Yes and no. The empire I live in was founded by men who assumed that as White, land-owning males, their lives quite literally mattered much more than others. This empire depends on storm troopers to do the day-to-day dirty work of maintaining the supremacy of White, land-owning males. Through strategic application of silence, speech, shaming, slander, and skepticism, masses of stormtroopers ensure the maintenance of power in the hands of imperial lords with minimal effort (or even awareness) by those stormtroopers.
But not all stormtroopers are created equal, and the distinctions between them are significant. Spoiler alert: at different times in my life, I’ve played each of the following roles:
- The Gleeful Stormtrooper: As Gleeful stormtroopers, we maintain the status quo of power and oppression, knowing full well what we are doing. We don’t deny the violence of the empire...we revel in it, and believe that all is as it should be according to our righteous order of things. From the emperor’s perspective, we gleeful stormtroopers are both an asset and a liability, because we are so extreme in our violence and our devotion that we give credence to the claim that the empire is not actually a benevolent and morally-just system.
- Stormtrooper with Blinders: It’s much better for an emperor to have stormtroopers that do their job without thinking. As oblivious stormtroopers, we do our job of silencing dissent and shaming potential rebels without really being aware of the moral ramifications. For those of us who are stormtroopers with blinders, our actions don’t feel like stormtrooping to us. In fact, we probably find the image of a stormtrooper reprehensible. We say, “I'm not stormtrooping...I’m just doing what I know how to do and what my friends do.” We fall silent when we witness the violence of the empire against lower-caste members, minorities, and subversives. We become red-faced and furious when we perceive a threat to the "law and order" that we benefit from and maintain. If someone sat us down and forced us to examine the deeper impacts of our actions, we might begin to realize that we’re doing things that we aren’t aware of and even find morally repulsive. In that case, we either become Duped stormtroopers (see below) or simply double down on our ignorance out of material and spiritual self-preservation.
- The Duped Stormtrooper: I sometimes wonder if I might be the most useful kind of storm trooper for the emperor--a dupe. Am I the stormtrooper who mistakenly thinks that I've achieved self-awareness? As Duped stormtroopers grow into adulthood, we question who we are and go through existential crises and we come out the other side and now believe that we have achieved some level of self-consciousness. Through hard work and willpower, we claim to have won a kind of independence from the empire, and loudly declare ourselves as awakened beings, no longer stormtroopers. We are passionate, devoted, energetic, and emotionally-invested in our work at reforming the empire to be a more just system.
It's us duped storm troopers who appear to be challenging the system who in fact help secure its stability.
We are perfect for this task because we help our potential like-minded stormtrooper recruits to diffuse their freedom energy instead of harnessing it for revolution. “Hey, remember to practice nonviolence,” we say. “Let’s remember that change begins at the ballot box!”
I've voiced support for revolution, but remained silent while rebel forces struggled to build power. I’ve railed against the empire’s violence, but advocated for “peaceful protest” to the people who live their lives under the gaze of imperial rifle scopes. And I’ve shed real tears at the hardships endured by the empire’s unwanted classes, while simultaneously not believing that those people were intelligent or capable enough to fight for their own liberation.
What does it take to make the leap from dupe to traitor? First, I must be willing to question all of my understandings of the world and my identity and role in it. If the possibility exists that I have been programmed to deny that I wear a distorted stormtrooper visor, how can I refute such an idea? How can I rely on common sense to reject the possibility that what I know as common sense is often false or at least incomplete?
In an empire built upon lies--lies about how the empire began, lies about what it did to people who stood in its way, lies about how it achieved material dominance---everything a stormtrooper can “know” must be up for question.