We Are All Neutral Survivalists: Alignment in a Complex World

Celebrim

Legend
I don't think I'd go so far as to suggest everyone was a 'Neutral [Survivalist]', but I do think it is an extremely common approach to both the game and real life. It shouldn't however be used to attempt to explain every ethical code, as many ethical codes insist that they are still correct even when they are not utilitarian (personally or collectively).
 

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pacdidj

First Post
So, how does True Neutral fit into your framework? How does self-interest, or utility maximization mesh with "my position is that I don't have one"?

Also, I disagree with your characterization of Prez, from The Wire, as CN, at least in regards to Season 4, I think Prez's story is one of finding his professional calling and moral compass, and learning to stand up to oppressive influences (like Valchek). By the end of season 4 he's firmly in CG or NG territory, especially in his relationship with Duquan and his other students. Bubs may be closer to a CN, but even in his case I'd argue that he goes through a progression from something like TN (i.e. doesn't give a $&!+ about anything, including himself, and engages in legitimate enterprise as often as theft and swindling to stay alive), through CN territory (when he tries to kill the bully and ends up killing Gerrod, and ruins Herc's career), to something like NG when he finally cleans himself up and takes an active hand in the homeless shelter and narcotics anonymous meetings. Ultimately though, this is all somewhat predictable, because I don't think D&D-style static alignment very accurately reflects real life, whereas The Wire attempts to capture, successfully I think, real moral ambiguity.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Even if there is credence in the "there's no selfless act" theory (not really wanting to get into a debate about it though - not in the mood for philosophy!), that doesn't translate to D&D.

D&D has wizards, dragons, and noble selfless heroes. Whether or not such people exist in the real world isn't really material.
 

Celebrim

Legend
My own take on alignment:

Good characters help others, at personal cost or risk.
Evil characters hurt others, for their own personal gain or pleasure.
Neutral characters (on the Good/Evil axis) do neither.

I'd ammend that slightly.

Good characters help others, regardless of personal cost or gain.
Evil characters hurt others, regardless of personal cost or gain.
Neutral characters see no difference between helping or hurting others, and make their choices based on other considerations.

The problem I have with your formulationi is it seems to be equivalent to:

Good characters are selfless.
Evil characters are selfish.
Nuetral characters are neither selfless nor selfish.

I reject that formulation. I believe that there can be selfless evil (a kamikazi pilot, a suicide bomber, a SS fanatic, a Southern soldier fighting to defend slavery...) as well as self-centered good. That is not to say that everyone sacrificing themselves in an evil cause is evil, but that its at least concievable that some or many of them are.

Lawful characters seek to uphold the social order.
Chaotic characters seek to subvert or overthrow the social order.
Neutral characters (on the Lawful/Chaotic axis) do neither.

Likewise, while this is somewhat on target, I reject this formulation as actually too specific as well. I'd prefer.

Lawful characters believe that external standards are more important than the dictates of their conscious.
Chaotic characters believer that the dictates of their conscious are more important than external standards.
Neutral characters do not see a clear preference between external standards and what their conscious compells them to do, but make their moral choices based on other considerations.

The problem with your formulation is that 'society' is not actually an easily identifiable group. Suppose for example you have a nation state, and a group of rebels. It's easy to say, "Well the nation state is the society and therefore those that support it are lawful.", but this turns out to have all sorts of problems. The nation state might not be actually upholding the rule of law, in which cases the rebels are rebelling against it at least in part to restore order rather than overthrow it. But, on the other hand, you can't actually say that the rebels are 'society' either since they are but a subset of the community as a whole. But, on the other other hand, if a person were born into the community of rebels, then that persons society would certainly be the rebels and their standards of what constituted social behavior would certainly be set by the rebels.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
So, how does True Neutral fit into your framework? How does self-interest, or utility maximization mesh with "my position is that I don't have one"?

Because people that don't have a position tend to 'go with the flow'. One of the easiest directions to be pushed in when you don't have any other position is simple survival. I suspect most evil in the world is done by people who, when in a position of comfort and ease, would never dream of doing significant harm to someone else, but who when discomforted and particularly when afraid do things that they formerly would not have considered. And who, after the danger has past, return to their former behavior. They stick to standards of 'goodness' because it is easy, and when its is easier to be evil, then they do that too. This is in my opinion neutrality.
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
First off, I would only be more accepting of the basic "survivalist" idea if the concept of survival can be applied on a larger scale than the individual. There are people who are willing to sacrifice themselves "for god and country," or "the cause." They are not dealing from a personal survivalist perspective, but the survival of something they believe in.

And perhaps it was just the way you decided to phrase it, but I think you were way off the mark with the Chaotic Neutral description. Did you mean to imply CN is crazy or completely disassociated from reality? The way I've always interpreted it, a CN person told to go to the top of a mountain or else, may go do something else entirely with the attitude of "if the king can find me, he can go ahead and try and 'or else' me." Alternatively the CN person might go ahead, climb the mountain then drop his trousers, moon the palace and declare himself King of the mountain.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Did you mean to imply CN is crazy or completely disassociated from reality?

A lot of people make the mistake of confusing alignment with personality. I believe the OP is making this common mistake.

In his defense though, a person who is crazy or completely disassociated from reality is one subset of the fairly broad spectrum that falls under 'chaotic neutral'. To me, chaotic nuetral means, "Having an ethical/moral system which is entirely internal and self-defined and not subject to external review, and/or upholding each persons 'right' to define for himself his own standards of right and wrong." A person who is insane in the way the insane are usually portrayed in literature (hebephrenic), is obvious a subset of this in which there entire mode of behavior and view of the world is self-created - not merely their view of ethical behavior or 'abstract' concepts like good and evil. Extreme existentialism also falls into this category, and its worth noting that in a fantasy setting reality might well be a self-constructed concept/delusion (explaining thereby the effaciousness of magic).
 

So, how does True Neutral fit into your framework?

TN- Doesn't exist. There simply isn't room; either you can reliably enough predict the results of an action (as relates to your utility or "survival") or you can't. For those situations when you can't tell, trusting in "golden rule" type reasoning is good, being conservatively selfish is evil.

The astute reader may notice that the above suggests a modification of order-chaos is necessary as well. The mortal vessel I am using as a communication medium from Regulus did not fully grasp the importance of precedence to order. Chaos can be construed as believing in the prevalence of unprecedence. This encompasses earlier remarks and leads to the same implications.

Also, I disagree with your characterization of Prez, from The Wire, as CN, at least in regards to Season 4, I think Prez's story is one of finding his professional calling and moral compass,

With regards to the specific case of Prez, I would mostly confine the designation of CN to his actions earlier in the series. In season 1 he unnecessarily and brutally assaults a kid. His outburst in Season 2 against Valchek nearly sinks his career and jeopardizes the whole investigation. Admittedly, in season 4 there is less lashing out ala the situation at the Towers in season 1 and more attempting good (which is strictly a good action in my rubric), though he does allow a stabbing to occur in his class and destroys the life of Randy after misjudging the effects of bringing him in to help the case; on top of this Duquan ends up as a junkie, further emphasizing the chaos inherent in Prez. He either doesn't or can't think things through. Only possibly in the series finally do we see inklings that Prez is possibly sliding more towards actual good, though in truth he could be becoming one of the burnouts that is just covering his own ass and punching the clock. (Maybe he would be a better example if the series portrayed his darker side at school when the character could overreact to the discipline problems or the betrayal on the part of Duquan and start the slide towards burnout; I feel this was avoid to prevent making Prez too unlikable)

A true CN character is kinda all mixed up like that. He doesn't reliably trust nor reliably mis-trust. It isn't that he is deciding on the situation; by my definition if the situation is informative on the utility maximizing choice of action, that action is taken without regard to alignment. CN is true fluctuation between trust and mistrust. Unpredictability is the most common motivator for this fluctuation (although insanity or incapacity could be another). (I could add parenthetically that the negation of good-evil alignment color in LN is derived from the inverse situation of near total information and predictability over the results of actions.)

More to the point: his searching uncertainty is the defining characteristics of chaotic neutrality. Chaos is the rejection of precedence, or at least a de-prioritization of the processing of precedence (i.e. not thinking things through); searching and uncertainty are the result.

I believe that there can be selfless evil (a kamikazi pilot, a suicide bomber, a SS fanatic, a Southern soldier fighting to defend slavery...) ...

Lawful characters believe that external standards are more important than the dictates of their conscious.
Chaotic characters believer that the dictates of their conscious are more important than external standards.
Neutral characters do not see a clear preference between external standards and what their conscious compells them to do, but make their moral choices based on other considerations.

Now addressing Celebrim:

The benefit of this formulation is that good and evil are entirely internal. The classification is based purely on what the character believes will be the result of his actions.

In the case of killing-suicides of all types there is possibility for good and evil. If the killing is motivated by greater good, say in the case of a kamikaze protecting his country, that is good. If on the other hand the murder was for spite, this is evil. We can revert to the tautological revealed preference argument that the murderer preferred a world where the target and the murderer die to one in which the murderer lives and the target does not suffer. Here the murderer probably is acting without regard to the target's preferences (assuming the target wants to live); and refusing to gamble for the possibility the targets will listen to his position and amend his complaint.
 

Ariosto

First Post
Alignment is with some other faction in the game. The Knights of the Rhomboid Buffet are Lawful, the Rovers of the Barrens are Chaotic, the Syndics of the Free City are Neutral, and so on.

As to what factors signify each stance, "philosophical and moral reasonings are completely subjective according to the acculturation of the individual. You, as Dungeon Master, must establish the meanings and boundaries of law and order as opposed to chaos and anarchy, as well as the divisions between right and good as opposed to hurtful and evil." (DMG, p. 24)

A pernicious delusion is the notion that there ought to be some universally binding definition of alignments.
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
I think it can be best expressed, not as axes, but as a prioritization.

Also note that this is all set in the D&D universe, so survival is not actually a component of well being because the afterlife (specifically positive afterlife) conclusively exists.

A good character prioritizes the well being of others

An evil character prioritizes his own well being

A lawful character prioritizes law and order

A chaotic character prioritizes freedom

A neutral character prioritizes none of the above OR prioritizes opposing pairs.

Note that within each of the 9 alignments, there will be sub-alignments. Does the lawful evil character prioritize law or evil more highly?

Also note that by adding in other areas that are prioritized (ie - cute fluffy things) we can end up with more diverse characters. For instance a character who prioritizes law>kittens>evil is a lot different to a character who prioritizes kittens>evil>law.

Finally note that these don't actually dictate actions: a chaotic evil character may choose to never kill, because he prizes freedom, and killing someone removes their freedom. A lawful evil character may choose to never kill because killing causes confusion and unrest. A good character may choose to kill only good foes because they will go to their eternal reward while killing evil foes will only send them to be punished with no hope of redemption. A lawful character might choose to kill anyone who gets in their way on the grounds that they'll end up where they are supposed to be regardless.
 
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