"Jar Jar Binks is George Lucas’s critique of democracy." Discuss.

Okay, so I posed that thesis to my Facebook friends and now I pose it to you, my Camels With Hammers readers:

Jar Jar Binks is George Lucas’s critique of democracy. Discuss.

To kick off the discussion, here is the hilarious Stevarious’s reply from Facebook:

Every instance of democracy presented in Star Wars is rife with either corruption or absurdity (or both!). The Republic is a monolithic, impotent bureaucracy, incapable of acting even in instances of extreme urgency. The people of Naboo ridiculously ‘elect’ teenage girls to rule as queen. The Gungans send an incompetent fool to represent them in the Republic. (Which raises the question – do they actually think that Jar-Jar is a great war hero? Or do they just have that little respect for the Republic?) Even the Jedi ‘council’ ‘democratically’ enforce their collective authoritarian will to support their own ossified brand of theocracy.

All heroism is described in terms of rebellion against authority or successful military actions. Qui-Gon is shown (to us) to be a good jedi because he constantly defies the council. Obi-Wan defies the council and insists that he be allowed to train Anakin. Anakin also defies the council and marries whatserface. Obi-Wan and Anakin become great war heroes. Luke relies on personal insight instead of the ‘authority’ of his targeting computer, and later refuses to obey Yoda’s and Obi-Wan’s orders to ignore his premonitions – then rejects his father’s offer to rule the galaxy together. Vader chucks the Emperor down a shaft.

No where, in any of the movies, do we see any democratically devised decision come to any good. All good is performed by either military authority (It’s a trap!), or personal decisions (that are almost unilaterally rejections of authority).

In short, Star Wars is a glorification of both rugged, defiant individualism and military efficiency, and a rejection of democracy and civilian authority.

Notably absent in the entire series? The press. Where are the brave war correspondents reporting live on the ‘Robot Invasion of Naboo’? Where are the embedded journalists in the clone army? Where is the brave investigative journalist, reporting for the underground news agency from the rebel home base? The reason is simple. A free press is what makes democracy possible. The Trade Federation would never be able to immediately quell Amidala’s request for aid by saying ‘there’s no proof’ if, as in a realistic universe, a dozen different news networks already had cameras in the field. By creating a universe with no free press (or seemingly no press at all) Lucas is able to make a mockery of democracy by not including the one thing that makes democracy possible.

Think of the final battle in episode 3 between Yoda and Palpatine. What Yoda is doing here is attempting to assassinate the democratically elected leader of the entire republic.

Think about that for a second. Sure, Palpatine’s corrupt. Sure he’s evil. But lots of politicians are evil – by assassinating him, without even bothering to expose him first, Yoda betrays the principles of what the republic stands for. If Yoda had succeeded, what would have happened? Palpatine would have been lauded as a martyr. All his changes to the republic would have stood stronger than ever – just waiting for a different schmuck to step into the power vacuum, with all of those emergency powers intact – and Palpatine’d probably have elementary schools named after him to boot. Meanwhile, the Jedi order would still have been vilified.

One of their number murdering dozens of children, while another assassinated the Chancellor? It would have been TRIVIAL for whatever schmuck stepped forward to assume power to paint the whole series of events as an attempted coup by religious zealots (assuming, of course, that Yoda did not take power – which would make it an ACTUAL coup by religious zealots). Tyranny would have lived on for years, there would have been no rebellion (at least not immediately) and the Jedi would have done the Sith’s work for them to extinguish the order completely.

All because of a theological disagreement. Yoda knew that the Palpatine was working for THE DARK SIDE. What evidence did he have? Not a whit. Why should anyone believe him? Why would anyone even take his claims about ‘the dark side of the force’ seriously? He would have rotted in jail instead of on Degobah.

What Yoda needed was a victory in the public arena. Some testimony from some of the soldiers, confessing that they were ordered by Palpatine to murder the jedi – and that the orders had been pre-arranged months or years in advance. He needed the security camera footage from Palpatine’s office, showing him murdering three Jedi himself – then demonstrating that Anakin was his accomplice.

The final battle SHOULD have been Palpatine trying to stop Yoda from getting to the CNN offices with the video from Palpatine’s office. THAT would have been pretty darn cool – Yoda skitters around a street corner just a street away from his destination, and a bolt of lightning streaks down and shatters the tape in his hand. Pan up to Yoda’s face as he realizes – win or lose the coming battle, he’s already lost the war. Awesome, what might have been.

Instead, Yoda’s assassination attempt, then his flight and going into hiding, played right into Palpatine’s hands. By coloring his disfigurement as the result of a Jedi terrorist attack, he was able to play the sympathy card to become Emperor. It also allowed him to paint the Jedi as the bad guys and authorize a galaxy-wide manhunt for all the remaining members of the order. Yoda’s assassination attempt destroyed the Jedi’s moral high ground and solidified Palpatines’s iron grip in a way I’m sure the Sith could have only dreamed of.

I would also note that the Star Wars prequels bring to life Plato’s account of how a demagogue can gin up fear of wealthy oligarchs and war to seize power and turn a democracy into a tyranny and his parallel account of how an individual’s soul (Anakin’s) descends to slavery to a tyrannous insatiable lust for power.

You can join in these such deep Facebook conversations regularly with me too if you become my friend.

Also read my account of why Anakin’s turn to the dark side made sense.

Your Thoughts?

 

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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