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"... No matter how much you change the rules, no matter how much you refuse to admit defeat, in the end, the creatures known as "people" will always sign their own death warrant by acting out of stupidity and evil. And then... mankind will be gone for good."
In essence Humans Are Bastards is the reverse of Rousseau Was Right
— the natural proclivity of humanity is towards selfishness
and violence. Only a select few people manage to rise above their base nature to become something better, but the kernel of darkness is still inborn. When Humans Are Bastards is in effect, even your "heroes" don't have clean hands, so most conflict is gray against black
, with some gray against gray
or black against black
on for variety.
Humans being bastards doesn't preclude them being pragmatic
about it, so if there isn't a profit to be made by making the world a hellhole, they might not, but if conditions are tolerable it certainly isn't due to any inborn altruism on the part of those in charge.
Appeals to people's better nature will not work. Don't expect to see anyone shame the mob
— idealism has no place here. Any successful do-gooders will be very, very cynical and paranoid
, as the genuinely hopeful will inevitably become embittered if they're not killed outright.
Very, very far down the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
. Comedies are black
. Dramas are depressing
. Beware of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy
Compare Crapsack World
, Black and Gray Morality
. Hobbes Was Right
often makes an appearance, proposing that if the bastardy of humanity is a constant, the most effective form of government is tyranny.
Contrast Rousseau Was Right
and White and Gray Morality
. See also Humans Are Flawed
, which takes the middle road by acknowledging humanity's shortcomings while not underplaying their potential capacity for virtue.
For settings where only humans are bastards, while other sapient species are morally superior, see Humans Are the Real Monsters
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Anime and Manga
- In The Walking Dead, the worst threats to the survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse are other survivors. Sometimes it's more Humans Are Morons.
- In a lot of incarnations The Joker, most famously in The Killing Joke holds this opinion, maintaining that all it takes is "one bad day" to make anyone just as murderously insane as he is.
- Marvel Comics generally follows this trope given how much of a Crapsack World it tends to be. Most people who get powers or advanced tech are more than willing to abuse it. Many humans are usually shown as incredible corrupt, stupid racists who turn on their own heroes for any reason, support programs like concentration camps and Sentinels, and are more than willing to sell mankind out to invaders, dark gods or whomever is threatening them at the moment. About the only thing holding the planet together are the heroes and a minority of other decent people. Most futures tend to end badly for humanity and most alien races hold this opinion of humans and would not miss humanity if it were to destroy itself. There are some exceptions and in the aliens case for some races it is a matter of Moral Myopia.
- The films of Todd Solondz. Everyone is apathetic, disaffected, hypocritical, selfish - it's telling one of the more sympathetic protagonists is a man who fantasizes about school shootings.
- The Movie version of Over the Hedge sums up everything that's wrong with humanity in one word: Suburbia.
- The comic strip it's based on is this way too. Whereas the movie compresses most of its cynicism into a single sequence (which comes off as good-natured ribbing) and one recurring nasty character, the strip has it as an underlying theme.
- In The Fifth Element Leeloo despairs when she learns about the human race's tendency to inflict horrible things onto themselves (specifically World War 2) to the point of her seeing no point in helping them escape destruction, but then decides otherwise when Corben professes his love for her.
- This is a recurring motif for George A. Romero's zombie films, all the way from the original Night of the Living Dead. It's argued that, from at least Land of the Dead on, it's actually hurt Romero's story-telling, as he keeps rehashing/hammering in the same old message.
- Worth noting that a common complaint of Land of the Dead is that the human characters come across as such unsympathetic bastards that, incredibly, you could make a decent argument for the zombies being the good guys.
- The World's End: The Network certainly seems to think so.
- In The Dark Knight, a recurring theme is the question of whether Humans are evil or Rousseau Was Right. The Joker preaches the former, that all humans are cowardly, cruel, self-serving and will happily slaughter each other to get to the top of the pile. To this end, near the end of the film, he sets up a social experiment to determine which. He rigs two ships with explosives, one ferrying innocent refugees and the other carrying convicts, with each ship having access to the other ship's detonator. If one blows up the other, that ship is allowed to leave. The Joker gives them 10 minutes to decide, and if no action is taken, the Joker will detonate the bombs on BOTH ships. Not only do they both defy the Joker and refuse to condemn the other to death, it's the convicts who refuse to do it first.
- Every single character in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, even the hero is a multiple murderer who later on carries a necklace of ears around his neck. The only possible exception is The Judge, as though he's the worst of the bunch, there's a suggestion he's not human.
- Lord of the Flies is the purest possible example of this trope. The characters' failure to govern themselves is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Many of them come to fear an alien "beast" that threatens their society. However, when the pig-head of Simon's vision says the monster was within the boys all along and later when the survivors are "rescued" by a military ship, it becomes clear that the book is an allegory of the idea that the root of conflict between people is their own inherent corruption.
- In Stephen King's The Cell one character described humans thusly "At the bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle."
- The Warchild Series by Karin Lowachee has this in droves. For a sampling: There are pirates who engage in human trafficking, a pirate captain who is probably a pedophile, a war between humans and aliens started because humans tried to take the aliens' moon by force (and massacring a bunch of aliens in the process), a government more interested in bigotry and bureaucracy than peace, soldiers who willingly engage in torture, etc. Even the most sympathetic characters still end up slitting someone's throat, rebelling from the central government, and executing suspected terrorists without a trial. Humans are bastards indeed.
- Mark Twain's satirical essay The Lowest Animal takes the claim that humans are the "reasoning animal" and totally destroys it by showing mankind's hatred towards each other and everything else.
- Twain also argued for the (continued) genocide of the Native Americans, on the basis that the white man had lied and betrayed and screwed them so many times, and so thoroughly, that they would (justifiably) never trust whites again. Therefore, the only course of action left was to give up any remaining illusions of not being utter bastards, and finish what they'd started.
- British statesman Lord Chesterfield in Letters to His Son: "In the mass of mankind, I fear, there is too great a majority of fools and, knaves; who, singly from their number, must to a certain degree be respected, though they are by no means respectable. And a man who will show every knave or fool that he thinks him such, will engage in a most ruinous war, against numbers much superior to those that he and his allies can bring into the field. Abhor a knave, and pity a fool in your heart; but let neither of them, unnecessarily, see that you do so." (letter 60)
- In Poul Anderson's After Doomsday, the destruction of Earth is unprecedented, making the evidence that humanity did it all the more painful. At the end, when the survivors are pondering whether humanity should go on in face of this, they learn they were framed.
- This trope shows up in spades in the Marquis de Sade's work. Anyone who isn't a complete bastard is either a hypocrite or a victim. Sade's worldview was a very, very cynical one.
- Kurt Vonnegut was fond of this trope (although, strangely, his works are also full of White and Grey Morality). Cat's Cradle is an example.
- Malcolm in The Middle requires this to be a universal fact.
- The Mirror Universe in Star Trek runs on this trope. A dark contrast to the standard Humans Are Special / Rousseau Was Right that powers the regular Trek Verse, humanity in that universe is a race of xenophobic, dictatorial imperialists out to conquer any and everything in their path. And they are just as brutal, if not more so, to each other; in that universe's Starfleet, killing your superior officer is an acceptable means of promotion. Note, there is a level of pragmatism in what they do. They generally would rather an alien world willingly submit to the Terran Empire's rules, but whereas the Federation will take a no, the Empire will commence orbital bombardment. And while casually killing fellow officers is a means of career advancement, it seems decorum dictates it be done only under excused circumstances (e.g. the superior screwed up).
- HG Wells in Warehouse 13 comes to this conclusion after her eight-year-old daughter was murdered.
'"Open your eyes, Myka! Have you seen the world in which you live? The divide between rich and poor! Hunger and famine! War and violence and hatred all flourishing beyond control! Indeed, men have found new ways to kill each other that were inconceivable in my day, even by fiction writers!"
- On Angel Angel goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, determined to take down the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart once and for all. He finds an elevator he thinks will take him to W&H's "Home Office" and their senior partners. On the way down seemingly to Hell, the ghost of W&H lawyer Holland Manners appears telling him his fight against them and evil itself is pointless. The elevator doors open to reveal they are still on Earth and that Earth is the home office. It is because evil lives in the heart of every human being. This revelation completely demoralizes Angel.
- A common theme in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror. Depending on your perspective either technology is creating a lack of empathy among people or it simply allows humanity to be bastards more easily.
- In The National Anthem the British public pressure the Prime Minister to have sex with a pig in order to save a princess.
- In White Bear a signal has transformed 9/10 of the population into "Observers" leaving the remaining 10th to do whatever they please, and the please to cause misery. Then it's revealed there was no signal and that these people are enjoying the torture of a criminal.
- Played for laughs by Community in "Debate 109," an episode involving a debate championship with the subject of "Is Man good or evil?" The main characters have to argue the latter position against a disabled man.
- If a Death Metal band goes into more "philosophical" or "societal" territory, it'll usually manifest as this. Expect a lot of Misanthrope Supreme as a result.
- Town Square in The Twilight Zone, where the citizens can be induced to panic and wreak havoc.
- In Big Finish Doctor Who's Jubilee, the Daleks invaded England during the early 1900's and were destroyed by the Doctor. Much of the technology was scavenged and used to form an English Empire, an utterly depraved version of the British Empire adscribing to the worst parts of the Dalek philosophy; paranoid, xenophobic, sadistic - to the point the last remaining Dalek considers humanity worthy successors of the Dalek legacy. The huge crowd chanting "EXTERMINATE" at the Last Dalek hammers down Humanity has been warped into nothing but the next Daleks.
- For such a lighthearted series, MOTHER 3 drives this point home when you least expect it. Really, even if the Big Bad is loathsome, despicable, and a sick monster in every way, shape and form, you can't help but agree with him just a little bit when he delivers his "The Reason You Suck" Speech. In a nutshell, the Tazmily Villagers erased their memories for a more Utopian society to prevent another Apocalypse from happening that nearly wiped out all the humans in the first place. It is mentioned in-game that humans have destroyed themselves in one way or another, but it is left ambiguous. War? Pollution? Overpopulation? Who knows, these are all guesses. But, instead of learning from their mistakes, they instead get corrupted by the Big Bad, who is, funnily enough, a symbol of humanity.
Porky: "You resorted to blanking your memories to create a new world where humanity's past failures would never be repeated... How stupid can you be?! No matter how much you change the rules, no matter how much you refuse to admit defeat, in the end, the creatures known as "people" will always sign their own death warrant by acting out of stupidity and evil. And then... mankind will be gone for good."
- The Dead Space games do this all the freaking time. In a setting where the Universe is dark and cold and deserted, and the only alien life we've found are horrifically reanimated dead bodies trying to kill everyone, human beings still manage to hold the title of "biggest assholes in the Galaxy". Not one game goes by without some douchebag betraying you, fanatically worshiping the Necromorphs and Markers, trying to brutally suppress something or other by killing many innocent people, or all of the above.
- And in a few situations, it's even shown that much of that is necessary, or at least justifiable. Humans have reached a peak, and civilization is quickly circling the drain. The betrayals and coverups are part of an Government effort to revitalize humanity with alien technology, and even the fanatical Unitologists are led by a misguided belief that, though humanity has failed to survive, some kind of evolution could save everyone. Even though it doesn't and they're completely wrong.
- The third game reveals that humanity is merely following the same pattern every other race in the galaxy that preceded it followed. Every race became victims of entropy, limited resources, and the temptation of the Brethren Moons' Markers and destroyed themselves.
- At the end of Phantasy Star II, all the disasters turn out to be caused by earthlings, who, having stripped Earth of all its resources, have arrived to purge all life from Algo and take it for themselves. The Bolivian Army Ending doesn't leave much hope they can be stopped, either.
- Shows up as graffiti in the "Dead Air" campaign of Left 4 Dead ("WE ARE THE REAL MONSTERS!"). Also mocked right after ("Have you been outside JACKASS!!"). They really miss the internet.
- Shows up again in "The Passing", as a piece of commentary on bathroom graffiti. "I flushed it 50 times and now it DOESN'T WORK!","You IDIOT! YOU ARE THE REAL MONSTER"
- Breath of Fire IV has a particularly nasty example in the Fou Empire, which not only has been launching wars against the rest of humanity (fueled by Fantastic Nukes fueled by people from those areas that have been tortured to the point of insanity first) but goes into a full-scale war against their own founding emperor and King in the Mountain God Emperor—who just happens to be an immortal draconic Physical God that their ancestors summoned and buggered up the summoning so badly that it literally split the god across time and space.
- This was the whole reason B.B. Hood, an adorable, cute-looking little girl who looks like Little Red Riding Hood was introduced into Darkstalkers 3, to prove that humans can be more evil than any actual monster. She's completely human with no superhuman powers at all (well, other than the fact that the basket she has is probably a Bag of Holding), but is the cruelest and most psychotic character in the game.
- This seems to be a recurring theme in the Fire Emblem series in general, both played straight and subverted:
- Fire Emblem Akeneia has the Doluna Empire formed explicitly to oppress the human race for wronging the Manaketes in the past. Gotoh had lost all faith in humanity because of this until he met Marth.
- Digging a little deeper in Fire Emblem Akaneia and Jugral's backstories had Dragons ruling the world before weakening while the humans became stronger, eventually resulting in dragons being overran by humans courtesy of Naga.
- This shows up a couple of ways in Fire Emblem Elibe. In Sword of Seals, dragons and manaketes were driven out a millenium ago in a brutal war known as "The Scouring" and ally with the game's human Big Bad, who decided that humanity should be wiped out because his dad kept trying to kill him. The second (prequel) game, Blazing Sword, reveals in its prologue that humans were the ones who began The Scouring and does not take an approving tone; Eliwood remarks on and acknowledges at the end of the game that it was wrong for the humans to try to take the continent for themselves.
- Fire Emblem Sacred Stones had the Five Heroes of Magvel take all of the credit for sealing away Fomortiis and omit Morva from their exploits of saving the world, and the Manaketes of Darkling Woods are rightfully pissed. The heroes apologize for their short-sightedness and promise to change this.
- Fire Emblem Tellius has a lot of racism and outright violence towards the Laguz, including but not limited to the Serenes Massacre. Even some of the hero's companions are initially racist and distrusting of the Laguz, and some of the Laguz are just as distrusting of the Beorc. It takes two whole games for the tensions to truly begin to heal between Laguz and Beorc, and many support conversations and acts of heroism to soften the initial racists.
- Lastly, Fire Emblem Awakening being a direct sequel to Fire Emblem Akaneia had the Taguel genocide. Panne calls Emmeryn out on this, but softens when Emmeryn apologizes for the behavior of her ancestors.
- Yet the heroes of the series are always the opposite of this trope, proving to their cynical Half-Human Hybrid companions that despite the atrocities committed by their ancestors, someone is always willing to change things for the better so that all races can live in peace.
- Discussed by two fae in Gungnir. Appears a lot in the Dept Heaven series as a whole, though some may have reasons for being bastards. Some may end up not even being human at all!
- Downplayed in Terra. The upper brass of the UEC are definitely bastards, responsible for a number of atrocities, and human terrorists were originally responsible for the comic's Forever War. However individual humans are no more inherently good or evil than anyone else, and the Asurian Empire can be just as bastardy as the UEC.
- Subverted for laughs in Freefall. After being tricked into helping the police locate Florence, Sam exclaims that humans are devious sneaks... but since Sam's own kind are a race of scavenger-thieves, he sees this as praiseworthy.
- In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) episode "The Dragon's Gift", this sentiment is truly believed by Granamyr, an ancient and wise dragon who has been around for millennia and lived during a time when humans and dragons fought terrible wars against each other. When He-Man and Teela come asking him for help, he decides to give them a Secret Test of Character (basically, he tells them to murder the one being on Eternia who is older than he is, claiming he is simply jealous of it). When the two of them pass the test by refusing to do so, Granamyr admits that there may yet be hope for humans after all. (In the Spin-Off series She-Ra: Princess of Power, the origins of the war that he mentioned are revealed when the heroine is thrown into Eternia's past. As it turns out. It was started by a wizard seeking to set the humans and dragons against each other. To that end he carried out an attack on a human food supply, and then blamed it on the dragons, provoking them in to declaring war against the dragons. Thus, while Granamyr's claim was not unjustified - maybe one bastard who happened to be human was to blame - his anger against all of humanity was likely Disproportionate Retribution.)