Evil races as existential horror

May 13, 2015 at 9:00 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged ,

This is going to be a weird one maybe.

I keep trying to rationalize evil races in various ways, and I keep coming back to existential horror. I suppose the question becomes whether evil races ever had a choice— i.e. do they have moral agency? Normally this is apropos, although as I recall old editions of D&D didn’t care. A paladin (lawful good) mind-controlled to kill an innocent was still besmirched, so to speak. I think.

This requires looking at evil as something more than a moral judgment. Moral judgment comes into it, as a matter of weighing whether an act was good or evil. There are shades in between, and not just neutral. Pandemonium, Ysgard, Acheron, and Arcadia all exist in the margins between good and evil, law and chaos. Fine.

But moral judgment is a judgment attributed by the observer. There are quandaries, but evil souls go to hell. Evil is inherent to the universe, as a literal force. Moral judgment is in some sense incidental; those who judge are as beholden to this universe as any other.

Of course when you go down to the micro level, away from the vast expanse of cosmos and into the city, you have people. You have complicated situations. Something like an alignment is an aggregate property; it’s the function of many, many acts. It describes a trend. So not everyone is easily bucketed. I imagine many common otherwise unaligned humanoids are lawful neutral, and whether that’s inflected by good or bad comes down to the rest. This is all just an elaborate way of saying that the good/evil, law/chaos should not be an excuse to be reductive.

Where was I going with this? I’m not sure. Bear with me.

Oh, right. Science fiction.

A friend of mine, Erin Snyder, likes D&D a lot. It’s interesting because not that many people still identify with D&D in the way that Erin does, and it reminds me of the way I still identify with it. Although he says he didn’t invent this idea, he was the first one to introduce me to it: sci-fi reinterpreted as fantasy.

Doesn’t a whole bunch just fall into place? A race created by an entity beyond mortal comprehension. It’s “evil” but when you rephrase the gods as hyperintelligent beings of incalculable power, well, we accept that all the time in sci-fi. Some races are just better. Sometimes they do something antithetical to life. It doesn’t seem all that strange that superior beings would create other beings.

So what are we looking at here? Morality is only one part of good and evil, in the sense that morality is observation of behavior judged against a standard. The observer’s take on morality here is irrelevant. This means that in some sense morality is a force. Are the gods a manifestation of that force? Of course, as sentient embodiments of such forces they would create beings to further their will.

While creatures like orcs might have originated in possibly racist tropes, viewed through a sci-fi lens, perhaps we can put some distance between them and us.

I suspect the friction, for me, comes from the idea that the existence of evil is reductive. I’ve tried to demonstrate with the above that it doesn’t have to be. D&D can be about subtle shades of morality. But evil exists; at a cosmic level, it is a tangible force.

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