Friday, December 9, 2011

The Hating of Faults

It is humourous that a common argument proposed as a standard panacea in Dungeons and Dragons is equally applied as a panacea in the actual world.  This argument usually goes, to wit, that a character who has faults at a low level, will learn from experience, i.e. the gaining of levels, to overcome these faults, and will thereby cease to be harried from them.

For example, if it happens that a character has a low wisdom, it is all very understandable that the character be naive and rather simple where it comes to the matters of the world at a low level, but after the character has travelled far and wide, and after the character has defeated monsters and met kings and saved princesses, and after the character has had followers and raised castles and organized kingdoms, it just doesn't make sense for them to still be considered bound by their low wisdom.  After all, they have experience now, and experience ought to counter that particular weakness.

Bunkum, balderdash and bullshit.  Not only it the argument utterly unsound, it was an argument demonstrated to be unsound 2300 years ago, in text, by a man more brilliant than you and I, that being Plato, writing about a still more brilliant man, Socrates.

Now, look, and try to understand this.  Experience is not all its cracked up to be.  The clearly corrupt people running the countries of the world, Greece and Italy and America, have a great deal of experience, gained on battlefields and in the halls of power, and its quite clear they have a tremendous lack of any common sense at all when it comes time to defend themselves in front of a microphone.  If you will tout the great god experience, take yourself around to any retirementment home run by the state and examine for yourself the benefits of long experience.  Sit down with a wealthy man and try to talk about anything but money.  Sit down with a drug tourist who has been to Mexico and Thailand and Morocco, and see what great experience has wrought in that wisdom.  Take a glance at the tens of millions of cars upon the road, driven by people who have driven cars all their lives, and ask yourself if all that accumulated experience has caused those drivers to behave rationally or in their own interest.  Experience is NOT wisdom.

We have a tendency to delude ourselves with the belief that the repetition of any activity is in some way a means to gain knowledge about that activity.  Any repetition without reflection upon the activity, as most people want for, being unreflective souls in general, does not confer greater knowledge of that activity.  Without insight, repetition only creates an habitual nature.

As a young boy I was able to beat much older opponents at chess, despite their having played at chess for all of their long lives.  Was it luck?  Did the pieces just happen to move in my favor?  Of course not.  Did those opponents have experience?  Oh, of course yes.  But winning at chess does not depend on how long you've played, or what experience you have.  It depends upon how well you think.

If we argue that every person who has banged in the sack and raised children, or who has fought in a war, or who has achieved a difficult bit of status such as a degree, or who has achieved notariety, is necessarily an enlightened person because they have achieved experience, then why are there wars?  Why does poverty continue unabated?  Why do successful and experienced people still break the law, and why do they get caught?  Why is it that they still have faults resultant from their poor decision making?

Because obviously experience is NOT a panacea for a poor wisdom.  In fact, it must be argued that continued experience justifies the loathsome behavior of people who have achieved success despite that behavior.  Did George Bush turn over a new leaf upon becoming President, or did he carry forward the cronyism he learned in Yale and at his father's knee.  Was not his corruption and his blatant ignorance and his tendency to lie bolstered and upheld by his success?  If this is true, and experience taught George Bush to be what he is, why don't we all behave likewise?  Why do we behave in ways that George Bush would not have, since his eventual success clearly proves that he is lacking in faults and that his behaviour ought to be considered the equivalent of an 18 wisdom?

If you have a fault, and you succeed, you will NOT see that behavior as a fault.  Others will, most certainly.  But you will not.  And if your character has a fault, in the game, your character will NOT see it as a fault.  Your character will behave, no matter what level of success he or she happens to achieve, as an intrinsic part of their being.

Players do not generally understand this.  The disconnect is obvious.  The player is not the character.  The player runs the character, but this does not mean that the player is the character.  The player's goal is to obtain experience.  The character's faults are an obstacle towards obtaining that experience.  Therefore, the character's faults are something to be dearly argued against.

If those faults prove particularly difficult, so that the player's pursuit for power and glory will chafe against them constantly, the player will grow to hate those faults and will not consider them intrinsic to the character.  Ergo, the player will grasp at any straw that will discount those faults.  The player will argue that those faults should no longer apply ... for whatever reason the player can think of.

If a human being in the actual world perceives a fault in themselves, they will seek to discount that fault in any dealing they have with the world.  If they succeed in spite of their faults - those faults being greed, or a tendency to anger, or lust or pride or what have you - that person will delude themselves to believe that the fault never existed.  They will even stand up in a public place and declare the fault to be a virtue, and to argue vehemently that it MUST be a virtue, for how otherwise could this person possibly rise to a place of such prominence?

That faults often, by their very nature, contribute to the gaining of power and wealth, is naturally immaterial.

The player's desire to rid their character of faults, and the person's desire to rid themselves of faults, results from the same instinct.  We want to be a success.  We do not want to fail.  We refuse to accept our own failings.  We demand these failings be rescinded, or that we be absolved from them, because we do not like faults.  We like our talents.   If we could have characters made up entirely of talents, we would be absurdly happy.

The fact that continued survival and success does not automatically promote our talents while causing our faults to evaporate is deeply, deeply wrong.  There is no person living who does not think that we, none of us, should be entitled to become fault free before we die.  It isn't FAIR that we have to live with these faults all of our lives.


Arduin said...

This is in keeping with my understanding of humanity.

The old adage "People never change" rings pretty well true.

Icarus said...

Insightful post. To the previous poster, “People very seldom change” is perhaps closer to the truth.

Sigilic said...

I always felt D&D could be a vehicle for philosophy. It's a pleasure to see someone wiser than myself put that vehicle in motion.

It should be appreciated that various adventures, in real life as in D&D, do offer the opportunity to enhance one's inborn attributes. Or the risk of detracting from those attributes. All rather random how it comes out. Despite the fact that, at micro-scale, each step in this chaos called life is determinate.

Clovis Cithog said...

“There is a difference between animals and people–
If you are patient, with enough trials, after many repetitions,
Animals will learn from their mistakes.”