So in a delightful twist, Michael O. Church has brought in the concept of D&D ethical alignments to the corporate hierarchy/career discussion.
He quite correctly places the “Technocrat”, i.e., the “postive sociopath”, or the person who wants to accomplish something beneficial without regard to corporate politics or any other tangential concerns, in the “chaotic good” (or at least, “neutral good”) category.
I’ve seen myself as “chaotic good” long before this series of posts, or before I ever thought of applying the D&D alignment categories to roles at work. It fits with my politics (anarchist-communist), with my gneral M.O. of getting things done (open source is always bettter, and it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission). It also fits with my general attitude toward work: if you want something brilliant, tell me what you want and get the fuck out of my way. If you want a mess, keep letting middle managers stick their fingers in the pie of my creative process.
Church makes an excellent point, though, that the “technocrat” disposition, and the alignments it tends to entail (chaotic good to chaotic neutral) tend to be notoriously difficlut to manage. The only thing I think is missing from the series he’s been doing on this issue is that if you’re a programmer, you weren’t meant to have a boss.
That being said, let me say something for the chaotic good among us. Our ethical alignment is to the good, and this is not negotiable. Compare this to most senior managers and executives, who tend to (and I would argue almost universally) have the diametrically opposed alignment of lawful evil. But not only is our ethical alignment to the good (altruistic), but our civil alignment is chaotic - we distrust and generally want to destroy instutions, whereas our superiors/arch-nemeses derive their only claims to power (there’s certainly no there there when it comes to intelligence or any other “natural” claims to leadership) from their sociopathic rise through the entrenched hierarchy of rank culture institutions.
So, as Mr. Church has astutely observed, in terms of ethical alignment, Technocrats and Psychopaths (the two types of “MacLeod Sociopaths”) are as opposite as opposite can be. The “Psychopaths” (most corporate executives, because of the nature of the corporation in this day and age) are Lawful Evil: Completely self-interested, but with a faith in institutions because of their ability to further that self interest; The Technocrats, tending toward Chaotic Good, are the precise opposite; we want to make the world better, and have a strong distrust, if not contempt for, institutions, because we view them as invariably corrupting and subverting the good to which we are committed.
I’ll refer you to the above-cited post from Michael Church, or your local AD&D manual for more detail on alignment.
I’m remembering a quote from Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). I can’t remember whether it’s Apollo or Bill Adama, but there’s a quote along the lines of, “In the military, we often refer to the ‘situation on the ground.’”
The situation on the ground is that lawful evil is generally more evolutionarily fit an alignment within the typical rank organization than chaotic good. The typical organization is true neutral: neither moral nor civil axes factor into its actions or disposition; the goal of the organization is to further the goals of the organization. Applied to the individual, this disposition would probably lead to an alignment of lawful evil. But as we factor in the impersonal nature of the organization (leaving out the legal fiction of “corporate personhood”), we end with a truly neutral disposition.
The true neutral is as willing to leverage the talents of the full span of the alignment spectrum; if a lawful evil individual serves its executive interests, and a chaotic good individual serves its creative interests, it will attempt to leverage both in the interest of organizational goals. The tragic flaw comes in not accepting that the two are incompatible. The lawful evil (who see the hierarchical organization as a pragmatic tool for personal gain) and the chaotic good (who see the hierarchical organization as an invariably corrupt obstacle to human progress) cannot, in the long term, successfully collaborate. In the short term, our goals may align, and we may achieve great things together. The lawful evil executive may be able to achieve accolades while the chaotic good programmer is allowed latitude to innovate; but the risk-aversion of the massive, neutral insitution prefers the disposition of the lawful evil position because it’s predictable.
Chaotic good is harder to predict. It’s also harder to fit into an organization of “normals.” By “normals” I mean the people still doing concave work in a world where concave work is in economic hospice.
So how can the chaotic-good aligned of us survive in a corporate environment? Maybe we shouldn’t.
Perhaps doing so is a pathetic concession to necessity until a better opportunity presents itself.
This is perhaps a set intersection of the MacLeod “Loser” and the Church/MacLeod “Technocrat” (Church’s “good” version of the MacLeod “sociopath”); Being strategic typically refusing Pyrrhic victories; sometimes it means staying a “Loser” until you can assess whether up or out is a more likely/possible/effective strategic move.
The worst part is finding oneself in such an environment with a number of kindred spirits, with whom one works exceedingly well. It’s terrible to be forced to decide to leave something you love just because the chaotic good (us) can’t tolerate the lawful evil (them). But neither can they tolerate us, for long, once it becomes apparent that our alignments will neither allow us to become allies, nor even to use one another to achieve our divergent ends. But it happens, time and time again. I’ve seen D&D parties split over the incompatibility of alignment in the player characters. Why should the modern corporation be any different?
So what’s the solution? I really can’t say. When it comes down to it, I believe that good will win, chaotic or otherwise. And I really only have faith in the chaotic or neutral good; lawful good is too much of a compromise, and tends to degrade into neutrality due to its civil alignment.
Who knows. I truly wish that every organization could be productive and effective. But there’s an old saying that a small organization is ruled by the creatives, a medium-sized one is ruled by the bankers, and a large one is ruled by the lawyers. When it reaches that point, we’re discussing an organization so averse to risk that innovation or any sort of worthwhile effort is out of the question. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality.
So what to do? I don’t know. I don’t have answers. Yet. But I’m still thinking this through as well as working it through IRL. My hope is that there’s an answer for every organization, but there’s also that whole “building a new world from the ashes of the old” element that occasionally precludes evolutionary progress and demands revolutionary progress. Which are we facing here?