So I’ve often said that, while Sisko is my favorite captain, Picard is probably the best of all the captains. This, in a nutshell, is because Picard comes closest to the platonic ideal Starfleet officer. He’s thoughtful, he’s cautious, he’s assertive, he’s compassionate, and he believes in and follows Starfleet’s principles to the letter. (This is all TV!Picard — movie!Picard is a totally different character.) He’s cultured and intelligent and refined and he only breaks the letter of the law when he is convinced that the spirit of the law dictates doing so.
Sisko, on the other hand…
Sisko is a man guided by conscience. He’s constantly making choices that don’t seem in keeping with Starfleet’s principles to serve what he believes to be the greater good. While he believes in Starfleet’s mission and values, he holds is own personal morality higher. From looking the other way about Quark’s side dealings to arranging a change of guard in the government of a sovereign power to benefit not only the Federation but the entire Alpha Quadrant, from balancing his role as Emissary with his position as a Starfleet captain to flat-out ignoring the Prophets when he was told he couldn’t marry Cassidy, Sisko was never one to let the rules get in the way of getting the job done. He had a code, it was just his own code. His ethics came from within.
This, to me, illustrates perfectly the difference between Lawful and Chaotic. In my mind, it’s about ethics — not any specific ethic, but the source of the character’s ethical framework. “Lawful” and “Chaotic” are the two “outer edge” answers to the question, “Where does your ethical framework come from?”
In the case of Lawful, the character’s ethical framework is external. It’s a code, a set of rules, a vow they took, or the laws of the country in which they live, dutifully followed. It’s a monastic routine, or a disciplined, regimented life. Moreover, it isn’t situation-dependent. Lawful looks at a situation and says, “What in my ethos applies to this situation?”
For a Chaotic character, the ethical framework comes from inside. The character has ideas about right action but those ideas are relative and somewhat fluid. For a Chaotic character, the ends are much more likely to justify the means, if the character has any ends in mind at all. The character may or may not believe in the rule of law in principle, and might even be a generally law-abiding citizen; but if a law gets in the way of what the character wants, the character will happily ignore that law. For a Chaotic character, ethics are situational — while Law asks “what rule covers this,” Chaos asks, “what do I want and what’s the best way to get it?”
Picard, the model of Lawful Good and the closest thing Star Trek has to a paladin, puts the rules above everything else. He’s happy to take a shot to the heart if it means preserving the Prime Directive, and would rather let a planet of primitives die than intervene dramatically to save them. He’s not blindly obedient, he considers his choices, but at the end of the day he is beholden to something larger than himself, and he lets that larger thing guide his choices.
Sisko, on the other hand, will ignore the rules at the drop of a hat if he thinks doing so will get to the outcome he wants. He is a pragmatist, but he is deeply compassionate. He is something of a maverick in Starfleet, but he’s not in it for himself — he has no issues ignoring the stipulation that the Defiant can only cloak in the Gamma Quadrant but he remains firmly opposed to the outright-evil actions undertaken by Section 31. He looks at a situation, decides how he wants that situation to play out, and does what he has to do in order to get the job done. Damn the rules if they get in his way.
So what about neutrality? Let’s talk about Good and Evil next, and then we can handle what neutral means all in one go.