Good and Evil, Revisited

Smug, aren't you, sitting there with your 20th Century values and mind set. You can role play any of those Wild West people, then smile at their quaint historical irrelevancy. Of course all the nasty things that happened back then couldn't happen now. We live in an age of reason and intelligence.

Genera switch. Modern Cops. You became an inner city paramedic to help people and make a difference, but now there are wounded people lying everywhere, and you would have some tough decisions to make if you could just stop crying... Persona swap. Your camera crew has wonderful footage, blood everywhere, and are you going to scoop the other channels tonight! Persona swap. You are an innocent bystander, you just live across the hall, but the Pigs are cuffing and beating every black male in the building... Persona swap. Your partner is dead, and tonight you are not in any mood to read anyone their Miranda rights... Persona swap. Yes you must comfort the dying, and perform rites for the dead, but if someone doesn't get a lid on the living, your whole parish might burn...

Racism. Sexism within the force. Prostitution and other 'victimless' crimes. Gangs. Drugs. Arson. The Mafia. Metal detectors in elementary schools. Need I go on?

The NPC still must only respond to crisis in terms of how he or she has perceived previous crisis. They should only abandon old concepts and values after a major emotional crises shows the tried and true ways have crashed and burned. The NPC still has loyalties to peer and family. He still is too ready to see an opposing peer group as the enemy. He can still justify his actions if he is inclined to do so.

But if the 1800s were a Black and White century, welcome to the Age of Grey. Some of those people who love and defend their family and friends, would murder a stranger for pocket change. A 'good' cop is one who does what he can while looking out for number one. Very few would understand why in the 19th Century people capitalized words like Law, Justice, Liberty and Equality. For sure, in the 20th Century, the practice of capitalizing virtues is long dead. Have the virtues died too?

Not in fantasy role playing games at least. I'm a shades of grey player. But still, as a GM, I believe my players must believe they are doing the right thing. Most of my scenarios will involve the possibility of violence to liven things up. I prefer Hero Systems as a not too deadly combat system, where players don't have death guilt to worry about all that often. People get knocked silly before they die, mostly. So after the dust settles, the PCs can feel smug about having done the 'right' thing, and have defeated some scum who deserved to get defeated.

But still, the defeated NPCs are alive under the skin, or they should be. They have a past. Their response to the environment (or the PCs) must reflect that past. That past also gives them values, which are just abstractions of previous problems solved. If you are (fill_in_the_blank), everything else will take care of itself. Chose one value to live by, and a few back ups: Brave/ diligent/ clever/ loyal/ polite/ educated/ rich/ patriotic/ beautiful.

What then of Good and Evil? Do they exist, other than to make players feel good about beating up NPCs? Is that particular Great Question now irrelevant? Should I too stop capitalizing virtues?

I don't think so. Good and Evil are still an ancient part of our culture. In the section on instinct, I could apply Good to one who constuctirvly applied ancient drives to the modern environment. Evil was where a drive became too strong or weak, resulting in disharmony and no benefit to the individual, his family, or his peers.

In the section on cultures, a Good man might be one who knows how his father lived, how his father approached problems, and defends and continues The Way. An Evil man threatens another's way of life, and might perhaps force Change.

In the section on Man's ability to rationalize his actions, I proposed that most men can defend their lives and actions as Good, and can project those who oppose them as Evil.

Naturally, having developed these conflicting interpretations of 'Good', I can't leave them alone. I am compelled to confuse things by mushing them together to form some useful whole. Can one resolve the Great Question of Human Nature without solving Good and Evil too?

The instincts evolved. They are still evolving, though very slowly. Gene pools cannot adopt anywhere near as fast as cultures. Cultures evolve too. What works for one people, at one place, at one time, might easily fall apart a generation or two down the road.

If both instinct and culture change to adopt to new situations, can change be viewed as Evil? From within a culture, especially for the old, any force for change might be easily mistaken for Evil. That's just wrong. In these times, with technology inducing rapid changes, flexibility has got to be a virtue, and rigidity a high risk low probability of reward proposition.

There was another element I mentioned briefly, then discarded. What was it? Ah, yes. Intelligence and reason. Man supposedly has the ability to look at problems, without emotion, without prejudice, and without clinging to old and perhaps dated perspectives. Love not just the family and your peer bonded friends. Love everybody equally. Defend not just your own resources. Defend the Earth. Respect all cultures as the equal of your own. Grow flowers. Slash the defense budget. Ignore the impulse to scream at the fundamentalist Christian trying to give the moral choices of his obscure cult the backing of Law.

Dream on.

Finally, I must apologise that my example was not Politically Correct. The Wild West was a time of sexism unbridled. My examples thus got male oriented, and ignored the minor matter of the Conflict between the Sexes. I can only claim that that's another Great Question. My limit is two Great Questions per article. Besides, no Woman would give up her advantage by explaining Her Nature, and if a Man correctly stated Women's Nature, She would Change. (Naturally.)

Maybe next time. Meanwhile, consider a so called Hunter Gatherer culture where the males are hunters and defenders of territory, and the females are gatherers and caretakers for the young. Specialize the instincts by gender for these different roles. Drop the distant descendents of these hunter-gatherers into a high tech environment where many of both sets of instincts are obsolete. Mix well. Dive for cover.

Maybe next time...