developmentalist democracy as an excessively-demanding ethos and infrastructure, and in that way constricting, a kind of “servitude.” Would it be true to the democratic spirit of the Star Wars discourse on ethics to conclude with some Stormtroopers and stableboys, having observed and suffered the contrasting relations the Sith lords and Rebel Alliance have made (the arguments the philosophers and social scientists have forwarded), casting off the enculturated disposition to Mastery/Servitude, and enjoining the deferred decision to organize a new social space for shared life development? In the 20th century, most philosophers rejected working for democratic development. In the 20th century, most philosophers rejected working with social scientists. As the narrative develops, will the philosophers and Jedi figure out a way to contribute to the liberation, the full human development, the organizational capacity of the stableboy and Stormtrooper class?