I've observed that a trouble with alignment is that people get confused between its cosmic, political, and character facets.
Thus without contradiction a single figure can serve cosmic Law while espousing political Freedom and walking a Neutral path between personal predictability and whimsy.
And when the agent of political Law persecutes the agent of cosmic Law there is likewise no contradiction.
I feel this deserves an entire post, because I fundamentally disagree that there is no contradiction when a single figure serves the cosmic Law, preaches political freedom and embodies Neutrality personally.
Whether we like it or not, Western Culture has Judeo-Christianity as its foundation (despite repeated attempts to abandon it). At its core, Judaism sets forth an ideal that the cosmic, the political and the personal can and should all be united. This ideal is codified in the Mosaic Law. In Christianity, this unity is made manifest in the person of Christ. In both cases, it is the individual’s calling to strive for that unity, either through participation in the Law or in Christ.
Thus, what Roger identifies as confusion really isn’t; however, it is an ideal. From the Christian point of view the Mosaic Law has no salvific value. Rather, its purpose is revelation. One of the things it makes perfectly clear is that humanity, on its own, is completely incapable of fulfilling the Law and therefore uniting the cosmic, the political and the personal. In religious lingo, we call this sin.
Therefore, one of the realities of the fallen world is that, especially when one talks about politics, contradiction is inevitable. Let me give you an example that has been bandied about recently in U.S. politics — vaccinations.
The state government where I live requires by law that all children receive a schedule of vaccinations in order to participate in government funded public education. At odds here are two concepts that most Westerners would find good: Freedom and Security.
As a parent I am not free to choose and therefore control the healthcare of my children, even if I have religious, personal or individual health concerns about my kids and vaccinations.
On the other hand, I live with relative security that serious contagious diseases in my community are kept to a minimum.
The two are diametrically opposed. Not only that, but each choice brings with it an extra cost:
- If we were free to choose vaccination or no, diseases we thought long ago defeated would have a serious chance of returning to our communities. Even if I choose vaccination, my kids may very well contract these diseases through the children of parents who opt out of vaccinating their children.
- In the state where I live, some of the mandated vaccinations use fetal matter from abortions.
Regardless of which side you are on, your choice leads to suffering and death.
The crux of ethics, therefore, is what sacrifice are we personally and/or societally willing to make — who is going to suffer and die for our security and freedom?
This question is at the core of Firefly and Serentity. Both the Operative and Mel are right; however, each answer requires a different sacrifice.
For those curious, Christ’s answer to that question is Himself. Therefore, it becomes possible for us to overcome the pain and death necessitated by the fallen world and enter into His Kingdom where that unity is made manifest.
The alignment system is born of the idealized unity of the cosmic, political and personal in Judeo-Christianity. We run into so many problems with it because what PCs are doing is almost entirely political. Therefore, player action will inevitably create dissonance with their alignments.
I would argue that this isn’t a bad thing. Firstly, it duplicates what the Mosaic Law reveals. Secondly, it is fodder for good adventures. It is always interesting to see how people react to situations where two “goods” come into direct conflict.
In the end, I am back to my preferred alignment system: Law-Neutral-Chaos. It gives me the freedom to explore this facet of our fallen nature without getting caught up in the minutia of a nine-point axis.