Wednesday, January 3

I guess I'm feeling better.


Dear Mr. Goldberg:

Please excuse the late arrival of this email in response to your column on "Certainty" that apparently appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 28th of last year. I don't read the Tribune (and I'd be unlikely to read your column if I did), but my mother sent me your column as a clipping, since you bring up STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH. My own connection to that project is well-known, by those with any knowledge of the subject whatsoever; since you are apparently not one of these, it may profit you to Google my name.

I say you are apparently not one of these, because if you were you would know that neither Mr. Lucas, nor any of the films did, in fact, maintain "that the entire Universe is divided into light and dark sides." A somewhat more sophisticated commentator might remember that no one in the films speak of any such thing as "a light side," and that the dual-valued moral certainty whose loss you bemoan was never in fact present at all; this moral conviction was exclusively the province of the Jedi, who, even in the original trilogy, are portrayed as being consistently wrong. A simple example (among many possible such) is that the young hero's mentors both insist his sole purpose in life is to slay his father; but (as all Star Wars fans and most everyone else who was alive in a Western nation during the 80s can tell you) it was Luke Skywalker's rejection of Obi-Wan and Yoda's flawed moral certainty that saves the day. Instead of killing his father, he forgives him -- he offers human understanding and love to the icon of Evil -- and thus triumphs. Insidious moral relativism, no doubt, but the only hackery on display here is that of a columnist too lazy to do his homework.

However, though it was Star Wars that brought your column to my attention, your offhand misrepresentation of Mr. Lucas's work is not my main objection to your column. It is the succession of mistakes, misstatements and what seem to be outright lies. Your assertion of intellectual dishonesty in the critics of absolutism is an insult to whatever intelligence might remain in regular readers of your column; did you actually ask Anthony Lewis that question, and get that response? Have you asked Andrew Sullivan? Barack Obama? Me? (Well, okay, I'll let you slide on that last one.)

Before bringing Socrates into a discussion, for example, you might consider actually reading Plato (or at least Wikipedia); your characterization of Socrates as a man of absolute moral conviction is, quite frankly, entirely false. Thomas More is only a hero to some; to others, he's a dangerous anti-Protestant polemicist and an advocate of Papal control over affairs of sovereign nations. Your speculation as to FDR's motivations is similarly ill-informed. Men of great conviction tend to be more monster than hero, beginning with Joshua ben Nun and running by way of Pericles up to John Brown, Kaiser Wilhem, Rasputin, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao tse Tung . . . You can count heroes of conviction on one hand. Monsters of conviction you couldn't count using all the hairs on your head. I strongly advise you to read more and write less -- unless you are wholly incapable of shame.

"The fact is that unless you know where you stand, it's unlikely you'll have the courage to understand where someone else is coming from."

Leaving aside your misuse of the word "fact" (something else you might try looking up), is there any conceivable support for this preposterous assertion? Did you even read this inanity before allowing it to slip into print under your byline?

As to our supposed certainty that murder is wrong, does that certainty extend to, say, Osama bin Laden? Would you fight to save his life against US Special Forces bent on finding and killing him? How about Saddam Hussein? (And don't try to pretend Hussein wasn't murder; there was nothing lawful about either his trial or his execution.) Have you written a number of columns blasting Israel's use of targeted assinations? If racism is always bad, then why aren't you writing column after column insisting that Israel return all the land stolen from the Palestinians? Is it your position that all Palestinians should be made full citizens of Israel? If you don't advocate these things, how is that not racist? Should Ted Kaczynski's parents have loved him unconditionally (in fact, I believe they did, which is a strong argument against the absolute moral value of unconditional parental love)? If, say, Osama bin Laden's father was shielding and supporting his son out of unconditional love, would you applaud his moral uprightness?

Bear in mind that I am not "dismissing your ideas out of hand." I'm simply trying to elucidate a few of your false assertions, to illuminate your army of straw men, and to castigate the intellectual bankruptcy of your "arguments."

"Close-minded" does not, and has never, meant "people who disagree with me." "Close-minded" refers to people who are so smug in their self-righteous ignorance that they simply can't be bothered about facts.

Does that sound like anyone you know personally?


Best,
Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto

26 comments:

Ben said...

This looks to be the column you are referencing:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-0612280186dec28,1,5049526.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Shehzad said...

Or this link:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-0612280186dec28,0,4925310.story?coll=chi-newsopinioncommentary-hed

Good to see you back and blogging, Matt!

Chris said...

I knew your next blog post would be worth waiting for. Glad you're feeling better. Don't leave us waiting five months for the next one man! You right too good [sicut].

MWS said...

Yeah, those are the links.

The text of my post is a copy of the email I sent Goldberg last night.

That guy's like a pimple on my ass: he gives me a nasty swelling itch way too close to my butthole.

GameCreator said...

I pray to any god who will listen that this guy writes you back. (You will be so kind as to post his response, won't you?) And if he doesn't, I'll take up praying strictly to Tyshalle.

MWS said...

If he writes back I will certainly post his response -- and my response to his response, and so forth. I think it might be serve the public good for an ideologue like him to receive a verbal flogging in a virtual twon square . . .

Chimeco said...

I am continually in awe of your poetry. Dare I say that I agree with Goldbergs last line though: "That's what is so offensive about this fashionable nonsense: It breeds the very closed-mindedness it pretends to fight."

Death and Absolute 0 aside, my one certainty is that all people are generally evil. And good. And that I hate them all anyway.

Chimeco said...
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Azrof D said...

Always good to see you up and around Matt.

ManuelHung said...

Dude, you can have your own opinion, but not your own facts. Back before the evil Republicans gained the presidency in 1980, there was a concept of good and evil in Star Wars. Your attempt to deny that is laugable. Where to you get that Obi Wan and Yoda told Luke to kill - as opposed to "face" - his father?

Relax, man. Enjoy life. You sound like an angry, miserable old man.

Todd said...

He replied:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YWY1MzdjMDk3ZWVmNTg5NGYwYjQ0ZWViNGI0M2VlMDI=

apple said...

Its interesting that you insult Mr. Goldberg's intelligence by telling him to consult Wikipedia about Plato. Maybe you would be interested in what they have to say about your work.

"Stover is one of the most controversial authors in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. His three Star Wars novels are much more violent and MORALLY GREY THAN MOST OTHER STAR WARS WORKS, a fact that has earned him both avid fans and relentless detractors."

Obviously Mr. Goldberg isn't the only person to have this opinion.

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RDow said...

I believe you are wrong to say that the number of heroes of conviction are few. The heroes of conviction never get the press that the monsters of conviction get. The heroes of conviction are the countless people through the ages that did not murder, steal or commit other horrendous acts of evil against their fellow man. The fact that you can't name a handful says a great deal about you.

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Anonymous said...

"And don't try to pretend Hussein wasn't murder; there was nothing lawful about either his trial or his execution."

Hussein was put on trial by the elected government of his country and found guilty of a crime he was most certainly guilty of (mass murder). He was then executed under the laws of Iraq. I think "lawful" doesn't mean what you think it means.

As to your conviction argument. If you have no conviction you only wind up a hero by accident because otherwise you run away at the first scent of opposition. Why risk your life unless you are certain of the righteousness of your cause?

All of the British and American soldiers (as well as all the others on the Allied side) who died in WWII were heroes who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their people and the conquered territories. All of them had certainty that Hitler and had to be stopped. That's over a million heroes right there.

Every cop or firefighter who died in the line of duty had the conviction that risking his life for the innocent was a worthwhile sacrifice. More countless heroes.

Every man or woman who has stood up against injustice at the risk of their own lives or livelihoods is a hero. Untold millions have the distinction.

"Have you written a number of columns blasting Israel's use of targeted assinations (sic)?"

Ah, I think I begin to see. Another anti-Semite and seeing the name Goldberg set you aflame. Here's the deal re: Israel. Some people are planning the murder of civilians and have successfully planned the suicide bombing of other civilians in the past. What should Israel do? Would you rather they weren't targeted and killed lots of innocent civilians?

Sorry bud, but Israel , at least, is better than that. They actually do their utmost to avoid killing innocents. I think you would prefer that Israel did nothing and allowed innocent civilians be killed because somehow in your twisted mind they deserve it.

You probably think the US deserved 9/11 don't you?

As to Star Wars, I will point out that Lucas has an iron grip on everything having to do with the Star Wars universe and innumerable games have Light side and Dark side Jedi.

"For my ally in the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. It's energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we...(Yoda pinches Luke's shoulder)...not this crude matter. (a sweeping gesture) You must feel the Force around you. (gesturing) Here, between you...me...the tree...the rock...everywhere! Yes, even between this land and that ship!" -- Yoda

Lucas has the wisest teacher basically state the Universe is made up of the Force. The Lucus Universe does indeed have Light and Dark Jedi. Therefor according to Lucas the universe is split by the dark side and the light side. Those are the facts Jack.

Should I believe you or Lucas?

-- Flying Monkey Brigade Irregular

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to point out, Monkey, that Lucas also has said that to him, there is the movie canon, and then there's everything else. He's also said that there's far too much stuff in the latter category for him to worry about, and that only the things you see in the movies can actually be considered 100% reliable Star Wars continuity.

And it's commonly held that as far as canon goes, games are on the bottom rung of canon. The books on the other hand, fall right below the movies, which I think makes Stover's work far more reliable than anything you saw in Lego Star Wars, or something you heard from some l33t dood on the MMO, Galaxies.

And for all the assumptions you seem to try to be passing off as facts, I should point out that one of the only (and really, the only one I've ever heard of) hands-on EU projects Lucas has personally had his hands in where he personally discussed "the way things work" in the universe is on the Episode III novelization. So if there's one piece of EU fiction out there that can be passed off as a step above all others, I dare to say it's Stover's book.

Now certainly, this doesn't mean you should believe Stover above Lucas, but to hold things you've seen in GAMES above Stover's opinion seems a bit ludicrous, especially when the best in-movie example you can give is one that doesn't actually even hint at the supposed dark or light sides of the Force, but simply talks about the Force itself.

A better example, IMO, would be when Luke asks Yoda how he'll know "the good side from the bad," at which point Yoda basically tells him that he'll know when he's being objective and calm, and not bringing any of his personal bullshit to the viewpoint. So essentially, the "Dark Side of the Force" is merely when you're being a selfish little bastard and letting your personal feelings and aspirations taint the way you use the Force. The "light side" as you seem to identify it, is "pure" Force. It's the Force simply as it is, raw and untainted with foreign shit.

To call the Force "the light side of the..." for simply being itself untainted is no different then calling new toilet paper "the light side of the..." before you wipe your ass with it. I mean sure, if that's how you want to interpret it, all right, but it's unnecessary and misleading. It essentially paints everything in a black and white perspective that says "pure is good," which is an idea I'm sure you can draw all sorts of corollaries with that wouldn't really agree with your whole moral certainty concept.

The bottom line is this: The Force is what it is, and it has nothing to do with morals, by itself, raw and untainted with personal interests. The Dark Side comes out when you involve the human element, and even then only when the human element chooses selfishness. To call the Force "light" is to call it inherantly morally good, and anything that steps out of that very strict and narrow line evil. Jedi are regarded as the Good Guys because they put the Republic and Life before their own interests, unlike the Sith. This has nothing to do with a "light side of the Force," which is why the Jedi are called Knights, and not Priests.

--Shane

Flying Monkey Brigade Irregular said...

Shane, you make lots of good points. If Stover had written as lucidly as you and kept the same grasp of sanity you exhibited I wouldn't have replied so strongly.

I originally started to write a much larger argument until I finally reached a point where I realized I agreed with you. Here is the short version: Lucas started off with an original vision of good versus evil -- light versus dark -- and then screwed it all up.

Suddenly the Force is an impersonal energy yet we are still supposed to care about any of this? That changed the meaning of everything that had come before and now nothing makes sense. Hell, even love is seen as leading to the dark side in the end. Lucas changed it so that the Jedi were no longer what people would understand as being "good" and contradicted the first trilogy.

In the end Darth Vader, under the new conception of the Force, was still acting on the Dark side when he takes out the Emperor to save Luke because it was about an action based on a selfish emotion which we now know is of the Dark side. If he had stayed with the Emperor they they could retain order which makes much more object impersonal sense. Once you detach everything from morality the entire thing falls apart. And how in the hell the glowy angelic figures of the dead fit in now under this new conception? Like I said, the new movies invalidate the old. Like Han shooting first Lucas took what was great about SW and ruined it.

I suppose what got my dander up didn't really have anything to do with the Force argument. After all that was just a freakin' throw away line in a column about something much larger. Everyone who read that line understood exactly what Jonah meant because that is precisely the conception that the public has of the Force. Don't believe me? Do a poll and I bet >95% think it is supposed to be Light vs Dark. Bet you a million bucks.

In the end all that matters is what the public thinks of and and how they interpret the story. Lucas should feel lucky they didn't really understand what they hell he was doing. Nihilism doesn't make you a billion dollars.

Anonymous said...

Without commenting on my personal opinion of Star Wars--prequel trilogy or otherwise, speaking purely objectively, you'll find that in this day in age, people are believing in pure Good vs. Evil less and less, and being far more drawn to stories and characters that have that line blurred. Jack Bauer, any of Joss Whedon's characters, ever, Frodo and Gollum and anyone who was drawn to the Ring on the side of Good, Caine, and curiously enough, even Han when he still shot first... these are all characters who bounce back and forth between what we'd consider to be morally acceptable in this society. Even those of strong moral conviction, like Jack Bauer from 24, despite how he can never be bought, and is pretty much a pure hero, he'll still murder people for revenge and doesn't have much of a problem with the threat of torture, and has a problem with authority and doesn't really have the best grip on his anger.

My point is, you seem to regard blurring the line of Good and Evil in Star Wars to be a slap in the face against it, when really it has only served to enhance it. Episode III was the best of the prequels mostly because it suddenly got far darker than you were used to.

Plus, I don't really understand how you can feel that blurring the lines between G&E in Star Wars is a bad thing, but when Lucas did the opposite with the special edition and made Han shoot second, thus making him MORE of a good guy, and LESS of a morally ambiguous character, you find this to be horrible as well.

And while sure, the tone of Star Wars definitely has this Good versus Evil feel to it, I think that's just a facade put on to simplify things so that the kids will keep up with it. If you look below the surface, even a little bit, you'll find many examples where the line between good and evil blurs, and that goes for both trilogies. Tell me that your heart didn't drop when Vader threatens Leia at the end of RotJ and Luke screams at him, the music starts getting all dramatic, and you literally see Luke as he begins to fall to the Dark Side, and using it to beat down his dad? To me, that was the best scene in the whole of Star Wars saga.

And while sure, Vader destroying the Emperor the way he did could be regarded as simply another form of the Dark Side, considering he did it for selfish reasons, it also blows your "Star Wars portrays love as the dark side" argument out of the water, as what we see there is truly Vader turning against the decades of brainwashing he'd gone through under the Emperor's will, all for love.

Vader turned to the Dark Side for love, and he also turned away from it for the same reason. And maybe you can argue that what he does in both instances is the same thing, but he's doing it for two very different reasons. He winds up killing Padme out of jealousy, sealing his fate, but then he winds up killing the Emperor to protect his child. It's only through this pure Good vs. Evil perspective that you could possibly find murdering someone to protect your family a morally wrong thing to do.

Moving on, the Force was always this "impersonal energy." I wouldn't actually call it impersonal, but I certainly wouldn't ever refer to it as having a sentience and a God-like will. Obi-Wan in E4 refers to the Force as simply a Force created by life, that binds everything together. If you're refering to the medichlorians (which I don't know that you are), those aren't what the Force is all about. Those simply act as a conduit so that people can speak to the Force.

The Jedi were looked upon as good in the original trilogy, this is true. But there are only three characters in the entire original trilogy who were actually trained as Jedi, one of whom is the main antagonist of all three movies, and the other two, who while certainly are portrayed as good, you don't really learn much about their past, and they're certainly not infallable. What little you do learn about them was that Obi-wan was kind of a bitch as a young Jedi, and that Obi-wan also wasn't a very good teacher, as his student fell to the dark side. Considering in the original trilogy you're led to believe Yoda did Obi-wan's training, this can be seen as a failing on his part as well.

The prequels expand upon it, at which point you come to find that the Jedi ARE good, exactly as you'd expect them to be, except for one failing. They are so stuck in tradition and their own ways, that they can't adapt to anything. This is why Anakin inevitably falls to the Dark Side, as he was a completely untraditional Jedi, living in times unlike what any of the other Jedi had ever experienced before (with the Sith around and everything, something that hadn't occured in over a thousand years), and yet he's being given crappy, archaic advice and not really being shown any compassion except by his two mentors, Obi-wan and Palpatine.

Anyway, I'm not commenting on the goodness or badness of the movies themselves. I'm simply saying that when you look just slightly beneath the surface, it's ALWAYS had a blurry line between Good and Evil, and it's never been a handicap. If anything, the worse parts of the trilogy in terms of morality or lack there of is when that line is much more defined, such as when Han shoots second.

--Shane

Flying Monkey Brigade Irregular said...

Howdy Shane,

Good points all. I'm at my limit of this discussion but I appreciate your reasonable tone and insight.

I will make a final point, though. After Episodes 1-3 I read a number of very good arguments that the Empire was actually the good guys and the Jedi were the bad guys. The fact that a reasonable argument would be made without someone laughing in your face is completely opposite of anything portrayed in the first trilogy.

Also, you never addressed the bluey glowing spirits of dead "good" Jedi. That makes no sense in anything other than a "good" versus "evil" sense and is logically impossible under the new conception of the Force. And notice their big smiles! They are having emotions which are of the Dark side!!! It is all just ruined for me, honestly, if I spend any time thinking about it at all.

But I enjoyed this discussion anyway. Perhaps we'll cross light sabers again some day.

MWS said...

First: Anonymous posts are not allowed in the comments on my blog. Sign your work or fuck off.

Second: Lucas has made it clear the "Force ghost" phenomenon is not an afterlife of reward or punishment, but the result of a Force technique.

You should check your sources, first.

Third: I don't base my opinion of Socrates on Wikipedia; I base my opinion of Socrates on Plato's depiction of his conversations. You should do the same.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Mr. Stover, I just wanted to say that, not only have you ruined me for other Star Wars authors, you've ruined me for many other authors period.

Revenge of the Sith was phenomenal. The writing was big and bold, perfectly right and proper for the story you were telling. You took some liberties with the story line, but I felt they all panned out superbly.

You gave me insight into the characters and the entire Star Wars storyline I'd never had before.

Nice job. Thanks.

John
grgurich@gmail.com