On the Intentional Ending of Life

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night”.
I wouldn’t call the thought a consolation, but I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only person out there who has thought about suicide once…

Or twice.

Suicide is defined as the intentional (but sometimes accidental) ending of one’s own life.

Of course, that would exclude self-sacrifice or giving up one’s life to save others.

Those acts are considered heroic.

 

Sometimes encouraged.

 

 INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

 

 

BUT NOT HERE

BUT NOT HERE

 

The reasons people commit suicide (acts of heroism excluded) are as varied as the individuals who (decide to) end their lives. The reasons vary from accidents to the want to end suffering or to depression.

This list of notable people who have committed suicide is long: Ernest Hemmingway, Meriwether Lewis*, Aaron Swartz, Hunter S. Thompson, Marilyn Monroe*, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Cato the Younger, Kurt Cobain, George Eastman, Peg Entwistle, Sam Gillespie, Abbie Hoffman, William Inge, Vincent van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, Richard Jeni, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis, Virginia Woolf….

Socrates took his own life.

 

Of course his suicide wasn’t completely voluntary.

 

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

Many of my fellow Gen-Xers still vividly remember the news of the suicide of Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain.

 

 

 

Many people were shocked by the suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams in August, 2014. The news media was quick to report on Williams’ struggle with substance abuse and depression. In the days that followed Williams’ suicide, cable news and the internet featured stories on suicide prevention and suicide prevention hotline numbers.

 

williams

 

There were a few who openly claimed that Robin Williams was selfish in his actions. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith called Williams a “coward” (Smith later retracted his statements) and actor Todd Bridges got himself into hot water for saying that Williams’ act was “selfish”.

 

Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS said of those who commit suicide:

Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, ‘The world is a harsh place’. My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck about “the world is a harsh place.” She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life…. And for a putz, 20 year-old kid to say, ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.’ Fuck you, then kill yourself.

 

Simmons continued:

I never understood, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says “Jump!” when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump”… Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

 

 

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

 

 

jigsaw

 

 

In the days and weeks that followed Williams’ suicide there was no shortage of professional and non-professional opinions on the issue.

 

Robin Williams’ death reignited the public debate over the ethics of suicide.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the days of the late Jack Kevorkian and his assisted suicide machine know that suicide is one of those issues that is approached with caution, at best.

 

 

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

 

The debate over suicide is often moral.

 

Ethical theories both permit and forbid the intentional taking of one’s life.

 

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

 

The French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem.

 

Albert-Camus

 

Camus writes:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus to demonstrate our struggle against the urge to commit suicide.

 

… Or rather, to demonstrate the struggle against wanting to commit suicide in the face of absurdity.

 

 

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

 

 

No matter how many times he rolls the boulder up the hill he knows the rock will roll back down and he will have to roll the it back up the hill again. The act of rolling the rock seems futile. There is no point in doing it. Sisyphus is overwhelmed by the futility of his task. In the mind of Sisyphus, his life is absurd.

 

A word about the word absurd:

 

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

 

 

mindy kaling GIF

 

 

When we usually say something is “absurd” we mean something is silly.

 

Something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Although that’s silly, that’s not what philosophers mean when they use the word “Absurd’.

 

On the absurd, the great philosophical index (otherwise known as Wikipedia) says this:

In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any. … the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. … the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail (and hence are absurd)…

Sisyphus can find no meaning in a task that he can never complete. And we, like Sisyphus, find that we are often tasked with duties and obligations in our lives that we cannot complete. Our lives often seem to lack meaning and have no purpose. And so we, like Sisyphus, are overwhelmed by the despair of the absurd. Overwhelmed by absurdity, we may conclude that the only way to escape absurdity is by ending our own lives.

 

 

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

 

However, Sartre (and existentialists in general) say that we must accept that despair and overcome it. We must build meaning into our lives in the face of meaninglessness.

Even Sisyphus, Sartre says, learns to be happy.

 

imagine sisyphus happy

 

 

We must also learn to be happy.

Sartre isn’t the only philosopher that says that suicide is not the solution for life’s problems.

 

Yep. Kant did, too.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that suicide wasn’t just the result of bad decision making. Killing oneself is downright wrong.

Kant declares that suicide is a violation of the Categorical Imperative.

What’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you say?

 

Kant’s Categorical Imperative is as follows:

First Formulation: Formulation from Universal Law
* act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law

Second Formulation: Formulation for Ends In Themselves
*  man, and in general every rational being exists as an end in himself not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will: he must in all his actions, whether they are directed to himself or to other rational beings, always be viewed at the same time as an end

 

 

categorical imperative arguments

 

What this all means is that when we perform any act we must ask ourselves a couple of questions:
1) would we want everyone else to do it, and
2) do we use or exploit anyone to get what we want?

 

Kant’s argument against suicide states:

A man who is reduced to despair by a series of evils feels a weariness with life but is still in possession of his reason sufficiently to ask whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim, however is: For love of myself, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by a longer duration it threatens more evil than satisfaction. But it is questionable whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. One immediately sees a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. In this case it would not exist as nature hence that maxim cannot obtain as a law of nature, and thus it wholly contradicts the supreme principle of all duty.

 

Kant argues we can’t universalize suicide because the act of killing oneself is contradictory to our own self-love. Ok, wait a minute. What does Kant mean by “self love”?

Not that, you dirty bird.

You see, according to Kant, we all possess a sense of self-love.

I guess you can call it a sense of self-preservation.

Kant says we (should) love ourselves too much to intentionally take our own lives.

 

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

 

 

Kant also argues that it is wrong to use another as a mere means to our ends.

Ok, bear with me, here.

To use a person as a mere means to our ends is to deny a person the respect of their personhood that every human being is entitled to; to treat a person as a thing. Treating a person as a thing devalues the respect that every (rational) human being is entitled to. And so, by killing ourselves we treat ourselves as a thing, we are denying the respect that we are entitled to as rational beings. We become a mere means to an end.

 

means to an end

 

Although Kant’s philosophical mission is to get away from a religion-based ethics, we can’t help from observing that Kant’s argument parallels religious edicts in the form of divine universal law (in Kant’s case his is the inviolable universal law of nature). Like Kant’s ethics, God-based arguments against suicide are rooted in the belief that every life is sacred and that we have no (moral) authority to end any human being’s life. To do so, according to the religious view, is, in essence, playing God.

We are forbidden to usurp God’s plan for us.

We are forbidden to destroy what God has created.

In doing so we risk condemnation.
In an article that appeared on Catholic Online, Chaplain Adele M. Gill says to end one‘s life prematurely is not a courageous act. Gill says:

Because it is not. Rather it is anything but. In fact, in my mind, it is a self-destructive act of selfish cowardice to end your own life before God’s perfect timing.

 

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

 

Although religious-based arguments are probably the most convincing anti suicide arguments (if not just for the fact that we must weigh the utility of the cessation of pain and suffering against eternal damnation), God arguments cut both ways.

 

Especially when philosophers make them.
This is probably due, in part to the fact that an estimated 62% of philosophers are atheist.

 

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

 

In “On Suicide” the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) considers the existence of God. If there is a God, Hume asks, and everything happens according to his will, how can suicide go against the will of God?

Hume argues: if a person fights the urge to commit suicide he is fighting against the will of God.

 

… And defying the will of God gets you a one-way ticket to hellfire and eternal torment.

 

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

 

Now, some people may ask why would a philosopher find it necessary to weigh in on a subject like suicide? After all, dealing with life, death, and the hereafter is best handled by one’s personal spiritual adviser, priests, imams, and rabbis.

That might be true.

 

However, Not every suicide is the result of depression or a feeling of hopelessness.

Some people commit suicide for what they believe are completely legitimate reasons.

When we ponder the outcomes our actions have in this world and (possibly) in the next, we realize that to have an outcome we have to do something. We have to make a choice; a decision.

Decisions inevitably have ethical implications.

 

Philosophers deal in ethics.

 

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO. ... BECAUSE IT'S TRUE

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO.
… BECAUSE IT’S TRUE

 

Philosophical arguments on suicide (especially arguments in support of physician-assisted suicide) often focus on a person’s mental state (i.e. level of cognition) when we act.

Kant tells us that the use of reason separates humans from mere beasts.

 

 

kant reason

 

 

Our capacity for reason allows us to make deliberate and rational choices.

… You see, philosophers have this idea that in order to be a fully functional, autonomous human being, one must possess the capacity to make rational choices.

The recent news story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who opted to commit suicide rather than to go through suffering of her disease, Maynard articulated the rational argument in favor of what Dr. Jack Kevorkian called “patholysis” (literally translated, “destruction of suffering”).

 

 

brittany maynard

 

 

 

 

 

Most arguments about suicide, pro and against, tend to center on physician-assisted suicide.

Or as some supporters call it, death with dignity.

 

Although even the most ardent assisted-suicide proponent would have a difficult time defending suicide of those who are not chronically or terminally ill, there are many people who support physically healthy people who opt to commit suicide for psychological and/or philosophical reasons. Some argue that it is perfectly rational to make choose to commit suicide to prevent suffering and to have control ones life. Death, they argue, is inevitable. The terminal diagnosis has been made. The point isn’t to die, it’s to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

Several U.S. states and a handful of nations in Europe allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The Swiss group Dignitas (based in Zurich, Switzerland) is a notable example of an organization providing terminally ill with death with dignity services.

 

 

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

 

Dignitas’ assisted-suicide services has been accused of promoting “suicide tourism”.

 

 

 

 

The philosophical arguments for physician-assisted suicide are compelling. Certainly a philosopher would agree that we should respect the decisions made by someone who is mentally competent and able to make full use of their capacity to think rationally. But there’s the problem we have as philosophers – we must weigh an ethic that tells us to preserve life against an ethic that tells us to respect autonomy.

Philosophers like Immanuel Kant tell us that we have a duty to help others but we also have a duty not to interfere with the actions of morally autonomous beings.

 

autonomy
However, we can still argue that suicide, despite our moral autonomy and our justifications, can’t be a rational choice.

Namely:

  • A rational choice, by necessity, has to be made when one is fully aware and knowledgeable of what they’re doing. Since no person possesses the ability to know how their death will affect others, we can‘t reasonably argue that we can calculate (all of) the consequences of a suicide.
  • If a person commits suicide they are hurting more than themselves. A person who commits suicide deprives people not only of their presence, but also of what they could have done. Especially if we end our lives before we reach our full potential.
  • Death, no matter the circumstance, is bad. Death causes us harm. Why would someone willingly do something that is harmful?
  • Someone who is mentally depressed, mentally ill or mentally impaired (by illness or medication) can not, by definition, be entirely rational and therefore is incapable of making rational choices.
  • Young people lack the mental/psychological/philosophical maturity required to make rational choices and should be strongly discouraged from committing suicide, even if the reason for doing so seems rational.
  • Given the possibility that one would burn in hell, why would someone risk an eternal punishment, even to avoid pain or to end suffering?

 

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

 

Suicide is always a tragic event. We can be certain that there will be arguments on both sides of the issue. No matter what or justification for ending our own lives may be, there will be questions that will remain unanswered: Is it always wrong to commit suicide? Are mental or chronic or terminal physical illness enough reason to commit suicide? Should doctors assist the terminally ill to end their own lives? Should we continue to struggle to against the absurdity of life and how should we escape it?

 

 

Unfortunately, neither philosophers nor the clergy have given us answers we all can agree on.

 

 

 

 

 
* if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the U.S.) 1-800-273-8255
Or go to the website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

 

NOTE:
* It is still debated whether Meriwether Lewis and Marilyn Monroe actually committed suicide.
* For more reading on reasons why people commit suicide:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide
SOURCES:
Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition (Revised). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-39.

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1975 [1942]. Trans. Justin O’ Brien. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 11.

Fred Feldman. Confrontations With the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. 1992. NY: Oxford University Press.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/

http://philosophynow.org/issues/61/Kant_On_Suicide

http://www.etonline.com/news/149905_gene_simmons_tells_depressed_people_to_kill_themselves/index.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/brittany_maynards_brave_choice_why_religious_arguments_against_physician_assisted_suicide_fall_flat/

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No Bad Deed Goes Punished

There are many amateur, semi-pro, and professional sports to be watched and played throughout the year, but if I had to lay down some cash to pay to watch one in an actual stadium, I’d spend my really-should-not-be-used-for-recreational-purposes cash to catch a game of professional football.

Wait – let me define my sport here. I meant to say American football.

 

The other kind of football is nice and all, but if I had to plunk down some money I’d pick this:

 

 

 

Over this:

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s face it, American-style football is just danged entertaining.

That’s what keeps people watching.

Well, maybe this has a little bit to do with what keeps people watching…

 

cheerleaders

 

No. Not that.

 

This:

 

 

 

 

 

Superbowl ads.

Whoops. I mean THE BIG GAME ads.

People, in America and abroad, watch football. Well, unless it’s Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead is on.

That show gets better ratings with the 18-49 year old demographic.

Yes, folks. That’s right.

The ratings for this:

 

 

the walking dead cast

 

 

Beats the ratings for this:

 

football game

 

 

But I digress….

 

If you think about it, there’s a legit reason why American football (hereafter referred to as “football”) is so popular. After all, there just aren’t that many sports with a jingle as catchy as Hank Williams, jr’s “Are You Ready For Some Football?” or where one can base his or her fan loyalty based on the attractiveness/offensiveness of the team mascot and/or the color of the team jersey.

This explains why I hate the Cleveland Browns.

That uniform is fugly.

 

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

LOOK AT THIS MONSTROCITY OF A UNIFORM. THE MORE I LOOK AT IT THE MORE I HATE THE BROWNS

 

Now, you may be aware of recent criticism (rightfully so) of League apathy towards serious brain injury suffered by current and former players.

 

NFL-Concussions

 

 

 

brain scans

 

 

 

missed game chart

 
But what you may be even more aware of is the recent spate of legal troubles involving a few high-profile NFL players. In particular, legal troubles involving the illegal use of one’s hands against another human being.

 

To put it another way, a few have been busted for physically abusing someone.

 

Many of us are aware of Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson’s no contest plea on a misdemeanor child abuse charge for whipping his 4 year-old son with a switch.

 

 IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT A SWITCH LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS A SWITCH. A SWITCH IS A THIN LIMB OF A TREE USED TO BEAT THE HELL OUT OF (USUALLY) ONE’S CHILDREN.

 

 

I’m more than certain that anyone with a TV or an internet connection has either heard of or seen this video:

 

 

http://www.tmz.com/videos/0_ekaflcqq

 

 

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is currently awaiting trial for multiple murders.

 

 

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

YOU CAN BET THAT NANCY GRACE IS READY TO JUMP ALL OVER THIS TRIAL

 

Of course we all remember this guy:

 

THEY DIDN'T FIT

THEY DIDN’T FIT

 

 

Tales of abuse (and even worse) by rich and famous are, by no means, new. Before Chris Brown, fans of John Lennon, Miles Davis, and Ike Turner heard stories of (alleged and actual) domestic abuse. And on the professional sports side, well-known athletes like MMA fighters War Machine and Tito Ortiz, Mike Tyson, Hope Solo, and Rae Carruth have all been accused, charged, and/or convicted of committing acts of violence towards their mates.

 

Rumors (unsubstantiated) that Joe DiMaggio beat Marilyn Monroe have been around for decades.

 

 

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

BEHIND THE FAÇADE OF THE PERFECT CELEBRITY SUPERCOUPLE, SOME SAY, WAS A PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

 

 
Most of the fervor over celebrity abusers is based, in part, on the seemingly light sentences given to (celebrities and) professional athletes for their crimes.

Some think game suspensions aren’t enough punishment.

Let’s not forget that Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games.

 

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

WE DON’T WANT TO REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WITH THIS GUY

 

 

What we want isn’t merely punishment – we want a just punishment. We want a punishment fitting of the crime.

… And when we say fitting of the crime, we want murderers and abusers no matter who they are to be punished. We want a person to receive the punishment the deserve regardless of their occupation, social status or the amount of money in their bank account.

Or what team they play for.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that moral rights and wrongs are not subject to opinion. The standard of a right and wrong act is not determined by popular opinion. Kant states that rightness and wrongness are eternal; universal and applicable to all people at all times.

Although Kant argues in favor of stern punishments, Kant states that punishments should also be proportional to the crime.

 

Kant writes:

Punishment… must always be inflicted on him only because he has committed a crime…but what kind and what amount of punishment is it that public justice makes its principle and measure? None other than the principle of equality… accordingly, whatever undeserved evil you inflict on another… you inflict on yourself….But only the law of retribution jus falionis – it being understood… can specify definitively the quality and quantity of punishment (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:331-332)

So, according to Kant, we should not only be willing to punish abusers, but also be willing to treat Ray Rice with the same level of punishment (and presumably the same level of moral disdain) that we treat someone who isn’t famous or a female athlete . We can’t allow favoritism or double standards.

 

Especially if we want moral consistency.

 

…. And we should want moral consistency.

 

double standards

 

 

Ok, for the record, I think Kant is right. People who abuse people, no matter what they do for a living, should be punished. And we should be morally offended when people commit violent acts against other people and animals. But I can’t deny (despite my moral outrage) that I still enjoy this:

 

 

 

 

And this:

 

 

 

 

I still watch The Naked Gun movies and enjoy OJ Simpson’s performance as “Nordberg”.

 

Try as I might to hate every scene OJ Simpson is in, I still find this scene funny.

 

 

 

 

That Nordberg is a pretty funny guy.
And while we’re on that subject, someone riddle me this: how did Nordberg go from looking like this guy:

 

 

peter lupus

 

To looking like this guy:

 

 

the naked gun nordberg

 

 

Someone should call Robert Stack to get on this….

 
Now, when we think about famous actors, musicians or athletes, there’s the tendency to say that their private life is separate from their public life. What a person does behind closed doors should be distinct from what they do publicly – that what a man or woman does in their private lives shouldn’t affect how we think about what they do professionally. They say –
It shouldn’t matter what kind of guy John Lennon was, he was a great musician.

Ray Rice and his fiancée are married now.

Mike Tyson is now the star of a cartoon series

 

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

SERIOUSLY, THIS IS A REAL TV SHOW

 

 

Everyone has their demons, we say.

 

Although punishment or proper punishment is a big issue in discussing domestic abuse, it’s not the only issue that should be discussed when dealing with domestic violence and famous people. Anyone who has thought about the role that actors, musicians and professional athletes play in our culture has probably wondered not only if we can separate a person’s private acts from their public persona, but also should we separate a person’s private and public lives?

 

The question we should ask is why do we look up to these people in the first place?

 

You see, some people think we should be consistent in how we act in public and in private.

 

We shouldn’t just admire a person just because they’re attractive or popular or a world-class athlete.

 

It’s about what kind of people we look up to.

 

We should want to look up to people because they’re the right kind of people to look up to.

 

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

DON’T LET THE GOLD MEDALS FOOL YOU. THIS GUY PROBABLY SMOKES WEED

 

 

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle writes that the only people worth looking up to are virtuous.

 

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES - SURPRISE, SURPSISE - MORAL VIRTUE

ARISTOTLE’S MORAL THEORY IS CALLED VIRTUE ETHICS. IT EMPHASIZES – SURPRISE, SURPSISE – MORAL VIRTUE

 

 

Wait – let me back up for a minute. I have to explain something.

 

According to Aristotle, virtues like courage, temperance, and truthfulness are inborn traits. Virtues are acquired through habit. That is, we acquire virtue by behaving virtuously. That behavior, in turn, becomes habit. One must possess all the virtues (unity of virtues) to be (morally) virtuous.

Aristotle describes moral virtue as:

 

A settled disposition if the mind determining the choice of
actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the
observance of the mean relative us, this being determined by
principle that is, as the prudent man would determine it.

 

Therefore, once our behaviors become habit, our virtuous soul is manifested in how we act.

 

 

spit it out

 
What I’m trying to say is Aristotle said if you act a certain way for a long time eventually that’s the way you will always act.

 

 

download (2)

 

 

Aristotle wrote:

 

The virtues, then, come neither by nature nor against nature, but nature gives us the capacity for acquiring them, and this is developed by training….. But the virtues we acquire by doing the acts, as is the case with the arts too. We learn an art by doing that which we wish to do when we have learned it; we become builders by building, and harpers by harping. And so by doing just acts we become just, and by doing acts of temperance and courage we become temperate and courageous.

 

Here’s a list of Aristotle’s virtues, by the way….

 

Capture virtues

 

man, that’s small….

 

Aristotle wrote that a full realization of one’s virtuousness cannot be possible if our virtuous acts are limited to the public realm. To be truly virtuous, Aristotle argues, we are (also) required to act virtuously in our private life. Private behavior influences public behavior and vice versa. And – since Aristotle states that we realize the full meaning of our existence by functioning within the public sphere, and since virtue is acquired by the repetition of virtuous deeds, and to develop a habit requires consistent behavior in public and in private, the two spheres are necessarily connected; one must be virtuous in public but also in private.

 

 

And since the community is essential for human flourishing, our acts are ultimately connected the public (common) good.

 

A man who cheats on his wife or beats a woman in private cannot be trusted in his public acts. Someone who commits acts of domestic violence isn’t a good person. He (or she) isn’t virtuous. The kind of person who physically assaults another person lacks the kind of moral character of someone we should look up to. Therefore he is unworthy of our praise and should not be held as an example to follow.

 

Aristotle says:

Indeed, if he were not good, he could not be worthy of
honor; for honor is the prize of virtue, and is rendered to the
good as their due.

 

 

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

THE FACT THAT JOHN LENNON WAS ONE HALF OF THE GREATEST SONGWRITING DUO OF ALL TIME SHOULD NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT HE TREATED THIS WOMAN LIKE SHIT

 

 

So what are to make of all this, then?
The moral of the story is that the problem with abuse in entertainment and professional sports isn’t just a question of how do we punish those who abuse their wives, girlfriends, strippers, occasionally a fan, or anyone else who ends up on the bad end of a famous person’s fist. We should first be careful who we venerate. What kind of people we hold as an example to follow. That’s what Aristotle tells us all about moral virtue. It isn’t enough that a person sings great songs or who holds the record for most career touchdowns.

 

 I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

I THINK IT WAS ARISTOTLE WHO COINED THE PHRASE “CHECK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF”

 

 

We shouldn’t be concerned with how much a person makes, how many yards run, or how many hit songs they wrote. No one doubts that John Lennon was a great songwriter or that Ray Rice is (was) an exceptional football player. But we should, especially if we are to hold those in high regard, want who we look up to to be good men (people) as well.

 

What should matter to us is kind of character a person has. Is the person we admire a good person? Not just good in the sense that they are polite or file their taxes on time, but capital G-O-O-D in the sense that they embody the kind of qualities that we think makes someone a good person – a morally virtuous person. The kind of person who, just by watching them, makes us want to follow their example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*for more information on head injuries in the NFL read:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/concussion-watch/76-of-79-deceased-nfl-players-found-to-have-brain-disease/

and: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/13/sports/football/actuarial-reports-in-nfl-concussion-deal-are-released.html?_r=0

 

Sources:
http://thinkexist.com/quotation/it_is_the_characteristic_of_the_magnanimous_man_/147142.html.
http://deadline.com/2014/11/walking-dead-ratings-top-sunday-night-football-third-week-season-5-1201286783/

https://www.cwu.edu/~warren/Unit1/aristotles_virtues_and_vices.htm

 

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans. F.H. Peters. M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. xvii, 81.

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 6:331-332

BIG ELF IS WATCHING YOU

Have you ever been in prison?

 

been behind bars

 

 

Wait – never mind that question.

Have you heard of The Elf on the Shelf?

You probably have.

Seeing though Christmas was just last month and all.

Still, if you haven‘t or you just don‘t give a damn about Christmas, it’s this guy:

 

elf on the shelf

 

The Elf on the Shelf is not a new thing. It’s been around for awhile.

The point (or if we want to get philosophical, the telos) of the Elf on the Shelf is simple: as anyone with even a basic knowledge of the philosophy of gift giving according to Santa Claus knows, children are taught by their parents that the number and quantity of Christmas gifts necessarily depends on them behaving like “good little boys and girls”.

But every parent is also well aware of the fact that the natural disposition of children (think: Hobbes’ state of nature) makes it nearly impossible for children to behave like rational, autonomously legislating human beings at all times.

This can interfere with a child’s plans for ultimate Christmas morning gift getting.

 

THE INEVITABLE GIFT FOR EVERY CHILD WHO PREFERS HEDONISM OVER KANT

THE INEVITABLE GIFT FOR EVERY CHILD WHO PREFERS HEDONISM OVER KANT

 

 

So, if a parent wants their child to receive gifts from St. Nick, a parent has to guarantee that their precious bundle of joy remains a good boy or girl, even when there is no threat of physical punishment.

 

 HOW GOOD ARE WE IF OUR COMPLIANCE IS COERCED, ANYWAY?

HOW GOOD ARE WE IF OUR COMPLIANCE IS COERCED, ANYWAY?

 

The threat of injury to one’s buttocks is usually enough to thwart all but the worst of bad children.

Here’s where the Elf on the Shelf comes in…..

 

believe in santa

 

 

If you haven’t noticed, it seems that Santa’s little recon-minded helper has been around much more than usual.
You can blame the crimson-clad imp’s ubiquitousness on the internet.

The problem that some folks have with the Elf on the Shelf isn’t the debate over matters of taste or even about accusations that the Elf is just another example of the over-commercialization of Christmas.

 

elf on the shelf dick in a box

 

 

That’s not a problem at all.
However, you can say that the problem with the Elf on the Shelf is something a little more, well… ominous.

The problem with the Elf on the Shelf, some say, is that the damn thing is everywhere.

A simple Google image search for “elf on the shelf” will yield you humorous (and slightly risqué) Elf on the Shelf photos like this:

 

elf on the shelf with barbies

 
elf on the shelf shave

 
elf on the shelf is bad

 

Pretty funny images, right?

Alright, I know. They’re not.

But bear with me a bit, will ya?

 

Now, there are those who think that the Elf on the Shelf is an annoying as hell harmless prank. Still, there are those that believe that the “harmless” holiday pranks associated with the Elf on the Shelf hides a deeper, sinister purpose.

 

harmless

 

 

You see, instead of associating the Elf on the Shelf with humorous images like this:

 

 

elf on the shelf spells reddum

 

We should associate the Elf on the Shelf with images like this:

 

IS THAT DR. PHIL?

IS THAT DR. PHIL?

 

Or rather, an image like this:

 

elf on the shelf big brother

 

Besides being just plain creepy, non-fans of the “harmless” Elf on the Shelf argue that the Elf’s purpose isn’t to be just a harmless Christmas prank that parents play on their children to make their children behave before the holidays.

Nope.

 

 

 

giphy

 

 

The truth about the Elf on the Shelf is the Elf a tool of the police state.

A red-suited Trojan horse of the total surveillance society.

I’m not joking about this.

 
WATCH:

 

 

 

 

 

If you couldn’t stop laughing at this latest conspiracy theory long enough to watch didn’t watch the video, the gist of the Elf on the Shelf is Big Brother theory/argument goes like this: The Elf is always watching. It gets children used to the idea of being under constant surveillance. Because the parent moves the elf to various locations to keep the child off guard, the child doesn’t know when the elf is watching, so a child will act as if the elf is always watching. The child behaves in lieu of physical punishment.

The Elf’s surreptitiousness is the key to successfully modifying a child’s behavior.

 

creepy elf

 

 

 

Dr. Laura Pinto writes:

Children who participate in play with the Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day… they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus.

 

The ultimate purpose of the Elf on the Shelf is indoctrination.

Behavior modification.

 

 

elf on the shelf i'm watching you

 

Ok, I think we can all agree that the Elf on the Shelf is annoying, if not a full-blown exercise in ultimate creepiness.

 

 

elf on the shelf says children are fun toys

 

But why am I bringing this up, you say? Christmas was last year.

And what exactly does the Elf on the Shelf have to do with philosophy?

Well, would you believe that the bad idea of surreptitious surveillance of people to force- I mean, encourage good behavior was cooked up by a philosopher?

 

Oh. You would, huh?

 

LOOK CLOSELY: THIS PHILOSOPHER IS JUST ABOUT TO TELL SOME PEOPLE A BAD IDEA

LOOK CLOSELY: THIS PHILOSOPHER IS JUST ABOUT TO TELL SOME PEOPLE A BAD IDEA

 

 

The philosopher I’m talking about is Jeremy Bentham.

The idea is the panopticon.

 

DON’T BLAME THE ELF ON THE SHELF. BLAME THIS GUY

DON’T BLAME THE ELF ON THE SHELF. BLAME THIS GUY

 

 

The word panopticon was coined by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The word is derived from the Greek words pan (all) and opticon (seeing).

Bentham’s panopticon is a building where every part of the building is visible from a central point.

Like this:

 

 

panopticon

 

 

Bentham created the panopticon with the intention of reforming the English prison system and to end unnecessary suffering (pain) of incarcerated individuals while also creating a method of fostering good behavior among the prison population.

 

Because, as Bentham reasoned, when everybody behaves, people are happier.

 

 OBVIOUSLY DENIZENS OF BENTHAM’S PANOPTICON

OBVIOUSLY DENIZENS OF BENTHAM’S PANOPTICON

 

In a panopticon prison, a single guard can watch all the inmates at one time.

But here’s the thing: humans lack the kind of God-like omnipotence required to watch all things simultaneously – it is impossible for a single human to observe all things all at once. The point of the panopticon isn’t actually to watch everyone at one time. The point is to convince the prisoners that they are always being watched. The prisoners don’t know they’re being watched or not. According to Bentham, this uncertainty will lead them to act as if they are being watched.

 

Bentham wrote:

A building circular… The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference – The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors consealed… from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence – The whole circuit reviewable with a little, or… without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell. (Proposal for a New and Less Expensive mode of Employing and Reforming Convicts, 1798)

Bentham aimed to achieve moral reformation “all by a simple idea of architecture!”

 

Pretty nifty, eh?

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING REALLY CREEPY - JEREMY BENTHAM’S PRESERVED BODY IS ON DISPLAY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, WHERE IT HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY SINCE 1850. ……BENTHAM DIED IN 1832.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING REALLY CREEPY – JEREMY BENTHAM’S PRESERVED BODY IS ON DISPLAY AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, WHERE IT HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY SINCE 1850.
……BENTHAM DIED IN 1832.

 

 

The panopticon is a form of mind control.

 

Behavior modification.

Sound like anyone we know?

 

NSA on the shelf

 
So, really, there is little difference between this:

 

 

elf on the shelf with tony montana

 

And this:

 

 

LOS ANGELES’ TWIN TOWERS JAIL, LIKE MANY PRISONS WORLDWIDE, WAS DESIGNED BASED ON BENTAM’S PANOPTICON

LOS ANGELES’ TWIN TOWERS JAIL, LIKE MANY PRISONS WORLDWIDE, WAS DESIGNED BASED ON BENTAM’S PANOPTICON

 

 
The late philosopher Michel Foucault used the word panopticon as a warning of a future where people are under constant surveillance. When we think of a surveillance society, we’re used to thinking of this kind of society in terms of things like this:

 

 

surveillance camera

 

and this:

 

 

MQ-1 Predator

 

 

or this:

 

nineteen eighty-four viewscreen

 

 

The thing is, a real, society-wide panopticon won’t be anything like what Bentham or maybe even Foucault thought it would be.

 

 

THIS IS A PICTURE OF MICHEL FOUCAULT, BY THE WAY

THIS IS A PICTURE OF MICHEL FOUCAULT, BY THE WAY

 

Perhaps Bentham and Foucault are only kind of correct.

 

There’s no doubt that cameras are everywhere.

 

 

UNFORTUNATELY CAMERAS ARE EVERYWHERE

UNFORTUNATELY CAMERAS ARE EVERYWHERE

 

And there are legitimate concerns about surveillance – especially government surveillance of people not in prison.

 

But, Big Brother won’t be an Orwellian telescreen and highly unlikely we’ll be housed somewhere in one of Bentham’s circular buildings where the guards watch us all the time.

 

 

DON’T ANYONE SAY FEMA CAMP

DON’T ANYONE SAY FEMA CAMP

 

 

It seems that, in the end, the panopticon will be in the form of a harmless holiday visitor.

 

A little fella who looks like this:

 

 

elf on the shelf is watching

 

 
And you can blame a philosopher for that.

 

 

 

 

 

 
* If you’re feeling that you absolutely must read what Bentham wrote about the panopticon, click on this link.
http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1925

 

* And if you’re in the mood to be extra creeped out, here’s some info on Bentham’s body.
ENJOY!
http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2013/10/23/jeremy_bentham_died_in_1850_but_he_s_still_sitting_in_a_hallway_at_this.html

 

 

 

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/18/elf-on-the-shelf-foucault_n_6343674.html

 

Red Solo Machete

*Note: this post was originally written October, 2014.

 
Well, philosophy fans, it’s fall.

You know what that means.

That’s right. Fall means it’s the season for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the smell of crisp autumn air, and the green leaves of summer turning into rustic scenes of brilliant shades of gold, crimson, and brown.

 

 

 

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

 

Unless you live in Australia.

Because it’s spring down there now, isn’t it?

If it is, do they still have pumpkin spice lattes in November?

 

 

 TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

 

 

I think we’ll all admit that nature’s splendor is great and all, but the beginning of the autumn season can only mean one thing to the horror television fan: the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

You know, the zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 
No, not that zombie show.
This zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one with the ratings that regularly beats Sunday Night Football.*
Fans of the show know there’s plenty of things to talk about on The Walking Dead – the TV show versus the graphic novels, the show’s black guy rule, how much Andrea sucks, how much Beth sucks, the hotness of Norman Reedus….

Plenty.

 

Andrea

 

 

With the half season over, it’s time for the regular-viewer’s eyes to turn to things other than hating on Beth Greene and zombie head shot counts (AKA: nitpicking the hell out of the show).

 

 

 

beth haters

 

 

For those fans who are philosophically inclined also like to talk about one topic for

discussion in particular –

 

Guessed it yet?

 

Hint: this blog is about philosophy.

 

 

thinking guy

 

 

You may no know it, but some The Walking Dead fans (ok, maybe just me) like to talk about how the show is all about philosophy.

Really, it is.

 

 

this is going to be fun

 

 
If you have a preference for thinking about television philosophically, I should say that it’s worth mentioning that it’s awfully fun to talk about The Walking Dead and morality.
Well, fun if you’re a philosopher.

 

 

…. And you watch a lot of TV.

 

tyler watches TV

 

 

 

There’s plenty of moral dilemmas to be found in a typical episode/season of The Walking Dead, but the one moral dilemma that seems to rear its undead more often than others is the problem of moral ambiguity.

 

 

the good the bad the morally ambiguous

 

 

Moral ambiguity, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is:

[the] lack of clarity in ethical decision making. that is, when an issue, situation, or questions has moral dimensions or implications, but the decidedly “moral” action to take is unclear, either due to conflicting principles, ethical systems, or situational perspectives.

 

 

images scumbag steve uses UD

 

 

That is to say, moral ambiguity is lack of moral clarity; the line between good and bad actions is blurred.

 

my favorite color is moral ambiguity

 

 

Speaking of blurred lines….

 

MUSIC BREAK!

 

 

 

 

 

Although, given my tastes, moral ambiguity in the zombie apocalypse would sound a little more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing is, the problem of moral ambiguity isn’t exclusively a The Walking Dead problem. Moral ambiguity seems to have infected other AMC shows as well – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt and Catch Fire and Hell On Wheels are all afflicted with morally ambiguous characters and situations.

This guy may be the worst of them all.

 

 

 

worst

 

 

The problem, if you will, with moral ambiguity isn’t just a problem for AMC . It’s prevalent in more than quite a few movies and television shows.

 

 

moral ambiguity character chart

 

 

Wait – everyone here knows when I say AMC I mean the television network American Movie Classics, right?

Just saying that so we’re clear.

‘Cause clarity is important when you’re talking philosophically.

 

 

clear_as_crystal

 

 

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: what’s the harm in a little moral ambiguity? After all, life isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be – and sometimes, despite our own moral convictions, a situation calls for us to get our hands a little dirty. To violate our moral principles; to play on both sides of the moral fence.

In a land overrun by undead, morality (and especially moral consistency) takes second place to the act of surviving. We can excuse Rick Grimes when he violates his rule “you don’t kill the living” and we can sympathize with the murderous cannibals at Terminus because these characters do whatever is necessary to do to survive.

 

It seems inevitable that the will to survive leads to some moral ambiguity.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to eat a another man’s leg to save our own lives.

Wait, just me?

 

oh.

 

 

 

bob-b-que

 

 

At first glance, a non-distinct moral style is more than justified in a zombie apocalypse. After all, when it comes to survival, are you really going to worry about moral consistency?

Yeah, me neither.

But we’re all philosophers here. And you know what philosophers don’t like? Non distinct things. And you know what non distinct things are? Ambiguous. Philosophers hate ambiguity.

And there’s an obvious problem that arises when we fail to clearly define the line between right and wrong. Namely, not clearly defining what is morally right and what is morally wrong makes it difficult to perform morally correct acts.

That is, when our morals are not clear we may fail to do the right thing.

 

 

do the right thing

 

 

Worse yet, if our morals are ambiguous, how can we judge which acts are good or bad?

And worse than that – if right and wrong are not clearly defined how is a TV watcher to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

The ability to do so may be very important if you find yourself surrounded by a horde of the undead.

Believe it or not, doing so relies on having a clear sense of morality.

 

 

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

 

 

You see, moral ambiguity may be no big deal to television writers or to fictional fellows like Don Draper, Walter White or Shane Walsh, but in the real world, the consequences of moral ambiguity probably won’t make you anyone’s favorite antihero. In the real world, moral ambiguity can lead to such awful things like moral relativism or (gasp!)

 

moral nihilism.

Yeah. You end up morals like this guy:

 

 

old fred

 

 

 

Or (worst case scenario) a total breakdown or rejection of all morality.
Actually, that kind of stuff happens in the fake world, too.

 

 

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

 

 

You see, when a TV show begins to blur the line between good and bad it can become difficult to sustain one’s like for a character – especially if one’s fondness for a particular character is predicated on the belief that the character is good. For instance, Rick Grimes’ shifting morality and his willingness to violate his own moral principles (i.e., “we do not kill the living”) makes it increasingly difficult to discern which side of the moral fence Rick Grimes resides on: is he a good man who does bad things or a bad man who occasionally does good things?

The problem is, we can’t tell. Rick’s morality isn’t static. We can’t pinpoint exactly where Rick Grimes’ morality (or any of the other characters in The Walking Dead) falls on the morality scale. It’s ambiguous. The characters of The Walking Dead aren’t guided by a ethical code as much as they are dictated by expediency.

That often makes the characters act inconsistently.

And inconsistency causes trouble.

Moral trouble.

Moral ambiguity trouble.

 

 

 

shit happens GIF

 

 

Ok. Let me give a long winded example: As many fans of the show know, Rick kicked Carol out of the group for killing two people, Karen and David; deaths that Carol claimed were necessary to save the rest of the group. Carol believes that although she intentionally killed two people, her actions are morally correct and tells Rick that (morally speaking) her actions are no different than when Rick killed his best friend Shane.

By the way, if you don’t know who Shane is or was, go back to The Walking Dead seasons 1 & 2.

Anyway, Rick is outraged at Carol for killing two people that Rick argues could have recovered from their illness.

An illness that, by the way, when it kills you, you end up looking like this:

 

 

EWWWWW

EWWWWW

 

 

So naturally, Carol thought the solution for that was doing this:

 

 

karen and david burned

PRETTY DANGED EFFICIENT OF CAROL, IF YOU ASK ME

 

 

 

 

Rick’s moral outrage (because Rick suddenly has a clear sense of morality) seems to be rooted in his season 1 declaration “we do not kill the living”. Rick declares that no living person is to be killed even if that person poses a potential risk to the group.

 

 

 REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

 

 

 

Of course Rick’s moral outrage would have made sense if we were still in season 1.

That was back when Rick had a clear and distinct moral view.

 

 

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

 

 

But something has happened to Rick that the fact that Rick takes offense to Carol’s actions should strike us a little odd. The thing is this: by the time Carol kills Karen and David, Rick’s morals are no longer distinct as we would (or the writers would ) like (us) to believe.

In fact, by season 4, Rick has developed a nasty habit of killing living people.

 

This is a pretty easy thing to if your morals are ambiguous.

 

Because TV. That’s why.

 

 

 

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP....POOR RANDALL

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP….POOR RANDALL

 

 

Seriously, the reason why Rick Grimes is so willing to kill the living is because Rick’s ethics are no longer grounded in the distinction between the moral rules dictating what is morally good and what is morally bad. Ok, remember when Rick told the racist (and soon-to-be mono-handed) redneck Merle Dixon that distinctions among races no longer exist; there are no more black and white people; only the living and the dead?

 

Well, like race, in a world populated by the living dead, morals are no longer distinct. Good guys like Rick do bad things and bad guys like The Governor do good things. So much so that it’s hard to tell who is good and who is evil.

 

 

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE  A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

 

 

We are supposed to be morally offended at Claimer Joe’s ethic of teaching a liar a lesson “all the way”, but we commend Joe for doing the right thing and defending Daryl against Claimer Len’s false accusations. That makes Joe a good guy, right? But then, when Joe and the Claimers threaten to kill Rick and rape Carl and Michonne, Joe is a bad guy again.

Kind of confusing if you let it get to you.

Here’s the thing, though: we’re supposed to think that Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors are good people (certainly better than the cannibals at Terminus or at Phillip Blake’s (aka the Governor) who ruthlessly turns his weapon on his own people), but how can we think that Rick or his actions are good when we see Rick and his group massacre (a bad thing) the survivors of Terminus? Or when Rick’s loosely-rooted morality enables him to kill the living like this:

 

 

rick kills shane

 

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick shooting dave

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead tony

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick slicing tomas

 

 

And like this

 

 

 

rick kills guy in bathroom

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick kills joe

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead gareth

 

 

And finally, in the season 5 mid-season finale, like this

 

 

rick kills ofc. bob

 

 

 

Mind you, Rick kills the cannibal (by necessity) Gareth even as Gareth begs for his life.

 

Now, some folks may have no problem with Rick Grimes’ actions. They still believe that he’s a good guy. But think about it: can we to simply shrug off Rick’s actions because we think he’s doing what is best for his group; because his actions are in service to the greater good?

Because all those other bad guys – they’re trying to serve the greater good, too.

Even Officer Dawn Lerner says so.

 

 

dawn GIF

 

 

This got me thinking; Is Rick really more morally certain (i.e. morally right) than the Governor? More certain than the cannibals at Terminus? Than Joe and the Claimers? Or more morally certain than Eugene Porter who lied to save his own life?

Can we tell?

 

mullet of lies

 

 

Ok, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got this all You’re thinking the problem on The Walking Dead isn’t moral ambiguity. Well, for starters, you’re probably right.

The appearance of moral ambiguity on The Walking Dead may not be that Rick Grimes has succumbed to Walter White syndrome; it may be nothing more than the product of sloppy writing.

Gee, I hope not.

 

 

knocks_breaking_bad

 

 

After all, Rick Grimes isn’t very much like Don Draper or Walter White. However, any fan of the show is bound to notice that there has been a noticeable moral shift in Rick Grimes. Rick’s moral certainty seems less assured now than it did at the beginning of the series. It’s clear that Rick is more than willing to cross the moral line, even in situations when it seems that Rick is clearly doing the wrong thing.

It is exactly in the space between moral certainty and moral nihilism that we see Rick Grimes headed towards. It’s why we find – ok, why some of us find – Rick Grimes such a compelling television character.

 

 

 

 

Someone explain to me how killing one of the “good” cops benefits the situation, again?

 

 

 

In the end, whether Rick’s moral shift is television’s finest example of rule utilitarianism or some other ethical theory (or bad writing), the manifestation of moral flexibility (or moral degradation) to the point of moral ambiguity is worth thinking about – not just in the fictional world of a zombie apocalypse, but in the real world where we often feel that we can no longer easily navigate what is morally right versus what is the morally wrong thing to do.

But I’m sure that by the next half season Rick will be fully morally functional and none of this will make any sense whatsoever.

 

…. If it doesn’t make sense already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
* http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/11/12/why-the-nfl-is-losing-the-sunday-night-primetime-tv-battle-to-the-walking-dead/

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=moral%20ambiguity