February 5, 2014 by Kira Lyn Blue
I trashed it.
Why? I realized in writing it that the issue is just too controversial, too heated, too emotional, and too divisive. I realized that any such real world example is too volatile and would overshadow any discussion on human behavior that would help us write better characters and better conflict.
Instead, let’s just consider purely fictional characters and scenarios where villains or villainous actions arise in an effort to do good.
1. What’s Good or Evil may depend on one’s perspective.
In this scenario, there are no true villains just opposing sides with opposing goals. Think warring factions who are competing for land, resources, or power and are willing to fight and kill to get it. I think Vampires are a great example of this in fantasy fiction. From a purely human perspective, Vampires are predators who eat us! It’s fairly reasonable to understand why humans would fear and fight such intelligent, powerful predators. But from a Vampire’s perspective, they have to eat to survive and we are their food. Even if you make them perfectly civil as individuals and remove any demonic undead trappings of vampire mythology, they are inherently villains to humans simply because their diet makes us a resource to them, which threatens our power.
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” ― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
“So you see, Good and Evil have the same face; it all depends on when they cross the path of each individual human being.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym
2. Necessary Evil
Characters can do bad things because they believe they are necessary. People will agree that killing is wrong, but it can easily be justified in matters of self-defense or to protect one’s family, loved ones, or allies.
All a hero needs is justification that the reader can support.
Speaking of Justified, I really enjoy that show because the main character, Raylan Givens, is a U.S. Marshall who is willing to bend and even break rules to get the bad guys when he believes he has justification. He’s constantly toeing the line and that’s the fun part of the show because it makes one ask if he’s really in the right.
(Well, that and I love me some post Season 1 Boyd Crowder even though I know I shouldn’t.)
“When you start with a necessary evil, and then over time the necessity passes away, what’s left?”― Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
“Keep in mind, Eragon, that no one thinks himself a villain, and few make decisions they think are wrong. A person may dislike his choice, but he will stand by it because, even in the worst circumstances, he believes that it was the best option available to him at the time.” ― Christopher Paolini
“You want to believe in black and white, good and evil, heroes that are truly heroic, villains that are just plain bad, but I’ve learned in the past year that things are rarely so simple. The good guys can do some truly awful things, and the bad guys can sometimes surprise the heck out of you.” ― Karen Marie Moning, Darkfever
3. Conviction can make Evil an Imperative.
And this is where things get sticky from an ethical perspective. The least controversial example I can come up with for this is Ozymandius from Watchmen.
Spoiler alert: Ozymandius nukes the world’s largest cities and frames Dr. Manhattan for it. His reason? To prevent full nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Unions by unifying them against a common enemy. By sacrificing millions, he believes he will save billions.
The point is that Ozymandius’s conviction is so strong that he betrayed friends and murdered millions all with the ultimate goal of saving the world from itself. Noble mission? Sure. It’s the method that’s in question.
Now what happens when you add religious belief to the conviction equation?
“Human reason can excuse any evil.” ― Veronica Roth, Divergent
“People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction.” ― Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery
“All evil is good become cancerous.” ― Isaac Asimov