"Steel-manning", bad Star Wars prequel takes and a lesson from Arrival
A viral tweet about the Star Wars prequels & pre-orders for my book
If it’s a day that ends in Y, someone is talking about the politics of Star Wars. I just concluded a Clubhouse hangout room about a tweet from Democratic activist and candidate Brianna Wu, which earlier this pointed to the Star Wars prequels as an argument for why libertarianism is evil. This was a good opportunity to talk about what Star Wars does and does not say about this topic, and the concept of steel-manning vs straw-manning your opponents.
But first! I can now officially, for real, with pride in my heart say…that pre-orders for my book, “How The Force Can Fix The World” are now LIVE! In the link here you can pick from whatever retailer you prefer. Let me know if you order. I intend to sign all pre-order copies. And a tease…..I have commissioned original artwork to be included in the book at the top of every chapter. It’s freaking gorgeous and I love it. Folks who pre-order will get a hand-drawn poster print featuring art from the book.
Want a sneak peek? Here you go.
So anyway, about those Star Wars tweets. We have a huge problem in political discourse today, made worse by social media, news echo chambers, and general polarization. It’s that people know less and less what their opponents actually believe, and instead, have cartoonish views of them and their political views.
Like an average night on Fox News. They don’t know what Antifa actually is about, believes or what its motivations are. “Straw-manning” is to propagate a flimsy or false version of your opponent’s views, to make them easier to shred. “Steel-manning” is when you learn the views and are able to explain with sincerity before then ripping into them. Grappling with the driving force of Antifa, which is a deep-rooted fear about a modern-day Brown Shirt movement, is way harder and requires some legwork…than just slandering them as cookie-cutter socialists and Bernie Bros. The motivating beliefs are more layered.
Brianna Wu, Democratic candidate and PAC person, seems to think the following about libertarian values.
It’s true that George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels are a politically charged critique of politics coming from the liberal left. The connections between the prequels and the early 2000’s Democratic zeitgeist are palpable and obvious. Money in politics is bad. Galactic Senate offers representation to corporations. The whole idea of US senators wearing NASCAR jumpsuits with their corporate sponsors is made literal in a galaxy far far away. Bad guy characters have named that can be traced to GOP politicians, and the name of General Greivous’ ship which crashes in Episode III is even called The Invisible Hand. It’s a not subtle knock toward the iconic free market economist Adam Smith and his writings in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which call free market forces a sort of invisible hand which moves the world in accordance with self-interest.
The films are a hit on corporatism and the capture of government by special interests. The problem here is that you’d be hard-pressed to find a libertarian who believes this is good, virtuous or even related to their stated goals.
Libertarianism, like any school of thought, has dogma and it has heretics within it. But the following has to be said….
Maybe Wu is arguing that libertarians’ beliefs lead to the outcomes she described, rather than libertarians literally believing in the virtue of blockades, representative government declining, or in a later tweet, militias running roughshod over democratic governance.
Basically, Wu just thinks libertarians are greedy assholes who don’t care about people who get hurt, as long as someone is making money. Based on the amount of time libertarians spend on advocating against corporate taxation, stanning “sweatshop” labor and taking on “child labor laws” just to make a point….it’s understandable to me someone could think this. But it’s still not actually true. It’s a miscommunication of values and of motivations for policy. Like with sweatshops, the argument made in the linked article above is actually correct and moral, in my view. It’s not standing for exploitative labor and slavery, it’s supporting the right of a person to work *at all* versus having nothing, and being resigning to squalor and abuse as a result of not having material resources. It’s an argument in favor of people having more choices, not less. But it’s easy to misread, especially if you’re hearing it second-hand.
I was watching Arrival (starring Amy Adams) this week, and the whole movie is about an alien craft landing on earth and Adams being tasked with establishing communication with them. They have to figure out how to they speak, and make sure a miscommunication doesn’t lead to hostility. Adams learns that the aliens communicate with images created by floating ink, and convey fully formed thoughts and messages that are free from vaguery. It’s really cool. The speech means what it means, is constructed with intent, and cannot be misconstrued by tone or delivery if you understand the language.
I watched this longing for such communication in our own world. Humans have so much room between one another for blunder and failure to make our points. Even now, I’m working my way toward an ending…not sure of where I’m going just yet. The. language in Arrival has an ending in mind. It’s beautiful. It’s what we need, and for some reason have chosen to get further away from with media and “tools” like Twitter which discount and cheapen communication even more. Lessening our understanding of one another and world we’re trying to share with each other.
Libertarians aren’t the best communicators. I am one. We often fall into making devils advocate arguments for fun and following dogmatic principle rigidly…even when it leads us astray of policy and communication which would win hearts and minds and move the needle toward liberty.
But we all have a responsibility to know more about the ideas and the people who we say are bad and want to stop. That's all for now! May the Force be with you, always.