Darth Vader’s Daughter

My kids doing a little cosplay.

My kids doing a little cosplay

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we have the story of a young girl who fought against a repressive and cruel empirical government. In the process, her home world was destroyed, and she was held prisoner and tortured by a man who (she would later discover) was her birth father.

When her father was young, he suffered a great deal, including the killing of his mother. He was plucked out of his impoverished upbringing and told he was The Chosen One, a boy with an awesome power that he must learn to use. The boy became arrogant with time, but he also fell in love. When he began to have nightmares of losing this love, fear began to take hold of him. Could he not control this destiny? If he was all-powerful, what could he not control? Thus began the transformation of the young man into the embodiment of all that is evil.

If you’ve never seen Star Wars, the Sith lord who would be Emperor plays on the arrogance and fears of the young man, ultimately turning him to his will by convincing him that yes, these things can be controlled, and he, the Emperor, was the only one who could teach him how. Like Milton’s Lucifer, the young boy begins his descent into hell, becoming convinced that the ends justify the dark means.

I can’t help but think of how Princess Leia must have felt to learn that such a man was her father. In the movies, Darth Vader is ultimately saved and returned to the Light before his death, but this is, after all, fiction. An Ebenezer Scrooge-like ending is always hoped for, but seldom occurs.

As I watch the current American political process, I see Donald Trump exhibiting similar arrogance and belief that he can, in fact, control the world. I have no doubt that he, like Darth Vader, believes it. I have seen this before. I have seen it in narcissistic and borderline personalities many times. I have seen it in my own father.

While growing up, my father always believed that he, with his superior intellect, knew all the answers. He told me that he had thought over all of the political issues and had arrived at the only correct conclusion. He was, he said, a Goldwater Republican. I had no idea what that meant at the time. But he has remained true to far-right conservative principles his entire life. And he used to say, more times than I can count, that if he were put in charge of the country, he would have everything straightened out in two weeks. And he believed it. Now, if you’re like me, you have to wonder at this. “Straightening everything out” in two weeks would assume that 1) there was no opposition, or that if there were, they could be silenced on demand, 2) he had ultimate power, and everyone would have no choice but to do his bidding. The definition of authoritarian is “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.” My father would have no problem with sacrificing the personal freedom of others to accomplish what he felt was best for them. There is no difference between him and Donald Trump, other dictators, or Darth Vader at that point.

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder as follows:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

My father’s delusions of grandeur have only increased with time, I am sad to say. He has not achieved mastery of the universe, but he does lie about his qualifications. My father has a high school diploma, and he spent a career in the military. While in the military, he was trained to do technical maintenance on nuclear weapons. He didn’t design the bombs, but like an auto mechanic, he kept them in good working order. Over the years, he has referred to himself as “a scientist,” “a physicist,” and a “nuclear physicist.” He is none of these. So why do this? Because he wants to present himself as more knowledgeable than he is so that he can better argue his point.

Of course, many people argue their points in reasonable and calm ways, but not my father. He uses a sledgehammer. He has no problem with belittling other ideas, calling those who disagree with him an idiot or delusional, and he has no problem with assassinating the character of those who disagree. Sound familiar? My father was an Internet troll before there was an Internet. God help those who comment on a thread with him now.

When I was a kid, I would watch “All in the Family” with my father, and I thought the show was about how stupid and ignorant Archie Bunker was. My father watched the same show and admired Archie Bunker’s plain talk. Over the years, my father’s racism and homophobia has not decreased; if anything, the reverse is true. I’m married to a woman, and my parents treated her like shit, I have to say. They treated me with disdain. I wouldn’t “behave.” If they were still in my life, it would be so much worse now.

When I was little, my father once bellowed at me, “I don’t just ask for respect, by God, I DEMAND IT!” (Dad talks and writes in all caps frequently.) I thought to myself, “No, you must earn it.” He never did.

My dad is an old man now. He’s retired, fired from his last two jobs, essentially. Not an easy man to work with in the private sector where you can’t just order people around. Trump can order people around because it’s his company. Dad was at the mercy of bosses higher up than he was. You can only talk to people like they’re an idiot for so long before they’ve had enough. Still, Dad is looking for ways to be relevant. To endow the ungrateful world with his superior intellect and revel in the admiration of those who agree with him. It’s sad. The deep, dark secret of the narcissist is that they actually have no real self-esteem. The only way they can feel good about themselves is to get other people to tell them how wonderful they are. Or to feel superior, because of their skin color or politics or heterosexual relationship. But it doesn’t really work. So they get angrier with age… the echo chamber of far-right propaganda fuels the rage and the sense of being “on the right side.” There is no gray area for a narcissist.

Sometimes I wonder how I managed to come out of my parents. How did I survive, first of all. But how did I manage to be… me? Perhaps I saw the example, and simply rejected it. I do believe that our past lives play a role; it’s not like we came out of a vacuum. Still. Princess Leia’s father was Darth Vader. She inherited his talent, but not his closed heart. Sometimes the fruit falls far from the tree. Thank heavens.

Guns and Empathy

Asha, ready for Talent Round-Up day on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show

Asha, ready for Talent Round-Up day on the Mickey Mouse Club TV show

I got my first gun when I was 10 years old. It was a Daisy BB gun (not a Red Ryder, and I did not shoot my eye out). We had just moved to 76 acres in the middle of nowhere, Texas. It was nice land, maybe one-quarter plowed and the rest wild. I also got my first pair of cowboy boots, because only a fool walks through tall grass on a warm day in anything else. There were lots of snakes, and it’s far better that they bite into leather than your ankle.

When I was 11, Dad bought me a used 4-10 shotgun at a pawn shop. I think he bought his 12-gauge at the same time. Now, I know some people would think that we didn’t really need these guns, because I didn’t start deer hunting until I was 14 or so. And you don’t shoot deer with a shotgun—well, not with shot, anyway. Dad did hunt deer with 12-gauge slugs before he bought a 30/30, which is a good deer rifle. No, the shotguns were not for deer, but they were for wildlife. This is going to horrify some folks, I know. And I will be honest:  Dad shot animals he simply did not need to shoot, and he should have left alone. But there are times when you have to. For example, I woke up one morning before school and went out to Dad’s workshop on the porch in my bare feet and nightgown. We had a freezer in there, and I wanted a frozen waffle. The moment I walked into the shop, I heard a rattling noise. I froze. I looked around and could not see the source, so I high-tailed it out of there faster than you can say, “Leggo my Eggo.” My Dad got his .22 pistol (with shot bullets, which are effective against snakes at close range) and discovered that not one, but two rattlesnakes had bedded up in some old insulation he had in there. Mighty cozy. In circumstances like these, you are not going to try to catch the snakes and release them somewhere else. No, you’re going to shoot them. And he did.

Guns like these are excellent tools for hunting and protection from things like rattlesnakes and rabid animals (remember Old Yeller?). Over the years, I have eaten squirrel, rabbit, and even raccoon (which we did not like—too fatty). In general, I believe that if you kill an animal, you should eat it. I don’t have a lot of respect for killing for trophies. In my opinion, that’s something that insecure people do. And deer hunting, at this point, is probably necessary, because we’ve killed most of the big predators. Deer hunting is regulated to maintain a stable population. Hunters who follow the rules are good hunters. Unethical hunters kill out of season, poach, or don’t eat what they kill.

Right now, Americans are quite divided on the issue of guns, which is understandable. A shotgun can do a great deal of damage, but an AR-47 can cause carnage on a large scale. The liberal take is generally that we need some gun control. The conservative take is that the liberals are not going to take their guns away. And let’s be honest:  that will never happen. Constitutionally, it can’t happen, and practically, it can’t happen because you would face an uprising of some sort. Americans shooting Americans, episode 50,089. Ish.

Our nation’s founders did not envision what amounts to an arms race, however:  a man with a gun is met by a man with a cannon, who is then met by a man with a bazooka… Remember Bugs Bunny?

It’s all about who has the bigger, better weapon. In the days of single-shot muskets, they never envisioned something like the AR-47 which, let’s face it, was designed for one purpose, and one purpose only:  war and killing other people.

Some folks maintain that they need guns like the AR-47 to defend themselves from a potentially tyrannical government. Liberals scoff, but the government does have a lot of power to mess with people who don’t adhere to the status quo. They have done so, and the assumption that the government always operates in the interests of its citizens can be easily disproved (witness our current Congress, which continues to fail to advance legislation that the majority of people support). On the other hand, however, no AR-47 is going to protect someone from a drone and military-grade weaponry. The man who shot the police officers in Dallas, Texas recently was taken out by a drone. The shooter’s actions were horrific and deplorable, of course, but it is significant that an American citizen on American soil was executed by drone for the first time with no trial or jury. Even Charles Manson is still in prison…

So, what’s next? Should conservative gun-owners who fear the government start stocking up on drone warfare? I doubt they could, but you see my point. It’s escalation. Our governments have done it, and now we have a globe awash in weapons that can destroy the whole planet. And they’re working on “mini-nukes” for more tactical use. After all, what matter if an entire region is laid waste for countless generations, with God knows how much “collateral damage,” which is a nice way of saying, “dead people everywhere?” And in the middle of it all, a handful of companies profit from our desire to kill one another and be the last person standing on the wasteland that ensues. Remember Duck Dodgers?

There once was a day when, if you wanted to kill a man, you had to look him in the eyes and watch him die. You might use a knife, sword, battle axe, or rifle, but you could see what you had done. Murder, whether “unlawful” or state-sanctioned (war), is ugly. Now we can pull a trigger and spray hundreds of bullets in one go, or kill from afar with an unmanned drone. The whites of their eyes? No, targets on a screen.

Conservatives are correct when they say that guns aren’t the problem. (After Nice, no one is suggesting that we ban vans.) That being said, I don’t think that military weaponry has any place in a civilized society. I think the ban on semiautomatic and automatic weapons should be reinstated, not because it will prevent all mass shootings, but because it will lower the body count if one occurs. The real problem, as always, is our lack of compassion and empathy for one another, and our desire to solve problems using force instead of understanding.

Civilization—and I mean real Civilization, not “civilization” defined by tons of technology—is impossible without empathy and its cousin, compassion. In America today, there is a shortage of empathy. People who are diagnosed with personality disorders like narcissistic or borderline personality disorder are literally incapable of empathy. It’s part of their illness. They cannot relate to others. Likewise, people who were raised by someone like this, or were heavily influenced by someone like this, may struggle with empathy as well.

What is empathy? It is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is the ability to imagine life from their point of view. In our increasingly binary society (“I’m right, and you’re wrong”), we need this, desperately. Liberals, imagine for one moment that you are a white man living in rural America. Imagine that you have a high school education, because you stuck it out, and that maybe you found a good job at a nearby factory. Imagine that you had expectations:  marry, have children, buy a home, earn a pension. And then your job was outsourced to Mexico, or China, or Bangladesh. Imagine being jobless for 6 months, then a year, then maybe three. Your wife supports the family working a couple of jobs. How do you feel? Are you angry? Hopeless?

Now, conservatives, imagine for a moment that you are a black mother. You love your children. You have two teenage boys. They’re good kids, and they go to school, but it’s rough sometimes. They get called out for infractions that white kids seem to get a pass for. They’ve been called the N word a couple of times, by strangers. Your oldest has his driver’s license. You watch the news, and you are afraid. You’re afraid that he’ll get stopped, that he’ll do or say the wrong thing. You’re afraid of having to plan a funeral for your child. How do you feel? Helpless? Angry?

Here’s the thing:  if you simply cannot imagine either scenario, or similar ones, then you need to increase your empathy quotient. If the mere thought of placing yourself in the shoes of someone you think of, even unconsciously, as “other” or an ideological “enemy,” then you need this exercise badly. Everyone has a valid perspective. Everyone has feelings and fears and dreams. Everyone may act illogically or unkindly on the basis of their perceptions from time to time. But that doesn’t mean that their perspective is any less valid.

We need to be able to imagine ourselves from another person’s perspective, no matter who they are. In some cases, this may be extremely difficult. I get that. But if we don’t, then we can’t talk to one another without getting defensive. It’s the first thing that happens in an argument! A liberal says, “Your gun…” and the conservative instantly responds by feeling attacked:  “You’re not taking it!” And vice versa. If a person of color brings up race, most white people get defensive and respond, in some form with, “I’m not a racist!” And so forth.

We get defensive when we assume we know what the other person is saying, even if that is not what the other person means. It happens all the time. Our beliefs and judgments color these assumptions. For example, I have noticed that a conservative mindset reads some memes very differently than a liberal one. We can literally read the same meme and come away with two very different interpretations. And neither of them is wrong.

Getting defensive goes hand in hand with getting angry. Our anger sits right there, beneath the surface, ready to flare up at any moment. But here’s the thing:  a five-year-old may erupt into a tantrum over a perceived slight, but this is something we’re supposed to grow out of. We’re supposed to mature. Yet our political and social discourse seems to be degenerating back to a preschool state. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to lash out at someone in anger, though. Would you give a gun to a five-year-old? I hope not. But I’ve seen a lot of emotional five-year-olds in grown-up bodies lately. Some of them kill people.

Do we want to talk to each other? Really? Then we need empathy and compassion for them before we begin. We need to listen before jumping to the pretaped conclusions and judgments that run through our heads on a regular basis. We need to be dedicated to finding mutual solutions, to compromise, to understanding. Compromise is essential:  trying to enforce our views with force has never worked, but it has created a lot of misery.

Alternatively, we can continue to scream at each other and hurt one another as though we’re in a macabre Argument Clinic sketch back in the Wild West:

Who Gets to Speak?

600px-Two-people-talking-logoIn this summer of violence, anger is everywhere. The voters are angry, in America and in Europe. The lower classes are angry, because the government(s) and economy is leaving them behind, making it harder and harder to make a living. The citizens of nations at war are angry, because their cities have been reduced to rubble, and life is precarious and difficult. People of color are angry, because a broken taillight might mean a death sentence.

Anger is a natural result of feeling powerless in a world that is out of control. Conservative voices believe that the seeming chaos can be tamed by returning to a world that never really existed. Liberal voices believe that the seeming chaos can be tamed by equality of opportunity, which never really gets defined. The truth, as always, is that no one is control.

It bears repeating that we as human beings only control the following:  our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and reactions to the world around us. That is it. Everything else is out of our control.

In speaking with people, some believe that we have the ultimate control over our destinies. To the extent that you can shape the four things listed above, that is true. But then there is the outer world to contend with. It is the wildcard, the Joker in the pack. It is dealt at random, without malice or love, and we must play the hand we are dealt to the best of our abilities. As a forty-seven-year-old white woman, I would never expect to be killed at a traffic stop. It could happen, but Chance is far more likely to deal me a different chaos card. Whenever I die, it might be due to illness, accident, or a crime. Who knows? But I probably won’t get shot by a rattled police officer.

Everyone is so angry. I believe the reason is because they feel unheard. When I was a kid, I often felt unheard. I would say something like, “I feel this way.” My parents would dismiss my feelings and say, “No, you can’t possibly feel that way.” There were millions of ways in which my feelings were downplayed or dismissed. They didn’t want to hear me. I had no voice. I was powerless to advocate for myself. This made me seethingly angry. It took me several decades to figure this out.

The people are angry because their elected officials have not heard them. Their institutions have not heard them. They can’t even get someone at the cable company to hear them. “Press 1 for your billing information; press 2 for technical support…” And minorities have practically no voice at all. This is a toxic brew.

White people are angry at the Black Lives Matter movement for being disruptive. They are angry that police officers were needlessly slain. Black Lives Matter protesters are angry that white people never seem to hear them. Hispanics, LGBTQ groups, and others have the same anger. By definition, marginalized voices belong to those that the powerful voices ignore.

One can argue that much of our social struggle over the last few American centuries has been one of determining who gets a voice. When our country was founded, the only people granted a voice were white landowners, who were the only group allowed to vote. Eventually, the vote and the voice was extended to all white men. When the slaves were freed and made citizens of the republic, their former masters had no intention of letting them have a voice. The denial of that voice was institutionalized in ways that still reverberate to this day. And Native Americans, forgotten on their reservations, have even less of a voice. Some voices, to this day, are deemed so “dangerous” that they are imprisoned.

If you have a voice in our society, you have power. Sadly, we have not yet reached the level of maturity as a race (the human race) that we gladly share power. Power is hoarded and only doled out in small amounts to those who pose no threat to the powerful. Power is rank, and rank is privilege and self-esteem. Those who have more power than someone else get a psychological lift. Unfortunately, this means that someone else must have less power.

There is enough for everyone: enough food, shelter, clothing. There is also enough power for everyone, though few realize this. Power comes from within, not from validation from external sources. Another’s voice is no threat to mine. But the belief that a different voice is a threat is the greatest threat of all:  it leads to suppression, anger, and the desire to extinguish.

Everyone says that we should have honest dialogue. Everyone says that we should work out our differences. But I still see that some voices matter more than others. Nothing will be resolved if that remains true. Who gets to speak? Whose speech is shut down? Ironically, almost everyone feels like this, regardless of race or creed or orientation. There is a hierarchy of power and voice that trickles down, with the poor on the bottom. This allows the people in the middle the illusion of having a voice, yet they, too, are unheard by those above. So almost everyone is angry and unheard, and the violence continues until, one day, we decide we’ve had enough. Until, one day, we allow everyone to truly have a voice.