Building Death Stars
Can our republic survive if all political matters goes nuclear?
Hello friends. Today I have for you, something of a confession. There are times when I feel completely unable to write. Paralyzed. Usually this stems from a sort of fear, an imposter complex. Who am I to write on this subject? Am I hypocrite for feeling this way about x or y when I’ve previously said z? I want to talk to you about power…my longheld position of wanting to dismantle political power, and why lately I’ve been craving just the opposite.
What do you do when your enemy is aiming a weapon of mass destruction right between your eyes? It’s not a novel scenario or hypothetical question for the realm of pop-fiction or reality. We live in the post-Cold War era after all. This question and possible answers to it have been played out. The popular winner to this query is the theory of "mutually assured destruction,” born in 1962 and given to us by Donald Brennan of Hudson Institute. The idea is simple…..mankind has created weapons so powerful we could destroy not only any earthly enemy, but ourselves as well. This was (still is) madness. Some schemes are mad enough to work, however. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator. The Soviet Union and the United States did not exchange nuclear payloads, because it turns out most people would like to see the next sunset.
Herein lies the answer. Mutual understandings of strength and the ability/willingness to do harm, is a pretty well-proven theory of peace. Consider this quote by Jordan Peterson, “A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.” Now expand that from the individual level to a more macro perspective. There’s something about weakness which breeds combustibility (North Korea, Russia, Iran).
In the not so real world, the answer is that you blow those weapons up. Think James Bond Goldeneye or Icarus (Die Another Day), Thanos and the Infinity Stones from The Avengers, the Genesis Device in Star Trek, Skynet, and the Death Star.
You blow em’ up! You toss the Ring of Power back into the fire. There will always be usurpers and damaged men waiting in the wings to take the ring for themselves…..to do good with it, of course (deep sigh).
I have long subscribed to the view of power that it must be dissolved.
As of late, I have been struggling, very badly, with this principle.
Allow me to try and explain.
In my book, How The Force Can Fix The World, I explored political and cultural power through the lens of the Death Star project (Operation Stardust, for you Rogue One fans), and the quest of the Empire in Star Wars to rule the galaxy through fear. In the name of maintaining the peace.
This is what I wrote.
Following the rise of the Empire, Emperor Palpatine had a unique challenge in trying to keep thousands of star systems corralled into one united government. Remember, they had just witnessed years of sectarian conflict in The Clone Wars and it was that very chaos, with a monumental death toll topped off by allegations of a Jedi coup, that allowed Palpatine to seize total power in the name of restoring order.
You have to imagine there was a bit of a honeymoon period for the Empire. At first everyone probably loved the idea, thus the “thunderous applause” and then realized a few days or weeks later that their galactic senators had pulled the equivalent of a Las Vegas shotgun wedding performed by an Elvis impersonator. As soon as that warm fuzzy feeling, or total intoxication, wears off...you have a major problem. This is more or less where the Death Star comes into play.
Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the late and great Peter Cushing, fully explains the logic of the Death Star project in the original Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, when he posits to the Imperial hierarchy that “fear will keep the local systems in line - fear of this battle station.” The idea was simple. Make it so that worlds within the Empire couldn’t even think about things such as secession or insurrection without the looming threat of total and instant annihilation. If the senate agreeing to Palpatine’s Empire was akin to a Vegas wedding, the Death Star was a blanket ban on getting an annulment.
This was known as the “Tarkin Doctrine” which was similar in some ways to the United States’ military doctrine during the Cold War, “Mutually assured destruction.” The idea being that two nuclear states could maintain an uneasy peace, because failure to do so would mean an exchange of nuclear rockets—and total devastation. In Star Wars, only the Empire had the weapon of mass destruction, but in both scenarios the common denominator peace through fear.
But did the Death Star end up crippling the galaxy with fear to the point where the Emperor could govern as he pleased? While we know the Rebel Alliance eventually breaks the Empire in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the answer to this question really lies within Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The rebellion at this point in the Star Wars tale is fledgling, disorganized and fractious. There’s discontent about the Empire, but very little unity on what to do about it. That’s why you have the Rebel Alliance we recognize, led by the white-robed Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, pitted against a more chaotic and violent anti-Imperial force named Saw Gerrera. Some in the Alliance think that the democratic process can still save them. If just enough senators voted to dismantle Palpatine’s authority, surely things could go back to the way they once were?! Others are keenly aware that the Empire is a life or death level crisis, and that not launching a full-scale armed rebellion is tantamount to walking oneself to the guillotine.
Remember, the galaxy does not know about the Death Star project at this point. The test conducted in Rogue One that wiped out an entire city was explained to the Senate as a “mining disaster.” When the reluctant hero Jyn Erso comes to the Rebel Alliance with intel on the Death Star and how to destroy it, many in the room don’t even believe her that the Death Star exists.
One rebel posits, “If the Empire has this kind of power, what chance do we have?”
Erso responds, “What chance do we have? The question is what choice.”
Jyn Erso was right, and the majority of the wayward Rebellion agreed with her. In that moment, the Rebel Alliance became more than an organization, it blossomed into a widespread movement and cascaded toward revolution. The point here is of course that we shouldn’t want to create a climate in our own country where people on either side feel under threat from government in the way Erso and the Rebels did here.
Unfortunately, that ever present feeling of existential threat is exactly what is going on here. In the century following a devastating civil war brought on by slavery and decentralized government run amok, American government is now completely characterized by the struggle for control of the levers of federal power. Yes, political parties have always been invested in this fight, but now it has consumed everyday people. Americans are fearful about what their political opposites will do to them if and when they win power.
It’s become a political arms race when what we need is disarmament.
Everything you just read above was from my book. This is me at my best.
Yesterday I was preparing for an interview on a YouTube channel dedicated to politics & philosophy. The host wanted to talk to me about this analogy as it pertains to the frontlines of the American culture war. More specifically….the State of Florida vs the Walt Disney Corporation. So I looked back over the text I’d written. Refreshers are helpful.
I felt so convicted just reading my own words. Sad, even. Because I’ve been angry. Truth is….love (which leads to) attachment (which leads to) fear, and parenting…they have a way of making the best of us see red and act in ways they wouldn’t recognize once given time to reflect. And no, I’m using the Will Smith defense.
The nationalized fight over the Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida has been that for me. Showing my cards: I am deeply bothered that anyone would object to legislation stonewalling formal classroom instruction on sexuality and gender ideology for kids under the age of 8. Not college students, high schoolers, middle schoolers…little kids. In my moral universe, it is a clear-cut matter for public school classrooms that this is inappropriate.
When Disney leadership caved to the demands of their most progressive activist employees and came out against the bill, pledging the full arsenal of their monied, lobbying power to the repeal of the bill…..it felt to me like a breach of regular order. It felt like an overstep of how this particular corporation interacts with society.
Governor Ron DeSantis quickly announced that the Florida legislature would be exploring the decimation of Disney’s special status in Florida, known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. I have to say, that felt good.
“Fire when ready” has been my vibe for a few weeks. I don’t like it.
This is a kind of approach to politics and government I know I am not supposed to favor. I am on record numerous times being against this kind of thing on principle (using the levers of government to punish enemies).
The world feels so devoid of principle. Nothing left but governmental weapons of mass destruction lying around asking to be used. Power for power’s sake. A bureaucracy to wield against opponents. A court system you can feasibly weaponize. Executive Orders that can be used to bypass debate.
The principle is essentially that government is the ultimate power in our galaxy. It’s obtrusive, violent, coercive, and in no way shape or form equivocal with the influence of the corporation. Government shouldn’t meddle in the private sector and try to enforce morality. I believe in that.
I also believe though, a general small d-democratic ideal that would say, if Florida wants to prohibit sexual education till age 9 in the public school system (which does not do harm and isn’t a civil rights issues, sorry, it’s not) then that should be the law of their little land. And while the “correct” libertarian position is apparently that corporations are people and unlimited money is free speech (no matter how unequal), that doesn’t resonate with me.
There has to be deference in a republic. There has to be accommodation. Disney and the sudden lurch of the corporate world toward progressive politics is a Death Star kind threat if you’re on the other side of the debate. The Left used to understand this about Wall Street and K Street. That no longer seems to be the case.
So what do you do? Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire has aggressively argued that mutually assured destruction is the best path to stability and deference.
It seems reasonable to me that you’d want to raise the literal cost of any corporation, Disney in this case, of wading into the political realm on topics as heated as the sexual education of 3rd graders. Disney will win this fight, almost certainly. But it every minute of it will be bad for their bottom line and bad for their brand as the home of American family entertainment. I don’t like Governor DeSantis targeting them like this. But what if it’s necessary for a restoration of a political equilibrium where CEO’s and boardrooms treat involvement in these issues like the plague. Leaving it up to THE PEOPLE to govern themselves and determine how public education works.
What if building a Death Star to rival the other Death Star, actually worked?
It might not. It might push Disney leadership further into the corner of the dungeon their associate level captors have built for them. It might make the corporation even more pugnacious and radical. It might mean that Democratic governors start looking for conservative-ish companies to attack using the regulatory process or new laws. Granted, they’ve already done this. Conservatives remember when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel tried to make expansion difficult for Chick Fil A. He was not alone in that. But it could get way worse.
Or, it gets better. Because the cost of engagement gets raised beyond what any company is comfortable with. Two Death Stars. Three Death Stars. Four Death Stars. How many can we have until someone pulls the trigger and each fire back at once?
We won’t ever know till it’s too late.
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