Fox News is Full of Sith

Fox News is Full of Sith November 22, 2020

I have focused a lot on the way the Star Wars franchise depicts the two sides of the Force not as good vs. evil but as opposites which need to be kept in balance.

If this way of viewing the matter is taken to an extreme, however, it can begin to sound like either the denialist call to “teach both sides of the controversy” or the stance that it is better in each and every case to be a moderate rather than a liberal or conservative.

That is not, I think, the message of the Star Wars franchise at all. But it is the message of Emperor Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious.

There is such a thing as a healthy balance. Even a good thing taken to an extreme can become a bad thing. That does not justify “teaching both sides” of the Force controversy. The dark side of the Force needs to be managed rather than suppressed. But the Sith, like the Jedi, pursue one extreme to the exclusion of the other. In doing so, the results are not two groups that are morally equivalent. It is possible to go to extremes in the pursuit of justice just as in the pursuit of injustice, but if both are problematic that doesn’t make the one as good as the other. It is not all the same whether one is a fascist or an anti-fascist, a racist or an anti-racist, a misogynist or a feminist, a homophobe or an ally.

Star Wars can be useful in teaching about these topics. Palpatine uses tactics that one also sees today in right-wing media. For instance, he takes the Jedi teaching that those who have power want to hold on to it and applies it back to the Jedi themselves. He is not completely wrong. But again, having a government committed to justice and compassion not want to give up power is not the same thing as a dictator wanting to remain in power. Ask someone who has experienced living in both kinds of sociopolitical context if you don’t believe me.

Another tactic is to depict the Jedi as suppressing part of the truth. Of course they don’t treat stories about the Sith as worthy of equal time in the classroom. It may be that by not addressing the Sith in the curriculum directly they left people like Anakin Skywalker vulnerable. But that doesn’t excuse him. The fact that you were not told certain things doesn’t mean there was a conspiracy to suppress inconvenient truths. That isn’t why flat-earthism does not get a mention in most science classrooms. There is no need to set narrow and inflexible boundaries in advance on what constitutes a legitimate exploration of the great mystery. That isn’t what is going on when dead ends are not revisited over and over again.

Another tactic is the tu quoque, i.e. using shortcomings of the opposing side to deflect attention from one’s own. Yes, it was hypocritical of Mace Windu to say that Palpatine was too dangerous to be kept alive. But there was much more truth in that than when Emperor Palpatine treats all the Jedi and indeed all his enemies as too dangerous to be kept alive. Palpatine, having gone on the offensive and only suffering the literal backlash from his own attack on Mace Windu nonetheless plays the victim.

If one listens only to the Imperial News Network one will believe that the rebels are an evil terrorist organization. In a dictatorship you may not have other sources that you can turn to easily. What is truly appalling is when, in our context, there is a refusal to accept the consensus of scientists, of mainstream media reporting, or even of election officials affiliated with one’s own party, preferring to choose a narrow and twisted narrative and believe it. When one does that one is able to say as Anakin Skywalker did that from his point of view the Jedi are evil. The response of Obi-Wan Kenobi,, that this indicates that Anakin really is lost, is true, but we cannot afford to let things end there. We must ask what the equivalent is in our context of Luke Skywalker’s quest to redeem his father. How do we get our older relatives and neighbors to rediscover the good when power and selfishness has corrupted them? Because if there is an extreme of unconcern for self and detachment, the extreme of seeking power and selfishness is far worse and far more dangerous, both for oneself and for those around us.

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