For no reason that I can pin down, I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about personality disorders and spotting good examples of them in TV and film. Interestingly enough, this has led me to a sort of Gray Jedi conclusion: The Jedi and Sith orders seem to be two sides of the same coin – they’re both filled to the brim with psychopaths.
Psychopathy is an interesting, if misunderstood, beast. Almost everyone has used the term, but almost no one seems to understand how to use it correctly. Psychopathy is a mental disorder primarily characterized by a lack of empathy and shallow or limited emotional responses. This isn’t to say that psychopaths can’t or don’t understand others nor that they have no emotions: rather they have atypical emotional responses and have a non-empathetic understanding of other people. The psychopath views other humans the way we might view lab rats or other “lesser” species and their emotional response tends to be shallow with regard to others. Strong emotional response is possible, but typically egocentric.
So the Sith are obviously psychopaths. We have no problem giving them the label at all, they’ve been called psychopaths by those who do and don’t understand the label alike for a very long time. The Sith narcissistically channel highly egotistical and negative emotions (anger, hatred, fear) into their use of the force and it’s seldom questionable that they lack empathy for others, but there is more than one kind of psychopathy.
American psychologist Theodore Millon identified five primary archetypes of antisocial behavior:
- Covetous – Those who feel that life has not given them their due
- Reputation-Defending – Those with narcissistic features
- Risk-Taking – Those with histrionic features
- Nomadic – those with schizoid or avoidant features
- Malevolant – Those with sadistic and/or paranoid features
Now most of the Sith we’re familiar with are obviously malevolant psychopaths, inflicting pain simply because they enjoy it or for fear of losing power. There are some good examples in canon of covetous or reputation-defending psychopaths as well, and certainly some risk-taking Sith, though those tend not to survive long enough to make a decent legend. But what of the nomadic psychopaths?
Nomadic psychopaths are characterized by schizoid or avoidant behavior. Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterized by social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction. Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) is characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency toward solitude, secretiveness, emotional coldness and a high degree of interalization. Those with SPD tend to have much richer internal lives than external.
APD is questionably applicable to the Jedi order at all, but SPD seems to fit them quite nicely, doesn’t it? Let’s have a look at the five-line mantra that is the Jedi Code:
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.
The Jedi order’s code sounds very peaceful and Zen – and it’s certainly not as frightening as the Code of the Sith, but it shows a rather psychopathic take on humanity, doesn’t it? The Jedi suppress emotion, shun social relationships to the point that they are prohibited to fall in love or marry, live spartan physical lives but vibrant internal lives and are taught that detached utilitarianism is the ultimate ideal. A Jedi should not only kill one man to save a dozen but he should do so without hesitation or feeling – the mark of a psychopath.
Now psychopaths are far more common than most would believe, and not all are dangerous. A quick glance at Millon’s subtypes reassures me that most of the psychopaths out there probably aren’t a big danger to any of us. As a matter of fact, it’s been suggested that certain kinds of psychopaths would (and do) make great CEOs and get along pretty well in life. If utilitarianism is your kind of ideal society, then you practically require psychopaths to enforce the rules in the toughest cases, but the downfall of the Jedi is that they fail to comprehend what they are.
Psychopathy is considered a personality disorder for a reason: most of us don’t think that way. Many folks can be utilitarian to a point and there were plenty of Jedi (like Qui-Gon Jinn) who simply ignored the council when their rulings seemed unreasonable or unethical. But some rare few, like a certain Skywalker, aren’t cut out for nomadic psychopathy of any degree. In the best cases these people will leave the order and do something else with their lives, but every once in a while someone just unstable enough will be forced into the psychopath mold and what you get is a genuine psychopath of the non-nomadic (read: Sith) variety.
I know I’m going against canon here, but perhaps this is what the prophecy really means when it speaks of a “chosen one” who would bring balance to the force: not that the dark side is unnatural, but that both sides are unnatural. In this respect, Luke makes the most sense as the “chosen one” since he wields the force with humanity and reason, adhering neither to the nomad-psychopath code of the Jedi nor the malevolent-psychopath code of the Sith. Regardless of its effects on canon, the prevalence of psychopathy in the Star Wars universe is quite compelling and I, for one, will never watch any of the movies the same way again.