Archive for fiction writing

Alignment and Morality part 2 – Hypothetical Woman meets Neitzsche

Posted in My Thoughts on X Thing with tags , , , , , on 27/09/2009 by phyrbyrd

Hello again, and here as promised is the second half of my alignment rant. I only just discovered Neitzsche, so please bear with me – glaring mistakes are likely due to the fact that there is a lot I don’t know about his life and work yet. Anyway, these are my initial thoughts.

The Polish* philosopher Freidrich Neitzsche (and no, I wouldn’t have spelled it right without checking) is often closely associated with Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and so people are afraid to read his work and consider it for themselves – maybe they think they will see the words, think the same thing as Hitler thought, and facism will be born? I don’t know. It annoys me that so many people have an inability to form an independant opinion just because a figure historically marked as the Big Bad liked it.**

So, what does Neitzsche say? Well, he says a lot of things, one of his more famous philosophies is to do with the Übermensch, or Superhuman, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about his views on morality. The Master and Slave theory. That there is a simplified view, this is a more detailed explanation.

So as you can see, Neitzsche believed that Europe (and America, but Neitzsche was concerned with Europe) was ruled by the Slave mentality. I would not go so far as to call it the social illness that he did, but I can see what he meant. We are expected to be selfless, look out for other people, be modest, prudent, and so on. Our films praise the underdog and our politics are all about giving everybody a say. Our religions are about shoring up good deeds for a heavenly afterlife. So far, so good. Nothing wrong with this, really.

But why is the Master mentality (as characterized by, among others, the Hellenic races such as the ancient Greeks and Romans) bad? Is it bad to think of yourself? To say ‘I know’ instead of ‘aw, you’re too kind’ when someone says you did really well? To be experimental and creative? To concentrate on this life instead of the next one? Why can’t our films be about a strong hero?

Yes, there are flaws with both mentalities, but neither is bad, really. The Master mentality is terrible when taken to extremes. That’s when you get people trying to make a Master *race*. But the Slave mentality is also terrible when taken to extremes – that kind of thing triggers people shooting abortion doctors because they kill the poor defenseless unborn babies. *Any* philosophy can be taken to extremes, and I struggle to think of an occasion when this is a good thing.

Currently, our society tends to express anger ‘resentfully’, as Neitzsche put it, as opposed to directly. Especially in Britain, if someone slights us, we tend to do nothing, mutter behind their backs, and sometimes try and get them back in some other way. We have a kind of malicious joy in seeing the misery of those who are richer, more glamourous, more powerful than us – otherwise the celebrity magazines wouldn’t sell so well. This kind of behaviour corresponds to the Slave mentality, and its opposite would be if we expressed anger immediately – this is not to say disproportionately, although I imagine a lot more fights would be started if we were governed by a Master mentality.

For example, Hypothetical Woman lives in a society governed primarily by the Master mentality. So does Random Guy, and they are talking, and suddenly Random Guy makes a joke that Hypothetical Woman finds offensive. Instead of worrying about whether it is rude to tell Random Guy she didn’t like the joke, she confronts him about it. What happens next? I have no idea. I live in a society governed by a Slave mentality so I think if I was Random Guy I would apologise and the conversation would carry on uninterrupted. Dr. X. Ample says he would punch Hypothetical Woman in the face for daring to challenge him, but then, he would. He’s got a Master mentality, but he’s crazy.

* – Neitzsche is commonly identified as German but he was born in Prussia and identified as Polish. Germany as it is now didn’t exist at the time of his birth.

** – There is no evidence that Neitzsche would have liked Nazism, had he lived to see it. He died in 1900. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that he would have despised it.

Alignment and Morality part 1 – Why Dr. X. Ample isn’t Evil All Through

Posted in My Thoughts on X Thing with tags , , , , , on 27/09/2009 by phyrbyrd

Well, this is a first – a post I promised you was coming is actually here. The Alignment Rant. This was going to include my thoughts on Neitzscheism but I got carried away and had to split this into two parts. This one’s just going to be about alignment.

Most of you know about the famous Dungeons and Dragons Alignment Grid. Even the clam-examiners probably know it; in fact, the ones most likely not to have heard of it are the people like my neices and cousins who spend their time glued to the TV and likely never heard of D&D in their tiny little lives. However, in case I am wrong, and because every blog entry of this sort ought to show what its subject is, then you can see the table and a full explanation here. Go on, I can wait. I want everyone to be absolutely on the same page here*.

Now, this is, of course, a very simplified view of morality. D&D as a game system is made to be adapted and built upon by its players, none of its rules are written in stone – if your game decides the gelatinous cube is a dumb monster as is and rewrites it so that it can change its shape, extend suckers, drag people in and, you know, travel faster than walking pace, then a) not only are Wizards of the Coast** not going to know, but b) why would they care? What does it matter to them if you use the basic D&D gameset to make a new game involving My Little Pony?

But I’m getting distracted. My point is that the rules say that a character of a certain alignment can’t be a certain character class. Hypothetical Woman plays a paladin, so she must be Lawful Good. But wait a second, does that still count if the god she serves is Duum, God of Eternal Destruction? or Kray-Zi, Goddess of Chaos? or just Sniggar, God or Mischief? Also, if memory serves me right, most people who claim to hear the voice of a god or claim to be doing God’s work aren’t very lawful. Or often all that good, really. In some cases, downright shocking.***

Real people are not robots. There is no button in their heads to be pressed to determine their alignment throughout their whole lives. The morality of real people is determined by a number of factors, including but most certainly not limited to, upbringing, social interaction, political and social situation, family size, date, and class.

A demonstration for you. Dr. X. Ample was born Alexander Ample in a quiet suburb in Milton Keynes in July 2024, the only child of a pair of wealthy scientists, a biologist and a chemist. He was well-schooled, especially in the sciences, and proved to have a remarkable talent for physics and chemistry. By the time he was thirteen, he was already well ahead of his class and being plagued by teachers who wouldn’t allow him to move up more than the two years he was already ahead, and his parents – loving, but both very busy and absorbed in their work – refused to homeschool him. He got incredibly frustrated and at fifteen, the school exploded in mysterious circumstances, although no-one could ever prove it was him. At seventeen, he went to college, where he had a slightly better time despite the fact that he was at BA level and was taking physics, chemistry and computer science at A level. He spent most of his time completely out of his head on drugs of his own devising, and still managed distinction in everything, passing into Oxford university the following year noticeably manic, but still by far the best chemist in his year – or the one above him, come to that. While he was at university, he didn’t sample his concoctions anymore, but they seemed to be continuing to affect his brain, making him more angry, more irrational, more prone to incredible flights of fancy.

And then there was a fire in his home town, killing both his parents. Alexander, now calling himself Xander, blamed the fire services for not dousing the fire quickly enough, and the paramedics for not saving his parents’ lives. On top of the resistance he had had throughout his school life, this was only adding to the resentment to authority he was to cultivate throughout the rest of his life. He now had someone to encourage him, too – his lab assistant and fellow student, Jen-Erika Sydekik, had always been something of an anarchist and greatly admired Xander’s increasingly gargantuan ideas for taking over from the current status quo and establishing one that would work.
Eventually, both of them graduated. And then disappeared without trace for some time, eventually reappearing as a national threat…

OK, so by D&D standards, Dr. X. Ample is obviously chaotic evil. What, really? He’s fuelled by what’s essentially an extended drug flashback, an arguably justified hatred of authority, grief for his parents’ passing and constant goading from his closest friend (alright, and lover, for the purposes of this post). Does this make him evil? How could he be expected to react? He’s still a highly intelligent and strong-willed person, so why should he be expected to curl up into a ball and whimper until the pressure goes away? Yes, chaotic I will accept. But if Dr. X. Ample went through his life – this same one I just described – and was a perfectly nice, pleasant person at the end of it, wouldn’t you be waiting for the safety valve to snap? I know I would.

Incidentally, there’s one thing about the Lawful Good thing that the paladins get – a lot of players of paladins seem to focus on the Lawful and not so much on the Good. That’s when you get something called Lawful Stupid. However, as I said, it is actually possible to play a paladin who isn’t good – who votes that Darth Vader is a paladin? *hand up* I also had a chaotic good paladin in a LARP game once who was sent to join the Company to help with her anger management issues. She got turned into a smear on the pavement in the first session because, well, I thought ‘berserk’ would be a fun flaw and there was this demon who was six times more powerful than me… Yeah.

Anyway, more on the morality schtick tomorrow. I hope this made sense. I tried to be more concise than i normally am…

* – Yes, I am aware that I use a lot of Wikipedia links. This is because often it saves me linking about three more different sites on the same subject. I’m aware that the information may not be reliable, but if I think that is the case then I will find additional material. Wikipedia is pretty on the ball as far as alignment is concerned, though.

** – The current co-producers of D&D.

*** – I had some misgivings about including Bin Laden there. But since he did claim that he was acting in the name if Islam, it really only proves my point, and I can only apologize if I offended anyone – but not for trying to make a point.