Friday, April 15, 2005

Star Wars redux?

First off, let me admit that "Anonymous" is right at one level. My recent screed about Star Wars is largely repetitious of earlier remarks. I was going on vacation and thought I'd quickly offer a gift - or grenade - in parting. OTOH, this is a blog, not a formal publication. It is *exactly* where a guy may rant a little at something that's happening to his culture. Even reiterating a bit.

And how can you compare MY repetition with George Lucas's? A couple of billion dollars and man-years pushing one of the most downer and anti-modernist messages of all time - with 4 out of 6 films preaching downer endings - and I am the "crank" for pointing it out?

Mark's message about the parasitical emotion-hungry, logic-destroying midichlorians was pure delight. Like me, you hunger for sense, even trying to find some way to rationalize the absurd. Anyway, you can all see where the genetic "chosen one" thing fits perfectly into the romantic obsession. The Homeric demigod may be flawed and tragic, but no one is ever allowed to question his utter superiority by nature.

Sorry, Ambi. In The Empire Strikes Back, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasden took Lucas's BASIC idea and put words in Yoda's mouth that at least made a little sense. A knight who possesses unusual power is obliged to exercise unusual care. Anger CAN cause bad decisions - eg slaughtering all the Sand People when only a few killed your mom.

(A mom Anekin ignored for 15 years, leaving her a slave on Tatooine, when he had only to call in a favor from rich friends like Amidalah, in order to buy her freedom.)

But brief rage and bad decisions are completely different than becoming a consistently evil person. The Emperor's rant in ROTJ shows clearly what GL meant. That the Force makes you physically and psychically powerful, but morally frail. Captain Antilles showed more moral fiber in the very 1st scene than Anekin shows in the entire series. He relentlessly and CALMLY pursues the agenda of evil. (Which GL intended in the beginning by giving him that nazi helmet and name.)

I never said Yoda wanted to be a king per se... but a platonic "Philosopher King" is a phrase meaning a leader who is born into the role by nature, who faces little accountability, who is permitted to lie or manipulate (for the common good) and so on. Plato's list of traits (half of them horrific by modernist standards) fit Yoda perfectly. (You never met my real dare... to name a scene in which Y is friendly, helpful and informative.)

Note that I do not apply this to ALL Jedi! QuiJon clearly saw that something was wrong. Obiwan tries hard (tho he's a dope.) I got no probs with Luke - sweet & egalitarian... if also a dope. Mace Windoo fascinates me since in Ep2 he does the thing that Jedi are trained to do! He acts as a secret agent, infiltrates, and uses minimum force to get the job done. Had Yoda sent even one Jedi to help Mace, the whole thing would have been solved. But instead, Yoda wastes nearly all of the Jedi, hurling them into a suicidal frontal assault of insane proportions. The parsimonious explanation is that he wanted them out of the way the very moment he took delivery of his clone army.

Ambi said: Changing topics: David Brin, would it cost you much more than now to start a forum on your site? A blog is personal and passionate, but also tends to be highly partisan and one-sided. And you're not immune to it.

There is already a forum at: http://www.brin-l.com

I understand your complaint and sympathize. I started this blog at popular request knowing full well that I'd have trouble staying fair or paying enough attention to honor the bright people who check in. As you can see at http://www.davidbrin.com/ I am simply too busy for words and desperately need a dittoing machine. (As in Kiln People!)

Anyone who finds Brin-L unsuitable is welcome to explain why or suggest another forum. Again, my apologies and thanks for holding me accountable. CITOKATE.

Anders: I think my universe is better, of course. But that's not the point. My Uplift Universe is NOT the way I hope the cosmos really is. It takes a premise and tries to explore outcomes. Humanity's enlightenment civilization faces great difficulties vs a vast and overpowering Galactic culture that has many traits of romanticism for good reasons. I never thought of that before.

Yngve asks does success spoil EVERYBODY? There are times when I wish I had Spielberg's ear, to quibble a bit, but honestly, I feel he is a brilliant gift to our civilization and probably does not need my advice. (Weird - he is pals with Lucas while preaching the opposite message. Spielberg is deeply loyal to the Enlightenment.)

Same with Zemeckis. The Coen Brothers are the bravest guys around, having the most fun. Cameron - while flawed - deserves society's ongoing subsidy. The Stargate Boys need to be grabbed by the earlobe and told a thing or two... but really, they write well and know their stuff and defend enlightenment values. Glad they exist.

Sadly, the latest round of Paramount Trek-leaders absolutely ruined the franchise. They bought me dinner 3 times, picked my mind, took a few ideas (without paying)... but I would have been thrilled if they had taken my MACRO advice about story arcs and saved the series. Now that's just sad.

Eye candy? Sure. George Lucas hires the best that our civilization has patronized/subsidized - engendering artistic talent at a level that none other can begin to match. These are our cathedrals, so go enjoy their beauty. I plan to do so (though at matinee rates!)

Enjoy the cathedrals. Just don't worship the gods that Lucas plants on the altar. They are gods that hate us and our new way of working in the world.

32 comments:

Mabus said...

A curiosity I encountered sheds a little light on Yoda, by the way. A couple of years ago I discovered a recent "alternate universe" comic in which Luke fails to destroy the first Death Star and the Rebels are forced to flee. There are, of course, the requisite unlikely parallel developments (Leia, having been trained by Vader, battles Luke in the Emperor's throne room). There are also several amusing events, as when Han goes to Dagobah with Luke and immediately sees through Yoda. "It takes a con man to know a con man, kid."

But the truly revealing incident occurs at the climax. Yoda, having mind-tricked his way aboard the Death Star, crashes it into Coruscant atop the Imperial Palace. (Luke and Leia, of course, escape.) Keep in mind:

a) The Death Star is "the size of a small moon". No doubt it masses somewhat less than its volume would indicate, but it is far from insignificant on a cosmic scale and undoubtedly contains immense reactors.

b) Coruscant is a planet entirely covered in city. I doubt whether the population figure of 1 trillion (taken from Traitor) is sustainable, but even at two orders of magnitude less it undoubtedly holds many times the populace of pastoral Alderaan.

In other words, to get at the Emperor Yoda has just committed a act of genocide, possibly on a scale even Palpatine never contemplated.

(Okay, I know...Lucas probably has nothing to do with the graphic novel, and the crashing of the Death Star is no doubt just a mistake--albeit a mind-blowingly large one--but what the heck? It was humorous if you had a clue.)

Anonymous said...

I say you sound like a crank because you repeat the same arguments in the same way every single time you decide to refer to Star Wars (or The Lord of the Rings) in your writing, both on your blog and off. There is also little evidence that any of the criticisms others have made of your statements (like those on this page) have had any effect on what you say or believe. You also drive away people who potentially agree with you by implying (probably without intending to) that fans of these movies don't believe in democracy, equality, modernity, etc. (why would you have to include a dire warning like "Enjoy the cathedrals. Just don't worship the gods that Lucas plants on the altar" if you didn't believe there were people actually doing this?).

I assume you're actually trying bring to about changes for good in the world through your writing. George Lucas isn't when he makes his movies. He just wants to satisfy his artistic impulses and make money doing so. If he repeats himself and people keep going to his movies, he succeeds in his goal. If you repeat yourself in such a way as to make people stop listening to you, you fail in your goal.

David Brin said...

reeeeelly bizarre.

In fact, my Star Wars rants have entertained thousands, many of whom came to me and my books for the first time BECAUSE of them.

SOmeone pointed out that I am only occasionally doing what lots of people pay and admire Harlan Ellison and Bruce Sterling to do EVERY WAKING MOMENT OF THEIR LIVES!

Hey, I very openly avow to the addictive qualities of self-righteous indignation. I am the one calling it society's most abused drug high. Does that make me a hypocrite if I tipple a little - but don't roll into the gutter and stay there?

I never accused Lucasian fans of being anti-democracy, though I do paternalize (I admit) when I keep saying "Wake up! You aren't noticing THIS!" Nu? We are all that way, At least I do it with a smile.

And with serious intent. Lucas has publicly called himself a fervent propagandist for his own worldview. He then openly identified this worldview as "romantic and victorian" and extolled monarchy as a ruling system. He told the NY Times OPENLY that he despises democracy.

Are you telling me that I should not spend less than five hours PER YEAR doing a little meme combat against what I consider to be a message deeply inimicable and deliberately designed to undermine a civilization I hold dear?

Feh.

Anonymous said...

David I have to say you are on the right track about your criticism of Star Wars. The fact that people get upset about what you say proves that they don’t have a valid point. If they did everyone would be reading and commenting on their essays.

But to digress this whole conflict between Modernism and Romanticism is hampered by the terminology used. It takes too long to even explain what the terms mean in your definition of them.

To me it seems like a conflict between Progress and Regress. Han and his low class friends repeatedly saving Luke over the course of several movie is progressive, the little guy actually saving the day while the God-men waste time fighting each other. Likewise parts of Lord of the Rings are progressive, such as hobbits actually saving the day. The problem is that the Regressive elements overshadow the whole story. I always liked Han and Frodo more than Luke and Arigorn but sadly the supermen get most of the spotlight and most of the credit.

But to get back to the real world:
The Neocons are destructive of civilization because they are regressive's wanting to return to the failed philosopher king model. They don’t want to admit it so they construct the fiction of being conservatives, and defending the enlightenment progress that has been made. All the time trying to set the stage for regressive backtracking measures that will return a figurehead king to power while the elites and nobles continue to pull the strings. The only way to break their influence is to call them by the term every American knows and hates {Regressive!}. Our nation was founded on the idea of progress. That’s why martin Luther King was such a powerful force even though he lacked the money and numbers necessary to accomplish the non-violent revolution. What he worked for and is now happening in Bolivia the Ukraine and soon many other places. And far more effectively I might add compared to the massive cost of IRAQ.

Brother Doug

maru dubshinki at gmaildotcom said...

>In fact, my Star Wars rants >have entertained >thousands, many of whom >came to me and my books >for the first time BECAUSE >of them.

Mark me one of'em.

A few miscellaneous comments:

A) What do you expect Star Wars to be like, Brin, if not regressive and feudal? Most fiction is always displaced in time: 'If I want to read fiction set in contemporary times, I'll read the news' &etc. The past is easiest to copy from, since it resonates with us and is excitingly different from the humdrum present. The future is vastly harder to base a work off of since, well, it doesn't yet exist yet, and would be strange and frightening if an author could offer up a decent future-vision. So it is little suprise that most authors borrow from the past, and given that the vast majority of the past has power-structures analogous to what you are lambasting here, the odds are that they will borrow those exact structures.
And even in future-based fiction, most times I see only disguised extrapolation of present trends (cherry-picked of course.) Ex. Your own writings. Replace the various species with nation-states...

If you look at even more sci-fi, you find abundant examples just as worse: Dune, Foundation, Book of the New Sun... Further examples are left as an exercise for the reader.

Now, I'm not advocating you stop criticizing, but it might be a good idea to point out that those failings you have criticize in LOTR and SW aren't exactly unique to each, but rather generic.

B) Mabus: what graphic novel was that? was it one of the newspaper strip collections or Dark Horse or something besides?

C) Brother Doug: you are missing one of the defining traits of that dichotomy you are in love with; to wit, that philospher-kings imply and necessitate centralization of power, where progress is, not so much cutting down and destroying elites, so much as dispersing control, and making power based on objective results. (IE no powerful king who rules forevermore irregardless of his competence, but rather a powerful president who hopefulyl is voted in or out based on job performance.

D) Brin: if Lucas really said that, that's pretty incendiary; cite, or quote please? (or at least date, so I look it up at my wonderful progressive institution, the library.)

NoOne said...

Here's the March 1999 New York Times interview of George Lucas. Reading it after the discussion we've been having, he does come across as a nutcase.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that link NoOne!

Maru I don’t believe I advocated the cutting down of elites. Only the denying of them the secrecy that they need to dominate power in an information economy, which was what Brin was saying in The Transparent Society.

Also I am not in love with dichotomy I am only saying that the terms Brin is using don’t strike an emotional resonance with the average reader. I have posted links to some of his articles on other boards with criticism of SW and LOLR and people get bored with the multi page explanations and don’t seem to be convinced by arguments about Romanics and Moderns. But they do care if your thinking is regressive.

Brother Doug

Ambi said...

Dear Dr Brin,
my problem with your 'no more SW' article is not that I'm the #1 fan of SW (although I saw 1+2 at the cinema and 4-6 on TV). It's rather like your article/speech at the Libertarian convention: like the candidates you describe, you impress your audience by new perspectives and your analysis of the issue at hand, and THEN, at some central point, you suddenly turn around and make overly simplified conclusions, statements about human nature or building strawmen, most of which wouldn't survive a five minute discussion with your greatest admirers.

For example, why all that attacks against Yoda? Call him a useless bombastic wizard or something like that if you want, but shouldn't the real issue be that one doesn't need a leader immune to checks and balances? That people matter, regardless if they're powerful or not? Or that the future can be better than the past and that one doesn't need a 'lost golden age'?

You wrote I didn't take up your real challenge. Huh? You answered, your reasoning was different and, I think, better, but I think you dropped a part of your former statement to get to that better point. Do you prefer to picture yourself as improving or having always been right?

On challenges: maybe instead of the challenge to redefine motives of the SW characters so that it would actually make sense, failing and blaming your failure on George Lucas, you might have taken another: to take the general premise of the Jedi, Sith etc and write a story with Enlightenment values instead of GL's version, and then to compare the two to point out why you prefer Enlightenment.

Maru Dubshinki said...

Gracias NoOne!
And anonymous, he *does* come across as a nutcase.
A real question I'd like answered is: how the deuce did this dude make the original SW trilogy, but yet produce this interview and the prequels?!? I mean:

"Me! I'm the only one [laughs]! And it's through me that this organization hopefully tries to take a more compassionate view of its employees and what we do. If we became a public corporation, then that unique aspect would disappear. As the chairman and the president of everything, I, of course, have to make money to survive. But as the stockholder, I can say, "Yes, but, one must have a little bit of honor, good manners and consideration for everybody else." Nonetheless, we live in a world where you have to be reasonably tough in order to be taken seriously. Sometimes you have to be the shark, because you have to live. Between two animals like baboons who cross each other in the forest, it's the one that yells at the others the most that makes the biggest impression. You can't just shy away from that situation. You have to stand up and yell in their language in order to get them to respect you. That's part of the jungle we live in. But it's also my feeling that with the people who work beneath us in our pride or our herd, so to speak, one must try to treat them with compassion and in a nurturing manner."

Or:
"The United States, especially the media, is eating its own tail. The media has a way of leveling everything in its path, which is not good for a society. There's no respect for the office of the Presidency. Not that we need a king, but there's a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There's a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."

I mean, I goggle at that last: "But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."

Schell isn't that much better, only following up with :

" SCHELL. But let's say you have a leader who's only pretty good and does some shady things. Do you think that the media should be more discreet about investigating and looking into what he is doing? Basically, do you think certain things should be off limits in order to maintain the heroism of a leader?

LUCAS. Yeah, I do. I think that the media should look at the situation in the larger sense -- at what is necessary for the culture as a whole rather than exposing and tearing everything down all the time. That will not bode well for people's confidence in the institution. After all, a society only works on faith. If you lose that faith, then your society will crumble and it will be hard to get a consensus on anything. "

And finally:
"That's sort of why I say a benevolent despot is the ideal ruler. He can actually get things done. The idea that power corrupts is very true and it's a big human who can get past that."

To restate: power corrupts. So lets put all power into one persons hand, and make sure its a *really* good person.
Wow.

And anonymous, as I said, it is no surprise that it is difficult to put Brin's message into emotionally resonant terms: we are hierarchial chimps after all. The archetypes of liberal democracy are just not there, whether you see archetypes as models produced by our evolution as social, hierarchial, male-based monkeys or what.

Mabus said...

Maru> I wish I could remember what the name of that graphic Novel was, but I don't. Sorry. If I locate it, I will let you know.

While it's not perfect, one possibility for the "emotional resonance" problem is to appeal to people's pride in being rational beings. It runs surprisingly deep, especially in the working classes who are most in danger of listening to a demagogue--they think of themselves as pragmatic problem-solvers. You just have to be careful to frame it as a challenge, not as a congratulation, so that it doesn't become an excuse to rest on nonexistent laurels.

Anonymous said...

In that interview (published long ago and far, far away), Lucas doesn't show signs of OPENLY DESPISING (!) democracy, not at all. He criticizes its flaws -- it does have flaws, after all -- and suggests an alternative, pie-in-the-sky or not. He's not an intellectual, he's an entertainer/businessman. From this perspective, the notion of "benevolent despote" is understandable, however: plenty of movie-directors and artists operate in that way, having final say over collaborative projects and running their own companies.

So, an entertainer's politics is meatheaded. So what? So are most entertainers' politics.

As for this "meme combat" -- how romantically manly and heroic! It's not at all like taking potshots at science-fantasy movies these days mainly marketed to children who will want to buy the figurines! It's mere hot air. Most people view the series, like LOTR, as simple fantasy, mere entertainment, and anyone who actually gets their politics from Star Wars is an outright moron. Being told not to do so, let alone being told to "wake up!" in an admittedly paternalizing tone, understandably insults people. I'd say it's not Lucas who looks like a lunatic, but someone else entirely.

Why? Well, it's a bit like seeing a feminist critic go on and on about how "sexist" she finds Penthouse Forum to be--uh, duh!--or watching some Grammar Maven go off on the bad grammar in letters sent to an advice column. Well, really, now, what did you expect? It's schlock. Nicely-selling schlock, but still pure schlocky drivel. (Even its take on Joseph Campbell's voluminous and masterful scholarly work is schlocky and patchy to the point of ridiculousness. Lucas never really got Campbell on the bigger scale.) Perhaps David will next deem it necessary to tell us not to base our school system on the Harry Potter novels or to model our experimental genetic modifications of animals on Saturday morning cartoon creatures? Uh, yeah, thanks. We already know better.

The best combat against Star Wars and LOTR would be to write a film series that is based on the better alternative politics you espouse and get it made into a fantastically successful series of movies. Impossible? If so, maybe you're missing something in Star Wars that does authentically speak to people, whether or not we approve.

All I can say for Harlan Ellison and Bruce Sterling is, they're not still ranting about Star Wars, at least, much less trying to make that crippled pony trot in support of their pet politics. In fact, you see little or no pet politics in Sterling. You see a lot of wondering what crazy humans will do next, not repeated demands that we craft all our movies to fit their politics.

I can't speak for Ellison, but Sterling seems to me to be a canny realist who has wonderfully avoided avoid the classic "Monkey Puzzle" he himself warned against in his afterword to the trade paperback edition of his excellent book, Tomorrow Now.

Whereas right now I think there's a big jangling Monkey-Puzzle coconut on poor David's hand with regard to Star Wars.

Wait, wait, my Mama always told me to say something constructive. Okay: I think Brother Doug's right, and the terminology of this whole "modernism vs. romanticism" thing is too late-Victorian. We need new terms for these trends, if we're to discuss them here-and-now, since it'll all look different fifty years from now, and new words could give us a new perspective now, in the heat of the moment. Otherwise the terminology itself -- and the tone -- will stop the argument ever getting anywhere useful in the larger public. For the sake of the argument, it's worth investing in new terminology.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I'm a different anonymous from the other guy.

Anonymous said...

"For the sake of the argument, it's worth investing in new terminology."

I've been wondering about that myself.

Labels like modernism and romanticism are stand-ins for bundles of attributes.

You can certainly make a case for, say, Crichton being a romantic, or at least an anti-modernist, but I think its much more to the point to call him a sell-out hack novelist, or an alarmist sorehead. His latest novel-but-one was a thriller about run-away nanotech bugs the turn people into zombies. Now he expects us to take him seriously, because he put together few pages of notes cribbed from Cato Institute talking points?

That said . . . I think Crichton is more of a symptom than a problem.

Stefan

TLS said...

I see an interesting logical mobius strip here. One side possibly inferring concern that that people might be taken in by the romanticism of SW, as a sort of pliable easily led astray masses - a romantic ideal to be sure. On the other, we have people who see people as largely being too smart and sensible to be taken in by such harmless fluff - a rather modernist viewpoint.

Of course, the debate is a good deal more fluid than that; but I hope to be able to add another possible perspective where I can. Both arguements have valid points, what goes on around us does influence our outlook on life, though it's very rarely only one source, and the effects are typically far more subtle and minor.

Meanwhile, I'll probably skip the crowded first few weeks of star wars and catch Hitchikers instead.

Anonymous said...

"And anonymous, as I said, it is no surprise that it is difficult to put Brin's message into emotionally resonant terms: we are hierarchial chimps after all. The archetypes of liberal democracy are just not there, whether you see archetypes as models produced by our evolution as social, hierarchial, male-based monkeys or what."

Except that recent genetic research suggests we may be MUCH more closely related to Bonobos, often mislabled pygmy chimps, which have a relatively egalitarian social structure.

That, of course, doesn't really matter all that much, since we are neither, but rather, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Bonobos and Chimps are much more closely related to each other than either is to us, yet their social systems are considerably different.

If there is one major flaw in Brins underlying premise, it is the claim that the vast majority of our history as a species was spent being dominated by elites.

When Europeans first made contact with the San (bushmen), they asked who the head-men were so they could negotiate. The men all pointed at themselves, and then fell on the ground laughing. The very concept that one man could give another an order is ludicrous in a mobile society where every nuclear family could be self suffecient if necessary.

Mobility, the hallmark of our first 100,000 or so years as a species, is a Democracy of it's own sort. Any "leader" who tried to abuse his people or act against their wishes simply woke up alone one morning.

Was this past ideal? No, it involved high infant mortality, no possibility to retain more history or knowledge than a couple pounds of neurons could contain, and an inability to posses more goods than one could carry. It does, however, explain the desire to get back to our natural egalitarian state as free beings while retaining the benefits our technological advancements have brought us.

When we speak of valuing the individual, of free and open discussion, of refraining from enforcing our will on others and choosing to persuade them through reason instead, of holding leaders accountable and never seeing them as more than first among equals, we aren't speaking of anything new.

LOTR and SW both prove this. Even when trying, actively and wilfully TRYING to oppose the enlightment, neither Lucas nor Tolkien could escape from one of the oldest human memes. We ALL like Sam more than Aragorn, we ALL like Han more than Luke.

We respect the ordinary flawed man who does great things. We are in awe of those who pull themselves up by their boot straps so to speak. This notion of self improvement has been so deeply dug into our minds that even Tolkien had to make Aragorn seem like a ruffian and vagabond so that we could identify and root for him. We are shown that his greatness as a King will come from his immersion in mortal life, unlike the kings of old. We had to believe he understand what it was to be human before we could buy into his "Right" to a throne.

Likewise, Lucas has to start us off with Luke as an orphaned farm boy. Sure, he's destined for greatness, but we don't find that out for a while. He has to be one of us first to gain any of our sympathy.

There are reasons far deeper than the wisdom of Paine and Jefferson and Franklin that the ideals of the enlightnment resonate so deeply within us. In groups of hunter gatherers, there are no such thing as secrets. If someone beats his wife, you know it. If your leader is making bad decisions, you know it. Accountability is instant, and as simple as no longer listening, or walking away.

What is new is the idea that we can have both security and freedom, that we can enjoy the benefits of modern technological society without sacraficing the freedom that we enjoyed for so much of our history.

Frank said...

Could all the anonymouses please add a (nick)name to any of their future texts ? It's really easy and somewhat less confusing.

Just click on 'other' and insert a cool name in the textbox on the post-a-comment page.

Or just write a name at the end of your comment.

Anonymous said...

Another reason not to post anonymously is to take credit!

I don't agree with all the comments here, but I continue to be amazed at their erudition. It's really refreshing, compared to the grunting and scratching you run into at (for example) Slashdot.

Stefan

Maru Dubshinki said...

Mabus: That's too bad. But if you ever do find it, you can find me at gmail or the Brin-l mailing list.

Anonymouses: This is getting confusing. At least go in number order.

Stefan: The reason the level of discourse is so much higher here than slashdot or kuro5in is the restricted readership. How many people bothered to check for Brin's blog? And Brin isn't exactly a sci-fi superstar either.

The anonymouse who posted last: "Mobility, the hallmark of our first 100,000 or so years as a species, is a Democracy of it's own sort. Any "leader" who tried to abuse his people or act against their wishes simply woke up alone one morning."

Except in most places they had hit the carrying capacity, and tribes were xenophobic to the max. The only way you could vote with your feet (and still keep your genes and memes going) was to be abducted by another tribe in one of the many, many wars that would occur. If you tried to vote with your feet in the stone age, you'd end up dead.

I didn't like Sam at all. He was a servant; Frodo was a much more complex and interesting character.

Personally, I think the Enlightement was more about *empowerment* of non-elites, and dis-empowering of elites, and circumsribing their actions where non-feasible. And mechanisms, and justifications thereof.

Lone stranger: That first sides concern has to do more with how the stories cast in the offending mold are so pervasive and omnipresent.
Just as seemingly harmless nomenclature that feminists attack (like 'mailman') molds minds very subtly, both groups (feminists and, for lack of a better word, Brinners) are easily ridiculed, since they are looking at things that don't seem in the least relevant, but form the essential substructure for the stories and ideas that offend them. They are trying to reduce the ambient, hiterto invisible 'pollution' so to speak.

Stefan: Good point about Crichton. Also, being anti-global warming is good business; not just literally, but also for novelists and writers (just look at Bjorn Lomborg. How much dough has he made? And Crichton is at 86 in Amazon. Think it is doing better than Jurassic Park 2?).

Monkey-paw anonymous: I fully agree that Brin is flogging a dead Star Wars. That's why I suggested he generalize his arguments and use more accepted classics and such.
And how about 'centralizing' and 'decentralizing'? They seem to capture a good number of the bundled characteristics and imply more. Not perfect, and not exactly euphonious or catchy but...

Sheesh, much more of this discussion and we'll have to go to another forum, it'll be so bulky.

Maru Dubshinki said...

Mabus: That's too bad. But if you ever do find it, you can find me at gmail or the Brin-l mailing list.

Anonymouses: This is getting confusing. At least go in number order.

Stefan: The reason the level of discourse is so much higher here than slashdot or kuro5in is the restricted readership. How many people bothered to check for Brin's blog? And Brin isn't exactly a sci-fi superstar either.

The anonymouse who posted last: "Mobility, the hallmark of our first 100,000 or so years as a species, is a Democracy of it's own sort. Any "leader" who tried to abuse his people or act against their wishes simply woke up alone one morning."

Except in most places they had hit the carrying capacity, and tribes were xenophobic to the max. The only way you could vote with your feet (and still keep your genes and memes going) was to be abducted by another tribe in one of the many, many wars that would occur. If you tried to vote with your feet in the stone age, you'd end up dead.

I didn't like Sam at all. He was a servant; Frodo was a much more complex and interesting character.

Personally, I think the Enlightement was more about *empowerment* of non-elites, and dis-empowering of elites, and circumsribing their actions where non-feasible. And mechanisms, and justifications thereof.

Lone stranger: That first sides concern has to do more with how the stories cast in the offending mold are so pervasive and omnipresent.
Just as seemingly harmless nomenclature that feminists attack (like 'mailman') molds minds very subtly, both groups (feminists and, for lack of a better word, Brinners) are easily ridiculed, since they are looking at things that don't seem in the least relevant, but form the essential substructure for the stories and ideas that offend them. They are trying to reduce the ambient, hiterto invisible 'pollution' so to speak.

Stefan: Good point about Crichton. Also, being anti-global warming is good business; not just literally, but also for novelists and writers (just look at Bjorn Lomborg. How much dough has he made? And Crichton is at 86 in Amazon. Think it is doing better than Jurassic Park 2?).

Monkey-paw anonymous: I fully agree that Brin is flogging a dead Star Wars. That's why I suggested he generalize his arguments and use more accepted classics and such.
And how about 'centralizing' and 'decentralizing'? They seem to capture a good number of the bundled characteristics and imply more. Not perfect, and not exactly euphonious or catchy but...

Sheesh, much more of this discussion and we'll have to go to another forum, it'll be so bulky.

Maru Dubshinki said...

Sorry about the dup. Bit of a mixup- browser told me it failed first time so I re-sent it.

David Brin said...

The Lone Stranger said... "I see an interesting logical mobius strip here. One side possibly inferring concern that people might be taken in by the romanticism of SW, as a sort of pliable easily led astray masses - a romantic ideal to be sure. On the other, we have people who see people as largely being too smart and sensible to be taken in by such harmless fluff - a rather modernist viewpoint."

DB: Yes, I can see how someone could rhetorically see it that way, as a simplistic jab at my worries, making them even seem hypocritical, since I portray myself as a friend of the common man.

But really. We ALL worry about malignant propaganda. Don't our elections prove that at least SOME malignant memes DO merit worried rebuttal?

In my defense let me reiterate. (1) G Lucas has made very clear that HE thinks of himself as an important spreader of values that he feels people need. (2) I never even say boycott! I just say "have you noticed this aspect?" And finally (3) I only appear obsessed because I am one of the only ones beating this drum. In actual number of hours spent on this per year, my obsession is really pretty minor.

In other words... Ex-Cooooooose me!

Someone else said: "When Europeans first made contact with the San (bushmen), they asked who the head-men were so they could negotiate. The men all pointed at themselves, and then fell on the ground laughing. The very concept that one man could give another an order is ludicrous in a mobile society where every nuclear family could be self sufficient if necessary."

Well, not really. In fact, almost not at all. The Bushmen are at the extreme in this topic. And even THEY revealed surprises when anthropologists got over the Margaret Meade obsession with Rousseauian primal naturalism. They asked "Do you know anyone who was murdered?"

ALL Bushmen said yes, naming first or second cousins. While daily life appeared all smiles, the rare outbursts of horrific violence added up to a murder rate worse that E. St. Louis on Saturday night. As for hierarchy, please, just look at a playground, squint and imagine all supervision removed. All accountability, for a thousand years.

Still, there was this very strong point: "LOTR and SW both prove this. Even when trying, actively and wilfully TRYING to oppose the enlightenment, neither Lucas nor Tolkien could escape from one of the oldest human memes. We ALL like Sam more than Aragorn, we ALL like Han more than Luke."

Right arm. But bear in mind that we all have experience suspicion of authority and respect-for-individual-eccentricity propaganda in nearly all our films and songs, all our lives. The enlightenment was built out of a relentless campaign against our feudal-obeisance nature. It is propaganda that was also helped by sci fi... till sci fi turned all dark and sour and dyspeptic.

Look, I LIKE dark warnings! I call em "self-preventing prophecies"... eg 1984, Soylent Green, Dr. Strangelove, On the Beach, China Syndrome. Love em. After all, isn't CITOKATE?

But all those stories criticize toward an end. They don't preach that it's all hopeless, or that we need to rely on magical "chosen ones". They imply "we don't have to let this happen!" Warnings that help us do better. We may be here because of such sci fi tales. Really.

back to other stuff soon...

-- db

Anonymous said...

An alternate, if short, script, needs to be written that could make Episode III work.

(By the way, I got my friend to start buying Brin's books recently, and how did I first get him hooked? The Star Wars criticism! I've also brought it up at the forums I vist, and many people agree.)

I would pay very good money to see a Brinian version of Episode III. I'd probably even see it more than once.

Truly - who here just could NOT deal with a movie in which:

a) Yoda's aristocratic conspiracies are revealed
b) Anakin and Obi-Wan, sensing the problems with both Yoda and Palpatine, undertake a conspiracy of their own with the chief aim of creating a working order in the galaxy (one not based on an ineffectual Senate whose decisions are enforced by the perfect aristocracy) and then (long-term) removing the authoritarian barriers to progress and freedom in a final coup
c) Yoda is ingeniously exiled to Dagobah, where Obi-Wan can control how much time he has with Luke
d) Yoda's whole fear-inevitably-leads-to-evil philosophy gets turned on its head in favor of Qui-Gon's "balance."

Half of this could be accomplished in thirty minutes of screen time, leaving the rest as time for the plan to unfold.

Anakin getting in the Emperor's good graces? Not entirely the trick of an evil seducer.
The battle in the volcano? Staged.
The Yoda-Palpatine battle? Encouraged by you-know-who. Unfortunately, Mace Windu has to die as well. Unfortunate pawn... Anakin has to help the Emperor kill him to "prove his loyalty."
The prophecy about bringing balance to the Force? Fulfilled, by the first Jedi who is powerful enough to tread the line of using justified anger without falling into a pattern of consistent evil... and who has been separated from the "get em while they're young" Jedi training process that has made generations of Jedi beholden to Yoda's philosophy.

And all along, you get to see how Anakin sets up his plot. He ensures that his droids -- one of which he made -- will remain in the service of his daughter... and failing that, he'll try to ensure they make their way to his son, who will conveniently live within a relatively short distance of Obi-Wan.
He discusses the possibility of needing to battle with Obi-Wan in the future and make it look real.
He discusses how even the Emperor has been fooled into thinking that mere anger leads to evil. Nay, he explains: anger unleashes the power of Dark Side powers, but does not necessarily make one evil.

As Vader, he explains, he will create a central order that can provide for basic security, but that this Empire is going to run into a lot of resistance. He'll do what it takes, pragmatically, to build the Empire, but never allow the Emperor's victory to be complete. It will slowly hurt him, but he'll resist it as well as he can until he can take on the Emperor.

From there on out, he explains, it will mostly be improvization. He will bide his time until the conditions are met to dethrone the Emperor, by which time old Yoda should be either dead or so long in the tooth and so exiled that he poses little direct threat.

Imagine how the rest of the story would play out.
Lo and behold, the day comes when his son is coming of age that Vader does his duty and tracks down Leia. He insists on interrogating his own daughter, but does not let the Emperor or anyone else know that she is strong with the Force (as Luke is). Conveniently, he finishes the chase directly over Tatooine, in fact within a fairly short distance of his son and former teacher, within a short distance of where his mother used to live. The accuracy is astounding.

When Obi-Wan and Luke are on their way, Vader can barely contain his excitement at feeling "a presence he has not felt since..."
The time has come, and Vader pieces together what's going on. In his battle with Obi-Wan, he gets all the cues he needs -- "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful then you can possibly imagine" -- and Obi-Wan mysteriously vanishes.

It's just enough distraction to give his kids the chance to escape.

And when it comes time to shoot down his own son... hrm, having difficulty, *ahem* The Force is strong with this one, guys! Having *trouble* shooting him down. (twiddles thumbs)
... and he conveniently is the only Imperial to escape the destruction of the Death Star... the only TIE fighter out there with a hyperdrive engine.

I could go on, but most of you read Brin's stuff. It delights the imagination. What if all those coincidences in Star Wars made sense?

-- DurandalsFate

Tony Fisk said...

Of course, you could always remake the whole saga from scratch, as was done with 'Battlestar Galactica'*
...something for another generation, perhaps? (when our childrens' children have nothing better to do but rapturously vanish up their own singularities ;-)

*Maybe off-topic, but we were talking genocide! To my astonishment, the remake of BSG is actually watchable, probably because it bears almost no resemblance to the original!

...Hmm! Maybe not so off-topic: the original BSG was lambasted as a Star Wars rip-off. It would be ironic if, in another 20 years, someone recast Star Wars in the same grungy mold as the new BSG!

...(Use the force, Starbuck!)
..Nnnh! It's just like.. the insides.. of a goat.

Yoda said...

Do or do not. There is no Try.

SomeGuy said...

"Well, not really. In fact, almost not at all. The Bushmen are at the extreme in this topic. And even THEY revealed surprises when anthropologists got over the Margaret Meade obsession with Rousseauian primal naturalism. They asked "Do you know anyone who was murdered?"

ALL Bushmen said yes, naming first or second cousins. While daily life appeared all smiles, the rare outbursts of horrific violence added up to a murder rate worse that E. St. Louis on Saturday night. As for hierarchy, please, just look at a playground, squint and imagine all supervision removed. All accountability, for a thousand years."

Absolutely true, and also true of MOST pre-agricultural cultures, insofar as violence is concerned.

For most of of our history, we didn't have a choice between security and freedom. Security was impossible to obtain, no matter how much freedom one was willing to surrender.

The deeper point, however, is that leaders were chosen by consensus. Only in in early agricultrual cultures (and beyond) do we find hereditary rulers, or the concept that an indivdual has the "right" to rule regardless of ability.

It's nice to refer to the neolithic as a "playground", but unlike children, these people fed themselves, sometimes in very rough enviornments. At that level of technology, survival is only possible through cooperation and mutual respect.

The dynamics of a band of homo sapiens numbering thirty or less are massively different than the dynamics of a large group. There isn't enough surplus to support an idle elite class, and still provide for the needs of helpless off-spring.

Add to that the fact that by the early neolithic, physical size and strength had been rendered almost meaningless by primitive weapons, but all of these weapons were easily available to any man with a spare hour on his hands.

For 100,000 years, there was no gap in arms and armor. The most impoverished had acess to the exact same killing tools as the wealthiest. We aren't talking about the middle ages, when one armored knight was easily worth twenty peasants on a battle field, or even ancient egypt where well drilled troops in leather armor carrying bronze spears could crush far greater numbers of rabble with farming impliments.

Rather, we are talking about a time when anyone trying to gain power by overtly opressing his own band would either be ostrosized, or slain.

The San can be easily classified as an "extreme example", but with the exception of early contact with Inuit (who show many of the same patterns, although MUCH less gender equity), they are the only pre-agricultural society we have had a chance to observe.

(As an aside, one doesn't have to be kidnapped to avoid a bullying putz in a society of loose knit bands, or run off into a vastly different territory. All one really has to do is go hook up with the next band over)

We spent far longer living in small bands, with leaders chosen for their power to persuade and retained for their proven record of success (success, of course, being measured in the locating of fertile hunting grounds and minimum of children dragged off by big cats) than we did living in mud huts grubbing fields for tyranical overlords commanding organized bodies of well armed men.



There is a difference between a Leader, and a Ruler. We, as a species, DO need Leaders. Rulers we can do without, and for quite a long time as sapient beings, did.

Was it freedom from want? Nope.
Freedom from fear? Hell no.
Paradise? Uh-uh.
Perferable to life in a present day western industrialized society?
Maybe as a weeks vacation.

However, proof enough for me that the desire for personal autonomy is NOT contrary to our genetic hard wiring.

Pacanukeha said...

Is it just me, or did the April 12 post that started all this get zorped? It only exists in the google cache.
And it cached it before most of the comments were made. How I pine to read Mark's famous midichlorian post.

Pacanukeha said...

Oh, and I liked Aragorn more than Sam, and Sam more than Frodo. Frodo seemed a little too whiney for my taste. Han, of course, beats Luke hands down.

Thelostclam said...

Did anyone else notice that Yoda, for all his sermonizing on right and wrong, has no problem using an army of living clones to fight his battles for him in Attack of the Clones.

Trialmantle said...

"Except in most places they had hit the carrying capacity, and tribes were xenophobic to the max."

This wasn't the case in Australia. The country is reguarly but erratically hit by droughts (every seven years or so). In each drought, the population got reduced to a certain base threshhold. During droughts, the population was at carrying capacity.

However, when the drought is over, the carrying capacity increases dramatically, but human population doesn't - seven years only gets a few more children. So the human population is well below carrying capacity, and the land is a land of plenty. (At the cost of regualar deaths, of course.)

Australia differs from other lands not because it gets hardship, but because the hardship is erratic, and people couldn't plan for it the way they could plan for winter.

My source for this is The Future Eaters, by Tim Flannery.

infinite said...

You said:
"Sadly, the latest round of Paramount Trek-leaders absolutely ruined the franchise. They bought me dinner 3 times, picked my mind, took a few ideas (without paying)... but I would have been thrilled if they had taken my MACRO advice about story arcs and saved the series. Now that's just sad."

Out of curiosity, what *did* you suggest to the PTB's at Star Trek, and are you referring to the Berman/Braga leaders or the Coto/Reeves-Stevents team? I'd like to hear your thoughts on what could have saved recent Star Trek.

Ymarsakar said...

I'd like to read a similar article on Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber, that you did for Lucas.

OAR combines the heroic epic classical storytelling with republican values and classical liberal philosophies.

A short summation of the plot by Weber is available here.

Link

mrmoto said...

I was really interested in your book, The Transparent Society. After reading an interview in Discover magazine. But then I came across your STAR WARS rant and thought It might be better if I just skip it. I understand that everyone has an opinion on SW but, I think you are forgetting that these films are written during our time, and reflect very well the exact types of struggles we are facing as a nation. It seems so easy to pick on SW because of its success, but you paint all SW fans as mindless cattle. I have gotten a great deal of wisdom from all 6 films and do not begrudge Lucas for not telling the story the way I wanted it to go, as seems the case for most of the rants against it. The fantasy element of chain reaction solutions(blowing up the Death Star etc) is just that, childhood imagination, what is much deeper is the meaning an adult can take from that childlike attempt at ridding evil from the world. I will still consider your non fiction book The Transparent Society, but not yet, first I need to take a break once again from all this Lucas bashing. Its a movie. Its a wonderful story filled with moral lessons and such, but enough already, Ive had enough of the bashing. please.