Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lawful Good, Part One

On February 28, 2009 on Facebook, a few months after I joined, I took the D&D Alignment Test. The results showed me as Lawful Good.

For what that's worth.

These tests never quite offer the right choices. I consistently come out lawful good on alignment tests, but it's not quite accurate.

I'm a big believer in principles, virtues, standards, conventions, and manners, but I also believe the law is often used to enforce injustice, or worse (yes, I think it's worse), that legal systems tend to treat justice or any other higher principle than the law as imaginary. In such cases, the law become a force for nihilism, for the void, for the death of meaning, in short, becomes a tyranny of process over result that destroys any possibility of justice. People at least can understand that overt injustice must be opposed, but nihilistic, inhuman processes tend to confuse people into inaction because there is no clear "bad guy." The corollary to Pogo's "We have met the enemy and he is us" is that it is in such situations, when our own activities inadvertently result in meaningless and justice-blind systems, that we are at our most helpless to fix things.

Thus, lawful, yes, but not in the sense of human law except to the extent that human laws comply with higher laws and principles. When human laws conflict with justice and other deeper principles, I will oppose such laws to the extent available to me because I care too much about the deep principles that should underlie the legal system to let the legal system itself subvert them.

Unfortunately, legal systems tend to make themselves immune to improvement by bloating up themselves and their processes beyond the reach of any individual human beings or even beyond any meaningful organized control by democratic majorities, devolving into self-sustaining amoral systems of processes, a machinery of behavior that is the enemy of individual responsibility and authority.

I am a different kind of lawful than that.

Likewise, good, about which our culture has far less of a clear idea than about lawful, but that's a discussion for another day.

Two more things.

First, the idea of a nation of "laws not men" leads directly to a nihilistic legal system divorced from justice. We need a nation of principles, around which people and laws organize themselves. The law must clearly be subservient to principles and must be edited and adjusted all the time to conform more closely with those principles.

For the law to be a human tool for justice, there must also be few enough laws that dedicated people can actually learn them all. The current situation in which even legal specialists cannot fully know all the laws in their chosen area of expertise is risible, insane, and the legal principle that ignorance of the law is not a defense is actually an evil, a form of cruel and unusual punishment when coupled with a system of laws too vast for the majority of people to be anything but ignorant about most of them. That is, this legal "principle" renders all human beings defenseless against its own inevitable consequences.

Second, what do we do in the meantime? Well, as flawed as the legal system is, it is currently the only tool we have with which to try to bring about some measure of human justice - since there is no formal place in our society for principles, the only sources of true justice - so we do our best to learn about and follow just laws and to learn about and work around the unjust ones.

And we certainly don't flout the law in a vain effort to "prove" how free we are. We save our battles with the legal system for the ones we cannot avoid, where the damage to justice inflicted by the law is so high that it takes precedence over all the other things we could or should be doing with our lives and requires us to sacrifice some part of our lives to this quixotic struggle to eke justice out of a system that cannot conceive of justice yet wraps itself in that very mantle.

That is, we should be law-abiding citizens except when justice demands otherwise.

That is the kind of lawful I am.

One last thing.

Some people's alignments are accidental, just a description of whatever they happen to do, but my alignment is deliberate and very, very important to me. I am passionate about moral, philosophical, and organizational issues. I work hard to understand what the right thing is to do and to try to do it, and I try to sleepwalk through life as little as possible. I fall short plenty in both understanding and execution, as a fallible mortal who overextends himself, but the lifelong struggle to become a good and wise person is almost always on my mind and in my heart.

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