Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jedi Academics During War: A counterpoint to Dan Drezner

The trailer for The Last Jedi was released last week and we are a distant two months until the 8th chapter in the Skywalker Saga is in theaters. But there is a great disturbance in the galaxy. Begun, the overanalysis has. Fans are pouring through the details of the two minute trailer hoping to figure out the plot of the movie. What will happen to Luke, Leia, Rey, and Kylo Ren? Who is Snoke? Will Porg-mania take over?

As I am often prone to do, I read a lot of smart takes on Star Wars. I have an entire page of links of articles analyzing Star Wars - from military operations, religious understanding, to business and media.  I am expecting to add to the list upon the release of The Last Jedi.

Beating the pack to overanalysis of The Last Jedi is an article on The Washington Post website by political scientist Dan Drezner. Drezner extrapolates a few scenes from the trailer and advances a theory that Luke Skywalker and other Jedi in the saga are flawed professors and it is this inability to properly teach that dooms their pupils and opens up opportunities for chaos in the galaxy.

Drezner cites as evidence several Jedi and apprentice relationships that failed:
I am increasingly of the mind that it is a saga about poor mentoring. Think about it: Obi-Wan fails Anakin, Palpatine fails Anakin, Obi-Wan lies to Luke (don’t give me that “different point of view” crap), Yoda fails to get Luke to stay in Dagobah to complete his training, and Luke fails Kylo Ren. This is an appalling track record, and it bodes ill for Rey. In the seven films that have been released, we only witness one example of competent mentoring: Qui-Gon’s tutoring of Obi-Wan. And even that was cut short.

I've read Drezner's blogs for close to 10 years. I have his book International Relations and Zombies (review here). Normally I agree with his views or he at least makes me think. But here his analysis is missing a very important point. A point so large as to ruin his entire premise.

Drezner's theory fails to account for the fact that all the training we see in Star Wars occurs during a time of war. As many military members with a collection of colleges and courses can attest, deployments and military exercises wreak havoc on academic aspirations. This is not the instructors' fault, but the fault of circumstances.

(By the way, modern academia has three advantages over Jedi training:

In Star Wars, interrupted Jedi programs are not only the norm for a generation of Jedi, but a problem that becomes more prominent as time goes on. Unlike Sith training, which is highly emotional, Jedi training is a long, elaborate process of mind and body.

If we assume the Republic was at relative peace prior to the tiff between the Trade Federation and the Naboo, or there was at least no large scale galactic war (the Mandalorians were probably at war, as usual), then the first padawan we know of (Obi-Wan Kenobi) was taught in a much calmer time. There were no Sith or Inquisitors hunting Jedi and padawans had the full luxury of the Jedi Library and all the Jedi mentors at their disposal. Kenobi was basically trained in a Jedi University.

While Anakin (Obi-Wan's padawan) also had the Jedi Temple, Library, and mentors to learn from, he was often in combat for the Republic. Time for study was not a priority during the Clone Wars, with deployments and missions on a regular basis.

If war does not make one great, there was no way Anakin could have become a great Jedi since most of his time was spent participating in war.

Anakin's training was on commanding Clone Troops and training insurgencies as it was Jedi training. He was as much warrior as academic, almost equivalent to Special Forces training in both culture and combat. So although he passed the Jedi Trials, he probably had to rush through the training - possibly only memorizing the answers and not understanding them in context or meaning - a huge problem for spiritual understanding and the reason he was exploitable to social engineering.

The war climate also prevented the completion of training for two characters in the acclaimed cartoons: Ashoka Tano and Kanan Jarrus. In The Clone Wars, Ashoka was Anakin's padawan and accompanied him on many deployments and missions throughout her teens and twenties. Her involvement in the war may have led to her unfortunate dismissal and subsequent shunning of the Jedi order. It is probable that without the overarching conflict, Ashoka would have become a strong Jedi Master. Due to the war and the politics of a Jedi Order woefully struggling with its new place in a government at war, she became a rogue Force wielder.

For Kanan Jarrus of Star Wars: Rebels, Jedi training was cut short as his master was killed on the battlefield during Order 66.  Throughout the Rebels cartoon, Jarrus must mind the few lessons he learned during the war, picking up lessons along the way from Tano and the spiritual guidance of Yoda. From the cartoon, we don't know if Jarrus went through the Jedi Trials. Was he ever a Jedi Knight? Did the war and the resulting rebellion allow Jarrus the time to reach any standard of training?

Jarrus continues to complicate Jedi training by taking a padawan, Ezra Bridger. At first, Jarrus is hesitant as he is unsure of his own abilities, but he is encouraged to train Bridger and does so the best he can. But is again during a time of war. There is no ability to visit Coruscant and the Jedi Library and gain any formal knowledge. While they visit random smaller Jedi Temples and we see Jarrus and Bridger interact with a Jedi holocron, the main institution of formal Jedi training is not available to a generation of aspiring Jedi.

Following The Clone Wars and Order 66, there is no longer any way to formally train a Jedi, especially in the far reaches of the galaxy. War made Jedi training catch-as-catch can.

And this brings us to the least formally trained Jedi in Star Wars saga, Luke Skywalker. While Luke had brief tutelage under Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, his training was often interrupted by rebellion and battle. Even if had stayed at Dagobah with the elderly Yoda, how much more could he possibly learn? Granted, he is a Skywalker and Dagobah is rife with the Living Force, but Luke would still never be as formally or thoroughly trained as Obi-Wan.

Luke's lack of training is not Yoda's fault. It is circumstantial.

By Episode 6 (Return of the Jedi), Luke has developed as a Jedi. Those of us who only see the movies and cartoons are left to guess how this happened. Did he return to Dagobah? Did he sneak into Coruscant to study at the Jedi Library? Did he find a holocron? Did he meet with other Jedi in hiding - perhaps Kannan, Bridger, or Ashoka Tano?

However he did it, Luke became so powerful that 30 years after the fall of the Empire, people searched the galaxy for his assistance.

Although we can postulate Luke's power, based on what we know thus far, we can't fully analyze Kylo Ren or Rey's training. We know Kylo Ren has been trained - both by Luke and by Snoke.

From what we know about a generation of Jedi education and what little we know about what happens, it is impossible to blame Luke Skywalker for Kylo Ren or Rey's skills or faults. There is no way to compare Jedi training during the Clone Wars, the Galactic Civil War, and the resulting conflict with the First Order to previous Jedi training or the luxury and relative comfort held by American professors and students.

To blame Luke is not true, even from a certain point of view.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Donald Trump and Empathy

The President of the United States has an empathy problem.

His problem is that he has never needed empathy. He has never needed to care about a community, nor anyone outside a community. As a real estate magnate, he was never in the people-caring business.

That's not to say he is the only president who has ever had an empathy problem. I'm sure others have lacked in that department as well. That is also not to say he hasn't shown concern or care for individuals on occasion.

Nor, lastly, is this to say that a lack of empathy is a disqualifier to hold the world's most powerful political office. This is merely an observation on Donald Trump, President of the United States, and his actions thus far in the office.

When Trump won, I knew his lack of empathy was going to plague his administration. He ran a highly divisive campaign in perhaps the most divisive election in America in over 100 years. He kept his campaign focused on taking sides on social issues, instead of focusing on policies - which frustrated many pundits and fellow candidates. But by taking sides, he alienated those who disagreed and he has yet to show interest in building bridges to bring those who disagreed with him into the fold.

Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Cornell Medical College, recently wrote that Trump is a master of empathy.  Friedman stated Trump's ability to empathize with his base is what keeps them on his side. He concluded that Trump uses that empathy to feed the fears of his base and create a bond with them.

I think Friedman is right to a point. What he gets wrong is that Trump doesn't really understand the struggles of his base. Trump's political connection with his base is not empathy for people, but empathy for power. He understands there is power in drumming up fear and he used that to sell himself as the savior against all that would reduce the social power of his base - be that globalism, terrorism, or liberalism.

President Trump is an admirer of power. He seems to believe politics is about power, not people. He lauds those who have power, and doesn't identify well with those who don't. That is to be expected from a billionaire. Rarely do those with their own private jet understand those at the bus stops. But as president of all Americans, Trump represents the people at the bus stop as much as those in penthouses and private yachts.

Thus far, Trump's statements have given little indication that he will learn to be empathetic. He pins blame, points fingers, and plays favorites. He might be great at business, tax plans, and trade, and he may tweet a generically empathetic platitude when needed, but connecting on social issues will continue to befuddle him.

Trump's lack of empathy looks even worse when compared to previous presidents. For better or for worse, President Obama was seen as very empathetic to minority struggles in America. Likewise, President George W. Bush was a church-going, God-fearing man with a good heart, although he may have been the victim of bad advice on Iraq and slow movement on New Orleans.

For President Trump, meanwhile, every cameo at a golf course and every awkward speech further distances him from many of those he represents. While many will never like him as a person nor have any tolerance for his policies, his ability to connect could earn him the respect of the position.

Increasingly, empathy is considered an essential element of leadership. Understanding the trials, tribulations, and life decisions of team members is an advantage in building unity and cohesion.

According to Justin Bariso, who writes about Emotional Intelligence and the ability to connect,
If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members, it will go a long way toward encouraging them to perform at their best. It may even inspire the team to show empathy for the leader.
Trump seems to want Americans to "make America great again", but can't seem to connect with half of them on a personal level. He has a slogan, but getting people to run with that mission statement requires emotional buy-in. If Trump can't connect with people, he will have a hard time motivating them.

This is another difference between real estate and other corporations. Trump's money came from development and the value of land and buildings. There was little production outside of construction. And those doing construction were not building based on Trump's vision, they were building based on his specifications.

Trump's dilemma reminds me of an old Casey Stengel quote, "The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” Those who oppose Trump (and there are many) can easily run the narrative unless he shows empathy. Showing empathy and not causing conflict may create empathy for Trump himself.

Among other difficulties, Donald Trump has an empathy problem. It is tough to teach an old dog new tricks, and even more difficult to teach empathy to a 70-year old man whose empathy muscles have atrophied, if they were ever developed.