My New Year’s Resolution…. I Guess.

2012 is over.

We’ve only been a few days into 2013 and I’ve discovered that the new year has revealed a new problem.

I can’t talk to people.

Actually, I’ve known this for years.

That’s not exactly right. Let me correct myself. I mean, I can speak my vocal cords work and whatnot. I can make sound and say words. It’s just that for the past few years I’ve spent so much time writing, talking about, and thinking of philosophy that when it comes to the act of simple chit chat, it’s a no-can-do for me.

All I talk about is, ugh! philosophy.

As a result, I think I’ve become the most boring person, ever.

When I speak people this is what happens:

Bored-people-007

And as a result of that, I’ve decided my New Year’s resolution. I’ve resolved to become an INTERESTING, DYNAMIC, NOT-SOCIALLY AWKWARD PERSON.

By the end of 2013, I’ve resolved to be less like me and more like this:

David-Lee-Roth-jump

 

Yeah, I know. I’m a philosopher. Good luck with that.

However, as much as I truly desire to become as exciting as Diamond Dave in any conversation, I realize that I’ve got one big problem I can’t stop talking about philosophy. No, really. I can’t it’s like I have a compulsion a moral imperative that I do. You see, the (great) German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that if one has a talent like intelligence, judgment, or wit (regrettably a quality I lack) we are obligated to use that talent. It is our imperative to do so. Kant writes:

A third finds himself a talent which could, by means of some cultivation, make him in many respects a useful man but he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers indulgence in pleasure to troubling himself with broadening and improving his fortunate natural gifts… let him ask whether his maxim of neglecting his gifts… agrees also with what is called duty… But he cannot possibly will that this should become a universal law of nature or that it should be implanted in us by a natural instinct. For, as a rational being, he necessarily wills that all his faculties should be developed, inasmuch as they are given him and serve him for all sorts of purposes.

I guess my talent is talking about philosophy.

So you see, if I don’t go around telling people about philosophy, I’m totally violating Kant’s categorical imperative. And that means

Hey wait! Where are you going? I was just explaining how Kant says

Oh.

oh…

SOURCES:

Immanuel Kant. 1997 [1785]. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition, Revised. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 39-40.

On The Philosophy of Catfishing

catfish-the-tv-show-logo

I’ve been watching this reality TV show on MTV called Catfish: the TV Show. I haven’t watched anything on MTV in years. I’m hooked on watching this show. And I’m surprised that I’m watching MTV and not complaining that they’re not showing music videos.

The TV show is inspired by the 2010 documentary Catfish. The movie is about the real-life story of filmmaker Nev Schulman and his online relationship with a woman who turned out to be a 40 year-old woman.

She was a catfish.

A few years ago, the important internet question was “Have you been one cupped?” now it’s “have you been catfished?”

I’ve been one cupped. I will never be the same again.

According to Wikipedia a catfish “is a person who creates fake profiles online and pretends to be someone they are not by using someone else’s pictures and information. These “catfish” use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, usually with the intention of getting other people or a person to fall in love with them.”

In short, a catfish is liar.

They lie sometimes about everything

Dr. Phil even had a show about Catfish. He told his viewers how to spot an internet “catfish”.

He says there are five signs you may be dealing with a catfish.

I’ve met three of Dr. Phil’s five signs.

But I’m not a catfish. I don’t lie online.

I just prefer not to tell anyone anything about me.

It’s obvious that the problem with catfish is misrepresentation. If someone misrepresents who they are we have no idea who we are really talking to. This problem is only amplified on the internet.

The internet (especially social networking sites like Facebook) is supposed to make communication easier and to bring people with like interests together. This is what makes the internet not only useful but fun: the ability to find a potential soul mate or (at least) a friend. I may not know anyone in the town where I live who likes Jean Claude Van Damme movies and blueberry pancakes, but I most assuredly will find someone on the internet that does.

But the convenience of fiber optic communication also makes it easy to be deceitful. The absence of physical contact between individuals communicating via computer means anyone can say anything about themselves or their lives leaving us only to assume what people post on the internet is true. A catfish relies on the fact that whomever they are misrepresenting themselves to is either trusting or hasn’t the time or the know-how to investigate every social network follower and/or friend to verify that they are who they claim they are.

Thus proving what they say about what happens when we assume.

When you assume things you end up making yourself one of these.

When you assume things you end up making yourself look like one of these.

We know what Immanuel Kant would say about a catfish. According to the Kantian view, the real harm of a catfish is that a catfish’s lies are damaging to individuals and society. In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Kant tells us

Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature

Kant’s ethics forbid all lying in all circumstances. He argues that our actions are morally correct only if we can universalize the act. Honesty (at least a certain amount) and trust are necessary not only for the world to function but for relationships as well. Kant argues that one of our duties to others is an obligation to be honest. If people make a universal habit of being deceitful to others, Kant says we have no reason to trust what anyone says (especially people we meet online). Kant states:

He immediately sees that it could never hold as a universal law and be consistent with itself; rather it must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense.*

Kant also states:

…it is nevertheless impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself…

If Kant is correct, the act of lying undermines the purpose of social networking.

However….

The problem with a catfish may not be the lying in itself. Everybody lies to some degree (if you claim that you don’t, congratulations you’re a liar). I think it’s safe to say that the real problem with lying is that when we do not tell the truth to others we are involved with our relationships are inauthentic.

The catfish specializes in inauthentic relationships.

Authenticity is necessary to develop healthy, long-lasting relationships with others. Aristotle tells us that the only way to develop true (authentic) relationships with others is to engage in frequent social intercourse with others. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that close physical proximity is a necessary component for real relationships (Aristotle calls physical interaction a “characteristic of friendship”). Aristotle writes:

Such friendship, moreover, requires long and familiar intercourse. For, as the proverb says, it is impossible for people to know one another till they have consumed the requisite quantity of salt together.

A Kantian may argue that a person is damaged by a catfish’s online deception, but Aristotle may tell us we never had a true relationship (at least in the philosophical sense) to begin with.

This, of course, raises and interesting philosophical question.

Is the anonymity of the internet actually better for relationships?

Namely, given the fact that we do not physically interact with people we “talk” to online, some may argue that since we don’t have physical contact with people over the internet, we are forced to deal (supposedly) with people as is, with who they really are.

Let’s say the only thing that a person is deceitful about (in an internet relationship) is their appearance. An individual uses a photo of someone else (presumably more attractive) when communicating with others on the internet. This individual reasons that s/he uses a fake photo because s/he feels that they must hide their physical appearance in order to successfully communicate with others and that using a fake photo on the internet allows them to avoid the (negative) aesthetic judgments of others.

Some might consider this person a catfish especially if they enter into a “relationship” with another person while representing themselves as the person in the photo.

But is that always a bad thing?

Now, some people create fake profiles out of maliciousness. Some people do it because they are mentally disturbed or narcissistic. But if everything else, sans appearance thoughts, feelings, opinions, even a person’s voice (if they speak to others on the phone) are the real deal?  Philosophers often emphasize character over perceived material worth (that is, unless you’re a materialist). Socrates and Aristotle sought virtuous people; Kant wanted people who possessed good will. And John Stuart Mill argued people should rather be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. Would a philosopher appreciate internet relationships with good, virtuous, or philosophically oriented people even if a person lied about what they look like (assuming the intention wasn’t malevolent-intended)? Perhaps a utilitarian (and certainly an ethical egoist) would say that a little white lie may be necessary if one’s intention is to develop a relationship that would be beneficial to both parties.

Perhaps for some catfish the lie enables them to get to the truth. The lie makes them honest.

Then is it possible that catfishing be a philosophically good thing?

Watch this clip and decide for yourself.

NOTE:

In the documentary Catfish, the term “catfish” as a reference to people who misrepresent themselves on the internet is explained  as follows: fishermen, exporting cod from the U.S. to markets in Asia noticed that the cod were soggy when they arrived at their destination. When catfish were shipped along with the cod, the cod retained their firmness and vigor. Catfish, the film explains, are people who keep other people from losing their firmness and vitality.

* Kant’s example refers to someone who repeatedly makes promises to others and subsequently breaks them, which is a form of lying. It’s easy to see how lying about one’s life and/or appearance is similar to breaking a promise as lying  and promise breaking are grounded in misrepresentation of one’s intention and requires trust on the part of the other party.

You can find Dr. Phil’s signs you’re possibly dealing with an online catfish at: http://drphil.com/articles/article/720

SOURCES:

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfish_(film)

2) Immanuel Kant. 1997 [1785]. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition, Revised. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-40.

3) Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1893. 2004. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 177.

Same-sex Chickens

If you ask me, I think people are entirely too focused on sex.

Philosophers are no exception. There’s an entire field of philosophy devoted to the study of human sexuality: it’s called philosophy of sexuality.  Philosophers of sexuality explore topics such as contraception, celibacy, marriage, adultery, casual sex, prostitution, homosexuality, masturbation, rape, sexual harassment, sadomasochism, pornography, bestiality, and pedophilia.

That’s quite a list.

Studying sexuality, philosophically or otherwise, wouldn’t be such a bad idea if not for the fact that people seem to be obsessed not with their own sex lives, but with what other people do behind closed doors.

… especially if the people those people are having sex with are the same sex.

Culturally speaking, we’re kind of hung up on homosexuals and homosexuality.

That could be because when some people think about gay people, they think of people like this:


Instead of this:


Just watch an episode of the 700 Club. You’d be smashed if you took a shot of tequila every time someone says the words “gay agenda”.

Pat Robertson wants you to buy a shitty chicken sandwich and waffle fries to prove you aren’t a part of the gay agenda

Although the term ‘homosexuality’ is fairly new (it was coined in the 19th century German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert), philosophers have written about the subject of sexuality and homosexuality since the ancient Greek philosophers, in works such as Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Erotikos. In Plutarch’s work, “the noble lover of beauty engages in love” without regard for the gender of the lover of and the object of beauty. Contemporary philosophers have also participated in the discussion, adding to theories on human sexuality, including queer theory.

Every philosophy student knows that Plato was gay. But Plato wasn’t (or isn’t) the only well-known gay (or lesbian) philosopher. Sir Francis Bacon, Alan Turing, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Claudia Card, Michel Foucault, and Judith Butler, are well-known gay (or lesbian) philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates, Erasmus, Zeno of Elea, Niccolo Machiavelli, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Arthur Schopenhauer, George Santayana, Simone de Beauvoir, and Henry David Thoreau are all suspected of being  gay or lesbian). It’s strange, given that gay and lesbian philosophers have been a part of philosophical thought, that philosophy hasn’t always been so gay friendly.

….Not that this is shocking, considering how the rest of the world and all of history has thought of homosexuality.

Historically, individuals accused of being gay or lesbian were regarded as socially dangerous and disruptive to the natural order. Religious and civil leaders thought homosexuality was so dangerous that sexual contact between individuals of the same gender was a crime punishable by death (or at the very least arrest and/or public humiliation).

I know I am using the word “was”. But I am well aware that in many parts of the world homosexuality (or even suspected homosexuality) is a crime punishable by torture, imprisonment, or death. Of course, when we make the claim that homosexuality is dangerous, we are assigning a moral judgment on a particular or general (set of) sexual act(s).

The judgment is that the act is either immoral, unnatural, or both.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and the biblical view on sex, sexual acts other than acts done for the purpose of procreation were not only immoral, but also unnatural, for any sexual act that did not result in procreation was an act done against the will of God.  Sex, according to Aquinas (and religion in general) is strictly male/female done only for the purpose of reproduction. One need only to look to the natural world for confirmation of naturalness of heterosexuality and the unnaturalness of homosexuality.

And since God made nature, obviously God intended to make all reproductive sex between male and female.

Aquinas says you can have all the gay sex you want… if this is how you want to spend eternity

This is totally off the topic, but the “look at what other animals do” was also used to justify treating women like inferior beings, owning slaves, and dominating other people in general.

Although Aquinas, St. Augustine (and theologians in general) argue that homosexual relations are immoral and every homosexual is doomed to an eternity of hellfire, ancient philosophers held a different point of view. In ancient Greece, homosexual acts between individuals were not only common but same-sex relations were immoral, only if the sex was between individuals of equal social stature. Citizens of ancient Greece were allowed to engage in homosexual activity, but only if one of the participants was in no danger of losing respect.

You see, the Greeks believed that in a sexual act, one person is dominant while the other is passive. To be passive would be to equate one’s self with the status of a woman, child, or slave.

The funny thing is, after the ancient Greeks, philosophers are pretty mum on the matter.

Well, not all of them.

Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand not only considered homosexuality immoral, but also wrote in her book The New Left  (1971), that homosexuals “hideous” and wanted “special privileges” from the government (a charge Rand made against the poor as well), but that  homosexuality, which Rand regarded as contradictory to natural sex roles, was

…so repulsive a set of premises from so loathsome a sense of life that an accurate commentary would require the kind of language I do not like to see in print.

BTW:  The prevailing philosophical view on sex tends to focus on the morality of sexuality and sex acts in general rather than specific views on heterosexuality or homosexuality. For instance, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that sexual desire is immoral in that sexual lust inevitably leads individuals to engage in all sorts of moral naughtiness. Moral naughtiness, including consensual sex between adults, Kant argues, is disruptive to civilization. According to Kant, sex is okay only if we do not violate the Categorical Imperative. Kant writes:

The sole condition on which we are free to make use of our sexual desires depends upon the right to dispose over the person as a whole – over the welfare and happiness and generally over all the circumstances of that person…each of them undertaking to surrender the whole of their person to the other with a complete right to disposal over it.

One can only suspect that Kant would find homosexual sex extremely dangerous.

Of course the argument that homosexuality is morally (or even physically) harmful to society was made before modern science demonstrated that homosexual behavior is common not only among humans, but in many animal species as well.

Evolutionary biologists theorize that homosexuality in humans is the result of mutually beneficial behavior; that engaging in non-procreative sexual behavior contributes to the overall stability, cohesion, and well-being of society (homosexual sex, like heterosexual sex, may serve to enforce social bonds between individuals). Likewise, contemporary philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Michel Foucault (whose theory of postsexualism aimed to go beyond the assigned sexual boundaries in our culture), argued that our moral apprehensions with any sexuality were due to fear rather than an actual societal threat. Bertrand Russell writes:

Certain forms of sex which do not lead to children are at present punished by the criminal law: this is purely superstitious, since the matter is one which affects no one except the parties directly concerned…  Moral rules ought not to be such as to make instinctive happiness impossible.

Still… as a philosopher, I’d like to think that Bertrand Russell has the power to convince each of us that there’s absolutely nothing to fear when a couple of guys (or ladies) choose to have sex. But, I know no matter how well argued any philosopher puts his argument, we won’t be getting over our obsession with the gay agenda anytime soon.


You may now take a shot.

We Do Not Kill the Living… Except… : On the Shifting Morality of Rick Grimes on AMC’s The Walking Dead

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m obsessed with a fan of The Walking Dead.

Actually, I’m pretty much a fan of anything to do with zombies (one notable exception being George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead. Sorry. I love Romero’s movies but that one was just awful). So, if you want to invite me over for dinner and a movie, you’d better be sure that the movie has something to do with reanimated corpses and flesh eating.

Any fan or even non-fan of the show knows there’s a great deal of ballyhoo over AMC’s unlikely hit chronicling a small band of zombie plague survivors as they fight for survival amid the zombie apocalypse (aka ZA), and that the series has become the highest rated basic cable television show in TV history. And as sure as Trioxin 245 re-animates dead flesh, the show’s popularity has incited what can only be described as “haters”. If you think about it, it’s fairly easy to deride  a TV show that not only is based on the ridiculous premise of society being overrun by flesh eating revenants, but also plays out less like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and more like an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. However, for reasons that even the most enthusiastic The Walking Dead fan can’t quite explain, millions of television viewers tune in every week to see the high drama (and maybe a zombie kill or two), post-apocalyptic world of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his fellow ZA survivors.

Ok, there’s a good reason to think of The Walking Dead as nothing more than soap operatic or as a mere B-movie zombie flick delivered in weekly installments, but those who are philosophically inclined might have noticed amid the 3-way love triangles and Carl Grimes’ incessant annoyingness, something afoot going on  namely, that hidden within the throngs of shambling draugurs, The Walking Dead also gives its fans something philosophical to chew on.

One of those things is the shifting morality of former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes.

When we’re introduced to Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), a deputy sheriff from BFE, Georgia, in the series’ debut episode “Days Gone Bye”, Rick is initially presented as an honest, hard-working, small-town sheriff who sternly reminds a fellow (albeit inept) deputy to make sure the safety of his gun is off before getting shot by a fleeing robbery suspect. When we see Rick Grimes we should be thinking this:

This is Sheriff Andy Taylor as played by Andy Griffith on “The Andy Griffith show”.

Even though we’ve seen Rick on screen for barely five minutes, when his is shot and slips into a coma, we worry about him. We want him to make it through ok. When Rick awakens from his coma (after an unspecified amount of time) to find the world has been overrun by the living dead, we know that he will survive

Because after all, he is Rick Grimes.

As viewers, we like Rick Grimes. We like Rick because despite the fact that he has no idea what is happening around him, Rick  slips into badass mode and quickly assumes the role of the hero. Rick (barely fully recovered from emerging from a coma, mind you) helps Morgan Jones and his son Duane find a hot shower and load up on guns at the abandoned sheriff’s office. Next, Rick helps a group of survivors escape a department store in Atlanta, and even attempts to return back to the city to rescue a member of the group (the abrasive, sexist, homophobic, and racist Merle Dixon) who is chained to a pipe on the store’s roof and left behind. Although members of the group argue that Merle is not worth saving, Rick feels that it is his duty to return to the city to get Merle. Rick tells the others that no living being deserves to be chained to a roof and left to die. Rick’s absolutist morality dictates that he is obligated to save Merle Dixon, even if it means that his own life is on the line; even if he dies in the attempt, Rick feels that he must fulfill his duty to others despite the consequences.

At this point, Rick’s morality is deontological. That is, Rick Grimes is following the moral principles of Deontological Ethics. Deontological ethics, most notably associated with the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), is the ethical theory that holds that the morality of an action is judged according to one’s adherence to universally binding rules, duties or obligations to oneself and others. For the deontologist, the consequences of an act do not matter as much as the intentions behind an act. Kant wrote:

Do what is right, though the world may perish

Rick’s uniform symbolizes law and order; an absolutist (deontological) morality. And it is clear that Rick, who sports his sheriffs’ uniform well into season 2*, is strongly rooted in a clear sense of right and wrong. He does what is right despite the fact that the world has ended. Rick’s strong and unwavering sense of right and wrong suggests that according to Rick’s Kantian ethics, neglecting his duty to save others is morally wrong even if the person he‘s saving is a morally reprehensible sexist, racist, homophobe.

Kant states that we act from a good will when we follow the Categorical Imperative. The categorical imperative consists of two primary formulations:

Formulation One: Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.

Formulation Two: Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

Rick sees Merle as an end in himself, a person who, despite his flaws, deserves to be treated in a humane way.

We know that Rick Grimes is not only a man who acts in an ethically correct manner, he’s a Good  (capital G) man. Rick believes that it is wrong to leave Merle Dixon chained and abandoned on a rooftop. When Rick tells his wife Lori about the generous acts of Morgan Jones and his son Duane, he explains to her that he is obligated to repay their act of generosity through doing good for others. And when a fellow survivor (Jim) is bitten by a zombie, Rick clearly lays down a deontologically-inspired universal edict when he tells the others who want to kill Jim before he dies and turns into one of the undead, “we do not kill the living!”

It’s worth noting Rick says it while holding a gun to a man’s head.

And even when Rick is re-killing the dead, he does so with a sense of compassion.

Rick Grimes is such a good guy, he apologizes to this zombie before he shoots her in the head.

From all appearances, Rick Grimes is a zombie slaying, Kantian badass but there’s a problem he doesn’t stay that way.

…it all has something to do with a guy named Shane Walsh.

Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal), Rick’s former partner and wife stealer best friend, operates by a different set of ethics. Although Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh are partners in upholding the law as sworn sheriff’s deputies, it’s clear that their moral compasses are pointed in different directions. Unlike Rick, whose morality is deeply rooted in deontological obligations and duty, Shane’s morality rests on a different standard of right and wrong: consequences. Shane’s morality does not ask what is my moral obligation to others. But instead Shane’s morality asks, what do I have to do to stay alive?  And more often than not, the answer to Shane’s moral question is whatever it takes, by any means necessary. Shane’s ethics are pragmatic; in that Shane, as pragmatic philosophers suggest, determines what actions are morally correct based on whether an action works.

So, when Shane beats the ever-loving crap out of Ed Peletier, the abusive husband of Carol Peletier (while threatening to beat Ed to death, even though Ed posed no danger to Shane), Shane justifies his actions by believing that beating Ed contributes to group cohesion. When Shane breaks the lock on Hershel’s barn and re-kills all the zombies inside, he is doing it, not to crush Hershel’s hope of finding a zombie cure, but to save the group from danger. When Shane shoots Otis, repeatedly challenges Rick’s authority and leadership abilities, breaks the prisoner Randall’s neck, or even justifies his adulterous relationship with Rick’s wife Lori, Shane reasons, although he might not have done the popular thing (aka right thing to do), that his actions were ultimately justified in that what he did produced positive results.*

Shane Walsh solves his moral dilemmas like this:

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

* I suppose it can be argued that Shane Walsh’s ethics are not so much pragmatic as he is an act utilitarian. Either theory works.

Although Rick initially rejects Shane’s necessary evil in an evil world-based morality. Rick’s deontological ethical standpoint does not hold up for long (at least not past season 2). Rick Grimes is forced to kill Shane after Shane plots to kill Rick in an attempt to steal Lori and Carl from his former partner.

Shane eventually ends up like this:

I’m thinking Shane was really regretting trying to kill Rick.

Although by killing Shane, Rick is free to resume his deontological ethical ways, he does not. Instead of sticking to his Kantian guns, Rick assumes Shane’s pragmatic/act utilitarian ethical view. Rick’s new morality, which is pragmatic at best (ambiguous at worst) reflects the new world A world without distinctions. A world of contradictions, where beings are alive and dead and one must do whatever it takes to survive.

When Rick puts away his badge at Hershel’s farm, it signals that Rick has abandoned his absolutist morality. And by mid-second season, Rick violates his universal declaration that we do not kill the living when he shoots and kills two living men in a bar (by season 3, Rick’s kill count is up to five). When Rick kills Shane, we not only realize that Rick has put aside his own morality, but we realize that the kind of absolutist morality of Immanuel Kant belongs in the old world where absolutes like good and bad, right and wrong, and living and dead exist. In a world filled with the undead, absolutes no longer apply.

By the end of season 2, Rick Grimes is a morally changed man. He is no longer willing to adhere to the rules of the former world. Rick will do whatever it takes and by any means necessary to survive, even if doing so means that he has to (intentionally) hurt others to do so.

As The Walking Dead continues, we will see how the shifting morality of Rick Grimes plays out. Rick’s group of survivors has yet to encounter morally challenged Governor of Woodbury. And Rick’s mental breakdown following the death of his wife most assuredly will affect his moral position in future episodes. Although we’re only halfway through season 3, I have the feeling that in the future, Rick Grimes is going to be solving most of his problems like this:

SOURCES:

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

On Honey Boo Boo and the ethics of self exploitation

I’ve noticed a few things lately. I’ve noticed that scripted television isn’t around much anymore. I think there are still writers out there (or did I miss something? Are professional television writers banned?). Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but none seem to be busy writing for prime time TV.

I have noticed that there are a whole lot of “reality TV” shows flooding my Time Warner cable.

I’m not necessarily complaining about reality TV. I actually like some of these shows. I admit I can’t do without my RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway, Chopped, Face-Off, or My Cat From Hell. Although I enjoy watching the overly dramatic (and thoroughly edited) lives of reality TV stars and their shows, I’ve noticed that despite the tremendous entertainment value of reality TV, the genre has been the object of an equal amount of criticism. As of late, the criticism seems to be focused on one reality TV show in particular.

This one:

This is the cast of The Learning Channel’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just somewhere where there is life beyond television), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo follows the lives and antics of seven-year old pageant kid, Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, her parents, June “Mama” Shannon and Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, and Alana’s three older sisters, Anna (aka “Chickadee”), Jessica (aka “Chubbs”), and Lauryn (aka “Pumpkin”), while giving the rest of America a glimpse into life in rural McIntyre, Georgia.

Might I add that the family recently added Baby Kaitlyn, the daughter of Alana’s eldest sister Anna.

…And for a while the family owned a pig named “Glitzy”.

Now, on the surface, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is no different from its watching-real-people-as-entertainment predecessors. PBS’ An American Family, which aired in the 1970s, established the tradition of broadcasting one’s private tribulations for the world to see (I think one can clearly mark the start of the decline of reality television from the moment PBS aired Pat Loud asking her husband Bill for a divorce). The problem with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, some say, has to do with the fact that the Family Boo Boo has done something one might have thought was impossible to do in reality television: show has actually crossed the line of good taste. A critique of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo in The Hollywood Reporter read:

“You know this show is exploitation. TLC knows it. Maybe even Mama and HBB know it, deep down in their rotund bodies. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is a car crash, and everybody rubber-necks at a car crash, right? It’s human nature. Yes, except that if you play that card, you also have to realize that human nature comes with the capacity to draw a line, to hold fast against the dehumanization and incremental tearing down of the social fabric … “

The Hollywood Reporter called the show “horrifying”.

The Guardian wrote:

“none of the women or girls who participate in the show seems to hate themselves for their poverty, their weight, their less-than-urbane lifestyle, or the ways in which they diverge from the socially-acceptable beauty standard.”

In addition, The Guardian accused TLC of  portraying Honey Boo Boo and her family as something to “point and snicker at”.

But what exactly are we pointing and snickering at? As much as we might want to keep the reality of rural America a secret, the Thompson/Shannon family is no different from many families in the U.S. Thirty-seven percent of Americans live in the South. At last count, a clear majority of the American public (like Honey Boo Boo’s family) is overweight. And like June Shannon’s family, many American families include children fathered by different men.

So what’s the problem?

If The Guardian is correct and TLC is offering Here Comes Honey Boo Boo as something to “point and snicker at”, then we should consider what exactly the network is up to in airing the series. If the show is on merely for the purpose of laughing at the Thompson/Shannon family, we may have an ethical problem on our hands. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (via the Second Formulation of his Categorical Imperative) argues that we are not to use others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” — Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

This means, if we want something (e.g. we want to be entertained) we must make sure that no one is exploited by our act. THAT means if we watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for the sole purpose of laughing at Honey Boo Boo and her family, we are using them as mere means to our ends. There are other, less harmful ways we can be entertained (like reading philosophy). And our entertainment should not come at the of the degradation of others.

But is the TV show truly exploitive? Well, lets start by asking what is truly exploitive about the show? We know that low-income, not-too-educated, rural, self-professed “rednecks” exist — whether they are on TV or not — and Alana Thompson’s parents were entering their daughter into kiddie pageants long before the show aired. Watching a family like Honey Boo Boo’s isn’t necessarily exploitive, even if we are entertained by what we see.

It is possible that some people are watching the show for educational reasons.

Hey — It’s possible!!!

I guess we’re left to ask, does the fact that a camera is present automatically mean that anyone is being exploited?

Watch it and make the call for yourself:

SOURCES:

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

* it is worth noting that The Learning Channel (TLC) was created as a joint project between NASA and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, in 1972, for the purpose of providing “real education” via television. So, the claim that one is watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo for its educative value is not so far-fetched as it seems.

On the Question of So-Called Superchimps, Their Place in our Moral Universe, and What Their Inclusion Means For the Average Idiot

I have a dog. I care about my dog. I care about my dog’s well being. I want him to be safe from moving cars or tainted dog food. I want others to be nice to my dog and respect my dog’s “right” to live a full, fun-filled dog life. My sentiment is not uncommon or even discouraged among pet owners. If asked, most pet owners would say that they care for their pets. They care about whether their pets have enough food to eat, or whether they are kept warm at night or safe from harm. But why is this so? Why do we value our pets so dearly?

The answer is because we include our pets in our moral sphere, that is, our pets are morally considerable. But, if we say that our pets are morally considerable, what do we mean when we say that something counts morally? What criteria do we use to determine who is in and who is out of our moral universe?

We say that something has “moral status” if that thing ( or being ) counts for us morally. That is, we owe certain moral obligations to certain, other beings. Status is most often defined in terms of  moral agents and moral patients. Individuals who possess rational autonomy and are self-legislating are moral agents. Moral patients are those individuals who lack, either by age, physical or mental condition, etc, the ability to self-legislate or rational autonomy are moral patients. For example, a year-old child lacks the ability to engage in rational, self-legislating behavior. The child is a moral patient. The child’s parent, if the parent is autonomous and self-legislating, is the moral agent who must act to the benefit of the child. An individual is in our moral sphere only if we grant the individual moral consider ability.

But, the act of considering an individual’s moral status relies on an important supposition: The act of considering the effects of our actions upon others indicates that those individuals that we take into account are already included  in our moral sphere. So, if moral considerability indicates that others are in our moral sphere, then we must ask, how do we include others in our sphere? That is, what are the criteria for the inclusion of other beings?

The West’s traditional view of moral status is grounded in the biblical texts of the Old Testament and Aristotle‘s hierarchy concerning nature and the natural order. The book of Genesis clearly states the relationship between man and animals:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and

let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the

air , and over the cattle, and all over the earth, and over every creeping

thing that creeps upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:26. Emphasis added).

The traditional biblical view holds that man, as a being created in God’s image, is given the earth to rule as he sees fit. The fact that animals are not made in God’s image  discharges any human from any moral obligation to the welfare of animals. According to the biblical view, the lack of any ability to morally wrong any animal means that animals are not morally considerable.  Aristotle brought the hierarchy to nature (and the natural order of things) which placed humans, more specifically free human males, at the top of the “natural” hierarchy. Aristotle wrote that man’s power of reasoning endowed him with natural superiority (and a soul). The way of nature, in Aristotle’s view, naturally places superior beings in positions of authority over inferior beings. In other words, if a rational soul is a superior trait, then it is the way of nature for animals who possess this trait to rule over animals that do not possess the same superior trait. Aristotle stated that animals, by contrast, are governed by their passions or instincts. Aristotle wrote that man’s rational soul ruled over his passions, and that this trait indicates that man’s natural place is to rule over animals. Aristotle reflects the traditional view in that inferior animals are “natural slaves” that are benefited by serving the interests of superior animals. Aristotle writes,

“…the other animals exist for the sake of man, and tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them for food…”

Descartes continued the traditional view of moral status. Descartes wrote that animals are mere “machines” meant to serve the need of their human masters. Although Descartes maintains the traditional view that man’s intellect confers superior status, Descartes gives an additional criteria for man’s moral superiority to animals. For Descartes, the capacity for speech is indicative of an individual’s intellectual capacity. The fact that animals possess no capacity for speech (at least no speech that humans can understand), animals cannot “… use speech… as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others.”

It is important to stop at this point to clear up an immediate objection to Descartes’ speech criteria.  If Descartes means to state that any being that lacks the capacity to express their thoughts in speech also lacks the capacity to think, one might put forth that Descartes is excluding humans who are mentally or physically challenged from the moral sphere. Humans who cannot speak due to physical or mental impairments, if Descartes’ criteria is used to define moral status, may be reduced to the status of “brutes” or animals.  Descartes, however, explains that his speech criteria does not exclude the mentally or physically disabled, on the grounds that individuals who lack verbal speech often find other ways to communicate their thoughts to others. For instance,  person who is born mute may learn to communicate through sign language. A person who is mentally handicapped may learn to express themselves, despite the fact that they lack the ability to communicate verbally. Descartes states that a disabled individual may have a diminished intellectual capacity, but is not excluded from the moral sphere due to the fact that humans who are intellectually “inferior“  possess some capacity for self expression. An animal, on the other hand, not only lacks a minimal capacity for rational thought, but lacks any capacity for rationality at all.
Although Descartes explains that his speech criteria will not exclude humans (including the mentally and physically disabled) from the moral sphere, Descartes’ explanation fails to recognize the fact the speech criteria may indeed reduce some humans to the status of mere “brutes”. Some humans do lack any capacity for speech, such as profoundly retarded individuals or the comatose. In addition, some animals have acquired the capacity to express their thoughts through non-verbal human languages such as American sign language. And, if the traditional hierarchical view places a rational soul at the top of the natural order, the fact that some animals possess a capacity for rational thought leads us to question whether an animal that possesses the capacity for rational thought may assume a higher position in the natural hierarchy. An animal that possesses a rational soul may disrupt man’s assumed position at the top of the natural hierarchy. A human who lacks the capacity for rational thought, such as the mentally challenged or the comatose, may be relegated to the status of animals and excluded from the moral sphere.

As humans, we feel reluctant (intuitively) to exclude people who we feel not only merit moral consideration, but also fit into the moral sphere. We feel that it is wrong to exclude any human from moral consideration on the basis that a person lacks the capacity to articulate their thoughts. We feel that despite their physical or mental handicap, a human mentally or physically disabled human is still a human, and that their humanness demands moral considerability and inclusion in the moral sphere. But, what about an animal who, despite a mere physical or mental difference from other rational beings, possesses human-like qualities, such as rationality and the ability to articulate its thoughts through language?  Is there a criteria for moral status that will allow us to include both rational animals and marginal cases? I believe that the answer is yes. I hold that Kant’s criteria for moral status allows us to include rational animals, but more importantly, Kant’s moral status criteria allows us to preserve marginal cases for moral consideration in the moral sphere.

It is  possible that nature may produce a chimpanzee with cognitive abilities that exceed the capacities of the average human. The fact that this “super chimp” ( let’s call him “Arthur Crackpot”), surpasses the intellectual capacity of the average human cannot be ignored, nor can it be dismissed as a mere aberration. It would not be difficult to imagine that Arthur Crackpot or any chimpanzee that possesses a high capacity for rational thought would not hesitate to articulate its thoughts or express what it considered to be its own interests. We can be most certain that Arthur Crackpot and any other “super chimp” would demand immediate inclusion into our moral sphere. The fact that the animal can do so forces us to deal with it in a manner that does not conform to the traditional biblical, natural hierarchy, nor can we treat the animal as a mere machine that is fit to serve man’s needs. So, if the difference between man and animals — primates in particular — is trivial, and a naturally occurring “super chimp’ is not outside the realm of possibility, then the mere fact that man and animal are different species is not a morally relevant difference to account for the exclusion of animals from the moral consideration or the moral sphere.

If we grant moral consideration of smarter animals, and we include Arthur Crackpot and other “super chimps” in our moral sphere because they rank higher on the hierarchical scale, then, if we are to be consistent, we must exclude certain marginal case humans who possess intellectual capacities far below the capacities of other animals. But, as I said before, this sounds intuitively wrong. We should not exclude humans simply because they lack the ability to articulate their thoughts or the capacity for rational thought. So, what perspective allows us to include both “super chimps” and marginal cases? I believe that the Kantian approach to moral agency allows us to  not only extend moral consideration  and inclusion of animals such as Arthur Crackpot, but the Kantian approach also allows us to keep marginal case humans in the moral sphere.

Kant states that rational beings must be treated as ends in themselves. That is, beings that possess the ability for rational thought cannot be used as a mere means to another person’s ends. Rational beings, according to Kant, are self-legislating and autonomous. The fact that rational beings possess an autonomous and self-legislating will grants them moral agency. Moral agents are not only morally accountable for their own actions, but are also morally obligated to moral patients. For Kant, rationality is not a matter of degree, but a characteristic that is all-or-nothing. Beings are either rational or they are not rational. Although Kant’s criteria seems to push us once again towards the hierarchy, the concept of moral patients pushes us away from excluding rational animals and irrational people.

Kant states that man’s duty to animals is indirect, in that our duties to animals are limited to treating them in a non-abusive manner, but Kant also states that our treatment of animals reflects how we are likely to treat other humans. Although we consider our treatment of animals from the Kantian perspective, we only consider their welfare from our own perspective — we do not want to cultivate abusive personalities in people who might harm their fellow man. This approach gets us away from the hierarchy it seems, but perhaps not very far. But, let us remember, Kant states that his criteria for our moral obligation is rationality.  More importantly, Kant does not specify a degree of rationality that qualifies a being for admission in our moral sphere. For Kant, rationality is all or nothing. So, from this perspective, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality is included in the moral sphere. So, one might say this criteria requires that a “super chimp” like Arthur Crackpot, who possesses a level of rationality rival to that of a human must also be regarded as a human moral agent.

If Arthur commit’s a moral transgression, he must be held accountable for his actions. So, for instance, if Arthur kills a human, he could be held accountable for his actions not only morally but legally as well. But this is not correct. For Kant, having moral agency does not necessarily follow from having rationality. There are minimally rational people who cannot be moral agents. These individuals are moral patients. Moral patients are included in the moral sphere insofar as their interests are the subject of moral consideration, but are excluded, in a sense, from a moral obligation to other moral agents. On the other hand, moral agents are morally obligated to moral patients.  It is clear that the concept of holding a trial for a chimpanzee is ridiculous (not to mention next to impossible to find a jury of Arthur’s peers). A chimpanzee, no matter how rational it may be, should not be held accountable for his actions in the same way that a human is held accountable for her actions. Like a child, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality may  be incapable of comprehending the moral ramifications of his actions. If an animal is like a child or an other moral patient, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that being. Likewise, if a human possesses a minimal degree of rationality, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that person. And, the fact that we have taken these individuals into our moral consideration signifies that both some animals and marginal case humans possess moral status in our moral universe.

The traditional, biblical, and Cartesian perspectives on moral status and moral considerability fail to enable to include animals who should be granted moral status. Even more detrimental to these perspectives is the fact that adherence to these perspectives forces us to remove humans as well.  Kant’s rationality criteria allows us to include rational animals like “Arthur Crackpot” in the moral sphere without excluding human marginal cases. The concept of moral patients and moral agency allows us to include individuals that may not be fully rational in the sense that they are capable of moral responsibility, but rational to the degree that they count in the moral sphere. Kant’s approach — though it is not perfect — is the best perspective we have to determine moral considerability, moral status and the inclusion of human marginal cases in the moral sphere.

Do the Dew… as long as your drink is smaller than 16 ounces..

It’s funny the things that can get a person thinking about how precious — or even precarious — we think our freedoms are.

This week, New York (City) Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced New York City’s proposed plan to ban sugary beverages over 16 ounces (or more than 25 calories per 8 ounces) in fast-food restaurants. This means next year, New York City residents might have to cross city lines to score a Big Gulp at the local 7-11. Mayor Bloomberg said high-sugar, high-calorie beverages need to be banned because, as we all know, Mountain Dew makes people fat.

I think we’d all agree that there is something going on with the waistlines of a not-insignificant number of Americans. Americans are getting fatter. As a portly American I can personally attest to the fact that Americans, as a nationality, are a chubby bunch of folks. But — as much as I agree that America does have weight issues, I’m not too certain that a wholesale ban on sugary soft drinks is the way to win America’s battle of the bulge. Here’s the reason why:

Americans love freedom.  That is, we love the idea that the word “freedom” represents: being unrestricted, self-determination, not being controlled by fate or necessity, liberty. Every American possesses the freedom or liberty do what one pleases — as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The idea that our liberty, the freedom to do what we choose, is infringed upon (especially when the infringing is by the government), is inherently unappealing to many Americans. The notion that the government would restrict the exercise of one’s unalienable liberties is seen by some as downright un-American. Of course, how unAmerican banning sugary drinks is depends on what philosopher you read.

Liberty, defined as the freedom to do as one pleases, is often divided into two types:

  1. freedom from
  2. freedom to

Liberty, as “freedom from” is defined as freedom from restraint or interference by law (e.g. the concept of “natural rights” — As Thomas Hobbes writes, “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.”). Liberty, as “freedom to” is any right that we have the power to do, (e.g. freedom of speech or religion).

This is not the point I am trying to make.

The point that I am trying to make is that when we define freedom or liberty from a philosophical point to view (although some people argue that there is a distinction between the two, most people use them interchangably), we think that a being that possesses liberty is one that is autonomous, that is, free beings are self-legislating and directed by their (freely chosen) sense of reason or rationality. Philosophers such as the German philospher, Immanuel kant, argue that our rational choices are the result of of rationally-held beliefs. When we think in a clear, rational manner, Kant says, we will make ethically correct decisions. So what we choose to do, including what we choose to eat or drink, not only affects our health, but is also a moral decision as well. A person who chooses to drink a soda pop may be doing a bad thing to do healthwise — but he might also be doing a bad thing, period.

But, here’s the thing: if we see drinking sugary beverages as a moral choice in addition to a health choice, we run into the question concerning the role of government in legislating morality. The English philosopher John Locke wrote that governments are never successful when it comes to legislating morality (Locke famously wrote that forcing non-believers to go to church does no one any good). We might say that the ability to make our own rational choices outweighs any reason to curtail the availability of individuals to purchase high sugar, high calorie beverages. And Kant states any attempt to legislate on behalf of rational individuals is morally impermissible (as this denies said individuals the right to exercise their capacity to use their own rational judgment).

So at this point, we say that Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban is bad because the act of interfering with an individual’s ability to freely purchase a beverage of their choosing interferes with our ability to choose for ourselves. To respect an individual’s ability to choose, we must respect their choices, whether we find (the choices) objectionable or not.

We might be satisfied with a Kantian response to Bloomberg’s ban, but we have a problem: namely, governments have the right to restrict freedom — if the restriction is in the interest of preserving freedom. For example, murder is illegal. The government acknowledges that not allowing murder restricts some individuals, but making murder illegal also preserves the freedom of others (i.e. people who are not murdered). If banning sugary beverages serves the greater good, then a ban on sugary beverages may be justifed. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote

As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it… it is impossible for a person to do anything seriously or permanently hurtful to himself, without mischief reaching at least to his near connections, and often far beyond them. (63-7)

Mill says that when we believe that our actions affect no one but ourselves, we’re mistaken; our actions can reach far beyond ourselves. Proponents of the ban say that the costs of obesity outweigh an individual’s right to engage in behavior that results in higher medical costs for society at large. According to this argument, proponents of the ban aren’t overextending the reach of the Nanny State or vegan meannies who don’t want anyone to have any fun.  They are simply civic-minded citizens who are looking out for the whole and trying to to what is best for everyone.

….although that doesn’t explain why milkshakes and alcoholoc beverages are exempt.

White Ford Polanski

Ithink that Chris Hedges says this so much better than I ever will so to hear him say it better, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch0fl0m60Oo And now for my pathetic take on something important… You know when someone is supposed to be important. It’s when you call them only by their last name.

Nietzsche, Reagan, Christ.

The world of entertainment is no different. We know the greater than famous only by their last names. Which means, conversely, if one is not great we would say the whole name. For instance, if I am watching Die Hard 2, I’m watching a Renny Harlin flick. But cinema belongs to Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, and recently, Tarantino.

You get the idea.

One of the great ones has drawn some attention to himself these days, but not for his filmmaking.

Polanski.

I’m in no way a movie expert but I’ve been told that Roman Polanski is a pretty heavy-duty movie director. They say that before I die, I’m supposed to watch these movies: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown — all directed by Polanski. Well, I’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby (and unfortunately its sequel, which may have started that horrible Hollywood tradition of following up fairly decent movies with sequels that you wouldn’t show to someone you really wanted to hurt). For those who don’t watch cinema, Polanski is probably more (well) known for being the husband of Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 by members of the Manson Family. These things made Polanski famous, but recent attention given to the director has focused on something that made him infamous. Namely, the 1977 drugging and rape of a 13 year old girl at the home of fellow famous person Jack Nicholson following a photo shoot.

Polanski admitted that he gave the girl champange and quaaludes (now that says 70s!), and eventually pled guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor.

As a culture, we tend to look somewhat negatively at people who have sex with kids.

Knowing that this is so, and that he stood to find himself on the bad end of the law, Roman Polanski fled sentencing and went to France, a country that does not have a full extradition treaty with the United States — thus avoiding spending any time behind bars. After 30 years of avoiding his sentence, Polanski was arrested in September of 2009 while on his way to the Zurich Film Festival.

Better late than never.

In a not-so stunning move, the Hollywood community stood up and rallied to Polanski’s defense. Some of Polanski’s fellow Hollywoodites signed a petition calling for his immediate release. Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Debra Winger (who you almost have to ask “who?” when you hear her name), and Whoopi Goldberg (who, thankfully informed us of the difference between rape and rape rape) are among the stars who have called for Polanski’s release. Even the governments of France and Polanski’s native Poland have called for Polanski to be set free. Many, including the Swiss and the Los Angeles DAs office, haven’t been swayed by the pressure from our fine moviemaking community. Some have gone so far as to dismiss the chatter as Hollywood’s rallying around one of their own, no matter how awful the crime (funny, I remember a considerable lack of this reflex when OJ was accused of double murder). Although Whoopi Goldberg’s remark may have been another example of celebrity-induced boneheadedness, she brings up a point that most assuredly many have pondered since Polanski’s arrest — was what he did really a crime? Not only that, but if it was, has the passage of time lessened the offense?

Did time heal these wounds?

Some of Polanski’s supporters (and some people in general) say that attitudes were different in the 70s. I suppose that this sentiment has something to do with the fact that, at the tail end of the sexual revolution, sexual attitudes, even concerning children was more laxed than they are now. So, some say that determining whether an actual crime was committed has to do with whether a child is able to consent to sexual activity.

Psychologists say that children much younger than 18 are morally aware (thus responsible) for their actions. Chlidren as young as 9, according to psychologists, have moral distinct sensibilities.

A 13 year old is, according to Freud, in the genital stage of development — a stage wherein children begin to initiate romantic and sexual relations with members of the opposite sex (or same sex if that’s the way you roll). Traditionally, common law recognized that children as young a 14 could be held legally accountable for their actions. And anecdotally, we’ve all either seen or heard of the kid who neither looked nor acted like a child. So, in the minds of some, a child of 13 is more than biologically capable of deciding of she wants to have sex with a grown man.

But this assertion doesn’t sound right to some people (myself included). It can easily be stated that there is a difference between biological maturity and mental maturity or moral awareness. When we say that someone is “mature”, we’re including the idea that he is capable of rational decision-making. Rationality is connected (if not required) to the ability to consent to any activity. So if we bring up the idea of rationality as required for engaging in consentual activity, we must ask when is a child rational? When can a child make decisions concerning sexuality.

I’ve decided to take a look at what Kant says about rationality.

Kant says that moral judgments are products of reason or the rational mind. Rational beings possess rational minds. And having rational minds, humans are rational beings. Rational beings possess a free mind and are capable of deciding according to their free will ( meaning that we are free moral agents). Moral agents must be treated as ends-in-themselves, that is, we are obliged to treat others as rational moral agents and not as a means to our own ends. Although Kant says a great deal about what free moral agents are, he spends little time telling us when a person is a free moral agent — he doesn’t specify at what age a person becomes a moral agent. It is obvious to us that an 18 month old child does not share the same moral capacity as his 28 year old mother. But, if we look at the toddler’s 6 year old sister, the distinction between the moral awareness of adults and children aren’t so clear. We can see that a child of six possesses some capacity to perform moral judgments. But, according to Kant’s view is “some” enough? I think this is Kant’s answer: Kant says that when we interact with others, we must treat them as if they are rational beings — irrespective of whether the individual is in fact a free moral agent.

So, if psychologists say that children as young as 9 can render moral judgments, and Kant suggests that we treat people as if they are rational moral agents, then Whoopi Goldberg may have a point.

Roman Polanski is not guilty of rape rape.

But this still doesn’t sit well with me. I still feel like he has done something wrong for which he should be punished. But I realize that, despite my gut feelings, the supporters may be right. But then, I remember one, small, detail. He drugged her.

We know that when it comes to sexual activity and the law, a person who is inebriated or mentally diminished cannot legally consent to sexual activity. This is why if you give a girl a roofie (even if she said that she wanted to have sex with you hours eariler), you could find yourself facing rape charges. The fact that she was unable to consent to sexual intercourse at the time that the activity took place meant that you performed an unconsentual sexual act with a drugged person. You could not only find yourself facing rape charges, but also charges for administering the drug (I think in some states it’s considered poisoning). Kant’s idea of rationality requires that a person be fully engaged in their decision-making ( which means that in addition to being sober, a person cannot be forced or coerced into moral judgments according to Kant). If a person is under the influence of drugs, Kant would say that the person is not fully capable of using their ability to reason. By drugging the girl, she became a mere means to Polanski’s ends. So, in this circumstance, she could have looked Roman Polanski in the eye and demanded that he make her a woman, but the fact that he filled her full of booze and ludes made her unable to participate in the act as a free moral agent.

So Whoopi is wrong. He is guilty of rape rape.

But still there are others who would hold that Polanski’s arrest is unjust. Debra Winger stated that Polanski is being punished by a “philistine” legal system. The French Culture Minister said that Polanski has been “thrown to the lions”. They feel that he is being treated like a dangerous criminal when he is not. They argue that he is a good man and a humanitarian who has not hurt anyone. Treating a good man like a hardened criminal they say, is a makes a mockery of the concept of justice.

Of course this claim forces us to look a little at what justice (exactly) means.

We ask, what is justice? Some suggest that justice is each getting what he deserves. Others say that justice is equal treatment under the law. Others say that it is acting according to one’s virtues, or that justice is whatever the ruler says that it is. Kant’s theory of retributive justice holds that those who harm others ought to be harmed in return. In short, you get what’s commin’ to ya. But, Kant states, the punishment must be proportional. If an offender commits a minor offense, the punishment must be minor as well. If he commits a major offense, then we must punish him accordingly. In this way, Kant’s justice is much like justice under Roman Law which held that “the constant and perpetual will to render to each what is his due”. In our system of justice, prison sentences are either long or short, depending on the severity of the crime.

So, using Kant’s theory of justice, we can say that Polanski knowingly and willingly gave drugs and alcohol to a child and then had (forced) sex with her ( did I mention that she says that she initially put up a fight and that she said “no” repeatedly?). Kant says that, as autonomous moral agents, we are to repect Polanski’s actions. If we fail to do so, we are not giving him the proper respect that is required for him to act as a free moral agent. Since he acted freely, we are bound to respect his actions. And since he acted in a manner that was (and is) against the law, we must give him the proper punishment for his crime. Failure to do so is not only harmful to Polanski, but also harmful to us as well.

(Here’s the thing… his pals in Hollywood think that they’re doing a good thing by saving their colleague from a corrupt justice system. But in reality what they’re doing is preventing Roman Polanski from being responsible for his own actions. This is what over-protective parents do when thay want to save their children from every harm in the world. Ultimately, all these good intentions serve to do more harm than good, as the act to protect is less protective than it’s paternalistic, thus robbing an individual the ability to make their own moral choices).

So, using Kant yet again, we must see to it that Polanski serves his time.

But, for every Kantian there is an equal and opposite Utilitarian waiting in the wings, ready to say his peace. A utilitarian may say that punishing Roman Polanski now is of little use. So much time has passed and he hasn’t done anything like that crime since. Polanski is not a threat to anyone and that sending him to prison would be a waste of time and money, and it only goes to dredge up old memories that even the “victim” has suggested that we let go. To punish him now would be a negative (as it detracts from the common good, and it wastes resources that could have been spent bringing real criminals to justice, and by incarcerating Polanski we’re locking up a productive, upstanding, creative member of society). On the first notion, that too much time has passed, and that to do anything now would be useless, Entertainment Weekly contributor Chris Nashawaty put it like this: Roman Polanski may be a great director but he’s still a convicted felon. The fact that 30 years has passed has not made the crime any less morally repugnant. If we wanted to argue that time lessens offenses, we can use the same argument to release Manson family member Leslie van Houten, and likewise argue that it was morally wrong to keep a dying Susan Atkins in prison (there are those who would argue that the passage of time has not made the Manson murders any less morally repugnant –even if Atkins was dying). The utilitarian not only has to consider those who are directly affected by the crime, but everyone who stands to be affected (which in te case of the justice system means everyone). If Polanski is released without serving his sentence, the utilitarian must consider the negative effects of that decision as well, including the possibilty that the integrity and reputation of the justice system might be damaged if people percieve that the legal system is unjustly weighing in favor of Polanski. We see justice is a matter not only of conviction but also of serving the sentence. By fleeing before serving his sentence and possibly getting away with not serving one at all the public may lose confidence in the system’s ability to administer justice equally under the law ( as there is already the popular perception that there is a different system of justice for celebrities). Letting Polanski go may seem like the utilitarian thing to do, but may in fact do more harm than good.

And it’s this point of two systems of justice that I would like to end.

Rawls held that we could bring fairness into society if we pursued justice from under a veil of ignorance. Rawls believed that if we made laws that benefitted everyone and reduced inequality that we could maintain a just society.

There are those who believe that this idea is complete bullshit.

When we watch TV and complain that OJ “got away” with double murder, or that Leif Garrett paralyzed his friend in a car accident and served not one day behind bars, or that Robert Downey, jr., pulled off a B&E and we were supposed to feel sorry for him, we often say that it seems that there are two systems of justice — one for the rich and famous and one for everybody else. And seeing Hollywood types like Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg rallying around a convicted child rapist only goes to show that some of our beliefs about a multi-layered justice system are true. We think that the fact that Roman Polanski is a celebrity earns him better treatment than the average barber or computer programmer or some poor undocumented dude who some kid says that he touched her in the park on her way to school. If Roman Polanski were anything other than Roman Polanski, we say, he’d be behind bars before you can say Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby? sucked eggs. Perhaps this is why: maybe the real problem is not that there is no morality in Hollywood, but that the famous operate under a different system of justice than everyone else does. Perhaps their view of justice is Aristotelian.

According to Aristotle, some people, because of their character or virtues deserve more. Unlike Rawls, who seeks to minimize inequality, the Aristotelian thinker sees inequality as a mere fact of life. Some people are, by nature, better than average. Inequality is natural. I remember Sharon Tate’s sister saying that her former brother-in-law is a philanthropist. And we see that if she is correct, he is not only philanthropically-inclined, but as an artist, he gives his art to the people. By doing his natural talent, he is enhancing the lives of all — he contributes to Happiness. Aristotle called these types of men magnanimous. And of magnanimous men Aristotle writes, “… since he deserves most… for the better man always deserves more, and the best man most”.

And perhaps this is it.

It really isn’t a matter whether a child consented to have sex with a man more than twice her age in the home of a mega-star in 1977. It doesn’t matter whether she gleefully and rationally entered into sexual relations with Roman Polanski. What matters, we see, is that people like Roman Polanski are just different than people like me and everyone who isn’t famous. If he had played his cards right, he should have looked the judge squarely in the face, announced that he was better than everyone in the courtroom, and walked out. I’m sure that it would have worked.

I don’t see whay he’s hesitating to do it now.

And if anyone believes that I actually think that he shouldn’t be behind bars, I need only say that I may be an egoist, but at heart I am a Kantian.

They guy shouldn’t know what sunlight feels like for some time.

…For They Know Not What They Do

I was watching season three of The Family Guy last weekend. As I am philosopher, I’ve trained my eyes to find the philosophic significance of any and all that I see on television. Now, initially, I enjoyed the episode “Petarded”, because it was politically incorrect, and because. it’s fun to mock the afflicted. But when I watched last weekend, I realized that there was more there than meets the eye. Lurking behind the juvenile “retarded” jokes was the age-old question dealing with moral inclusion — namely, the question dealing with the culpability of mentally challenged people. In this episone, Peter is diagnosed as mentally disabled (he says retarded, because saying that is funnier than saying he’s disabled or challenged). Peter, realizing that he’s now mentally feeble, uses his challenged state to his advantage. He starts a Bible fight in church, he opens the occupied stalls in the ladies’ bathroom — all the while excusing himself by announcing that he’s “retarded”. Normally, we would say that Peter’s behavior is inexcusable. if a “normal” person took a peek at us while we were in a public bathroom, that person would probably have an asskicking headed his way. (This is exactly what Sasha Baron Cohen does with his character Borat. By pretending to be ignorant and a little stupid, he gets away with things that we wouldn’t tolerate from someone who we thought was normal. There is much more at work with the character, but I won’t go it to that here). But, if someone is in a position that he is unable to control himself (or unable to understand what he’s doing) we tend to treat those people differently. They do not share the same level of moral culpability as someone who is considered fully functional and rational. So what do we do with people who are not rational? Are they (can they be) responsible for what they do? The emphasis on rationality is one of the drawbacks when we consider human behavior philosophically, especially when we look at the behavior of people who clearly are not rational. There are those who are mentally handicapped — born with or by way of accident — who are not able to control or understand their actions (morally, consequences, etc). This is why we do not punish children as we punish adults (except in extreme circumstances) in the legal system. Children do not understand the full extent of their actions. Likewise, we treat people who are mentally handicapped in a manner tha is different than we treat “normal” people. But Peter isn’t organically damaged, he merely believes that he’s “retarded”. What if someone isn’t mentally challenged but believes that they are? They say that hanging around crazy people can make a person crazy. And certainly there is alot of anecdotal evidence to prove this to be the case. I don’t remember what the name of the movie was, but there is this movie about this dude who wasn’t mentally disabled, but was raised in an institution his entire life before someone figured out that he was normal. All I remember is that it was made in the 70s and it had Frederic Forrest in it (I should probably IMDB it someday). So, if someone said that you were mentally disabled (but yoy weren’t) are you still responsible for what you do — assuming that you are actually rational? Are rational people who think irrationally still responsible for what they do? We know that in Peter’s case, even though he seems to take his diagnosis seriously, he’s still morally on the hook for what he does (and CPS seems to think this as well, as they threaten to take his children away from him). But what about people who really are mentally disabled? Our attitude tends to be “it depends”. When we see, for instance, a mentally challenged person who is accused of committing a crime, our first inclination is to ask how mentally challenged that individual is. If a person is merely “slow”, we tend to show less sympathy for their condition than if a person were fully incapable of understanding their actions. If a mentally disabled person were accused of murder, we would ask if he demonstrated signs of knowledge of what he had done. We would ask if he ran from the scene of the crime or if he showed remorse for what he did. If he does, we would say that he understands that what he did was wrong, and that he should be punished. But then we ask, to what extent is to be the proper punishment? When Bill Clinton was runnig for president in 1992, he went back to Arkansas to preside over the execution of a mentally challenged man who was condemned for committing a murder. Clinton’s decision to uphold the death sentence was blasted by those who felt that the condemned man lacked the mental capacity to understand what he had done. They felt that the punishment was excessive considerning the fact that the man was mentally handicapped. Questions of dimished capacity also arise when we think of the treament of children in the justice system. When a 6 and an 11 year old perpetrated a massacre of their classmates in Jonesboro, the question of whether a child as young as six can understand the implications of his actions came to national prominance. If a child that young can conceive of shooting and killing his classmates with high-powered firearms, does he have the mental capacity understand his actions and be held responsible for what he’s done? If the child is not mentally disabled (meaning that besides his young age, he’s normal), and we agree that all humans have the capacity for rational thought, then at what point is the child rational enought to be held accountable for what he does? Kant says that we should treat people as if they are rational, free moral agents (this avoids the urge to be paternalistic, which would, according to Kant violate an individual’s autonomy).But if we treat all people as if they are rational, are we not treating people in a manner that they are not? The appeal of Kant’s theory is that it is cut and dry. There is no room for ambiguity. But in real life, there is more ambiguity than we know what to do with. We’re often left to wonder how rational a person is. A person may be able to function in society (even function without anyone else helping them), but they aren’t fully rational people. I think of the character Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Lenny has the capacity to function in society. He’s capable of holding a job, and does it well. But mentally, he like a child. When Lenny kills Curley’s wife, the act is unintentional. He was trying to feel her hair, but he panicked when she began to scream. Nonetheless, Lenny murdered the woman. He knew he had done wrong, but also seemed incapable of controlling himself when he did it. (Much like how a child acts). What would Kant have to say about Lenny? When the men on the ranch learned that Lenny killed Curley’s wife, they gathered a lynch mob to kill him. When we read this, it seems like their punishment for Lenny is unfair –it’s not fitting considering that Lenny lacked the mental capacity to fully understand his actions. But, when Lenny’s BFF George kills him, somehow when George kills Lenny, we aren’t as offended. We understand that George didn not kill Lenny out of revenge, but for the need to protect Lenny from the gang (and maybe to protect Lenny from himself). When George kills Lenny, another ranch hand, Slim, tells George,” Never you mind… A guy got to sometimes”. There are those who say that this is why they see no wrong in executing prisoners with dimished capacity. It’s the “rabid dog” defense. They reason that it is inhumane to allow a rabid dog to go around potentially hurting other people. We don’t kill the dog because it is cruel or because we necessarily want to kill the dog, but because we are saving others from an animal that cannot control itself. To put a mentally challenged man behind bars for the rest of his life, they argue is wrong because he may not understand why he is being held (the reasoning being if he doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong, how could he understand that he needs to spend the rest of his life in prison for it?). We worry about punishing mentally challenged people excessively, but we know that we cannot simply let them go either.

Thanatopsis

Arguably the best line ever delivered in the history of modern cinema was said in 1968 in George A. Romero’s classic tale of the undead, Night of the Living Dead. When asked by a local reporter if the dead are slow moving, Chief McClellan answers, “They’re dead. They’re all messed up”.

The chief’s response is the perfect meeting of a great line and a great delivery. That line had always stood out of the movie for me, even when I wasn’t in the habit of looking at things philosophically. But now since I’ve been bit by the philosophic bug, that line has lead me to ask myself a few questions: 1) What’s so messed up about death? 2) Is it messed up that you die? 3) Is there something inherent to death that, once someone dies they become messed up? 4) Are they messed up because they’re dead? 5) Is death itself a state of being messed up?

It really started to bother me.

Chief McClellan seems to think that the messed-upness about death is the fact that one is dead. Being dead, as evidenced by the chief’s sentiment and the ruthlessnes with which they “kill” the undead, robs an individual of his humanness.

Once a person dies (and in particular, if one reanimates) a person ceases to be morally considerable as anything other than something that must be destroyed.

Perhaps then, being messed up has something to do with the idea that a person lacks humanness.

So, I’m assuming that it goes something like this: person + dead = messed up, messed up = not human.

This seems to be the sentiment that not only runs through Romero’s movies, but throughout other zombie flicks as well ( I think a funnier description of the messed up state of dead people is said by the character “Rhodes” in George Romero’s Day of the Dead. Rhodes calls the undead “fuckin’ lunatics”. I say this because Rhodes may have been onto something and not known that he was).

This assessment, of course only leads us to more questions. I ask, if one can lose his humanness, what is humanness?

Does the fact that we die mean that we have to lose what makes us human (or at least morally considerable)? Also, I ask, when do we stop being human (this is important in the real world when we consider those who are only mostly dead, like someone who is in a persistent vegetative state or is “brain dead”)?

Does death mean we stop being human? Or is the sum of our humanity more than the sum of our (living) parts?

In the average zombie film, it seems that there is an inextricable connection between being human and being alive. This is exemplified by how the dead are described in the various films of the genre — “things”, “them”, “ghouls”, “stenches”, zombies”, “undead”, “deadites”, etc. They are called anything but “human” or “people”. If these movies reflect how we actually feel about the dead, then being a human (and thus morally considerable) is being something that is a body imbued with life.

It would take up too much time to get into the various views on what exactly life is, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that a thing that lives is something that breathes, has a discernible heartbeat, has a body temperature roughly around 98.6 degrees Farenheit, and neither rots nor attempts to eat the flesh of the living.

So, if life (as defined here) is a qualification for human classification, why do we worry about how the dead? Why do we worry about how dead bodies are treated (like why necrophilia is illegal in most states. I think that there are still a couple where you can have sex with any dead person that you want to get it on with), or why are we strongly discouraged from speaking ill of the dead?

Afterall, they’re not there to see us do anything to or speak ill about them.

Why do we keep promises to dead people? Seems like a waste of time to hold a promise made to a dead guy over our heads.

Perhaps our concern has more to do with our fear of ghosts, or visits from restless spirits, or divine retribution. Speaking of, I hope that Thomas Jefferson was haunted by the spirit of a dead friend whom he promised to use the friend’s money to buy the freedom of slaves when he died.

Jefferson didn’t.

But the question remains. If a zombie is messed up and morally unconsiderable, can we somehow cause harm to a zombie or other unliving person?

Since it’s so much fun, let’s look at zombies.

A zombie, according to Random House College Dictionary (def. 1), is

“the body of a dead person given semblance of life by a supernatural force”.

So, by definition, a zombie is someone who has the outward appearance of something that is living but is not: A zombie moves (or shambles), makes noise in the form of moaning, and in the case of Re-Animator’s Dr. Hill, it will perform oral sex on you.

(it’s a visual pun).

Zombies are put through various abuses throughout the pantheon of film: In George Romero’s Land of the Dead, zombies are made to fight each other over food (the “food” is a live person thrown into a cage with two zombies). In the 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead, the heroes play a shooting game where they shoot zombies who resemble celebrities. In Shaun of the Dead, zombies are used as contestants on a game show. In Tom Savini’s 1990 re-make of Night of the Living Dead and in Romero’s Diary of the Dead, zombies are used as target practice by local hillbillies.

In movies, zombies are killed, or re-killed in ways that we would never imagine treating a living person. This is because they’re “all messed up” — that is, not human.

There is a body but no one to offend. Since they’re dead already, you’re not killing anyone. “Killing” a zombie is no different than playing the latest RPG video game. But for some of us, this sentiment doesn’t sound right. Zombies look like us — they used to be regular people. It seems counterintuitive to treat someone who is dead in any way that we please. Being messed up doesn’t completely disqualify someone as morally considerable.

We do take care not to offend the dead, either by words or by deeds. In Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead, Barbara (who survives this time around) says about the zombies, ” They’re us. We’re them, and they’re us”. Barbara says this when she sees the local yahoos having their way with zombies. In Barbara’s view, a zombie is still a person. They’re more than their physicality. They don’t lose their personhood or humanness upon death. We’re still capable of committing violence against them. Their violence against us doesn’t seem to warrant mistreatment by the living.

There is a common thread that runs through the zombie films of Georre Romero that sets his films apart from other films in the genre. Namely, that Romero’s films may be entertaining, but they are also meant for us to think. This is a good thing.

The question (and the finer point) that runs through Romero’s zombie films is “who are the monsters?”. There is an obvious answer and there is the one that makes us a little uncomfortable.

Barbara discovered the answer when she saw the townies abusing the zombies.

When we think of an individual doing another person harm, there are two individuals that come to mind — the victim and the perpetrator.

We consider the act, but we also consider the intent of the person who committed the harm. This is where (I think it was) Kant was going when he suggested that it is wrong to break a promise to a dead man.

The moral transgression isn’t in that we harmed the dead person, so much in that it speaks to what kind of person we are morally. We evaluate the intent of the agent.

If I promise to buy the freedom of slaves with the money of my friend’s estate after he dies, and I do not, the moral harm is that I have shown myself to be untrustworthy, that I do not honor my own promises.

It does not matter who I made the promise to — I gave my word and I should honor my obligations to keep my word.

It’s funny that there is a reason [one might say excuse] as to why Jefferson acted as dastardly as he did. Jefferson wrote, ” The Earth belongs… to the living. The dead have neither power nor rights over it”.

Jefferson was kind of an Asshole.

Even Alexander Hamilton knew that.

A better example to use with zombies is how we treat animals or people with diminished capacity.

As Rhodes observed, zombies operate much like “lunatics”. That is, a zombie, as we are reminded in zombie flick after zombie flick, cannot be reasoned with. Likewise, people who have no control over their actions (perhaps because of mental illness) are not rational. It is incumbent on us, the rational ones, that we care for those who cannot control or care for themselves.

So perhaps we should think of zombies (or those who are mostly dead) more like we think of the mentally ill, or people who suffer from an addiction or compulsion. Since they cannot be but what they are, we should treat them sympathetically.

But not paternalistic.

Kant says that’s wrong.

For instance, my dog does not understand that there is a legitimate reason why he is not allowed to poop in the house. If I attempt to demonstrate my very well thought-out reason he shouldn’t, he won’t understand my reasoning. I cannot treat him as if he should understand. Nor would I hold him to the same rational standard that I would another rational adult human.

Therefore, when my dog leaves an “accident” indoors, I cannot punish him in the same way that I would if he were a grown (rational) man who had crapped on my livingroom floor. If I did, I would be out of line for doing so. If I do (which would entail some asskicking, if he were a rational human), then I am in the moral wrong for my behavior. My willingness to overpunish my dog reflects on me as a rational moral agent.

My moral aptitude is demonstrated by my actions.

So, if I string a zombie up and poke it with sticks for shits and giggles, it says much more about what kind of person I am than about how dangerous the zombie is.

And that’s precisely what Barbara saw.

It wasn’t the zombies who had lost their humanity, but the living.

The living had ceased to act like humans.

Their intent was to cause harm — it just so happens that their targets were people that they could get away with treating so badly.

Like the man who makes a promise to his dying friend and then breaks it, they treated the zombies harshly because they knew that they would get away with doing so. To them, a zombie is nothing more than a thing. It is not a person. It deserves no moral consideration. It deserves no respect.

An interesting side note is that we can see this attitude (maybe not to such a degree) in our electronic world. Websites such as Second Life enable people to enter a “reality” where they can act and do what they choose. A person can indulge any and every desire. The idea is, is that if there is no real person, then there is no moral transgression. There is no living being to offend.

This is the same idea that is behind the idea of virtual child pornography. Since the child in question is the product of a computer and there is no real child who corresponds with the virtual image, then there is no moral wrong with having (virual) sex or viewing sexually explicit images of children who do not exist. But, we know that even if there is no actual being being molested, but there is an actual someone in the real world who is having sex with virtual children.

If one doubts that there is a problem here, all one needs to do is ask this question: would you feel comfortable alone, camping in the woods with someone who you discovered enjoyed rape/murder fantacies in a virtual world? Would it matter if nothing actually happened to anyone who actually existed (that they only did it with/to a virtual person, an automaton, or god forbid, a zombie), or would the fact that that person even entertained those sorts of intentions cause you to turn down the invite to go camping this weekend?

My guess is you’d suddenly have to wash your hair and take the cat to the vet that weekend.

What matters isn’t that the victim is dead and “all messed up”, but that, like Romero suggests, the monsters — the MORAL monsters — are us.

The end scene in Diary of the Dead is the perfect example of this point of view:

The final scene of the film depicts a couple of gunsmen who have rigged up zombies for target practice. Their last target is a female zombie who has been strung up from a tree by her hair. One of the gunsmen shoots, blasting her body away from her head. As her body drops, the top half of her head and her hair remain rigged to the tree. And as her head dangles, a single blood tear streams from the corner of her eye.

This final scene, the zombie’s single tear, suggests that despite her condition, she still retained some bit of her humanity.

Perhaps she wasn’t as messed up as Chief McClellan has believed. Somehow she, despite being dead, still feels.

The body my die and whither away, but there is some part of us that remains.

There’s a “something else” (the soul, perhaps — if your theology goes that way) is what is harmed by the actions of the living.

It seems that many people, when they think of people who died, tend to treat the dead according to this view.

But of course, any atheist (or strict materialist) would object to notions of souls existing past death.

Spoil sports.

We’ll grant them that.

(primarily because that’s what I believe myself).

So, in real life, the dead do not a gamble around and eat the living, and godless materialists may not believe in souls, but we do have, in our own minds, memories of those who have passed.

We can or should respect that.

There’s an old cliche — that a person isn’t truly dead so long as we keep them in our hearts. This may be why we are offended by the idea of treating a dead person improperly — why the idea of necrophilia or cannibalism (unless we happen to be stranded in the Andes mountains with our soccer team), or procuring organs without the original owner’s consent, are abhorent to us.

The body is material and will eventually rot and turn to dust. But the body is also symbolic of the person who once was. And to that, we feel have a deep moral obligation.

Until we are completely forgotten and lost to history, we may argue, when we die, we become more than the sum of our parts. At least as long as those who remember us are living, our existence, our humanity, becomes transcendent.

More importantly, how we regard the dead reflects on who we are — that we  are honorable, moral people.

So, it is indeed possible to harm the dead, because when we harm the dead, we harm ourselves.

Treating the dead harshly takes away from our own moral standing — we become less human when we do so.

The short of it is, is that when we die we don’t lose our humanness. And being dead isn’t so messed up.

Well, it’s either that, or we really are afraid of visits from good old Jacob Marley and his rattling chains.

….. or even worse, that kid from The Ring.