Philosophy Friday: A Lesson From Star Wars Supervillains
When I watched Star Wars ‘The Force Awakens’ back in pre-COVID 2016, I was surprised by the choice of Kylo Ren as the great galactic nemesis. Here was a kid, who doubtlessly had a powerful way with The Force. However, his handling of his emotions was as dismal as his lightsabre handiwork was admirable. He behaved like a temper-tantrum pre-teen who had their iPhone confiscated. Ren kept losing his cool and getting angry about every little thing that went wrong during his galactic conquest. He didn’t know how to stay focussed on the Big Picture, i.e. crushing his enemies and conquering the galaxy.
Compare Kylo Ren with that other Star Wars supervillain from an earlier galactic empire, Darth Vader. Side-kick, fellow Sith and fix-it-man to the emperor himself, the older Darth was very much in control of himself. He kept a cool head at all times. Darth would pursue the emperor’s goals with a single-minded zeal that most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would give their right hand for. The rebels would thwart him, and yet he would not lose his cool. When underling admirals failed to meet his expectations, they were quietly remote-strangled and quickly replaced with the next unfortunate officer in line.
“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.” – Publilius Syrus
The interpretation that came to my mind when I first read Publilius Syrus’ quote is that before one deserves a great empire, one must be able to control oneself. Learn to moderate heightened emotions – anger, desire, passion, despair, pain – that kind of thing. How else can we make optimal decisions if we don’t know how to calm our mind whenever we hit up against adversity and obstacles?
In my mind, Darth Vader had this one sorted. Big tick. Kylo Ren not so much. He needs to do more growing in this area before he can competently rule the First Order. Otherwise, he won’t last long. He’ll overreach. He won’t listen and consider the advice of his officers. Game Over.
After some reflection, it dawned on me that there was a deeper, more profound interpretation of Publilius Syrus’s line: Learn to command your mind, and you will have gained an empire worth ruling over. The possession of such an inner empire would overcome the desire for an external one. It makes sense, I think, that if we knew how to control ourselves better, our need to constrain other people would diminish.
If Alexander the Great, Napoleon and the world’s other notable conquerors had had a better handle of themselves, maybe their rules of conquest, and misery for millions, could have been avoided?
Maybe today we can try to rule our minds a little better and react less to events? Are you up for that?