To say that questions of morality are thorny and filled with gray when they aren't being hammered between stark absolutes is putting it mildly. Because of this there can be great drama when characters who represent a wide range of moral viewpoints come together or into conflict.
The strangest of these characters are those who espouse Blue and Orange Morality. These characters have a moral framework that is so utterly alien and foreign to human experience that we can't peg them as "good" or "evil". They aren't a Chaotic Neutral Unfettered, though they may seem to act terrifyingly randomly; nor are they necessarily a Lawful Neutral Fettered, because our and their understanding of "law" as a concept may not even be equivalent. There might be a logic behind their actions, it's just that they operate with entirely different sets of values and premises from which to draw their conclusions. It's also worth noting that such cultures are just as likely to be something we'd find appalling, as they are to be something we'd find benign and/or weird. They may also find us appalling, benign, or weird even if we don't see them that way.
And although they are often likely to commit acts we would see as horrific, some are unusually benign. Either way they tend to act as if nothing were the matter. Because in their world/mind, that's just what they do. This trope is one of the trickier to pull off well, because Most Writers Are Human, and it's often hard to portray alien and truly foreign. Because of this, it's not uncommon for audience members to label these characters as Designated Heroes or villains due to human audiences often lacking the experience or knowledge that these fictional characters have. Audiences must remember that these characters are meant to be Morally Ambiguous.
This is similar to Values Dissonance, but the main difference is that societies with Values Dissonance can, at least on a basic level, generally measure one another by the same concepts of Good and Evil, or even Order and Chaos. With Blue and Orange Morality, the values are so foreign, that such concepts can no longer be applied. They may not even know what these things are, or even if they do, will often find them confusing. The concepts are not necessarily beyond their grasp, mind you, but just aren't something which they'd place any importance on.
Conversely, they may have these concepts, but apply them in vastly different ways. Such as regarding motionlessness as the epitome of evil, or viewing exploration as an element of chaos.
Note that cases involving solely a misapprehension of facts and consequences do not count here no matter how alien the reasons; if, for example, a race of aliens thinks killing is okay because its own members respawn within a day with no harm done, and mistake humans as working the same way, that doesn't mean they wouldn't balk at killing if they realized the degree of harm it causes to other creatures. In this case, they may be working by comprehensible moral standards and just gravely mistaken about the implications of their actions. This is not to say that trope can't still apply if the culture remains this way with no grasp of the reasons behind it. If, say, such a race of aliens really do exist, and really did come to believe killing is okay as a side effect of the reasons above, but don't apply this to their thought processes when killing, and thus, think just as little of killing mortals who don't respawn, then this trope can still apply.
Likely candidates for Blue and Orange Morality include The Fair Folk, who follow rules of their own making; Eldritch Abominations that are beyond comprehension; the more exotic Starfish Aliens; AIs and robots, especially when super smart and/or incapable of emotion; The Anti-God and God via Time Abyss and Above Good and Evil. Another candidate is the power of money or The Almighty Dollar. An individual human (or single members of any species whose majority falls into darker morality) who operates on this is the Übermensch of Nietzschean philosophy (a human being who has developed their own Blue/Orange set of morals). A Nominal Hero may have this motivation as well. Moral Sociopathy overlaps strongly with this trope for obvious reasons, though this is not always the case.
See also these tropes, which includes/connected to this kind of Morality System: Xenofiction, Humans Are Cthulhu, Humanity Is Infectious (all often involving this), Above Good and Evil, Affably Evil / Faux Affably Evil (they sometimes can come across as this), Even Evil Has Standards (when handled poorly or bizarrely), Evil Cannot Comprehend Good (less elaborate forms that resemble this in practice), and Non-Malicious Monster (which occasionally requires this), and Obliviously Evil (when a villain thinks that his actions are acceptable or helpful). When two sides go to war and nothing will stop them except total annihilation, that's Guilt-Free Extermination War. If the character genuinely knows everything will turn out okay, allowing the plot to treat them as a good guy no matter how cruel, irresponsible or inhuman this makes them by our standards, that's Omniscient Morality License.
Not to be confused with Orange/Blue Contrast.
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- Roxanne of Candorville views villains as heroic and vice versa, but there are usually qualifiers for it—for instance, she views eating meat as immoral, but wearing fur as a way of eternally preserving an animal's beauty. That said, with the exception of her own mother, nobody in the comic thinks this gives her a pass for her behavior. Even multiple murderers think she's scum.
- According to the hero's mother in Kubo and the Two Strings, the Moon Kingdom functions on this. Kubo's aunts and grandfather do care for him and want him happy, but their way of going about it and view of the human world is monstrous to humans - forcibly abducting him from his parents (after hideously disfiguring one into a beetle) and plucking his remaining eye out to make him blind to the mortal realm, which the celestials consider impure and sinful.
- In Kung Fu Panda 2, Mantis mentions that he never knew his father, because his mother ate his head before Mantis was born. Being, well, a praying mantis, Mantis doesn't consider this unusual, and later on when it looks like they're about to die, he's actually disappointed that he never got the chance to settle down with a nice girl and have his head eaten.
- Halloween Town citizens from The Nightmare Before Christmas. They scare children for a living, but do it because it's their job and they simply enjoy it. Subverted in that they're still kind and unwilling to intentionally harm others. Oogie Boogie is the only citizen who is sadistic or murderous. Interestingly, they (including Jack) can't comprehend the basics of Christmas, and when they try to replicate it...well, things go horribly wrong.
"Life's no fun without a good scare."
- It's debatable how canon this is (for obvious reasons), but in the Kingdom Hearts series, Jack tends to think of new experiences (such as the Heartless) in terms of how he can repurpose them into new Halloween surprises, but also tends to become quite disillusioned with them if it should ever come to light that they can actually cause people harm (such as, again, the Heartless). This is why Oogie Boogie is the villain of the original film: he's the only citizen of Halloween Town who actually wants to do harm to the people he scares.
- The official sequel comic, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero's Journey, implies that Lock, Shock, and Barrel's troublemaking is legitimately how they play.
- Confirmed in issue 13.
- At least in older stories (before pop culture made them rather Disney-fied and cute), this is usually one of the defining traits of The Fair Folk. Fairies obsess over seemingly trivial things that may mean nothing to us, and may perform acts of overwhelming kindness or barbarous cruelty for reasons that seem nonsensical to mortals.
- In some stories, one way of recognizing a fairy disguised as a human is that their emotional reactions may make no sense to us, laughing at tragic things and crying at happy ones. And then remember some theories that "changelings" were autistic children before we knew what autism was...
- A common story has a poor man notice that fairies come to perform work every night (such as fixing clothes, making boots, sorting grains, etc.). In gratitude, he leaves the fairies something to eat or to wear. The next evening, the fairies come in, notice the reward, then declare that they've been paid more than enough for their work, and never come again.
- In the Mahabharata the river goddess Ganga bears King Shantanu several children...and drowns them. When he gives her a What the Hell, Hero?, she explains that it's Not What It Looks Like. The children are reincarnations of holy souls that need to transcend reincarnation (they committed a minor offense in a past life, and so were forced to be reincarnated as mortals, so Ganga lets that happen, and then kills them while they're still young and innocent so they can be released from reincarnation). Because she knew that there was no way King Shantanu would be able to comprehend this, she had asked him to never question her...and since he just did, she left him shortly afterwards.
- This is all a result of Brahma's curse to Shantanu in the latter's previous life. All the gods had gathered for a ritual when Ganga's clothes were blown away by the wind. The gods averted their eyes but Shantanu ogled at her. Brahma cursed him that he would marry Ganga and she would break his heart.
- If it is any consolation, however, that eighth child turns out to become the legendary Bhishma, who was blessed with wish-long life and had sworn to serve the ruling Kuru king, and grand-uncle of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Long story short, when Bhishma died, he was the eldest living ancestor to the equivalent of 5 generations of the Pandava line, and was strong enough to overcome even Arjuna in battle.
- To an extent, this tends to happen when dealing with religious and spiritual matters that one may not be affiliated or familiar with. When an outside perspective is perplexed by the perceived arbitrariness and/or contradiction of a belief, a commonly given answer is that the higher powers aren't easily understood and also that the problem is most likely on our end. Thus the best we can do is listen to them and hope for the best. This also comes up in response to the common question of why, in a universe believed to be controlled by a benevolent force, bad things happen to good people. Many philosophies and religions recognize that the needs and wants of an individual and the needs of the universe at large will conflict, and a transcendent being likely isn't exclusively concerned with the former. So while one person might see another's Power(s) That Be as needlessly cruel for an action that doesn't sit with well with them, that other person would say that it is the right thing to do from their own and their divine entity's standpoint.
- Aztec Mythology:
- The Aztec views of what was good and what was evil were rather alien to the sensibilities to the Spanish conquistadors. Even when offering non-human sacrifices, such as food or goods, the Aztecs would draw their own blood in offering along with the sacrifice. As for human sacrifices, being a sacrifice was considered a high honor, despite the (to the European perspective) incredibly dishonorable things done to their body after their death (which normally involved public display followed by dismemberment and cannibalism). Indeed, being sacrificed was the only surefire way to get inducted into the "best" Aztec heaven. Your afterlife was based not on how you lived, but how you died, and none of those afterlives could be considered truly hellish. And, in spite of the war and sacrifices, a lot of Aztec society was pretty progressive. They treated their slaves well, and they're one of the first societies that had compulsory education for EVERYONE, not just the upper class. All that being said, the Aztecs were an anomaly even among Mesoamericans. Most of their neighbors were also horrified. One of the reasons the Spanish conquest succeeded was that practically all the Aztec's neighbors turned on them when they saw a chance to overthrow them — the endless drive for human sacrifice playing a large part.
- The Aztec view of good and evil was considered strange even by neighboring groups with similar cultures and religious systems. Most of their neighbors thought they'd gone off the deep end when it came to human sacrifice. While blood sacrifices were ubiquitous in the region (and sometimes consisted of just blood drawn through specially-inflicted wounds), the Aztecs were known to wage wars for the purpose of acquiring sacrificial victims, and on some particularly important occasions, would sacrifice thousands of people in a single day.
- Probably one of the most extreme examples is the Borborite Gnostic sect, assuming the reports of their existence aren't demonization by mainstream Christians. Imagine having a pretty standard Christian mindset...except that you think that the true version of the Eucharist entails eating semen, menstrual blood and children extracted from pregnant women.
- God and Satan Are Both Jerks can easily be an example of this as well, not to mention an inversion of the same. Christianity itself lends to these interpretations. Think about it: While God is associated with charity and salvation, he also preaches homophobia, genocide, misogyny, collectivism, and toxic positiviy. Meanwhile, Satan teaches excess, gluttony, and abuse, but also knowledge, enterprise, and initiative. Considering most humans would find good and evil in both figures, but both are believed to be consistent, it's this trope.
- Brimstone Valley Mall: The main demons all fall into this, to some degree. They were sent up to Earth to lead people into sin, but they rarely actually do that—not for any moral reasons, but because they like life on Earth and don't want to go back to Hell. While they rarely actively antagonize anybody (except for Misroch), they have no qualms about murder, stealing, assault, or cannibalism. However, they're not totally amoral, either; they all value loyalty and friendship, and they are decidedly not bigoted in any way. Murdering a bystander because He Knows Too Much? Totally fine. Flaking out on band practice or degrading your friend's ambitions? Absolutely not!
- There's a play called Blue/Orange that deals with this people of this sort of morality, although the name ostensibly comes from a mental disorder one of the characters has that causes him to, among other things, see the insides of oranges as blue. Not the outside, nothing else orange, just the insides.
- Cyrano de Bergerac shows us a strange example of humans with this type of morality: the Gascons believe that "Good" is to be crackbrained and brave, to be poor is a motive for pride, your self-destructive tendencies are to be not only tolerated but encouraged, to treat others like crap is tolerable so long as they are not Gascons, and to die in battle is the best destiny you can aspire to. "Evil" is to try to get ahead in life by connections and alliances with powerful people, and to display your riches in public is shameful to the point of being declared No True Gascon. Most of all, Disproportionate Retribution and Disproportionate Reward are completely normal conduct.
- In Double Homework, Dr. Mosely/Zeta does her best to protect her test subjects whenever possible, and believes in the underlying morality of what she does. However, she runs illegal experiments that mainstream science considers unethical, and she has no problem killing anyone who becomes a liability to her - sometimes with pleasure.