Some True Neutral people are devoted to the Balance Between Good and Evil - They fight only because the forces of evil grow too strong. Some just don't care very much about Good vs Evil (or Lawful vs Chaotic), only getting involved if their personal interests and/or friends and family are threatened. Some, however, are militantly neutral; so devoted to not taking sides that they lash out against both Good and Evil without distinguishing between Friend or Foe. This usually takes the form of always siding with the underdog; the moment one side gains the upper hand, they'll pull a FaceHeel Turn (or a HeelFace Turn) to make sure both sides are 'equal'. This can lead to a very unreliable fellow and a Wild Card whose predictably unpredictable morals lead his former allies to cut him down despite his protests that he was only following his heart.
This trope can also manifest itself as a particularly warped variation on the Golden Mean Fallacy: taking a crudely reactionary point of view against anything "radical", even though radicalism can sometimes be good; or worse, refusing to sympathize with either side in a conflict between two radical parties or even insisting both sides need to be harshly punished, even when one party obviously has the moral high ground and the other stops just short of (if not actually crossing the line into) being evil.
'Stupid Neutral' people tend to think of morality as balancing a metaphysical checkbook; any evil deed can be 'cancelled out' by committing an equally good deed. No remorse or atonement is needed; to these people, there is no Moral Event Horizon past which their actions cannot be forgiven by good works (or evil works, as the case may be). In short, these people are the types who will build an orphanage and then "balance it out" by burning down the orphanage across the street (so that people won't think they're sissies). This pattern of kicking the dog and then stopping to pet it immediately afterwards just results in a very neurotic dog... and a very confused audience.
This type of 'stupid neutral' may occur in Video Games with a Karma Meter that offers no true middle ground between 'Complete Monster' and 'The Paladin'. So the 'neutral' route, if it even exists, ends up consisting of doing enough good and evil deeds (with no regards to common sense or reason) to balance the meter in the middle. Or, you know, not doing anything, but where's the fun in that?
There is also the reverse of this in the form of the "extreme apathy" type of neutral, who wouldn't even be motivated enough to try to get out of the burning building.
Examples of Stupid Neutral
- Fairy Tail:
- The ancient magic of Nirvana is named after its inventors, a peaceful country that was neutral in the war between dark and light magicians. To maintain the balance, they invented a spell that could turn both dark to light and light to dark, where Light Is Good and Dark Is Evil. This is especially odd since we've yet to see a dark mage who wasn't a homicidal maniac. We later find out that they did usually use it to flip dark to light, but this screwed them over because the expunged darkness went into them and made them kill each other.
- Except for Zeref, who seems to be somewhat of a Stupid Neutral type himself. Despite multiple people trying to kidnap and use him for their own ends, the only person that he's killed intentionally so far was the leader - and more because he pissed Zeref off rather than any moral standpoint.
- Dragon's Dream in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean is a Stand that allows the user to focus a Fantastic Fighting Style based on feng shui, pointing out the most perfect places to strike. However, it's also sentient, and as one of the major principles of feng shui is balance, it gives a full explanation to the opponent on how the fighting style works, how to counter it, and where the places it's pointing to are. Why? Because otherwise it wouldn't be fair; the user knows how it works, and that means the opponent should, too.
- In Legacy the Fel Empire would count if you don't consider them really evil. Though the new Empire has good intentions, they thought it was a good idea to side with the Obviously Evil Sith who have a long history of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, and were responsible for the death of billions and don't mind killing billions more to achieve their goals, one of them is backstabbing the Empire.
- Played with in the literal Batman Cold Opening of Batman: The Court of Owls. Two-Face, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Black Mask, and several other Arkham Asylum inmates have Batman cornered on their own turf (a corrupt GCPD guard let them out) and are prepared to kill him... when just in the nick of time The Joker (who has said in the past that he doesn't really want Batman to die, since he's just so much fun to fight against) unexpectedly joins forces with Batman ("Let's get to the punch line!") and physically assaults various fellow members of the Rogues Gallery, much to their disgust ("Joker! You turncoat son of a-!"). However, this proves to be a subversion, because in this case, it was really Nightwing wearing a computer-generated Joker mask.
- Probably one of the most well-known examples is Meursault, from The Stranger, who shoots an Arab because he sees no reason in doing so (the text implies it's because the sun was in his eyes), being an emotionless shell to all the wrong people before that, and not caring about anything in jail, awaiting execution.
- In Villains by Necessity, the True Neutral druid rounds up a bunch of "villains" (most of whom are pretty decent sorts) to save the world from destruction at the hands of Lawful Stupid Knights Templar and advises them that she would be equally willing to turn against them if the "balance" began tipping in favor of evil.
- Older Than Print: Early on in Dante's The Divine Comedy, he meets the Uncommitted, who refused to choose good or evil in life, and as a punishment are forced to eternally chase after a banner while being stung by wasps.
- In the Malazan Book of the Fallen the Forkrul Assail seem to have fallen into this category. Their entire culture revered harmony and balance to the point that when war broke out between the two other ancient races they would aid whichever side had the balance least in their favor. For an idea of how well this policy worked out for them, they're functionally extinct in the present.
- The troop of Dwarfs we see in The Last Battle. They don't want the heroes or the Calormenes to win, so they shoot at whichever side seems to have the advantage. "The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs." It doesn't work out well for them when the Calormene reinforcements arrive.
- Lord Gro in The Worm Ouroboros just can't help rooting for the underdog, which leads him to switch sides on a regular basis until in the final battle he starts attacking both sides at once.
- Bisochim the Wildmage from the Enduring Flame books brought evil back into the world and re-created the Endarkened, simply because he thought the Light was becoming too powerful and wanted to restore the True Balance. He gives many metaphors about how "light" blinds and burns and "darkness" is a desert-dweller's friend, but never gives any concrete examples of how evil could possibly be useful.
- The Douglas Adams book Mostly Harmless features a race that is almost indistinguishable from human beings, save that they have no desires. Arthur reads one of their books and is rather taken aback when the main protagonist dies of thirst midway through. He backtracks and finds a single offhand reference to the character's plumbing being broken. He simply didn't care enough to have it fixed or to seek another source of water.
- Peter Pan: When the Lost Boys were fighting the Indians Peter would sometimes switch sides if he felt the Lost Boys were winning too easily. (Of course, this was probably more to make the games last for as long as possible than not being able to decide whom to sympathize with.) However, he never did this with the pirates.
- Matt's friend Saul in A Wizard in Rhyme comes pretty close. He's brought from our world to the one Matt went to while looking for him, and while he mostly does good deeds he's a Flat-Earth Atheist who wants to stay off both God and the Devil's sides. That's not exactly possible thanks to the way this universe works, but he tries to balance things out anyway. His "evil" deeds are all technicalities like eating meat on Fridays, though; his allies (all explicitly on the side of the Saints) consider it an amusing eccentricity and nothing more.
- Star Wars Legends:
- Tales of the Bounty Hunters: Subverted (or perhaps deconstructed) in "The Last Man Standing" a tale about Boba Fett. The night before Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are to be thrown to the Sarlacc, Fett confronts Leia Organa just before going to bed and tells her that, while he's not particularly fond of the Empire, he supports it against the Rebel Alliance because the Rebels are criminals defying a legitimately elected government note and also because they are being aided by all kinds of scummy pirates and drug dealers like Solo. Leia fires back that then Fett is a hypocrite because he's working for Jabba the Hutt - perhaps the biggest pirate and drug dealer in the entire galaxy! All Fett can say in his defense is that he's not intending to be subversive and doesn't care about politics; he's just working for Jabba for the money, which is all that really matters to him.
- Darth Bane: Caleb the Healer was willing to help heal soldiers on either side of the Jedi-Sith War, but refuses to help either the Sith Lords or the Jedi as he blames both of them for the fighting... even though the Jedi are benevolent peacekeepers reacting to the Sith's open attempt at intergalactic domination, and while neither side has clean hands the latter is still far more blatantly bloodthirsty and power-hungry than the former and far more prone to committing atrocities. He may be a Downplayed trope somewhat since the Jedi and Sith war has certain particular "quirks" about it - some Jedi are self-styled Lords who rule planets and lead armies, the leader of the Sith is himself a former Jedi, the war was but the latest in a century of violent conflicts- but these aren't really brought up in story and the Sith are still clearly the villains and pretty open about their evil intentions either way. His daughter is arguably just as bad as she tried to find and kill Bane as she (semi-wrongly) blames him for killing Caleb but also has little regard for the Jedi Order, and thinks that she is just as qualified or deserving as anyone else to bringing Bane to justice, in the end just getting a ton of her own people and herself killed at the hands of the most dangerous and evil people in the galaxy, achieving little other than seriously annoying the two surviving Sith.
- The royal court on Kings bounce David around so much — changing alliances, pitting him against each other, it feels like they change sympathies solely to hammer into you that it's a morally ambiguous world.
- Many stories about Ares state he would happily switch sides if the one he was on was doing too well. However, that has less to do with him "maintaining the balance", and more due to the fact he really liked killing things, and battles ending would mean that less things would be killed. Luckily, Ares was also a big wimp and would run home to Olympus if wounded.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Early editions of the game strongly suggested that this is how druids (who were always supposed to be true neutral) should behave, basically stepping in to support whichever side is weakest in any given situation. 3rd edition relaxed things a bit by requiring druids to be only partially neutral, implied that their previous methods (flip-flopping one's agenda and allegiances) fostered chaos more than anything, and suggested that true neutrality was more about detaching oneself from concepts of ethics and morality than about maintaining an arbitrary balance.
- Mordenkainen the Mage is the original incarnation of this trope. He believed that the forces of good, evil, law, and chaos would all screw the world up if they were unquestioned, so he ensures that no side is ever vastly more powerful than its counterpart. As of 5th Edition, his alignment has become Chaotic Neutral as a result of his extremist tendencies rather than the True Neutral it was in older editions.
- The Rilmani, as True Neutral Outsiders, tend to this trope, but even they have their limits. And then, there's Jemorille the Exile, who the Rilmani booted out because of how badly he tended to screw things up in the name of 'the balance' (and not being nearly as good as he thinks he is).
- Versions 3.0 and 3.5 explicitly point out that PCs playing "true neutral" shouldn't fit this trope. Even though they usually don't care about greater causes, true neutrals still prefer neighbors who aren't going to betray, kill, or enslave them, and just because they aren't purely altruistic doesn't mean they can't be adventurers for more personal or self-centered reasons. And a "militantly neutral" character who flip-flops between backstabbing one side and the other in a conflict so as to always support the underdog would actually fall on the extreme end of the Chaotic axis of the alignment chart.
- According to some sources, the concept of a "constantly flip-flopping character" trying to maintain True Neutral is either a case of an overly strict DM or an unimaginative player: a neutral druid would absolutely take up a series of quests to oust various evil/chaotic influences, but only when those evil influences would tip the balance far too far in away from good/lawful. The balance they (are supposed to) seek is the balance of the WORLD, not themselves.
- In Pathfinder, the Aeons are a race of outsiders dedicated to preserving balance between two opposing concepts—such as creation and destruction, life and death, fate and luck, etc. They are explicitly described as supporting one concept at one moment, then switching to the other when the cosmic balance shifts a bit.
- Nix from the tabletop game of Queen's Blade isn't the stupid one; rather her magical stave, the Funikura, is essentially an unstable piece of work that can either destroy a village or kill the evil leader of said village that she was actually aiming at. Needless to say, she sticks with it.
- A Warhammer 40,000 Inquisition example: the Amalathian faction are the ultimate conservatives, believing that the Imperium as it currently exists is the Emperor's divine work, and that mere mortals have no right to interfere with His divine plan. As such, the Amalathians fight to preserve the Imperium in its current state, despite all its lumps and imperfections. At best, the Amalathians will clean up the system and are the least likely faction to engage in the sort of schemes that lead to horrible wars and planets overrun by nasties. At their worst, they will even fight to keep corrupt or ineffectual leaders in power (which, being the Imperium, happens to be most of them), simply to avoid the inevitable shakeup associated with replacing those leaders, even in the face of an ensuing crisis that requires effective leadership. As you can imagine, Amalathians and Recongregators (a radical faction that wants to tear down the same power structures to make them anew) don't get along very well.
- Rifts creator Kevin Siembieda has said that the last part (not getting out of a burning building) is the reason the Palladium Rules System has no Neutral alignments. His opinion is that Neutral characters would be unwilling to do anything interesting, like adventuring.
- Mummy: The Resurrection: The Amenti are servants of the universal balance, which is explicitly said to mean that if the forces of good ever gain the upper hand, they are required to switch sides. Since they live in The World of Darkness, though, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
- In BattleTech there is a pseudo-religious movement called Omniss who follow a Luddite-like style and reject any form of technology that encourages war. In a galaxy that is dominated by armies of Humongous Mecha this is pretty dumb, and their homeworld was an easy target for the techno-religious cult of the Word of Blake.
- This is the only way to have a neutral character in Fable due to how combat works. After several missions (most of which don't have an evil option) you'll be so far to the good side of the Karma Meter that slaughtering an entire village barely gets you halfway to the middle.
- Probably the best example is Neverwinter Nights and its expansions and sequel. It is damn-near impossible to keep a True Neutral alignment because there never is a neutral option to dialog, so you're acting either as a jerk (evil), a loony (chaotic), the messiah (good) or a robot (lawful), and to try to keep a balance there will make you seem bipolar.
- Fallout 3:
- The Impartial Mediation perk gives you 30 bonus points to the Speech skill (an extraordinary amount) as long as your Karma level is "neutral". Since, once again, Karma is a scale between good and evil, with no specifically "neutral" actions, you will probably be forced to alternate between stealing and murdering and giving to charity to maintain a neutral Karma.
- At the end of the core storyline, you have the option of sabotaging Project Purity with the Modified FEV, which will kill all non-pure-strain humans in the Wasteland, including yourself, as found out in Broken Steel. However, activating the purifier gives you 1000 Karma, which cancels out the -1000 Karma from inserting the virus capsule.
- In Marathon 2: Durandal, the Jjaro AI Thoth aids Durandal's (and by extension, your) cause with the reasoning that you're at a serious disadvantage against the Pfhor hunting you down. Then when things start going your way he tries to thwart you and aid the slaver race but Durandal has tipped the scales too far in his favor for Thoth to make a difference at that point. Also, the slavers are pissed and refuse to accept Thoth's aid, not knowing this was its shtick.
- In Shadow the Hedgehog it is perfectly possible to be Stupid Neutral. One of the better examples is that you can raise the flying temple of Black Doom. Then you can quite easily work your way to a level where you have the option to bring it crashing back down again, orr you can try to stop it from rising, and then go on to keep it airborne. Overall, it's easier to be Stupid Neutral than not to be, since once you're on the Hero or Dark path, you can only complete missions for that alignment or Neutral ones, and the Neutral ones are much easier, often requiring only getting to the end of a level.
- In many early MUD games, alignment was determined by what monsters you were killing. Kill some innocent Gnomes in the Gnome Village and your alignment shifts towards evil. Kill some Lamias in the ruins across the forest and your alignment shifts towards good. Neutral characters, to maintain their alignment, had to kill an equal number of creatures from both alignments. This led to "Neutral" characters being "justified" for massacring a peaceful village by simply cleaning out an evil temple later. Granted, you could seek out and kill only neutral creatures all the time, but these (usually animals) obviously almost never carried many powerful items.
- Planescape: Torment features a character called Blackrose, who lurks in the corner of a dangerous alley. In the alley are two gangs, one good and one evil. Blackrose will ask you what your alignment is and ask you to kill the opposite gang. Once you've done that, he'll ask you to kill the other to maintain the balance. Then he'll request that you fight him to the death because it's the right thing to do. You can at least avoid the fight to the death by informing him that you're immortal and would eventually win.
- The Witcher:
- Subverted in that the neutral choice between one side or another simply means not accepting a quest or refusing to complete a quest (though may be boring since you didn't actually do anything.)
- There's a third option for the civil war between the Scoia'tael and the Order of the Flaming Rose: you can in fact remain neutral.
- In the backstory for RuneScape, Saradomin (the god of Wisdom and generally the "good" one, if a bit Lawful Stupid at times) accuses Guthix of being this. As he puts it, evil should be exterminated, not allowed to grow wild. In the game proper, Saradomin ends up having a point. A lot of questlines are based on the player character/World Guardian cleaning up messes that directly resulted from Guthix's kicking all gods out and secluding himself for ages; for example, the Dorgeshuun questline has the God of Evil Bandos figure out a loophole to his banishment, necessitating your intervention to close the loophole before Bandos can terrorize the world unopposed. Not to mention an almost countless amount of evil characters who grow stronger thanks to having basically no opposition until the World Guardian came along.
- Nexus Clash:
- This seems to be the concept behind a majority of the neutral route characters. One learns to stop trusting "neutral" characters rather quickly after the counter of Neutral Myrmidons that have senselessly slaughtered your Good character in the night hits double digits.
- The Nexus Champion class inverts this, with impressive bonuses for maintaining purposeful neutrality and staying as close to zero morality as possible in a system where morality ranges from -40 to +40.
- Anarchy Online has three factions: Clan, for the people who want to be free, Omni, for people who want to work with the corporation that rules the planet, and Independent, for people who, in theory, don't care about either faction. Ultimately, though, it just ends up as a three-way war.
- Grand Cleric Elthina of Dragon Age II is a strange case in that she is portrayed quite sympathetically. It is her express job to control the templars, who at this point are out of control and openly abusing their power, and yet such is her desire to maintain the status quo (believing, almost literally, that Status Quo Is God) that she does nothing about it, other than making some vague talks about reaching a "compromise", without ever really explaining or specifying what exactly that would entail, making her leadership come across as Head-in-the-Sand Management. The consequences of her decisions — or rather lack thereof — are not pretty.
- Final Fantasy XIV:
- The Sharlayan nation is portrayed as being completely neutral when it comes to political affairs of others, even if their own safety is at risk. When The Empire was bringing down the moon Dalamud, Louisoix, an elderly Sharlayan, went on a mission to warn Eorzea on what would happen if the Garlean Empire succeeded. He was ousted from his homeland as a pariah simply because he shared his knowledge with Eorzea and the Sharlayan people prefer to keep their knowledge within their own circle. The Sharlayans even tried to negotiate some form of a peace treaty with the empire but, when that fell through, the entire colony went on a mass exodus and left behind everything instead of defending themselves. This is also touched upon in the Astrologian job quests where an important character from Sharlayan is hunted down by her own people just because she wanted to spread the knowledge of Astrologians to the realm.
- Sophia of the Warring Triad is depicted as a borderline malevolent take on this trope, dedicated to upholding balance regardless of how many lives are ruined or destroyed. According to her theme song, she incited a girl to "restore the balance" in her life by killing her abusive mother... and then "finish the job" by killing herself.
- Invoked and justified by King Dheginsea of Goldoa in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. Many centuries ago, he formed a covenant with the goddess Ashera to prevent the continent of Tellius from descending into war, lest she pass judgement on humanity. To this end, he maintains a policy of absolute isolationism, refusing to get involved in other countries' affairs even when megalomaniacal lunatics attempt to conquer the world. That way, he can claim that Tellius is not at war because Goldoa is neutral.
- Ancient Domains of Mystery has a central theme of Law Vs Chaos that's really Black-and-White Morality because Chaos Is Evil. Chaos as a cosmic power is unambiguously evil and destructive; even a Chaotic player character's default goal is to stop its invasion to prevent The End of the World as We Know It. This trope appears in a song of the Mad Minstrel that gives the backstory of the Eternal Guardian: a warrior was told by his god to stop defeating the forces of Chaos for the time being, because the god was obviously a god of Balance, and all this Chaos-fighting was getting too Lawful.
- Explored in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series. X's ultimate goal is to bring about mutual peace between humans and reploids, which is regularly derided as foolishly utopian by his adversaries, who insist that humans and reploids can never coexist as equals. This is driven home even further by the fact that, when reploid supremacist Sigma is finally defeated for good, Dr. Weil, a human, then seeks to subjugate reploidkind and instigates the most destructive war in the history of mankind. Indeed, by the Zero series, a copy of X is made without the century of ethics testing that X himself underwent, and he almost immediately picks a side, creating a utopia for humans while brutally oppressing reploids. In the end, X's dream of mutual peace is finally realized, though unfortunately X himself doesn't live long enough to see it.
- In Borderlands 2, Marcus Kincaid suffers from this mentality, as not even threats to his life from a given faction are enough to dissuade him from trying to sell weapons to said faction. He makes an attempt at Playing Both Sides with the Crimson Raiders and the Bloodshot bandit clan, despite residing with the Crimson Raiders and enjoying their protection from Hyperion. In the "Commander Lilith and the Fight For Sanctuary" DLC, he insists on supplying his wares to the omnicidal New Pandorans until he sees what they've done to his armory.
- The Archdruid in Dungeon Crawl Inc is an evil antagonist (despite technically being neutral at this point) specifically because... good is somehow too prevalent in the world.
- Ulric the Just in Oglaf straddles the line between this and Lawful Stupid. When a man's wife is abducted by a devil-bear, he then proceeds to serve justice by... abducting the devil-bear's wife and giving it to the man.
"You have no concept of justice. Enjoy your new wife."
- Red Mage of 8-Bit Theater has this attitude at first, to the point of refusing to use a spell that would change his alignment even to save his own life.
- Political newspaper and web comics, such as The Nib, treat swing voters as such. The Nib implies they have limited memory, while other comics make other claims about alternating back and forth (between a claimed good and bad party) just in hopes of a balance. This also extends to third-party voters, who vote for a different party because they dont approve of either of the biggest ones, which in systems like the United States very rarely has any real effect.
- In the early days of the Internet (mid- to late 1990s), user-created "Top Ten" lists a la David Letterman were popular. One ridiculed LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman by citing various pathetic attempts he could make to atone for his racism. One was, instead of picking on people of African descent, "Beat up a Mexican to 'cleanse the palate'", as if diversifying one's racism makes one more fair. Another one was "Date a white woman with a dark tan."
- This sometimes pops up in Survival of the Fittest with non-players who refuse to attack anyone under any circumstances (at least one person has died because they refused to defend themselves).
- Whateley Universe: Arguably the staff at Whateley Academy are bordering on this. While their desire to provide a safe haven for the superpowered children of both heroes and villains is understandable, their execution of their policy leaves much to be desired— turning a blind eye to some of the criminal and even outright vicious behavior of many "ethically alternative" students, hiring staff of criminal and even murderous backgrounds, welcoming an Eldritch Abomination prophesied to destroy all humanity as a student.....
- Equinox, a vigilante on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He tries to kill Gorilla Grodd for his crimes, but in order to "maintain the balance", he tries to kill the Question at the same time. Based on Libra, from the main DC Universe, who also "maintains the balance", but what that translates to is "giving the baddies some wins." He eventually graduates to Omnicidal Neutral when he decides he has to destroy the world so that he can remake it according to his own definition of "balance."
- The Neutral Planet in is a deliberate parody of this alignment. Their government's motto is "Live Free or Don't" and, when the Planet Express Ship is put on a direct collision course with the Neutral Planet, the following exchange takes place:
Neutral President's Aide: Your Neutralness! It's a Beige Alert!
Neutral President: If I don't survive, tell my wife: "Hello!"
- Inverted with Zapp Brannigan. He harbors Fantastic Racism towards the Neutrals solely because he fails to realize how harmless their neutrality really is and treats the Always True Neutral aliens as one would treat an Always Chaotic Evil race.
Zapp Brannigan: I hate these filthy Neutrals, Kiff! With enemies, you know where you stand, but with neutrals? Who knows. It sickens me. [...] What makes a man turn Neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?!
- The Neutral Planet in is a deliberate parody of this alignment. Their government's motto is "Live Free or Don't" and, when the Planet Express Ship is put on a direct collision course with the Neutral Planet, the following exchange takes place:
- Invoked in an episode of King of the Hill: Strickland Propane tries to cultivate a (superficial and profoundly hypocritical) "green" image by purchasing "carbon offsets" (i.e., funding a renewable-energy scheme that may or may not be effective, or even legitimate) instead of engaging in direct action like planting trees. The businessmen feel that their tokenism is enough and that it will just cancel out any more environmentally destructive activities they engage in.