|Inner Conflict by Nathalia Suellen|
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
- Alekandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag ArchipelagoThe other night I was watching a CG-animated Netflix children’s fantasy with my family. It featured many of the tropes one might expect for such a story — the true meaning of friendship, the difficulty in constantly moving homes, living in a broken family, the importance of finding courage in yourself. Oh yeah, and an act of genocide on an unspeakable scale.
This got me thinking about extreme ideological polarization in regards to the socio-political situation the Western world finds itself in as of late and especially the social polarization that arose under the Obama administration. It occurred to me that many of the twenty-something activists today would have been raised on a large dose of just such ‘us good, them bad’ stories where the ‘good’ side wins by absolutely destroying the ‘bad’ side. Such children’s stories are almost always presented from a perspective that suggests no moral ambiguity is reasonable. There is no grey area when considering the enemy. They are bad, we are good and we must kill them before they destroy everything we love.
|AntiFa riots at Berkely, protesting a gay conservative speaker.|
Of course, the truth is that very few historical characters and conflicts have been so lacking in ambiguity. World War 2 and the American Civil War probably come the closest and even those aren’t as straightforward as we’re often led to believe once we take a well-rounded view of the political, social, and economic situations that led to them.
It's true that morally unambiguous kids stories existed when I was a child way back in the 1970s, and long before, but not in anywhere near the same volume or pervasiveness as in the current era. However, to see what I mean about polarization in stories, let’s consider a science fiction classic, and a very much loved story from my childhood — Star Wars: A New Hope.
We are taught to care about each and every challenge and setback this handful of characters face. We’re fearful for them when they’re shot at, we’re frightened for them when they’re cornered or double-crossed, we feel with them when they love. We also cheer them on as they slaughter countless numbers of faceless opponents, most of whom don’t even shoot first. Even worse, we’re encouraged to feel a great swell of satisfaction as millions perish when they destroy a space station the size of a small moon. How many of those millions were just civil servants filing paperwork, managing the finances, cooking meals, or doing maintenance on the coffee machines? When considering the sheer number of lives lost, the horror is almost overwhelming, yet we’re expected to feel happiness and the thrill of accomplishment at the victory of our heroes.
|The only Stormtrooper we've ever seen the face of.|
Lest you think ‘well, the Empire is bad and deserves to be destroyed, that’s a no-brainer’ I ask that you consider more closely what we actually see regarding the political structures in the movies. The Empire seems harsh, but is it any worse than the Republic to the average person? The Republic and the Jedi seem peaceful and kind, but then why do they wear weapons, use mind control techniques, and horde the knowledge of the universe in their archives? I’ll further ask you to consider that, much as in our own lives, we generally believe as we do because someone else has convinced us it’s the ‘right’ belief. We learn to appreciate the perspective of the storyteller. Both Supercarlin Brothers (The Jedi are Evil) and Screen Rant (10 Star Wars Facts that will Make You Rethink the Dark Side!) have interesting videos on YouTube that may convince you of an entirely different perspective on the seemingly simple good vs evil divide in Star Wars.
So, when we inundate children with stories that suggest it’s not only acceptable, but almost a moral imperative to utterly destroy those with an opposing perspective or needs and desires we don't understand, how else do we expect our kids to grow up? Especially considering that, now in their twenties and fresh, impressionable adults, they’re being taught in too many modern universities to frame arguments as 'us vs them' and that ‘them’ and ‘their opinions’ are a physical threat to 'our' existence. Is it any wonder that such people not only have a heavily polarized view of the world but also regularly use violence to stop those with opposing views?
Edwin H Rydberg is a science fiction author and futurist.