The (L)awful (Good) Truth, Part 5

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The “Sins” of Time

 

The acts of today are the crimes of tomorrow. The sin of time is not any actual misdeed on the part of an individual. Rather, it is the reevaluation of the past based on the evolution of a culture. This moral interpretation of the culture’s history is something modern societies are used to. Each generation in its search for identity to distinguish it from its forebears holds a critical light on the past. This is not just a modern phenomenon, however. It is more noticeable with our modern technology. The stories of the past are not just told to keep the traditions alive. Each retelling of the story is couched in the language of the writer’s or speaker’s time.

The lens of time changes perspective, for some it may be a myopic one. Who killed Julius Caesar, why did it happen, and did he play an active role in his own death to gain a type of immortality? While historians have a plausible reason for their speculations, they are still interpretations of the available data. The same holds true for the thought process behind Alexander the Great’s decision to kill his father and seize control of Macedonia. Even with what evidence that still remains, no one can ever examine the contents of Alexander’s mind. The two men were products of their respective ages. What constituted lawful or good behavior for them does not necessarily translate to today. The inferences on the acts of history’s great figures have been viewed through the thought process of the day.

The very nature of human cultures’ tendencies to change with such rapidity means that today’s heroes may very well be tomorrow’s villains. With the revelation of new information or better technologies which allow deeper understanding, the views held often change. The shift may be gradual or abrupt, depending on how the new perspective comes about. There are those who will resist a cultural shock that knocks their lives off of their pedestals, but it is what the following generations believe that determine the outcome. The Victorians didn’t write about their era, they wrote about their parents’ and the social problems that resulted from past actions that affected Victorian life, just like the Romantics who rebelled against the Enlightenment did. The American and French revolutions of the eighteenth century are obvious forms of social shifts. In France, the Bastille became a symbol of tyranny and it was demonized as a place that held political prisoners; despite if this was true, such was the accepted view of the period. The shift in what had been and no longer was acceptable became symbolized in the structure and reached a critical point that the political and cultural structure could not be sustained.

The Lawful Good character born into a Lawful Evil society was used to show the concepts for how what one sees as the tenets of the alignment are subjective and can slide into another alignment. The hypothetical caricatures were without flaw to highlight the differences between the strict interpretations of the alignments. By themselves, the conceptual views are purified versions free of all their potential nuances.

The history of the country is this: long ago, forces loyal to Chaotic deities besieged the nation. The theocratic ruling council had always been a fractured lot. Invasion brought the council to its knees. The most prominent churches had a martial quality to them. One god was Lawful Good, the other Lawful Evil. Both had a common enemy before them. The two churches set aside their differences in order to preserve their system of government and its laws.

The invading humanoids had a semblance of a plan: drive a wedge between the council’s factions to distract them and keep cooperation from taking root. In such a state, the theocratic council would fall while the forces of Chaos did as they wished. It almost succeeded. The invaders had not considered that the more Lawfully-minded churches would make concessions amongst themselves. The combined might and codified systems aided the parties involved in planning counterattacks. Seeing that this was a war of annihilation, the terms stipulated that while genocide was not allowed, forced labor and bondage in perpetuity until captured combatants could be released as law-abiding souls was.

Contingency plans by the clergy of the Lawful Evil deity were enacted as the tide turned to favor the theocratic council. In a few key battles, the Lawful Evil troops were “delayed” or “ambushed” by pockets of humanoid units. The Lawful Good divisions most at risk were those of the church leaders. In a few cases, Lawful Evil leaders feigned incompetence and pulled their troops out of position, exposing their allies’ flanks to the enemy. The Lawful Evil clergy also used a couple of well placed assassinations to gain a clear majority. The deaths were publicly lamented and vows were sworn to honor the fallen by the Lawful Evil church. When the dust settled, the nation was in the hands of the Lawful Evil clergy, who were heralded as saviors.

With so few remaining to oppose their ascendency, the church was viewed as valiant heroes for the token members of other clergies they helped save. The clergy did nothing to dissuade the perception; in fact, they encouraged it. The Lawful Evil church bided its time as it slowly made changes which made it even more difficult to break their hold on power. As the remaining heroes of the various clergies died from old age, the institutions which played the greatest role in the nation’s survival were imbued with the credit. Through subtle manipulation, the Lawful Evil church received the lion’s share of favorability. When enough of a cultural shift had been engineered through the laws, the other churches faced sanctions that led to their criminalization. All other faiths became branded as enemies of the state eventually.

The enslavement became codified and, other than an occasional token figure, none of the humanoids were deemed capable of rehabilitation. The Lawful Evil church found it was to its advantage to keep the humanoids as chattel. Any frustrations a person had could be taken out on the enslaved. A few rumors of potential uprisings and even the occasional group escape went a long way in cultivating the xenophobia and paranoia necessary to institute draconian measures and legalized cruelty for anyone who does not contribute to the efforts to rehabilitate the enslaved creatures.

For the Lawful Good character, it is quite possible to engage in the codified institutions. The acts are couched in words like “defense,” “duty,” and “rehabilitation” to justify the character’s behavior. The interests of the state in perpetuation of its existence have used indoctrination and a skillful campaign of propaganda that promotes the greatest good of the populace at large. In this manner, the character can be a staunch supporter of the state (and thus become a potential villain) until learning the truth from outside of the government’s official channels.

In the point of their history in Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians had always hated their enemies because of their scandalous beliefs. That was the way things had always been. Most were aware of the root cause for the dispute, but years of blindness to their own culpability prevented them from resolving the issue. Miscommunications combined with social shifts and the passage of time magnified the anger and distorted the historical truth. As a result, the true cause of the feud was all but lost in the heated rhetoric that became a prelude to war. Gulliver’s presence only sped up the timetable.

There may be some truth to the adage that history is written by the winner, but it is the job of the historian to rewrite it without bias. American history is not immune though many wish otherwise. Part of the reason extends into a more mundane reality: the changing nature of language. Colloquialisms and references to contemporary events fill the ages of any given document. They are, after all, products of their time. We use them as a species because they convey ideas quicker than other phrases might deliver. Shakespeare did the same with his humorous characters often receiving many of the lines. In part, this was to appeal to a broad audience, but humor requires a person remains topical for mass audiences. Some of these expressions, along with the writer’s bias, have to be translated or filtered out to get to the truth or reasons behind the words. The way to do this is to unpack the meanings and untangle the writer’s feeling from the event, not because such emotions are unimportant, but that they need to be placed in proper context to fully appreciate what they connote about the era.

Social shifts also spark debates. Change for the sake of change is as terrible as doing what others have always done without question. Many of these debates revolve around the status of social/racial/religious or other minority groups within the social fabric. There are also the issues of biological and reproductive rights and laws of who can own weapons. Every one of these issues serves as a potential spark to ignite passions and cause the tension to threaten stability. The requirements for governments to step in and make rulings on the traditional habits as well as the implementations and reasoning of laws and passage of time means that everyone involved is a potential villain in the eyes of the future.

Religion is not exempt from this. Is the faith as a whole contrary to our values or how it is interpreted by the believers of the age? Ask Martin Luther. He was a priest and challenged doctrine with his ninety-five theses. What about the split between Sunni and Shia? We may think in concepts, but language shapes how we transmit those thoughts to others. We cannot predict how people perceive those words when in the same room. How do we do so with a century or more separating speaker from audience? Some terms and words become obsolete or shift in meaning, deepening the potential for misreading and confusion. If this happens in the real world, how might the faiths of your game world interpret their holy texts and doctrines?

So, what does it mean to be Lawful Good? If you were the Lawful Good character in the Lawful Evil dominated country, how would you perceive the world without outside interference, and what would you do?

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