Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chaotic and Lawful

One of the many internal laws I have for this blog is that we never, ever discuss video games here. However, as the theme of today's post is the necessity of lawbreaking we will, appropriately, begin with a discussion of video games. But if you have no interest in video games you will not have to suffer through too much of it. Just grab a nearby railing or other solid, attached object (well, no, you will need a firmer grip than that), and I will talk you through it all as quickly as possible.

In the old style, grand adventure in some dark fantasy land computer game (derived from tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons), there was an important element involving what kind of character you wanted to play as. This element was usually defined as your alignment. You had to decide whether you wanted to be a good or evil or neutral sort of person (or elf, or whatever), but your chosen morality was also divided along another line. You had to decide whether you wanted to be chaotic good, or lawful good, chaotic evil, or lawful evil.

Now forget gaming. Let's just talk about life. Let's talk about chaotic and lawful in the real world. I suppose if these two words smack of anything, lawful tends to skew towards good, and chaotic towards evil, but the interesting thing about chaotic and lawful is that they don't work that way at all.

These are interesting words, and an interesting way of looking at morality.

Lawful is not more good than chaotic. Lawful, that is, being lawful, is actually a moral limiter. The act of being lawful will always limit the extent to which you can be good, and it will also limit the extent to which you can be bad. It is limited by the goodness or the evil of a law, and thus puts your morality partly at the mercy of those people who write the laws and at the mercy of the moral quality of the law. The world of law can as easily force you into being better as it can force you into being worse. On the other hand, to be chaotic leaves your morality entirely at the mercy of your own vision, honor, and wisdom. Endless goodness and utter depravity are in your hands.

In those video games I always play as chaotic good. Swing for the fences I say.

Life, you may be surprised to find out, is more complicated than video games. I still gravitate towards chaotic good when I can, but there is a vast array of tiny laws, at large in the world and in the microcosm of my workplace, that I adhere to so that I can avoid trouble. Working at a library I might break one of our laws and renew your book a third time because you are in a hospital because you just lost your leg (chaotic good), but I might also ignore a completely screwed up front desk situation because I am assigned to be somewhere else and don't want an evil eye from a manager (lawful evil).

So really, when we are talking about being lawful in conjunction with being good or evil, with any real moral autonomy at all, we are talking about how we spin those laws, when we can, what laws we fall in line with, and whether we honor the good spirit or bad spirit of any given law. Laws are immensely interpretable, and it is with that interpretation that we can affect our virtue.

Meanwhile with being chaotic we have a free range to try for good or evil purely as we see fit. What we contend with here tends to be the consequences of our actions. It has always been my understanding that the story of Jesus is much concerned with this. If you want to swing for the fences in pursuit of goodness, morally, expect to get nailed to a cross. And when you look around you as you're dying you will find at least some of your company to be those who went deep into wickedness instead.

So what then do I advise?

That's what you come here for, advice, right?

I won't let you down.

Here is my advice.

Be careful out there.

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