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Humanity on Trial
"You will answer to the charge of being a grievously savage race!"
Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Encounter at Farpoint"

The Sufficiently Advanced Aliens are not pleased. The human race has been warring, polluting, nuclear-bombing, and not looking both ways before crossing the street. So now, they've come to put Humanity on Trial.

This usually involves plucking out a certain person or group of people - coincidentally, our protagonists - and putting them in a metaphorical court, to testify on behalf of the human race. Sometimes, there are individuals plucked from all ages of humanity's past (with the usual Time Travel cliches in effect).

Sometimes, it's stated that this is happening because we've started traveling out into space, or because we've just discovered nuclear power, but often the Powers That Be have just decided it is time.

Sometimes this will happen before humanity even knows said aliens exist and have yet to make first contact let alone any knowingly-hostile movements against them. Not that this helps. Arguing "We didn't know any better", even if true, will only be used as further proof of our inherent arrogance and selfishness. When presented this way, it seems the "crime" we are guilty of is simply existing in the same universe while not being "civilized" enough for the alien's liking, and our lower-being status should be self-evident to the audience. Also, we stink so there's that too.

The hypocrisy of wiping out a fellow sapient species just because it suits them is rarely addressed, especially ironic if the aliens judge humans for a similar treatment of a weaker species. If it is, it's justified with Humans Are the Real Monsters, the only sentient race in the whole universe that does dirty things like cheating, lying, murdering, etc. The accusing aliens may have long ago overcome such behaviors, but they may even drop the bombshell that they never suffered from them in the first place, and have always been a utopian, perfect race that never as much as littered. The accuser also ignores the oddity of punishing an entire species for crimes against itself.

One way to avert the hypocrisy is to make the accuser species self-consciously no more moral than the humans on trial. They're not thinking of destroying us because of any particular ideology; they're thinking of destroying us because we are a potential threat. This can be treated with varying degrees of sympathy—you might be alarmed by the sudden appearance of strange ape-like beings in your backyard too, especially when at least a few of them can be proven to be violent and even fratricidal.

Sometimes an "act of self-sacrifice" by one of the protagonists will "prove" that humanity deserves to exist. If the aliens didn't know that this was possible, then they really didn't think things through. And since this is the case more often then not, the whole "trial" device frequently gets a distinct tint of Plot-Induced Stupidity.

If the plot has humanity not playing along and actually fighting back, then the accusers often downgrade to Scary Dogmatic Aliens. Otherwise, the verdict is usually that Humans Are Special (occasionally, the accusers actually suspected this all along, and just wanted to make sure we live up to our potential). Then again, considering all the criminally irresponsible "parenting" some Neglectful Precursors do, one wonders why they aren't on trial.

Compare to Outsourcing Fate, another case where The Powers That Be force certain individuals to represent the universe, but by actually putting them in charge.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bokurano - humanity isn't simply put on trial, they are tossed into a Deadly Game against the alternate versions of themselves. Why the Powers That Be are testing them this way is rarely addressed.
    • Actually... They found the version in the multiverse that is the embodiment of what they think humanity is, and then tested the version of humanity we know from the manga by watching them in their battles with the alternate version.
  • In the manga Read or Dream the paper sisters are put to the test of selecting a book from their (considerable) collection that can demonstrate to the alien creators of Earth that their real estate is being put to good use. While 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and 'The Complete Pictography of Cute Puppies' fail to sway the alien judge, a timely rant on the unfairness of such a judgment by Anita fortunately does.
  • Anime example: In Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars, the alien forces are sufficiently impressed by the warlike nature and telepathic abilities of Earthlings that they put humanity to a test. This test is passed, and so they attempt to recruit and clone the best (available) human soldiers to act as shock troops in their military.
    • To be honest, the Super Robot Wars series is filled with these. The Einst, who are disturbed by how warlike the Earthlings are and seek to kill them all and replace them with a new species with Kyosuke and Alfimi as its Adam and Eve, and the Inspectors, who also seek to destroy all Earthlings before they become too much of a threat. Of course, with the Inspectors there is a slight subversion: It turns out their leader, Wendolo, is just a psychopathic murderer who wants to use the trope as an excuse to commit genocide.
  • In the Manga and Anime series YuYu Hakusho, the second to last villain in the series and former Spirit Detective, Shinobu Sensui, seeks to unleash the most powerful Demons from Demon World and thusly rid the Living world of Humanity because of how Evil humans are. However, he flat out states several times that he sees this as Humanity's "Trial", with he as the Prosecutor and his replacement, the current Spirit Detective Yusuke Urameshi as the "Defense", Their battle being the trial itself. He continues to use the "Trial" terminology throughout the entire arc, so much so that When he believed he had beaten Yusuke, he even said "The Trial of Humanity, the Defense Rests". The whole situation actually becomes rather ironic when Yusuke is revived and it's revealed he has Demon Blood, and has been revived as a Demon. Thus, the final battle of this "Trial" for the fate of humanity has a Human as the Prosecutor, and a Demon as the Defense. It would later be revealed that Sensui's motives weren't exactly for the Trial, he just wanted to go to Demon World and be killed by a Demon, and the "Trial" Motive was only a side-effect, however it was still very present and he did discuss it to great lengths
  • This is the premise of Osamu Tezuka's work, the Amazing 3, about aliens who come to earth in the form of a duck, a horse, and a bunny to decide if they should blow it up or not.
  • In Macross Zero, the Protoculture turned out to have left behind an intelligent superweapon that would do this if and when humanity achieved spaceflight. Unfortunately, it happened to wake up in the middle of the Unification War (where the UN was forcibly absorbing all countries on Earth into a One World Order). Interestingly, it reverses its decision to annihilate mankind when it sees an example of the potential for love humans possess, and ends up sacrificing itself to save the surrounding area from nuclear devastation. The Protoculture did this because they had seen firsthand what would happen if a warlike race spread through the galaxy (referring to themselves), and they were not about to let their descendant races (of which humanity is one) make the same mistakes.

    Comic Books 
  • The Celestials of the Marvel Universe go around seeding life on worlds. Occasionally they visit and judge them with their own mysterious criteria. Those races that don't pass the test die. And yes, humanity is one of those races, and the Celestials did almost execute them. And nothing's stopping them from making a repeat visit down the line either.
  • In one Post-Crisis Superman story (aptly titled "The Trial Of Superman"), Superman is put on trial for the destruction of Krypton as the last Kryptonian. The minor detail of him being an infant at the time was considered irrelevant. Eventually, there is a crisis where the alien Judges begin fighting amongst themselves and Superman saves the day. However, the judges will not exonerate him, instead they compromise by sentencing him to effectively "community service", namely he has to continue his Neverending Battle for Truth and Justice.
    • Gee, it sure is good these morally superior beings interfered, there.
      • Their reasons for blaming him for Krypton's destruction aren't even fair. The entire population of Krypton was genetically bonded to the planet, thus they were unable to leave their homeworld as doing so would have resulted in their deaths. The judges only blamed Superman because one of his ancestors was responsible for the genetic bonding.

    Film 
  • The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), where Klaatu actually had authority to judge Earth. In the original, Klaatu's mission parameters exclusively covered delivering the message. The message being that humanity could either join the galactic civilization or stay on Earth. If we stayed on Earth, then we would be left alone. But if we decided to join, then we would be expected to obey their rules, and be annihilated unless we gave up our warlike ways.
  • The mostly forgettable Zarkor the Invader subverts this somewhat in that the alien representative explaining the test to the chosen human brushes away his questions on the morality of this test with a quick "We're powerful enough to do whatever we want."
  • In The Abyss, aliens with the ability to manipulate water considered washing humanity away for all its warmongery and cruelty. They even raised huge tsunami waves all around the globe and held them erect for a while just to make their point perfectly clear, but changed their minds when Bud willingly sacrificed himself on a one-way trip to the depths in order to save the aliens from a nuclear warhead sent down by an Ax-Crazy Marine. (It's debatable whether the nuke would have hurt them, but still...) They even saved Bud's life as a "thank you."
  • This turns out to be the plot of The Box. The plot didn't really work out very well, in part because the aliens had to screw up everybody's lives before the test even started.
    • Or in clinical study terms. They involve themselves in the test, purposely rig the samples, interfere in the experiment, and try to destroy the results when they don't turn out they way they want it to. If you tried to pull even a forth of this stuff in a college lab course you would fail the class.

    Literature 
  • Robert A. Heinlein
    • Have Spacesuit Will Travel included one of these at the climax. We got to see what they did to those found guilty - their planet was removed from this universe, without its sun. The tribunal also admits that the point is to neutralize species that might become a threat to galactic society instead of "justice". In a twist, the protagonist saves humanity by (among other things) threatening the tribunal with revenge should they take action against Earth.
    • Stranger in a Strange Land. Mike, a human raised by Martians, is sent back to Earth to grok humans and gather that information for the Martians. Humanity is never aware they're on trial, nor are the reasons made clear (though it's closest to the "dangerous neighbor" rationale), and Mike isn't fully aware himself, though some of his friends suspect something. It's revealed that the Martians already destroyed the original fifth planet and its inhabitants, creating the Asteroid Belt and making Jupiter the new fifth planet. Luckily Martians can take hundreds of years to make such a big decision, by which time humanity (with Mike's help) may be too powerful to destroy.
  • The kids' novel series My Teacher Is an Alien by Bruce Coville had the ultimate origin of the alien teachers as a Federation-esque organization who was studying Earth. They had to decide what to do about Earth: welcome us, blockade us, conquer us or destroy us...
  • Subverted (somewhat anviliciously) in a short story from Bruce Coville's Book of Aliens. A race of aliens declares that two representatives from Earth would be chosen to decide the planet's fate, these being the two the aliens chose to be the best from the planet. The protagonist of the story wonders just who will be chosen, until the end of the story when it turns out that the aliens pick a pair of dolphins. The story ends before we find out the aliens' decision. Which considering how evil dolphins can be to each other is just as well.
  • The last half of the book This Is The Way The World Ends consists of the last five surviving men being put on trial for the nuclear holocaust by future humans that will never get to live. Testimony includes such things as a young boy who would have been on the first trip outside our solar system, if the world hadn't ended.
  • In The Urth of the New Sun Severian travels to another planet where he is judged by godlike aliens in hope of convincing them to do something about Earth's dying Sun.
    • Not quite. Severian travels to a parallel universe for the trial, but the trial was the journey to the parallel universe, so humanity's fate was already decided before he even got there. Also, Severian himself had the power to re-start the sun all along, he just didn't know it, so the parallel universe's inhabitants didn't save the sun of Urth for him/us, they just provided him with the journey necessary to realize his own power. And they sent him back in time to the right era for his mission to be successful.
  • The Red Star (1908), the semi-obscure sci fi novel by Russian scientist Alexander Bogdanov. In the novel, humanity is put on trial by Sufficiently Advanced Martians.
  • In Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure cycle, the hero is tried as a stand-in for the Terran race. He wins on a technicality, and is promptly attacked by the outraged plaintiff anyway.
  • Ted Reynold's short story "Can These Bones Live?". The human race has ceased to exist. One female human is brought back to life and ask to choose one extinct race to bring back to life. Two of the possible choices are humanity and another race which was incredibly pure, nice, generous, etc. - basically a race of saints. She chooses to resurrect the saintly race and is rewarded for her altruism by humanity being resurrected as well.
  • In the Fimbulwinter Game from The Barsoom Project, the adventurers are put on trial for humanity's sins by humanity's sins, in the form of nasty insect-like holographic vermin.
  • Played with in "Ben-Harran's Castle". Humanity is not on trial, Ben-Harran, a powerful alien who supposed to be in charge of the Milky Way, is - for not brainwashing humanity to be peaceful.
  • In The Bible, God effectively puts all of humanity, present and future (except Jesus), on trial in Genesis after the original sin, finds us guilty, and sentences us to death. However, he also makes plans to pardon us, as long as certain conditions are met, and allows hundreds of years pass by in order for humans to accept or reject that pardon.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger and its American adaptation, Power Rangers Wild Force, GaoGod/Animus (a sort of nature-god) puts the primary Rangers on trial for the environmental crimes of humanity and takes away their powers, forcing the Sixth Ranger to keep the peace all on his own.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 subverted this in episode 815, Agent for H.A.R.M; Mike is transported into a courtroom run by a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, and assumes he's on trial for all of humanity. The judge replies that no, it's all about him, and he shouldn't be trying to drag anyone else into this.
  • Q did this in both the first and last episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the latter, it's implied that it was a False Crucible. Futhermore, self sacrifice was not the thing that allowed the Q Continuum to acquit humanity, but Picard realizing an idea to save the day that took a new perception of time and existence in order to achieve. That potential to grow is what really interested them.
    • Inverted in Star Trek: Voyager. The first Q-related episode of the series gave the ship's crew an opportunity to put a member of the omnipotent race on trial for once.
    • The strange thing about the original Q trial is that though humanity was the "defendant," it was The Federation- a nation of many species, among whom humans are dominant but hardly the only group- which would have been contained. Seems a bit unfair to, say, the Andorians.
      • Let's face it, Q just wanted to dick with the protagonists (as he would in many a future episode), and couldn't care less if it were fair to anyone.
    • Humans Are Special is inadvertantly invoked simply by using this device when no other species gets put on trial; of course it probably is a False Crucible that simply serves as a means for Q to toy with the protagonists, although it could probably be argued that The Federation is bound for eventual galactic hegemony and the Q, knowing this, wanted to test them first.
      • In the final episode, in fact, it seems as though Q has deliberately set things up so that Picard could triumph. After Picard succeeds, Q also says "the trial never ends". One can make of that what one will....
  • Thoroughly subverted in one Twilight Zone episode. An alien race, claiming to have created us, announces that they're disappointed by our "small talent for war" and intend to terminate the experiment. The nations of the world rush to sign a disarmament treaty in time to change the aliens' mind... which turns out to be exactly the wrong thing to do. The aliens were breeding warriors, and what disappointed them was our small talent for war.
    • If nearly destroying ourselves is "small", then what do they consider large?
      • Creating an intelligent race and then genociding it because it isn't warlike enough.
  • In an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the archangel Michael personally descends to Earth to release the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and off the humans. Hercules sacrifices himself to try and stop them - "there is still good in humans" - Earth is spared.
  • Almost the same thing happened in an episode of Charmed, only the Horsemen were acting at the direction of the Source of Evil this time. During a clash one of the Charmed (good witches) along with the horseman War got trapped in Limbo so the rest of the teams formed an uneasy alliance to try and free their respective comrades. But when the Charmed found out that once reunited, the horsemen could bring about the Apocalypse, they went back on the deal and essentially sacrificed their sister (that's unusual) to avert the end of the world. This decision, although morally ambiguous by most of the media standards, still amounted to "enough good in humans" and the Source destroyed the horsemen and withdrew until next time. Oh, and they managed to rescue their sister after all.
  • This happens in an episode of Wonder Woman where the titular character must prove that the human race is capable of more than just hate and destruction, which really seems hypocritical—the alien race is going to destroy the entire human race because it can't seem to get along part of the time?
  • The Atlantis expedition (represented by Sheppard's team and Mr. Woolsey) are put on trial by a tribunal representing humans in the Pegasus Galaxy. To be fair, the expedition did screw up pretty badly (they woke up the Wraith, created Michael, helped develop the Hoffan drug that Michael uses to attack humans, and changed the Replicator base code which motivated them to start attacking humans in order to fight the Wraith) but, as Sheppard points out, the Atlantis team are the only ones fighting against those threats, trying to protect the humans of Pegasus.

    Theatre 
  • Ayn Rand's play Night of January Sixteenth is presented as a courtroom case, where the jury is made up of audience members selected randomly. The play has two separate endings depending on the verdict that the jury reaches. In effect, Rand uses this to put the audience and their values on trial.
  • There's a play called Kangaroo Court which is an environmentalist Black Comedy in which a pair of humans are put on trial for various cruel and destructive things done to animals and their habitats. The judge is a cockroach who gloats about his species outliving humanity, the witnesses include a lab rabbit and a veal calf, and the couple's pet cat is implied to have Stockholm Syndrome. Now if only I could remember who wrote it...

    Video Games 
  • The events of Persona 4 turn out to be this. As revealed in the True Ending, the goddess Izanami created the Midnight Channel and "sparked" the power of three Persona users representing emptiness, despair and hope in order to ascertain what humanity truly desired. Thanks to Adachi, who represented emptiness, having the greatest effect on the town of Inaba, she decides humanity wants oblivion and it's up to you, who represents hope, to beat the crap out of her in order to prevent her from turning everyone into Shadows.
    • In Persona 2 it turns out the events of these games and the original Persona were actually a version of this — a contest between the AnthropomorphicPersonifications of human strength and weakness as manifested by humanity's collective unconscious to see which is truly more powerful.
  • The last boss of Mega Man Battle Network 4 is Duo, a program that plans to destroy Earth because his mission is to "judge and destroy evil." After you defeat him, he decides to go away for awhile and come back later to see if we're still evil.
  • The point of the Reaper's Game in The World Ends with You, only one city is put on trial since the judge believes if said city is destroyed there will be no need to destroy the rest of humanity, and also because the rest of humanity is outside of his jurisdiction.
    • However, Reaper's Games in general are meant to judge whether individual dead humans deserve a second chance.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2. The Patriots use Raiden's personality and actions to judge whether humanity is worthy of free will.
  • Devil Survivor is another good example of this. If you screw up, humanity loses its free will. If you really screw up, humanity is left in the ruins of its world with demons running everywhere. An unusual example in that the trial is also largely justified, given that humans not only struck first (and intentionally) but are risking taking down their own universe in the process.
    • Devil Survivor 2 is another one, though the crime and trial method is different. Dimension Lord Polaris has decided that humans haven't evolved fast enough, and is busy deleting Earth to make way for a better world. He is, however, giving humans a last shot and will undo the deletion or modify the world should they actually defeat his messengers, the Septentriones.
  • Orochi's reason for resetting existence in The King of Fighters was that humanity was corrupt and damaging to the Earth, but after getting the tar beaten out of him he decided to give humanity an extension.
  • What Furfur and Zephar pull on EP 6 of Uminekono Naku Koro Ni, towards two Battle Couples: Jessica/Kanon and George/Shannon. It was to see if their love would survive anything.
  • In The Last Remnant, mortals have already failed their trial by abusing the power of the Remnants. The Conqueror, a humanoid Remnant, awoke to act as executioner.
  • Following the end of the Sin War, the Angiris Council of the Diablo universe held a vote on whether or not to destroy Sanctuary and humanity. Imperius, Archangel of Valor and Jerkass extraordinaire, was the biggest proponent for humanity's annihilation, as they were the offspring of angels and the demons he despises. Malthael, the Archangel of Wisdom, was not there for the vote due to Worldstone-related things, but his vote was counted against humanity. Auriel, Archangel of Hope, and Itherael, Archangel of Fate, voted for humanity, but the deciding vote, the one that spared humanity from extinction, was cast by Tyrael, the Archangel of Justice and one of the only angels who actually gives a damn about the people of Sanctuary.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on American Dad!: Roger the alien believes that the other aliens gave him the privilege of deciding whether humanity should be destroyed, but they actually lied to Roger, and only used him as a crash dummy for their ship.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers had Sasquatch and a court of animals putting the Planeteers on trial for the crimes of humanity. It was exceptionally anvilicious on a series full of moral anvils.
  • While not all of humanity, a god-like being known as the Ethereal judged Agrabah in Disney's Aladdin: The Series this way. It asked the rulers what made their civilization "great" and threatened to destroy it if they couldn't answer. It rejected every answer they gave and decided to commence with the destruction, until Princess Jasmine risked her life to save a citizen. It was then satisfied and decided that they learned the intended lesson: that the people were what made Agrabah great. The very same people it was planning to mass murder.
  • Parodied on The Venture Bros., when the Grand Galactic Inquisitor arrives to judge humanity, based on criteria that humans apparently cannot possibly fathom. He insists that they not alter their behavior in any way (famously shouting "IGNORE ME!"). To this end, he follows the cast around on a completely unrelated adventure and continues insisting that they ignore him, despite being twelve feet tall and equipped with a loudspeaker on his chest. Turns out that the seemingly unrelated plot of the episode was an elaborate plan to summon another alien to shoot the Inquisitor in the head, thus apparently saving humanity. The cast still didn't consider the Inquisitor anything more than a nuisance, however.
  • In Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" humanity is put on trial by the Megans, for the crime of being xenophobic jerks. The trial is actually for "humanity and those who would aid them" in order to account for the nonhuman crew members. Humanity initially has its sentence suspended because it is concluded that they do not pose a threat to the Megans since it is nearly impossible to locate the Megan homeworld. Humanity is found not guilty after Kirk risks his life to protect a Megan who had been sentenced to A Fate Worse Than Death for associating with humanity. When asked why they didn't just use the Enterprise's records to discover for themselves that humans were capable of things like a Heroic Sacrifice the Megans reply the records could have been faked.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Gump Roast", Kang and Kodos decided to judge humanity. They were about to destroy the Earth after seeing Homer's Jerkass memories, but Lisa asked them to see Maggie's. This caused them to vomit through their eyes, but the sight of all the celebrities caused them to spare the Earth in exchange for getting to attend the People's Choice Awards.
  • God, the Devil and Bob begins based around this premise: God mentions to the Devil that he might destroy the world, and being sporting, lets him choose humanity's potential savior (Bob). Later episodes portray Bob as more God's prophet/errand boy spreading good, however.


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