Why Evil should fail.

by w3woody

File Leadership Mistakes Of The Galactic Empire

Mistake #1: Building an organization around particular people, rather than institutions.

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the Galactic Empire made is its singular focus on the preservation of power for the Emperor and a few of his chosen lackeys. There is a constant through line we see starting with A New Hope and running through to the end of the Return of the Jedi of the Emperor consolidating more and more power into his own hands and that of his right-hand man, Darth Vader. In A New Hope, the Galactic Senate is disbanded in favor of regional governors hand-selected by the Emperor. …

Mistake #3: Having no tolerance for failure.

In an early part of the Empire Strikes Back, the Empire attempted to wipe out the Rebel Alliance once and for all in the Battle of Hoth. However, because Admiral Ozzel took the Imperial Fleet out of lightspeed too close to the Hoth system, the Rebel Alliance was able to detect the Imperial approach and quickly begin its defense. Enraged by this error, Darth Vader used the Force to choke Admiral Ozzel to death. Captain Piett, Ozzel’s second-in-command, was then promoted to Admiral and given command of the Imperial Fleet.

This swift, decisive punishment of failure is a huge error of management. …

The key takeaway that I got from the original Star Wars trilogy when I was young was that evil failed and good succeeded because evil was selfish and self-centered: what made evil “evil” also made evil bad managers who routinely wasted expensive human resources (such as strangling various leaders to death), who routinely committed and sacrificed huge resources based on personal pursuits rather than organizational ends, and which failed to pay attention to “on the ground” information, in favor of a handful of charismatic leaders who are routinely out of touch with the dynamic conditions of the battlefront, preferring the evil organizer’s charismatic (or violent) leadership even when facts on the ground warrant otherwise.

It’s also one of the reasons why I was less than satisfied by the battle scenes from the Lord Of The Ring movies. Because on the ground, aside from being ugly and misshapen, and aside from being told that the ugly ones were Evil and the beautiful ones were Good, I could really see no difference between the troops on the ground. Both sides were equally motivated, similarly equipped (though with different tools), and with ground troop information apparently flowing from ranks up through the managerial ranks rather than from the top down. (The Orc commanders on the ground even lead from the front, giving us a wonderful scene where an Orc commander barely side-steps a falling chunk of debris, spitting on it after it embeds itself in the grass just a few feet from the commander.)

There were, in the Lord Of The Ring movies, no real difference in terms of managerial structure, organizational bottom-up behavior, taking the initiative, battle planning and preparation–certainly certain commanders were supernatural in nature (the Nazguls in particular have no will but are extensions of Sauron’s will), but aside from them it’s clear that “evil” listens to it’s troops, devises plans, and even provides incentives so the people on the ground feel like they are invested in the project. (The Orcs who kidnap Merry and Pippin look forward to the rewards of human and hobbit flesh on the successful completion of their mission.)

For evil to be realistic, it needs to lose not because they’re the wrong skin color, misshapen, or ugly–but because evil is not inclusive, does not foster cooperation, and does not permit dissenting voices with alternate viewpoints to participate in the debates–or even has debates at all. That is, evil should not lose because it is simply “evil”–that is a relative moral judgement anyway, says the man who readily eats the flesh of cows for lunch–evil should lose because organizationally evil is inefficient. It may plan in advance and build up greater resources in secret to launch it’s invasion–as Xerxes did when invading Greece, or as the Germans did during the opening battles of World War II, but ultimately it should fail due to managerial and organizational failures caused by out of touch self-centered rulers who in their megalomania attempt to punish the sea for not cooperating or started blaming everyone around him when the facts on the ground no longer matched his orders.

To that end it is also worth understanding what “evil” is, within the context of a movie. For myself a utilitarian definition of “evil” as “wasteful” and “self-centered” (meaning unwilling to be inclusive by whatever metric that means) is far more interesting than a definition of “evil” which snarls or acts in a distasteful way or has an aesthetic which does not match the common aesthetic. And that becomes quite interesting, because evil then can be as charismatic, likable and fashionable as we wish–but fail in the end because of evil’s self-centeredness.

That is far more interesting than the tradition in old westerns that the bad guys wear black hats, or (in today’s modern action adventures) evil is ugly and misshapen. Because if evil is evil because it is ugly, then what difference is there between “good” and “evil”–after all, “good” is just the pretty and popular kids that we’re told to root for, rather than the outcasts who are outcast because the pretty people don’t like them.