Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Few Words on Lawful Privilege

I know, I know. Everyone is sick of hearing about new kinds of privilege these days. I'm asking that you hear me out here, because if you're a messy creative type like myself, some of these ideas may change your life like they did mine. I'm going to start by discussing lawful vs chaotic from a gaming point of view, but I'll be circling back to real life pretty quickly.

I'm concerned less with privilege than with discrimination (though, of course, these concepts are interrelated). I'm using the terms "lawful" and "chaotic" as shorthand here, in the sense in which they are used in Dungeons and Dragons. "Type A" vs "type B" personalities might work almost as well, but it's significant that in D&D, there is more than just that one axis for determining a person's personality. There are two: lawful vs chaotic, and good vs. evil. They are separate, but when combined, they form what's known as a person's alignment. On each axis, you can also be neutral; this means either that you don't particularly care, or that you try to preserve a balance between law/chaos or good/evil.

This leads to some interesting nuance when creating a character. For example, a person with a lawful neutral alignment is more interested in following (and enforcing) the letter of the law than in whether that law is just or fair. Likewise, a chaotic good alignment means you try to do the right thing, but will usually err on the side of fighting against authority or the establishment. The main point here is that there are many possibilities besides "lawful good" and "chaotic evil".

Why does this need to be said? Because western culture has always been pretty obsessed with dualism, and also tends to collapse "order" with things like "good" and "creative", while collapsing its opposite ("disorder" or "chaos", depending on who you talk to) with things like "bad", "destructive", or even "evil". I first became aware of this fact when reading these pages of the Principia Discordia as a teenager.

Suddenly, I no longer felt like there was something wrong with me simply because I was a naturally chaotic person. And I'd been receiving those messages about how "bad" being chaotic is for my entire life up till then. "Why should I clean my room, if entropy dictates it will inevitably get messy again?" I used to ask my dad, who is a great guy but a bit of a neat freak. Now I understand that this is more about personal preference, that excessive neatness or messiness is not some kind of moral failing.

Consider for a moment that in psychology, the word "disorder" is synonymous with "disease" and "sickness". Besides that, everyone knows what a type A personality or an anal retentive person is, but who has heard of a type B personality or an anal expulsive? In my experience, one of the hallmarks of a bad psychologist or counselor is that they focus too much on what's "normal" (in other words, "orderly") and too little on what works best for the individual patient.

Further consider that at least in the United States, it's possible (and not even that difficult if you try) to get arrested for "disorderly conduct", which amounts to "acting too weirdly in public". This is what I'm talking about when I use the term "lawful privilege": the fact that disorder / chaos frequently gets demonized / pathologized, and hardly anyone seems to notice because order is "right" and "proper" and "the mark of a sane mind". In my experience, chaotic types march to the beat of our own drummer and resent being told what to do; this, of course, is further evidence of how "unruly" and "disruptive" we are.

Let me be clear that I have no desire to malign psychology or law enforcement here. Both are useful and necessary parts of the culture that help a lot of people. If you're mentally ill, you need treatment, and if you're actively harming someone, you need to get arrested. But when psychology or law enforcement oversteps its bounds into policing harmless behaviors is when artists and free spirits get arrested or institutionalized for being too "oppositional" or "disorderly". And that is authoritarian BS that needs to end. Freedom of expression means the freedom to be as messy, unusual, or freaky as you like, so long as you aren't harming others or yourself. And there's an important axiom in psychology that many people don't seem to know about: if it isn't maladaptive, it isn't a disorder.

This means that if the voices in your head tell you to go out and feed the poor or cure cancer, there isn't actually anything wrong with you (or nothing that a therapist should be trying to fix, anyway). If your house is a huge mess, but you can still find your stuff when you need it, your mess isn't maladaptive. Indeed, research suggests that creative people tend to be messier than non-artist types. That's because creative disorder is a thing, just as destructive order also is. (Think about your last trip to the DMV, or the last time a customer service representative told you "I'm sorry, but that's just our policy.") Certain areas of life, such as money or scheduling, can get totally unmanageable if you don't have some kind of orderly way to manage them... but most only need as much order as you consciously choose.

This may all seem a bit nitpicky and academic, but ultimately it comes down to the same issue as every kind of discrimination: shaming people for being themselves is wrong. The types of insults that hardcore lawful types (sometimes called Greyfaces in Discordianism) sling at us can be insidious. "Freak". "Inconsistent". "Childish". "Oppositional". "Disorganized". "Slovenly". In some pagan circles, even "eclectic" is considered to be an insult. (See also the old staples, "You can't work with fictional entities!" and "Your magic is too haphazard / nontraditional / strange to work!".)

And then there's my absolute favorite: "special snowflake". If someone calls you this last one, they are begging for the Turkey Curse. Chances are, it will make them get flustered and leave you alone. Or if you're lucky, they might burst into unexpected laughter.

TL;DR: Never let someone else tell you who you should be. Fly that freak flag high, baby. George Bernard Shaw once said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." So you march to that syncopated, irregular drumbeat if that's what makes you happy. Be wild and free and haphazard and a force of nature. Don't let the Autumn People grind you down.

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