WELL… IT’S FALL and if autumn means one thing, it means the return of my favorite hate to love/love to hate TV show, The Walking Dead.
I’ve been watching this show, basic cable television’s highest rated zombie-infused soap opera, since the first episode aired in October 2009.
It’s only now that I’m really beginning to question if I should have devoted so much time to this t.v. show.
Now, before you start going on about how if I don’t like the show, I should just stop watching, for starters, I’ve been telling myself that for the past three seasons. Second, I would stop watching The Walking Dead if they would stop putting so much philosophy in it.
It’s the worst best philosophical show on t.v.
Best because the show combines my two favorite things: philosophy and zombies.
Worst because of this guy
That’s right. I’m no fan of Negan.
The more I watch Negan, the more I kinda miss the Governor.
Rick Grimes’ current nemesis , the mononymously named Negan, first appeared in the season six finale episode “Last Day On Earth”. Armed with his barbed wire-wrapped Louisville Slugger Lucile, Negan declares himself the ultimate badass, bludgeons not one, but two of Rick Grimes’ group (Abraham and Glenn), humiliates Rick in front of his people, and nearly forces Rick to cut off the arm of his son Carl.
Negan does all of this and he still becomes a fan favorite.
Seriously, just Google Negan cosplay.
Up until season eight Negan was just a deranged, leather coat wearing, inexplicably leaning back, monologuing, constant dick joke telling, bat wielding psychopath. But, in the season eight episode 5 episode “The Big Scary U”, The Walking Dead shows us is that Negan isn’t just a guy with a ridiculously wide, bright-toothed grin in a leather jacket who’ll bash your brains in, he’s actually got a philosophy.
Dare I say the man’s got ethics.
Being that this is The Walking Dead, one guess what system of ethics Negan uses.
You guessed it: Negan is a utilitarian.
The big scary U is utilitarianism.
Well, actually in the show it’s the unknown.
However, ethically speaking, the big scary u guiding damn-near every dumb decision ever made by any character on The Walking Dead seems grounded in the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.
I say seems grounded.
Because most of the time they get it wrong.
Well, before I get into how they get utilitarianism wrong on The Walking Dead, it’s probably a good idea to explain what utilitarianism is.
Utilitarianism, the consequentialist ethical theory which stats that an act is judged morally right or wrong depending on the consequences (of that action). Although consequentialist ethics have been around since humans have had ethics, the origin of utilitarianism s credited to the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 –1832).
Bentham’s consequentialist ethical theory (hedonism) is grounded on the principle of utility.
By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness.
For Bentham, maximizing pleasure is the goal of any action. The maximization of pleasure is the highest good.
Although Bentham is credited with inventing modern utilitarianism, the British economist and philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is the philosopher most associated with utilitarianism.
I guess if you don’t include Peter Singer.
Or Henry Sidgwick.
…or G.E. Moore.
Mill rejects Bentham’s hedonistic calculus (Mill states that pleasure alone cannot be the standard by which we judge the morality of an act). According to Mill, an act is morally right if the act maximizes the happiness of the community.
Mill defines happiness as well being.
The primary principle of Mill’s utilitarianism is the Greatest Happiness Principle.
And that, according to Mill, is:
The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals “utility” or the “greatest happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
We’ve seen plenty of (sometimes opposing) ethical systems on The Walking Dead.
The deontological ethics of Dale Horvath.
Hershel Greene’s biblically based morality.
The egoist tendencies of the Governor.
The Hobbesian nightmare of Terminus.
Daryl Dixon’s ethics of loyalty.
The moral grab bag that is Rick Grimes…
So, when you see a man beat a man to death with a baseball bat, one may be inclined to ask, “exactly how does he justify doing this?”
Luckily the fifth episode of season eight tells us exactly that.
Negan’s justification is Utilitarian.
Negan explains to Father Gabriel that he hasn’t “killed anyone who didn’t need it”.
In an exchange with the recently deposed leader of the Hilltop (and all-around weaselly guy) Gregory
Apparently, no one has a last name in a zombie apocalypse.
Negan explains to Gregory that he is not guilty of committing brutal murder. On the contrary, Negan says, his seemingly evil actions are not only justified but necessary.
Their conversation goes like this:
Gregory: Listen, I mean it when I say it – Negan, I don’t like killing people any more than you do.
Negan: I like killing people… I say it’s about killing the right people. So you kill the right people at the right time, everything falls into place. Everybody’s happy. Well, some people more than others. But you kill one, then you can be saving hundreds more – and THAT is what we are all about. We save people.
The right people.
The right time.
We save people.
Furthermore, when Father Gabriel suggests that Negan’s workers are being forced to work against their will, Negan tells Gabriel (or “Gabey”, as Negan calls him) that his worker class is “an economy”. Negan says no one is a slave no one goes hungry.
No one goes hungry.
If we evaluate Negan’s explanations to Gregory and Father Gabriel, according to Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, a Sanctuary full of happy, safe people with full bellies make a damn good argument in favor of Negan’s justification for killing a few people.
Even if those people are Abraham and Glenn.
The Walking Dead. “The Big Scary U”. Story by Scott M. Gimple, David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Teleplay by David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis. Original airdate: November 19, 2017.