Not too many people these days will admit to having played Dungeons and Dragons to any great extent, regardless of the immense influence the game has had not only on gaming up to and including the best selling electronic games such as Modern Warfare and its sequel, but also on books, movies, and pop culture as a whole.
So yeah, I played the game…and as a result of my addiction, my GPA for my first year in college in 1980 was an abysmal 1.28 — not exactly something to brag about. But I took a few useful lessons from the game that I still apply in everyday life, and one lesson in particular should be applied to politics: “Lawful Good is not the same as Lawful Stupid”.
Now for the uninitiated, this will take a short explanation. In the AD&D world, there something called “alignment” which refers to a character’s personality. There’s Good, Neutral, and Evil, and there’s Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. The Good and Evil are self-explanatory — either you’re good or evil or something in between. The attributes of ‘Lawful’ and ‘Chaotic’ refer to how much importance one places on following “the rules”, whatever those rules may be…so you’re either lawful or chaotic or something in between. One’s alignment was a combination of the two series: ‘chaotic neutral’, ‘lawful evil’, and so on.
But for the purposes of this article, I’ll concentrate on the hardest “alignment” to play: “Lawful Good” (hereafter referred to as ‘LG’). The LG character is supposed to believe in all that is good and right and honorable, and that one should hold the rules inviolate. The LG character is what most televangelists and religious luminaries pretend to be. The consummate LG character would be a far right-wing gun nut who nevertheless plays by all religious, governmental and societal rules. Bear in mind that this refers not to lesser rules such as speed limits or smoking restrictions, but on greater rules of morality that are found in nearly all cultures: prohibitions on murder, torture, false imprisonment, etc.
Now the prevailing attitude among most AD&D players was “Lawful Good equals Lawful Stupid”, i.e. if one insists on playing by The Rules, then those who don’t play by The Rules will run rings around the idiot (and said idiot would thus have a much-shortened life expectancy). Now this sounds quite logical — after all, how can one expect to win wars (or prevent them) by playing by such rules as “don’t eavesdrop on suspected spies” or “don’t send a predator drone into Pakistani territory where intel says Osama’s hiding”? The chaotic character believes that insisting on playing by the rules is naivete incarnate, that “the end justifies the means”, and that sometimes you’ve got to break the rules.
There are those these days in America who think there is no place for what AD&D players would call a “Lawful Good personality” in a president. In the eyes of many — particularly on the Right — the preservation of the nation/people/religion is sufficient reason for any atrocity up to and including torture and murder, even of noncombatants. This is how we wound up with atrocities such as Gitmo and Abu Ghirab. But it’s not only America — this same attitude enabled far greater evils. It’s what gave Pinochet cause to approve the Death Squads of Chile, and what gave Stalin an excuse to exile millions to the Gulag, and what gave Mao a reason to institute the Great Leap Forward…and is what drove the Israelis to maintain the blockade of the Gaza strip for over a year and board the aid ships a few days ago. These wrongs by Israel of course do not hold a candle to the monstrous evils committed by Stalin or Mao or any of a dozen other tyrants, but they are steps down a particularly slippery slope.
Now in the eyes of the supporters of Bush 43, Pinochet, Stalin, Mao, and now (sadly) Netanyahu, the wrongs committed were justified by the goal, which was the preservation of the nation/people/religion. We all know how history has judged Pinochet and Stalin and Mao, and how Bush 43 will likely be judged. The jury of historical perception will not judge Netanyahu for a decade or more…but so far it doesn’t look good for the Israeli Prime Minister who, like the other leaders I’ve just mentioned, apparently has a strong belief in “the end justifies the means”.
But let’s look at some who refused to break the rules even in the darkest of hours:
George Washington, on treatment of prisoners of war in his charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775: “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]…I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause…for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
Abraham Lincoln, on torture: “If torture isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong.”
Winston Churchill, on torture: “the use of instruments of torture can never be regarded by any decent person as synonymous with justice.”
Now what do these quotes on torture have to do with Israel’s boarding of the aid ships? Easy. Israel’s excuse is the preservation of their nation/people/religion…but did Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill face any less of a threat to their nations? If in the dead of winter when the outcome of the Revolutionary War was very much in doubt, Washington could still choose to do what was right, could still choose to play by the rules, then why can’t Israel?
There are exceptions, but by any measure the great leaders of history — regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity – tend to be those who insisted on doing that which was right, who knew and resisted the perils of expediency. Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill were neither stupid nor naive – they knew the cost of crossing certain lines that must not be crossed.
And how has history judged these three great leaders as compared to Pinochet, Stalin, Mao, and (thankfully, to a far lesser extent) Bush 43? The point is, the rules of government, of society, of culture — of humanity itself — are there for a reason. Those who have little regard for those rules are judged accordingly by history…for it was their nations that paid the price for their lack of respect for the rules of Morality, and learn the hard way that the end rarely justifies the means.
A victim of government persecution — Alexander Solzhenitsyn — said it best: “To do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good… Ideology — that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.”