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Evil Cannot Comprehend Good

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The Devil tries his hand at theology.

"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."
John 1:5, The Bible (KJV)

The villain has developed a devious plot that is prepared for anything that the hero might do—except for one glaring flaw. For some reason, the villain has not considered the possibility of a Heroic Sacrifice. After all, you'd never catch him throwing his life away to save a bunch of lazy, ungrateful civilians who don't care about anybody except themselves. Heck, even saving your True Companions comes after saving your own life. Only an idiot would throw his life away like that—and only because he didn't realize how much more profitable saving it would be.

Too bad for these villains that Machiavelli Was Wrong, for they cannot understand the concept of goodness or generosity because there is no guaranteed return on that investment. Why do they have so much trouble understanding good behavior?

Our Hero goes and makes the Heroic Sacrifice anyway, thereby ruining the villain's plan with a Didn't See That Coming that a more cunning villain really should have seen coming. This is one of the ways those with Honor Before Reason can continue to defeat the Big Bad. This is a major problem for villains who really believe they aren't so different, and think heroes could have used their powers for Evil, as opposed to villains who are just screwing with the Hero's head.

Occasionally, greater justification is provided by having a hero who the villain knows is a Jerkass and the Anti-Hero decide to redeem himself at the critical moment, or the villain will meet a hero who decides to Turn the Other Cheek instead of fighting back. An alternative version involves the Hero giving in to the villain's manipulative demands, agreeing that, yes, We Can Rule Together (usually to the "horror" of his sidekicks, Love Interest, and True Companions) as a ruse to defeat the villain. The villain falls for it because it's what he'd have done if the situations were reversed.

The inability to comprehend good altruistic behavior (especially when it results in punishment) is a common trait in cynics, Straw Nihilists, Corrupt Corporate Executives, Social Darwinists, Knight Templars, and sociopaths.

Contrast It's All About Me, when the villain expects the hero to behave not selfishly, but generously toward him. Contrast Virtue Is Weakness, which is similar in practice but different in principle: a villain does understand noble qualities like love, friendship, and altruism... but holds them in disdain, and believes themselves "stronger" by not holding onto them. When the trope is Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, the villain can't understand why the hero saved him from falling; in It's All About Me, the villain can't understand why the hero insists on arresting him after. It can get a little fuzzy when the character decides to be generous: did he murder his son's romantic rival because he didn't realize his son would hate it — this trope — or because he was so caught up in the notion of his own generosity that he didn't care what his son thought — It's All About Me?

A Super-Trope to Beware the Honest Ones and Sub-Trope of Wrong Assumption. Contrast Good Is Old-Fashioned, Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!, and the Inverted Trope of Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Compare Blue-and-Orange Morality and Shallow Cannot Comprehend True Love. Often involves Psychological Projection. When someone evil is capable of understanding or admiring good, it may lead to Sympathy for the Hero. If the villain thinks he is the good guy and is baffled at the heroes wanting to stop him, it's because he's Obliviously Evil. Curious Qualms of Conscience could be similar to a milder form — characters who don't understand the good and the conscience within themselves.


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Other examples:

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  • Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs: When a captive Merlin tries to reason that perhaps they can lend Regina the red shoes without harming Snow White, the Magic Mirror explains it's not that simple. Once they are worn by a host, they will grant said-host's desire and bond permanently. Merlin then points out that it's possible to remove the shoes, as Snow White did so in order to save him from drowning. This puzzles the Magic Mirror, who wonders why Snow White would want to save Merlin (a tiny green dwarf) more than she wanted to be beautiful. He deduces Merlin probably used a love spell on her, but Merlin figures out it means she genuinely loves him despite his appearance.

    Game Shows 

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Book of Proverbs: Proverbs 28:5: "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely."
  • Christianity: One parable told in homilies and other sermons recounts a man who is given a glimpse of both Heaven and Hell. He is shocked to discover that they are physically identical — an infinitely vast banquet hall, set for the most sumptuous feast imaginable, but for which all the utensils are far too long and unwieldy to ever bring food to one's own lips (and in some versions, everyone is chained to their seats and have no hands). Those in Hell go forever hungry, while those in Heaven instinctively use their utensils to feed someone else. In some (but not all) versions of this parable, this trope is what's stopping the damned from enjoying the feast.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Eddie Kingston's 2007 and 2008 was spent beating up and destroying most of the young technicos on the CHIKARA roster, breaking Shane Storm's nose twice, bruising everyone from Tim Donst to Soldier Ant. Along comes Lince Dorado, who was beginning to become The Scrappy and is getting roundly booed by every crowd. Eddie continues the beatings on Lince, who continues to get up and keep asking for more. Kingston announces that he will never again wrestle Lince because his tenuous grip on sanity gets confused every time Lince gets up for the people that boo him.
  • When Ted DiBiase Jr. underwent a Heel–Face Turn in 2011 (which was basically him being more friendly and no longer acting like a Rich Bitch), other people like then-heel Michael Cole and Jinder Mahal expressed confusion over why he would do this.
  • In a promo leading to Foley's first run with the WWF Championship, Vince McMahon admitted that he couldn't understand why Mick Foley sacrificed his body and stayed in cheap hotels for them (the fans).

  • Old Harry's Game: Thomas Crimp, a man so vile he sickens even the Devil ("and it takes a lot to shock me.") A recurring plot is other characters trying to instil some basic concept of goodness in him, but it's pretty much a lost cause. Thomas can get that you're supposed to offer condolences when a loved one dies, but doesn't know why. Even when he does make the effort, he tends to ruin it moments later by doing something unspeakably selfish or crass (like boasting about how he did something good).

  • In Antigone, Creon cannot grasp that Antigone loved both her brothers unconditionally even when they [Eteocles and Polyneices] were mortal foes.
  • In Be More Chill, The SQUIP is an incredibly advanced quantum supercomputer that is very good at engineering and executing highly favorable plans for itself and its user, but with a total Lack of Empathy and a strong penchant for manipulation. However, because of this, it also sees no benefit and thus no reason for anyone to behave erratically, loyally, selflessly or anything else it considers human error. It doesn't even consider the idea that, even after Jeremy shut him out and insulted him courtesy of the SQUIP's influence, Michael would still be loyal and want to help him.
  • Hamilton: King George III is portrayed as being sincerely confused when he hears that George Washington willingly stepped down as head of state rather than becoming a monarch, and remarks that he didn't realize that was something people could do.
  • In Heathers The Musical, Veronica breaks up with JD, horrified by his murders of their classmates. J.D. however, blames the student body for their breakup and resolves to blow them up during a pep rally.
  • In Arthur Miller's play, The Pussycat and the Expert Plumber who Was a Man, a talking cat starts climbing the political ladder under the alias Tom Thomas, by blackmailing anyone who could expose him. In the end, his gubernatorial campaign is thwarted by an expert plumber (who is a man), who doesn't care what secrets (real or fabricated) might be exposed about him, so long as people realize they've been voting for a cat. The cat is one of the few examples to actually realize he misjudged humanity (well, a few of them, anyway).

    Visual Novels 
  • At the end of the Ace Attorney fangame Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Case 5: Turnabout Substitution, when the Mysterious Bust Killer turned out to be a nihilistic Serial Killer who claimed that she murdered 12 people, including her own brother, just for the sake of it, it left everyone in the courtroom shocked. Rhea Wits thinks murder is the highest form of living — so logically, killing as many people as she likes isn't just okay, it makes her a would-be higher life-form. And why is it okay to kill people? Because they're "not really living." However, Apollo, having realized the insane woman Rhea truly is, bluntly states that she is clearly incapable of loving anything or anyone, not even herself.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • When everyone confronts the Mastermind, Junko Enoshima, being pretty much despair personified, manages to get everyone to cross the Despair Event Horizon by revealing that the world outside the school has been destroyed, and all their efforts to escape have been for nothing, as there's no guarantee they'll even survive if they step outside. Makoto, having become Ultimate Hope at this point, manages to give everyone their Heroic Second Wind, to which Junko freaks out and screams "What the hell are you!?"
    • Earlier, Byakuya is utterly shocked when he misses a crucial detail involving Sakura's death, while Makoto manages to discern it with ease, and completely flips when he learns the reason: he never imagined that Sakura would commit suicide in order to protect her friend.
    • The second is swapping Sakura's note, which explained her decision to kill herself, with one that made it seem like she did it out of despair and hatred for the group. This goads Hina into trying to get everyone killed out of anger, which ultimately fails. After the trial, Monokuma reveals the real suicide note, certain that this would turn the other students against Aoi for basically attempting to kill them all over nothing. Instead, realizing that Sakura killed herself for their sake inspires the remaining students to rally against him and the killing game, something he didn't even consider.
  • Completely subverted in Fate/stay night in Heaven's Feel. Despite trying to destroy the world in large part For the Evulz, the reason Kotomine would do that is he understood good perfectly well. He's just unable to actually do it and feel satisfied no matter how hard he tries. Apart from his background material, he gambles away his entire magic crest to save Sakura knowing that Shirou's righteous spirit will make him protect her from anything. In fact, his Xanatos Speed Chess was entirely reliant on exploiting the 'good' nature of Shirou.
  • Minor example in one ending of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. The Big Bad Ace/Hongou tries to bribe a dying Snake not to kill them via a murder-suicide by claiming he has access to hospitals that could save the should-already-be-dead Snake. Indeed, Hongou is so self-absorbed and sociopathic that they can't imagine that Snake doesn't want to live after Ace killed his beloved sister, Clover, and just cares about making sure Ace pays for it — the idea of caring about someone so much that losing them causes your own life to be meaningless is utterly alien to him.
    • More blatant is him asking why the group is so upset at him for murdering Clover, as well as engineering the Ninth Man's death and trying to kill Snake since they'd barely even known any of them for a few hours. Basic human empathy seems beyond him.
  • Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice For All: Matt Engarde hires professional assassin Shelly de Killer to kill his rival, then uses a hidden camera to film the crime as insurance in case de Killer tries to blackmail him. However, de Killer places great value on the trust between himself and his clients and is outraged at this betrayal. Engarde clearly never considered that some crooks might have higher standards than him.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
    • In the timeline Reds!: A Revolutionary Timeline:
      • A communist revolution takes place in America in 1933 as a result of the Clutch Plague. Despite some dirty business, the new leadership does not sink into the depravities of the Soviet Union, and chooses not to execute political opponents like Robert Taft; even allowing them to form political parties and participate in government. This confuses a Soviet diplomat, and really pisses off Joseph Stalin.
      • After the American Revolution, Henry Ford flees to Nazi Germany, and becomes an active participant in the Nazi war machine, killing countless people through forced labor. When the war turns against the Nazis, Ford begs England and France for asylum, thinking they would want his services to fight against communism. He is genuinely shocked when both reject him on basis of the war crimes he participated in, and turn him over to the communist American government.
    • This pops up on several occasions in the Zhirinovsky's Russian Empire, in which the balance between goodness and political reality is frequently highlighted:
    • The Anglo/American – Nazi War: Among the many, many twisted schemes of the Nazis produce in the Second World War, they unleash a series of horrific biological plagues upon the Allies, believing that they wouldn't bother to vaccinate Indian and other non-white soldiers, and they show little concern for their auxiliary troops.
  • Inverted in this article by Rich Burlew, author of The Order of the Stick. The players in a role-playing game he was DMing assumed that two villains who were partnered together were inevitably going to betray one another once they had achieved their goals... it honestly never occurred to the players that the two villains might be lifelong friends who, no matter what, would simply never betray each other.
  • In this blog post, Fred Clark theorizes that this is the reason vampires fear crosses. To summarize: The vampire's philosophy on life is that the secret to immortality lies in power and predation. The cross represents the opposite idea: that immortality comes from humility and the rejection of earthly power. This idea is so contradictory to the vampire's worldview as to be physically repellent.
  • The Harmsters from Hamster's Paradise are brutal, bloodthirsty sapient hamster descendants who revel in war and bloodshed: indeed, it's ingrained in them even to their pre-sapient animal ancestors which were apex predators that ate their prey alive and thus were deeply psychologically geared to experience euphoric glee at inflicting pain and suffering. This, however, led them to be completely incapable of understanding benevolent concepts such as friendship and affection, to the point that kindness, altruism and love are considered almost like evils in their culture— to the point that they wipe out several dawning sapients due to said sophonts and semi-sophonts displaying empathy and caring for their own kind: something the Harmsters found outright abhorrent. This ends up spelling death for their entire species as their lack of altruism meant they simply left their sick to die and never developed any real medical knowledge, so when a contagious cancer starts spreading through their populations after a massive world war they have no idea what actually causes it or how to prevent its transmission till it was already too late to do anything.

    Web Videos 
  • In Hero, a fan dub of the battle between Shirou Emiya and Gilgamesh in Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works], Shirou says he wants to avenge Illya, whom Gilgamesh murdered. Gilgamesh yells, "I don't understand why you care!" Shirou replies, "Because somebody should!"
  • In Noob, this seems to be a factor in the Mistaken for Badass situation between Sparadrap and Dark Avenger. Sparadrap considers that Dark Avenger and him are Friendly Enemies, while Sparadrap's Invincible Incompetent tendencies have convinced Dark Avenger that he's actually an elite player displaying Obfuscating Stupidity. Dark Avenger's standard reaction to Sparadrap's friendly lines can be summed up as "quit that little trick you use to get your opponent's guard down, it doesn't work on me."
  • Played for Laughs by The Nostalgia Chick, who surmises the popularity spell in Teen Witch as "having all the awesomeness of the messiah with none of that martyr shit".
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Played for Laughs in his review of Casper, when the titular ghost is stunned to see Critic praising the movie and resorts to a Groin Attack.
    • This is played relatively straight in the Critic's review of The Cat in the Hat. Earlier, Peter Soulless, who bought the film rights to the Dr. Seuss stories, says that they needed to add extra morals to compensate for the longer running time. The Critic replies that The Polar Express and Mary Poppins were able to keep their principal morals focused with the longer running time, but Peter dismisses those movies for not having pop-culture references. At the end, Soulless insists that he understands the source material because the Dr. Seuss stories are "just simple kids' books". In response, the Critic gives him a heartfelt speech that they are not "just simple kids' books", and why they deserve more respect; the original stories will go on being read and reread for years to come while the movie versions of those stories will be forgotten. Even Evilina, whom he's babysitting, admits that she likes the original stories more. Unfortunately, however, all this only riles Soulless, who yells at them that they are wrong and forces them to watch more clips of bad scenes in other Dr. Seuss movies until they have no choice but to appreciate them.
  • In To Boldly Flee, Ma-Ti has a meltdown when The Nostalgia Critic closes the door on the real world and proves that he's become a true hero. Unlike most examples of this trope, Ma-Ti has known the Critic first hand as a colossal, selfish, Jerkass Manchild. His shock is more understandable under the circumstances, making it more of a case of Evil Cannot Comprehend Character Development.


Video Example(s):


Wedding March

Peach steps outside to the aisle during Bowser's wedding and is shocked when the prisoners that the Koopa Troop captured throughout the movie, such as Luigi and Cranky Kong, are about to be sacrificed by Bowser as a wedding gift, thinking she'd be impressed by it. All set to Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn.

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Main / SoundtrackDissonance

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