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December 27, 2009

Knights yearn for the Great Showdown.

Gardeners yearn for the Great Breakthrough.

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December 27, 2009

The Star Wars saga and The Matrix trilogy are both Knight and Gardener epics that conclude when the main characters—who have been pursuing a Great Showdown—realize that their wars cannot end without a Great Breakthrough of insight, wisdom or compassion.

Both series’ plots were drawn from the lessons and stories of the great religious traditions. George Lucas (Star Wars) and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) are serious students of world religions.

The Star Wars saga is the story of the corrupting of a Republic, and the rise of an Empire engineered by a power-hungry politician (Senator-turned-Emperor Palpatine) and his chief military enforcer (the corrupted Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker—Darth Vader).

The collapse of the Republic and subsequent “star wars” were caused by the repeated spiritual and human failings of the major characters. Palpatine’s and Vader’s pursuit of unlimited spiritual and political power was not countered for two reasons. First, Palpatine’s opponents in the Republic’s Senate failed to show political courage and check his power. And second, the Order of Jedi Knights, which had gained worldly power and become a political institution—a kind of state Church—had become arrogant and forgotten its intended role in the cosmos as nonpartisan peacemakers. (The Jedi are a combination of Parzival and Galahad. They follow the Parzival model, but wear monk’s robes and live in a monastic order, spiritually separated from the world.) The result was a galaxy-spanning war between the Empire and Rebellion that lasted a generation.

During the Great Showdown with the Emperor and Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker realizes the nature of his father’s spiritual failings. He realizes that Vader’s originally well-intentioned pursuit of power in the name of establishing order, justice and peace in the name of a “good” over an “evil” led him down the path of the Dark Side of the Force. At the trilogy’s climax, Luke defeats his father in single combat and stands over him, ready to administer the coup de gras with his lightsaber. In that moment he realizes he is about to repeat his father’s spiritual failing and continue the war forever. Luke stands tall, throws away his lightsaber and tells the Emperor that he will not fight; that he is a Jedi—a nonpartisan peacemaker; a spiritual sage—like his father before him. Luke shows mercy to his father—the dark Knight—and then places himself at the mercy of the Emperor—the  dark king—the most powerful, deadliest man in the galaxy. As the Emperor begins killing Luke slowly, Vader experiences the Great Spiritual Breakthrough he’d missed his entire life—that compassion rather than the pursuit of virtue is what transforms worlds, including the world of his own heart—and saves his son’s life. Only then do the “star wars” truly end.

Similarly, at the end of The Matrix trilogy, Neo experiences a Great Spiritual Breakthrough and saves both the world of the Matrix and the real world—a Gardener resolution—rather than eradicating the Matrix, to the disappointment of fans and critics who expected a Knight resolution.

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December 27, 2009

Some movies present impossible dilemmas for Knights and Gardeners. (Warning: plot spoilers ahead.)  Gone Baby Gone and Watchmen end with the world saved by the commission of secret, unconscionable acts. These movies beg questions for Knights and Gardeners—should the secrets be brought to light at the risk of destroying the world, or should the world remain saved even if it means keeping a dirty secret? Were these secret, unconscionable acts truly unethical? Does the end justify the means?

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December 27, 2009

Knights can also become frustrated when watching movies in which the pursuit of the most virtuous path cannot win the fight, eradicate the threat, or resolve the problem. (Warning: Plot spoilers ahead) No Country for Old Men ends without victory for the righteous and punishment for the wicked. L. A. Confidential ends with all the honest characters corrupt and all the corrupt characters redeemed. The Wire outlines how pursuit of the War on Drugs—a Knight endeavor—makes the problem worse, not better.

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December 27, 2009

In the world of government policy, Knights can become frustrated when a problem cannot be resolved with a Knight approach, and requires a Gardener approach instead, such as the drug problem in the United States. Likewise, Gardeners can become frustrated when a problem cannot be resolved with a Gardener approach, and requires a Knight approach instead, such as military responses to, say, genocides in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia.

Knights see the use of Knight solutions as most heroic and most appropriate, and Gardeners see the use of Gardener solutions the same way. Adopting an approach from the other mode can be uncomfortable—or even perceived as a betrayal of principle.

If inflexible, Knights’ and Gardeners’ approaches can reflect psychologist Abraham Maslow’s observation that if the only tool one possesses is a hammer, all one’s problems begin to look like nails.

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December 27, 2009

Knights aren’t always conservative and Gardeners aren’t always liberal. Many 1960s liberals saw themselves as “The Movement” opposing “The Establishment”—a Knight’s viewpoint. And many financial conservatives work to grow world economies—a Gardener’s approach.

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December 27, 2009

Some Knights—because they view the world in “either/or” terms—can interpret others’ disagreements with them as attacks on them, attacks that warrant a heroic response. These Knights assert that the world—out of ego, selfishness, greed, or lust for power—will persecute them, the righteous. They conclude they should resist or persevere nobly in the face of the onslaught. And they believe that the greater the attacker—and the greater their noble perseverance—the more heroic they are. And that those who make great sacrifices in their efforts to persevere will earn places as honored martyrs.

  • Some American Christian fundamentalists interpret efforts to accommodate greater religious diversity in the United States in recent decades as efforts to push Christianity out of the public square. These fundamentalists assert that there is a “war on Christianity.”  In response, these fundamentalist Knights have politically mobilized to protect Christianity in the United States by “taking back” or “restoring” America to its spiritual roots. Even though these fundamentalist Knights have gained significant influence within all three branches of the federal government in recent years, they continue to claim they are a persecuted minority.
  • Liberal anti-globalization protesters see an interconnected global economy as a threat to the world’s poor, and have mobilized politically to protect them from corporate greed—and the government agencies they believe aid that greed.
  • Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders believe that a malevolent alliance of “Crusaders and Zionists” (Christians and Jews) is waging a war against Islam, and seek to conquer the Middle East to steal its oil resources. For them, the United States’ invasion of Iraq was definitive proof that this alliance exists—and has begun its long-expected military onslaught. According to them, only pure faith and violent methods will purge non-Islamic influences from Muslim lands, and allow Islamic civilization to flourish again. Al-Qaeda sees itself as a worldwide alliance of daring Muslim heroes that works to defend Islam from evil. Bin Laden’s deputy Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined this view in his first book, Knights Under The Prophet’s Banner.

Knights like these see themselves as heroic defenders, and object to being cast as trying to conquer and convert an entire world. Fundamentalists like al-Qaeda or conservative American Christian evangelicals do not want to establish a theocracy in their regions. They want a world safe enough for them that establishment of a theocracy is not necessary. Similarly, liberal anti-globalization protesters do not want to destroy the global economy; they want a global economy that does not threaten the poor.

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