Dungeons & Dragons Alignments, for real

22 Apr 2012

D&D Alignment is a robust typology that is increasingly available to the general public, following the cultural penetration of Dungeons & Dragons.

Let’s start with Good and Evil.

When we say someone is good, we usually mean they’re on our side. Given globalism, this means that someone who is Good is altruistic to an increasingly inclusive us. Altruistic punishment is part of what gave rise to our social reality. We are the descendants of those whose primary moral imperative was a defense against Evil. In terms of Schwarz values, Good has an emphasis on Benevolence and Universalism. Those who are guided by Benevolence are concerned with promoting and improving the collective they identify with. Those who are guided by Universalism seek to understand and appreciate all people1- consistent with the expanding circle of care. Within the Big Five, Agreeableness stands out as an indicator of Good. Agreeableness is characterized by warmth, compassion, kindness, politeness, and sympathy.

When we say someone is evil, we usually mean they’re on the other side. Recall that altruistic punishment is part of what allowed large-scale cooperation to flourish. This requires a threat to defend against. Given that humans are social animals, our primary motivators are social. Every social system co-opts this motivation to persist. Since we’re not as inclined to attack as we are to defend our loved ones, the concept of Evil allows us to justify attacks against other groups by claiming every attack as an act of defense2. Someone who is Evil, then, is someone who is proactive. Recall that supervillains are often more proactive than superheroes. This wasn’t an accident- actively imposing your Will on the world is dangerous to a collective that prizes egalitarianism. As a sort of tax on success, our societies require that the successful elite share their gains and attribute their successes to “luck” or the people at large. In terms of Schwarz values, Evil includes Self-Direction, Achievement, and Power. Within the Big Five, Evil is low Agreeableness.

  1. Increasingly, this includes all living and nonliving things. “Robot suffering” isn’t too far away from the public eye. 

  2. In addition, defense costs less energy than offense. It is therefore economical to include defensive actions in your offensive strategy.