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Inherent in the System

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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.

If a story does have a Broken System and a Big Bad, it's not uncommon for the villain to exploit it to their advantage. They can either be the cause of or a by-product of the system, but these kinds of villains are particularly difficult to defeat, since stopping them is unlikely to stop the myriad of problems in society that gave them power in the first place. As such, any hero or heroes facing these kind of villains would likely learn the hard way that defeating the Big Bad would cause just as many problems as it would solve, if not more so.

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 and It Is Beyond Saving. See also Society Is to Blame and Wretched Hive. Compare also As Long as There Is Evil, which is when supernatural evil is inherent in the world, and Broken-System Dogmatist, where someone's deeply devoted to a system despite its numerous flaws inherent in it. Contrast Industrialized Evil. Compare and contrast Legalized Evil, when the system is specifically designed to permit evil ends.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Beastars is about racism, and much like in the real world racism is a fact of life. People are terrible and life isn't fair. Growing up means accepting it and making the best of the hand you were dealt, and the villains are all people who refuse to do that and instead decide that the shit they put up with gives them license to cause needless suffering.
  • 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 The Sociopaths 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.
  • Attack on Titan:
    • Recruits who do the best in anti-Titan training get to choose their posting upon graduation... and they usually choose a Garrison position, as far from the Titans as possible. Meanwhile, this leaves the recruits who scored worse being drafted into the Scouts and other anti-Titan brigade. Meaning that the military itself essentially guarantees that the people who are the most qualified to fight Titans are also the ones least likely to ever fight them, while ensuring 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.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: This turns out to be the Freudian Excuse of the Big Bad (at least in the light novels and subsequent adaptations; in the original web novel, while events played out similarly, he was already The Sociopath). Yuuki Kagurazaka was a brilliant child with good parents and plenty of friends on Earth, but the former were caught in a horrific traffic accident caused by an overworked truck driver that killed them. Yuuki fell into despair especially when the courts ruled the truck driver was innocent, initially blaming him, then blaming the company that forced the driver in that position, then blaming the customers and investors that prompted the company to make the decisions they did, before finally realizing what happened was just a horrible accident brought on by the flaws of the society he lives in. He originally wanted to tear it down, but he couldn't bring himself to inconvenience so many innocent people who depend on that society, so he decided he needed to gain the necessary political power and like-minded friends to change society one step at a time. Then he got summoned and nearly body-jacked by a desperate ghost, but he fought off the possession and became friends with said ghost, Demon Lord Kazaream. This leads to Yuuki deciding he can implement his plans for a new fair and just society on this world instead...

    Comic Books 
  • A Walk Through Hell: While good does exist, humanity itself is too flawed and corrupt for any good actions to ultimately have any lasting meaning and effect. Exemplified in Shaw, who proves to be the staunchest and most steadfast of the characters who oppose Carnahan, going so far as to actually managing to escape hell. Yet, her attempt to buy time for humanity by assassinating a bigoted, homophobic governor fails, ultimately resulting in her winding up back in hell, while humanity continues on its path to destruction.
  • 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.

    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 D×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).
  • In Law Abiding Citizen, inventor Clyde Shelton's family is murdered by a violent criminal. When the investigators tamper with the crime scene, the prosecutor decides to make a deal with said criminal in order to prosecute his noticeably less evil accomplice instead. His motivation? To keep up his conviction rate and earn political points so he can become the DA. The sheer incompetence and selfishness of the system, motivates Shelton to wage a one man war against the system. Planning to burn it all down for the sake of proving a point.
  • The movie Traffic (2000) 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 and 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four: 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 ridiculously. 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.
  • Franz Kafka's The Trial is about a legal process that has grown so corrupt and convoluted that it cannot be stopped by anyone. The protagonist is arrested for a crime that does not exist, but the nature of the legal process makes it impossible to prove or disprove his innocence, leaving him unable to examine his defense or the nature of his crime, eventually resulting in an execution that is legalized slaughter.
  • 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.
  • Commonly a feature of Wildbow's works:
    • In Worm:
      • The legal and cultural framework that has been built up around the existence of superpowered individuals ("capes") in North America tends to force them into either heroism on a team (whether government-employed or corporate but government-sanctioned) or villainy as part of a gang or mercenary group. Truly independent heroes and villains, as well as "rogues" who use their powers for pursuits other than fighting, are extremely rare. Those who try to make their own way tend to either get snatched up by one side or the other, sometimes forcibly or under legal threat, or killed in short order. It turns out this is deliberate on the part of the shadowy conspiracy that runs the world, in order to maximize the number of superpowered individuals with the experience necessary to fight when the time comes to defeat the Big Bad.
      • The source of superpowers in the Worm universe gives them to people who undergo extreme mental and physical trauma, in what is known as a "trigger event". The powers granted are usually related to that trauma in that they could help solve the problem that caused the trigger event, but the problem with this is that they also invariably remind the users of the worst event of their lives with every use. Moreover, they often get stronger the closer the individual gets to the mindset they had when they triggered. This ensure that a) the people who get powers are often broken individuals with no support networks, leading to a lot of villainy, and b) moving past that trauma and gaining real psychological health is next to impossible, since using the powers reminds people of their worst moments.
    • In Pact and Pale the Karma system punishes those who work with demons, since they irreparably damage reality itself whenever they take action. And Karma is inheritable by families. This has several consequences:
      • Someone might grow up as the scion of a diabolist family, and have no idea what their parents do, but upon awakening to the magical world find out that the universe itself is against them; luck is never in their favor and everyone hates them... which leads them to more diabolism as it's the only way available to them to gain the power necessary to survive, which further increases their karmic debt, which they pass to their descendants, and so on.
      • Similarly, those who deal with demons are treated as pariahs and hunted down to prevent them bringing more demons into the world and damaging reality... meaning that nobody is actually dealing with the demons, who remain an unchecked threat.

    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, attracts police attention, 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
    • The Cardassian government is a brutal, repressive, military state that came about as a result of their homeworld being extremely resource-poor, with famine and disease very common until the Central Command rose to power and imposed a strict doctrine of fealty to the state above all while also engaging in expansionist policies to raid nearby worlds of their resources. The one time in the series where the military government is overthrown and replaced with a civilian one, the change simply does not last as the civilian government cannot overcome the impoverished state of the society and all of the attendant problems that go with it. This allows Gul Dukat and The Dominion to sweep in and depose them with promises of returning Cardassians to their former glory.
    • 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. Robby Keene, Johnny's own son, eventually learns the same lesson when Kenny Payne, a student he mentored when he joined Cobra Kai himself, becomes a bloodthristy, rage-filled and ruthless bully from a meek and helpless victim of bullying. .
  • 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.

  • Within Christianity, this is the concept of Original Sin. Due to the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of humanity is born into sin. Every single thing on Earth is corrupted by sin and no human is capable of changing their nature without the grace of God. Taken further with the idea of predestination prevelant in some Christian sects, which says that man was predestined to Fall and was doomed even before the creation of Earth.

    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, 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.
    • To say nothing of the common habit of players to try to exploit and abuse each other in order to get ahead and curry favor with The Computer, to the point that it's considered *the* proper way to play; if your game hasn't devolved into a mess of petty mudslinging, baseless accusations of treason, and blatant murder attempts before you've left the briefing room, you're not playing Paranoia. Sure, you could try to play it like any other game and work together, accomplish goals, and explore the rich setting... but try that and you'll just leave yourself even more open to the inevitable backstabbing when the other players fall back on the 'proper' gameplay.
  • 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 and primary power source.
  • 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 so nobody would backstab her. 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.
  • In The Adding Machine, the point of Charles's explanation in the last scene is that Zero is incapable of becoming a better person, not even through reincarnation, because the world made him that way and he lacks any power to change it. Charles outright calls it a "rotten system" at one point, and the play's final line implies that he's none too happy with his own part in it.

    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.
    • The Templar order is also a nasty case of this trope. It's true that many Templars enter the order genuinely intending to protect the world from demons, but the way the order is run (emphasizing distrust of mages on principle, teaching blind obedience, and addicting Templars to Lyrium as a control method) makes it inevitable that most idealistic recruits will be silenced by the assholes in power, or become assholes themselves either through social conditioning or side effects of their lyrium addictions.
    • 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 "Oppression 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 on 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 Culture 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 on 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 (Ra's 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 with 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 that attempted to exploit said magic through technological means, just had too many flaws.
    • And NieR: Automata's fourteen robot wars stem from an unsolvable problem: 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. Both species of robotic life were intentionally designed to zealously worship organic sapient life, but since there is no organic sapient life left in the solar system, they have to lie to themselves to maintain their sanity. The ruling class has been orchestrating race wars in an attempt to recreate the same conditions that led to humanity's cultural development, in hopes of creating a new synthetic race that doesn't depend on mindless worship to be human. This has not succeeded for millennia, but without a 'human' singularity, they're doped on the last human orders they were given and 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 excess energy and resources on Chronic Backstabbing Disorder while 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. Of course it's worth pointing out that Kreia is our main source for this take on the Force.
  • 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 elevated the most ruthless and sadistic into becoming CEOs and Presidents, eventually forming an elitist guild in America that knew how to manipulate and undermine America, but had next to no understanding of empathy or how the world actually worked. End result: they pushed the Communists into a genocidal corner, causing WWIII, taught their descendants to become Neo-Nazis, and turned their one last chance at coming out on top - a workforce of hundreds of thousands, most loyal to America and willing to rebuild the world for their masters - 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 naturally 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. Their isolation has left them more close-minded than they care to admit, and their greatest passions happen to have little practical value. 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 (literally) straight down.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • The protagonist graduated college, and went to the plant where he’d been promised a job. The foreman told him that there wasn’t a job for him after all. When the protagonist called him out, the foreman let slip that the company management was planning to move all the plant operations to China.
    • Invoked by Amanda when the protagonist is interviewing candidates for new jobs at the diner. The protagonist wants to pay what he thinks is fair, but Amanda insists that he should pay the much lower market rate. He defies this and pays the higher wage anyway.
  • Double Homework gives two notable subversions:
    • Henry has Ivy League schools' interest despite his obvious stupidity. Actually, he was having Dennis do a lot of his homework for him.
    • Initially, Dr. Mosely explains that Ms. Walsh can’t teach the special ed class she wants because of “budget cuts.” In fact, she was installed in an experimental class as an incompetent authority figure to help encourage the girls to get closer to the protagonist.

  • 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.
    • And then plays it straight when they excommunicate Ata, as in a Buddhist god, because he doesn't follow their Ban on Magic to the letter. Moral of the story: even a god must tread lightly around a barbed system.
  • 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 artifacts 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 were somehow all ousted? Their reality-warping artifacts are indestructible and all-powerful, and the Council of Angels would demand they find new owners, lest the Devils seize them and show the multiverse what Hell truly is.
  • In The Croaking racism is deeply ingrained into society: which type of bird-person (like crow, eagle, sparrow...) you are essentially dictates your position in life and the value you're ascribed: for example, killing an eagle or dove will be met with harsher punishment than killing a corvid. Even people with exceptional talents struggle to break out of their prescribed roles. Also, the government is corrupt, influenced by the church, and people with important relatives are pretty much free to do whatever they want, further imbalancing the social order towards already influencial avians.
  • In Live with Yourself!, Todd gets a $3,000 bill for having the doctor literally slap him in the face, and goes on a quest to find out who's responsible for the absurdly high prices and stick it to them. He ultimately makes it to the CEO of the hospital, only to find a literal straw-man. There is no one person to blame, because the entire system is designed to exploit the little man. Todd tries to protest by refusing to pay, but ultimately does because it'd look bad on his credit rating otherwise.
  • The Order of the Stick: It's eventually revealed that this is one of the underlying premises of the entire series - The world the comic takes place in is a self-aware pastiche of tabletop roleplaying, which has been written into the very foundations of the cosmos by the three pantheons of Gods that created it. It's both Played for Laughs, and Played for Drama, especially with the reveal that the Always Chaotic Evil goblinoid races were created to be nothing but XP-fodder for adventurers, especially the Gods' clerics. This has not only resulted in the birth of an evil goblin God, the Dark One, but also a bitter, endless series of wars between humanoids and goblins that have lasted for centuries and led to millions of deaths. There's little that can be done to break the Cycle of Revenge, even the Gods themselves are more or less locked into the system because of something that happened before the creation of the current universe. There was a world before this one, created by the Gods shortly after they themselves came into existence, but the conflicts between them whenever they couldn't agree on some aspect of creation eventually resulted in the creation of The Snarl, an Omnicidal Maniac Eldritch Abomination that wiped out an entire pantheon of Gods and destroyed the whole world and every living being on it before the surviving Gods could imprison it by recreating the universe in a more orderly fashion, trapping it inside. The Gods can thus do little to change the system they themselves created, as any action taken by them needs to be unanimous, or they risk creating another Snarl, and their reliance on the worship of mortals mean most of them aren't willing to risk rocking the boat. Made even worse after Thor reveals that the current world isn't the second, it's simply the latest in a line of millions, perhaps billions, of other worlds, all of which the Gods either destroyed themselves once the Snarl began to break free, or were wiped out by the Snarl itself like the original. And those goblinoid races mentioned before? Their status as XP-fodder was not a deliberate fate but due to their creator's neglect, as Fenris made goblinoids thinking they'd out-compete other races by having them age fast and breed quickly, only to fail that goal and be abandoned for "more fun" monsters. Not helping matters is that he's done this multiple times and hasn't learned a thing, which pretty much goes for almost all the gods.
  • Joe vs. Elan School: According to the narrator, systematic flaws and failures are what allow the titular abusive school to continue to operate, much to his frustration. Law enforcement is disinterested in the abuse, lawyers don't see any kind of potential financial windfall from taking down child abusers, journalists are too indifferent or afraid to take on the story, and the broader public just doesn't seem to care. The narrator especially reserves a segment of his ire towards the government of Maine, saying that their laws are so poorly designed that Elan could operate without having to worry about things like surprise inspections, and that a con artist like the school's owner could be openly applauded in the Maine legislature for overseeing what amounts to therapeutic quackery.

    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. Not helping matters is that the prophecy says the only way the local multiverse survives is if the Earths can cultivate a horde of metahumans to fight their greatest threat - which means the world governments intentionally have to cause chaos and trauma to awaken more supervillains (and some superheroes), because every super-powered basket case is worth more in the long run than a soon-to-be-dead human.
    • 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.
  • Some interpretations of the SCP Foundation are 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.

    Western Animation 
  • In the series finale of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman finally defeats Darkseid and casts him down in front of the people of Apokolips, informing them that they are free. Darkseid's slaves and citizens respond by gingerly helping Darkseid to his feet and carrying him to safety, as they are so utterly bent to his will by centuries of tyranny that they cannot even conceive of a world where he does not rule over them. Superman realizes, to his horror and disgust, that nothing he did on Apokolips really mattered; even if he were to straight up kill Darkseid there and now, the people would just continue on in misery as they always have, simply because they're that broken down and oppressed.
  • South Park
    • "Cash for Gold" explores a circular process of shopping networks selling heavily marked up jewelry, people selling it to Cash-For-Gold pawn shops at bottomed out prices, being resold to be melted down and made into something different, then sold on shopping networks at heavily marked up prices. The further the kids got into the whole system they realized no individual was really at fault, but it was just a natural process of the economy that benefitted each section in different ways. They did draw the line at how the shopping networks target nursing home seniors dropping their social security checks on useless trinkets.
    • "Butterballs" shows how the push towards anti-bullying campaigns leads people into becoming bullies in order to push their personal agendas. At various points everyone who is bullied becomes a bully, or at the least we find a new bully above the current bully we are dealing with (culminating in Jesus Christ bullying a movie producer in the bathroom). Stan ends up being the target of bullying from the school because of how badly the promotion for the anti-bullying video went down. In the end there is just not a big enough difference between toxic bullying, peer pressure, being Misblamed and actually deserving your criticism.