Friday 20 November 2020

How the Dungeons and Dragons Alignment system leads to an insight into JRR Tolkiens orcs and goblins

Lawful Evil - Saruman's Uruk-Hai 

Neutral Evil - The orcs (or goblins) of the Misty Mountains, including Moria. (These are depicted in most detail in The Hobbit.) 

Chaotic Evil - The ordinary rank-and-file Mordor orcs

Read the whole thing at my Notion Club Papers blog. 


Matthew T said...

Wow, file this under "topics I never thought I'd see Bruce discuss, or even know about".

What do you think about Gygax's alignment system, then? Because I'll tell you, it's interesting, when younger I used to think it was pretty stupid, woefully inadequate to capture anything meaningful about human minds.

It's only as I've gotten older, and have had some experience in observing people who are such sticklers for the rules for NO REASON that I can discern, that I see, well actually, there is something to the "lawful vs chaotic" dimension, anyway.

Matthew T said...

(I'm Chaotic Good, the best alignment, in case it wasn't clear.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Matthew - Well, my knowledge of it is secondhand, and comes from my son - who I credit for this idea.

I remember back in 2006-8 (?) reading an essay by Mencius Moldbug about how there was no such thing as Chaotic Good (but only Lawful Good - i.e. he asserted that Good was always Lawful) - which I did not really understand at the time.

What do I think of Alignment? Well I think it is basically wrong; because it leaves-out God, and without God no sense can be made of Good and Evil. Also it regards Good as a kind of compromise, medium-way between Law and Chaos - whereas I regard Law and Chaos as merely aspects of Creation - which is the primary reality.

But I think Alignment works well in a gaming context, from what I can see.

(I should add that I myself am one of only two people I know of, and the other was my father, who do not like playing any games at all! I'm interested in them conceptually, but not at all interested in myself playing. I would prefer to do nothing-at-all (or go to sleep) rather than play any game (board, cards, role-playing, computer...), or doing any sort of 'puzzle' - and indeed I frequently do!)

Matthew T said...

i.e. he asserted that Good was always Lawful

Probably true, if the argument were fleshed out and so forth. But I still say there is a personality type given to obsessively-compulsively following the minutiae of the rules no matter how stupid, and then there's the type that says, there's *rules*, and then there's *common sense*.

Michael Dyer said...

Interesting thought, at least to me, is that “chaotic” good is a guy who disregards tyrannous rules to do good. It’s not true chaos, it’s more obeying real good as opposed to fake good that has the official “seal of approval”. Like Mal Reynolds in Firefly, he’ll break the rules all the time but is very circumspect about doing something actually wrong.

Joel said...

This discussion reminded me of the situation in James Stoddard's High House, where personified Order and Chaos roam the halls, each one rather dangerous when uncontrolled.

The Steward, as the agent of God and good, has power over both, and the responsibility to keep them under control, but the agents of evil ("anarchists"), seek to release one or the other and create an imbalance, though they are much more partial to Chaos.

In human moral terms, I think that order clearly corresponds to law, but that chaos corresponds to freedom. Freedom and law are in tension in human life, and are both sometimes forces for evil and for good. So if I could adjust the Gygax alignment chart, I would first replace "chaos" with "freedom".

I also think that neutrality should be (as you have it with your Orc example), something that captures inner versus outwards focus. Everyone understands selfish evil. Outwardly directed altruistic evil is something that most people don't have a mental category for, but it's the bane of our times.

Serhei said...

Oh, and in hindsight I suspect a motive for Moldbug to say that Good was always Lawful is that he wanted to imply the converse that Lawful was always Good since that would make his 'formalism' quick-fix theories for the human predicament seem more attainable.

Jonathan said...

Rule-following can help boost people up to medium levels of creativity and medium levels of Good. But one has to know when and how to discard rules to reach the highest levels of creation and the highest levels of Good. We see this progression in human history from paganism to the rule-heavy Old Testament to the love-oriented New Testament to the present day, when all the training wheels are coming off and we have to find our way to divinity directly.

Karl said...

Chaotic good sounds to me like the figure in many organizations who bends or breaks the rules while seeing to it that the real work somehow gets done. In the year 2020, he unclogs your drain, but you discover to your horror that he omitted to wear a mask.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Back when you first started writing about Steiner's Lucifer/Ahriman distinction, I associated it with Lawful vs. Chaotic Evil.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - I think of real creativity being an expression of the agency of our true/ divine self; which is how it can be an uncaused-cause.

By this (very strict and exclusive) definition, rule following could not cause creativity; but creativity might come through unconsciously despite rules.

What the rules seem to do is make creativity more culturally communicable.

I suppose that the truth is that creativity is not about rules, nor about breaking rules - and is something altogether different.

But the relationship to rule/ breaking-rules can be how creativity presents itself in a world that denies divinity; and Only recognises the reality of the 'Luciferic' (chaotic/ instinctive) and 'Ahrimanic' (systematic/ quantitative). Naturally, every-thing is seen in terms or one or another or a combination.

Especially when an activity is conceptualised in terms of rules (which is the usual way, nowadays - even when rules utterly fail to capture anything about an activity, bureaucracies Must operate as if they did).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - As you can see from the comment to Jonathan - I think they are essentially the same thing. And the Alignment System is ultimately wrong for the same reason as Steiner's typology is defective.

You may recall that Steiner sees The Christ (which he distinguishes from Jesus - there having been, according to him, two Jesus's who 'fused')as a balance between Luciferic and Ahrimanic. In other words, he does not distinguish The Christ's contribution to Man in terms of bringing something qualitatively different from, and superior to, Lucifer and Ahriman.

This seems to me a pretty terrible error; but I think its roots like in the common problem that Christians (who are not Mormons) have about the physical, the incarnate.

Because so many Christians (including Steiner, but also perhaps most mainstream theologians across 2000 years) put their religion inside a kind of Platonic set of assumptions, including that the spirit is higher than the phsyical; they simply cannot take on board that resurrection (restoration of incarnation - but this second time immortal) as the highest 'form' of Man's being; although this would Seem to be blazingly obvious from a naive reading of the New Testament.

IMO most of the heavy-lifting of Joseph Smith's theological genius was based on his early (probably pre- Book of Mormon) years of doing the very simple, but incredibly rare and difficult, thing of reading the New Testament in a plain common sense fashion. That seemed to be the decisive breakthrough; which made-possible the rest.

(Of course, I would say that JS also ought to have given primacy to the Fourth Gospel; which is also a result of common sense reading - this being the only part of the NT which claims to be based on direct personal eye-witness by an author who also claims in the text to have been Jesus's disciple, best friend, brother in law, Jesus's Mother's adoptive son (or rather, vice versa) etc.)