“For evil bastards to win power, all ordinary people have to do is stand aside and keep quiet. There’s always a choice.”
– Trevor Belmont, Castlevania
Season 1, Episode 2, “Necropolis”
A much wiser and more refined person put it this way: All the triumph of Evil needs is for good men to do nothing. However, Trevor’s words are something of a more demonstrable example.
Trevor’s family, the Belmonts, had a long, rich history of hunting vampires and demons and the like. They were the protectors and avengers of humanity, champions of the light. Then evil, corrupt officials within the church wiped out the entire family for daring to not submit to them. Same church also persecuted an ethnic sect of healers and history keepers, and also burned innocent people at the stake as witches. So, Trevor has seen his family murdered, seen wise men beaten in the street, and worse. He has understandably grown more than a little bitter over the whole thing.
Most pointedly, though, he has some difficulty empathizing with the common, everyday folk who saw all of this happen and did nothing about it. His family protected common people, but those people didn’t even try to save his family. A particular healer was taken from her village and burned, and none of the people she healed tried to help her. At the exact moment in the show where Trevor says these words, the local church leaders are about to lead a mob, made of commoners, to murder the wise men who came to give aid to those same commoners.
Trevor basically hates that people can stand back and let evil men hurt those who have helped them. And he does realize that some choices come down to either dying, which most people will choose to avoid for as long as possible, or letting bad things happen. But he’s right: it is still a choice. And when the common people let evil, power-hungry men destroy their defenders, and did nothing at all about it, just stood aside and kept quiet… well, then they allowed a terrible situation to take shape, where they are now preyed upon by bloodthirsty monsters, and there is no one left to save them.
So, Trevor is right… but I think there is still something that he is missing, at least for the moment.
People let bad things happen, they let evil people hurt good people, because they think there is nothing they can do about it. They think they are powerless. They think it is the least evil option available. They think that they would prefer spending their lives if they had some hope of success, rather than just throwing their lives into the void for nothing.
To stand up, be loud, confront evil, and die for a cause is noble.
To stand up, be loud, confront evil, and die for nothing is stupid. It is stupid, stubborn, short-sighted, and every bit as self-righteous as anything else one might name.
It can even become wrong, because too much zealotry in standing against evil can easily turn one into another all-consuming evil. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes.
I have been wrestling with that myself lately. I’ve been trying to find some sort of balance between my desire to not stand aside, to not let evil happen, and my fears of becoming the very sort of tyrant I despise within my small sphere of influence. So what do I do? How do I oppose evil without losing myself to it? How do I stand firm without becoming just another aggressor, consumed by contention?
It can seem all but impossible at times.
So, yes, ordinary people let bad things happen all the time. These bad things range from things as small as abuse and neglect within a single family to as horrifically huge as genocide. Ordinary people allow it to happen without fighting back because they’re afraid, helpless, leaderless, without direction, and in despair. They just don’t know what they can do about it.
Once Trevor – who is not so far removed from “ordinary people” as he might be inadvertently suggesting – stands up and stops being quiet, things change. He undermines the corrupt church leaders, exposes their crimes, and reminds the mob of their own goodness, that they are just being used. The mob immediately turns on the wicked leaders and follows Trevor as he uses his knowledge to help them defend themselves and each other from the encroaching horde of monsters.
That’s all ordinary people need: a little help to be their best selves, and a little hope of success. Give them that, and all the tyrants in the world will fall in short order.