Created By: phantomreader42 on October 19, 2011 Last Edited By: phantomreader42 on March 1, 2013
Nuked

Clear And Unclear Morality

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An addition to the moral "colors", involving conflict between ordinary people and a threat that has no real moral dimension (clear as in colorless), due to being mindless, lacking the ability to control itself, or having no understanding of what it is doing. Rolling Updates. Needs More Examples. Needs a Better Description.

Not all conflicts involve good vs. evil. Sometimes, the concepts of "good" or "evil" may not apply at all.

A plague is a threat, but it isn't evil. It's just a disease, it can't think or make decisions, it just reproduces without even being able to comprehend that it's causing the horrible deaths of beings many millions of times its size. There are thorny moral questions involved, such as whether it's acceptable to imprison or kill the sick to prevent a deadly disease from spreading, or the morality of a Mercy Kill on someone dying in agony. But The Virus isn't capable of considering those issues.

A wild animal can be dangerous, but it isn't evil, it's just acting out of instinct, fear, confusion, and hunger rather than malice.

A machine (at least, a non-sentient one) can't make any decisions for itself, it just does what it's programmed to do. The program in question might have been written by evil people for evil purposes, but that doesn't make the machine itself evil.

And then there's the question of Mind Control. Forcing someone to do your bidding is evil enough, but the people being so forced are not responsible for their actions. Is it acceptable to kill them to prevent them from achieving the goals they're being used for?

Examples:
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the alignment system lists animals (Intelligence score less than 3) and Vermin (mindless insects with no Int score) as True Neutral, because they act entirely on instinct and are incapable of making moral decisions. Most plants and constructs also get this treatment, though mindless undead and flesh golems do not. The primary god of nature is True Neutral due to presiding over such creatures.
  • A quote from Short Circuit: It's a machine! It doesn't get happy, it doesn't get sad, it doesn't laugh at your jokes, it just runs programs!" Does not apply to Johnny 5 after being struck by lightning and coming to life, but the other prototypes are just tools acting as they're programmed to.
  • In the movie WarGames, the conflict arises when a kid looking for games hacks into a computer with control over nuclear weapons and starts playing a game called "Global Thermonuclear War". He was stealing, but had no intention of destroying the planet. And the computer was only doing what it was created to do, seeking a tactical solution that would win the game.
  • In both the first two seasons of Digimon, a major plot arc revolved around digimon who would attack the digidestined because they were being controlled by an outside force. The kids generally saw no moral problem with (non-lethally) attacking these Brainwashed and Crazy mons, at least until they were able to free them. Season two followed this up with artificial digimon made and controlled by a villain, and these were mostly destroyed without pity because they had no hearts. But when enemies started showing up who were fully possessed of their own will and could not be stopped without lethal force, the new recruits suffered Heroic BSOD because their more experienced partners Did what they had to do, violating their previous rule of Thou Shalt Not Kill.
    • The Big Bad of the first half of season two also suffers a Villainous Breakdown when he realizes that the Digital World is NOT a videogame, and he has been ruining the lives of real, living, sentient beings for his own amusement. Before, he at least claimed to believe that none of it was real.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • October 19, 2011
    elwoz
    I like the trope, but I thought your title meant a conflict between a group whose moral code is clearly laid out (regardless of what color it is) and a group whose morals are, as it were, opaque.
  • October 20, 2011
    Irrisia
    Cujo by Stephen King. The eponymous dog has rabies; neither the dog nor the virus can be evil, as neither of them can truly consider their actions.
  • October 20, 2011
    phantomreader42
    I was thinking more "Clear" in the sense of transparent, colorless, invisible, vs "Unclear" in the sense of complicated, uncertain. So it's deliberately equivocating for effect.
  • October 20, 2011
    KingZeal
  • October 20, 2011
    TerminusEst13
    Isn't this already covered by Blue And Orange Morality?
  • October 20, 2011
    KingZeal
    Not really. Blue And Orange Morality is about when there's a moral system that is so different and alien to ours that we can't understand it. This is when the question of morality is outright irrelevant. There's clearly something that most people would see as "bad", but there's no morality involved, such as a Zombie Apocalypse or Force Of Nature. Would you really consider a hurricane to have "morality"?

    And speaking of:

    • Discussed in Twister. In the beginning of the film, a young Jo (Helen Hunt) watches as her father is sucked into a tornado and killed. As an adult, she develops an obsessive compulsion to chase and study tornados, and her estranged husband Bill (Bill Paxton) eventually discovers that the reason for this is that she has developed an unhealthy antagonism with tornadoes. She actually believed that the tornado singled out her family and murdered her father. Then again, you're talking about a movie in which tornados can roar.
  • October 20, 2011
    yogyog
    Human And Automatic Morality?
  • October 20, 2011
    GlennMagusHarvey
    How about Colorless Morality? Or just Amorality?
  • October 20, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
  • October 20, 2011
    crazysamaritan
  • November 5, 2011
    GlennMagusHarvey
    Bumping. This isn't my YKTTW but seemed like an interesting one so I had it on my flaglist.
  • November 6, 2011
    MorganWick
    Description needs to make clear the distinction with Grey And Gray Morality.

    Ambiguous Morality?
  • November 7, 2011
    crazysamaritan
    This is an established literary style; man versus nature
  • November 7, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Agreed w/ Morgan Wick about the description. Also needs to address confusion with Blue And Orange Morality.

    I think either Amoral Threat and Man Versus Nature are the most accurate titles.
  • February 7, 2012
    crazysamaritan
    Is this Up For Grabs now?
  • February 7, 2012
    ArsThaumaturgis
    As a potential title, perhaps "Non-moral Conflict"?
  • February 7, 2012
    crazysamaritan
    ^ Why? There's a preexisting term, already.
  • February 7, 2012
    elwoz
    ^ "Man versus nature" is more limited than "amoral threat". For instance, Grey Goo, a Horde Of Alien Locusts, a Terminator, and the interior of the Cube could all be plausibly described as amoral threats, but none of them are the impersonal forces of nature, which is what "man versus nature" is about. Contrast all of the above with To Build a Fire.

    Also, as a literary term, "man versus nature" is used to describe the central conflict of the work, and an amoral threat doesn't have to be that. For instance, take Cube again: the setting is a maze full of deathtraps, but the conflict is almost entirely among the characters.
  • February 7, 2012
    Ryusui
    Amoral Threat sounds good to me. The snowclone title doesn't really describe the trope at all.
  • February 7, 2012
    jate88
    In real life that stuff might be considered evil depending on the persons scientific and philosophical views about morality but the media hasn't caught onto to these views of morality. So this trope might work.
  • February 8, 2012
    TomWalpertac2
    I'm liking Transparent And Opaque Morality
  • February 8, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ x 7 @crazysamaritan: The OP phantomreader42 hasn't posted since October 20th 2011, so this is automatically Up For Grabs.

    phantomreader42 hasn't edited a trope page since January 6th so they're probably not on TV Tropes at this time.
  • February 8, 2012
    crazysamaritan
    ^ I didn't want to repeat "bump" a dozen times, so some of them I pointed out needed grabbing. ;)

    ^x5 - not correct. Man versus technology is a subset of man versus nature. These conflicts do not have to drive the plot, but only show up in the story. For example, the cube could be compared to The Perfect Storm. In both, the central conflict is between the main characters, but they are in danger all around them.

    A movie featuring all of the conflicts is Karate Kid Part Two: where Daniel-san goes to Okinawa with Mr Miyagi. The man versus man of Miyagi and his childhood rival is continued in their pupils. We see, in comparing the two groups, man versus self. Miyagi's Ka Rah Te is based on calming away your inner turmoil, while his rival uses his anger to fuel his strength. Then, there is Man versus Society, where Daniel-san attempts to understand how to behave in their country (very underused since this was '80s Hollywood), which The Girl helps him with. Finally, towards the end of the story, a huge storm pops up, trapping The Girl. The Rival's son is too afraid to rescue her, but Daniel-san overcomes his fear and brings her safely to the shelter.
  • March 1, 2013
    elwoz
    I am discarding this because it has gone for more than a year with no reply. It seems like it might be a trope, but I suspect it overlaps with enough other stuff to not be worth bothering about. Don't let that stop you from resurrecting it if you want; but please do see it gets finished in that case.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=uyqqxh0or21cnyau4vhj85z3&trope=DiscardedYKTTW