In a world with pandemics, violent riots, contentions at a global scale, and a personal Dunkirk in every home, there may still be hope and unity found in the least expected places. We may no longer share the basic building blocks of a healthy society, but we still share a love for the new American myths, and that might be what saves us in the end.
Author Stephen Kent testifies to such hope in his new book, “How the Force Can Fix the World: Lessons on Life, Liberty, and Happiness from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.”
Kent is the creator of the popular Star Wars-meets-politics podcast, “Beltway Banthas,” which features guests from all sides of the political spectrum and is just one product of his focus on finding cultural platforms to bridge the political and cultural divisions feeding America’s cantankerous culture war. His new book follows this same ethos.
Kent asks his audience to be willing to humble themselves. Americans, in general, are much too arrogant. Noting an NPR/PBS NewsHour poll found that only 25 percent of Democrats said they were open to new information regarding the Trump impeachment; and on Joe and Hunter Biden, only 24 percent of Republicans believed further information would change their minds.
“We need an intervention to liberate us from our culture of pride and self-assuredness,” writes Kent.
You can see this in empathy deficit in studies on college students. A 2010 University of Michigan study found college students’ empathy for each other dropped by more than 40 percent between 1970 and 2000. A 2017 Duke University study examined intellectual humility, finding 66 percent of participants professed themselves as right when asked: “What percentage of the time do you think that you were right” in a specific disagreement with someone.
Not that this data is necessary, as Kent reminds us, the amount of cancel culture stories that utterly dehumanize even teenagers for making that one lousy tweet points to something being very broken in our culture. The knowledge identity deficit Americans have for accurately guessing views for members of the other team is another.
‘Star Wars’ as a Shared Language
The reason for our self-destruction, Kent hypothesizes, is very Jonathan Haidt in scope. The seed of our destruction is the dehumanizing powers of prolific social media and the failing economy and changing cultural tensions we all feel, a la the Big Sort. Americans no longer have a shared moral language, which faith used to bear. When humanity abandons religion, something else must always fill the void.
Unlike the many who see that vacuum and are despondent, Kent finds courage. While Americans increasingly can not tell you the difference between Old Testament figures like Noah and Abraham, 69 percent of Americans can say in detail who Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are. In this, Kent sees an opportunity to use the great shared fandoms that make up modern American popular culture as that new moral language. In the face of fighting “anger, despair, and nihilism” his goal is to help Americans return to an understanding of moving forward based on “debate, difference, and deference.”
The book is divided across seven chapters with an almost self-help type of framing, covering topics from an emotional standpoint that resonate with themes any “Star Wars” fan will recognize — starting on the subject of humility, jumping feet-first into hope, and concluding with redemption and choice. The book’s first few chapters focus more on his hypothesis for what is broken in us before moving onto controversial topics like Black Lives Matter riots, the Supreme Court fights, and the 2020 presidential election.
A libertarian, Kent sides with leftists’ concerns like structural racism, for example, but agrees with the classical liberal right on the solutions such as ending police immunity and reforming sentencing. Kent isn’t afraid of being labeled with “both-sidesism” nor concerned with appearing anti-anti-whatever. His goal remains trying to get the two tribes to understand each other’s point of view.
Even ‘Star Wars’ Has Problems
There are a few things left to be desired in the book. Kent tilts much too heavily towards the Disney trilogy and tries to treat all “Star Wars” as a cohesive, unified piece of art instead of the very divided creation it currently is. This seems to be his personal belief as much as it is a peace-making strategy.
Those concerns that divide fans aren’t all bluster. Traditional fans would be correct to be outraged over the woke revisioning of the original trilogy’s heroes. These cultural divisions didn’t start from mutual disdain, though they have indeed become that way now.
It wasn’t George Lucas and the nerds who tanked the fandom; that’s on Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson. While Kent recognizes “Rise of Skywalker” is an artistic failure, he mostly ignores the fandom Death Star that was “The Last Jedi.”
Those concerns are primarily based on my own passion for nerdery, and I encourage readers to recognize that Kent is trying to speak to all Americans and not just us turbo-nerds. This book isn’t just about “Star Wars,” or even politics, although you can enjoy this book if you are into either of those two topics. This book is about a great deal of good that could be done by using our mutual love of a “galaxy far, far away” as the cornerstone to a healthier culture.
Kent recognizes such a project has limits. “Star Wars isn’t going to solve everything. The saga from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away couldn’t possibly lead us to a new order or to global peace and harmony. But it does point us to some key concepts that, if we take them to heart, could help us on our journey through our flawed world,” he writes.
That push is a great first effort that should give us confidence for a better tomorrow. For as we all know, “Rebellions are built on hope.”