Created By: Earnest on December 10, 2011 Last Edited By: Earnest on December 14, 2011

Forest Vs Tree Dilemma

Should the heroes allow one to suffer for the good of many?

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Better name ideas? Do We Have This?

This is a kind of moral dilemma heroes will face where in order to achieve some greater goal an Innocent Bystander (or worse, an ally) has to be allowed to suffer and possibly die. Or worse, has to be actively harmed by the heroes. For example, heroes out to help a great many, such as by infiltrating and destroying a Wretched Hive or criminal organization, have to act callous to the harm done to the innocents around them, and perhaps even participate in the cruelty to keep their cover. Inversely, heroes out to concretely help a small group or individual may discover that doing so will harm a number of others. A hero with just enough money to save a Determined Widow's farm from foreclosure may discover that same money could also be used to get new school supplies for the underfunded school.

This can lead to conflicts of Good Versus Good where one group of goodies, lets call them Foresters, and another one, lets call them Tree Huggers, disagree on whether or not it's acceptable to care more for the welfare of the many at the expense of the few, or the one. Tree Huggers (who are usually The McCoy) may point out that just because it's for a good goal doesn't justify harm, and a systematic view of people as expendable will only lead to a slide down to Lawful Evil. Foresters (Usually The Spock) on the other hand will argue that if the individual is held up at the expense of the many, actions toward collective safety/security/prosperity may be impossible to do fast or thoroughly enough. This creates a dichotomy between heroes who are more focused on the smaller, immediate need, and those who focus on the big picture, even at the expense of the immediate need. Here, the Tree Hugger sees the forester's mission as doomed, and the Forester sees the Tree Hugger as unfairly ignoring the needs of the many.

Frequently, villains will use this dilemma paired with If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten or a Sadistic Choice to flush out heroes who may attempt to infiltrate their group. Heroes who lean strongly towards the Tree Hugger side will be unable to go through with it, or try to somehow Take a Third Option. That said, even a hard hearted Forester who does what's necessary will also take the opportunity to help those they can so long as it doesn't interfere with their mission in a sort of Hidden Heart of Gold fashion.

Authors can lean any which way on this, and which of the two is the hero depends on their own slant in a given story. That said, emotionally it's far easier to vilify Foresters for their immediate cruelty (or inaction) than it is to do the same to Tree Huggers. In fact, a favorite set up for sympathetic villains have them take the Forester's stance against a Tree Hugging hero.

The dilemma can be set up many ways, but the scenario's usually boil down to these two possible Sub Tropes:
  • The many are going to be harmed, though that is not the heroes' fault. Unfortunately, the only way to save them is to harm the few. Here, the forester argues that however unpleasant it might be, utilitarian ethics dictates that the few must be sacrificed to save the many no matter what. The tree hugger argues values ethics (and the Hippocratic Oath, if he or she has a medical background) dictate that a hero should never do harm to an innocent, even if that harm helps others.
  • Everyone is going to be killed unless one person is sacrificed. In that case, Fridge Logic reminds us that there's no point in being a tree hugger in this case, because the few will be harmed along with the many. Usually the situation calls for a Heroic Sacrifice. But if The Hero doesn't have the option of only sacrificing himself, asking someone else to sacrifice themselves for the good of the others, or going to their death knowing the pain it will cause their loved ones is a terrible thing to do.


Examples:

Anime and manga:
  • In the first episode of the Anime version of Sands of Destruction, Taupy states that "There are two kinds of heroes. Heroes who save the world, and heroes who save single, nameless individuals." Later, he concludes that, "It turns out there's another kind of hero. The kind of hero who leads the world to destruction."
  • In the origional Gall Force, the crew of the Star Leaf, on a mission to further the solnoids' efforts to build a new home for themselves, are faced with a plot by the paranoids to use suicide troops to rape solnoid women in order to create a hybrid race that will be less violent, so that even if the paranoids and solnoids destroy each other, something will survive. At first, the crew believe it's more important to complete the mission, but as the conflict continues, they begin to have second thoughts, ultimately concluding that the life of the hybrid is more important.

Film
  • The main moral debates in 2012 centers around this. First, whether or not warning all humanity about the looming apocalypse would be ethical or just ruing any chance for humanity's survival. Later on in the Arks, whether the survivors had the obligation to open the loading doors and risk the safety of those onboard to let on a few thousand more people.
  • In Star Trek II, Spock lampshades this, stating, "logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Later, he uses this to justify his self - sacrifice to save the Enterprise.

Literature
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Melisandre insists to Stannis that they must sacrifice Edric Storm, a child, to bring the stone dragons back to life so Stannis can reclaim his throne and save Westeros from bleeding from this war any longer. Davos absolutely refuses to let Edric be sacrificed.

Live-Action TV
  • In Battlestar Galactica, Laura Roslin switches from tree hugger to forester fairly quickly in the miniseries. She starts by deciding not to abandon the survivors she was gathering when faced with an imminent attack, and later decides to leave those on ships without Faster Than Light drives when a second attack comes.
  • In Terra Nova, this is the source of some conflict. One faction, championed by Taylor, sees Terra Nova as a last chance for humanity to start over with a smaller group, much like the Arks in 2012. Another would rather search for a way to pillage Terra Nova to feed "old Earth", even though that appears to be impossible.
  • In The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles:
    Dr. Schweitzer (on treating the poor): "I see it more as, ehm, gathering pebbles from a beach. I couldn't carry them all, of course, but I can certainly carry a handful each day. And each pebble I save has value."

Video Games
  • Used as a plot point for Silver's story in Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 in which to prevent his world from becoming a dystopia due to the demi god Iblis, he must travel to the past and kill the "Iblis Trigger" that started it all. He is prevented from having to make a choice when it is revealed to him that this is all a trick by Mephiles.

Western Animation
  • In Futurama it is revealed to Fry that Nibbler in fact caused him to get sent into the future (and indirectly caused his potential death) in order to stop an evil force only his brain signal can withstand. When Fry calls him out on this, Nibbler points out the Forrester method.

Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • December 10, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    • A Song Of Ice And Fire: Melisandre insists to Stannis that they must sacrifice Edric Storm, a child, to bring the stone dragons back to life so Stannis can reclaim his throne and save Westeros from bleeding from this war any longer. Davos absolutely refuses to let Edric be sacrificed.
  • December 10, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Unless you're referring to Mr. Gump, "forest" has only one R, not two.
  • December 10, 2011
    Psi001
    • Used as a plot point for Silver's story in Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 in which to prevent his world from becoming a dystopia due to the demi god Iblis, he must travel to the past and kill the "Iblis Trigger" that started it all. He is prevented from having to make a choice when it is revealed to him that this is all a trick by Mephiles.
    • In Futurama it is revealed to Fry that Nibbler in fact caused him to get sent into the future (and indirectly caused his potential death) in order to stop an evil force only his brain signal can withstand. When Fry calls him out on this, Nibbler points out the Forrester method.
  • December 10, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    I see at least two three four possible subtropes / related tropes / concepts here:
    • The many are going to be harmed, though that is not the heroes' fault. Unfortunately, the only way to save them is to harm the few. Here, the forester argues that however unpleasant it might be, utilitarian ethics dictates that the few must be sacrificed to save the many no matter what. The tree hugger argues values ethics (and the Hippocratic Oath, if he or she has a medical background) dictate that a hero should never do harm to an innocent, even if that harm helps others.
    • Everyone is going to be killed unless one person is sacrificed. In that case, Fridge Logic reminds us that there's no point in being a tree hugger in this case, because the few will be harmed along with the many. Usually the situation calls for a Heroic Sacrifice. But if The Hero doesn't have the option of only sacrificing himself, asking someone else to sacrifice themselves for the good of the others, or going to their death knowing the pain it will cause their loved ones is a terrible thing to do.
    • You probably can't save the forest, but you can focus your efforts on helping those you know you can, or you can try to help as many as possible, knowing that you are more likely to fail in the end. Here, the tree hugger sees the forester's mission as doomed, and the forester sees the tree hugger as unfairly ignoring the needs of the many.
    • A dichotomy between heroes who are more focused on the smaller, immediate need, and those who focus on the big picture, even at the expense of the immediate need.

    Not sure if these all fit:

    Anime and manga:
    • In the first episode of the Anime version of Sands Of Destruction, Taupy states that "There are two kinds of heroes. Heroes who save the world, and heroes who save single, nameless individuals." Later, he concludes that, "It turns out there's another kind of hero. The kind of hero who leads the world to destruction."
    • In the origional Gall Force, the crew of the Star Leaf, on a mission to further the solnoids' efforts to build a new home for themselves, are faced with a plot by the paranoids to use suicide troops to rape solnoid women in order to create a hybrid race that will be less violent, so that even if the paranoids and solnoids destroy each other, something will survive. At first, the crew believe it's more important to complete the mission, but as the conflict continues, they begin to have second thoughts, ultimately concluding that the life of the hybrid is more important.

    Film:
    • In Star Trek II, Spock lampshades this, stating, "logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Later, he uses this to justify his self - sacrifice to save the Enterprise.

    Live Action Television:
    • In Terra Nova, this is the source of some conflict. One faction, championed by Taylor, sees Terra Nova as a last chance for humanity to start over with a smaller group, much like the Arks in Two Thousand Twelve. Another would rather search for a way to pillage Terra Nova to feed "old Earth", even though that appears to be impossible.
    • In The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles:
      Dr. Schweitzer (on treating the poor): "I see it more as, ehm, gathering pebbles from a beach. I couldn't carry them all, of course, but I can certainly carry a handful each day. And each pebble I save has value."
  • December 10, 2011
    Generality
    One angle on this concept is abstracted in the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" by Ursula K Le Guin. The titular Ones are those who cannot reconcile the fact that the stability of their otherwise utopian city-state is contingent upon the unjust maltreatment and torment of an innocent child. Others are able to rationalise the child's treatment with some form of argument toward the greater good, or carefully ignore the issue for the sake of their own comfort. To further cloud the issue, the actual connection of the child's suffering to the city's health is not established, begetting the possibility that the unwholesome tradition is actually meaningless.
  • December 10, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Star Trek II has its own page, FYI.

    Is this The Needs Of The Many? If not, it's certainly related.
  • December 11, 2011
    Koveras
    • In the end of Watchmen, the costumed heroes have to decide whether to let a series of major crimes go unpunished or allow the World War Three to take place. Rorschach is the only one who picks the latter option and is killed for his trouble.
  • December 11, 2011
    cityofmist
    In Time:
    Will: Nobody should be immortal if even one person has to die.
  • December 11, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    ^x3 Thanks, I didn't know we had that one.

    If this isn't The Needs Of The Many, someone needs to explain a clear difference because I'm not seeing it.
  • December 11, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    I think it is the same, though I rather like the way this one is set up better.
  • December 11, 2011
    Tambov333
    The Needs Of The Many is a subtrope AFAIK.
  • December 12, 2011
    Earnest
    The current writeup for The Needs Of The Many is focused exclusively on making a small number suffer for the greater good, and occasionally refusing to to protect an individual. It doesn't really Cover the Tree Hugger side of the equation.

    Still, I'm not going to launch unless it's an easy to grasp difference.
  • December 12, 2011
    HandsomeRob
    Couldn't Always Save The Girl go under the Tree Huggers category, as in choosing to save one person (specifically a Love Interest) at the expense of millions of people.
  • December 12, 2011
    captainpat
    ^ Then you might wanna shorten and explain the trope as bluntly as possible because this still reads like The Needs Of The Many.
  • December 12, 2011
    greyscalefuzz
    The Walking Dead has numerous examples of Rick having to deal with the Forest vs Tree arguments.

  • December 12, 2011
    jatay3
    Common in a Sub Story.
  • December 13, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    This conflict is alluded to in the expression, "You can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs."
  • December 13, 2011
    arromdee
    Buffy at the end of the season with Dawn's introduction. Dawn (who was created by magic to begin with) has to be sacrificed to save the world. Buffy won't do it (and fortunately guesses that she can sacrifice herself instead). This falls into category 2 since it's not as if Dawn's going to last very long in a destroyed world anyway.
  • December 13, 2011
    CrypticMirror
    not sure using the term "tree huggers" is a good idea, that is a very loaded name.
  • December 13, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    Students of philosophy know this as the Trolley problem
  • December 14, 2011
    Statalyzer
    If Always Save The Girl is part of this trope, then this trope can't be Needs Of The Many because it's also Needs Of The One outweighing the needs of the many.
  • December 14, 2011
    Statalyzer
    If Always Save The Girl is part of this trope, then this trope can't be Needs Of The Many because it's also Needs Of The One outweighing the needs of the many.
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