“The Razor’s Edge: Galactica, Pegasus and Lakoff”

The next essay in “Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy” is “The Razor’s Edge:  Galactica, Pegasus and Lakoff” by Sara Livingston.  In it, Livingston tries to analyze the two main commanders and “father figures” of the revamped Battlestar Galactica series using George Lakoff’s idealized parenting strategies of the Strict Father and the Nurturant Parent, using Kendra Shaw’s experiences first with the Strict Parent of Helena Cain and then with Apollo who was taught by the Nurturant Parent of William Adama.

Immediately, we can see some issues with doing this.  The first is that Cain is far more Psychopathic Parent than Strict Father given how she acts.  Livingston might be able to make a case for it by ignoring the worst examples of Cain’s behaviour and instead only focusing on the cases where she aims for strict military discipline — such as the interesting comparison of how Cain and her crew treat the first face-to-face meeting between the crews versus how the Galactica crew treats it — but she also references the scene from Razor where Cain shoots her XO for disobedience and tortures the human-form Cylon that was her former lover.  That definitely exceeds the scope of a Strict Father and doesn’t follow from it.  But we can also note that she needs to cherrypick Adama’s actions to set him up as the Nurturant Parent.  Yes, he gives the crew more leeway at times and seems to forgive them their faults more than a Strict Father, but often this comes across as him more playing favourites than being a nurturing parent to his crew as a whole.  He certainly doesn’t seem like he was a Nurturant Parent to Zac, which is why he and Apollo are on the outs at the beginning of the series.  And while Cain executes her XO, Adama executes Gaeta for mutiny as well, and while you can certainly see that as justified Gaeta had more reason to oppose Adama than others had and other acts of mutiny went completely unpunished.  So Cain is in general more cruel than strict and Adama is more strict than nurturing much of the time.

Now, in general this reflects how things work in real-life, as you rarely get a parent that is all nurturing or all strict, and it’s probably not a good idea to adopt either of those as an overall parenting strategy.  But we can ask what it really means to be a Strict Father or Nurturant Parent.  Livingston roughly presents it as the Strict Father setting out rules and punishing those who step out of line while the Nurturant Parent lets them make their own mistakes, but obviously neither of these work in reality.  The Strict Father definitely wants their charges to learn what does and doesn’t work for them, and the Nurturant Parent can’t let their charges make all of their own mistakes since some of those are fatal.  So we can argue that the Strict Father relies on making the actions have consequences when their charges don’t understand or aren’t capable of understanding those consequences, feeling that when they get older they will be able to work out why the rules were right in the first place, while the Nurturant Parent relies less on strict rules and providing consequences because they focus on making sure that their charges understand what the consequences are.  Both ultimately want to achieve the same end, which is people who understand the consequences of those actions and make the right decisions.  The Strict Parent ingrains the behaviour first hoping that their charges will come to understand the reasons later, while the Nurturant Parent pushes the understanding first hoping that they won’t hit cases where their charges can’t understand the consequences before they need it.

Thus, Strict Father would be the right approach for cases where their charges can’t understand the consequences or don’t have the experience or information to understand them, while the Nurturant Parent approach works better where the charges can understand the consequences if it is explained to them and will chafe at rules.  So the Strict Parent approach works better for young children while the Nurturant Parent approach would work better for older children and teens, as they wouldn’t feel talked down to and would feel better about taking a more active and adult roll in their own decisions as opposed to simply following imposed rules.  And I think we’ve seen that, as many parents have moved towards the Nurturant Parent approach with younger and younger children and have discovered that they understand more than we thought … but still have issues and cases where they really need some structured rules.  So perhaps these aren’t competing strategies but instead are complementary strategies that are to be used when appropriate.  As such, Adama might then be capable of being a better parent than he was, and that anyone expected him to be.


2 Responses to ““The Razor’s Edge: Galactica, Pegasus and Lakoff””

  1. Marc McKenzie Says:

    Interesting coincidence that I’m reading your post now while I’m doing a rewatching RAZOR and the three episodes where the Galactica meets up with the Pegasus.

    It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the start of the GALACTICA reboot; the miniseries premiered in 2003, with the series coming shortly afterwards. For me, it’s one of the best SF shows I’ve seen, and the right way to do a reboot.

    • verbosestoic Says:

      Well, I wasn’t as fond of it, mostly because I found the show’s darkness made most of the characters unsympathetic. I only managed to get through it after playing the board game version and having a connection to the characters. And there’s an interesting coincidence where I JUST got back into playing the game PbP on Board Game Geek [grin].

      I don’t mind it now and could even rewatch it at some point, but I still like the original a lot better which hurts it, for me, in thinking it a great reboot.

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