RL461 - The New Alignment

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

  • D&D character alignments (Dreams and Fantasies)
  • Following the War in Ukraine on Twitter, seeing high-ranked military getting taken by trolls (Military)
  • Never talk to a cop, cops who don’t want to take care of the problem but ask you back what they should do (Attitude and Opinion)
  • Democracy being considered a lesser tribal form of government (Politics)

The Problem: John seeks out cops to talk to, referring to Merlin warning people never to talk to cops, while John seeks out cops to talk to.

The show title refers to character alignments in D&D and the fact that their listenership should rise up and form a new alignment that would not see democracy as the final form of society.

Merlin thanks John for his patience, but John knows how it is when you take your computer apart. Merlin hadn’t slept very well and he had two different dreams about two different boarding schools, it was not a good night, it is not good when the Paris airport dream and the Las Vegas dream get together and the two powers activate in a shape of an anxiety ladder. Sometimes Merlin feels like a digital farmer who has a digital family farm he takes care of, and some days he wakes up and his fence went down and his breeder cows are all fucking off (reference to MineCraft). Everything is connected!

John doesn’t have a house full of Internet of Things, so he can say for sure that some things aren’t connected. Before he could record with John Merlin had to fix things and there might be som Seltzer arriving after a while during the show that he had forgotten about. Merlin is just a simple farmer, but the modern world has taken us away from the simplicity of just being a simple digital farmer on a digital farm. Merlin works From Can Till Can’t (?), those are his hours, and he is working blood, sweat and tears and sacrifices a lot for people. As a digital farmer he also doesn’t get and subsidies.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

D&D character alignments (RL461)

If this were D&D, then Scott Simpson would be a digital bard. To Merlin bards and monks have always been very interesting. Farmers are not a class, but Merlin thinks John is a digital cleric, which John was for a while, but he always wanted to be a paladin, although cleric might be closer. John’s problem with the cleric and paladin classes was that he always had a Chaotic alignment and you have to be at least Neutral for those and he would have to be allied with something. For along time John thought he was Chaotic Good (see RL326) magic user.

Not long ago he felt that his alignment had switched to Chaotic Neutral, although he never felt like it, but it was the result in every personality test he took. It felt like he had lost something until he felt the power of Chaotic Neutral. John always felt that the Good axis necessitated that you believe in a higher order whereas you can flip that around and say that the Lawful axis talks about a higher order, but in that case it is the order of an institution.

John is a Liberal, although he knows that all of their listeners who are evil or who are Elon Musk followers are rolling their eyes at him for calling himself that, and as such he necessarily believes that Good means that you believe in the collective effort, the idea that human beings are all pulling on the oars to get their Viking boat to another shore. In a different society that was ordered differently he might have gone into some clerical role like Father Pyrlig (from The Last Kingdom) could have been a warrior monk. Evil on the other hand is naked self-ineres that often reads as cowardice, working only for your own survival. Even the great evils, the ones playing 3D Chess, are sill trying to accomplish ultimately a selfish goal.

Merlin didn’t play his game very often, but they mostly sat around drinking Mountain Dew and made character sheets. He spent hours and months of his life and almost got late-on scoliosis from carrying around a duffle bag with every book and die and character that he had in it. He was a very cool value in 9th grade, but he didn’t actually play campaigns that much.

John says that we are thinking about neurodivergance as being on a two axes, but there should be more of them. The people who are actually rolling dice and are writing things down on a piece of paper… you turned a game into sitting at the DMV. Merlin has been using the phrase Saving Throw as a metaphor for 40 years and he is always looking for one. John has been using D&D as a metaphor for his whole life as well and without that intellectual sub-religion he would have a less colorful life. Merlin doesn’t quite call i a religion, but these are valuable analogies about life for the lonely boy.

What kept John from being a proper member of the D&D religion instead of being a Jack Mormon of D&D who either takes the law too seriously or decides the law is something else… He started playing D&D in the fall of 1980 as an early adopter and he still has all of the original Series 1 books with his name stenciled in them with that plastic stencil that you got from back-to-school packages with all the letters cut out.

There is an impossibly 1990s font called Template Gothic, most famously used on the poster for Reality Bites, that was designed to look like those green see-through rulers that let you draw all the letters. Reality Bites was with Winona Ryder, the girl from Edward Scissorhands that used to be with the guy from Lemonheads (probably Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum) was Template Gothic as an actress. Apparently Ken Stringfellow made out with her at some party, but John doesn’t believe that.

When John was 12/13 he really needed a 16-year old dungeon master, but all they had was 12-year old dungeon master, which just doesn't work. Your dungeon master should probably be 20, but any 20-year old who is hanging out with a bunch of 13-year olds is a bit suspect. It is like when you first get into college and all your professors are not PhD:s, but just instructors. There is that class of professors that have decided not to go into research, but into teaching, and some of them are older, but they didn’t feel the need to write a book every 3 years or finding something new in Hegel, and those people are bad teachers. The good ones are the ones who have been teaching intro to enlightenment for 15 years.

That is not how you succeed in academia, but that is who you want as a teacher. The same is true for dungeon masters: If you are rolling that die every time anybody says anything, then you are not telling the story. John has watched a lot of D&D being played because he has been nerd-adjacent for a long time and tends to walk into a room where D&D is going down, and sometimes it feels like there is really something happening there and sometimes it feels like you have walked into an accounting office and that never enticed John.

Merlin adds an ad break here so he could get his Seltzer

John was looking at the alignment descriptions during the break and he is wondering if he is actually Neutral Good. Chaotic described him at a younger age and maybe he has moved into Neutral Good which still acts altruistically, which John believes is true of him without regard for or against lawful precepts such as rules or tradition, which feels different from a Chaotic Good character who does what is necessary to bring about change for the better and disdains bureaucratic organizations, but places a high value on personal freedom. Listeners have surely written character sheets for them long ago and there might be an argument on Gary’s Van about what their alignments actually are.

Maybe it is like being a poet, like Merlin’s poetry teacher used to say: You are writing verse and it is up to other people to decide whether or not you are a poet. In this case, other people should probably decide your alignment based on how you act and not on how you think you are. There is an aspirational alignment! When John was saying he was an INFJ character it was Dan Benjamin who said: ”No, you are not!” and he told John exactly what he thought John’s Myers-Briggs was, which he could not have been more wrong about, but he claimed that is what John was. Maybe that is Dan’s own alignment.

Following the War in Ukraine on Twitter, seeing high-ranked military getting taken by trolls (RL461)

John has always been a military fetishist because he has the child-like sense that the way wars got won is that somebody in a tuxedo lit their cigarette with a pack of matches and then threw it over their shoulder into a bunch of bombs and they all went off, and here come David Niven with his briefcase (probably from Force 10 From Navarone). Watching the commentary on the war in Ukraine he realized that what wins wars is dungeon masters who are boring, not the story telling ones. All military officers in the US think they are Lawful Good, and they are in general, because the military trains you to be that way, and if someone in the military does something evil they generally get caught and busted.

If you talk to officers and listen to the way they think you will realize that they think they are doing good and they have a lot of principle, as opposed to the Russian Army that is more Chaotic Incompetent. John spent a week with a US Army captain in his 30s and he was Lawful Good Incompetent, while John has met a lot of people in the military who are Lawful Good Competent. Just being around the Lawful Good Incompetent person almost turned John into Chaotic Evil. The guy could not look forward into time and did not understand anything. He had matriculated into the officer corps out of college and had Murphy’s Law:ed himself up to the rank of Captain (actually called The Peter Principle) and no Lt Col is every going to put him into Major.

John is watching the war in Ukraine get talked about online by a new celebrity class of military commentator and noticed that at the level of the people doing the actual fighting and shooting their guns, the Sergeants and below, you have to actually empower them to make decisions and to be a little bit flexible and Chaotic, and hopefully these young Lieutenants are Lawful Good Enough. Neutral Good Enough might be Merlin’s alignment. As you move up through the ranks you have to get more and more competent and lawful and less wiggly. If someone throws a grenade into your fox hole you got a trolley problem and it is a matter of a split second how to solve it.

There is a video of some Ukrainian guys throwing grenades over the top of a 7ft wall and there a couple of Russian dudes hiding under a van and the grenade bounces once and goes under the van and you see an arm come out with he grenade and huck it over to a group of his fellow soldiers and blows them all up.

They continue talking a long time about what character traits you need in different positions in the military.

A lot of those military commentators have displayed their particular fragility in terms of interacting with an online community. A couple of people early on seemed to have some inside scoop on stuff and they got a lot of attention, it was exactly what everybody was hungering for, but in reality they just knew some upfront stuff, they got from 3000 to 300.000 followers, but when they reached the extend if what they had to offer and ran out of inside information they wanted to keep that energy and they started offering commentary, which they were not good at, they were just good at inside information.

There were a bunch of Generals and high-ranking guys who had been on Twitter for a long time, but all they had ever gotten back from people was ”Thank you, sir!” and all of a sudden people are telling them: ”You don’t know shit! My grandfather…” and a couple of them did a little Twitter-freakout. Some 24-year old troll took them on and you can see the pattern when they are going back and forth and although they are strong, competent, and charismatic, they have just 20% resilience to criticism, and John recognizes the same weakness in himself.

Merlin has very little resistance to the feeling that he is deliberately misunderstood. It should not bother him, but sometimes it gets under his skin. John once yelled at Merlin because Merlin concluded every sentence with ”Does that make sense?” and it really offended John, but it was just out of a total fear and desire to never be misunderstood. Merlin is a big fan of context and sometimes you can needle a fellow by leaving out some context that is really important. If you present the opinion without the context, which Twitter is made for, it makes you crazy and now you have +5 Twitter Brain. John believes that the context is the opinion because once you put the context down the opinion is foreordained.

Never talk to a cop, cops who don’t want to take care of the problem but ask you back what they should do (RL461)

Merlin says that you should never talk to a cop because whatever you say is never going to help you but is only going to make your life more difficult. John on the other hand seeks out cops to talk to because he wants to get into their head. One time he was just outside of London, walking through some fields, when he heard a rifle-shot in the distance. Later he met a police car and they asked him if he by any chance had heard a gun shot and John turned his walking stick into a chair and sat down and told them what he as an American knew about the kind of shot that was and where it came from.

Sometimes the cops hide their car behind a bush next to John’s house when they are looking for people speeding and John will go over and talk to them., although he doesn’t know any of them by name, but he recognizes them. Why would you not talk to cops? They are fascinating! It is like talking to sports people.

John once found somebody’s wallet, a landscaping guy who had obviously put it on top of his truck and then driven off. It had money and his business license in it, and John looked it up on his phone, but his company was a shell company owned by another shell company. He called a couple of numbers in Tacoma where those businesses are placed and they were all dead lines. This was one inconvenience that this guy did not need today, to have also then lost his wallet, so John went on a mission to see how long it would take until he ran into a cop if he just drove around the neighborhood.

It took less than 10 minutes, but it was on a busy road and John drove behind him but didn’t know what to do. Flash his lights at him? He decided to follow him until he took a left-hand turn by the lumber yard and John followed him there and flashed his lights at him. The cop pulled over and came over with a cop attitude of ”How may I help you, citizen?” John explained the situation and the cop said he didn’t know what to do and suggested John to go online and see what he could find, but John countered that the right thing to do is to find a cop and give the wallet to the policeman who has all the technology and ability to find somebody. He could just look up the guys phone number and call him!

The cop put the wallet in some evidence bag in the trunk of his car and it felt like the same situation as when the Renton police department kept John’s 100oz silver ingot on a drawer for a year, and this poor guy’s wallet is maybe still sitting in a box in the Normandy Park police department.

Merlin had a similar situation with a cop who asked him what he wanted him to do when he called the non-emergency number of the police station next to his house about a guy who was hitting cars and several neighbors were concerned about him. Merlin continues to talk about the situation and how he wanted the cop to do something about this public safety risk.

John replies that this is one of the places where Conservative America and Liberal America both are playing whack-a-mole. Conservative America wants everybody to get busted by the cops and Liberal America wants everybody to get the treatment they need, but both of those things are whack-a-mole because the solution is somewhere way higher, funded at a very different level, a whole different take.

Both Conservatives and Liberals think they understand what the high-level take is that they need, but there is a higher level take that neither group and no-one in America is talking about: ”What do we do with vulnerable populations that have no resources that nobody wants to take responsibility for?” Cops and EMTs are the wrong people, but social workers are also the wrong people. They are just whack-a-moling, too! They think if they could just get them housing it would solve the problem, but housing doesn’t save a mental illness problem and there are always going to be people who aren’t going to be able to get into the system and more and more are getting bounced out all the time, and: ”What do we do?”

We got all these academics writing papers on Hegel, but we have eliminated social psychology as a theoretical discipline. In the 18th and 19th century there were theories of prisons and of society that we now look back at as colonialist or whatever, but so many theories about how to manage society came up against the American idea that democracy and personal freedom a) can coexist and b) are the highest form.

People are getting thrown off of airplanes because they don’t want to be told to wear a mask, but nobody in America is going to sign off on: ”Some people in America need to be involuntarily hospitalized!” and we have to have humane systems for that in place, but there is just no other way to deal with this problem. A certain number of chronic people is just never going to be well and there is no amount of counseling or drug treatment or God that is ever going to make them able to live in San Francisco. To continue to try is just whack-a-mole on both sides.

Democracy being considered a lesser tribal form of government (RL461)

The other day John was reading of the Ukraine accounts breaking down the history of Crimea. During the autocratic Ottoman empire Crimea was a Democracy which at the time was considered a primitive and lesser tribal form of government. They were living like a tribe where everybody gets a vote and they don’t have anybody making decisions, which came as a lightning-bolt to John, understanding that Democracy has been around for 2000 years and nobody chose it, not because they weren’t an enlightened civilization, but because it was thought of as a tribal form of government, and all subsequent forms of government were considered advancements on it.

Then came the United States of America, which at the time was just a collection of tribes with not any more people than there were Tatars in Crimea, and through the lens of enlightenment the fact that everybody got a vote turned into a lofty ideal, but history has not concluded with Democracy as its final resolution of the question. John doesn’t say that we should become an autocracy that he will lead, although if some podcast listenership decided to rise up and be the nucleus of a new alignment, then: ”Welcome to the new alignment!”

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