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Inherent in the System

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"You know, I've spent ten years detoxifying this [political] party. It's been a bit like renovating an old, old house, yeah? You can take out a sexist beam here, a callous window there, replace the odd homophobic roof tile. But after a while you realise that this renovation is doomed. Because the foundations are built on what I can only describe as a solid bed of cunts."
Stewart Pearson, The Thick of It

Sometimes, it's not a specific person's fault. The world everyone inhabits is just broken in some way, or so badly designed that attempts to perfect functioning still cause problems somewhere. Stories like this don't actually require a Big Bad, since the world itself comes with free conflict, but they often have one of those, too. In particularly cynical works, their appearance might in fact be cyclic and inherent to the flawed social system.

Can overlap with the incompetent version of The Government; whether this is Truth in Television depends on how cynical you are. Vast Bureaucracy is notorious for the way that the bureaucrats don't have to be personally evil to bring about horrors.

Compare Crapsack World. See also Society Is to Blame, Wretched Hive. Compare also As Long as There is Evil, which is when supernatural evil is inherent in the world. Contrast Industrialized Evil.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the world of Berserk, between the heresy-crushing Holy See, the corrupt nobility, the warmongering kingdoms, and the evil Godhand and their ravenous demonic Apostles, life just keeps getting worse. Between those four elements, effecting change for the better is about as possible as pushing over a mountain. The Godhand and the Idea of Evil that created them only exist because humanity can't accept that their suffering comes from no particular source. They want a Big Bad to blame for all of their problems. They got it.
  • Death Note: Shinigami live on a plane of existence ethereal to the real world and can only interact with it under very specific conditions. Even worse, if a Shinigami uses their powers to add lifespan to a human out of empathy, it kills the Shinigami instantly. So even if they did give a shit about even one of the humans they murder for lifespan and fun? That would literally just kill them. Thus, among the gods who have control over life and death, only TheSociopaths survive, and so the human world is a godless shithole where only sociopaths like Light and L have any real power.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex mainly deals with problems inherent in human social systems. But there's also a great deal of government corruption and organized crime.
  • The world of Stray Little Devil has a basic flaw: the Law of the Conservation of Luck. The Law states that an angel's good luck is a devil's bad luck, and vice versa. In practice, this means that helping out a member of the opposite species will cause bad things to happen to you, which is one of the primary reasons why angels and devils are so hostile to each other.
  • In Akumetsu, pretty much all of Akumetsu's targets claim that they are little pieces in a great puzzle, powerless to do anything to improve Japan's lot despite the high positions they almost invariably have. He refuses to accept that as an adequate excuse for sparing them.
  • The shinobi villages of Naruto face a constant cycle of hatred and war due to their nature. Attempts by individuals to improve the situation are usually met with even greater violence than the usual cycle, resulting in an even larger backlash. It is prophesied that one of Jiraiya's students will break this cycle either by saving the world from the violence... or by destroying it utterly.
    • Pain in particular was so jaded that his plan to achieve peace was to nuke the entire world into a subsistence state, thus destroying the system, and nuke them again any time they started getting uppity so nobody would ever have the will or ability to fight again. He recognized that this system was also inherently flawed, but felt it was still better.
    • Tobi and the real Madara are so jaded that they believe the only way to achieve peace is to mind control everyone into a state of illusory bliss. They have completely given up on the real world.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The eventual demise of the universe as entropy increases. Madoka's wish only remedies this somewhat, in that mahou shoujo are no longer forced to become what they fight and spread suffering to others, but it can never be completely solved.
  • In Attack on Titan, the way the military works essentially guarantees that the people who are the most qualified to fight Titans are also the ones least likely to ever fight them. It also ensures that the people who would be most likely to fight other humans are the least qualified to do so. Annie points out that any system that relies on everyone being a paragon of virtue is flawed.
    • And the Kingdom of Marley's simultaneous hatred of humans with the potential to become titans and its over-reliance of titan-shifters has left it screwed up, ultra-violent, and desperate to take on a new world superpower just to keep itself from collapsing before being pillaged by its rivals.
    • Eren eventually comes to the conclusion that as long as slavery is still a concept, then things like the enslavement of Ymir Fritz and the oppression both Eldia and Marley inflicted will manifest themselves in new ways. So he decides to nuke the system. And everyone outside Paradis who could possibly bring it back.
  • Cross Ange: The series takes place in a Bizzaro-version of a classic Templar world, where the average citizen is a mage and Muggles are persecuted to heck. The supposedly utopian mages show their true colors when dealing with Norma, and even close friends and family will turn their fangs given enough time. This isn't because all mages are born assholes, as they're capable of compassion and understanding that erodes quickly under prejudice. The real problem is that mana is a drug; Embryo designed the mages for utilization of mana, which is actually zero-point dimensional energy in the form of nanomachines, with the added side effect of eroding the willpower of mages who use mana extensively. In addition, since Embryo has full control over all mana, he can force subliminal messages into mages as they cast their daily spells and unwittingly dominate what little willpower remains, turning all but the most loyal mages into xenophobic sadists, which makes mana use the main cause of all the irrational hatred in the series. Unfortunately, the mages require mana to function as a peaceful society, and devolve into raving bandits without it.

    Comic Books 
  • In content cut from the original release of Kingdom Come but included in the trade paperback, Superman goes to Apokolips; it is revealed that Orion had killed Darkseid and taken his place. Orion had tried to give the people freedom, however, after countless years under Darkseid's rule, the people of Apokalips simply couldn't bear to live without a despot. Orion eventually (and at first, reluctantly), steps in to fulfill the same role as his father. However, Scott Free and Barda seem to have a fairly free hand in pushing anti-Orion propaganda, implying that future generations of Apokolips residents may in fact throw off despotic rule.
  • In Judge Dredd, a combination of an oppressive Police State government, mass unemployment, and chronic overcrowding lead millions of people to simply freak out and turn to crime out of boredom and/or despair. It is often said that Dredd's main enemy is not Judge Death, PJ Maybe, Orlok, or Mean Machine, but Mega-City One itself. All attempts to reform it somehow have ultimately fallen flat and simply reinforced the status quo.
  • In Paperinik New Adventures, the Evronians are plagued by this: they feed off emotions, and even part of their technology is powered by those, but, aside from the Emperor and the Imperial Council, don't produce much of it (and those who aren't the Emperor or Councillors who develop a full emotional spectrum are hunted down and killed), so they have to take it from other species. It's implied the problem is empowering so much of their tech with emotional energy, and that without it they could simply absorb little energy from other people without harming them and even feed off nonsentient species, but the only alternative they've found is reducing Xadhoom to a power source... And given that Xadhoom is a Physical Goddess hellbent on killing them all for what they did to her homeworld, that's easier said than done.
    • The final issue of the reboot indicates that part of the problem is the militaristic culture of the Evronians, as when the timeline is changed with the prevention of the creation of the Guardians of the Galaxy the early Evronians, without an enemy capable of standing against them, did not develop a militaristic culture, and in present time they're peacefully integrated with the galactic society, with those with a full emotional spectrum free to walk around.
  • Gotham City, especially its police force and judicial system, in Batman has long been portrayed this way, especially during the early days of Batman's career, as seen in Batman: Year One and Batman Begins. The city was completely in the pocket of the mob, especially the Falcone family, and the police were so thoroughly corrupt that Jim Gordon was assaulted on at least two separate occasions because his fellow officers didn't like him, you know, enforcing the law. It took Gordon and Batman years of work to even put a dent in the corruption and make the system semi-functional, and even to this day it's not up to the standards of Metropolis or other DC cities, with the exception of Hub City, home of The Question, which is even worse and basically a third world country.

     Fan Works 
  • In Conversations with a Cryptid: the current Quirk-based society sees that talented people like Izuku are at the bottom if they're born Quirkless. People like Gang Orca or Shu have limited job opportunities and face discrimination for their appearances. Flashy Quirks are put at the top of society whereas people with subtle or dangerous quirks can be treated as potential supervillains.
    • It turns out to be a large part of why All for One became a supervillain. His willingness to question authority and protests against banning his quirk in public caused the government to target him. They ordered his own brother to hunt him down. It ended quite badly for everyone involved.
  • Appears in Daria In Morrowind. It's not any one person's fault that the Empire and the Great Houses of Morrowind are corrupt, and there are perfectly decent people within those organizations. But the system takes its toll regardless.
  • In the Fate/stay night/High School Dx D Crossover FatexFake, Micheal reveals that Xenovia and Asia's excommunication is this. The system that Heaven runs on is admittedly obsolete, however with God dead, everything but the most basic of systems are locked. Thus, the Archangels have to take drastic measures just to maintain the status quo never mind trying to change it.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves: Jaune confronts Lisa Lavender over her lies about him in the media, she makes it clear to Jaune she would rather cover the real issues and NOT peddle in sensationalist bull crap. However, she is forced to work for a corporate media that doesn't want to threaten the bottom line of others, and an uncaring public more interested in scandal than societal issues.

  • The Trope Namer comes from a peasant (or, in his words, a worker in an anarcho-syndicalist commune) in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who criticises the rule of monarchy as system of violent oppression and launches into a tirade when King Arthur tries to assert his authority. "Come see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I'm being repressed!"
  • In The Grizzlies, newcomer teacher Russ comes to realise that the arctic town of Kugluktuk is plagued with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and suicide due to Canada's residential school history and trauma from the government's past actions towards the Inuit.
  • According to The Human Condition humans are (on the whole) flawed and will always place their own sole lives above others.
  • Many Our Vampires Are Different films and series subvert this to take out some of the inherent antagonism implicit in such settings by making a readily available alternate blood source, leading to Friendly Neighborhood Vampires. Happens in Underworld (2003) with cloned blood (though they aren't that friendly).
    • It even goes back farther than that. Before cloned blood, they fed on donor blood, and before that, on animal blood. The ban on human feeding was imposed by Viktor nearly a millennia ago in order to avoid provoking humans (a ban he himself frequently violated).
  • The movie Traffic makes this argument about the War on Drugs in relation to international politics.
  • The Matrix:
    • The Matrix: According to Agent Smith, both this trope and Humans Are Flawed form the logic behind the dystopian design of the simulated world of the Matrix. The initial design of the Matrix was to be a utopia, but abandoned when no one would accept it and kept trying to "wake up"-this caused massive human casualties. Evidently, human beings just weren't physiologically and/or psychologically capable of living in an ideal world. Surprisingly though, this trope is actually not a major theme of the series: what irks the rebels most about the Matrix and what most spurs them to fight it isn't the fact that it uses their bodies for energy or that it's a massive lie; the main reason they're trying to free people from the Matrix is because the Matrix isn't real.
    • Discussed further in The Matrix Reloaded: The Architect of the matrix explains that there have been six The Ones, each resetting the system and rebuilding Zion after the machines purge most of the main base. Because of the flawed nature of human beings, the second matrix was designed like Agent Smith says, but still failed. Then the Oracle stepped up and made a suggestion; human choice. As a result, 99% of the population chose to stay in the third matrix, but for three whole matrices, The One would appear and make choices that brought about the destruction of Zion despite numerous attempts to negotiate or impede their progress, and each time, they had the opportunity to doom all of humanity for a selfish decision. The Architect concludes that a system governed by free will, while surprisingly effective, is still flawed because the system will eventually allow dissenting rebels to rise up and wreak chaos - and eventually, one of them will choose what they love over the rest of humanity. Neo is that one.
  • Nixon: Argued as the real reason Nixon cannot stop the Vietnam War:
    Young Student: You don't want the war, we don't want the war, the Vietnamese don't want the war, so why does it go on?
    [Nixon hesitates. Haldeman whispers "We should be going" to him]
    Young Student: You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it's not you, it's the system. The system won't let you stop it.
    Richard M. Nixon: There's... there's more at stake here than what you want, or what I want.
    Richard M. Nixon: [Firmly] No. No, I'm not powerless. Because, because I understand the system, I believe I can, uh, I can control it. Maybe not control it totally, but tame it enough to make it do some good.
    Young Student: Sounds like you're talking about a wild animal.
    Richard M. Nixon: Yeah, maybe I am.
  • Nino Brown in New Jack City argues this about the war on drugs. The laws of supply and demand will create a business whether or not the government allows it. He's just the inevitable middleman between the producers and the consumers.
    "I mean, c'mon, let's kick the ballistics here: ain't no Uzis made in Harlem. Not one of us in here owns a poppy field. This thing is bigger than Nino Brown. This is big business. This is the American way."
  • In the movie Cube, Worth suggests this as the reason behind the creation of the titular cube. Nobody really wanted to make it, and nobody really knew what it was supposed to be for, but the bureaucracy made it impossible for anyone to actually stop building it.
  • Apart from the bullies, Moonlight (2016) has nothing even approaching an antagonist. Drug addiction and drug dealing aren't glamorized, but they're not vilified either; they're treated as tragic results of the cycle of poverty that the characters of the film are trapped in. Few characters are depicted as having much, if anything, in the way of choices, and being able to overcome one's circumstances and establish a life on one's own terms is portrayed as an extremely difficult task. Despite this, the film ends on a surprisingly optimistic note.
  • Sky High (2005): It's heavily implied (but not outright stated — it is a kid's movie, after all) that the Hero-Sidekick Fantastic Caste System employed at the school is the source of a vast majority of conflict in the super community. It encourages bullying, etchers student favoritism, and all around fosters arrogance and resentment from both sides. Most notably, the Big Bad was a technopath alumnus bitter about how she was sorted into the sidekick class, making her a target for bullying and mockery, despite the potential usefulness of her powers that people failed to see (being the 80s and all). Eventually she snapped, became the villainess Royal Pain, and became obsessed with Revenge on Sky High and the system as a whole.
  • Deewaar makes it clear that the system is rigged against poor people. When the miners go on strike, the owner puts an end to the strike by kidnapping the union leader's family and blackmailing him, and is able to do so with impunity. The dockworkers have to put up with racketeers taking part of their wages. Hiring practices are biased against them, with nepotism being common. They can't afford education for their children to escape poverty. And if they resort to crime, they are far more likely to get in trouble with the law than the rich are. Ravi spells it out:
    "This world has become a third class compartment of a train. Less space, more passengers."
  • The Big Short: The main characters realize that with the way the regulation and banking system is set up, it was a matter of when, not if, the 2008 financial crisis would happen. Things such as sales commissions and ratings agencies being private entities only lead to the people working in the industry doing their jobs as they pertain to their self-interest.

  • This is the premise of Ursula K. Le Guin's very highly-regarded short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Essentially, it's a thought experiment about a perfect city, with the caveat that it requires a single child to live in absolute suffering to sustain. The title comes from those who cannot abide benefiting from such a system.
  • David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series: The world is simply a big, corrupt, spirit-crushing prison for both the Europeans and the Han (most of them). The world-encompassing City was created to fulfill the promise of having as many children as you want, a fundamental wish for the clan-oriented Han society. The drawback: you don't get to see the sky and the sun, all birds are in cages, the very nature of the City makes it impossible to improve without physically tearing it down. Which in a world of 35+ billion people would mean mass death.
  • The City And The Dungeon: Delvers need crystal to survive. The deeper they delve, the more experience they gain, the more crystal they need, and the deeper they need to delve. It's very difficult for a delver to just retire. While the City is more mutable, the High Houses have also constructed the system to encourage delving deeper and deeper as much as possible. Late in the novel, they start ordering all their contracted shops (which is to say, basically all of them) to charge more to low-level delvers to force them past the first few floors.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: A Crapsack World where humans are picked off by various preternatural predators daily whom we have no way of protecting ourselves from, are too delusional to band together or even recognize they exist, and the few people who do have said power are too busy bickering among themselves to do anything. Oh, and using an act of black magic once is tempting enough to send you Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and start thinking about using your kids for raw potion ingredients or sacrificing your friends to an elder god, among other things.
  • Tom Godwin's short story "The Cold Equations" (along with its various media adaptations) tries for this, but the gross negligence shown by everyone with any authority, and lack of any sort of safety protocol kind of misses the "no one's at fault" mark.
    • Mind, this wasn't the author's intention at first. He was forced to rewrite the story several times by the editor, who wanted a Downer Ending and kept getting frustrated when Godwin kept finding ways to save everyone.
  • This is a major theme of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. There isn't really a Big Bad, but Jude and Sue's hope of a happy life is doomed from the start because of the strenuous moral standards of Victorian society.
  • In Brave New World, it's a more-or-less irreversible choice between a brainwashed, hedonistic social hierarchy or grim, egalitarian destitution and misery. If everyone were truly equal and free to determine their own destiny (as was attempted once before), society would collapse into turmoil. Huxley himself notes that he inadvertently created a third option when he invented the islands that the handful of people who don't fit into the system are routinely banished to, and just didn't notice it as he wrote the rest of the book. He later explored this in Island.
  • The ridiculously well-researched works of Frederick Forsyth leave one with the feeling that the Real Life criminal underworld is something that cannot be effectively dismantled and only small "victories" can be won against its denizens.
  • This is addressed by Emmanuel Goldstein in his book in 1984: there are three classes, the High, the Middle and the Low. Since the High is oppressive, the Middle asks the Low for help to overthrow the system, so, while the Low continues to be the Low, the Middle is now the High, and will be until the new Middle reacts to the new oppressor, and so on.
    • The beauty/horror of IngSoc and Big Brother being that they have essentially locked everyone into their roles by inverting the levels of oppression. The poverty stricken uneducated Proles (the Low) have the most freedom, the capable Middle live in subjectively better conditions but as members of the Outer Party are subject to the thought police and other insidious means of control, while we have O'Brien's word that the Inner Party themselves (the High) are subject to even greater scrutiny and required orthodoxy. The system inherently steers those who crave Power as an end unto itself into the upper ranks while ensuring that the Low will never join with the Middle to overthrow the High again.
  • Ira Levin's This Perfect Day gives us the choice between The Family, a society of helpful, pacifist, cooperative members who never hurt each other, because they are controlled via drugs and genetic engineering by an omniscient supercomputer that euthanizes them at age 62 simply to conserve resources...and islands of untreated "free" people which are either anarchic hellholes where the Law of the Jungle rules, or tyrannical military dictatorships complete with an Apartheid system. You can't solve the problems of the second without causing the problems of the first, and vice versa.
  • George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a World Half Empty that dramatically illustrates what happens when this trope goes really bad. It's understandable, since during the main series, the Seven Kingdoms are being ripped apart by civil war, and the prequel novels illustrate a kind of a golden age. However, many of the problems within the system led to the civil war, and other wars, in the first place.
    • Very much Truth in Television, as any student of European history knows, and George Martin was nothing if not true to that with his own world.
    • A Dance With Dragons is this trope taken Up to Eleven. There doesn't seem to be anything Daenerys can do with the best intentions for Meereen that doesn't make the situation worse.
  • In Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, the psychological weight caused by needing to feed off the blood of the living drives many vampires to suicide. Lestat manages to remain sane by determining to drink only from those he judges "evildoers" (it helps that he has a limited ability to read human minds, so he can pick the vile murderer or rapist out of a crowd and even hear how evil the man's thoughts are), while Louis spends much of Interview With the Vampire drinking the blood of rats and other small animals.
  • In L. E. Modesitt's Saga of Recluce novels, it's eventually revealed that the amount of Order and Chaos in the world must be balanced; if you kill a great Chaos mage, another will be along shortly, and if the forces of Order build a dozen Order-infused ironclad ships for self-defense, the number (and power) of Chaos mages will increase—-oh, and maintaining your fleet by making replacement Order-infused parts will also increase the amount of Chaos, without really helping your defenses. The eventual solution is to seal away a big pile of Order and Chaos at the same time, making both sides weaker.
  • The Hyborian Age of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian suggests you are born into one of two destinies: the nasty, brutish and short life of a barbarian, where only the strong survive, or into oppressive, corrupt, decadent civilization. If you aren't a decadent noble, a monster-worshipping evil sorcerer, a ruthless sellsword, cunning thief or perfumed courtesan, you're a slave or dead. And even that's no guarantee.
  • A slightly lesser example, but the Deliberate Values Dissonance of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan reads like this in regards to footbinding. Tiny, crippled feet are the sign of beauty, grace, and good breeding; the line of mothers crippling their daughters in a mutually agonizing tough-love scenario is never shown as having an ending in the course of the story. It won't be done away with for hundreds of years.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld pays homage to this trope. In Night Watch, a young Reg Shoe is convinced Sam Vines' only interest in him is to deliver a savage beating and then to hand him over to the secret police for daring to stand against the system. Sam becomes ashamed of the unintended cruelty of his reply, "Nobody is in the least bit interested in you." He expounds on this at length, as the ineffectual revolutionary Reg looks crushed and about to burst into tears. And in Snuff, the radical blacksmith Jefferson picks a fight with Vimes, the hated symbol of authority on two levels (police chief and Lord of the Manor) for exactly this reason.
    • It's most directly lampshaded in Feet of Clay, with the "Sir Samuel Vimes 'Boots' Theory of Economics." A rich man can afford a good pair of boots that will last him for many years, while a poor man can just afford cheap boots that will wear out in a single year, so in the long run he'll have spent more on footwear than his rich counterpart, and he'll still have wet feet.
  • E.M.Forster's A Passage to India, British racism and the inability of the English and the Indians to get along with each other isn't going to go away while the English stay in control of India. One of the main critiques the book levels against the Raj is that it co-opts even the most well-meaning of the English into viewing the Indians as inferior. Also no matter how badly Aziz and Fielding want to be friends, they can't.
  • Invoked and believed in by Nicholas Hunt, the protagonist of Jacek Dukaj's Black oceans.
  • Beetle in the Anthill has a retrospective postscript by the authors which hints that the events of the novel were largely unavoidable. The very existence of a Precursor artifacts in the form of human embryos combined with a Secret Intelligence Service that regarded said embryos as a possible threat to humanity as a whole inexorably led to a Downer Ending.
  • The Republic of Haven in the first three novels of the Honor Harrington series are forced to be expansionist and steal what they can from conquered systems because they have a dysfunctional economic system. The Solarian League later replaces them as an example: the political system has become so corrupt and useless that it's almost impossible to get anything done legislatively, especially if you're an honest politician (or planetary government), because you have to be corrupt to get anything done at all.
  • One of the main messages in The Grapes of Wrath is that injustice and inequality are inherent in a capitalist society. Things like chasing off tenants from the land where their family lived for generations happen not because anyone wants it, but because the financial system doesn't allow an alternative. As a bank executive puts it:
    The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.
  • The Secret Garden: Whether in India or England, Mary's and Colin's initial sickly, Spoiled Brat tendencies can be attributed to their wealthy parents being able to dump them on servants who, thanks to custom and the social hierarchy, have to just give them their way instead of nurturing or disciplining them. Martha even comments early on that wealthy children being coddled and waited on by nurses leads to them being dependent and ungrateful, while poorer children like her siblings learn early on to be more self-sufficient and appreciative of what they have.
  • Karsa Orlong from the Malazan Book of the Fallen believes slavery and exploitation are inherent in civilized society. His solution? Burn it all down.
  • Near-future thriller Victoria realistically enough does not portray the country's increasingly severe problems as the work of any one evil politician, or even party (though there are plenty of these along for the ride trying to exploit them). Rather, they are the product of long decades of corruption and decay throughout the government, until the dysfunctional but power-hungry system has itself become the enemy of the very people it ought to serve.
  • The Wheel of Time: The Dark One is The Anti-God and a Sentient Cosmic Force of pure evil, sealed outside Creation for all time. In their confrontation, The Chosen One realizes that the Dark One can be killed, destroying evil entirely, but that that would create a static Crapsaccharine World where people have no real free will or capacity for growth.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Wire: Over five seasons, the show explores how the same institutional failings (mostly from short-sighted tactics and personal ambition) sabotage every system, expanding its view to at least one new system in each season to show how the trend is universal.
    • Law enforcement: Police brass are only interested in looking good to their superiors, which means they are constantly directing their subordinates to focus on short-sighted actions that will temporarily produce favorable statistics while failing to address the roots of crime.
    • Drug gangs: Greed to control more of the drug trade will always drive the gangs to war with each other over territory, perpetuating the cycle of violence that imperils profits and cuts lives short.
    • Labor unions: The dockworkers aren't making enough money to support themselves, but can't rehabilitate their industry without political capital, which they're too poor to afford, so they have to resort to criminal connections, which do further damage to the dockworkers' position.
    • Local government: To keep their jobs, politicians must be more concerned about getting re-elected than actually governing well. Everything they do is dictated by how it will play to voters, affect their fundraising, and earn them political alliances. If they don't play the game, they'll get voted out and replaced by someone who does.
    • Public education: Teachers, just like cops, are under pressure by top officials to produce favorable statistics rather than do their real jobs. Their time is taken up by manipulating standardized testing practices and scores to give the illusion of quality education while actually leaving many students behind.
    • The media: Sensational and low-quality online reporting is making it harder and harder for journalists to do their jobs. The managers of once-prominent newspapers are slashing their budgets and staff while focusing on shallow stories to compete with the rest of the industry in a race to the bottom.
  • In Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, when Big Bad Agent Abrella is finally defeated at the end, he basically says that as long as laws and special police exist, there will be criminals and Alienizers, and as long as they exist, there will be someone with the same ambitions and dreams that he had.
  • The 100:
    • Season 1 has about half of the conflict arise from the fact that life support on the Ark space station is breaking down, and there's simply no way to keep all of the present population alive or to evacuate more than a small number of them to Earth.
    • In Season 2, the Mountain Men are kidnapping Grounders and Sky People, and draining them of their blood and bone marrow for use as medicine. However, if the Grounders and Sky People succeed in rescuing their people from the Mountain Men, then everyone in the Mountain will eventually die from radiation poisoning, without the medicine to cure it. No matter what, dozens/hundreds of people are going to be killed.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Tacking Into the Wind", the Klingon Chancellor Gowron is ordering excessively dangerous missions jeopardizing Starfleet's efforts in the Dominion War. Worf soon realizes that Gowron is doing this to get back at General Martok, who Gowron fears is eclipsing him. Worf asks Ezri Dax for advice, and she explains that this sort of corruption Gowron embodies has actually existed in the Klingon Empire for a long time, and Worf has simply tried to tolerate it.
    Ezri: How many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told that it was for the good of the Empire? I... I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is, you have been willing to accept a government that you know is corrupt. Gowron is just the latest example. Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man that I've ever met. And if you're willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?
  • Supernatural: When Crowley becomes king of hell and tries to impose a sense of Pragmatic Villainy and Even Evil Has Standards.
    Crowley: Do you know what's the problem with demons?
    Crowley: Exactly.
  • Cobra Kai: Johnny Lawrence believes that there's nothing objectively wrong with the Cobra Kai philosophy ("Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy"), feeling that it can be used by practitioners to gain confidence and initiative ("Strike First"), apply themselves 100% to everything they do ("Strike Hard"), and keep fighting back even when life is unfair ("No Mercy"). He considers the way he and his friends acted during their high school years to be more because Sensei Kreese was a colossal asshole who corrupted it. However, by the end of the first season even he comes to realize that when taken to its logical conclusion, the Cobra Kai philosophy's inherent aggression and dogmatism is nothing but a recipe for creating belligerent and merciless assholes driven by chips on their shoulders or thirst for power.
  • Chernobyl sets itself apart from many narratives about the titular disaster by making an insight on the detailed politics behind it. The reactor itself saw many corner cuttings and procedural skips in order to appease the Soviet government along with promises of bonus payments through finishing it before the deadline. The intolerance towards dissent meant that whistleblowers were tried for providing honest critiques, and facts were embellished to impress the superiors. These factors behind the Chernobyl meltdown also applied to the recovery process, which had proven to be more expensive in terms of man and resources due to bureaucratic mismanagement and lack of clarity on an actual crisis causing unnecessary setbacks.

  • "Johnny Was" by Bob Marley from his album Rastaman Vibration.
    Woman hold her head and cries
    Because her son was shot in the street and dies
    Just because of the system
  • A running theme through the stories of The Cog Is Dead is that progress and prosperity are built on the suffering of the working class. "Blood, Sweat and Tears," "Another Cog in the Machine" and "Burn It Down" all demonstrate this.

    Tabletop Games 
  • There's a reason White Wolf calls both of their flagship series The World of Darkness.
    • Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem don't have a readily available alternate blood sourcenote . Even if you want to be good, the whole friggin' game system seems designed to have you kill people, lower your Karma Meter, and generally eat the puppies. It's as though the game designers want you to be as casually cruel as possible. (They do.)note 
    • And then we have Mage: The Awakening where it seems there will always be immoral or amoral mages willing to use their powers for their own selfish ends simply because the lure to do so is so strong, and the consequences can be so underwhelming. This is even without considering the anti-reality filled with Eldritch Abominations which seeks to destroy the universe, and can offer mages (and other mortals) dangerous, corruptive powers to further its goals. The saddest part is, that it was the early mages' fault that things got to be so bad in the first place.
    • Add Werewolf: The Apocalypse to the list. Of the three most powerful spirits in the Old World of Darkness (and mostly in charge of running it), two are insane and malevolent, while the third lacks any ability to plan and is probably also insane. Actually opposing any of the three is largely futile, and if destroying one of them were possible it would wreck the world even further.
    • Then, Demon: The Fallen actually explains what's wrong with the Old World of Darkness: if you read through the Neberu backstory carefully, you'll see that the world they built was a self-sustaining, self-perfecting system with enormous potential to shrug off abuse. Then, soon after the Fall, God in His righteous fury just went and kicked the Creation so hard, it just didn't work anymore. "Righteous", my ass! And ever since that time, the world has been gradually falling apart, descending into the proverbial darkness. No wonder the Neberu hate Him with every fiber of their souls.
  • Warhammer 40,000 will remain a grim, dark setting of constant conflict for two main reasons. First, the Ultimate Evil of Chaos is created from sentient beings' thoughts and emotions, even the good ones, and the only entity with a plan for defeating Chaos (through a means other than exterminating all sentient life) is a comatose, mummified husk wired into a slowly-failing life support system. Second, as awfully despotic, theocratic, anti-intellectual, paranoid, and merciless as the Imperium of Man is, its galactic war machine is the only thing that has allowed humanity to survive as long as it has against all the alien and daemonic horrors surrounding it.
  • Paranoia: Alpha Complex is a perfect utopia by the kindly wisdom and matchless grace of Our Friend the Computer. Any suggestions to the contrary are treason, and should be reported to Friend Computer or to your nearest friendly Internal Security agents at once. Citizens experiencing the urge to suggest that Alpha Complex or Friend Computer is less than perfect are strongly encouraged to report to the nearest Confession Booth. Remember, spreading dissatisfaction among your fellow citizens is treason! Stay alert! Trust no one! Keep your laser handy!
    • The game system itself is a meta-example, sometimes by design, but it also acknowledges problems inherent in any tabletop system and encourages the Game Master to exploit or subvert them.
  • In Infernum, the reason that there aren't any real Noble Demons in said setting (Just less evil ones) is because, even if they are decent and loyal to their fellows, they still have to torture human souls to produce Illiaster, which is their only food.
  • In Exalted, it is occasionally pointed out that humanity's dependence on the titular demigods is not at all healthy and has caused a lot of problems - and yet, is utterly necessary in the face of all the demons, Fair Folk, and Eldritch Abominations out for the entire world's blood, and which un-Exalted humans are incapable of dealing with.
    • And yet, there are people who try to change this sad state of the world. A significant number of Lunar Exalts are social engineers who aim to create societies that can function without Exalts (this is no doubt because Lunars themselves were raped by Solars in ancient ages). Another Lunar faction seeks to proliferate Sorcery so that everyone can do reality bending with a lowered difficulty curve (i.e. not requiring exaltation).
    • The Scarlet Empress engineered the Dragon-blooded regime so that it would collapse without her at its center. Which it does, after she disappears. In one timeline, after the Ebon Dragon raped her into marriage (long story), the problem really shows because the embodiment of dickery became the de-jure Emperor of Creation.
  • Shadowrun. The Sixth World has fallen into a system of nightmare, no-holds-barred capitalist consumerism with no workers' rights and no social networks, the tragedy of the commons is in full effect, the environment is permanently fucked (quite metaphysically, as some nature spirits have turned 'toxic' from all the abuse), and ancient power structures rule the world with no checks on their power beyond other, worse ancient power structures that oppose them. And the Central Theme of the setting can generally be boiled down to that things are as bad as that because most people let it happen, because it was generally easier, even as the world was going to hell in a handbasket, not to get involved and let these things run their course. Depending on the mood around the table, the Player Characters can either fully embrace this as a land of opportunity for their skills and try to carve out their own piece of the pie, or actively try to play as people who choose to not play the game of the rich and powerful, and actively try to improve things, which almost never truly lasts.

  • Wicked is about two friends who want to become famous and change the world for the better through magic. When Elphaba realizes how corrupt The Wizard is and how he's encouraging the oppression of the Animal population, she forgets becoming his partner and instead goes on a vigilante crusade against him. Glinda, meanwhile, would rather stay in the Emerald City and try to help from within (albeit, part of that is not being brave enough to give up her dream life, the way Elphaba is). In the end, neither path really changes anything in Oz.
    • Probably because under the Wizard's rule, Glinda was a powerless figure-head whose real job was to appease the masses and keep them distracted. The finale seems to indicate with The Wizard and Madam Morrible out of the way, the Grimmerie in her hands, and Elphaba's blessing, Glinda has the ability to make Oz a better place.
  • Che and Eva's Waltz in Evita both follows and seems to defy this trope (though it depends on how you define the "system") with its chorus: "There is Evil/Ever around, fundamental/System of government quite incidental!"
  • In The Pirates of Penzance, the Pirate King believes this and uses it as a justification for piracy:
    Away to the cheating world go you
    Where pirates all are well-to-do
  • Henrik Ibsen's entire bibliography is about deconstructing the bad sides of Victorian society/fiction and showcasing the inherent hypocrisies of its broken systems and mob mentality. All the characters are flawed, but the system is just as much to blame.

    Video Games 
  • Kingdom Hearts is a prime example, as the potential for Black Magic and people becoming The Heartless are a fundamental part of the local cosmology.
    • The problem of The Heartless tends more towards As Long as There is Evil, since there's no reason why they need to stay around apart from the fact that human nature makes it really hard to eliminate them. Nobodies are a better example of a problem that's Inherent in the System - they're sentient beings whose very existence prevents their Others from existing. 358/2 Days takes this even further with Xion's link to Roxas, which effectively makes it impossible to coexist.
  • Shaping in the Geneforge series seems exceptionally prone to With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. The Shapers do their best to control it but never quite can, while making themselves look like complete bastards in the process. Eventually, a sect develops that wants to eliminate shaping entirely... but given that shaping is completely ingrained into the society and the first game reminds us that "you cannot unring a bell," you can guess how feasible that would be.
    • Geneforge takes it a step into the broader scope, showing the many ways great power leads to great social insanity, as those who have it, those who want it, and those who rebel against it, all have their own brands of madness. The first games had sympathetic characters from various sects with understandable viewpoints based on their experience, led by crazed and callous demagogues. Geneforge 4 inverted this: charismatic and well-intentioned leaders with well-reasoned motivations leading sects filled with desperately crazed individuals justifying atrocities at all levels.
  • Dragon Age, in any number of myriad ways. Most obvious is the situation of children born with magical potential. They are taken from their family and locked in a tower under armed guard for what is usually the rest of their life, barring certain exceptional circumstances. When they come of age, they must take a dangerous test with death the penalty for failure—and even afterwards, they always face the looming threat that the fanatic Knight Templar guards will execute them if they step out of line. The alternative to this brutal treatment of innocents for an accident of birth? The very real possibility, even probability, that they will become possessed by horrors from beyond.
    • The worst part of it? Most mages turn to Blood Magic only to escape from the Circle. Many may have never become abominations or blood mages if they were not faced with a possibility of lifetime imprisonment, being made Tranquil or getting killed.
    • To add to that, there exists an example of an alternative, with mages policing themselves. That example being The Empire where mages lord over muggles and human-sacrifice-powered Blood Magic is par for the course doesn't inspire anyone's confidence.
    • There's also the Grey Wardens themselves, who undergo an initiation that frequently kills recruits — and even those who survive will die or turn into a monster because of it a couple decades down the line. If they didn't, however, the only way to end a Blight would be to kill every darkspawn in existence, everywhere.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition hammers down the "Opression In The System" theme. From the ancient elves to Tevinter to the Chantry, to the Dwarven undercities and the Qun, there is always someone trying to rule the world through the backs of their slaves/pariahs; the ancient elven 'gods' were actually slave masters who posed as gods and put brainwashing fade tattoos on their property - which means that Dragon Age-era elven culture is a tribal continuation of slave protocols. When they fell, Tevinter took over, and when Andraste broke Tevinter's back, her followers set up a martyrdom around her, turned the cult of the Maker into an official religion, and started oppressing mages everywhere because that was the topic Andraste happened to talk about the most. In all cases, it's easier to kill an archdemon and fight a horde of vicious monsters than to stop eons of oppression, so you're forced to help these oppressive governments no matter what.
  • In Mass Effect 3, the Catalyst's purpose — and hence the purpose of the Reapers it created — is to prevent organic civilization from producing synthetic races that turn on and wage war against their creators. The Catalyst's creators believed this to be an inevitability, having witnessed instances of it while they were the dominant race of the galaxy; they didn't realize the same logic applied to them.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: At the end of the game, Joker goes into a rant about how screwed up Gotham society - and the world in general - has to be if it can spawn supervillains and crazy-looking superheroes and barely lift two fingers to try and stop them. The worst part is, he might be right; throughout the series, ten percent of the villains are actually just ordinary humans (Ferris Boyle, Hugo Strange, Simon Stagg) whose actions cause more death and destruction than even Joker, made possible by their flawless integration into society before Batman finally exposes their crimes. Terrorist organizations (Raj Al Ghul), government conspiracies (corrupt police, Amanda Waller), and gangs are Batman's main fight; the supervillains just add a damage multiplier.
    The Joker: Why won't you get it into your thick skull?! WE BOTH EXIST, BECAUSE OF THEM!!!
  • Touhou takes Clap Your Hands If You Believe in a fairly depressing way. Youkai are creatures born of human fear and defined by their antagonistic relationship towards humans. Nowadays people at best can wish youkai existed, but their common sense and a scientific and rational world don't allow them to do so. The solution was the creation of Gensokyo as a Fantastic Nature Preserve, and the adoption of a non-lethal spellcard system to meet the antagonism quota. Problem is, many humans have found youkai to be people too, oftentimes smarter and nicer than other humans, but they won't be able to fully get along with humans without ceasing to be youkai.
  • In the Disciples series, the world sucks because all of the gods are selfish flawed jerks. The most sympathetic gods are the gods of evil because they were Driven to Villainy. A big part of this is that the creation process itself was flawed, tainting the world forever. It also doesn't help that the god who pointed this out was misblamed for it and imprisoned in hell, pissing him off. It gets so bad that, in the third game, the gods just want to hit the Reset Button on the world.
  • In the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, the universe itself is broken and God turning into a despotic bastard is merely a symptom of the problem. Unless the flaw is identified and fixed, the universe isn't getting better anytime soon. Realizing this is what pushes the White in Shin Megami Tensei IV over the Despair Event Horizon, and makes them decide that the only solution is to destroy the whole thing. And, if you help them, they succeed!
  • It isn't really anyone's fault that the world of Nier is all but doomed with the possible exceptions of the long dead Grotesquerie Queen, Caim, and Angelus, and even then it wasn't intentional on their part. There is no real villain responsible for everything. The desperate measures humanity took to ensure its survival in the wake of a disaster that introduced magic to the world, measures which attempted to exploit said magic through technological means, just had too many flaws.
    • And the sequel's fourteen robot wars stem from an unfortunate logic bomb: How do you serve masters who have already gone extinct? This error propagates on both sides, as humans went extinct in Nier and the machine faction Turned Against Their Masters in awe of humanity's twisted cultural development, but now seek to emulate a culture that clearly and utterly failed. The ruling class has been orchestrating race wars to attempt to recreate the same conditions that led to humanity's cultural development, in hopes of achieving true human sapience. This has not succeeded for millennia, but without a 'human' singularity, they're stuck in a war rut.
  • Pyre has both the Rites and The Commonwealth contribute towards this in an interesting way: The Rites only allow one outcast from the victorious triumvirate to be liberated from The Downside. While the Rites were initially intended to lead to the creation of a Commonwealth where equality and respect for knowledge were its main virtues, The Commonwealth's process of sending criminals to the Downside resulted in most of those who were liberated to be criminals. In turn, once liberated they are offered a position of power within The Commonwealth, meaning most of their leadership are the equivalent of ex-cons. The most antagonistic characters in The Downside (with the exception of The Withdrawn) want to ensure the continuation of the corrupt system for their gain.
  • The Knights of the Old Republic games have far more detail about the Sith and the Empire than most Star Wars properties, and tend to show this as a problem with the Force itself. The Sith philosophy is a fairly reasonable mindset for a world like Korriban, with an inhospitable environment and few resources. All life has to struggle, those who embrace their survival instinct and succeed become stronger for it, but the challenge never stops, so life is a continual Hobbes Was Right challenge. The Jedi philosophy works best in a place like the Republic, where there are a lot of resources, but it takes teamwork to make use of those resources. But the Jedi philosophy, with its emphasis on self-denial makes for very damaged Lawful Stupid code-adhering sociopaths and the Sith end up Ax-Crazy lunatics wasting their energy and resources on Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and the only qualification for "leadership" is being able to stab the other guy faster than he stabs you. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, a light-sided Sith and a dark-sided Jedi still technically fit the letters of their codes, but don't make much of an impact on the respective systems or the constant warfare. Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords spends a great deal of time dissecting these weaknesses and showing how these two competing philosophies keep dragging the galaxy into constant warfare with the Force itself Playing Both Sides and screwing sentients out of free will to sustain itself through all that bloodshed. Unfortunately, since all life is connected to the Force, and the Force is screwing with Free will to prevent Taking a Third Option, there is no escape from the constant religious warfare.
  • Pick any title from Fallout that involves the Brotherhood of Steel (save for 3 maybe), and look at their model of governing and control. They're not going out to be evil, but when Porter Gaige describes them as a high-tech raider gang, he's not totally wrong about that. This is particularly obvious in Fallout 4, with the differences between the villains and the Brotherhood being significantly less than the latter would ever admit.
    • And of course, the Enclave (and its nerdy little brother the Institute). They're the logical conclusion of any capitalist empire that goes unchecked: with everyone too distracted by the Cold War to institute proper ethical guidelines and environmental laws, corporations and governments become brutal crucibles that elevate the most ruthless and sadistic into becoming CEOs and Presidents, eventually forming an elitist guild in America that knows how to manipulate and undermine America, but has next to no understanding of empathy or how the world actually works. End result: they push the Communists into a genocidal corner, causing WWIII, teach their descendants to become Neo-Nazis, and turn their one last chance at coming out on top into a sadistic murder-fest of experimental torture that eventually amounted to nothing due to shortsighted political decisions. Even their lackeys admit how utterly insane their higher-ups are.
    • The Institute is slightly better than the Enclave due to its drive to advance scientific progress for humanity, but literally has no overall logistic plan, and as a result, commits genocide against its neighbors by unleashing its failed experiments just to steal critical supplies they could easily trade for. You either have to tear the Institute down and distribute its scientists to various factions, or take leadership and try to steer them in a direction other than straight down.

    Web Comics 
  • Tower of God: The climbing system of the Tower requires people to drop out on every floor, often resulting in betrayal and death. Some characters are so sickened by this they drop out by themselves, content with the progress they madenote . Other more important characters have started voicing their discontent with the system and the Tower itself seems to be subtly working against it as well.
  • Girl Genius: "Mad scientists rule the world. Badly." The existing despotism is far from ideal, but before it was around there was lots of violent anarchy, and it's hard to think of a better alternative.
  • Similar to the Underworld (2003) example above, in Last Blood the vampires can live off of small amounts of blood... but still prefer lots.
  • In some Talking Animal worlds, Carnivore Confusion may invoke this trope. For example, Talking Foxes might have to eat Talking Rabbits to live, but Talking Rabbits have names and families too! A certain amount of tragedy is inherent in the system, but that's just how life is. Example: Kevin & Kell.
  • Erfworld: The rules of Erfworld are effectively designed to force the various sides into near perpetual war. People are created for no other reason than to be soldiers.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court subverts this here.
    Paz: The Court isn't a big monster that does as it pleases. Es a collection of people, working to do what they think is right. And, over time, other people see what is wrong, what mistakes were made, and work hard to fix them.
  • Roommates runs on two main powers the Theory of Narrative Causality and Clap Your Hands If You Believe (mostly of the fans)... which means drama can exist for no other reason than "this is a story, there'll be conflict", and often ridiculous levels of fanservice need no other explanation than "the readers want it". On the other hand, it is also a Massive Multiplayer Crossover and a different story so if the fans want it the characters can get happier lives/endings here.
  • Guilded Age: Gastonia's "Altruistic" bureaucratic takeover shows how any stagnant government, even one that was founded on the principles of kindness and free thought, can be systematically corrupted and used against its own people. The council is so stifled by red tape that any attempt to appeal to anti-racism is shot down by its own supporters out of fear of being fired and replaced by someone less tolerant. The conspirators make these fears a reality by imposing harsh demands and deadlines through bureaucracy, leaving their opponents holding the blame when their untested, unstable new technologies and policies inevitably explode from overclocking, which is seized by the conspirators and then applied to weapons testing with safer conditions and longer testing times under the excuse of the projects being inherently dangerous, which further increases their credibility and sows racist fearmongering of the original scientists. The conspirators themselves act from increasing paranoia to the outside wars, which are fueled by Gastonia's genocides to gather resources. And to add insult to injury, when the 'Altruistic' conspirators win and remove all the minority-protecting restrictions, they also undermined too much of Gastonia's law and infrastructure preventing tyranny; one sociopathic usurper assassinates his own family, claims his birthright to kinghood, and seizes the throne that was so lovingly crafted for him through blind bureaucracy. The one with nukes installed, as a result of the conspirators convincing themselves that, in their narrow understanding of politics through conspiracy, no-one in charge would be stupid enough to use a weapon that mass-murders their own citizens and causes a 0% Approval Rating. Except he got the dictatorship because he doesn't care.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: The entire(?) multiverse is ruled by seven insane demigods who have reality-warping powers and hate each other. They've made themselves necessary to the continuation of the multiverse, so attempting to oust them causes war and devastation on a literally cosmic scale. And even if they're all ousted? The reality-warping artifacts are too indestructible and too tempting to discard, and the Council of Angels demands they find new owners, lest the Devils seize them and show the multiverse what Hell truly is.

    Web Original 
  • In Worm, gaining powers usually requires a Traumatic Superpower Awakening, which as you might expect happens more often to the disenfranchised and ne'er-do-wells of the world, with the end result that villains constantly outnumber the heroes.
    • The Birdcage is a prison designed to hold dangerous parahumans. It's also the only prison that can hold dangerous parahumans, and nobody who goes in will ever come out. But because it's the only prison, a number of people sent there really didn't deserve it, such as people who fell on the wrong side of the Three Strikes Law, and people like Canary, whose powers caused fatal accidents, but who never intended to harm anyone and did not intend to do so again.
  • SCP Foundation is quite clear that The World Is Always Doomed and the Foundation has developed poorly as a result. Most of the stuff they lock up is utterly incomprehensible to the best of human science, half of them are capable of ending the world on their ownnote , and even with their inhumane levels of embezzlement of government funds and human sacrifices of both criminals and innocents, they are still at a major disadvantage against their highest-threat objects and rival organizations. And of course, the 'losing the battle to save the world' (if they haven't already lost) mentality common throughout the Foundation has left them grossly jaded and apathetic. In the end, they are far from competent or just, but even if they were it probably wouldn't be enough to save the day.

     Web Video 
  • CGP Grey: This is the Aesop of The Rules For Rulers: all rulers, whether they are dictators or elected representatives, rely on a select few key supporters to maintain power. A ruler who wishes to maintain power must give these key supporters spoils and influence, or they will replace that ruler with someone who will.
    Grey: The people didn't replace the king, the court replaced the king, using the people's protest they let happen to do it.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: Diffusion of responsibility is related to this trope.
  • The Prisoner's Dilemma. The prisoners are not necessarily malicious to each other, they are simply locked in a game whose rules (and the lack of mutual trust) dictate backstabbing as the best option for each individual.
  • Money and politics. The realities of a modern democracy make campaign contributions the best way of showing your support for a candidate, but it can be hard to distinguish whether a politician's votes win the support of elites, corporations and lobbyists, or if the elites, corporations and lobbyists' money dictates the politician's votes. And of course the only people who can regulate this system are the ones getting those contributions, and the ones with the most influence over it are the ones giving those contributions.
  • Political Science and International Relations for five hundred, Alex.
    • Classical Realists think that Hobbes Was Right and people are essentially bastards, so to survive a leader has to be a bigger bastard than your neighbors and Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto Us. Neorealists don't blame human nature so much as an anarchic international system where you can't count on any "laws" to save you, but the end result is a similar focus on accumulating power to defend yourself. And thus we get the Security Dilemma, where your efforts to build up power (for defensive purposes, of course) are seen as a threat by your neighbors, who build up power to defend themselves, so you have to build up more power to compensate and then both of you get stuck in a Lensman Arms Race against each other. Or, maybe you'll find yourself in conflict with a neighbor not because you actually want to risk a fight right now, but because you can't afford to give your potential rival an advantage they could use in a hypothetical future conflict.
    • Liberals and Neoliberals don't necessarily disagree with these core assumptions, but argue that you can try to compensate for the world sucking by fostering democratic norms, economic interdependence and international laws. Yet even if you manage to get a continent to agree to a peaceful, cosmopolitan confederation, all it takes is for one rogue state to start acting aggressive for things to fall apart.
    • Marxism claims that human history is defined by the struggle between the working and ruling classes in the contemporary economic system. Each system has its inherent problems; through class struggle such flaws are fixed and a new system emerges with its new set of problems. Proletariat revolution is claimed to solve the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the worker and create a classless utopia aka communism to end the spiral of class struggle for good. However, the command economy of the Communist Bloc during the Cold War makes these countries unable to win against the Western free market system (which has an it's own Inherent In The System advantage of competitiveness between producers) in the long run.
    • Constructivism stands out not so much for being a coherent, competing theory, but a Fourth Option. Rather than viewing the challenges of politics and international relations as something inherent to human nature or the way the world works, it posits that it's possible to change things - after all, if people made states and created the international system in which they operate, then surely we can alter the rules if we really want to?
  • A lot of the defenders of the system of slavery during the 19th Century used the argument that slave labor was too inherent to the function of the economy, and that getting rid of it would cause a catastrophic collapse of the system. Which, arguably, it did. Although that collapse could have been averted or at least mediated more than it was by a gradual phasing into another economic model. Even the abolitionists couldn't come up with a coherent, practical way to get rid of slavery and deal with its aftereffects. For example:
    • Do you compensate the former slave owners? If so, where does the money come from? If not, you're impoverishing people who had never broken the law.
    • Do you compensate the former slaves? Again, who pays and how much?
    • Where do the newly-freed slaves go? Back to working on the farms? Would cities in the North accept them? What jobs would they be qualified to hold? What about elderly or disabled slaves? Or orphaned children?
    • How about sending them back to Africa? Well, the slaves were probably born in America and had no means or desire to go to a foreign country, and what would they do when they got there?
      • The American Colonization Society was founded with the idea of sending former slaves back to Africa, and even established what would become Liberia. However, out of millions of slaves, they had only managed to settle 13,000 by 1867. The ACS was bitterly resented by freed blacks as they and their families had been in America for generations and had no real connection to Africa. Living conditions were harsh, with tropical diseases and unfriendly locals taking their toll, and furthermore Liberia was not the ancestral origin of most slaves, having been picked because it was the closest available spot. In the true spirit of the trope, the settlers would impose their own slavery on the locals in the generations to come, treating them as second class citizens and holding tightly to power until a coup overthrew the regime in the 1980's.
      • The American Civil War made the answer to the first two questions rather tidy: the secessionists were obviously in the wrong, so they deserve no compensation. Instead, they owe reparations which can go to the former slaves note  UK had a more peaceful abolition process which got rid of slavery almost 30 years before US did. Former slave owners were compensated quite handsomely, partially by their former slaves being forced to work as their apprentices after having been freed. Scandinavia underwent a similar process centuries earlier when the Viking Age ended, and the raids stopped.
  • Buckminster Fuller had a quote relating to breaking free from this, saying that nothing is gained by fighting the system, and that the solution is to create a new system which renders the old one obsolete. Essentially it's Take a Third Option, or perhaps create new options instead of choosing the existing ones.
  • Studying neuroscience, psychology or sociology will hit you in the head with this (pun intended). The more you know about the processes inside a person's brain, the more you realize that you actually have very few course of actions in any given situation, unless you consciously go against what is wired in your brain. All kinds of bigotry-against nationality, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, any label you can come up with-have their roots in the way a person or a society try to preserve themselves, and it's no justification for atrocities committed to fellow beings. On the other hand, being aware of how those processes work does make it easier to be conscious of when they're at work in your own brain and step back to make an informed decision rather than acting on unconscious impulses.
  • Executive Meddling. It's only natural. Want your book or screenplay published? Most people don't have the capital with which to accomplish such. Things like paper to print each page with, actors, props, designers, and what have you cost money. A lot of money. Those with the budget and resources to fund anything still only have so much, so they have to pick and choose what they'll support, based on what they predict will sell the best, and those predictions are often wrong. This gives them the power to insist on modifying something or another, at the threat of pulling out and funding something else instead, and they are well-known to do that anyway. Their drive to make money often prevents them from taking risks and funding something creative instead of more of the same stuff that smashed in the first place. And none of that says anything about any decisions they make for the sake of their egos, a trait inherent in all human beings.
    • Continental European countries tried to stop this when they created "moral rights" (MR) as part of their respective Copyright laws. MR refers to such rights as the author being credited for their own work, to use a pseudonym or to publish it anonymously (attribution) and - most importantly here - their right to refuse to change or authorize changes to the work (integrity). Three problems:
      • One problem is with how countries implement MR in their laws: some make the integrity right dependent on it affecting the author's reputation, others don't. In the United Kingdom, the author has to assert the attribution right (in violation of the Berne Convention).
      • Common law countries have traditionally been skeptical of MR, previously refusing to recognise them in their laws, and have mostly implemented them in a watered-down form, as well as making them waivable (and they are normally waived; Continental European ones don't allow it); meanwhile, the United States has consistently refused to recognise them until the present times (except for a narrowly defined class of visual artists).
      • And, of course, even if your country recognises them in their strongest extent, the publisher may simply refuse to publish your work unless/until you accept whatever changes they wish you to make.
  • The military, of whatever country you choose. As good as some of the individual soldiers who serve in it might be, it’s still horribly prone to war crimes, sexual abuse, hazing gone wrong, et cetera.
    • The purpose of a military is to resolve issues pertaining to war, and those who 'resolve' many battles get promoted to command more people. But since War Is Hell, it inevitably drives some soldiers insane - if they aren't killed first. Those that survive long enough will steadily make their way up the chain of command, but it's a miracle if they haven't gone General Ripper or used their connections to get there corruptly but safely. In the end, the ones leading the military are typically the least fit for command, because the initial recruits who could have eventually been worthy of command are in a loony bin, died in combat, or got wise and quit early.
    • The police are the same way; no matter how many good officers there are, unjustified uses of force, abusing authority, and police protecting officers who act in an unprofessional manner ensure that there will always be bad cops.
    • And whenever they get recruits and funding from a very specific community, expect them to be very biased. If they are from a group different from the demographic than where they patrol, it can quickly degrade into stereotyping and an "us versus them" mentality on both sides. Even when it comes to police officers who are of a similar ethnicity or class background to the area, such as Irish immigrants who took on the work in the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth century, they can see themselves as The One Who Made It Out (and think they're better then the people they serve or that the people they serve are just lazy) while the people they serve view them as Category Traitors and little more than dogs on the leash of the ruling class.
  • Gender roles. Whatever professions, activities, or whatever are dominated by women are shunned by men, who make a point of keeping women out of their own fields and vice versa. Whenever women filter into a "man's" field, it ceases to become as appealing to men, and ends up becoming "woman's work," often with less prestige and lower pay. And when men perform a "women's" job, they are looked upon as un-masculine and inherently incompetent at best, and as potential predators at worst. Teaching is a great example; when it was a "male" profession, it enjoyed greater respect and pay. When it became a "woman's" profession, the pay and prestige decreased, but any male entering it is viewed with suspicion and accused of just being in it to gain access to kids. Alternately, men going into a "woman's" profession (like computer programming) makes it increase the pay and prestige, but also increase the hours expected to work, decrease the job stability, and women can be made uncomfortable (either by their male co-workers or just feeling alone). What makes this impossible to solve is that the real reason behind these trends have entirely to do with power and egos; each side views what they have as "their" territory and the other gender as interlopers.
  • Women in video games. Gauntlet, Street Fighter, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Final Fantasy, Dead or Alive, Resident Evil, SoulCalibur, Star Wars, Mass Effect, Tomb Raider, Bloodrayne, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dragon Age, Overwatch, say hello to the next big Action Girl supermodel Third-Person Seductress. For richer irony, even female-created video game characters like Bayonetta are blown off as "pandering to the male gaze" (by feminist critics) or "pornography," (by right wing critics like Jack Thompson).
  • Pakistan's blasphemy law is a near-impossible issue to deal with. The mere accusation of blasphemy can trigger violence and riots before a trial even starts, and no one person can be completely safe from accusation. Politicians and lawyers have no way of knowing how to reform such an exploitable law without disagreements and/or more riots for questioning the law as it is.
  • Any attempt at using scripture as a basis for law. Many scriptures throughout history have misinterpreted lessons, rewrites from the winners, and plain old errors that were never corrected. This is not the problem; the problem is how inherently stubborn humanity is about simultaneously trying to preserve every line to the letter while constantly re-interpreting the meaning to fit their own self-serving viewpoints; a line endorsing child-incest and/or hate crimes will be plastered over with justification or re-wording rather than fully erased or condoned, contradicting edicts may be horrifyingly merged into something that seems to make sense but blossoms into a Logic Bomb that blows up into real-life religious terrorism, a few 'minor' edits in the past may be used to justify hateful racism and poor long-term decisions in the future, et cetera. In short, when it comes to scripture, things change, and they change too slowly/haphazardly.
  • Corporate shareholding. A businessowner can start with all the highminded ideals he wants, but most shareholders are Only in It for the Money, and if he doesn't deliver good returns, the shareholders will vote with their feet and wallets. This therefore encourages growing profit at any cost, lest the business suffer. Corporate social responsibility goals are nice to have, but unless likeminded shareholders put their money where their mouths are and buy enough stock to overpower the profit-minded ones, the businessowner will be punished for following his heart.
  • Law Enforcement is designed to be a public service to protect communities from criminal behavior, especially violent acts. Unfortunately the most visible criminal behavior happens in poorer neighborhoods and repeated exposure to some horrific events can lead to profiling, personal corruption and PTSD of even the most determined officers, which has a negative impact on the community and the people they are trying to protect. You remove the police from those communities, neuter their ability to enforce the law or decriminalize certain acts it is unlikely to improve the status of those neighborhoods because police enforcement was still a barrier keeping criminal behavior in check, and so the communities continue to suffer.


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