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Grey-and-Gray Insanity

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The wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: "there's actually zero difference between good and bad things. You imbecile. You fucking moron."

On one hand, having an absolute view of the world being Black and White is seen as an unhealthy trait in characters. On the other hand, characters believing in the idea of Grey-and-Grey Morality and people being similar, then cranking it up to the illogical extreme of "Everyone is just the same.", even in the context of situations where one side is unambiguously in the wrong or right end of the moral spectrum. Or even both sides are unambiguously good and evil.

These characters are most likely (but not always) going to be a Straw Nihilist, a Misanthrope Supreme or at least someone who may be Stupid Neutral. They would try to apply their worldview through copious amounts of Insane Troll Logic, with them doing anything to prove that everyone is no different in morality than one another. When it comes to them dealing with heroes and villains, they would try to ensure that both sides would eventually become indifferent to one another, from encouraging morally questionable actions to the heroic side to convincing the villainous side that they too have sympathetic qualities to their faction. Or sometimes becoming apathetic to both sides.

This usually applies in non-Grey-and-Gray Morality scenarios (the most common being Black-and-White Morality.), though in some cases, it can apply if said character's beliefs make them part of the shades of conflict (though sometimes, said worldview would have them go further down the scale).

Sometimes, this can be the case of Black and Black Insanity (often seen by the Straw Nihilist) or White and White Insanity (often seen by the Wide-Eyed Idealist), which although their viewpoints on morality differ, still exemplifies that they do not recognize differing morality.

A direct inversion of Black-and-White Insanity. See also Not So Similar.

Related tropes include:

  • Balance Between Good and Evil — when good and evil are both "equally" bad unless you have an equal amount of both,
  • Culture Justifies Anything — when characters use moral subjectivity to dismiss their (and nobody else's) guilt,
  • Freudian Excuse — when villains claim their past means they have no autonomy,
  • All Crimes Are Equal — when characters regard all acts of crime and flaws to be the same in severity,
  • What Is Evil? — when characters don't understand the concept of good and evil and
  • Then Let Me Be Evil — when they claim doing one bad thing means they might as well do others in the future.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: when someone says the correct answer is always in the middle, even when one person or side's position is clearly and indisputably the right one.

Compare Villain Has a Point and Jerkass Has a Point. Contrast Rousseau Was Right (everyone truly is good), Humans Are Bastards (everyone truly is bad) and Grey-and-Grey Morality, Good Versus Good, Evil Versus Evil (for settings where the world actually operates in a way that makes this kind of worldviews completely rational), and Golden Mean Fallacy (the belief that the "correct" way is always in the exact middle between two extremes). Contrast Above Good and Evil (my goal is more important than good and evil).


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    Comic Books 

  • In Death Note: The Musical, Light chides his Teacher as this trope being the reason for his hatred of modern society and its various injustices with the Teacher acting as the Straw Character. This would eventually drive Light on his path to embracing Black-and-White Insanity.
    Teacher: Your simple arguments have all been made before. The world's not black and white, the choice not "either-or"
    Light: Perhaps it's time we drain the color from it then, till we're back to seeing black and white and wrong and right again.

  • In The Bible, Pontius Pilate initially tried to prevent the crucifixion of Jesus, but rather than admitting he was scared of the mob gathered outside, he made the excuse that it was just too hard to understand what was good and what was evil, so he might as well execute an innocent man. (Interpretations may vary.)
    "What is truth?"
  • In Cooking With Wild Game, the Suun clan try to derail their own trial by bringing up everyone else's misdemeanours. This is not accusing the judges of corruption- none of the misdemeanours mentioned have any bearing on the trial's integrity. This is the criminals saying that they refuse to accept a ruling from anyone even slightly flawed; in short, any human alive. The judges are not impressed, and the trial continues.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry is big on the idea that nobody chooses to become evil, every villain thinks their reasons for doing crime are valid, blah blah blah. So when he knowingly does something bad in Changes, and starts to question his morality, he reasons that the fact he's aware of that evil means it must be worse than any of the evil his enemies have done unknowingly (?), and that means that he must be worse than any of the monsters who try to blow up Chicago on a daily basis, and he promptly commits suicide. Later, an angel explains to Harry that although he is imperfect (like everyone else), that's a reason to hope for himself and earnestly seek after redemption, not to kill everyone who makes a mistake. Death means a person will never be able to realize their mistakes and change for the better, something Harry didn't realize because he's seen a lot more people go from grey to black than grey to white. Uriel also points out that Harry's loved ones have made mistakes, but that didn't stop him from loving them, so he should love himself the same way.

  • The Goon Show does this. The resident villains, Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty are definitely villains, cheats, and conniving con-men. They might begin with normally understood acts of villainy like scheming to cheat the innocent Neddy Seagoon out of his cash. But it spirals in strange sideways directions, like seeking to terrorize London with the threat of mysterious batter puddings being hurled out of nowhere, just For the Evulz.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, Yu-Shan "auditors" (who are more like criminal prosecutors) prefer to render many verdicts instead of just one. Therefore, it is not uncommon for the audited person to be both greatly punished and greatly rewarded, for different acts, at the same trial.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, as the cold war between mages and templars escalates to grotesque levels, all templar leader Meredith can say is (paraphrased); "But they're doing it too!" as if that exonerates her. Basically, both sides want the other to stop committing war crimes before they'll stop committing their own.
  • In KGB, which is set during Communist Russia, every character- including the protagonist- engages in some degree of shady behaviour. Usually to avoid being shot/tortured/imprisoned. But to survive the finale, you must refuse to do an obvious atrocity (murdering a comatose victim of brainwashing) and stick to that refusal, even as the Big Bad lectures you about "duty". Obeying him just gets you permanently silenced.
  • In World of Warcraft, the faction war amounts to this when it comes to the neutral parties. Though both sides are ostensibly said to be grey, the Horde has a far longer list of crimes than the Alliance, and is far less willing to work toward peace. So even if the Horde is attacking a neutral party, the Alliance's attempt to stop the Horde is treating as being just as bad.

  • In The Order of the Stick, necromancer Tsukiko insists on seeing animated corpses as humans — a mistake that ultimately leads to her death, when the wight drones she raised killed her at the command of their new master.

    Web Video 
  • Jreg takes jabs at advocates of the Horseshoe Theory by portraying one this way; Horseshoe Centrist's primary catchphrase is "The way I see it, there is no difference between [x] and [not x/x's antithesis]." Naturally, this extends beyond political ideologies and goes to very absurd territories, such as believing there's no difference between having civil rights and not having them, between reaching a destination and not reaching it, etc.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold: This is the crux of Equinox's character. The Lords of Order and Chaos chose him as a child to act as their avatar, ensuring a balance between the two forces. Unfortunately, the strain of the responsibilities drove Equinox insane and he became obsessed with applying his own mad view of balance on the world, which he applies utterly illogically and arbitrarily with no regard to context. He's introduced trying to execute a villain as his plans to rule the world would have disrupted the balance, whilst also executing the hero who tried to stop him. Then later trying to ensure another villain succeeds in causing a nuclear meltdown in a Russian city, because the villain's own village was destroyed many years earlier. He finally overthrows his former masters and tries to end the universe, so he can create a new one at perfect balance. He's finally defeated when Batman forces him to admit he is not at perfect balance himself, causing his ideology to come crashing down upon him.

Alternative Title(s): Gray And Gray Insanity, Grey And Grey Insanity, Gray And Grey Insanity