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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Battle Within: Is self-control always a good thing?

I just read an absolutely incredible article about the upcoming Star Wars MMORPG, The Old Republic, and it really made me think about a whole lot more than Star Wars.

MMORPGs are pure evil. They will steal your soul and distort your life. I tell you this from personal experience, addiction is a terrible thing. I in no way condone or support this game, despite how badly I want to play it. I simply use the story behind it and the comments of its creators in my discussion of a dear topic. If you decide to play it and find yourself unable to stop, I can't help you and accept no responsibility for the ruination of your future. You've been warned.

Now that that's out of the way, I'll give a little background on the Force, for those 7 people on Earth who haven't seen any Star Wars, just in case any of them happen to stumble upon this lonely corner of the interwebs. The Force is both a religion and God in the Star Wars mythology, not dissimilar to the "God" concept in Wicca: an omnipresent energy, both male and female, good and bad, dark and light, terrible and beautiful. This energy can be manipulated, concentrated, and directed toward whatever end the user so desires. There are two orders of such users in the Force, the Jedi and the Sith. Throughout the entire story, we are told that the Sith are evil, and practice the Dark Side of the Force, while the Jedi strive for good and defend the world from the Sith menace. I always bought it; Jedi good, Sith bad, boooo Sith.

Then came Episode 3.

In Revenge of the Sith, protagonist and Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker has secretly and illegally married his love, Senator Padme Amidalla, who is carrying his child. He begins having visions of her death, and resolves to find a way to save her. Fast forward. He discovers that the chancellor is a Sith, and wants to destroy the Jedi order. He reports this to the Jedi Council, ready to eradicate this menace, as he has been taught for so long. Then the chancellor offers him the power to save his wife.

How far would you go to save the one you love?

Anakin accepts this offer, saves the chancellor, and rejects his Jedi teachings. Anakin Skywalker is now the most powerful Sith who has ever lived, in terms of raw power. As far as experience goes, however, he is sorely lacking, and his former mentor, seething at his betrayal, beats him within an inch of his life, and leaves him to die while his wife dies delivering his twin children.

This fucked up my entire view of the Jedi/Sith conflict.

Knowing this, put yourself in Anakin's shoes, lying broken, beaten, scarred, burned, having lost everything you ever had. Picture yourself being saved by the Sith, spending countless time being surgically repaired, being confined to a life support system within a suit. You're now the dreaded Darth Vader, and your new Sith mentor has taken control of the galactic empire.

What do you do to the people who crucified you for trying to save your love, and stopped you from saving her, then kidnapped and hid your children?

Let that sink in.

That never sat well with me. Here I was, believing that the Jedi were the good guys, and these evil bastard Sith had to be destroyed. Indoctrinated, I was. Then they slap me with a situation that really hit home. I would have done THE EXACT SAME THING. Tell me that I can save my son from death, all I have to do is renounce the Jedi and align myself with the Sith; I would have said fuck the Jedi, help me save him. If they won't allow me to use an aspect of the blessed Force that will allow me to save a life, then they're not as good as they claim to be. So I guess I'm not cut out to be a Jedi Knight.

But how many of us really are?

Now back to the article. One part in particular really drove home the unease about the Jedi that I've felt since the first time I saw Episode 3, back in 2005.
There were hints of what happened between the Jedi and the Sith in the formative years of the Force. While the Force itself always existed, learning how to use it, and how to train others to use it, took time. "The Force was developed on Tython, discovered by these pre-Jedi philosophers. They came into conflict about what it means and how it should be addressed." Erickson explains. This conflict split the people in two. "What the Jedi call the Dark Side, and what came to be known as the Dark Side, these people believed that life should be about emotion. They believed you should be unrestrained, that the galaxy wants us to love and lust and kill and make art and cry and dream..." he trails off. I imagine him sitting on a throne, lightsaber under his right hand. This conversation started as two Star Wars fans chatting about the expanded universe, but now I'm starting to understand the draw of the Sith.

What happened to these hedonistic followers of the Force? "They get chased out of the galaxy. In fact, in the lore, chased to the point where the Jedi believe they are dead. This is very close to genocide! The Jedi believe these people to be unredeemable."

He points out that we've only be presented one side of the story. If you grew up among these people, you have a very different story. "You know there is an Emperor, and that he saved your people's very existence, and there is a society out there larger than you, who deemed your people and your religion not worthy to exist."
Now hold on a minute. This paints the Sith in a WHOLE new light. We've been fed the Jedi party line all these years: the Sith are dangerous, they want to destroy the Jedi Council, they want to own everything, they will kill without hesitation.


Well hold on there, partner. If you tried to wipe my people out, left me for dead, and deemed me -- and my beliefs -- unworthy, you'd better believe I'm going to be dangerous. So what's the truth? Are the Sith really evil? Or are the Jedi evil?

Maybe there is no such thing as evil.

I don't have much use for absolutes. What is right under one circumstance is wrong under another. Sticking a knife into a random woman's belly is wrong, right? What if you're a doctor and she needs a C-section? Not so wrong anymore. So the decision really comes down to ideals. Jedi or Sith, Puritan or Hedonist...

Superego or Id.

This battle occurs in each of us, many many times each day. When you see that candy bar, and stop for a split second, your id is telling you that you want it, and should eat it, while your superego is telling you that it's bad for you, and you should keep walking.
Clinical psychologist Don Bannister has described Freud's position on the human personality as being:
"...basically a battlefield. He is a dark-cellar in which a well-bred spinster lady (the superego) and a sex-crazed monkey (the id) are forever engaged in mortal combat, the struggle being refereed by a rather nervous bank clerk (the ego)."

Thus an individual’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are the result of the interaction of the id, the superego, and the ego. This creates conflict, which creates anxiety, which leads to Defense Mechanisms.
If either the superego or id were allowed to totally control a person's actions, that person would be considered societally abnormal, and possibly dangerous. That's why there's a third aspect, the ego, that balances the id's desires against the superego's ideals, factors in societal expectations and norms, and is the "voice of reason." The ego is a good thing.

I've had many conversations about this with people, and have found that many allow their superegos to define their answers in said conversations. I have a lot of trouble believing that they would really allow their child to die rather than kill the threat. If they really would, then I propose that THEY are "evil." But I digress. Really, I've lost my whole direction in this post, so I'll end with one last quote.
We were given a hands-on with the game, but what Erickson said kept running through my head during GDC. Did he really just convince me that the Sith were the good guys in all this? Growing up, being taught to understand and explore our emotions and passions, and then being told this monk-like order had hunted my people to near extinction... it's easy to see the attraction to taking up your blaster or lightsaber against their order.

In other words, to give into your hate.
Sometimes, that really is the best course of action.

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