If you aren’t already aware of it, I’m a longtime fan of science fiction, a love that began with my interest in aliens, monsters, robots, dinosaurs and freaky and otherworldly things of all sorts. Before I started kindergarten I was drawing weird creatures and spaceships, and it’s safe to say I was obsessed with the tropes of sci-fi in my toy and book preferences by the time I was in second grade. Which meant that I loved Star Wars of course, even more than most boys my age. Oddly enough, I never got to see Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen, but I still collected the toys, coloring books and so on; the first film in the series I got to see at the theater was Return of the Jedi (which remains my favorite of the series to this day). I was eleven years old by then and already acquainted with Eastern philosophy to some extent through my involvement in martial arts, and naturally I loved the character of Yoda, who was something like a tiny, adorable alien incarnation of Lao-Tzu. It’s no secret that George Lucas based Yoda and the concept of the Force on Asian sources, and although more understated in Return than in Empire, it was prominent enough for my eleven-year-old self to notice it. I finally saw Empire on TV about a year later, and I was thoroughly taken with Yoda at that point.
The reason why I’m bringing this up in an article about anger is because one of Yoda’s most famous lines actually touches on something I’ve been experiencing lately, and it has to do with anger. The quote goes like this:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Now, it should be noted that, in the best tradition of Asian thought, this statement should not be taken as an absolute, nor as an indictment of anger in itself. Or at least I don’t take it that way. Truthfully, the Star Wars universe is not generally known for its moral ambiguity, but on the other hand, it is essentially a huge ongoing fable in sci-fi form, particularly the original trilogy, and as a fable it is mostly a broad statement about the dangers of fascism and the kind of thinking and unchecked emotionalism that often leads to fascism. One thing you will notice about the Empire in the Star Wars universe is that, excepting droids, there aren’t a lot of non-humanoids in it; indeed, you are hard-pressed to find even a great deal of racial diversity in the Empire, even when you look carefully. And women? Fugeddaboutit. The Empire is an outer space version of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia (I know the latter wasn’t fascist ideologically speaking, but it was quite fascistic in spirit, I think), and Lucas contrasts this with the huge assortment of alien species, races and genders of the members of the Rebellion. That is key to understanding the heart of the Star Wars films.
Now, on a forum I visit fairly regularly (a forum representing a certain minority group), there is an extreme bias towards a particular viewpoint that greatly diverges from the general consensus of society at large. I will not share the nature of this forum or its members because ultimately it is irrelevant; these points would apply regardless. Anyway, although I belong to this minority group in one sense, I often find myself at odds with it because I do not agree with the overriding philosophy of the majority of forum members, and it can be extremely frustrating. I get angry more often than I care to while debating people who, it is resoundingly clear to me, would not change their views no matter how much data disproving their beliefs was presented to them.
Many of these guys are highly intelligent. Of course they are. They’ve clearly spent a good deal of their time and effort trying to find loopholes and ways to turn one of society’s most entrenched values on its head. In some respects they are right, but the problem is that they take it way too far, to the degree that their talking points have become almost sacred mantras to them. And, as we all know from the history of all major religions as well as the inflexibility of many true believers of all stripes, people who insist on maintaining their beliefs in the face of overwhelming opposition and evidence to the contrary can be at the very least frustrating to deal with, but often they are extremely dangerous to boot. What’s interesting to note is that the most popular members of this forum are some of the most charming, but they are also among the most deluded. They, of course, will do everything in their power to make those who disagree with them look like the dangerous or unstable ones.
You see, idealistic purists are never able to accept that they might be wrong in some pretty big ways. They appear to have it all figured out. Maybe they’ll admit that they can be wrong in some small and nonessential ways, but they will only accept that if it serves them in some way, like making them look more flexible than they really are and therefore emotionally well-adjusted. Never mind that whenever I get angry at their inflexibility and hypocrisy (which is also in high abundance), then I am labeled the unreasonable one. But this is a logical fallacy. Being emotional in my presentation doesn’t make me wrong any more than being emotional would make me right–my emotional state has no bearing on the truth either way.
But I think they’re right in one respect: although it isn’t the end-all and be-all, my emotions do reflect my mental state to some degree. And as far as I can tell, I am one of the mentally healthier individuals there. You see, I am not out to charm or trick anyone into believing what I say. With me, what you see is pretty much what you get. If I’m pissed off, then I’m pissed off, and I don’t hide it. If I’m happy, then you’ll know that too. Likewise, if I’m in a contemplative mood, as I am right now and as I usually am when I compose posts for this blog, then that’s the side of me you see. Moreover, I will be the first person to say that I don’t know everything. In fact, in the scheme of things, I know very little. Call it socratic irony if you like, or just call it plain old ignorance. I don’t care. And on top of that, I am a severely biased person. Why? Because I’m a human being. Were all like that, whether we are willing to admit to it or not. It comes with the territory, so to speak.
Hell, I’m certainly a passionate person too. I always have been, even as a child, although during childhood my emotions tended to be directed inward at myself rather than outward. I was a pushover as a child, even with my martial arts skills. I was afraid of confrontation. I had to learn to be assertive, to speak my mind, to say what I believe or what I know. With that ‘turning outward’ of my emotions came a lot of new learning, mainly in the arena of self-control over anger. I was dealing with a lot of dark stuff. Still am, actually. Anger is frequently a part of dealing with the frustrations of being a person trapped between two worlds, neither of which I am particularly crazy about. Anyone in my position except maybe the most assured and cool-headed of individuals (more on these types later) could ever deal with all of this stuff without losing their shit sometimes. Whatever else it is, that’s my sign that there’s still life in me, still a willingness to be open to the world enough to learn and grow, but with it comes the inherent frustrations of being the person who doesn’t really fit in anywhere because he isn’t willing to sell out to the predominant philosophy of any given community (including society as a whole) just to belong.
That’s me in a nutshell. I have a lot of questions and very few answers. Much of my rambling–here and elsewhere–is as much to convince myself as anyone else that I might have picked up something useful in my forty-some years on this planet. But who can be sure? It seems that just when I have a handle on things, there’s a shift in the applicable field of knowledge, or in the general wisdom, even. But whatever I have shared here, it speaks to me as being true, and truth is important to me, often at the expense of popularity. And my emotional outbursts, when they occur, are my link to sanity, my assurance that I haven’t become just another faceless, soulless internet clone spouting ideology without any humanity to back it up. For, yes, truth is important to me, but so is remaining human. Sure, I’ve gotten mad enough to spit when debating ideologues; as many of you who have had this experience probably know, it can be fairly disheartening. But it means I’m paying attention, and it means too that I am still in touch with my messy, passionate, sometimes contradictory humanity. What it really means is that I am still alive philosophically. It can be an unhappy place sometimes, but it also keeps me rooted in the world rather than lost to the cold, airy, passionless realms of pure thought, which ultimately can lead to only two ends: mechanical beliefs and behaviors with no thought behind them, or psychopathy, where one understands their motivations but has no real emotional investment in them.
Here’s where those overly self-assured and unwaveringly cool individuals come in. Let’s take a look at the Yoda quote again:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
He starts with fear, which in many ways is the most basic of human passions. Fear is the driving force that keeps us alive; it kicks in when we think or know we are in danger. As unpleasant as it is, we would never want to rid ourselves of fear entirely. Yoda isn’t saying that fear is always negative and should be avoided at all costs. He’s saying that when we allow fear to rule us, then we are on the fast track to evil. Fear can lead to hate, especially when it results in isolation. Think of all the groups of people that have come to be feared and despised. All of them have been subject to it at one time or another, haven’t they? And with a societal shift any of us could become members of a persecuted out group, right? Evil men learn to transfer all of their assorted fears onto a particular out group, a group that is then blamed for all that is wrong with the world. That condensed, personified fear then gives way to anger. Anger can be an externalized expression of fear, and that’s what occurs with conscious prejudice. Eventually, if allowed to go on, that anger transforms into hatred. It’s a completely different kind of anger than what I fall victim to.
Finally, in the end hatred doesn’t resemble anger anymore. The passion is no longer there; it has been replaced with a codified form of hatred, no longer symbolized by but actualized as the hated out group. And that is where fascism is born. The particulars of the out group are ultimately irrelevant; it could begin anywhere, with any group (including yours), and be directed towards any other group (including yours).
Which leads to the second form of hate-derived evil: psychopathy. But in fact, it seems to me that there is a good deal of overlap in the two forms, passionless thought and psychopathy. The Nazis were so effective at exterminating Jews not because they were a bunch of angry hooligans making trouble. Yes, it started out that way with the Sturm-Abteilung, but it ended with a group of people who had completely dehumanized their Other and was able to commit mass murder in a mechanized, soulless way. They had completely severed themselves from their humanity, from their ability to feel anything meaningful in relation to their beliefs about the Other, at least in their occupational capacity, but that in itself is a sign of a problematic mind. Anyone who can turn that sort of evil on and off like a faucet is probably beyond hope. Hitler could be a passionate speaker, but he also knew full well what he was doing. He was manipulating his own people; remember, those who no longer have a conscience do not stop at manipulating the Other. They know how to turn the passion on for show to manipulate their own group towards a desired end.
At the forum I frequent, I have begun to see that there are several people like this. They can offhandedly dismiss anyone who disagrees with them with a flick of their virtual wrists. They can be passionate when they need to be, for the sake of show, but they can also be charming and manipulative, planting doubts about their opponents in the minds of each other and manipulating each other, reinforcing each other’s delusions with coolly repeated mantras in true cult-like fashion. They can make sweeping moral statements that casually dismiss the ethical concerns of billions of people and not once consider the possibility that they are anything but 100% correct about these things. They have come to a place where they routinely place ideals over real human beings.
And now, sad to say, I think the forum in question has finally exhausted its value not only to me but also to the minority group to which it is devoted. I hope, dear readers, that you do not allow whatever group(s) you belong to, whether a persecuted minority or not, to devolve to this state. Please be on guard against the eternal creeping of the Dark Side, and may the Force always be with you.