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Jedi & Sith
A parable of power.
It hasn’t been since I learned about Tarkovsky and Kurosawa in the 80s that I have gotten some high level of excitement about filmmakers. The exceptions might be Miyazaki, Spike Lee, Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. I do very much enjoy Christopher Nolan, but these days I’m zeroing in on the dudes who have taken over and are extending the Star Wars Canon. That would include John Favreau and Dave Filoni among others.
As you may know of me, I tend to be most interested in historical fiction, history itself and very large stories that involve multiple generations of characters. Sci-fi is my favorite because it involves entire planetary systems in conflict over thousands of years. Towards several ends, I have over the Christmas break done a fair amount of binging on the Clone Wars series, a very large 7 season catalog of somewhere over 100 23 minute episodes. I just finished season 6 in which Yoda, as old as he is, goes through more Jedi training to learn premonitions of Order 66.
For those of you who do not know, Order 66 is the calculated assassination of all the Jedi in the Republic capitol. This plan succeeds in turning the Republic into the Empire. The Clone Wars are a galaxy-wide conflict that pits the Republic and the Jedi Order (led by Yoda) against the Separatists and various baddies. Little does anyone suspect that the Chancellor Palpatine of the Republic Senate, the most powerful individual of the good guys, is in actuality Darth Sidious the leader of the Sith, sworn enemies of the Jedi and the good guys. He thus becomes the Emperor, a dark force bearer; essentially the Devil.
Many writers have contributed an extraordinary amount of detail to the Star Wars universe. If one has only watched the Lucasfilm movies and paid attention to criticism of same, one would be missing out on a lot of interesting and necessary subtext. It wasn’t until I read James Luceno’s Darth Plagueis that I got any clue that excellent writing could be applied to the Star Wars genre. This indeed was the case with Greg Bear’s book about the Halo universe.
The legend of the Sith, who used to be as numerous as the Jedi in the old days, is that there is but one master and one apprentice. Having grasped a broad spectrum of the fundamentals of the Force they channel and amplify it through all emotions, not merely those of virtue. This lack of specific virtuous discipline makes them more powerful and more indifferent to the moral restraints of a civilized life. And without those restraints placed upon them, the Sith self-destructed in emotional anarchy. As their numbers dwindled, they had no sense of justice, for in order to wield all of the power of the universe’s Force, one had to put one’s concerns beyond mere life and death of this or that species. To the Sith, if the laws of physics accept it, then it must be allowable. It’s not far from our imaginations to consider what possibilities might lie beyond those laws as humans, otherwise what lure would superheroes and their villainous antagonists have? To the Sith philosophy, what is acceptable is what is possible, one must only bend one’s will to dare to achieve. Thus, one can only be the master if one is capable of destroying that which masters you. The Sith continued through manipulation of the Force, to accept submission to the most powerful and destruction of the less powerful.
It is not clear whether or not the Sith possess all the possible knowledge of the Force. It is not likely that they do. How much mystery remains to the ultimate Force practitioners is a matter of speculation. What knowledge the Jedi possess, and by force of discipline deign to use, is clearly a subset. One might choose to believe that the light side of the Force is more powerful than the dark side, but that would not make sense in a Newtonian universe. So the Jedi willfully blind themselves to the ways of the Dark Side. All of their ability to see dangers to them and to the peoples of their galaxy is therefore clouded.
The Jedi Order itself, though aiming to be fearless do indeed fear those Force capable who demonstrate a full range of undisciplined emotion, for the powers of the Force don’t care about its wielders. It doesn’t hurt Darth Sidious to use Force lightning against his own Number Two Darth Vader any more than it does to use it against his great enemy, Luke Skywalker. It is indifferent to intent; the Force only tires one out as the body transduces its energies.
As a student of the Tao, long ago in my youth, I learned to appreciate light and dark. The concept of balance in the world amongst all of its billions of actors made me appreciate the dynamism beneath the status quo. For quite some time I strove to ‘put my finger on the center of gravity’ in any situation well aware that center might not hold. The point was for me not to become unbalanced despite what energies were expended on any side. Since I grew up with some fairly strict ideological and moral disciplines I felt liberated by this. It’s fair to say that I began to do more assessment than judgement. Being young, I was engaged in exploring a very large and mysterious world, not merely as an evangelist but one bent on discovery. It made it difficult for me to commit to things and to people.
Nevertheless logic and discipline were my tools and I was committed to them and very much in a moral sense. After all, I had a non-trivial amount of Jesuit education. Some years later, I discovered the philosophical split between the Jedi and Sith that I explained above.
When I think of Liberals and Conservatives today, I often think of them as Jedi who don’t quite recognize that they are being blindsided by the dark side of the Force of democracy in America. It is impossible for them to see, blinded as they are with their own limited and ethical disciplines with regard to the appropriate use of power, what the actual capabilities of the full spectrum of those powers can be.
Where was the Yoda of the dumbos who should have sensed the chaos and fear in candidate Trump and left him out of their Jedi Order? No, they just saw that the Force was strong in him and so sought to bring some mystical balance to the dark side - the dark side they don’t even understand.
Where was the Yoda of the donks who should have sensed the chaos and fear in the woke mob and left them out of their Jedi Order? They too were blinded by the strength they possessed over mere mortal civilians.
Liberalism and Conservatism are at grave risk, even as the chatting Genius class tells us that they are both undergoing transformations into postmodern versions. The parties are locked in deadly power struggles, each disregarding and disrespecting the use of the Force the other side uses. They, neither of them, lack balance in themselves and only seek to balance the other with an extreme and prejudicial form of their own ideology. The donks are not the party of Liberalism and the dumbos are not the party of Conservatism.
Since I have to say so, it is clear to me that at the top of both hierarchies, the parties are behaving like the Sith. There is but one master with all of the power and his apprentice, and all others are so subservient to them as to be non-existent. It’s a hell of a perversion of government by the people. The Mastery of the Clintons was decapitated by Obama who ruled without passing along his skills to apprentice Biden. Nobody else matters. The Mastery of the Bushes was decapitated by Trump who who ruled without passing anything along to anyone. Nobody else matters. In that regard we have a power vacuum in the ranks of those knights who would serve the Republic.
It’s a bit sad to think that the philosophy of the Jedi and Sith are more clear and coherent than the ethics of the two parties, but I am willing to accept the probability that I am so repelled by their behavior that I’d rather watch cartoons than the chaos, anger and fear in the body politic of America today. As such a Jedi-Jesuit I think about the dark and blindside of our Enlightenment Liberal vision.
What everybody generously wants America to be is something quite loving, giving and kind. We want to give out healthcare, education, and the technology and infrastructure of comfort. Unfortunately, we are likely to see how fear and anger will pervert the struggle for legitimate power. People who have had no choice but to struggle from our national neglect of the common man, will come to be defined by that struggle. When the olive branch of cosmopolitain comfort is offered, it will be rejected. The new, hard American will prefer struggle.
Struggle demands retribution.