Spaced-out debate

On Star Wars, foxes and citizenship.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics
  • The Evil Empire

The souped-up 1997 version of Star Wars, Episode IV was shown on ITV on 10 September 2002 – complete with its intrusive special effects that only made Mark Hamill’s shaggy haircut seem even more dated. But this is a minor irritation – what is worse is how the film has been ruined by al-Qaeda.

Star Wars has traditionally been perceived as an allegory for the American story. While it is at once about 1776 – plucky, righteous rebels with US accents v the bloated empire run by a supercilious Brit, Peter Cushing – Americans have simultaneously understood it as a representation of the Second World War: a righteous battle between freedom-loving democrats and a fascist empire manned by Stormtroopers and headed by a power-crazed maniac in black.

But Star Wars makes uncomfortable viewing today. Here we have a materialistic empire, run by Anglo-Saxons, that is obsessed with interfering in the universe. On the other side you have a coterie of religious fundamentalists – adherents to some incomprehensible ‘Force’ – who make an audacious aerial attack on the steely symbol of the Empire’s symbol of grandeur and arrogance.

The spiritual leader of the insurgents is a bearded old sage who lives in a cave in the desert. He believes he can vanquish the Evil Empire because destiny and religion are on his side. One theory has it that al-Qaeda were influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga. I fear they may have taken more solace from George Lucas’s derivative intergalactic epic.

To its credit, at least the Empire did bring order and progress to the galaxy. The Stormtroopers’ calming presence in the Cantina bar on Tatooine illustrates not only the benefits it brought to backward societies, but surely proves what all right-thinking people have known for years: more Stormtroopers on the beat cuts crime. And at least members of the Empire didn’t get ‘back to nature’ with all the loveable, indigenous eco-Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor, twinned with Papua New Guinea.

In any case, once the rebellion triumphed, I’m sure it threw up its own dictator. It’s always the way.

  • Culture, or nature?

I don’t know what is more depressing: government attempts to outlaw foxhunting, or the fact that thousands will actually take to London’s streets this weekend to protest against a ban. Foreigners often remark that us Brits have a strange attitude to animals, and it is embarrassing that it has had to come to this.

Stranger still is the fact that fox hunters and hunt saboteurs both hold contradictory views. While the former seem to resemble the animals they are so fond of killing, the latter unwittingly demonstrate that human beings are indeed special, and superior to the animal world.

To be an animal is to be governed by nature, to be a slave to its diktats. Although it is ritualised, a fox hunt is a way of saying that we are no better than animals. It is a declaration of our savage, pre-civilisation instincts – in which nature’s creatures are defined solely as predators and prey. Pro-hunters are prone to argue that the issue is about the protection of culture and ‘rights’, whereas it is more about the retention of nature – in which ‘rights’ do not exist.

To be human is to rise above nature. When the animal rights brigade take up a vegetarian diet and pronounce hunting as ‘barbaric’, they demonstrate that we are not just animals. We have reason. Animal carnivores don’t choose to become vegans. You don’t get chimpanzees going around telling lions that gazelles have ‘rights’ – because they are incapable of it. If hunters are no better than animals, saboteurs ironically are.

Anyhow, this argument is a roundabout way of trying to legitimise my own vegetarianism. Not eating meat is a way of demonstrating that I am not just an animal and do possess free will. No, it’s absolutely nothing to do with my squeamish and slightly cowardly disposition; it’s a human rights issue. Apart from fish. I eat fish. They deserve everything they get.

  • Testing times

GCSE in Citizenship examination. London Authority. Multiple choice section. Circle ONE answer only.

Time: five minutes.

  1. What is the greatest threat to British society?

    a) The dearth of accountability and democracy in British government

    b) State interference

    c) ‘Institutional racism’

  • Why are women on average paid less than men?

    a) Women are less aggressive and often take part-time jobs after childbirth

    b) There is a ‘glass ceiling’, somewhere

    c) All men are bastards

  • You are having a conversation with someone. She says something that disagrees with you. What do you say?

    a) ‘Well, up to a point. But I would refute you on the following matters…’

    b) ‘You are totally wrong and clearly insane’

    c) ‘Your words are inappropriate, hurtful and deeply offensive’

  • A section of society forms a religion that believes putting kittens in boiling fat is sanctified. Does the state ban it?

    a) No, that would be wrong, as this is part of their culture

    b) Yes, we must ban as many things as possible

    c) It should be regulated. After all, our taxes do fund their schools

  • Are exams like this really a good idea?

    a) No, teachers have enough on their plates already

    b) No, they are elitist and judgmental, because they hurt the feelings of people who fail. We are all winners

    c) Yes, as the old Jesuit maxim goes: ‘Catch a boy before he’s seven and you’ll have him for life’

    (Question 4. was actually trick question. All answers are correct.)

  • Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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    Topics Politics


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