A Question on Alignment over at Greyhawk Grognard in respect to a linear alignment system asks
Given a system where evil is defined as the belief that the powerful
should be in charge, and good is defined as the belief that the strong
and wealthy should help the weak and the poor, what happens in a
situation where a powerful person is in charge, and wants to help the
weak and the poor? Isn't that a contradiction?
To me this is not an exclusionary definition of good and evil, for the definitions to be true we must say that (1) a good man can never become powerful and (2) an evil man should not want to help the weak and needy.
To refute the first statement, I submit that George Washington was a powerful man, who was placed in charge because he was powerful. He was seen as the only real choice for President, in fact to this day he is the only unanimous selection in the Electoral College. He achieved power through a long career of service, and specifically of service intended to provide him with wealth, recognition and power. His work as a surveyor, service in the colonial militia and even his marriage speak to this desire for power. So the question is was he good? While some of his land speculation can be construed as shady, and he was a slave owner; his basic goodness and heroism is, in my studies, unquestioned. He did free the slaves that he legally could upon his death (some were entailed with the property), the assistance he gave Braddock during the French and Indian War, along with his militia service on the frontier had strong elements of altruism in his motivations. His refusal not only of a crown, but his prompting to disband the post revolutionary fraternal order of his officers, because of the perception that it was a hereditary quasi-nobility demonstrates how important he felt it was to maintain a form of government open to all.
In refutation of the second statement, it is in an evil man's interest to help the weak and poor - when he stands to gain from providing that help. Aristotle gives several examples of demagogues riding to power on the poor. The help in those cases was in driving out the oligarchs who were oppressing the poor. In Republican Rome, Marius rose to power as a populare, a people's man, as opposed to the oligarchical optimates or best men; he helped the poor but also launched the civil wars that shook Rome for the rest of the century. In more modern times, corrupt political machines like Tammany Hall in New York or the Daley machine that still runs Chicago built themselves on ward bosses who knew the people in their areas and provided help in exchange for votes.
I'm not going to offer an alternate definition of good and evil, as it's not my game. If works for the players involved it's good enough. I've always been content with whatever system, if any, is provided by the game I'm playing. Besides we're discussing good and evil in a world that rewards the life style of murder hobo?
I'll close with one of my favorite quotes "Power corrupts, absolute power is even more fun." - BOfH