The Real-Life Equivalent of the Sith vs. Jedi Debate

Star Wars is in the air. Once again, World culture celebrates a new installment in the Star Wars saga.

One of my favorite aspects of Star Wars mythology is the philosophical differences between the Jedi and the Sith. Close inspection of the differences between the two belief systems raises questions about the ideal lifestyle for human beings to pursue.

 On one side of the argument are the Jedi, a stoic and monk-like order of warriors who respect peace, order, and a rigid compliance to a discipline that values avoidance of emotional attachments. Jedi are peacekeepers, advisors, enforcers of justice, and wise teachers of philosophy. They resemble ancient Samurai in their warrior skills while also embodying values held by monks, priests, and religious devotees. Jedi forbid their followers from romantic relationships and discourage fear, anger, and all extreme emotions. Jedi are kind, just, and completely in control of their emotions. Jedi are the heroes of the galaxy and their efforts to serve the people they protect can be exemplified.

SIth are the exact opposite. Sith encourage their followers to give in to their emotions and not regulate their feelings. The first line of the Sith code reads “Peace is a lie, there is only passion”, a far cry from the Jedi philosophy. While Jedi defend the galaxy from chaos and seek to uphold justice and order, Sith exist to throw the galaxy into disarray for their own personal gains. In the Sith philosophy, is there anything to be admired? I would argue that the Sith thirst for knowledge is a valuable trait. While the Jedi shy away from dabbling in forbidden realms of learning, the Sith encourage their followers to pursue any information that would give them more power. Sith followers are often seen traveling into ancient tombs to retrieve artifacts (usually holocrons) that have some forgotten information. Although the Sith pursue this hunt for information to an extreme end, often hurting others in the process, their passion is to be recognized.

But what about emotions? Are the Jedi correct that emotions are bad? The Jedi resemble the Stoic brand of Hellenic philosophers. These individuals taught that humans should strive to be constantly in control of their emotional state. The Stoics encouraged discipline, complete self-control, and a life of serving others. Ultimately, the Stoics believed that virtue was necessary for happiness. If a person had virtue, then no ill circumstance could stop that person from having a good and fulfilling life. Furthermore, the Stoics were in touch with nature and taught that their followers should respect, understand, and nourish the natural world in an attempt to improve their own virtuous selves. Jedi respect nature and attempt to live a virtuous life, free from negative emotions such as fear and jealousy. In Episode I, Yoda teaches that fear leads to anger and must be avoided as it will ultimately lead to the Dark Side of the Force. Yoda’s words resemble the teachings of the Stoics in their pursuit of virtue and ultimate happiness.

The Sith resemble the Epicureans, a different branch of Hellenic philosophers who taught that life is to be enjoyed through the senses. Epicurus, the founder of Epicureanism, taught that pleasure was the greatest and most divine happiness. In order to cultivate pleasure, Epicureans were taught to live modestly and gain knowledge of the workings of the world. Through the following of this path, Epicureans believed that one could even avoid physical pain and feelings of fear.  Epicureans believed that people should seek enjoyment and not avoid temptation. Similarly to the Sith, an Epicurean might encourage giving into emotions, feelings, and physical desires. Also resembling the Sith, the Epicureans pursued knowledge of the workings of the world, ultimately believing that the gods, physical matter, and other constructs of reality were all constructed of atoms. The Epicureans had an acute understanding of the concept of atoms after pulling from Democritus, a much older philosopher who first theorized that the world could be composed of smaller constructs. Similarly, the ancient Sith would dive into ancient texts and old tombs in search of the knowledge possessed by older and more revered Sith lords. Through this pursuit of knowledge, both the Sith and the Epicureans cultivated their personal reality into its strongest and most powerful form.

Who is correct?

Well, as with many cases, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. The Samurai/Monk philosophy of the Jedi is extremely admirable. It is important to have self-control and become a person who embodies the virtues of peace, justice, patience, and other qualities that are typically encouraged within society.

However, it is probably not necessary to be completely devoted to avoiding emotional attachments. The Jedi forsake romantic involvements so as to not make themselves weaker or somehow inappropriately attached to other people. The Sith forsake this notion and encourage their followers to pursue any romantic desires that come their way. As a normal person, it seems acceptable to allow oneself to fall in love, develop romantic attachments, and develop strong feelings for a romantic partner. Does this make a person weaker? Well, if it did, it would be worth the chink in the armor. However, most would argue that romantic relationships have the power to make a person stronger than they were before.

Perhaps it is easier to be devoted to one side of the argument? For example, the Jedi are able to completely forsake all temptations by dismissing them as wrong, avoidable, and demeaning to the Jedi cause. The Sith give into all emotions and do not pretend to have any inhibitions in their behaviors.

I would argue that it is harder to live somewhere in the middle. The middle ground is filled with all sorts of grey areas that need to be navigated to have a balanced life. When you exist on one side of the spectrum, you can easily dismiss or accept those things that your belief system says is acceptable.

When you live in between the two spectrums, one has to develop their own beliefs about issues and decide, for themselves, what is morally acceptable. Trial and error follows and the individual may go through some tough and challenging moral issues. However, at the end, I believe these trials are necessary to build a strong character and a well-established person.