Monday, January 19, 2009

Non-violence and the jedi


The non-violent preachfest starts around 17:25

Channel surfing last night, I caught a bit in the Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon ("Jedi Crash," posted above) that struck me as both absurd and relevant. Around minute 17;30, a chipmunk with an Irish accent starts channeling Martin Luther King. He engages in a debate about the morality of war with no less than a jedi knight. "It takes two to fight," he tells her. "Only when you lay your arms down and pursue a course of nonviolence can you make this claim to me that the Jedi are peacekeepers."

If you do nothing else for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, order The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and throw it in your bathroom. King was a fascinating person, a great thinker, speaker, and doer. He thought outside the box and managed to translate a philosophy of "love thy enemy" into concrete political action. His clear ethical perspective would be of tremendous benefit today.

King had no illusions about man's capacity for cruelty. He considered it a moral obligation to fight evil. Like the chipmunk in the cartoon above, King was skeptical about the use of violence to achieve peace. Live by the sword, die by the sword. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

But what's a jedi without a lightsaber? How can we expect to win?

King would answer that non-violence does not mean non-action - it means vigorous activism. MLK believed mankind's best hope for survival was the power of love. His weapon of choice was non-cooperation. He organized sit-ins, marches, meetings, speeches, and boycotts, all with the objective of provoking the public's conscience. In Birmingham, he dispatched children in front of dogs and fire hoses to make his point.

Whatever you think about the wars that are going on right now - whether you believe they are justified or not - it is worth taking a moment and asking, What would Martin Luther King do? Are we, as non-military citizens, sufficiently involved in this struggle, or have we left it all to our soldiers and politicians? What can we do in our everyday lives to promote peace between nations? Are there tactics of non-violence available to us that might have overlooked?

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10 comments:

David said...

MLK tactics don't work a lot of the time. And even in civil rights movement, a lot was accomplished through the courts rather than through changing public opinion.

YZF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YZF said...

I loved the episode, since it highlighted the Jedi Order's error in judgment. After all, the Jedi were not supposed to think of themselves as warriors ("wars not make one great!"), yet they still willingly led an army during the Clone Wars. It seems they had forgotten that, to keep quoting Yoda, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack." The idea is that they don't live by the sword, but they keep one around in order to not die by the sword.

(On the other hand, the Jedi did justify their involvement in the war by noting that they were "defending democracy," which means that their primary mistake was not realizing how the government had been corrupted. It's complicated.)

Still, even though the lightsaber is supposed to be used to protect, it's reasonable to assume that Jedi would consider non-violence to be an ideal, especially considering how the Clone Wars ended badly for them. (Then again, the Sith had something to do with that, too. Again, it's complicated.)

Good blog!

Samurai Scientist said...

@David,
MLK tactics don't work a lot of the time.

I don't think they're tried a lot of the time.

And even in civil rights movement, a lot was accomplished through the courts rather than through changing public opinion.

Every court case needs a plaintiff.

@YZF,
I loved the episode, since it highlighted the Jedi Order's error in judgment. After all, the Jedi were not supposed to think of themselves as warriors ("wars not make one great!"), yet they still willingly led an army during the Clone Wars.

This is the genius of Lucas' Clone Wars. The Jedi were fighting for Palpatine the whole time. I think the point was lost on the American audience (who basically came to watch the lightsabers).

It seems they had forgotten that, to keep quoting Yoda, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack." The idea is that they don't live by the sword, but they keep one around in order to not die by the sword.

I don't think even MLK would have martyred himself. He would have defended himself physically if he had to. Although he did refuse to carry a gun after his house was bombed.

I think the theme of non-violence comes up at key moments in Star Wars, even in the first trilogy. Luke's refusal to strike down his father saved him from the dark side - and earned him the title of Jedi.

Dave L said...

OK, this little chipmunk’s self-righteousness hit a nerve with me…

I’m not convinced the learned chipmunk really represents the view of Dr. King. Dr. King opposed discrimination in the US through non-violence and also opposed the Vietnam War. The chipmunk seems to say: (a) that it is wrong to fight wars even if you did not start them and (b) the truly moral party will stop fighting no matter what. Yeah, try telling that to the Jewish, Polish, or Russian partisan fighters during World War II or the Chinese person who just witnessed the Rape of Nanking. I don’t think that Dr. King would have agreed with professor chipmunk’s blanket condemnation of all violence. Samurai, as you said yourself -- Dr. King believed in self-defense.

Samurai Scientist said...

@Dave L,
I don’t think that Dr. King would have agreed with professor chipmunk’s blanket condemnation of all violence. Samurai, as you said yourself -- Dr. King believed in self-defense.

I'm not sure. From what I've read of King, he is adamantly non-violent. He is against war in all its forms. I do think he would struggle if someone attacked him. But I do not think he would take a life to save his own.

YZF said...

Have you seen the follow-up episode? (I think it's streaming on starwars.com now.) It takes a much more ambiguous position on the issue (and features George Takei! Though I think it's a weaker episode,in general, than the one you embedded).

Samurai Scientist said...

Have you seen the follow-up episode? (I think it's streaming on starwars.com now.) It takes a much more ambiguous position on the issue (and features George Takei! Though I think it's a weaker episode,in general, than the one you embedded).

Yeah, I actually did see it. I suppose Lucas wanted to push the question of non-violence to its limit. The scene I liked was when Anakin said, "We respect your way of life, now you respect ours!"

It was definitely a weaker episode, but it's interesting to see both sides of the issue explored.

Samurai Scientist said...

Inasmuch as non-violence is concerned, I should point out, the chipmunk really doesn't live the concept as embodied by King. King believed in vigorous non-violent protest. The chipmunk was more about conflict-avoiding - the opposite of King's approach.

Dave L said...

Most Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland took the non-violent approach. You can ask the 10% who survived how that worked out. An approach that is 100% uncompromisingly non-violent (under any circumstances) is suicidal.

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