Black and White Insanity

"It's so much easier to see the world in black and white. Grey? I don't know what to do with grey."
Garrus Vakarian after realizing what he was becoming, Mass Effect 2

In Real Life, seeing the world in absolute Black and White Morality is considered normal for small children, but seen as a far less healthy trait in adults. A person who regards the people around him as entirely good or entirely evil has this. This type of thinking is a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder, a real life mental disorder.

Some authors have picked up on this, playing belief in Black and White Morality as a sign of the character being insane or at least mentally unstable.

While this is almost always done in settings that are not of Black and White Morality themselves, exceptions exist. In such cases, a Lawful Good Anti-Hero suffering from Black and White Insanity can be very disturbing indeed in the eyes of their fellow Lawful Good real heroes.

This trope is not about regarding everyone as either completely sane or completely insane.

A Character suffering from Black and White Insanity is likely to reason in False Dichotomies and keep their worldview coherent by applying huge quantities of Insane Troll Logic and meeting criticism with Abomination Accusation Attacks. Black and White Insanity might also be what makes a Well-Intentioned Extremist, well, an extremist. This kind of insanity is pretty much the characteristic of the Knight Templar. Character development might lead to the insane one becoming a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot.

Compare Activist Fundamentalist Antics, Wrong Genre Savvy, Windmill Crusader, With Us or Against Us, Moral Myopia.

Contrast Black and White Morality (for settings where the world actually operates in a way that makes this kind of world-view completely rational). A failed attempt at Black and White Morality will make the main character come across as suffering from Black and White Insanity.

Note: This trope is about characters who have a black and white worldview AND are mentally unstable.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This tends to come up in Death Note a lot. Light Yagami starts to shift into this as the series goes on, and the fourth Kira is this through and through (he essentially had this as a child, but couldn't quite grow out of it).
  • Martian Successor Nadesico has this in the form of the Jovians.
  • Flit Asuno winds up with this after Yurin's death in Mobile Suit Gundam Age.
  • Shinn Asuka's greatest problem is Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny is his inability to see or accept shades of grey. He's not exactly insane, but he's certainly highly unstable. By the finale though, he has definitely gone off the deep end, being willing to defend a Kill Sat about to destroy an entire country because he believes that country to be pure evil (the fact that he was until recently a native citizen of said country actually fuels this belief).
    • Shinn's mess of anger issues are the root cause of this way of thinking; or rather lack of thinking. He's not a bad kid, really, just too Hot-Blooded for his own good.
  • The X-Laws of Shaman King are all this. Especially in the anime.
  • Sensui from YuYu Hakusho. Emphasis on "insanity". "Humans are good - Demons are bad." Sensui existed and killed by this creed. When confronted face-to-face with atrocities committed by humans upon demons instead of the other way around, he snapped so hard he formed six additional personalities just to deal with the trauma.
  • In Zetman Kouga idolises Alphas, a Super Hero from a cartoon with Black and White Morality, and tries to emulate him even into adulthood. This does not turn out well.
  • One Piece has the concept of "Absolute Justice", where law enforcers have a very strict black-and-white view of justice to the point where any deviation from the law in favor of piracy, is met with swift, harsh punishment. Fleet-Admiral Sakazuki of the Marines, who will execute people who so much as know certain criminals. A ship full of refugees met a fiery end due to the fact that a criminal might have gotten aboard. Granted, these are all based on well known global laws.
  • When first encountered in Mega Man Megamix, Duo seems to have this problem. He arrives specifically to kill Dr. Wily and all his robots, but runs into Mega Man, who adheres to Thou Shall Not Kill and would rather bring to Wily to the courts. Duo takes this to mean that Mega Man has turned evil, with his Robot Master brothers from the first game considered as still tainted by their prior reprogramming, and attempts to kill them to get to Wily.

    Comic Books 
  • In Batman Two-Face is sometimes portrayed as having this as the root of his multiple personality disorder.
    • This is particularly obvious in his post-Year One characterisations, where the "good" persona believes in fairness and the hope of goodness in people, while the "evil" side sees unfairness and cheating everywhere. To quote his revised origin:
    "Harvey": Good boys don't do bad things.
    • His original character concept was even moreso. Originally he was actually supposed to do good deeds when the coin landed unscarred face up.
    • Batman himself occasionally comes into this Depending on the Writer, usually in stories in which it's pointed out how close to insanity he often walks. The Joker in particular seems very fond of calling him out on this, most famously in The Killing Joke.
  • An early version of the Heterodyne Boys (the basis of the characters of the same name in Girl Genius, but specifically not the same guys, according to Studio Foglio) has the characters traveling to an alternate universe with Grey and Grey Morality, where they end up killing the first guy they meet in a bar. They then proceed to conclude that he must have been evil, because where they come from, only evil people ever die. In their own universe, that is assumed to be true, but in the universe they ended up in, that combined with their abilities essentially makes them a pair of Omnicidal Maniacs.
  • In Logicomix, Ferge is totally honest and devoted to truth & logic. Sadly, this devotion combined with Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance leads to Black and White Insanity in the form of a Straw Vulcan despite for women and Jews. On the whole, this makes him a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot who is desperately trying to do the right thing.
  • Rorschach in Watchmen, meant deliberately as a comment on Steve Ditko's more fanatically Objectivist characters. This is clearly reflected in his Expressive Mask, where the black and white never mix. This also lead to his death, as he refused to compromise and decided to tell the world the truth despite knowing it would only make all the deaths from the plan meaningless and will put the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Which is why Dr. Manhattan killed him to prevent him from doing so.
    Rorschach: Never compromise! Not even in the face of Armageddon.

  • Discussed in Total Drama Nations. Dmitri tells Emma that she's applying this to all of the other contestants and that it is unhealthy to think that way. Emma, thinking that she is just being a hero, doesn't know how to react.
    Emma: No. Dmitri's wrong. Sure, there may be a few neutral people in the world. But, especially in Total Drama, everyone can be split into good or evil.

  • Two-Face's condition is even worse in Batman Forever, where his good side, if he even has one, seems to be an excuse at best. To emphasize the point, he has two female henchmen named Sugar and Spice, a pair of attractive women who are supposed to represent his good side (Drew Barrymore) and his evil side (Debi Mazar) in very sexy ways. However, Sugar, the one who is supposed to represent his good side, is just as evil as Spice.
    • Two-Face's actions show that rather than having a good side and an evil side, his coin toss represents doing evil, and waiting for the next opportunity to toss the coin.
  • In Detective Story, Detective Jim McLeod views the world this way, even refusing to give a break to a man who embezzled a small amount of money despite the victim not wanting to prosecute. He tells them that he'll commit another crime and another until he's like the gibbering idiots they've also arrested. His world collapses when he finds out his saintly wife knew men before him, became pregnant and had an abortion.
  • God Bless America: With his strict morality of right versus wrong, Frank Murdoch's reality crumbles. He comes across as being less capable of comprehending the world than Roxy Harmon, who easily exploit his insecurity to get him to embark on his misguided crusade. While he's a Windmill Crusader, she seem to simply be in it For the Evulz.
    • The television ranter, tea party members and Westboro Baptist Church picketers Frank kills are also portrayed as suffering from this - either genuinely or simply pretending to get attention.
  • In The Ledge, Joe lives in his own personal world of strictly black and white morality. This gives a life that is very good but also very fragile. When reality doesn't conform to his over-simplified world-view, everything crumbles.
  • Overzealous mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt in Observe and Report suffers from this flaw, in addition to Bipolar Disorder.
  • Star Wars: In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker slowly becomes more and more deluded that all opponents of Chancellor Palpatine are enemies of the Republic, culminating in him declaring a With Us or Against Us to his former mentor. Obi-Wan Kenobi then uses it right back at him, but the narrative portrayed him as being in the right.
  • In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Chad keeps insisting in a black and white narrative with himself as the good guy and the hillbillies as the villains. Since said hillbillies are the eponymous characters, well...

  • Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye suffers from this trope, and the consequences are apparent.
  • Played with in the Discworld books. Granny Weatherwax is accused of having an overly black-and-white view of the world in Carpe Jugulum, but as she explains to Mightily Oats, in her opinion "gray's just white that's got grubby."
  • In Flatland, the ruling caste enforce a Black and White Morality worldview to the point where they outlaw color, enforcing the world to literally be black and white. Their excuse for this draconic law is that it's needed for preserving the sexual purity of their women.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The priestess/sorceress Melisandre of Asshai is convinced that everything she does is all in the name of the greater good. This is probably best exemplified when she speaks to Davos Seaworth. She asks if he is a good man or an evil one, he says that like most men he has both. Her response:
    If half an onion is black with rot, it is a rotten onion. A man is good or he is evil.
    • Davos reflects the metaphor right back at her: when he delivered his ship of much-needed supplies to the besieged soldiers of Storm's End, many of the onions were half-rotten, and eagerly eaten nonetheless.
    • Daenerys Targaryen has a fair bit of difficultly understanding that not all of the people who rebelled against her father and usurped her family's throne are faithless, power hungry traitors. In particular, every time she hears anyone say anything good about Eddard Stark (who the readers know one of the only genuinely heroic characters in the series) she refuses to listen, and continues believing him to be a cold hearted villain. She starts to grow out of this after finding out from Barristan Selmy that her father really was The Caligula. She's also not as quick to condemn Eddard for his association with Robert Baratheon when she realizes that by the same logic that she uses to condemn him, (essentially guilt by association) she is a childkiller like her dragon.
    • Try telling Cersei Lannister that fawning sycophants do not great allies make. Or that criticism aimed in her direction does not automatically make somebody a deadly enemy to put on the "accident" list. Well, she doesn't always do that: she also verbally abuses and belittles them enough to actually making them loathe her enough to become active roadblocks. If you are not her child, her twin or a Yes-Man, she just doesn't see why she can't abuse and discard you, as you're never going to be worthy to be truly on her side.
  • Galad from The Wheel of Time has a comparatively minor case of this; he's described as "always doing the right thing, no matter who it hurts" and has very strict ideas concerning what right and wrong entail. This leads him eventually to join the Children of the Light, an organization (in)famous for this kind of thinking. In the later books he begins to be lighten up, at least a little, especially after people he respects challenge his world view and point out how even the best intentioned person can be simply wrong, even working from the best information that they have. On the plus side, because he's now influential in the Children, his lightening up is taking the organization with him.
    • As a whole, the Children of the Light. Quite a few of them smell rabid to wolves.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffyverse:
    • The Watchers Council says all demons are evil. Of course, this is first disproved by the vampire with a soul Angel, and then the soulless vampire Spike, who actually goes and gets a soul for love. Not to mention Clem, a demon so non-evil that not only does Buffy trust him with Dawn, but Dawn is able to push him around (and he comes to Buffy's birthday party).
      • But he still eats kittens.
    • Not to mention that the Slayers themselves have powers that are demonic in origin.
    • Angel showed the Council's position to be nonsense, with scores of non-evil demons appearing. Even many of the demons they fight are "evil" not in a Legions of Hell apocalyptic way, but in a career criminal, thug-for-hire way.
    • Connor. The sad fact is that he never really adjusts to our world. Angel is a killer; therefore, he should die. The world is harsh and cruel; Jasmine made it a paradise, so she must be good.
      • He considers himself above Angel Investigations in this respect, accusing them of fighting empty battles and helping to maintain the status quo.
  • Monk will try prosecuting people for letting their dogs pee in the street, having an uneven number of buttons undone on their shirts/sweaters or wearing mismatched socks, because such "crimes against the universe" will "invariably" lead to crimes like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking.
    • And don't even get him started on nudists....
  • Virginia in the North and South (Trilogy) miniseries is against slavery. Fine. Believing that everyone from the southern USA is Always Chaotic Evil? Not so fine. And it keeps going downhill from there, with her ruining her own life and arguably becoming more of a liability to her cause rather then an asset.
  • Police commander Howard "Bunny" Colvin from The Wire bemoans how this attitude, particularly in the case of the "War on Drugs" has changed being a police officer for the worse throughout his career. In one frustrated speech, he says that police officers are being turned into wartime soldiers, and outlines what he sees as the differences between the two. (According to him, one protects a community and the people within it, while the other kills their enemies.) He goes on to add this has only turned the very community police are supposed to protect into their enemies.
    I mean you call something a war, and pretty soon everyone is going to be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a fucking enemy. And pretty soon damn near everybody on every corner is your fucking enemy. Pretty soon the neighborhood you're supposed to be policing is just occupied territory. Soldiering and policing they ain't the same thing.

  • In Bad Religion lyrics, this trope is implied to be one of the main problems with people and society.
  • In Billy Joel's song "Shades of Grey", while he notes his own departure from Black and White Morality and how much easier it was, he also cautions in the vein of this trope:
    And the only people I fear
    are those who never have doubts
    Save us all from arrogant men,
    and all the causes they're for
    • This is also exemplified in the title character of his "Angry Young Man".
  • The video for the Insane Clown Posse song "Chris Benoit" touches on this in the form of a rubix cube that arranges itself from evenly checkered to solid black or white on each side, representing the titular wrestler's descent into the insanity that led him to kill his family. The use of chess pieces and dice also add to the Black versus White theme prevalent in the video.
  • The Monkees also did a song "Shades of Grey" with the same theme, but without the caution aspect.
  • A Vocaloid music video called "Super Hero" has the title character Kagamine Len choose to become a super hero like his idol on a cartoon show in order to administer justice. Over time, he finds the real evil lies in the government and tries to destroy the system for the greater good.
    I'm a super hero!!
    The time has come to change the world
    Call me insane? Call me a murderer?
    You're the ones who are evil!

    Terrorist, you say? That's outrageous!
    Hey, where do you think you're taking me?!
    I protect everyone, this town, this world, and you!
    I'm your great and noble hero!!
    This wasn't the way it ended on TV...
  • In another Vocaloid song, "Karakuri Burst", Kagamine Len states that his views of morality are separated only by 'black and white'.

  • Tuyet from BIONICLE. She's a Lawful Evil character, who wants to take over the Matoran universe because she genuinely believes she could make it a better place. However, an Alternate Universe shows that this would mean brainwashing all the other Toa into Knight Templars, and killing anyone who poses a potential threat to her position as Empress.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Oracles from Genius The Transgression have this as their defining character flaw.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, this is White's main flaw, which is why Knight Templar's are fairly easy to create. A specific example were the Loxodons from Mirrodin (metal covered anthropomorphic elephants), which were mentally incapable of accepting the concept of moral shades of grey. The white phyrexians that took over Mirrodin were even worse in that regard.
  • Planescape went in for the "Lawful Stupid Knight Templar" presentation of Lawful groups a bit much, at least those that weren't overtly Lawful Evil. The Harmonium and Mercykiller factions were especially bad, presented as draconian monsters - the courts often had to throw out cases where someone was arrested by the Harmonium for minor infractions like membership in a "wrong" faction. This came from being in a setting where belief is power and strong belief is more power, leading factions to resort to dogmatic extremism to get and keep their power.
    • In an interesting subversion, it also suggested that for creatures who are born from and composed of the pure force of Good (or Law, or whatever), that to cease to see the world in the black-and-white terms of their alignment was a sign of mental instability. The main example being a group of celestials (beings of pure Good) who conspired to keep the fiends (demons and devils) wrapped up in their Enemy Civil War by running arms to both sides. Some seemed to be close to losing their grip from seeing things in shades of gray. In other words, shades-of-gray is a healthy and mature view for mortals but unhealthy for immortals, and black-and-white absolutism is the reverse.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, pretty much every single sentient being is afflicted by this, due to Fantastic Racism. Except the Always Chaotic Evil ones. Of course, this being Warhammer 40000, the only mistake most of them make is assuming there's a 'white'.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, as Anders becomes more and more obsessed with the Mage/Templar issue of Kirkwall and as he's starting to lose the battle against Vengeance, he becomes more and more hostile to those he perceives as pro-Templar or just generally an enemy of the mages, including those in Hawke's party, and including other mages. At the nadir of his madness, one isn't even allowed to abstain from the debate; choose a side or he'll choose it for you and designate you an enemy.
    • Fenris, too, in the other direction, to a slightly lesser extent. Fenris believes that all mages are evil, period. Interestingly, he's actually aware that it's generally a bad idea to overgeneralize the innocent many based on the actions of a guilty few. But reminding him of that will cause him to rationalize that bad magic is so tempting that all innocent mages, with the possible exception of Mage!Hawke, will eventually become guilty. The "lesser extent" part comes in because Fenris never quite acts on his belief that all mages are the same beyond insulting the mages in the party, and Fenris will sometimes apologize for being rude if it's pointed out to him, where Anders...well, play the end of the game for details.
    • Hell, Fenris will even help mages when you point out their treatment in the game is a form of slavery; the one thing Fenris hates more than mages.
  • N and Team Plasma from Pokémon Black And White has this. If you're not in support of their insane Cartoonish Supervillainy, then you're a cruel and abusive Lillipup-kicking Pokémon trainer! It turns out that Team Plasma's claim to having this is merely a cover-up for their true motives — to Take Over the World. N turns to be the true Plasma King. The only one who wants to Take Over the World is Ghetsis. N even all but invokes the idea by name:
    "Many different values mix together, and the world becomes gray... That is unforgivable! I will separate Pokémon and people, and black and white will be clearly distinct!"
    • In the sequel, Ghetsis and co are still trying to take over the world, while N is still interested in freeing Pokémon, but more specifically freeing them from Poké Balls. As the end nears, he begins to question if people and Pokémon really can live alongside each other.
  • Heavily implied with the apparent Big Good Rohoph in the MARDEK series, due to the Violet Crystal's influence. Qualna calls him out on it and gets a Fate Worse Than Death for his trouble.
  • Ishida Mitsunari in Sengoku Basara. Either you are a fellow servant of Hideyoshi, in which case he will (grudgingly) tolerate you, or you are a vile sinner who will be killed in the most gruesome fashion imaginable. It doesn't help that he's quite a Horrible Judge of Character.
  • Megami Tensei: By the end any games in the main series, both the Chaos and Law factions will have degenerated into this. Don't much care for a World of Silence? Then get thine ass hence, for thou art a greedy, war-mongering Jerkass that placeth his own whims before the needs of thy fellow man's! Think that a world of social darwinism where Might Makes Right isn't your thing? Then FUCK YOU, you goody-good, backstabbing peace-lover!

    Web Comics 
  • In Captain SNES, Max Force labels people who disagree with him about just about anything as "druggies" and attempts to shoot them down. Once he is convinced someone is a druggie, no force in the world can convince him otherwise. And when he fails to shoot his target, he comes up with insane excuses as to why he didn't actually miss; he was just aiming at something else.
  • Goblins: Kore the Paladin is nominally Lawful Good, a requirement maintaining his paladin status. However, he believes certain races of monsters are inherently evil, and that anyone who comes into contact with an evil creature becomes "infected" with evil themselves, which can only be cured by death. This includes people who merely come into contact with evil creatures, people who are kidnapped by evil creatures, and even people who might potentially sympathize with evil creatures. And no, children are not exempt. And the scariest part? Kore still retains his paladin magics, which means that either the divines who guide the church agree with and/or tolerate his philosophy, or there is something very WRONG with heaven. It's also possible it's a "I believe I'm right therefore I have power" type deal. Given however that it's explicit in the comic that evil is triumphing in a multiversal sense, it's more likely to be a problem with his god.
  • Miko in The Order of the Stick is built on this trope, growing increasingly delusional over the course of the story arc. As her insanity increases, it changes her from a mere Knight Templar into a total Windmill Crusader - handwaving even the fact that the Gods have stripped her of her paladin powers.
  • Irina Tepes from RasputinCatamite hacks up people in the name of God, and is absolutely convinced that her activities are virtuous.
  • The partisan climate of the US devolving into this on both sides was the driving force behind the less-than-stellar state of affairs in Remus
  • Glinda comes off as this in the Kings War arc of Roommates, when she goes to war against an evil, greedy, glory seeking villain who fooled people into thinking that he changed and got his hand on a magical kingdom, but villains are villains and heroes heroes, period... In her own world she might be justified, OZ is not the land of great moral ambiguity, but because the comic is a Morality Kitchen Sink that villain happened to be a Lawful Good ex-Hero Antagonist, who is also the Token Good Teammate of the main cast. When she explained her reason boiled down to: "There are heroes and there are villains, you are a villain so you must be opposed."

    Western Animation 
  • Near the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender, especially in the finale, Azula begins to adopt this mindset, seeing everyone as being either completely for her or a complete traitor to her. Most notably, the end of the two-part episode "The Boiling Rock" after Mai and Ty Lee turn on her.
    • Parodied when she banishes one of her twin handmaidens, convinced one is loyal and the other is treacherous, despite the fact that she can't tell them apart.
  • Danny Phantom's first episode has Sam and Tucker on the opposing sides of a Meat vs. Veggies, and put Danny in the middle:
    Sam: you're either with me...
    Tuck: ...or you're against her!