Scientific American makes mind-bogglingly stupid claim that Jedi are problematic


Sometimes, something gets published that is just so mind-bogglingly stupid, simply to read it is exasperating, and to comment on it seems simultaneously easy (for its aforementioned stupidity), pointless (for the likelihood that anyone who reads it can easily figure out how stupid it is), and counterproductive (for risk of inadvertently giving it greater audience than it deserves).

Weighing this swirling mix of competing imperatives, I ultimately choose to present to you an article in Scientific American titled, “Why the Term ‘JEDI’ Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” The subtitle helpfully adds: “They’re meant to be heroes within the Star Wars universe, but the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work.”

Five authors saw fit to attach their names to this article; let their names be known: J. W. Hammond, Sara E. Brownell, Nita A. Kedharnath, Susan J. Cheng, and W. Carson Byrd.

Now, you may not have known that “JEDI” had become an acronym for this purpose (I didn’t), so thank goodness these five authors provided an explanation:

The acronym “JEDI” has become a popular term for branding academic committees and labeling STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) initiatives focused on social justice issues. Used in this context, JEDI stands for “justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.” In recent years, this acronym has been employed by a growing number of prominent institutions and organizations, including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. At first glance, JEDI may simply appear to be an elegant way to explicitly build “justice” into the more common formula of “DEI” (an abbreviation for “diversity, equity and inclusion”), productively shifting our ethical focus in the process. JEDI has these important affordances but also inherits another notable set of meanings: It shares a name with the superheroic protagonists of the science fiction Star Wars franchise, the “Jedi.” Within the narrative world of Star Wars, to be a member of the Jedi is seemingly to be a paragon of goodness, a principled guardian of order and protector of the innocent. This set of pop cultural associations is one that some JEDI initiatives and advocates explicitly allude to.

Ah, but there are problems with this! Star Wars displays “Orientalist” tropes, conflates alienness with nonwhiteness, stinks of capitalism, affirms sexism, reinforces ableism, and more. But the most ridiculous aspect of this article needs to be quoted in full:

The Jedi are inappropriate mascots for social justice. Although they’re ostensibly heroes within the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work. They are a religious order of intergalactic police-monks, prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting by means of “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.). The Jedi are also an exclusionary cult, membership to which is partly predicated on the possession of heightened psychic and physical abilities (or “Force-sensitivity”). Strikingly, Force-wielding talents are narratively explained in Star Wars not merely in spiritual terms but also in ableist and eugenic ones: These supernatural powers are naturalized as biological, hereditary attributes. So it is that Force potential is framed as a dynastic property of noble bloodlines (for example, the Skywalker dynasty), and Force disparities are rendered innate physical properties, measurable via “midi-chlorian” counts (not unlike a “Force genetics” test) and augmentable via human(oid) engineering. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions. Sending the message that justice work is akin to cosplay is bad enough; dressing up our initiatives in the symbolic garb of the Jedi is worse.

Now, there are plenty of criticisms one can make of Star Wars. There are even plausible in-universe criticisms of the Jedi, who after all failed to notice the rising threat of their enemies, the Sith, and seem to keep getting wiped out by the same. In response to these five (!) authors, however, one is tempted to point out that every criticism of the Jedi they make is far truer of the Sith, and to wonder what popular culture can hold up against the ever-intensifying lens of wokeness (see also, Harry Potter).

But to do so, again, seems pointless — as pointless as this article itself was. This is the kind of content that should have never escaped the weed-soaked dorm rooms of gender-studies majors, much less have made it into what is theoretically supposed to be a respected scientific periodical. It is said that only a Sith deals in absolutes, but if it makes me one to say that this is time- and resource-wasting garbage of the first order, then so be it.

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