“Scientific” American? (Why JEDI isn’t a good acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion)

I can’t believe this piece was published in Scientific American: Why the Term ‘JEDI’ Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Here’s a taste:

“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… 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. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions.”

Shame on those gaslighting Jedi! And no, this isn’t satire. It’s a serious opinion piece. Silly and sad, but even if it were an intelligent opinion, what the hell is it doing in a science magazine?

Here’s more, and now the satire — if it were only that — goes completely over the top:

“The space opera franchise has been critiqued for trafficking in injustices such as sexism, racism and ableism. Think, for example, of the so-called ‘Slave Leia’ costume, infamous for stripping down and chaining up the movie series’ first leading woman as part of an Orientalist subplot. Star Wars arguably conflates ‘alienness’ with ‘nonwhiteness,’ often seeming to rely on racist stereotypes when depicting nonhuman species. The series regularly defaults onto ableist tropes, memorably in its portrayal of Darth Vader, which links the villain’s physical disability with machinic inhumanity and moral deviance, presenting his technology-assisted breathing as a sinister auditory marker of danger and doom.”

Leia’s trashy slave costume (and captivity under Jabba) was actually one of the better parts of Return of the Jedi, and as for old Darth, only the wokes could turn his trademark breathing and respiratory issues into something dirty. It’s a common observation today (among the sane and sensible) that left-wingers are the new puritans, and like the right-wing fundies of the ’80s seem to thrive on manufacturing offense. But they never cease to amaze me to what extremes they can take this idiocy.

And then this:

“The abbreviation JEDI can distract from justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. When you think about the word JEDI, what comes to mind? Chances are good that for many, the immediate answer isn’t the concept ‘justice’ (or its comrades ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’). Instead this acronym likely conjures a pageant of spaceships, lightsabers and blaster-wielding stormtroopers. Even if we set aside the four cautions above, the acronym JEDI still evokes imagery that diverts attention away from the meanings of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Such distraction exacerbates existing problems and challenges endemic to institutional justice work. For instance, it is already the case that in institutional contexts, terms like ‘justice,’ ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are routinely underdefined or conflated, robbed of their specificities and differences. These terms and related abbreviations like DEI can thus come to be treated as institutional buzzwords that are more slogan than substance, signaling commitments that institutions fail to meaningfully honor. We must be more attentive to the meanings and particularities of our words, not less. JEDI does not help us with this. Now is not the time to confuse social justice with science fiction.”

Well, that probably cuts both ways. I’m sure that many Star Wars fans would rejoice to see the JEDI Collaborative rebrand itself with a new acronym. Undoubtedly they’ve no more wish to have Luke and Obi-Wan (mis)associated with the JEDI Collaborative anymore than this author wants the JEDI Collaborative (mis)associated with Jedi knights.

And finally, this challenge at the end:

“If you are, like some of the authors of this piece, a longtime fan of Star Wars (or Disney) and have found yourself defensively bristling while reading the paragraphs above, take a moment to consider that response. We suggest that such a reaction reveals how easily Star Wars and JEDI can introduce distractions and confuse conversations. How ready are we to prioritize the cultural dreamscape of the Jedi over the real-world project of social justice? Investing in the term JEDI positions us to apologize for, or explain away, the stereotypes and politics associated with Star Wars and Disney. How eager are we to fight Star Wars‘ battles, when that time and energy could be better spent fighting for social justice?”

I’ve never been a Star Wars fan (the only two films in the franchise I genuinely admire are Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One), but I wouldn’t get defensive even if I were. Opinions like the ones expressed in this article are simply impossible to take seriously. If there’s anyone confusing social justice (and poorly understood at that) with science fiction, it’s the authors of this article, who are making such a bloody issue out of it.

If you had shown me this article without telling me its source, I would have insisted it was satire. It’s just too over the top, even by woke standards. But then what am I saying, over the top is precisely the nature of the beast. It’s the way of the 21st century, and that beast has now come to science outlets.

UPDATE: Some are (understandably) claiming that this article is a Sokal-like hoax. I repeat: it is not a hoax, not satire. The five contributing authors — four of whom are from the University of Michigan — have impeccable flaming woke credentials. See Carson Byrd‘s profile, for example.

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