The world IS a treat… When you’re on Easy Street

SOMETIMES IT’S DIFFICULT to participate in a fandom.

Fandoms aren’t like normal people who merely watch a TV show.

…. Or read a book. Or go out and see a movie.

Unless the movie is Star Wars.

Star Wars people are NUTS.

geekwedding

NOT EVERY POPULAR FRANCHISE CAN CLAIM TO HAVE FANS THIS DEDICATED

Normal people can watch an episode of their favorite series, turn off the TV and be done with it. There’s always something else to occupy their time.

Fandoms LIVE their favorite TV shows. Breathe them. They become their favorite TV shows.

The sign of a true fandom fanatic is all about the cosplay.

Cosplay:

“The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.

Cosplay.

bunch-of-dudes-dressed-like-disney-princesses-13287-1318092829-2

THE MOST AWESOME COSPLAY EVER

There are plenty of TV fandoms that inspire the fans to dress up as their favorite characters, but nothing quite captures the dedication to a single character than fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

In particular, fans of this character

daryl-dixon-woods-walking-dead-110665

 

Daryl Dixon.

Now, I’ve written about The Walking Dead in (too many) other blog posts. Thinking about the show and writing about its characters has, for me, become a philosophical past time.

Or obsession…

I’ve written about former Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his lack of moral consistency. I’ve also compared the world of The Walking Dead to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. I’ve written a thing or two about utilitarian ethics in a world populated by the undead…

I’ve written more than a couple posts about Daryl Dixon.

Mostly about Daryl and his life’s purpose – meaning of life stuff.

I’ve even jotted off a post about The Walking Dead companion series, Fear the Walking Dead.

fear-the-walking-dead-season-2-return-nick-lays-on-the-road

STILL ASKING “WHY ISN’T NICK DEAD YET?”

On a TV show where it’s easy to be distracted by the hodge-podge of the ethics and questionable ethical decision making that is Rick Grimes, it’s easy to overlook other characters worthy of equal moral scrutiny.

I haven’t really focused on Daryl Dixon from a moral point of view.

At least I don’t remember if I have.

And unlike Rick Grimes, who is, I believe, a stellar example of moral inconsistency, Daryl Dixon may be the only morally consistent character on The Walking Dead.

Or should I say that Rick Grimes is morally fluid?

af524ff99169e59002f28220ff170784

But that’s another blog post for another day…

Daryl considers his fellow survivors family and does what he can, including risking his own life (he’s been shot, pieced through with an arrow, grazed by a bullet, imprisoned, abused, nearly devoured by zombies on several occasions, made to fight his own brother in a contest to the death, almost beaten to death, nearly cannibalized, robbed of his motorcycle) all in service to his group.

twd-daryl-dwight-615-176301

GUNS DON’T WORK ON DARYL DIXON. HE’S GOT IMPENETRABLE PLOT ARMOR

Daryl Dixon’s principles are clear: hurt a member of his family, you deserve to be hurt in return. If someone injures or threatens members of Daryl’s group (the Governor, Negan, Officer Dawn Lerner, etc. ) look forward to a royal asskickin‘ courtesy of Mr. Dixon.

But what exactly are Daryl Dixon’s principles? Is Daryl Dixon’s morality an eye for an eye? Does Daryl act because its his duty to do so? Is it because it’s the right thing to do? Is it because he wants good outcomes? Does Daryl do what he does because he believes a divinely cosmic force demands that’s the way things have to be?

I actually don’t know.

tumblr_inline_o3x1j7ib4z1t2senu_500

DARYL DIDN’T SEEM TOO ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE WHOLE JESUS THING

Namely, Daryl Dixon’s ethics are so difficult to pinpoint because Dixon’s ethics do not conform 100% to any deontological, utilitarian or divinely-inspired ideologies.

…but he is consistent.

Philosophers value consistency.

consistency

Perhaps it’s Daryl Dixon’s complete originality – that he isn’t tied to the source material – allows him (unlike the characters that originated in The Walking Dead graphic novel) to be morally consistent.

We can imagine that Daryl feels it is his moral obligation to defend his family.

rick-daryl-the-walking-dead-s7e7-e8-and-whats-up-ahead

A moral obligation grounded on loyalty.

Daryl Dixon’s primary moral principle is loyalty.

Daryl Dixon loyal almost to a fault.

Daryl puts down Dale after Dale is attacked by a walker – because he is loyal to Dale.

Daryl’s last words to Dale: “Sorry, brother.”

bv66ariccaa3x9i

Daryl’s loyalty to his brother Merle leads him to leave Rick’s group.

Even though Merle Dixon is a short-fused racist who, as Merle later reveals, intended to rob his fellow survivors.

AND… Daryl’s loyalty to Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors leads him right back.

When Officer Dawn Lerner kills Beth Daryl does not hesitate to dish out some retributive justice – out of loyalty to Beth and her father, Hershel Greene.

daryl-beth-s5

WHEN DARYL CRIES, WE CRY

When Claimer Joe threatens to kill Rick, Michonne and Carl, Daryl offers his life in their place.

Because he is loyal to Rick.

When bad guy Negan brutally murders Abraham, Daryl strikes out at Negan.

You get the idea…

Unfortunately, Daryl’s actions gets another member of Daryl’s group killed.

cvfzr7ww8aeztly

TOTALLY YOUR FAULT, DARYL

That’s because Daryl’s loyalty as a groundwork of ethics didn’t calculate the possibility of another death.

Although Daryl’s retaliation on Negan demonstrates that Daryl is a so-so utilitarian, Daryl clearly demonstrates that his only moral principle is to protect the group – because he is loyal to them.

That keeps Daryl pretty consistent, morality-wise.

Which is more than I can say for this guy

147273

But wait, you say. There is no such thing as an ethics of loyalty!

12374084

Loyalty as the basis of ethics is the ethical theory founded by American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916), who advocated the virtue of loyalty.

truncated-theory

Royce wrote that when a person joins a community committed to a shared cause, the cause develops moral significance. Royce calls the morally significant commitment “loyalty”. We can understand an individual’s morality by looking at the plurality of their loyalties.

quote-unless-you-can-find-some-sort-of-loyalty-you-cannot-find-unity-and-peace-in-your-active-josiah-royce-56-8-0890

So, if we take a look at Daryl Dixon’s loyalties, we will see that his morals are based in his obligation to protect his group; his family. Daryl is committed, like the other members of his community, to the survival of the group – perhaps survival at all costs.

Of course, I have way oversimplified Royce’s theory.

In the end, when we look at the characters of The Walking Dead, it’s quite easy to find what’s morally wrong with the characters. They indeed are a mess of moral inconsistencies, ambiguities, contradictions, and cherry picking. Watching the show, it’s easy to throw up one’s hands and declare the characters all bad.

some-people-should-just-give-up-i-have-quote-1

Trust me, I’ve done that before.

We’re given former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes as the character who is morally most like us; he’s an ordinary guy thrust into an extraordinary situation; he strives to do good in a world where words like good and evil no longer apply.

It’s easy to dismiss Daryl Dixon as a character merely there for the fangirls and boys. Daryl is the not-at-all-realistic backwoods hillbilly who does nothing more for the show than to glare at people, shoot his crossbow, and leave the audience to ponder when is the last time he showered and what ungodly stank emanates from his nether region.

rsqg8qre

I FIGURE THAT STENCH IS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN SWASS, DEAD SKUNK…AND AXE BODY SPRAY

But if we’re thinking of the characters of The Walking Dead morally, stanky, backwater Daryl Dixon may be the most moral character on the show.

At least so far as moral consistency goes.

…or according to fangirls.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/Royce/#Loy

Advertisements

THE WORLD’S WORST UTILITARIAN FOOD FOR THOUGHT

HANG AROUND WITH philosophers long enough and you’ll realize that philosophers think about some strange things.

I was going to say strange shit but I’m not sure about the parental settings on my blog.

Now, you can drop acid and open the doors of perception but as much as I enjoy “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, I ain’t ever seen anyone tripping on LSD think up something as far out as transcendental idealism or logical positivism.

Philosophers think up this kind of stuff sober.

There’s a little thing that some philosophers do called ethics.

These ethics-practicing philosophers (or ethicists, if you prefer) sometimes engage in a game of “what if?”

An ethical “what if?” is pretty much about thinking up the most f’ed up situation one can think of (with moral implications, of course) and then asking, now, what would you do?

Folks on the outside call those kind of what ifs hypothetical situations.

If you’re a philosopher, you call those f’ed up situations a thought experiment.

If you don’t know already, thought experiments, as defined philosophically:

Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things…
The primary philosophical challenge of thought experiments is simple: How can we learn about reality (if we can at all), just by thinking?

In ethics, thought experiments allow us to test ethical theories and by examining the principles or consequences of an act, we can determine whether an act is morally right or wrong.

Hypothetical situations like thought experiments allow us to be prepared for when a similar situation (or moral dilemma) confronts us in the real world.

There are many famous thought experiments:

The Trolley Problem

1470293492trolley-fw

Brain in Vat

brain_in_a_vat_28en29

The Chinese Room

chinese-room2

The Ticking Time Bomb

305

The Experience Machine

bigthinkmatrixhead

Schrodinger’s Cat

cat

The Drowning Man

saving-drowning-man

 

Funny thing about that drowning man thought experiment…

For those who are unfamiliar with the scenario, The Drowning Man goes as follows:

You’re walking along (alone) by a lake when you see a man in the lake flailing his arms and yelling for help. It is clear that the man is drowning. Do you jump in the lake to save the man?

At first glance the answer is obvious: jump in the lake and save the man.

Most of us would jump into the lake to save the drowning man without hesitation.

But because this is a question cooked up by philosophers, it ain’t that easy.

A philosopher might throw in another “what if” like, what if getting to the lake requires you to cross a patch of grass and there’s a sign that says “Stay Off The Grass” or what if you can’t swim?

or, what if you’re in Germany in 1920 and the drowning man is ADOLF HITLER????

adolf-hitler-9340144-1-402

UNFORTUNATELY HITLER APPEARS IN TOO MANY THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS

The goal of the “what ifs” in The Drowning Man thought experiment (and any variable in any thought experiment) is to put a moral obstacle in front of you.

Most people would step on the grass to save a drowning man. But what if the sign read TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT? What if the sign read DO NOT STEP ON GRASS BY ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT?

Would you risk your own life to do save a drowning man?

Would you violate a rule or a law (and what kind of rule or law would you violate?) to save a drowning man?

240_f_86730884_ittkownuyialefn6yslzd2gmxbbmqcgy

THINK BEFORE YOU STEP. WHAT ARE THE MORAL RAMIFICATIONS OF TREADING ON THE LAWN?

For a deontologist, this question is more complicated than you think.

Thinking about The Drowning Man Scenario also kinda makes us ask another, less pleasant question of ethics: Are there some people not worth saving?

Is a drowning Adolf Hitler worth saving?

a3bqyj3_700b

FOR MANY PEOPLE THIS IS A PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE ANSWER TO THE DROWNING HITLER SCENARIO

If you’re a deontologist, this question is more complicated than you think.

Asking if there are some people not worth saving can get us to asking and even more unpleasant question, are there some people not worth allowing to live?

“Allowing to live” as in letting someone live in the first place.

For instance, would you kill baby Hitler?

5a0b097ffc5ffc84f833026b4da9019f

JUST A REMINDER, THIS IS WHO YOU WOULD KILL

Before we all answer a resounding “yes”, let’s figure out why the question is more complicated than we think.

6576206099490640360no

APPARENTLY THE READERS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES DON’T THINK THE QUESTION IS COMPLICATED AT ALL

Most of us would agree that Adolf Hitler was one of the worst, if not THE worst human being that ever lived. Its arguable that the world would be a better place if he hadn’t been born.

… Or at least the world would be a better place if Hitler was prevented from joining the National Socialist Party and becoming chancellor of Germany.

Although we aren’t capable of actual time travel, a thought experiment allows us to imagine what if we could? If we could travel back in time to April 20, 1889, what would we do?

More importantly, what would be the morally right thing to do?**

Let’s look at the question of killing baby Hitler from the perspective of the two leading ethical schools of thought: Deontological ethics and the consequentialist ethical theory, utilitarianism.

Deontological ethics is defined as:

…the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on rules. (Wikipedia)

Deontologists act from Duty.

It is our duty to respect the (moral) law.

Immanuel Kant writes

…to have genuine moral worth, an action must be done from duty… An action done from duty does not have as its moral worth in the purpose which is to be achieved through it but in the maxim where by it is determined.
Duty is the necessity to do an action from respect of law.

That means, damn the consequences, obey the law.

Let’s say a deontologist has a (moral) law, THOU SHALL NOT KILL.

*Maybe we should refine the rule: Thou Shall Not Murder (as defined as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another”).

The law is to be obeyed – no exceptions.

Little boy arguing

If the deontologist believes that a rule is a rule and we must follow the rules, regardless of its consequences, even if his future self deserves it, we can’t exempt baby Hitler.

Because murder is always wrong.

The deontologist is bound by duty to let baby Hitler live.

Since we can’t obtain moral justification for killing the infant Hitler (presuming that is what we are trying to justify), we’ll look to consequentialist ethics (specifically utilitarianism) to tell us what is the morally right thing to do.

Enjoying this thought experiment yet?

For the utilitarian, it’s the consequences that matter.

In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill writes

The creed which accepts as the foundation 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. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

If utilitarian ethics is based on the increase of pleasure and the decrease of pain, and we know that an individual is or going to be responsible for the destruction of over sixty million lives, we may be morally obligated not just to let an adult Hitler drown but also to kill baby Hitler.

However, there’s a hitch…

f2efc976d7f39c0d4590de9b805283b5

Utilitarianism (and other consequentialist ethical theories) judge and action right or wrong based on its consequences.

At the time that we perform an act, we don’t know the consequences. We only know what we think might happen or what we want or expect to happen.

doublefacepalm-well-that-didnt-go-as-planned

REMEMBER, IF YOU DO UTILITARIAN ETHICS YOU CAN END UP SPENDING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE LIKE THIS

Right now, we have the benefit of hindsight; we know what Hitler and the Nazis did. But in 1889, when Hitler was an infant, no one could have foreseen what the newborn infant would do as an adult.

If we traveled back in time we would have to weigh the act of (preemptively) killing a child for something that the child hasn’t yet done against the death and destruction we know adult Hitler did.

It might be easy to walk away from a drowning man, especially if that man is responsible for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, but even those who could walk away from a drowning Hitler in the lake may find it hard, if not impossible to purposefully kill a child, no matter how evil that child may become.

Another hitch with utilitarianism is that we have to consider possible consequences – multiple consequences. If we had some way to travel back in time or to see the possible futures of baby Adolf Hitler, we may also see future where he could be prevented from becoming the most evil man in history.

We discourage killing children, even children who have engaged in “evil” acts, because we believe those children can be rehabilitated.

If it’s possible to rehabilitate an potentially evil child, is this then, another option that we have for baby Hitler?

And if that’s a viable option (i.e., one that will produce good consequences), we can’t justify killing baby Hitler.

tumblr_llfldvcu8i1qhtdul

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE, HANK

So… what would we do with baby Hitler?

What should we do?

A thought experiment can only ask…

what-if-billboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

** Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way defending Hitler or suggesting that we should minimize Hitler’s and the Nazi’s atrocities for the sake of a thought experiment, nor am I suggesting that Hitler’s one life is worth more than sixty million lives world wide, including the nine million lives lost (including six million Jews) in Nazi concentration camps.

SOURCES:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thought-experiment/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 2nd Edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 1997 [1785]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 15-16.

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 8.

Alt-Philosophy

ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN writing this blog for awhile, I haven’t really made a habit of writing about my opinions. I mean, I write philosophical interpretations of movies and TV and music and stuff based on some other philosopher‘s philosophy, but rarely (I think) have I ever said, “Y’all know what I think?” about anything, much less on a topic that may not be (at least at first glance) philosophical.

After all, who wants to hear opinions?

You know what they say about opinions?

a63ab54d8fd1ce51479b93a6cd13484d

 

And most of them stink…

That was then.

This is post-November 9th 2016.

Now, a big part of, dare I say, the allure of philosophy is that it’s all about thinking.

Thinking about stuff; thinking about anything, everything.

Philosophers do a great deal of it. Thinking. In fact, philosophers are often accused of over thinking.

Unfortunately, I may been doing way too much overthinking these days.

Some of it has to do with this guy

trumpandflag

The President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.

62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump.

I was not one of them.

Since the election of Donald Trump on November 9th, 2016 (or maybe because of the election of Donald Trump), things have been a little weird for those of us who “think” too much.

And I mean weird as in President Trump and his administration have a lot of people thinking and talking about not telling the truth.

Specifically, that the President and his administration have some difficulty saying it.

The truth.

There’s so much non-truth telling going on that the experts are now saying that President Trump and his administration are proof that we living in a “post-truth” world.

Post-truth is defined as:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

So far as politics goes, appealing to emotions isn’t new. Politicians have appealed to how we feel over what we think for, well… since there have been politicians.

And it’s not as if politicians have suddenly become not truthful.

It’s just that I can’t quite remember when the truth was so… unimportant.

Folks on t.v. and on the internet are conjuring up images of the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; painting images of a world where facts are not objective but are, well, whatever they say that they are.

At least that’s the way the truth goes down in Oceania .

4b347998493febba30cf47962ae7b669

The president doesn’t lie, he’s merely “misspoken”.

That’s not a lie coming from the administration. It’s a “alternative fact”.

images-11

Although it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to think, there are some people out there who believe that telling the truth isn’t as important as people say it is.

Truth is kind of funny, though.

The funny thing about the truth is that the truth, despite what we may believe, really is important.

You see, those of us who are into over thinking philosophically about things place a high value on truth. Truth is a very important thing to philosophers. Truth gets us to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom.

i_love_wisdom_philosophy_i_love_sophia_postcard-rc10363aff64f4777b9b3a9ab77f4d91d_vgbaq_8byvr_324

Truth is an essential part of how we accurately describe reality, how the world really is.

How we know things.

It is easy to come up with two conditions for knowledge: truth and belief. It’s clear that knowledge requires truth. That is, you cannot know something unless it is true. – Richard Feldman, Epistemology.

We know things because our beliefs about things in the world are true.

As Plato said,

And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are

Truth may not be a valued commodity in politics, as Machiavelli wrote:

Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.

And like Machiavelli suggested, lying may get you far in politics… and sometimes quite far in life.

machiavelli-meme-2

 

But there’s a very important reason truth matters.

Not telling the truth (aka lying) isn’t just a matter of disseminating bad information or misspeaking. Not telling the truth is pernicious deception and manipulation that makes us incapable of making correct choices.

If we are indifferent to truth or we don’t know what the truth is – if someone is lying to us and we believe them – we’re unable to navigate in the world. We see reality how it really isn’t.

cyu3whowsaabgxg
Imagine that you are planning to take a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

No need to say why. You got your reasons.

You’ve been told by the ship’s owner that the ship you are sailing on is safe and that there is absolutely no chance of the ship sinking. You believe the ship owner’s assurances (because you have no reason not to) and believe that the ship is sea worthy. You decide to take the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

However, the ship owner is not telling you the truth. He knows that the ship shouldn’t be anywhere near water, let alone sailing upon a whole ocean full of water. He knows the ship will not complete its voyage.

man-watching-ship-manouvering-in-tidal-river-lune-glasson-dock-lancaster-bc2h3m

YEP. HE KNOWS WHAT’S UP

While at sea, the ship begins to take on water and eventually (and inevitably) capsizes, killing all aboard. Including you.

Now, you made a choice based on the word of someone who did not tell you the truth.

And it cost you your life.

Possible death wishes aside, had you known the true state of things (i.e. reality) you probably would have decided to not take the trip.

Truth is important. And not just in dealing with issues of metaphysics.

We must know what the facts are if we want to make the right decision, not just on practical matters but also when we act morally.

Truth is an absolute necessity when assigning moral culpability.

4131769

 

Lying, withholding truth or otherwise not being truthful are generally considered to be immoral acts.

52575494
The reason why you shouldn’t maintain your own set of “alternative facts” in the face of objective reality is because when we act, our actions have consequences.

cnn_rs_facts_170122a-800x430

And consequences, unless you’re a deontologist, can be judged morally.

Remember that ship owner I was talking about? Well, because the owner withheld the truth from the ship’s passengers and misrepresented the safety of the vessel, the passengers couldn’t make the correct choice – to take the trip or not.

The ship owner’s deception led to the loss of lives. People died because the ship owner didn’t tell the truth.

65457472

Causing other people’s deaths is bad and if people die because of you, your are morally responsible for their deaths.

We really don’t need to go to an extreme of people dying to demonstrate that truth is a good thing – and not just because philosophers say so.

Without the truth, claims are unreliable. Truth cannot be “alternative” or “relative” or “its true for me.” Without the belief that what we’re told is true, we cant place our trust in the individuals (or institutions) that make claims or tell us anything about the way the world is. When we don’t trust people; when we don’t trust institutions (that they run), and the lack of trust undermines the legitimacy of institutions (like government). We need to be mindful that truth is an essential for good government

If you know your Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, government necessarily depends on legitimacy.

giphy

Legitimacy relies on the consent of the governed.

Consent is based on trust.

Trust requires truth.

And this is kinda why we have to believe that truth is important.

We need truth to point out those who, by not telling the truth, corrupt government and undermine our ability to trust what others want us to believe.

In the end, we all know that seeking and preserving truth isn’t just about the right now. Presidents come and go; there will always be ship builders who’ll lie about the seaworthiness of their ship.

 

 

 

 

And that’s the honest truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definiton/post-truth

Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. 12.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. 1532.

DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

WELL FOLKS. IT’S OCTOBER and for those of us at The Mindless Philosopher being October means only one thing: the return of The Walking Dead.

In case it’s not (painfully) obvious from our previous posts, The Walking Dead is our favorite TV show.

Yep. TMP are philosophers. And our favorite television show isn’t Seinfeld.

Although you can argue that The Walking Dead isn’t really about anything, either.

Any fan of AMC’s highly-rated zombie somewhat soap opera knows that being a fan of The Walking Dead means that one’s favorite character can die at any moment. Season six saw the show kill off a few red shirts (Carter, David, Sturgess), say sayonara to a handful of characters we cared about (Denise, Deanna, Jessie, and Nicholas?), and pulled the fake-out with at least two characters. The season six finale “cliffhangered” the audience, teasing the death (via a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille) of a major character.

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

screen-shot-2016-04-03-at-11-30-08-pm

And for the last six months, The Walking Dead fans, angry or otherwise, have been concerned with just one thing: WHO DID NEGAN KILL?

cfnfe2mw8aagqwl-600x349

And at THIS point I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT.

AND SO, last Sunday, The Walking Dead aired its season seven premiere episode.

After six months of waiting, we finally got to see who Negan killed.

True to form, the season seven premier pleased some. Angered many.

walkingdeadfinale_size3

I think from now on, I’m going to tell anyone who pisses me off to suck my nuts.

Hopefully not after I’ve been stuck on the noggin by a barbed wire-covered bat.

Now, being a fan of both The Walking Dead and philosophy, I got feels, not only because of the brutality of the act, but also because I was watching the episode through philosophy-tinted glasses.

If I wasn’t in the habit of underestimating the philosophical acumen of the writers of the show, I would have guessed that I was watching a thought experiment being played out on my TV screen.
To wit: an ethical thought experiment.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the episode yet, there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

carol-spoilers

So… as we end season six, we see Rick Grimes and ten members of his group (whaddya know, almost all major characters!) on their knees and at the mercy of the new bad guy – the barbed wire-infused bat-wielding, leather jacket-wearing, an F-bomb every-other-word saying (but not on basic cable), Negan.

who-did-negan-kill-walking-dead

OF COURSE IT HAD TO BE A GOOD-LOOKING PSYCHOPATH.

 

Rick and his crew have, to quote Rick from an alternate take from the season five finale, “fucked with the wrong people”, and Negan is aiming to exact some payback on the people responsible for the deaths of a number of his men.

Negan says he’s going to beat to death one of Rick’s crew with his bat, Lucille.

the-walking-dead-negan-lucille-actually-murdered

NEGAN TELLS RICK, “YOU KILLED MY PEOPLE, A WHOLE DAMN LOT OF THEM. MORE THAN I’M COMFORTABLE WITH. AND FOR THAT, FOR THAT YOU’RE GONNA PAY. SO NOW… I’M GONNA BEAT THE HOLY HELL OUTTA ONE OF YOU.”

Any interference, Negan tells the group, will not be tolerated (he does, however allow them to breathe, blink, and cry). Negan tells Rick and his group, “I will shut that shit down, no exceptions.”

Long story short, Negan plays a game of “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe”, eventually landing on Abraham as “it” and proceeds to bludgeon Abe with Lucille, exclaiming how the ginger-haired former military man took the first blow “like a champ”.

6walkingdeadnegandeath

Reminder: tell anyone who pisses me off the suck my nuts.

Now, it’s right around this time when a simple cudgeling becomes an even more complicated moral dilemma.

moraldilemmaahead

Fan favorite (and possibly un-killable) Daryl Dixon decides to ignore Negan’s non-interference admonition and attacks Negan.

Negan, having already been previously interrupted by Glenn (he allowed Glenn’s interference due to the emotional weight of the situation), makes good on his warning and shuts that shit down, killing another member of Rick’s group with the barbed wired-sleeved Lucille: Glenn.

tumblr_inline_nwu4aml3h01spviij_1280

Ok, we all know Negan carried out the physical deed. And in any court of law Negan would undoubtedly be sent to prison for double murder.

But any philosopher would tell you that legal guilt and moral culpability aren’t always the same thing.

You see, there may be more than one person to blame in all of this.

I think we can agree that Abraham’s death is 100% morally on Negan.

Negan announced his intention to kill someone and he did it.

Well, unless you reason that it was done as some kind of an eye for an eye, retributive justice thing, which opens up a whole other can of what is justice worms.

But there was more than one person killed AFTER Negan had exacted his revenge.

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

It was Negan’s initial intention to do one and done. Getting even with Rick and his group required the death of just one person – after all, the point of killing one person (in a particularly gruesome manner) is meant to break the group, not necessarily to commit mass murder. Rick and his group had been previously informed about Negan’s one-kill tactic: introduce himself to a new group, kill one person in the group, and demand half of what the group produces. Assuming there’s no problem of induction, Rick and his group had no reason to assume that Negan would deviate from his established method of operation.

Negan killed Abraham and was done, but Daryl, driven by anger and stuff that only Daryl fully understands (probably something that also has to do with Daryl not bathing), sucker punches Negan and THAT act is in direct violation of Negan‘s rules of conduct for Rick and his group. As Negan specifically states that shit will be shut down, no exceptions.

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

negan
If you link the chain of events, it’s not so implausible to assume that Glenn’s death is a direct result of Daryl’s actions. Negan kills Glenn because Daryl violates the rules.

maxresdefault

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, GLENN IS THE ONE GUY WHO, UNTIL A HANDFUL OF EPISODES AGO, HADN’T KILLED ANY LIVING PERSON. DARYL IS POSSIBLY PARTIALLY OR FULLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF THE LEAST MORALLY GUILTY CHARACTER IN THE SERIES… UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN GUILT BY ASSOCIATION.

 

Negan’s moral culpability is undeniable. But can we say that Daryl bears some or all moral blame for Glenn‘s death?

comic-clip

Well, it depends on who you ask.

If we assume that Daryl is motivated by a moral principle that says that one’s greatest moral obligation is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, then we might say that Daryl is, at least in part, morally blameworthy for Glenn’s death.

How does that happen, you say?
Why , it’s just a matter of calculating the numbers.

Negan initially kills Abraham. It is obvious that Rick’s group (not to mention Abraham himself) is negatively affected by the brutal death. The group is collectively traumatized, in particular, Abraham’s ex-girlfriend Rosita and his almost-but-not-quite new girlfriend Sasha.

twd-michelle

Can we take a moment to talk about Sasha? This woman has nothing but bad luck in relationships on this show. First, Sasha begins a romantic relationship with Bob, but Bob is bitten by a zombie, kidnapped and has his leg eaten by a group of cannibals, and eventually dies from his wound (wounds?). Just when Sasha has recovered enough from PTSD to function somewhat normally in a romantic relationship, her blossoming relationship with Abraham is cut short by Negan and Lucille.

 

If killing one person inflicts a great amount of pain, then we can assume that killing two people inflicts more pain than killing just one. In this situation, we aren’t just calculating the pain felt by the group immediately following Glenn’s death, but also calculating the negative long-term consequences of Glenn’s death. Glenn’s wife, Maggie, is pregnant. We have to consider the fact that Glenn and Maggie’s child will be raised without a father.

That’s bad.

We should not forget that utilitarian-based ethics requites that Daryl also figure into our calculation.

We can assume the Daryl feels (at least somewhat) responsible for Glenn’s death. After all, Negan killed Glenn in response to Daryl’s actions.

And really, what was Daryl’s intended outcome, anyway? What did he hope to accomplish by attacking Negan? Negan had already killed Abraham. There was nothing Daryl could do to stop that. As Negan warned beforehand, the only outcome from a disruption would be the infliction of more pain on Rick’s group, which did, in fact, happen.

And if we’re assigning moral culpability based on consequences, according to this ethical position, Daryl Dixon is morally responsible for Glenn’s death.

img_5628

KIND OF MAKES YOU WISH DWIGHT KILLED DARYL, DOESN’T IT?

You see, when we assign moral blame according to consequences, it doesn’t matter what our intentions are. We can mean well, just like Daryl did when he lunged after Negan. But if our actions result in people getting hurt or killed, we’re morally culpable for what happens.

screen-shot-2016-04-07-at-9-51-28-am-177906

We might consider the possibility that Daryl may have been motivated by the prisoner’s dilemma. Not knowing exactly Negan what intended to do, he has no reason to assume that Negan won’t kill others and therefore is motivated to attack Negan before Negan kills any more people.

Ok. Maybe Daryl isn’t thinking about consequences at all. Maybe he’s operating from a sense of duty to his group.

We know that Rick and his group think of each other as family. Families often have binding moral obligations to each other. Daryl sees that his the lives of his family have been threatened and he feels that it is his duty to protect them – as Negan says, no exceptions.

the-walking-dead-scott-gimple__opt

We can assume that Daryl’s duty-bound obligation isn’t merely a suggestion or rule of thumb, but is a maxim that must be obeyed at all times by all members of the family. We can even put Daryl’s obligation in maxim form: In any situation wherein one’s family is in danger, one must act to protect them- no exceptions.

It is clear that Negan is a threat to the lives of Daryl’s family. Negan has already ruthlessly murdered one member of Rock’s group is still threatening to inflict harm on the remaining members. When one is morally obligated to protect others, one must fulfill one’s duty – even if others are hurt.

When one is bound by duty to others, consequences (even if someone is murdered by an axe-wielding maniac) do not matter.

If Daryl was motivated by a morally binding maxim, he was following a moral principle that he could not refuse to follow based on what might happen. In the end, Glenn’s death is an unfortunate consequence of Daryl’s actions.

So then, morally speaking, Daryl is in the moral clear.

site11

IT’S OK, FOLKS. WE DON’T HAVE TO HATE DARYL. WE CAN GO BACK TO OUR IRRATIONAL DARYL DIXON FANDOM.

So… to answer the question, who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death, the answer… well… we can clearly point to Negan. It is Negan who beats two men to death with Lucille. And it is Negan who decides to kill Glenn as a punishment for Daryl’s actions. However, we can’t neglect the role Daryl’s outburst plays in Glenn’s death. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Glenn may have lived if Daryl had just stayed on his ass like Negan has told him to.

Ultimately, the moral blame lies with someone I haven’t mentioned until now:

RICK GRIMES.

Dig this: Rick not only accepts the task of ridding the world of Negan and his men, he does so without any real reason for doing so.

walking-dead-season-7-negan-kills-rick-196183

DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR THIS GUY. THIS IS ALL HIS FAULT.

Rick volunteers his people to fight someone else’s fight (Negan is initially the Hilltop’s problem) and arrogantly assumes that he and his group can quickly dispatch Negan and his crew without consequence.

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

one-does-not-simply

Rick’s fatal flaw is that he is too arrogant to realize that his actions are not only morally suspect, but are bound to reap a bunch of bad consequences.

Rick, based on what he hears of Negan from the people at the Hilltop,  immediately concludes that violence is the only feasible solution to the (someone else’s) Negan problem and refuses to consider other alternatives including negotiation or less violent means of dealing with Negan.

… and not for lack of Morgan trying to persuade Rick over to his “all life is precious” philosophy.

 

twd-finale-4-1427716209

REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

Rick’s group, as Negan observes, killed more of Negan’s people than Negan’s people had killed Rick’s group (Carol and Maggie were taken hostage but not killed). Rick directs his group to commit mass murder on Negan’s group (while many of them were asleep).Negan’s people are shot, incinerated, and stabbed in the head by Rick’s group (ok, Carol setting those dudes on fire may have been justified). It wouldn’t be irrational to assume that Negan was protecting his people from Rick’s group.

As the primary authority figure in his group, Rick knew that his people would follow his lead – unfortunately without question.
Rick may believe his actions are correct. They’re not.

Rick Grimes is the embodiment of bad motivations with bad consequences.

the-walking-dead

WHY BOTHER WITH THE EENY MEENY MINY MOE STUFF? JUST LUCILLE ALL OF ‘EM.

 

When you really get down to it, Rick killed Glenn and Abraham.

 

And I have one thing to say to Rick Grimes about this:
SUCK MY NUTS.

 

STRANDED

IT’S BEEN SOME time since the first half season of season two of Fear the Walking Dead ended.

I’ve had some time to sit back and think about what I saw.

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

And secondly, I’ve noticed that some of the characters on the show are like walking philosophy.

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

tumblr_nvps9ntofj1uza0tgo1_500

NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

After watching Fear the Walking Dead for a season and a half, I think the most philosophically intriguing character on the show is the wealthy, debonair, and most importantly, mysterious captain of the Abigail, Victor Strand.

I gotta admit, when Strand was introduced, I was prepared to see the character die after a few episodes. You know, because, well, people like Strand have a habit of not fairing too well in the world of The Walking Dead.

maxresdefault
It seemed that Victor Strand was destined to become another victim of the being-a-black-guy-in-The-Walking-Dead thing, but he was an interesting character – by far more interesting than the characters we were supposed to be most concerned about.

The reason why I think Victor Strand is so interesting is because so many of the show’s philosophical dilemmas have to do with what Strand either does or says. Victor Strand is a one man philosophical conundrum generator.

I’ve spent a season and a half of Fear the Walking Dead trying to figure out exactly where Victor Strand stands philosophically. Is Strand a Randian ethical egoist? Is he a moral nihilist? An incredibly consistent utilitarian? An all of the above?

a1db4cee8e3674b32f31a53cc451cb314741f3f7a412eabd062d0095e46754d8

More than a dozen episodes into the series and I still can’t figure it out.

When we’re introduced to Victor Strand in the season one episode “Cobalt”, we see Strand is one of many detainees imprisoned by the government.

We’re never told exactly why.

qeqtcbd

We witness Strand goading a mentally fragile man to the point of a mental breakdown. And we learn that Strand is a man who is willing to exchange goods for favors from the National Guardsmen who are guarding the detainee camp.

Strand is introduced as a man who is cool, calculating, and not encumbered by empathy for others. Strand initially displays all the traits of a classic Ayn Rand protagonist. Strand is concerned with one thing: his own interests. Rand writes:

… he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

We can imagine a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged next to Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tsu’s Art of War on Strand’s bookshelf.

bookshelf-2

MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

However, Strand quickly realizes that fellow detainee (and main character) Nick Clark is useful -insofar as Nick can serve as a means to Strand’s ends -namely, escaping from the detainment camp.

Using others to further your ends is not a very Randian thing to do.

Ayn Rand also writes:

Man -every man- is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself…

Although Victor Strand isn’t a very good Randian, he still abides by Rand’s principle of pursuing one’s happiness as one’s supreme moral principle. Strand does not allow the misfortunes of others interfere with his main task: surviving.

colman-domingo-as-strand

 

Here are a few things that Strand says concerning his interests versus the needs of others:

 

[To Madison after she informs Strand that she sees some people at sea who need to be rescued]: I filled my mercy quota. Seven people saved to date.

Rules for Strand’s yacht, the Abigail: Please, let me explain the rules of the boat. Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it’s my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three, it’s my goddamn boat. If I weren’t for me, you’d all be burned. You’re welcome.

tumblr_inline_o5t6xjqgec1tl3oir_540

THE RULES FOR THE ABIGAIL ARE LIKE THE RULES OF FIGHT CLUB. IN THE END NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO THEM

[Strand’s response after fellow survivors insist that the Abigail take on more passengers]: If I stop the boat, it’ll be to drop folks off, not take them on.

 

[Strand’s response when Madison insists that the Abigail take on an orphaned child]:
Children are the definition of dead weight.

33487d2000000578-0-image-a-1_1460960455570

PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

Strand on the real danger in an undead apocalypse: You know what the real danger is on the ocean? People.

When other survivors hitch a lifeboat containing a young woman and her mortally wounded companion to the Abigail, Strand cuts them loose, reasoning that the survivors can’t risk their lives to save people who may be dangerous -especially a dying boy (who will become a zombie when he dies).

fear-the-walking-dead-2x03-promo-charlie-jack-flight-462-carlost-2016

SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

Everything Strand says strikes of Ayn Rand’s clearly  (at least Any Rand influenced) ethics. Strand clearly puts no man ahead of himself.

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

And yet, Strand has considered the interests of others, and even put his life on the line to save the lives of people in his group.

Strand not only helps Nick to escape the detainee camp, he also agrees to house Nick’s family and another family (the Salazar family) in his home and on the Abigail.

Although Strand lays down the rules for admission on the Abigail, we know he isn’t just looking after himself. Strand could easily pull up anchor and abandon the group when they leave the Abigail to explore dry land.

Yet he does not.

Strand risks his life to help Nick escape from the detainee camp and in the season two midseason finale, Strand, after he’s expelled from a temporary sanctuary, risks his life to save Nick’s mother Madison.

amcs-fear-the-walking-dead-season-2-episode-7-shiva-nick-and-madison-clark

ONE OF THOSE GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT FIRST KIND OF CONVERSATIONS

Wait a minute. Does this mean that Strand is a secret utilitarian? Is he masquerading as a Randian while clandestinely pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number?

Perhaps.

But could is it possible that Strand has given up on all ethics? Is it possible that Strand believes that in a world without civilization all things are permitted? Strand tells Nick that the only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness. Is Strand preaching moral nihilism?

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Is Strand telling Nick not just to stare into the abyss but to leap headlong into it? Is Strand telling Nick to become a monster? Is Stand saying that all of the characters should become monsters?

e134choj3qnbyh4edttx

NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

It’s worth noting that the first episode of season two is titled “Monster”. In the season two midseason finale, Nick Clark covers himself in zombie guts (a means of camouflage) and refuses to join his mother and Strand to safety. Nick chooses to join the horde of zombies that has overrun their sanctuary. Nick is last seen walking among the dead, one of the monsters.

Fear the Walking Dead is not a great show. Sometimes it’s not even a good TV show. But what the show lacks in quality it more than makes up for in philosophical interestingness. Victor Strand is just one of the philosophically compelling characters on the series. In a TV world dominated by reality TV it’s refreshing to find a TV show with characters that have us thinking about them and discussing a series days (sometimes months) after an episode has aired.

One can only hope that Fear the Walking Dead continues to be one of the most philosophical TV shows on television.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

That years from now, when we talk about Fear the Walking Dead, we think of the show as more like Better Call Saul than like Joanie Loves Chachi.

joanieloveschachi_complete_e

I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

FERRIS BUELLER, YOU’RE MY HERO (Updated. Or something)

THERE’S A WELL-KNOWN saying that goes “you’re only as old as you feel”. Well, sometimes even when you feel quite youthful, something happens that makes you feel old.

Like when you remember one of your favorite movies when you were a kid was released 30 years ago.

Or when the person who wrote and directed a movie you loved as a kid dies.

On August 6, 2009, film writer-director and Generation X icon John Hughes died.

Heart attack.

There’s something really unnerving when the idols of one’s youth start popping off from the same diseases, ailments, and blocked arteries that killed your grandparents. The death of John Hughes only reminded me of how old I’m getting; that my chances of dying young and leaving a good looking corpse is quickly slipping away.

FILM 'INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE' BY  NEIL JORDAN

UNLESS MY NAME IS LESTAT, THAT AIN’T EVER GONNA HAPPEN

I was thinking about how much (way back in the 1980s) John Hughes’ movies were, as they say in the modern vernacular, the shit. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink were the cinematic soundtrack of my youth. Honestly, who can hear Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without defiantly thrusting your fist in the air like Judd Nelson? (Alright, no one ever does).

don't you forget about me

NEVER DID THIS ONCE

New York School of the Performing Arts kids like Doris Finsecker and Ralph Garci might have experienced self discovery while smoking weed and doing the time warp to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for the suburbia-adjacent kids like me, we saw our so-called lives played out in the teen angst drama of Some Kind of Wonderful.**

black acting school

TEN BONUS POINTS IF YOU KNOW WHERE BLACK ACTING SCHOOL CAME FROM

 

Not too long ago, partly because a) I had nothing better to do, b) I wanted to honor the memory of John Hughes, and c) I was desperately engaged in a vain attempt to capture my lost youth; I decided to watch a John Hughes movie. After some serious contemplation – and because it was the easiest John Hughes movie to grab off of my DVD shelf – I spent an afternoon watching John Hughes’ teen comedy magnum opus 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

ferris bueller poster

Nearly every one of John Hughes’ movies is quotable but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the one where we learned the eternally quotable “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.

I’m not entirely sure if Ferris Bueller is actually the first person to say it, but I do remember that hearing that line was the first time I’d ever been floored by anyone, let alone a character in a movie, speaking philosophically.

phil pic 234

Imagine this: you’re an eleven year old kid, home alone on a Wednesday afternoon, watching cable TV, probably HBO.

scrambled

UNLESS YOU WERE HOME ALONE WATCHING THIS. YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT THIS IS

Ferris Bueller is dressed in a bathrobe and is actively breaking the fourth wall just to speak directly to you, the eleven year old kid sitting at home alone watching HBO.

ferris-buellers-day-off-faking-out-parents

Nowadays, looking back, Ferris Bueller’s wisdom seems a bit trite (were we really supposed to learn the value of carpe dieming from a character who is still in high school?), but back then, just like Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller was my hero.

tumblr_inline_n7lruhbean1rt2213

 

My, how things have changed.
I thought when I sat down to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so many years after I had initially seen it as a kid, that I would re-experience the same sense of philosophical enlightenment that I had felt all those years ago when I was a lonely latchkey kid looking for someone to look up to.

Because one‘s parents are never the first choice.

Maybe it’s because I’m looking at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off through cynical adult eyes, but while I sat, watching the shenanigans of Ferris Bueller and Co., it suddenly hit me; I realized what a horrible person Ferris Bueller is.

Wait – my revelation didn’t stop there. I realized that almost every John Hughes character was an unforgivable jerk in some major way.

kevin mccallister

YES. I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, KEVIN MCCALLISTER

Collectively speaking, most of John Hughes’ characters are self- indulgent assholes.
assholes everywhereI

 

Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples for you:

  • Farmer Ted (Sixteen Candles) is a date-rapist (he has sex with Jake Ryan’s drunken, passed out girfriend, with Jake’s encouragement no less. Watch the movie. It’s true).
  • Andie (Pretty in Pink) was kind of a bitch who not only wanted way out of her league (for even considering that she should go to the prom with high school hottie Blane Mc Donnagh), but Andie in no way deserved Duckie.
  • There is not one redeeming character in The Breakfast Club (we’re supposed to like Andy, this time played by Emilio Estevez, even though he committed a possible sexual assault/battery on a classmate by taping the guy‘s buttcheeks together).
  • And the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Vacation) are just plain racists.

 

Watch the hubcap stealing scene if you don’t believe me.

St Louis 4

BLACK MAN HOLDING BASKETBALL DISTRACTS CLUELESS WHITE GUY WHILE OTHER BLACK GUYS STEAL HUBCAPS? CHECK!

Now that I’m thinking about it, If characters like Ferris Bueller were supposed to be a portrait of the American teenager (if you live in a world where amazingly enough, everybody is white, upper middle class, and the only minorities you encounter come straight out of Black Acting School), I think in retrospect, that John Hughes’ American teenager was about as true to life as the fictional hamlet of Shermer, Illinois.

jay and silent bob

I know that I am treading on thin ice, here. For those of a certain age, the movies of John Hughes are like GOSPEL and Hughes’ characters are so freaking cool that they can do no wrong. But after several viewings of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I really began to think that of all John Hughes’ characters. Perhaps with the exception of Kevin McCallister, who possessed more knowledge about planting booby traps and countermeasures against home invaders than a seasoned Navy Seal, Ferris Bueller is Hughes’ most selfish character.
Really. The entire movie is about how Ferris Bueller spends an entire day scheming, exploiting, and outright lying to people to get what he wants. The fact that all the “sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads,” all adore Ferris, and think he’s a “righteous dude”, doesn’t mitigate the fact that Ferris is an
egoistical asshole.

Not convinced?

The proof is in the viewing: As the movie opens, we see Ferris (Matthew Broderick) faking that he’s sick. Of course we know that Ferris isn’t sick, but Ferris’ very concerned and clueless parents have no idea their is lying to them. They believe that there actually is something physically wrong with their son. After all, why else would their son be bent over moaning and wailing with sweaty palms if he wasn’t dreadfully ill?

Ferris_Bueller_Parents

OF COURSE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THAT THESE OTHERWISE INTELLIGENT LOOKING PEOPLE ARE THAT STUPID

Tom and Katie Bueller believe Ferris is sick, and Ferris is glad that they do. Ferris is so glad that he’s duped his parents into believing that he is deathly ill that he doesn’t feel even the slightest tinge of guilt for deceiving his parents. In fact, Ferris Bueller doesn’t spend one moment of the movie regretting the fact that he weaves a web of deception around not only his own parents but around practically everyone he knows.

ferris bueller smiling

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF EMPATHY

Ferris doesn’t care when his (supposedly) BFF Cameron Frye tells Ferris that he’s (actually) sick and can’t accompany Ferris on his adventure. SFW, Ferris says. Instead of offering Cameron a decongestant or well wishes, Ferris tells his best friend that if he doesn’t get out of bed and hang out, that Cameron will have to find a new best friend.

tumblr_lz9ioacxt71qdwjb5o1_r2_250
Ferris not only decides that he’s going to coerce others to join his plan, he also decides to “borrow” Cameron’s father’s prized sports car for the day’s activities. Ferris could not care less when Cameron tells him that his (likely physically abusive) father will kill him if his prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California gets “so much as a scratch on it.” Ferris ignores his (supposedly best) friend and steals the car anyway – even if the consequence of discovery means almost certain death for his best friend.

tumblr_ljx060gs5u1qendvi

YES, CAMERON. YOU CERTAINLY WILL BE

Unlike a good person, Ferris has no problem lying to his parents or to his principal, Mr. Rooney, or falsifying his school records. Nor does Ferris have any compunction over pulling his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, out of class.

By faking her grandmother’s death, no less.

Ferris gleefully mouths off to a snooty restaurant maitre d’ to prove his moral superiority to the guy and assumes the identity of someone he is not to humiliate the maitre d’ in front of the restaurant‘s patrons.

ferris bueller restaurant

 

Ferris doesn’t hesitate to commandeer a Von Steuben Day Parade float not only to garner more attention for FERRIS but also to publicly humiliate Cameron in front of the gathered crowd by declaring that his best friend is a grump who didn‘t think he would “see anything good today”.

tumblr_llxzdpodi31qg3tdm

NOT ONLY DOES FERRIS DRESS DOWN HIS “BEST” FRIEND IN PUBLIC, HE SPECULATES ON CAMERON’S (LACK OF) SEXUAL EXPERIENCES , TALKS SHIT ABOUT THE STATE OF CAMERON’S HOME LIFE, AND COMPARES HIS FRIEND’S RECTUM TO THE GEOLOGIC DIAMOND-MAKING PROCESS. SOME BEST FRIEND, EH?

 

Ferris Bueller doesn’t care if everyone else has to go to school or to work “on a day like this”. Oh no! Ferris’ day off is all about the fact that Ferris can’t be bothered by responsibility. That’s what other people do. After all, with all that hard work being idolized by everyone at school, Ferris Bueller needs a day off!

ferris bueller day off

By the way, if you really pay attention to the movie, you’ll notice that he only time Ferris shows any sort of remorse for what he’s done is when he feigns an apology so he can further exploit other people.
Now, either Ferris Bueller either is suffering from some sort of sociopathy, which is a matter best handled by mental health professionals, but since I am a philosopher, and consequently, am in no way interested or qualified to render a psychiatric diagnosis, my philosophical diagnosis is that Ferris Bueller is nothing more than a standard ethical egoist.

7gigt6w
Ethical egoism is the ethical theory that holds an act is right if (and only if) an act produces happiness for a particular agent — you. Everyone ought to look after, as a follower of the goddess of egoism, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) would tell you, his own rational self interest. The philosopher Gregory Kavka (1947-1994) explained that an egoist (in particular a Rule Egoist) acts according to the following principle:

 

Each agent should attempt always to follow that set if general
rules of conduct whose acceptance (and sincere attempt to
follow) by him on all occasions would produce the best
(expected) outcomes by him.

In short, egoist ethics is the inverse of utilitarian-esque “Vulcan logic”. Instead of believing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, the egoist believes the needs of the one, the agent, outweigh the needs of the many.

But enough Star Trek.

 

kirk2

The ethical egoist’s reasoning is this: because we are unable to know anyone else’s needs or motivations and because we are restricted to seeing the world from only our own particular point of view, we only are morally obligated to act in a manner that benefits us. Egoism poster-girl, Ayn Rand, wrote, “This is why objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest – or of rational selfishness.” In a way, Ferris Bueller is not unlike Rand’s description of Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead (1943). In her description of Roark, Ayn Rand writes:

 

He is not even militant or defiant about his utter selfishness… He
has a quiet, irrevocable calm of an iron conviction. No
dramatics, no hysteria, no sensitiveness about it —
because there are no doubts… A quick, sharp mind,
courageousness and not afraid to be hurt… He will be himself
at any cost — the only thing he really wants of life. And,
deep inside if him, he knows that he has the ability to
win the fight to be himself.

 

So apparently not only is Ferris Bueller an ethical egoist, more specifically, he’s a Randian objectivist.

 

**Objectivism is most closely associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand describes the objectivist ethic, based on rational self interest, as “The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man – i.e., that which is required for his survival as a rational being … Man – every man – is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose in life”. In short, a Randian objectivist’s primary moral objective is to act only in a manner that is most beneficial to him, which is exactly what an ethical egoist does.**

 

According to Rand the egoist is concerned about others in so far as his concern for others contributes to his own happiness. Sure, an egoist might give to charity, but he is not motivated by any sense of altruism. The egoist is motivated by a personal want (a good reputation and public accolades, for example) than by a want to selflessly give to people less fortunate than he is. So when Ferris tells Cameron that his day off really was for Cameron’s benefit, we know that Ferris is full of shit.

 

tumblr_m8t14on9ii1r5k9koo2_250

PREACH, PRINCIPAL ROONEY

We know that Cameron’s good day was a only fortunate consequence to Ferris’ egoism. Ferris is so focused on his own day off that if either his best friend Cameron or his girlfriend Sloane has a good day it is an unintentional consequence of Ferris‘ selfishness. In truth, the day is all about as the water tower says, saving Ferris.

tower

As mere movie watchers unaware of the deeper philosophical significance of Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off, we only see Ferris as a go-getter, a mercurial rogue who lives life on his own terms. Ferris knows what he wants and doesn’t let obstacles get in his way. Ferris Bueller is the guy we, and Cameron Frye, always wanted to be.

I don’t know if John Hughes had Howard Roark, Ayn Rand, or ethical egoism in mind when he wrote and directed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’m assuming that he did not. John Hughes may or may not have had Rand in mind, but philosophically speaking, Ferris is imbued with what Rand describes as the three fundamental values of man: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Ferris Bueller is, as Ayn Rand’s ethics describes, a man who lives for his own sake.

As a man who lives for his own sake, a guy like a snooty maitre d’ or a power hungry Principal Rooney isn’t going to get into Ferris’ way. An egoist (like Ferris) does not allow anyone else’s needs trump his own needs and/or wants. That means if Ferris Bueller wants to have his way, Ferris gets his way; everyone else’s needs simply do not come first.

As we watch the film, we come to understand what Cameron Frye must have realized about Ferris – being with Ferris Bueller is easy if you understand this one thing: Ferris comes first.

This explains why Cameron’s father’s car goes from looking like this:

ferrari 1

To looking like this by the end of the movie:

ferrari 2

** It’s worth noting here that an individual who lives for one’s own sake might be interpreted be described by others as acting selfishly. To perceive an egoist’s actions as selfish is not a misinterpretation of an ethical egoist’s guiding moral philosophy. According to Ayn Rand, an ethics of selfishness isn’t a bad thing (in fact, Rand considers selfishness a virtue). An ethical egoist’s selfishness isn’t a moral or psychological defect. Unlike most people who are concerned with soul (and bank account) draining activities and ideals like altruism or a sense of selflessness in dealing with their fellow humans, an egoist knows what he wants and knows exactly what he needs to do to get it (serving others selflessly often interferes with our ability to serve our own interests). Ferris Bueller would inform you that his actions were not due to a lack of morals or because he is an asshole. Ferris would tell you that he is, in fact, quite a moral individual. The situation simply is this: he chooses to not be encumbered by fulfilling the interests of others. **

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off costar Ben Stein described Ferris as having an “inner mobility” and an “inner sense of freedom and self-confidence”, and John Hughes said that Ferris Bueller isn’t “labored with all the difficulties that everyone else is”. Given Ferris’ behavior during his day off, we’re safe to assume that the achievement of his own happiness is Ferris’ greatest purpose in life.

Straight outta Rand.

 

** This is why we not only like but want to be like Ferris Bueller and why all the sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, and dweebies adore him. The unfortunate reality for most of us is that although we want to be Ferris Bueller, we all know that deep down we all really are like Cameron Frye trapped in lives as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Of quiet desperation”. We need people like Ferris to show us that life is worth living. This is exactly what Ferris does for Cameron. This leads us to a question: since the day ended pretty well for everyone, what’s the harm in what Ferris did? What’s the harm of being selfish and using other people to get what you want if everyone has fun? **

Well, Ferris Bueller’s universally fun-filled day off aside, there’s a tremendous problem with ethical egoism. Namely, the problem with ethical egoism is the fact that egoism tends to be self defeating.

self-defeating

BECOMING AN ETHICAL EGOIST MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS A CAT MAKING FRIENDS WITH MICE

Listen: the only way a person can really ever be a successful egoist is if a person remains closeted about it. The late Australian philosopher, Brian Medlin (1927-2004), says ethical egoism doesn’t work because people don’t want to live in a world where people only live for themselves. Medlin says:

 

What is he when he urges upon his audience that they should
observe his own interests and those alone? Is he not acting
contrary to the egoist principle? It cannot be to his
advantage to convince them, for seizing always their own
advantage they will impair his. Surely is he does believes
what he says, he should try to persuade them otherwise.

If everybody is an ethical egoist, says Medlin, our selfish pursuit of our own pleasure will inevitably conflict with someone else’s selfish pursuits. Although an ethical egoist can be quite comfortable calling himself an egoist, he is likely to be uncomfortable with other people knowing that he is an egotist. For example, Ferris couldn’t very well ring up Cameron and say, “hey, Cam. I’ve decided, being the ethical egoist that I am, to take the day off. And as an egoist, I’m going to spend the entire day pleasing me, and I’m going to exploit you, Sloane, and anyone else who I need to use along the way. Wanna come along? By the way, bring your dad’s car”.

This would not work. Cameron has his own selfish interests he may want to pursue, including not being exploited by his best friend.

cameron frye

KNOWING CAMERON, FERRIS SAYING EXACTLY THAT PROBABLY WOULD WORK. HE’D FALL FOR IT HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

Obviously Ferris’ want to exploit Cameron and Cameron’s want to not be exploited by Ferris conflict. An egoist as smart as Ferris Bueller knows that he cannot and should not prance around waving his ethical egoism in everyone’s faces. And Ferris, like many egoists, is far too clever to let other people in on his game. Ferris says that he’s doing it all for Cameron, but really, Cameron’s happiness is a happy accident. An egoist knows that the key to getting what you want does not mean that someone always gets harmed, but it does mean that nobody else knows you’re an ethical egoist.

ferris bueller's day off meek quote

Alright. Rebuttal time, you say. Ethical egoism naysayers like Brian Medlin and Jesus Christ are only partially right.

The egoism-is-self-defeating-argument may be a problem if an egoist is indeed strictly in it for himself. Doing so would indeed be self-defeating. However, being an egoist does not mean that you always have to seek your own happiness to the exclusion of the happiness of others. Ethical egoists often discover that pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people actually increases the egoist’s happiness as well.

jesus was wrong

PRETTY SURE AYN RAND WORE THIS T-SHIRT, TOO

Ben Stein claims that Ferris helps Cameron to “liberate” himself. So when Ferris “borrows” Cameron’s father’s car, ignores Cameron’s illness, and talks to the camera about his friend’s non-existent sex life, it’s really to help Cameron to break free from his fear. When Ferris stands completely still and does nothing to stop Cameron while Cameron kicks the holy hell out his father’s car, it’s not because Ferris is looking after his own ass and wants to wipe his hands clean of the whole ordeal, it is because Ferris is being a great friend helping Cameron to gain independence from his father. When Ferris humiliates the maitre d’ at Chez Quis, it’s not because Ferris gets his rocks off humiliating people in public, it’s to put a snarky butthole in his place. When Ferris lip sync’s The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on the Von Steuben Day Parade float, it’s not to be the center of attention, he’s doing it to show Cameron something good that day.

The fact that Ferris’ happiness was Ferris’ main motivation for taking the day off didn’t necessarily mean that other people had to get hurt. It’s possible that everyone can think you’re a righteous dude and they can get what they want, too.

And because no one admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Especially Ferris.

ferrisbueller smirk

WHO AM I KIDDING, THIS GUY IS A TOTAL SOCIOPATH

In the end, my two cents worth says that Ferris Bueller indeed is a Randian egoist.
I will, however, concede that Medlin and the other haters tend to act as if being an egoist means that you’re required to go all Marquis de Sade in how you treat others. We know that’s not so.
The trick is that you simply don’t go waiving your egoist banner everywhere. If you have to tell people that you’re a Kantian, so be it. Just as long as everyone (especially you) is happy. If you are successful, you can get exactly what you want while everyone else thinks you’re a righteous dude. All it takes is a little bit of obfuscation. And because no one ever admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Maybe except for Cameron.

Anyone else get the feeling that Cameron didn’t show up the next day at school?

Or the next…

… or the next?

 

 

 

 

** I have once again made reference to an original version of a film (and not its sequel). For those who are unfamiliar with the original film, the characters “Doris Finsecker” and “Ralph Garci” are characters from the film Fame, originally released in 1980.

*** For those who don’t know, SFW means “so fucking what?”

 
*THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ANOTHER FORM IN THE BOOK MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER: HOW PHILOSOPHY TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE AND ON THE (now defunct) BLOGGER BLOG “THE KANTIAN EGOIST” (POSTED AUGUST 25, 2009).

 

SOURCES:

Gregory Kavka. “A Reconciliation Project”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. pp. 358-9.

Ayn Rand quote: from “Introduction” from The Virtue of Selfishness:
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html

Ayn Rand quotes on the principles of objectivism are from Ayn Rand Institute website: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_essentials.

Leonard Peikoff. “Afterword”. 1992. In The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand. [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet. p. 698.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 1986. Writ. & Dir. John Hughes.

“Who Is Ferris Bueller?” copyright 2006. Paramount Home Video.

Brian Medlin. “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism” [orig. published 1957]: http://www.2fiu.edu/~Medlin’sUltimatePrinciplesandEthicalEgoism.html.

All Around the Maypole (or, Not the Bees!!!)

IT’S GENERALLY ASSUMED that it’s a good thing to be tolerant of other people’s cultures. The person who prefers to “live and let live” or to “let bygones be bygones” is often assumed to be a good, if not reasonable, person.

Reserving judgments might be a good thing.

We shouldn’t judge, right?

Everything’s relative, right?

Need I inform anyone that a person whose moral position is based on the idea that ethics are relative practices ethical relativism.

Ethical relativism is:

Ethical relativism is the theory that holds that morality is relative to the norms of one’s culture. That is, whether an action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the society in which it is practiced. The same action may be morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another.

Wait! Don’t scoff just yet.

We can see that ethical relativists mean well and we shouldn’t fault them for their good intentions.

But we know all those good intentions are lining the pathway to Hell.

good intentions

 

We can’t help but feel that there are some acts that are inherently wrong and that adhering to ethical relativism doesn’t allow us to call out wrong acts.

If we say that a particular culture’s moral codes are different and therefore we cannot pass judgment, we might end up abetting injustice or worse. We can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) shrug off something like genocide by saying “different strokes for different folks” nor should we think that a practice such as spousal abuse is morally acceptable based on its prevalence in a particular culture.

However, if there is no universal, objective moral standard and no moral system is better than another, then we have no moral high ground from which to criticize when we witness injustice or wrongdoings in other cultures. Ethical relativists can’t decide when one side is right and the other is wrong –

Something that might come in handy when attempting to dissuade a group of Scottish villagers from sacrificing you to their pagan gods so their crops will grow.

pop culture

 

Police sergeant Neil Howie sets down his plane on the remote Scottish isle of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. During his investigation, Howie finds that the natives of the seemingly quiet Scottish hamlet aren’t just a little odd – they’re pagans. What follows during the next ninety minutes is public group sex, bar patrons spontaneously breaking into song about the innkeeper’s less-than-chaste daughter, schoolchildren singing odes to phallic symbols, naked flashdancing, foreskins in jars, and dead rabbits; ultimately culminating in the immolation of Sgt. Howie inside a giant rattan action figure.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is The Wicker Man.

not_the_bees_1395966216

NO. NOT THAT ONE

This cinematic gem from 1973, written by Sleuth playwright Anthony Shaffer, and starring Edward Woodward as the unfortunate Sgt. Howie, bears the rare distinction of being the only movie in film history that musician Rod Stewart allegedly tried to get banned – and not because he thought it was a bad movie.

It all has to do with Britt Ekland and some dancing…

wicker6

 

The rumor, according to the National Enquirer, is that Rod Stewart supposedly attempted to buy the rights to The Wicker Man in an attempt to prevent anyone from seeing his then-girlfriend Britt Ekland, who appeared in the film as Willow Mac Gregor, the landlord’s daughter, nude. Stewart himself dismissed the allegation as mere rumor. In the end, if Rod Stewart had attempted to get the film banned, it would have been a useless gesture since the offending nude scenes were performed by a body double.

 

Anyway, Sgt. Howie is sent to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Rowan Morrison, who has managed to elude her family and small village community for, as the letter addressed to Sgt. Howie states, “many months”. Howie is frustrated by the Summerislanders lack of cooperation with his investigation into Rowan Morrison’s disappearance.

 

tumblr_nbldnubuju1t8ihdmo1_500

 

Unfortunately, Sgt. Howie is as rude and nosy as he is persistent, and Howie continues to search for the missing girl, despite the fact that the islanders, including the girl’s mother, refuse to give a straight answer about the whereabouts of the missing girl.

wickerman2252crowanmorrisonpic

SERIOUSLY, HOW DIFFICULT CAN IT BE TO FIND ONE KID ON AN ISLAND WITH, LIKE, 14 PEOPLE ON IT???

 

As Howie searches for Rowan, he discovers a horrible reality about the residents of Summerisle. The islanders aren’t God-fearing Christians, like the devout Sgt. Howie, but pagans who worship the old Celtic gods. The people of Summerisle reject Christianity (this offends Howie), and Howie suspects that the island’s May Day ritual may be more than a frivolous re-enactment of ancient rites, but a full-scale human sacrifice made to appease their pagan gods.

Howie concludes that Rowan is not merely missing, but that she the intended human sacrifice.

 

the-wicker-man

SGT. HOWIE THINKS HE’S SAVING THIS GIRL FROM IMMINENT DEATH… HE’S WRONG ABOUT THAT

Sgt. Howie, horrified by the thought that an innocent child is the intended victim of a barbaric pagan ritual, races to find the missing girl before it is too late.
Although Sgt. Howie fails to find Rowan Morrison, what Howie does find is that it is he who is the intended offering, and Howie is sacrificed to the gods, burned alive inside the Wicker Man.

 

2e0

The film’s protagonist, Sgt. Howie, is a Christian thrown into the strange world of paganism. Howie is a modern man with a modern religion who views the old gods and blood sacrifices of the pagans of Summerisle as not only useless but morally reprehensible as well. Howie regards the pagan practices as heathen and blasphemous and demands to know why the children of Summerisle have “never heard of Jesus”. When Howie speaks to Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee (the first man I usually think of when I think of a Scotsman), Summerisle explains to the morally outraged Howie the religious practices on his island:

 

Lord Summerisle: Now, those children out there. They’re
jumping through the flames in hope that the god
of the fire will make them fruitful. Really, who can hardly
blame them. After all, what girl would not prefer
the child of a god to that of some acne-scared artisan?
Sgt. Howie: And you encourage them in this?
Lord Summerisle: Actively. It’s most important to teach new
generation born on Summerisle be made aware that here
the old gods aren’t dead.
Sgt. Howie: And what of the true God? To whose glory churches
and monasteries have been built on these islands for
generations past? Now sir, what of Him?
Lord Summerisle: He’s dead. Can’t complain. Had his chance.
And in the modern parlance, blew it.
Sgt. Howie: What?!?!?

Lord Summerisle tells Sgt. Howie that the Christian God is not worshipped on his island because the Christian God failed to deliver the residents of Summerisle from their miserable hand-to-mouth existence and spiritual apathy. Returning the people to their beloved old pagan gods, Lord Summerisle explains, renewed the spirits of the tiny island and provided the people with bountiful crops. As long as the people please the gods, Lord Summerisle says to Sgt. Howie, they will be rewarded.

 

But, Howie soon discovers the crops on Summerisle have not been bountiful.

And on Summerisle, failed crops can only mean one thing to the pagans of Summerisle: the gods are displeased and need to be appeased. If the people of Summerisle want the gods to bless them with an abundant harvest, the gods demand the “fruits of the earth”; a human sacrifice.

plot twist sign

Unfortunately for Sgt. Howie, he’s exactly the kind of human sacrifice the people of Summerisle need to please the gods.

 

 

Lord Summerisle tells Howie he was chosen to be sacrificed to the gods because he is the “right kind of sacrifice”. Sgt. Howie qualifies as the “right kind of sacrifice” on four counts:

* He has come to Summerisle of his own free will.
* He has come with the power of the king (as a man of the law).
* He is a virgin.
* He is a fool.

 

Of course the news of an impending “date with the wicker man” does not settle well with Sgt. Howie. As a Christian, Howie believes that sacrificing him for the sake of Summerisle’s crops is not only futile… it’s murder. The soon-to-be immolated Howie tells the village people that killing him will not only fail to bring back their failed crops, but that the island’s residents will bear the sin of having murdered an innocent Christian man.

tumblr_nps7gnbgzs1rtj3g0o2_500

 

Ultimately, Sgt. Howie’s entreaties to the people of Summerisle are of no use. He is placed (or forced) inside the Wicker Man and sacrificed to the island’s pagan gods. While Howie burns to death, the villagers sing a triumphant let’s-roast-a-cop-in-the-fire song, certain that Howie’s death will win favor of the gods and Summerisle once again will be blessed with a bountiful harvest.

At the close of The Wicker Man we know that Sgt. Howie is dead. He is burned alive; sacrificed to the pagan gods of Summerisle. We know that the people of Summerisle truly believe that their religion demands that they appease the gods if they want the gods to bless them and bring back their failed crops. We know they believe if they do not comply with what the gods’ demands, the people of Summerisle believe they will be punished. If the island’s crops die, the people of Summerisle know their lives are doomed as well. For the people of Summerisle, Howie’s death, albeit an unpleasant experience for the Sergeant, is necessary to save the lives of the residents of the island.

 

twm_078

THIS IS WHY IT ALL HAPPENED

 

We understand that the people of Summerisle believe that they are acting according to the will of their gods, but we also know this: Sgt. Howie also believes that his Christian God demands that those who believe in HIM must reject the sinful pagan rituals practiced by the people of Summerisle. Sgt. Howie believes that his God forbids human sacrifice and believes that God will punish those who unlawfully shed the blood of the innocent.

Wait a minute; we should be thinking there’s something seriously wrong, here.

 

The people of Summerisle believe that they have done the right thing by doing what their gods demand, but we also feel that a serious moral transgression has occurred.

This:

tumblr_njl0kobxpc1tmi319o5_500
When Howie is burned alive inside the Wicker Man, we’re aware that Howie did not go to his death willingly; he didn‘t willingly sacrifice himself for Summerisle‘s crops. If we had been present on the cliffs of Summerisle during the island‘s May Day celebration, we would have witnessed this exchange between Sgt. Howie and the island’s schoolteacher, Miss Rose:

 

Miss Rose: You will undergo death and rebirth. Resurrection if you like. The
rebirth sadly will not be yours but that of our crops.
Sgt. Howie: I am a Christian. And even if you kill me now, it is I who will live
again. Not your damned apples.

 

Obviously Sgt. Howie and the people of Summerisle are stuck in the midst of an ethical dilemma. The people of Summerisle believe that their gods dictate the sacrifice of Sgt. Howie while Sgt. Howie believes his “sacrifice” is murder and morally unjustified.
Usually when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, we assume that a single moral theory will provide a workable solution for our ethical conflict. If everyone on Summerisle were Kantians, we could easily determine which side is morally correct. As Kantians, we can say that Sgt. Howie’s sacrifice was morally impermissible if we hold the maxim “murder is always wrong”.

It is also worth noting that the people of Summerisle can also use a loose interpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative to permit Howie’s human sacrifice. The Summerislanders would have no problem universalizing their maxim: if killing a person will save the community, and the gods require a human sacrifice, then it is morally permissible to sacrifice a human. Sacrificing humans may be permitted by Kant’s first formulation of the categorical imperative, however, the Summerislanders might run into a problem with the second formulation of the categorical imperative, using people as a mere means, on the grounds that Howie was not a willing sacrifice.
… AND that this interpretation is predicated on expected consequences, which makes it kind of utilitarian.

 

If the people of Summerisle were utilitarians, they would simply calculate the expected benefit (consequence) of sacrificing Sgt. Howie to the pagan gods against the cost of another failed harvest.
This unsolvable ethical conflict between the people of Summerisle and Sgt. Howie perfectly demonstrates the problem with ethical relativism.

relativism_cartoon

An ethical relativist believes that there is no universal moral standard for right or wrong and we simply cannot determine which side is morally right. Our problem, and the problem with ethical relativism, is that both Sgt. Howie and the people of Summerisle believe that their religious beliefs are morally correct and that each operates from a divine mandate that cannot be defied.

If each side believes that their side is the only morally correct point of view, how do we assign moral rightness or wrongness when each side claims that their side is morally correct?

cage-get-burned

ALAS, THERE ARE EVEN GREATER QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

 

Unfortunately for us, on Summerisle the conflict isn’t so easily solved and we use ethical relativism to decide between two conflicting ethical theories.

According to the ethical relativist, the fact that different cultures have different standards of right and wrong (this is called the diversity thesis), means we cannot objectively determine the rightness or wrongness of a given act. As a result, all moral claims have equal moral value.

 

the-wicker-man-3

DON’T WORRY, SGT. HOWIE. EVERYTHING’S RELATIVE

All an ethical relativist can say is that Sgt. Howie has one set of morals and the people of Summerisle have another, and since we cannot judge another culture’s morals or practices, we can only assume that both moral systems are equally right.

Naturally this position does no good for Sgt. Howie. We cannot hold that it is morally permissible to sacrifice Howie to Summerisle’s pagan gods while we simultaneously hold that Howie is correct in condemning Summerisle’s religious practices. Howie can’t be immolating inside the belly of the Wicker Man and in his airplane flying as fast as he can away from that damned pagan island at the same time. So what do we do? The natives are lighting their torches and we’ve got to make a decision, quick. Who is morally right?

Obviously, a moral relativist would have no idea how to answer this question.

Of course this way of thinking gets us absolutely nowhere.

wicker-tree3

I MIGHT ADD THAT THIS SAME SITUATION HAPPENS (AGAIN) IN “THE WICKER TREE”

 

So naturally, this is where our conversation on ethical relativism should end.

… and by saying “should end” I’m saying no one should follow ethical relativism.

 

moralrelativism

Now, at this point, we may be tempted to throw up our hands and abandon, at least for now, hopes of ever finding an ethical theory that not only gives us a clear cut means of sorting out moral rights from moral wrongs, but also doesn’t stick us with categorical imperatives that stop us from doing what we want to do.

Perhaps we should try another ethical theory.

Maybe we should all become egoists.

 
*I am writing about the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man, directed by Robin Hardy not the 2006 remake staring Nicolas Cage. Although I am a fan of the original film and personally not opposed to remakes, I do, however, regard the 2006 remake as the cinematic equivalent of a large dose of syrup of ipecac. It’s not as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space or a Coleman Francis movie, but it’s close.

 
**THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ANOTHER FORM IN THE BOOK MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER: HOW PHILOSOPHY TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE AND ON THE (now defunct) BLOGGER BLOG “THE KANTIAN EGOIST”.

 

 

SOURCES:

https://www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/ethical-relativism/