Friday, January 23, 2009

In Defense of Chaos (by Post Festum)

The evening after successfully casting his first two teleportation spells, Tilo Greenbottle permitted himself a minor celebration of imbibery and extended repose. As the crisp evening under the stars passed, now far away from the city skyline of Throdenoth, Tilo felt his head begin to clear. And as it did, a new series of questions began to intrude into the mind of this little halfling.

As he found himself growing in skill as a magic user, the sheer wonder of what he now was able to accomplish was beginning to sink home. If hidden in the potential of the veins of magic that crisscross the universe was the ability to instantly transport matter and energy across time and space with exacting precision, then what wonders could it not possibly create? Learning to fly is no doubt a moment of wonder for all magic users who accomplish it. But it is experienced only as an extension or heightening of one's earlier way of life. Teleportation and telekinesis. These are most fundamentally different experiences. They are not felt as simply being more powerful or more anything than one was before. They truly and deeply alter your sense of what reality is as well as what its ultimate bounds and limits are.

As it so happened, Tilo had also of late been thinking about his moral sense of self. A monological fugue had been replaying in his mind for most of the previous week, with its several competing voices counterbalancing and countervailing one another. While he lay under the stars and forest canopy he began to connect his reinvigorated wonder at the power of arcane art to challenge our old ways of seeing reality to his earlier internal moral dialogue.

For it turns out that although Tilo had long considered himself to be a halfling of a generally chaotic manner or disposition, he had of late begun to question his basic moral stance in light of his growing sense of that behind the dim veil of appearance some essential laws, regularities or purposes exist. Can the chaotic commitment to indeterminacy and context-dependence of moral decision be reconciled with the recognition of such a deep structure and logic to all that is?

In his first full tastes of magic's ability to shudder and destroy preconceptions about what is and is not possible, Tilo Greenbottle believed he had found the beginnings of an answer.

Upon downing his last sip, he turned back toward the Portia Halfling and completed this axiological reverie.

On Burglary

Law? Chaos? Natural philosophers, historians, and scribes of good alignment, as are known to the common peoples of the Hrothgar, have long debated a profound question. If it can be shown that basic lawful assumptions about the formal and fixed nature of moral principles cannot be maintained when the same principles are applied to different possible worlds, then this is the strongest evidence yet the way of chaos and the chaotic way of living is superior to the lawful.

Take the simple burglar. For all those who follow the good, the petty burglar is considered especially or even pardigmatically despicable (often even, it should be noted, by other burglars). This is because, as the wise sages of the lawful good have agreed, the burglar takes what is not his for taking. And what is not ours for the taking is typically said by the lawful to include all things that we don't create with our own hands or energies, that which we did not pay for or did not sponsor the creation of, as well as all we do not secure through voluntary exchanges with others who've acquired their holdings through legitimate means. For example, if a person take the literary or artistic work of another without specific permission or price paid, then they are guilty of burglary.

This, at least, is the devote conviction of the lawful good. But surely this can't be the entirety of the matter. What if it were possible that through arcane accomplishment everyday objects became so essentially transformed from their current state that what it means to "take" an object becomes itself far more complex than typically assumed...?

For imagine that, as if through magic, a common object - for example, the Collected Ravings of Thune the Lesser, Vol. 2 - were to be so transformed as to produce immediate and complete copies of itself whenever one was picked up the table top in the Tower of Lockjat the Arcane Surgeon of Throdenoth. Each new copy picked up is an exact replica of the original, and each new copy is produced through a process that requires no expenditure of raw materials or resources. One could stand in Lockjat's stone tower day and night, year after year, removing copy after copy, until the entire workhouse and open keep overflowed with Thune's petulant rants.

In such a world, passersby of the tower, who happen to be devoted readers and collectors of Thune's works, help themselves to copies. Let us even more assume that each of the copies these passersby collected were themselves possessed of the same power to construct an exact duplicate of itself infinitely. Thus the copies they lift from the grounds immediately duplicate themselves on the spot, so that it is as if they had taken nothing.

These admirers of Thune, seeking to share their new found access to a rare work of this master of causistry, create many copies from their copies, and, in turn, share these copies with others who appreciate or might appreciate its value as a work of dark inspiration rather than as a good for trade or object for profit.

Such a strange world wherein objects can never be extinguished, even though they have been fully consumed and enjoyed by their creators or rightful procurers, is most certainly not our own. But it is not all to unfamiliar. And in this other possible world we find that to help oneself to a copy doesn't seem rightfully or best understood as a kind of "taking" in any traditional sense for nothing that previous existed before the "taking" has been lost or even removed through the "taking". And, therefore, the collectors and sharers and the admirers of Thune are not properly understood as thieves or criminals at all. The lawful, in their attempt to crystallize moral goodness and formalize it into fixed rules, run asunder on the grounds of this new reality. For in it helping oneself uninvited to the product of another's creation without recompense would no longer be a violation of the good, but possibly one new expression of it.

To the thinking of this gentle author, recognizing that what heretofore had been the unquestioned "fact" of a physical object's scarcity and that such a "fact" can change is key. If this basic fact about objects were to somehow change, then so too must the moral insistence that collecting magically reproduced copies of the creation's of others without price being paid is always an act of theft.

The chaotic person understands this. No moral principle, however deeply-rooted in our traditions, is beyond revision in light of the shifting boundaries of the real.

So to insist that price be paid before the moral taint of burglary can be fully discharged, can be shown to be a preposterous exaggeration of what (under a different reality) once might be a perfectly helpful ethical guide. It is this truth that the lawful always fail to comprehend.

Of what sense is it to insist that price be paid for an object of which an infinite and unconsumable supply exists or else one is a burglar? Why, under the altered conditions of reality described above, one can even imagine that great societies of like-minded individuals would grow like weeds in the fertile muck, each collecting, discussing, and sharing these objects freely and without hesitation. These great societies of individuals who are bound together through a common appreciation of the nature of the object and not its value as a tradeable commodity would be completely and utterly misunderstood if looked at through today's eyes as nothing more than organized crime. They would be, in the eyes of the chaotic, glorious new forums through which individuals can grow and change and express themselves in their quest for the good life.

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