Thursday, January 20, 2011

How George Lucas Destroyed "Modernity": Or, How Star Wars is Better than Star Trek

George Lucas destroyed modernity?

Well, no, not really, but Michael Lind (via Andrew) seems to think so:

If there was a moment when the culture of enlightened modernity in the United States gave way to the sickly culture of romantic primitivism, it was when the movie “Star Wars” premiered in 1977. A child of the 1960s, I had grown up with the optimistic vision symbolized by “Star Trek,” according to which planets, as they developed technologically and politically, graduated to membership in the United Federation of Planets, a sort of galactic League of Nations or UN. When I first watched “Star Wars,” I was deeply shocked. The representatives of the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization were now the bad guys, and the heroes were positively medieval — hereditary princes and princesses, wizards and ape-men. Aristocracy and tribalism were superior to bureaucracy. Technology was bad. Magic was good.

These space epics reflect a very medieval and early modern theme: the supplanting of local tradition and self-governing fiefdoms for large bureaucratic state apparatuses.

There are real trade-offs to be had in either direction, so while I prefer less bureaucracy and more local tradition, I am no romantic about it. Daniel Larison continues on this vein:

There are very real trade-offs in opting for political and economic decentralization, just as there are significant costs in opting for centralization. Under a decentralized arrangement, efficiency and utility are going to be sacrificed for the sake of other goods (e.g., preserving local traditions and communities, sustainability, social solidarity, cultural identity, greater political autonomy, etc.) that Lind either ignores or simply declares backwards. Lind prefers one tendency that leads towards empire, concentrations of power and wealth, and technocratic government, and he is dismayed that anyone would object to the costs that these things impose. He would prefer instead that we pretend that those costs don’t exist, and he wants us to accept that resistance to the advance of Progress is futile. It is telling that his concluding proposal sounds a great deal like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Read the whole article here


Jeffrey Dennis Pearce said...

Thanks for this summary. I agree with you that decentralization is best, but have not reflected much on the cost of it. Wendell Berry certainly understands the cost of decentralization, and embraces it. Tolkien, too, takes up this theme of forced centralization versus voluntary decentralization, and sees that the cost of protecting the decentralized life is very high.

Benedictus said...

Indeed. Wendell Berry drives home the point that with all the costs of decentralization, in the long run it is more sustainable economically and socially than a big, centralized superstate. Much of what passes for the "right wing" in this country is really a variation on statism. Here's a good article on that point: