It is your destiny (Or, why I never wanted to be Luke Skywalker)

Even if you can’t STAND Star Wars,you know someone who loves it. Right?

Every body knows a guy who not only likes Star Wars, but LOVES Star Wars. The guy who, if he actually met George Lucas, handing “the Maker” a note suggesting that he get as far away as possible from this Jedi robe-clad Annie Wilkes would be the best course of action. We all know that guy.

The FANBOY.

The guy who stood in line for three days and dressed up as Qui Gon Jinn to the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace when it opened. The guy who knows the difference between a wampa and a bantha. The guy who knows exactly what kind of crystal powers Mace Windu’s light saber.

That guy.

these are the kind of fans i’m talking about

As any fanboy will tell you, George Lucas used ancient myths and legends as the backbone of his Star Wars saga. And as any Carl Jung fan will tell you, George Lucas’ space opera is crammed with Jungian archetypes.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is the wise old man? Yeah, Carl Jung invented that.

You know, you can spend a couple of days reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces (or you can spend 6 hours listening to it on audio book like I did) to get a full grasp on the ideas behind George Lucas’ Star Wars double trilogy, but what’s more fun is to overanalyze the Star Wars saga philosophically.

By the way, does anyone know what the correct numerical word is for a six-part movie series?

Now, anyone who’s thumbed through an introduction philosophy book and subsequently watched a Star Wars movie will quickly figure spot a few philosophical themes in Star Wars: good and evil, Yoda’s stoicism, the monastic religion of the Jedi order, even the politics of building an empire. There’s one theme that, although it runs through the entire six-part saga (and the animated Clone Wars movie — remember that one?), might not stick out as having any philosophical importance: free will versus determinism.

Ok, it miiiight stick out with all the subtlety of a cudgel to the head.

If you’ve watched any of the Star Wars flicks, you’ll have noticed that there’s a word that pops up several times: destiny. Everybody in these movies is either witness or subject to some kind of preordained future. In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace several characters (including Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, and Mace Windu) refer to a “prophesy” of “the chosen one”. The “chosen one” (Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa) is prophesized to destroy the Jedi and democracy-hating Sith and bring balance to the Force. In Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker not only sees the suffering of his friends in Cloud City (Yoda informs Luke that it is the future that he sees; which begs the question: did Yoda see Luke’s friends suffering in Cloud City, too?), but is told by his nemesis/father Darth Vader that Luke will turn to the Dark Side of the Force because it is Luke’s “destiny”.

Vader tells Luke he knows Luke will turn to evil because the Emperor has “forseen this”.

Here’s a short list of other things the Emperor “forsees”:

  • Everything that happens in The Phantom Menace (Episode I)
  • The Clone Wars (Episode II)
  • Luke turning to the Dark Side (Episode V)
  • Luke confronting his father (Episode VI)
  • Luke destroys the Emperor (Episode VI)

Although Luke doesn’t turn to the Dark Side, all this forseeing business that everyone is chatting about does leave us wondering is, do Luke Skywalker and his companions have free will or are their acts determined?

Before we answer the question, let’s remember what determinism is.

Determinism is defined as:

The belief that everything is caused: the doctrine or belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will.

* Just in case you didn’t know, free will is the opposite of determinism.

Now think about it, there’s a pretty good argument for believing that the Star Wars universe is not one where people chose to do exactly what they want to do: In The Phantom Menace, Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin (Skywalker), is prophesized to be “the Chosen One” — the one who will destroy the Sith and bring balance back to the Force. Anakin (as Sith Lord Darth Vader) eventually kills the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine and is redeemed, thus destroying the Sith and fulfilling the prophesy of “the Chosen One”. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn (even) tells Anakin and his mother that meeting the boy and his mother was “the will of the Force” AND the Jedi council sense that young Anakin Skywalker may be dangerous a sentiment that certainly becomes a reality in the following films.

Ok, you say, that’s just one person. The fact that one character’s life is the fulfillment of a prophesy doesn’t mean that any other character is subject to the same thing, right?

Well, if you think about it, Luke Skywalker’s life is pretty determined, too. Even when Luke appears to choose, he’s not really choosing according to his own free will.

Here’s my argument why:

Remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi lays the double whammy on Luke and tells the naïve farmboy that not only wasn’t his father a crewman on a spice freighter, but a Jedi Knight who fought in the Clone Wars and that he must accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan to deliver the data readouts of the Death Star to Princess Leia’s father, Luke tells Obi-Wan that he can’t go along because he’s got work to do at home on his Uncle Owen’s moisture farm? Obi-Wan tells Luke that Luke must do what he thinks is right, but while Obi-Wan’s  blowing smoke up Luke’s patootie, Obi-Wan knows that as Qui-Gon Jinn observed, events (like life) are subject to the will of the Force.

That’s why when Luke goes back home, his aunt and uncle are dead, leaving him no choice but to follow Obi-Wan on his damned fool, idealistic crusade.

And as practitioners of the Force, Jedi (including Luke Skywalker), are also filled with midi-chlorians microscopic life-forms that not only make for a fantastically handy, if not completely mystifying plot device, but are also symbiotic entities. Qui-Gon Jinn tells Anakin that the midi-chlorians tell (or is it dictate to?) the Jedi the will of the Force. This means if Luke is a Jedi and all Jedi are chocked full of midi-chlorians, and midichlorians tell Jedi the will of the Force, and the will of the Force makes things happen, like Qui-Gon Jinn meeting Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine, then events in the Star Wars universe are determined. Luke Skywalker might have thought that he had the ability to choose to stay on his Uncle’s farm, but in reality, there was no such choice.

Because like, the will of God, the will of the Force makes things happen.

You don’t have to believe me on this one,

but the midi-chlorians would say you’d be wrong if you didn’t.

Rage With the Machines

First off, even though I’m a fan of the band (Rage Against the Machine), I still don’t quite get what the name means. I know that there’s “THE MAN” out there, and that I’m supposed to fight against him and his endeavor to bring on the New World Order, but …. wait, is that it? Anyway… I, being the fan of truly hideous entertainment, purchased season 1 of Knight Rider some weeks ago. It sat on my shelf looking at me looking at it, until I finally had some time to take it down and watch. Now, I used to really dig that show when I was a kid, but somehow all of my childhood memories paint things as being so much better than they really were. This show sucks ass! It’s not for the fact that the whole show is built around some dude who drives a talking car– it’s not for the fact that watching David Hasselfoff’s acting is something like getting kneed to the groin or having to eat your dog’s feces. It’s the wardrobe! Really, so far as the 80s went, clothes-wise, well… you know how when you’re talking to someone and they have this totally huge zit on their forehead and no matter how hard you try to pay attention to what they’re saying, you know it just won’t happen? Well, the clothes are like that. Big pimples. Especially “The Hoff”s” eighties poodle -doo. I was so distracted, unfortunately, that I almost missed the point — that is, a major philosophical point — in the show. Which brings me to the whole idea of machines. Former cop, Michael Knight, oops, Michael Long, is transformed into Michael Knight after being shot and left for dead by some shady underworld types. Because Long took a shot to the kisser, he is given a new face (it seems that the didn’t make sure that the original owner of that face was dead, but then, if they did it wouldn’t have allowed Hasselhoff to play his evil doppleganger Garth Knight), and is persuaded by the Knight Foundation to serve their purposes, which is, good for Long, fighting injustice. And more importantly, he’s given the keys to the sweetest, kick-ass black Trans-Am this side of My Mother the Car , the Knight Industries 2000, better known as KITT. The bitchin’ thing about KITT is the fact that he speaks! Yes, Michael Knight’s new “partner” is a talking car. But KITT is no ordinary car, mind you. He’s super fast, he’s a super computer, and he can jump without even so much as making the slightest skid mark upon landing. He’s a super car. KITT (with the voice of William “Mr. Feeney” Daniels), spares no opportunity to remind Michael that, despite his human-like qualities (his ability to converse rationally, his accidental sense of humor, the fact that he’s a smart-ass), that he’s not human. KITT is a car and he knows it. We know that he is a car. Yet, Michael and we, the audience, care for KITT. We worry when he is in danger, and we enjoy his company. To us and to Michael as well, KITT is more than a mere machine. He’s a trusted friend, a part of the family. But, this attitude seems a little odd. Sure, we have no problem including non-humans into our moral sphere — we do it with our pets and our so-workers and classmates, but we often draw a line when it comes to things that are really not human, like machines. But, we still feel a sense of moral attachment to things like KITT. KITT is no ordinary machine. He interacts with us, he seems to care about us, and in turn, we care about him. On more than one occasion, Michael endangers his own life to save his car. Let me repeat that he endangers his own life to save his car. To some viewers, Michael’s act seems a little, well, strange. Afterall, KITT is a car. If he is destroyed, he can be rebuilt. Michael Knight, however, is not rebuildable. If He dies, he stays dead forever. Which begs (in the colloquial, not philosophic sense) us to ask, is treating a machine like KITT, that is is the inclusion of a machine into our moral sphere (to the extent that we are willing to lay our lives on the line for a machine), extending to inclusion of non-humans into our moral sphere too far? Would we be including machines to our own peril? For most of the history of western philosophy, humans sat squarely at the top of all creation. From the Bible to Aristotle’s hierarchy, mankind’s (and more specifically males) natural place was that of ruler. According to Aristotle, animals were mere tools to serve man’s needs. A donkey was there to pull carts, a dog to keep watch over property, and so on. Man was to administer over the lower animals, and animals were to serve man’s will. According to Aristotle, this was because man (and he did mean man) was endowed with a rational mind. Man’s rational mind enabled him to control his lower, animal inpulses and desires (this is also why Aristotle thought that women were not naturally superior to men. Apparently, women have some sort of wandering uterus problem that makes them all crazy-like and unable in any way to control themselves or anything else. Anyone else have the feeling that Aristotle didn’t date much?). Anyway, where was I? Was I anywhere? Oh, yes, modern philospophy (and I mean modern as in 20th century) challenged the old notions of human superiority and brought in the animals. Starting with Darwin and his tehory of natural selection, modern thinkers rethought the idea that the natural order included mankind at its top. Philosophers such as Peter Singer suggested that we expand our moral sphere to include animals, due to the fact that animals, like humans, possess the capacity for suffering. So, my dog may be a mere machine, in the eyes of Descartes, but it is a machine that has the capacity to suffer. So, according to Singer and all the other animal rights loonies, he’s in. But, that’s it. Descartes saw animals such as dogs and cats as mere machines. They serve us just as any artifact that a man creates with his own hands serves his needs. According to Aristotle, artifacts such as art and technology fall outside of nature and are mere tools meant to serve man’s needs. We can see why modern philosophers include animals — they fear, they feel pain, they bleed and suffer as any human. But, KITT is a machine. He knows that he is a machine. But, we see that KITT has something that other machines do not — an ability to interact with humans on a human level. I was watching an episode of Star Trek: TNG not too long ago. The episode had to do with whether Data was a person. In the episode, Captain Picard argued that the argument that Data was not a person because he is a mere machine falls apart in light of the fact that humans, if you look at ourselves from the biological level, are also mere machines. We are machines, just of a different type, Picard says. Instead of wires, we have veins and arteries. Instead of oil and lubricant, we have blood. But if you lay out the systems side by side, they are more the same than different. What made Data human, Picard argued, was not hois physicality, but his psychology. Data was self aware, intelligent, and (perhaps) possessed consciousness. According to Picard, Data was a sentient being who, despite being a machine, had what we would, in any other circumstance, humanity. I think that, if we look at KITT, we might say the same. KITT, like Data, is self aware. He refers to himself as “I”, and is aware of his place in the environment. He is intelligent (more so than any human). As the show progressed, KITT’s character became even more human-like, expressing complex emotions such as anger, sorrow and compassion. KITT, in some instances, is more human than some humans. It is worth noting here that this is also a point expressed by Singer and others. The idea that animals should not be included in our moral sphere because they lack human qualities such as complex human emotions, includes some animals such as chimpanzees (and some dogs and cats), and excludes some people, such as the mentally handicapped persons. This gets us to a very nagging and really hard question: what makes humans unique? The essence of the question is what makes us human? Back in the day, computers were just mere computing machines. They did exactly as their programmers wanted them to do. Unfortunately for us, many modern computers already perform functions that human brains can do. Computers can solve complex problems, and learn, as when in May 1997, the computer Big Blue formulated a winning chess strategy to beat champion chess player, Gary Kasparov. Anyone who has played a video game knows that the computer can be a formidable enemy — especially when you are aware of the fact that, as you play, the computer is learning from your playing style ( and figuring out how to defeat you). The fear that underlies this fact is what Captain Picard asked Dr. Maddox to consider in that episode of Star Trek, which is the possibility that a computer may become conscious of its own existence. Nevermind mere Datas of even a C-3PO, our fear is Wargames‘ “Joshua” or The Terminator’s Skynet — the computer that becomes self aware, figures out what the problem is (read:us), and immediately sets out a plan for total and permanent human destruction. Ok, let’s not go quite that far, but let’s consider the computer that becomes conscious. If it does, then what is it? I think that we can no longer call it a “mere” machine. We often think of ourselves as evolving, namely because we gain knowledge and wisdom as we grow. This idea is often connected to the idea that our conscious minds possess more than our mere physicality. Our minds, being self-aware, possess something transcendent — a soul. Is it possible for a computer to gain a soul? Still, let’s not go there. We can’t even figure out if humans, let alone any car or android has a soul. Think of this as food for thought. Or at worst, a warning of a grim future. But let’s get back to KITT. KITT, although he insists that he does not, has emotions. And for many, the ability to possess and exhibit emotions is enough for inclusion into our moral sphere ( this is why we often give human qualities to our pets). The ability to express even rudimentary emotions is enough for inclusion. But still, for many people, even those who support animal rights, animals are just that — animals. Not human. Although we don’t want animals to suffer, they aren’t us. That is, they aren’t humans. Many humans feel that there is something unique about humans that (still) place us apart (if even only slightly) from other animals. Perhaps what lurks behind our need to separate ourselves from animals (and I’m assuming talking cars) is some sort of Nietzschean fear of losing ourselves morally. It goes, I think, like this: Nietzsche spoke of the degradation of Man by the overtaking of master morality by slave morality. This takeover upsets the natural order and plunges humanity into the abyss (culturally, morally, etc.). Naturally, man lords over animals and machines ( master morality). Our machines are our slaves. The fear is that, if we elevate machines to our level, we lose our place — our place becomes meaningless. If all is equal, then all loses its value! Men are no more than machines. Lowly, crappy machines to be discarded when they lose their usefulness. Worse to come is the venerated machine that gets to dictate the fates of men. It’s like being bossed around by your dog or wife. Totally unnatural! Which reminds me of a scene in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. There’s the scene where C-3PO is in the droid factory. He sees the machines making other machines and is disgusted by what he sees. He calls the whole scene “perverse”. 3PO’s attitude reflects the classic philosophical view of the roles of man and machines. Machines are mere tools to be used by me to create, not as devices of creation themselves. A machine who creates, according to this view, would be considered unnatural. If we enter a day when machines have evolved to the point that they are indistinguishable from people, we would have something to worry about — the ursurpation of man’s role. I’m not exactly talking about armies of T-2000s walking around, but there is a fear that, if a machine can do the work faster and more efficiently than any human, then it may be the human who becomes obsolete. As of now, a machine need a human for its creation. Cars may be built by robots in a factory, but if you trace back the line of creation, you’ll run into a human in there somewhere. Many people say that our ability to create is what sets us apart from other animals. A monkey can draw on a canvas or a robot can put a Toyota together at the factory, but real creativity is born in the mind of a human. That’s true right now, but if a machine gains consciousness, we may very well see feeling, creative machines, who create art, not because they downloaded a pattern or calculated what would be aesthetically pleasing, but created a truly inspired piece of art as any human would create. If machines can do everything people do, the real question is what purpose will we serve? This makes me think about that movie Maximum Overdrive. If you haven’t seen this movie, consider yourself lucky. But, long story short, the story involves a machine takeover. The machines literally rise up and turn on their masters. Theres a scene in the movie when this woman is screaming at the big rigs parked outside of a diner “We made You!”. She, I think, expresses the sentiment than many humans would feel towards even the smartest, most human machine. A machine is a product of man. Anything beyond the world of man as creator disturbs the natural order of things. It may “feel” or “create”, it may speak in the very erudite voice of William Daniels, and look like Cherry 2000, but all in all, it’s a machine. It is a tool and should remain so. And this may be fine so long as the most advanced computer still needs a human creator or operator, or if Data or KITT remain anomalies. Throughout the run of Knight Rider, the only other talking car was KARR, the other car that was built by Knight Industries that belonged to that Garth guy that I mentioned earlier. And throughout the run of Star Trek :TNG, there was only Data, his “brother” Lore, his “daughter” Lal (who malfunctioned and had to be dismantled), and Dr. Soong’s ladyfriend who had no idea that she was an android. I forgot her name. Anyway, as Captain Picard said to Maddox, our real problem comes when the smart machine stops being the anomaly. Picard asks Maddox, what if there are a thousand Datas? a million? A million KITTs could be as easily a curse as a blessing. If machines can create, humans may not only end up fighting obsolescence, but also searching for justification. So, in the future, the big question may be answering why we are here. And this may not be too far off. But, perhaps what we should fear isn’t replacement with machines or even searching for justification for the human race. The future may not be one of moral inclusion as merging with machines. Futurist Ray Kurzweil says that there may come a day when computers will surpass us in intelligence and “irrevocably alter what it means to be human” (Rolling Stone issue 1072, “When Man and Machine Merge” by David Kushner). Kurzweil says that superintelligent nanotechnology will eventually merge with people, getting rid of diseases, making us smarter, and storing our memories as well. Kurzweil says that it totally possible that humanity will become obsolete, as people interact and become dependent more and more on machines. If you don’t think we’ve already started, some futurists say, think look at your cell phone, your ipod, pace makers and your dog’s implant meant to identify him if he gets lost. According to some, the merge between man and machine, what they call “The Singularity”, has already begun. However, Kurzweil says that we need not worry about becoming obsolete (although he says it’s not beyond the realm of possibility). Kurzweil says that the future will be ” a human-machine civilization… we’re not obsolescing ourselves — we’re extending ourselves”. There are detractors, however, who believe that “The Singularity” is more science fiction as science probability. Biologist Thomas Ray says that it is unlikely that computers will advance enough to meet the point of “The Singularity”. Philosopher John Searle says (and I love this), “I think the Singularity is demonstrably bullshit… but that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s very thrilling”. So what do we think? What does thnking about KITT or Data or my cell phone’s ring tones mean for us morally? What it means it that we, humans will face a future that will call us to alter the way that we think about life and what it means for something to count as a fellow living being, entitled to all the rights that we feel that we and other beings are entitled to. As the human race evolves, so to does our moral sphere. To many of us, KITT is considerable for inclusion, at the very least. For a few more, he is not only considerable, but fully included as we would include any being that we care about or for whom we feel lorally obligated. The Singularity may be a festering pile of bullshit, but then, when has that ever stopped a thought experiment? Possible worlds, anyone?

Only A Sith Deals in Absolutes: On Anakin Skywalker and the Ambigiuty of Evil

I’ve been on something of a kick lately. Actually, it started around 1977. I just can’t stop watching those damned Star Wars movies! To make matters worse, all that philosophy I’ve been studying has somehow crept it’s way into my watching what should be — as described by its creator, George Lucas, a series of kid’s movies. Damn the man. In addition to being filmically stuck on George Lucas’ space opera, I’m simultaneously stuck on the problem of evil. It’s not that my stuckness on the problem of evil is limited to all that guesswork about how a all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God allows evil — I’ve been thinking about the “problem” in a more general manner — that is, (and more specifically) how we use “evil” to describe the actions and psychological dispositions of individuals. I think that before I get into my topic at hand, it might do us a little good to understand the fantasy of Star Wars. George Lucas says, when taken in total, his movies are really the story of Anakin Skywalker (or Darth Vader if you prefer), who is modeled after the classic Greek tragic heroes. Plucked from obscurity, young slave boy, Anakin Skywalker is destined by the Gods (or by midichlorians) to become the greatest of all the Jedi. Our hero rises, but is done in by a tragic flaw. He eventually finds redemption and joins the gods (or in this case, becomes one with the Force). Lucas said he used classic archetypes as his templates (for more on these archetypes, read Jung or Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces). People of my generation, however, didn’t care about subtext or the references to Greek tragedy. All we cared about is the fact that lightsabers were cool. And Wookies were cooler. For the record, Ewoks are not cool. Still, even if we had never heard of Joseph Campbell, or had ever heard of the mythology behind the saga, we understood that Star Wars was a classic story of the good guys versus the bad guys, and as always, the good guys won. The second trilogy ( although chronologically filmed first), which includes the newly retitled A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, the good and the bad were clear– bad guys = Empire, good guys = Rebel Alliance. Led by the flaxen-haired Luke Skywalker, the good guys destroyed the Death Star not once, but twice and saved the galaxy from the Nazi-esque Empire led by the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine. In a true, awsomely Jesus-like goodness move Luke resisted Vader’s temptation to join him (even after Vader cuts off his hand!), and likewise resists Emperor Palpatine’s temptation to kill his own father and stand at the Emperor’s side. Luke is good and pure-hearted way beyond golly gee. Even the roguish scoundrel Han Solo is reformed. The Empire, on the other hand, exudes nothing but evil. Grand Moff Tarkin orders the destruction of Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan. Vader ( check this out) chokes his subordinates (killing the unfortunate Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa), tortures his own daughter (although he didn’t know at the time, but it probably wouldn’t have made any difference), cuts off his son’s hand, backtracks on his deal with Lando Calrissian (quite possibly the only black, Armenian character in film history), tortures Han Solo and orders him encased in carbonite, just to name a few evil deeds. The only thing that I can think of that comes close to that kind of evil on the side of the Rebels is if you count the fact that Luke made out with his sister — but he didn’t know that she was when he did ( although I don’t think that if he did it would have made a difference). But, so far as episodes I, II, and III go, things are simple. Good and evil are very clearly defined ( I lifted those exact three words from a song). But, in 1999, George Lucas, probably in the desperate quest for more money (because he needs it), had to go and mess things up. Royally. Lucas decided that he needed to tell the backstory of Vader. Hello Phantom Menace! As we see young Vader, played by Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen (respectively), we see that Vader wasn’t always evil, but a guy with a couple of emotional issues who took a wrong step and wound up the personification of evil throughout the Galactic Empire. Hey, it could happen to anybody. We see that Anakin, like many of us, wasn’t born naturally bad. We see that, when we look closely, that Vader isn’t a bad guy. Vader is a guy who, like so many of us, stepped into a deep stinky puddle of moral ambiguity and got stuck. Vader’s fall wasn’t motivated by malevolence, but by (surprisingly) the want to do good. Vader was motivated by GOOD. This is what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”. Evil, according to Arendt, isn’t carried out, for the most part, by evil people who want to infilct pain on everyone. In her summation of Nazi atrocities, Arendt suggested that “evil” like the Nazis (or in this case the Empire) is a matter of people who believe that what they are doing is right. They see their actions as normal. ( Call it cognitive dissonance or whatever you like, but even in our own lives we see people who do incredibly bad things who will insist that their goal was some ultimate good). If, in the case of the actions of Vader, he believed that what he was doing was good, and if that is indeed the case, we may ask ourselves what is evil? In the philosophy of religion, there is much talk of evil. The discussion deals, in large part, with the problem of evil as it pertains to our arguments for and against the existence of God. We ask how can a loving, powerful God permit evil? But as we ask this question, we enevitably ask ourselves ‘what is evil?’. When we attempt to answer the question, we tend to divide evil into two types: 1) natural evils, which include earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, disease, and general pain, like the pain I am feling in my hip as I am sitting in this very uncomfortable chair writing this post, and 2) moral evils, which we believ requires some sort of deliberate thought or action. Moral evils would include murder, rape, ill will, or odd-numbered Star Trek films. Looking at Vader, we ask, if Vader’s actions are good in his mind, but in the “real” world evil and hurtful to others, does an act of evil require an additional intentionality on the part of the agent? That is, in order for an act to be truly evil, does it require an evil mind as well? Evil mindedness in the Empire is best typified by Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine is guided by the Sith Code which states the following: Peace is a lie. There is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory my chains are broken. (From Star Wars: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction. 2006. by Drew Karpyshyn. Del Rey Books. pg. 79). The Sith ‘Rule of Two’ states that among the Sith there is “One to embody the power, the other to crave it” (pg. 259). The Sith value treachery, betrayal and naked unrelenting ambition. These are qualities that are, according to most of us, more than a little evil. But, even among the evil-minded Sith, there is a goal behind their outer evil — one that, in their minds, brings some good. Let’s get back to the Germans for a second. Ok, for starters, we’ll admit that Palpatne is evil. Just as it is undeniable that many of Hitler’s henchmen were in no way motivated by any sort of good whatsoever. Ok. But what about the rank and file soldiers and citizens who believed in Hitler’s vision of a thousand-year Reich? What about those people who believed that what they were doing served an ultimate good? If every German pulled out their utilitarian calculus and weighed the pain that some (and assuming a relatively few) would experience in order to get to a prosperous, peaceful German Reich, they might have, with all good intentions, thought that what they were doing or allowing to happen was good. I believe this is where Anakin’s evil lies. He is not only not evil, but not even maliciously oriented. Although the purists may kill me where I stand for saying this, I hold that Episode III, Revenge of the Sith is the lynchpin of the saga. If you can bear Hayden Christensen’s “acting” (really it’s not just him in this one), you can see that Vader isn’t evil, or at least he is in Arendt’s sense of banal evil. *There’s the scene where Mace Windu is poised to kill Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Anakin walks in on the battle. Windu insists that, to preserve the good, that Palpatine must be destroyed. But, little does Windu know, if Palpatine is destroyed, then Anakin will lose his wife Padme in childbirth. Palpatine is the only one who can help him. Anakin intervenes, but on the side of Palpatine. Windu is chucked out the window, plummeting to his death. * Anakin kills Windu because he wants to save the life of his wife and unborn child (obviously a pro-lifer. He’ll kill the adult to save the baby). This is a genuinely good thing to want to do. So let’s say this is Anakin’s primary motivation — he wants to save his family. This is good. This is something that we all would do if we knew that our loved ones were in danger. If we were in the same situation, and we genuinely believed that our actions are good (they may even be good), we ask again, is the act evil? This question, of course, has implications not only in asking questions about the nature of evil, but also in our determination of there is any evil at all. We may conclude that very few actions that appear to be evil are in fact evil. Ok, I see the guy in the corner frantically waving his hands in the air. He’s saying that there is evil, and in fact Anakin is evil for what he has done. A miscalculation doesn’t absolve us from moral responsibility. If we can’t see that our actions are evil, then we are doubly at fault. First for our actions and second, for our stupidity. So noted. But I say that, despite the fact that the acts are prima facie evil, that Anakin’s acgtions are not evil in the true sense of malevolent motivation. His actions are, at best, ambiguously evil. That is, we can still say that his actions, however painful to others, were not intentionally so, and were motivated by good. Where did I get this answer? From George Lucas himself. Lucas says that, despite all of his misdeeds, Anakin is still the “Chosen One”. Lucas, like Luke and Padme, insist that deep, down inside of Vader, there is good. He is not as “twisted and evil” as Obi-wan Kenobi claims. Lucas says that, had he stopped his story at Episode IV, Vader would have remained a personification of evil. But, he says it was his goal to show us that Vader was as much of a victim as a villain. In the long run it seems that Vader is the victim of his own rationalization. According to Lucas, Vader’s entire motivation for everything he does is that he will not betray the Republic. Lucas says, ” Nobody evil thinks of themselves as evil. They always believe that they’re doing good…” ( Lucas explains this point of view on the Revenge of the Sith bonus disk feature “The Chosen One”). Lucas explains that people thought of Vader as pure evil, but according to Lucas he is not. Lucas says that Vader is not a heartless machine but a guy who has “lost everything”. Vader, Lucas says, is motivated by the loss of his mother, by the fact that he is going to lose his wife, at his frustration at being denied — not exactly evil emotions. Actor Hayden Christensen says (and he should know), Vader still believes that he is the “Chosen One”. He’s committing evil not knowing that his actions are hurting other beings ( we can assume that in believing that he is the “Chosen One” Vader believes that he does no wrong). Christensen says that Vader’s inability to see his acts as anything but good may be due to the fact that Anakin is naive. That’s exactly the point. It may be naivete, or rationalization or plain bullshiting — it complicates judging an act. Our actions are not simple matters of yes/no or black/ white, but are complicated and infused with all sorts of reasoning and emotions that cloud motivations — even to ourselves that we cannot simply brand one act “evil” and another “good”. Palpatine tells Anakin that good is a point of view — not an objective certain fact ( amazingly, Ben Kenobi tells Luke this same sentiment in Return of the Jedi. Strange words to hear from such a principled Jedi Master). We see (later in the film) Anakin tell Obi-wan that, from his point of view, the Jedi are evil. How can we be certain what is truly good or evil, especially when we can reduce it to a point of view or an intention, or relies on the outcome of some expected result? This may lead us to a frightening possibility: there may be no such thing as “evil”. Throughout history, theologians, philosophers and laymen alike has wrestled with the question of evil assuming that not only is evil a clear-cut morally wrong action, but also that evil actually exists. Michael Hardt of Duke University says, ” Human nature is changable. Human nature isn’t good or evil”. Evil is a thing of which we are all capable. Evil, if we call any act as such, in its most common form, isn’t Nazis, or Darth Vader or even Dick Cheney. It’s the garden variety little scheming that we all do to ever-so-gently undermine a co-worker, or sabotage a good friend’s budding relationship with someone you despise, or giving yourself a leg-up on the competition. We may say (and we may be right) that any and all or these banal evils we commit are in their own painful way, good — not just for us, but for everyone. They may be more in the way of moral mistakes than moral evils. Ewan McGreggor, who plays Obi-wan Kenobi in Trilogy 1, says of Vader, “His [Anakin’s] slide to the Dark Side… comes from very human things– that he’s in love, and he’s going to be a father, and he’s jealous… we’ve all done it. Messed up things because we’re young and naive, and not able to step back and go ‘oh no, it’s ok'” (From the Star Wars Trilogy bonus disk feature “The Return of Darth Vader”). Then again, George Lucas said that there’s a tendency in some people who watch movies like Star Wars to dismiss them as mindless entertainment. There are others, he says who take the opposite track and read too much into it. Which is what I, and every other philosopher does when we write things like this.

On Being Sci-bi: Star Wars, Star Trek and Why Being and Unfeeling Android is Better Than Being a Neurotic ‘Droid

I WAS LISTENING to NPR today. There was this philosopher guy who wrote a book about dolphins and why we should be concerned about them. It reminded me of a class that I had awhile back about moral status.

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The class read some Peter Singer.

My opinions about Singer aside, I appreciated his efforts to get us to realize that we humans aren’t the only life on this planet. But, as a human, I still have that problem with taking any life that doesn’t look human seriously.

I mean, I don’t go around smashing hamsters or nailing dogs to walls, but I am willing to admit that I suffer from the all-too-common humans first syndrome.

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As well as having a fondness for philosophy, I also have a fondness for science fiction.

Some people are squarely in a particular camp, meaning that they prefer to watch Star Trek or that they prefer the lightsaber-wielding Jedi of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, or even, god forbid, they like Farscape.*

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YES,  FARSCAPE COSPLAY IS A THING, PEOPLE

I haven’t been one to so narrowly squeeze myself into one category of fan over another, as I have realized that there is some amount of tension between fans of any given particular science fiction program. I hadn’t really had a name for what a person like me is ( except for maybe uberdork), until I listened one morning to a radio show where another multiple program watcher called himself “sci-bi”.

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Being sci-bi meant that he was not going to be labeled. He was not going to be cornered into claiming allegiance to Roddenberry or to Lucas. He was free to appreciate both or either if he so choosed.f342b9e545fa929de6a68e706abc95fc

Which brings me back to the point of all of this. I had this class on moral status. We were discussing the question, “what is a person?”.

The question, it seems, isn’t as easily answered as we may have thought.

If I was to give the standard response, I would say that a person is a human, short and simple.

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But, it seems, the philosopher is supposed to say that that speciesist response is no longer viable in light of the data that “proves” that we humans aren’t the only intelligent life on the planet.

there’s all this stuff about what constitutes “morally relevant” characteristics that determine whether a being is morally considerable. we can suppose that these same criteria can also be used to determine whether a being is a “person”.

Since I am a fan of science fiction, and I also know that Gene Roddenberry was a nut about putting philosophy in to his Star Trek plotlines, I immediately recognized that my favorite incarnation of Star Trek (TNG, or The Next Generation for those who aren’t in the know) had a plot dealing with that very issue: what is a person?

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Giddy with pop culture-infused zeal, I emailed my professor, explaining an episode of a TV show that would perfectly depict the conflict of personhood — especially when we consider the personhood of non-humans. I volunteered the episode “Measure of a Man”.

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Now, I could get into all sorts of really geekified backstory here, but suffice to say that the episode did fit into the class discussion. But then, that got me thinking… As far as science fiction goes, Roddenberry’s characters are more “real”, meaning they are future people who reflect who we are now.

We are supposed to be philosophically challenged or enlightened by them and their actions. We see the people that we are to become when we look into Star Trek and the near-utopian future it presents to us.

I guess, in the long run, that’s the difference between a philosopher and a storyteller.

Being that I am sci-bi, I also appreciate the work of George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Truth be told, I know more about these characters than I know about my own family. I can trace the genealogy of the Solo twins (Now non-canon. Thanks a lot, The Force Awakens!) more readily than I can trace my own heritage.

Seriously.

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Whereas Roddenberry shows us what we might become, Lucas shows us what we want to be.

Lucas shows us heroes and villains that find redemption through the love of our sons.

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Lucas’ focus is on the mythology of mankind. The story where the people come first.

Which is what I’m writing about right now.

I’ll admit I have a sort-of sci-crush on the character “Data” on Star Trek.

Who doesn’t, right?

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OK, SO DATA ISN’T EVERYBODY’S CUP OF EARL GREY TEA

Now, my thing is not for Brent Spiner, the actor who plays “Data”, but the character himself (itself?).

I think that the point of the android Data is so that to mirror our own humanity.

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Because Data is emotionless and always trying to be more human, he reflects our constant struggle to improve ourselves.

In “The Measure of A Man”, Captain Picard advocates on Data’s side when Starfleet wanted to dismantle him and use him for research, arguing that Data was a mere machine but is a person.

Picard argues successfully, that Data possesses the same qualities that we humans say defines us as human, namely, we are self aware, we are sentient, and we are conscious of ourselves and our surroundings.

I guess the philosopher in me would agree wholeheartedly that, despite the fact that Data was not human, he was a person who is entitled to all the rights and privileges that all humans are entitled to.

So far, so good.

But then I was hit by a sudden apprehension — what about a poor droid like C-3PO? If he were the subject of a question of personhood and if he were in Roddenberry’s universe, he would certainly meet Data’s personhood test.

Anyone familiar with 3PO knows that he doesn’t want to die ( he is horrified by being shot in The Empire Strikes Back, and later in the film tells Chewbacca that he doesn’t want to die), he is aware of himself, as we see that he constantly bemoans his “lot in life”, and C-3PO, unlike Data, is emotional.

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C-3PO can be best described as a “nervous wreck”.

But yet, in George Lucas’ universe, a mere resemblance to humans will do you absolutely no good if you’re a droid.

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A droid can be used, abused, dismantled, sold without consent. Given away to Jabba the Hutt without any consideration of how a droid might feel about the deal, and if it knows too much, its memory will be wiped.

It doesn’t seem to matter to either George Lucas or his characters whether a droid expresses fear or dread at being condemed to the spice mines of Kessel — they ain’t human.

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And that, to the “Star Wars” universe, seems to make all the difference. So what does this mean?

I guess I could say that George Lucas’ movies reflect the old-world mentality that told us that animals didn’t have souls and that they only made noises when you cut them open because that noise was like the pings and pangs of the springs of a clock when it is taken apart.

Lord knows I don’t want to think about the moral status of my Siri.

But then, I could say that we should be more like Captain Picard — ready to defend our non-human friends when their lives are on the line — if only for the fact that they are persons too.

Or, I guess the better way to see all of this is to stop thinking about it all so seriously, and just enjoy the flashing lights and the soaring music.

…and the last two minutes of Rogue One.

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NERDGASM!!!!!!!!!!

My god, that was incredible.