“Chaotic Neutral”: 50 People Who Are Neither Good Nor Bad And Hilariously Act As They Please
As we showed you a few months back, the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) alignments are making it to real life. So this time, let's take a closer look at a particularly funny one.
It's called chaotic neutral (and it even has its own subreddit). To put it simply, the term describes an individual who has no good or evil intentions, they simply do what they please, what they think is the best option at the moment.
The spontaneous nature of their actions means they can result in chaos and unpredictability but who can blame them if nobody gets hurt? After all, freedom is what matters!
When a player creates a character in D&D, they decide where to put that character on a moral axis. Are they good? Evil? Or morally neutral? Then they have to choose where their character fits on a law-abiding axis. Do they always obey the rules? Or do they believe that laws are meant to be broken?
The best way to wrap your head around this concept is to imagine a grid, like "Hollywood Squares" or the opening credits of "The Brady Bunch" — nine squares in total, three on each side and one in the middle. The square in the upper left hand corner is "lawful good." That's Superman — the Boy Scout who cares about saving the planet. The next square over on the top row is "neutral good." For example, take "Star Trek". Captain Kirk is neutral good, because he is willing to break the rules if he thinks they're preventing him from doing as much good as possible. Now if we go to the last square on the right — "chaotic good" — we get someone like Robin Hood, who can never be tied down to any organization. These folks think the only way to do good in the world is to upend the social order.
In the middle row, we have morally neutral characters. "Lawful neutral" would be a mindless bureaucrat or a brutal enforcer like Javert from "Les Miserables" who hunts down the heroic ex-con Jean Valjean. "True neutral," in the center square, is a character like the Oracle in "The Matrix," who accumulates wisdom from witnessing everything but rarely chooses a side. The far-right square in the middle row is a really fun character. The star of our show, "chaotic neutral."
According to writer and graphic novelist Sam Sattin, that's someone who can be swayed based on who has the power. A good example could be Omar from "The Wire", the lone wolf who robs drug dealers, valuing his freedom and his survival equally.
When Sattin holds writing seminars, he asks his students to figure out where their characters fit on this grid, and he encourages them to create characters who are conflicted. (They wish they belonged to one alignment, but they're something else.)
The writer believes that storytelling takes off when characters of different alignments play off each other. "The most important part of writing is the way in which characters interact with each other," he explained.
As we can see, these alignments appear in the real world as well. Patrick O'Connor, a sci-fi and fantasy fan as well as an assistant district attorney who prosecutes gang-related homicides in Brooklyn, imagines the gang members he prosecutes could be categorized as neutral evil on the character alignment spectrum.
In his own life, O'Connor always tries to follow the straight and narrow path. But that doesn't mean he’s drawn to lawful good characters in comic books. That's just boring!
His favorite character is Punisher, the Marvel vigilante who kills criminals because he doesn’t believe in the legal system.
Comics have been filled with battles between good and evil, but audiences are also interested in watching characters on the same side fighting each other.
In season two of "Daredevil" and in the movies "Batman v. Superman" and "Captain America: Civil War," superheroes really duke it out.
These stories are about a conflict between personal ethics and the law. "That's how a lot of people feel, that they have these government forces they can't control, that are doing nefarious things," O'Connor said. "They feel marginalized, and they feel they can't trust the system. And so they take things into their own hands."
Michael LaBossiere, who teaches philosophy at Florida A&M University, takes a more holistic approach and argues that each of us can embody the different character alignments at any point in our lives. It all depends on the situation.
"Sometimes we're more good, sometimes we're more neutral, or in some [cases], we fall into bad behavior," he said. "A person can be decent but have those neutral evil moments when they're selfish and take that last piece of pie."