Comics: Once Upon a Trope

Cosmic Balance


A space monk hovers, with hands out, casting light about them. A second monk appears, their hand outstretched.

Space Monk 1: Now I shall spread the divine light!

Space Monk 2: Wait! You mustn’t do that!

The space monks stand and talk. The first space monk looks confused.

Space Monk 2: If you spread goodness throughout the galaxy, evil will rise to counter it. You must seek a balance between the two.

Space Monk 1: So instead I should minimize evil by… creating more evil.

Space Monk 2: If you achieve balance, evil won’t rise to counter good.

Space Monk 1: And that’s for the greater good?

Space Monk 2: No, it’s for a neutral balance.

The second space monk starts to look frustrated.

Space Monk 1: But neutral is good?

Space Monk 2: No, neutral is neutral.

The second space monk throws their hand in the air.

Space Monk 1: But you said it prevents evil, so this neutral must be –

Space Monk 2: For the last time, nothing I’ve said is good!

The space monks stare at each other for a moment.

The first space monk waves a glowing hand in front of their fellow’s face.

Space Monk 1: You want to go home and rethink your life.

Space Monk 2: Yeah, I do.



  1. Cay Reet

    LOL … yep, that’s pretty much the Jedi/Sith cycle.

  2. Jeppsson

    I was in a Facebook discussion with a woman who claimed that thinking in terms of “good” and “evil” is something only westerners do. Taoists don’t think like that. Next, she claims that according to Taoism, war is the greatest evil, and we should seek peace and harmony instead of figthing.
    Taoists don’t think in terms of evil, but even so, they think war is the greatest evil?

    I’m good enough at this whole charitable interpretation thing to see roughly what she was getting at. She wanted to say that the idea of vanquishing evil through fighting your supposedly evil enemies is a specifically western idea; this might very well be wrong, but it’s nevertheless coherent. Still… it’s weird how people can say things that are so blatantly contradictory if taken at face value without noticing.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Whenever a white person tells me about some fundamental paradigm shift found in non-western philosophy, it almost always comes down to a translation error or difference in terminology. My favorite example so far was this short lived trend in writing circles that you could write a story without conflict by using a specific type of Chinese poetry structure, since supposedly stories that use that structure don’t have conflict? It took forever for me to track down the original source for this claim, and it was a paper on Japanese (not Chinese) horror stories in which the author was using “conflict” to mean “physical violence.” Lol.

      • Jeppsson

        I’ve also read about how old-timey anthropologists sometimes claimed that this or that people had a completely different way of thinking to westerners – and then it turned out said anthropologists had mistaken idioms and metaphors for literal statements.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Sounds like a thing western anthropologists would do. I can only imagine what a Chinese anthropologist would make of Americans’ attitude toward animals if they took sayings like “kill too birds with one stone” literally. That said, maybe we should preempt it and start saying “feed two birds with one hand” instead.

          • Jeppsson

            The examples I read were even more bizarre than that. More along the lines of the Chinese anthroplogist going:
            “Americans, amazingly, do not believe that police officers are human. Nor do they believe that police officers are a different species of animal; another kind of primate, perhaps. No, instead they hold the near-incomprehensible belief that police officers are FRUIT; apples, to be precise.
            Since Americans recognize the possibility that these ‘apples’ can mate and have offspring with human beings, their beliefs about what constitutes a different species must be radically different from standard biological ones.”
            And so on…

      • Mrs. Obed Marsh

        You should have an article about that on the site! Pretty please?

  3. Erynus

    That is a problem i have with the new iteration of Charmed. They keep talking about good and evil as absolutes, to the point that a character that can use demonic powers is “evil” just because.
    In my eyes what makes something evil or good are their actions, not some mystical or metaphysical shenanigans.

  4. Julia

    Remember kids: lighting is evil, but chopping off arms is good.

  5. Arix

    I never understood the whole idea of “balance of good and evil”. Like, there is no balance. Evil is by definition something that you shouldn’t want any of (assuming we’re talking about good and evil as absolute objective things, which is in and of itself kinda dumb). It reminds me of that ad, I think it’s for a multivitamin or somesuch, that says something along the lines of “Everyone has a balance of good and bad bacteria”. It’s like, no! No, you don’t want a balance! You don’t want any of the bad, that’s why it’s called “bad”!

    • Erynus

      I think they try to convey the Dragonlance point of view. In the Dragonlace universe there are gods of Good, Evil and Neutrality (given that it came from a AD&D scenario it was clearly meant to support the alignment system). 300 years prior to the begining of the story, the Kingpriest, chosen of the gods of Good was in a brink of erasing all the evil from the world. But the problem was that his definition of evil refined and the punishment from lesser evil things was the same to the more gruesome villainities.
      The point of rupture was when he intended to use magic to read peoples minds and punish them for evil thoughts.
      On this point, the gods threw a muntain on him in what was called the Cataclysm (as it destroyed a big chunk of the main continent).
      I think the point is to define what is evil and what good, because every villain is the hero of his own story.

      • Jeppsson

        Ok, but the Kingpriest in your story is evil, even if he thinks himself good.

        Sure, having two evil groups with different agendas that oppose each other can be preferable to one evil group that reigns supreme. In real life, both evil sides will likely think of themselves as “the good guys”. Still, labels make no difference. Suppose one side really label themselves “evil”, whereas the other side say they’re “good”. It could still be true that since they’re both actually evil, it’s preferable for them to have an ongoing conflict than one of them gaining absolute power.
        You might also argue that since people are flawed, even good people will turn evil if they gain absolute power. So it’s better for good people to have evil opponents than to be unopposed, because if their enemies disappeared, the result would be MORE evil than before.

        None of this means, though, that a balance between good and evil is preferable to 100 % goodness. That’s still nonsense.

        • Erynus

          The point is that good and bad are situational parameters. A good guy can do bad things for good reasons (i.e a lot of superheroes) but Good is not an absolute, a good solution now can be a bad solution tomorrow. Even a hunter that kills for a living can be viewed as bad. So we need to put a clear line between what is good and what is bad. Otherwise if we agree that “to kill is evil” whoever kills anything will be punished, be it a fellow human or a monster, a plant or a bacteria.
          The discussion about Good as an ideal came form Plato, back in the 4th century before Christ, so it’s not an easy topic.

          • Cay Reet

            Good and evil are, above all, also very subjective. It’s true that every villain (at least in today’s storytelling) is a hero in their own mind. Nobody except for the caricature ‘pure evil’ villain cackling and hand-rubbing does evil for evil’s sake. Everyone has an excuse for what they do, some kind of ‘the greater good’ (“Hot Fuzz”, anyone?).

            One could agree that there has to be a very good reason for one person to harm or kill another (and ‘they looked at me the wrong way’ is not a very good reason). As a matter of fact, we humans have agreed on that a long time ago, at least within our own group, be it family, clan, village, or country (or something even bigger than that).
            ‘Murder’ and ‘manslaughter’ are considered a major offence in every country – what is murder and what is manslaughter might differ, though.
            Killing in self-defence or the defence of others is usually allowed (there might be something like ‘using minimal force’ attached to self-defence as a such).
            The rules of war are an extension of this: killing the enemy in defence of your own people, even though sometimes you might be advancing (morally, the attacking army is always in the weaker position, even if they might not be in that one in any other aspect).

            The definition of an absolute evil and an absolute good is impossible. But then, only a Sith deals in absolutes … (says the Jedi, using an absolute).

    • Grey

      Evil is inherently an imbalance.

      The “balance of good and evil” happens when you have an ideological binary and code the side you are against to be evil. The most well known of these are ‘light and darkness’ and ‘order and chaos’. These are ideological binaries where too much of either is a bad thing: Too much light burns and too much darkness withers, an excess of order creates stagnation and an excess of chaos results in total war. But we need light to live and darkness to rest, and change in order is effected as a response to chaos (entropy). Evil is skewing the balance to achieve self-interest to the detriment of others.

  6. LazerRobot

    I mean, I *think* I know the concept Star Wars was going for…the whole idea that some negativity is needed to balance positivity. I.E. you can’t appreciate being happy if you’ve never been unhappy, kind of thing. Plus the whole “circle of life” thing. Maybe that’s all a philosophical rabbit hole that’s up for debate, but it’s a concept I can accept.

    But the idea that actual evil is in any way necessary is ridiculous. The idea that we need mass murder or pointless oppression and suffering in order to “balance out” goodness just…doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Like, at all.

    • SunlessNick

      The Last Jedi is the only time the balance of light and dark made sense by focussing on the idea that actual operation of the Force is on the ecological, or even geological (the part of Rey’s vision that corresponded to violence was waves) level. And on that level those destructive forces are necessary. But that also means that when the Sith turn the dark side into a philosophy of power and domination on the interpersonal level, they’re a perversion of its nature rather than its exemplars.

      • LazerRobot

        Eloquently put. I do love that scene in the Last Jedi.

        • Grey

          The Last Jedi had a lot of problems, but that scene was not one of them.

  7. Lindsay

    I’ve always felt that the “balance of good and evil” conflict narrative falls apart very quickly. The stronger version of this, in my opinion, would be an “order vs chaos” balance. Both states have their positives and negatives, and most people agree that too much of either is bad. Order is stability, safety, and society, but can also be obedience, authoritarianism, and abuse of power. Chaos is creativity, free will, and individualism, but also madness, selfishness, and overindulgence. Heck, one could write something about what happens when the forces of chaos and balance retreat to their respective extremes and the protagonist has to get them back to a mutually beneficial middle ground.

    And I think I just described the central conflict in Warhammer 40K.

    • Mrs. Obed Marsh

      The Assassin and Templar factions in Assassin’s Creed also have that “Order vs. Chaos” thing going on. IIRC the heroes of the games are always Assassins trying to thwart the Templars – except in Odyssey, which takes place hundreds of years before the Assassins were founded – but there’s some business about how “Too much freedom means chaos, there always has to be a balance, etc.”

  8. Cay Reet

    I wonder if that idea of the balance of good and evil comes from the fact that most spectrums in nature (like ‘tall to short’ or ‘moron to genius’) tend to have the highest point of the curve in the middle. So if you put good and evil on such a spectrum, would that, too, end up in the middle? Neutral, in essence? That might then be the idea behind the balance of good and evil – but no explanation for not striving towards good. ‘Tall’ has become a lot taller, humans have grown considerably over time, so today’s average height was pretty tall in the past. ‘Good’ of today can be ‘average’ of tomorrow and the neutral of today could be tomorrow’s ‘evil’ – at least theoretically speaking. What is always weird is thinking that humans (or other sentient forces) would have to ‘bring balance’ to it. Nature is pretty good at bringing balance by itself (and that would be presuming that ‘good and evil’ are part of nature, which they’re clearly not). If nature doesn’t balance out good and evil, then they clearly don’t need balancing and people should, perhaps, strive towards good.

  9. PatrickH

    On the concept of balance of the force in Star Wars, I wonder if the concept is not about balance between good and evil, but balance between emotion and lack of emotion. The Sith wanted no constraint on anger, attachment, etc., while the Jedi wanted to suppress those emotions (kids are separated from their families to be trained, adult Jedi can’t marry and can’t have kids, Obi-Wan not telling Luke about Darth Vader being his father, etc.). Interpreted this way, the Prequels and the OT sort of made coherent sense.

    • Cay Reet

      Yet, the principle does not. If we equate ‘dark’ with ‘unchecked emotions’ and ‘light’ with ‘no emotions’, there’s the question why it matters. Force-sensitive people make up a small amount of all sentient species in the galaxy far, far away. Whether they go all out or whether they keep their powers in check doesn’t really matter in the big picture. If both the Jedi and the Sith went off their absolutes (in which only the Sith deal, as the Jedi absolutely tell us) and allowed for a certain degree of emotion, then the force would be grey and everything would be fine – meaning the whole ‘balance to the Force’ would actually be reached, Anakin would have lived happily with his wife and children (perhaps even more than just Luke and Leia) and the OT would never have happened. There is no deeper meaning to the Force having two sides that way.

      If you see ‘dark side’ as damaging and hurting (which might correspond with ‘evil’) and ‘light side’ as protecting and healing (which might correspond with ‘good’), it does make more sense overall to say that the dark side is bad (because people usually don’t want to be hurt – at least in earnest, not in bed) and the light side is good. Still doesn’t make much sense with the balancing, though, because the whole principle of ‘good and evil will always balance themselves out’ doesn’t make sense.

      • PatrickH

        Even though the Jedi and Sith are few in number, they do seem to matter a lot in the SW universe. The Jedi Order’s “cold” response to Anakin’s issues drove him to the dark side, which in turn sealed the fate of the old Jedi Order and of the old Republic. Luke and Darth Vader’s decisions at the climax of ROTJ sealed the fate of the Empire. Granted, these plot developments are not “realistic”, but this is a fictional universe with its own rules.

        I do agree it doesn’t make sense to equate light side with good and dark side with evil, and then talk about balance between them. Even in Taoism, “yang” does not represent good and “yin” does not represent ‘evil”. They are just two sides of Tao which in nature are in balance. Taoism is mainly concern with how people have disturbed this balance in their lives and how to restore the balance.

      • Grey

        When you look at the text of the Sith Code, it really boils down to a survival mantra, which makes sense given that the original Sith evolved on a harsh and hostile desert planet.

        Nowhere in the code does it say to be a tyrannical despot. The closest you could get to that sort of interpretation is that to throw off one’s chains they have to be put on someone else, which is just perpetuating a cycle of abuse that will inevitably blow up in their face.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.