I was a 90s kid. I grew up on a steady diet of Eisner-era Disney movies, and one of those was 1996’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember it in particular because it was the first time I’d ever seen a villain that thought he was right.


Making the world a better place since the Inquisition

Most children’s media has one of two kinds of villain. Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent is one kind. She’s completely given over to evil. That’s what she’s for, and that’s what she does. The only way to redeem her was to get a sword and run her through.

The other kind is the villain who is just plain selfish. He has goals, and he’s going to get them done, other people be damned. Most villains who work this way – Scar, Clayton, Facilier, Hades – end up destroying themselves with their own weapons.

It seems like the more common a villain type is in fiction, the less common it is in real life. Sure, there are real sadists, but they’re rare. And there are people who are absolutely ruthless, but in real life there has to be something they wouldn’t do. Instead, I think the most common kind of villain is someone who honestly thinks they’re good people, doing good in the world.

And then I vanish in a puff of logic, because that sounds just like me! I think I’m good people!

Therefore…what, exactly?

Well, for one thing, I’ve heard people try to get around this by saying, basically, “But they don’t really think that! They’re just lying to themselves and they know it!”

That’s not true. For one thing, it calls for a conspiracy – if the majority of evil people lied to themselves on purpose, one of them would have admitted to it by now. Confessions like that happen, sure, but not nearly often enough for me to accept it as business as usual.

So there’s no way of telling from the inside good-and-aware-of-it from evil-and-deluded. That means, if I want to be a good person, I had better pay really close attention to what evil feels like from the inside.

I’ve got a couple of them nailed down. Greed feels like finally getting what you deserve. Ignorance feels like the world is chaotic and senseless. Laziness feels like exhaustion.

Don’t actually take my advice, though, because what happens is you end up feeling worthless, lost, and exhausted and hating yourself for it.