Different After All

So: the Giffords shooting.

I’m not going to talk about it so much. Other people have said things better. This is my blog and this is a selfish post about myself.

Anyone who says that the current atmosphere in political discussion in America isn’t… rather corrupted hasn’t lived here. I don’t really want to be reminded repeatedly of it, and have preferred to avoid it, but that willful ignorance is only a luxury now.

When I was little, I monitored my father’s stress and anger levels constantly, because sometimes predictions paid off in the matter of staying alive. Timing can be everything in such situations—kind of like war on the battlefield. As a result, the constant vigilance is always present, and worse, this hypervigilance goes sky-high during stressful times. These are those times, and much as I want to deny it, the fallout of the Giffords shooting—in conversational circles, on blogs, and on Twitter—keeps me up at night. Everyone’s on edge, and I’m even more so.

Such is the life of a PTSD sufferer when there’s not enough of a trigger to keep one from going over the edge, but just enough to keep the level of anxiety around PTSD level 1 or 2. I wish I could tell people to knock it off, but oh well. Not happening. Until then, every mention is like being jabbed with a poker.

As well, the shooter reminds me of my father: far, far too much of my father.

Now, my father wasn’t of any party or clique—he trafficked purely in hatred. It almost didn’t matter what kind of hatred it was—he latched onto anything hateful or otherwise horrible. When parents murdered their children, he took a… strange kind of glee in replaying the news footage at the dinner table. When things like Jonestown or Waco happened, he wished fervently that he could carry off the same feat, all the way to killing everyone in the compound, ending with me and my mother in intimate, graphic detail. Also at the dinner table. He admired the anti-Semitic tones of the Nazis, and the racist attitudes of the Klan. He talked about the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields as if they were a good thing, and about murdering, in the most gruesome and painful ways possible, teachers, scholars, politicians of all stripes.

This is all apart from all the things he did to me and my mother, which all my bartenders and my candyman call sadistic.

On the other hand, he was rather patriotic vis a vis both Vietnam and America. And he could be extremely charming. Everybody’s got good points, even if there are very, very few good points.

He was, plainly, the Real Deal when it came to hate and sadism. He meant every word—he wouldn’t know what a metaphor was if you beat him over the head with it. Or, preferable to him, that he beat you over the head with it.

And were things even more crazy back then, around maybe the current level of crazy, he probably would have popped his cork, and no amount of prediction on my part would have saved me or my mother. He would have adored Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin (the moose shooting! The Muslim hate rallies! Wonderful things! Um… one of these things is not like the other). He would have bathed in hate radio and cable television. Maybe he’s doing that right now; hell if I know.

My mother, on the other hand, would have adored Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann in their more passionate moments; always a messenger and not an executor, my mother.

The shooter reminds me of my father. Driven by anybody’s rhetoric, really. In the end, however, he’d always be a lone wolf—even if he followed in someone else’s footsteps. It didn’t have to make sense.

This is where it all goes worse for me.

I’ve inherited at least a little of my father’s madness, and sometimes I fear I’ve inherited all of it, through both nature (the bipolar, the more severe kind) and nurture (the constant terror he created induced severe PTSD).

By much of society’s diction—indeed, by the diction of those on the right or left who are using “mentally unstable” as the be-all and end-all of the shooter’s motivations, or even of my father’s when they know me better—I should be prey to the same motivations and drive in the end. That it doesn’t matter what kind of person I am; because I’m crazy, there’s just no hope. Even now I think of myself as mentally disturbed, albeit still very functional; and perhaps that really means there’s no more hope.

Sometimes, honestly, my view of the world gets crooked indeed. And some of that I simply can’t help, and I know it now. If something should trigger me into full flashback mode, morality wouldn’t matter to me during those fever moments; I’m lucky I don’t trigger that severely more than occasionally, lucky that my biggest triggers are also highly predictable. ((Now, if we could get over the denial that I have triggers or can’t deal with the huge ones….))

At the same time, however, I am functional. I’m still my own person. My motivations and desires are pretty much my own—I think, even during a full flashback, I was always more of a runner than a fighter, though probably only because fighting would mean I’d be wasting time that could be spent in gaining distance, or finding opportunities to gain incredible amounts of distance. ((The zen of Rincewind, in other words.))

And yet.

It’s another piece of the puzzle as to why I think I’m evil. I’m crazy, and because I absorb external criticism and opinions—there’s no other way to predict what someone like my father would do other than to think like him—I also incorporate the innate criminalization present in so much media, from the news (and my gods, they’re butchering that in recent coverage) to books to movies to conversation…. If you’re crazy, you’re a rabid dog who should be put down, sort of thing.

I’m no different than my father; why didn’t I let them catch me and kill me, through all the times they could have done so, during the Years of Zorn and Tharn? It would have done the world a favor.

Perhaps it’s a weakness of mine, showing how gullible I am, but somehow the third point on John Scalzi’s post about all this has broken the link in my mind between my father and myself.

Even though I absorb other people’s thoughts and morals and values, ever since college—or maybe before that, even—I was picking things for myself. I don’t know very much, which explains my gullibility, but it has a limit.

I’m not driven by hate. I don’t try to twist other people’s words until they fit into my philosophy (although I’m not heartened by the fact that I don’t seem to have a philosophy in the first place). I try to be a good person, even if it’s just because I suspect I’m evil.

My father did something with his madness, without a doubt. But I’m doing something else.

You can’t say that it was only his madness that drove him to do the things he did, because I’m starting with similar variables, and I don’t do what he did. I’ve been lucky so far, and I may break down some day, but it’s probably going to be different than my father’s.

It all still comes down to choice.

I’m different from my father after all.

Postscript: I think all this applies to the shooter. Believe me, that makes my thinking about this all even more awkward than it already is. Like it or not, he has some motive further beyond possible craziness, even if it isn’t necessarily logical—I mean, a lot of us have beliefs that aren’t logical either, but we just feel they’re right. And that characteristic doesn’t automatically make someone sick, and isn’t necessarily part of a sickness if they have one (unfortunately or not).


2 thoughts on “Different After All

  1. Sympathies and best wishes.

    “By much of society’s diction—indeed, by the diction of those on the right or left who are using “mentally unstable” as the be-all and end-all of the shooter’s motivations, or even of my father’s when they know me better—I should be prey to the same motivations and drive in the end.”
    Nonsense. I mean, yes you are hearing their diction correctly, but they’re still wrong. Those on the right are using ‘mentally unstable’ as a decoy, to direct attention away from the fact that he had been posting YouTube videos with a bunch of right-wing rhetoric. ‘Crazy’ suggests he was an unpredictable and unavoidable anomaly; ‘right-wing catch-phrases’ suggests they’re complicit. Those on the left are trying to allow for mitigating factors, or sticking their heads in the sand.

    I had trouble putting together a response to your “Why I Think I’m Evil” post, but I’ll put forth what I have. It is true that evil is hurt by good, and love is the strongest form of good, but there are cases where a person can be hurt by goodness or love without being evil. These tend to be cases where the person is possessed or haunted or cursed: something bad is wrapped around them so much that when the holy amulet approaches, the bad thing recoils and the person feels its pain indistinguishable from their own. You are chronically affected by echoes and sometimes replays of past events, which is why ghosts and haunting struck me as a metaphor.

    The biggest determinant of whether a person is good or bad is what they value and try to do; this is why the Sorting Hat put Harry in Gryffindor, remember: he had traits suited to more than one house, but his determination not to be in Slytherin was what kept him out of it.

    I want to recommend the works of Philip Zimbardo, for some time when you’re feeling strong. He studied the Stanford prison experiment and the American regime at Abu Ghraib, and he said that being caught in a brutal and inhumane system meant a person was in a position of impaired responsibility: not completely guiltless for things they do to survive, but with lessened guilt. Kind of like how our law deals with being drunk. It might resonate with your internal ethical system better than we-commenters’ consensus that when the alternative is being tortured or killed, that really isn’t an alternative: you did the only things you could to survive, and since self-defense is legitimate, you should not be blamed for it.

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