Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sample Contrast Paper

Students, below appears an example of a contrast paper, as discussed on the course website here.  Please note that the example, when formatted appropriately for submission as a paper (which it is not as it appears on the blog), is at the high end of acceptable length for a shorter paper in ENG 101.

The typifying features of good citizens are their normal adherence to and participation in the structures of public order coupled with a willingness to set aside those structures when they become unduly oppressive or otherwise untenable.  Both Corran Horn from the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Asimovian Hari Seldon are figured as good citizens by their respective authors.  Of the two, however, Seldon is clearly the superior example of good citizenship.

There is admittedly no question that Corran Horn is a good citizen in the Star Wars universe.  Certainly, he participates actively and amply in the structures of public order across a significant span of time.  His initial in-storyline appearance is as an officer of a local constabulary, one conducting an investigation into a kidnapping (Stackpole, Omnibus).  When he reappears in the story, he does so as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of the New Republic, one seeking entry into an elite unit (Stackpole, X-Wing 1-28).  Both his positions and the actions he takes within them quickly assert his deep engagement with the structures of public order, showing him as willing to offer his skills and his life at some of the highest levels of performance and utility to an underpinning of public order.  Some years of storyline after his attempt to enter an elite New Republic force, Horn is a ranking officer in that same force, showing that he has remained engaged with it in a substantially acceptable way (Stackpole, I 10).  Horn’s ranking as a captain represents his display of significant ability in the support of public security and order, and therefore engagement with them.  Most importantly, Horn accepts his role as a Jedi (Stackpole, I 482).  In doing so, he lodges himself firmly as a member of the core proponents of order in the Star Wars universe, so that his involvement in the supporting structures of the public is absolute.

Just as there is no question of Horn’s participation in civic structures, there is no doubt the he does, at times, set aside his participation in them to serve other ends.  During his constabulary service, he deliberately misleads an overseeing officer from higher governmental authority.  Not much later, he participates in a firefight to protect people who are themselves engaging in illegal activities, not only protecting them, but also inflicting property damage on non-combatants and allowing those he protected to escape any consequences for their participation in illegal actions (Stackpole, Omnibus).  In neither case does he adhere fully to what his participation in social structures would require, although in both cases his actions serve the greater good.  The same is true of an incident in his service among the military elite of the New Republic.  In the incident, he effectively commandeers a squadron for a run on an enemy, a contravention of military protocol and in fact a violation of direct orders (Stackpole, X-Wing 229-35, 241-42).  Even though charges against him for his breach of discipline are dropped (Stackpole, X-Wing 259-60)—itself something which smacks of a detachment from social structures—that they are brought is an indication that Corran Horn is willing to set aside the structures of public order, even though he more commonly is an avid supporter of them.  Taken together, they validate him as a good citizen.

The Asimovian Hari Seldon, however, is a better citizen than is Horn.  For instance, his participation in civil structures occurs at higher levels and is more varied than that of Horn, so that it can be spoken of as stronger.  In Asimov’s Forward the Foundation, Seldon begins as the head of the mathematics department at a major research university in the governing seat of a galaxy-spanning empire (6-7).  The position is one of some responsibility, not only in teaching—which is itself a significant civil structure—but in research and in administration; it is itself an iteration of and privileged position within a social structure, so that Seldon’s tenancy in it situates him as participating in the structures of public order.  Later in the novel, he is appointed from that position to the highest non-hereditary post in the empire, that of First Minister (112).  In a very real sense, in his appointment as First Minister, he becomes the structure of public order, so that he necessarily is a powerful participant within it, and to a degree much greater than any warrior in service, however skilled the warrior or elite the cadre in which the warrior serves.  Moreover, much later, Seldon serves as the founding editor of an encyclopedia described as being a comprehensive collection of the knowledge and understanding of the galactic empire (Asimov, Forward 456-61).  The attempt to encapsulate the sum of a society’s knowledge for its preservation cannot be anything but an intimate engagement with the structures of public order, since public order is built upon a society’s knowledge of itself.

At the same time, Seldon is regarded as setting aside normal social conventions.  Apart from common accusations that the professoriate is removed from public life or, worse, that it is aligned against civic structures, Seldon is viewed as a threat to public order.  In Foundation, he is brought up on charges of treason, not least because he asserts from the knowledge given him by years of socio-mathematic study that the empire in which he lives and which he once served so prominently is doomed to die (31-38).  As a result, he is exiled along with his followers to a world at the end of the galaxy, one appropriately named for being at the end (42).  Whatever the reason for his making the assertion—and he is correct in making them, it must be admitted—the mere facts of his statements serve to undercut broad belief in the stability of social systems, so that in making the statements, Seldon is disengaging from the structures of public order.  More than simply disobeying orders, he is undermining confidence in the ability of society to endure, which is a much stronger detachment from the structures than is bucking the chain of command.  Seldon therefore goes farther afield from the normal dictates of society than does Horn, even as he is more thoroughly engaged in those structures during his long life—even to the point of being a messianic figure.  He is therefore clearly a superior example of a good citizen.

That Seldon is the better image of good citizenship serves as a reminder that older works—and Asimov’s novels of Seldon are older than Stackpole’s works with Horn—yet have much to teach.  They provide useful standards for judgment yet, and so they ought not to be set aside blithely.

Works Cited
Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
---. Foundation. New York: Bantam, 1991. Print.
Stackpole, Michael A. Star Wars: I, Jedi. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1998. Print.
---. Star Wars Omnibus: X-Wing Rogue Squadron. Vol. 3. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2007. Print.
---. Star Wars: X-Wing--Rogue Squadron. New York: Bantam, 1996. Print.

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