If Daryl Dies…. eh… I’m not even watching anymore

WELL, FOLKS… IT’S APRIL and April means the season finale of my favorite tv show.

I couldn’t tell you what happened, tho.

I didn’t watch it.

I haven’t watched the entire season, actually.

That’s because it used to be my favorite tv show.

Unfortunately, the fate that has befallen so many others has finally happened to me: I am no longer a fan of The Walking Dead.*

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MEMORIES OF BETTER DAYS… AND BETTER EPISODES

I gotta admit, it’s been a fun ride. I was genuinely impressed for a few seasons.

Most tv shows these days have only a handful of good episodes.

Don’t get me wrong, The Walking Dead has never been as impressive as Westworld or Game of Thrones (or its fellow AMC drama series, Mad Men), but for a tv show that is — honestly speaking — a soap opera about zombies, The Walking Dead has supplied a more than expected bounty of philosophical stuff (and thangs) to think about.

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RICK GRIMES IS THINKING… PROBABLY BAD DECISIONS THAT WILL GET PEOPLE KILLED, BUT HE’S THINKING

Listen: if kinda sorta doing philosophy for awhile has taught me anything, it’s taught me that philosophical stuff is everywhere. Literally everywhere.

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Buzz gets it.

A great thing about studying philosophical stuff, believe it or not, is discovering philosophy in stuff that isn’t explicitly philosophical. Sure, you can spend your summer boning up on Kant’s categorical imperative or slogging through Hegel (that nobody wants to read or actually reads), but wouldn’t you rather not do that if you don’t have to do it?

Wouldn’t you rather just watch tv instead?

FUN WITH PHILOSOPHY: if, by watching a tv show, we can not only learn philosophical ideas easier, but also expose a greater number of people to philosophy, we are OBLIGATED to watch the tv show!

How do we know it’s an obligation? 

Utilitarianism.

And, utilitarianism is PHILOSOPHY.

In the whatever-many years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written posts entirely about or have mentioned The Walking Dead in no fewer than 39 posts. I’ve used The Walking Dead to write about philosophical topics including (but not limited to):

  • Determinism vs. Free Will
  • Moral Culpability
  • The Ethics of Pacifism
  • Hobbes’ State of Nature
  • Socrates’ Philosopher-King
  • Gettier Problems
  • The Meaning of Life
  • The Metaphysics of the Undead
  • The Ethics of Loyalty
  • Justifying killing
  • The Ethics of Veganism
  • The Utilitarian/Hedonistic Calculus
  • The Trolley Problem
  • Moral consistency (or, if I’m writing about Rick Grimes, moral inconsistency)
  • …And some other philosophical stuff

And– although I got my problems with Negan, I can’t think of another tv series that has inspired me philosophically.

Wait a minute there is one.

Star Trek.

Another tv show is Star Trek. 

The thing is, unlike The Walking Dead, Gene Roddenberty created Star Trek with philosophical subtext in mind. Classic Star Trek episodes “The City On the Edge Of Forever”, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, “The Measure of a Man”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, and “Thine Own Self” are extra philosophical.

And who can forget this philosophical as hell episode?

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The episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” isn’t merely philosophical — it also features one of tv’s first interracial kiss.

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And THAT’S the reason why I used to like The Walking Dead. The philosophy wasn’t served up on a platter like an episode of Star Trek or a philosophy-themed series like The Good Place.

If you wanted to get down and philosophical while watching The Walking Dead, you had to dig for it. You had to put on a yellow miner helmet with a little flashlight and mine every that-didn’t-happen-in-the-comic-book moment (like that whole fiasco of Glenn’s under-the-dumpster plot twist, aka the moment everybody yelled “you’ve got to be kidding me!!!”) to find the philosophical subtext. Episodes like season 4’s “The Grove” and season 2’s “Judge, Jury, Executioner” demonstrate the ethical dilemma — do we kill one to save many –– as well as any other Trolley Problem scenerio. The characters Rick, Shane, The Governor, and Negan depict examples of leadership guided by ethical principles and the justifications each uses for their individual leadership styles — the benevolent autocracy of Rick Grimes, the seeming utopia of The Governor, the violent dictatorship of Negan…

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YEAH. , AIN’T JUST LUCILLE

I could (believe me, I did) go on for hours explaining why The Walking Dead wasn’t the best tv show on the air — it was the most GOOD show on tv.

By GOOD, I meant The Walking Dead  wasn’t just “good” because it was entertaining, but GOOD because it was philosophically beneficial.

Like, watching The Walking Dead gets you all up in the eudaimonia –philosophically beneficial.

I no longer do that.

I’m no longer a fan of the show.

So I don’t watch the show anymore.

For all I know, season 9 might have been philosophical AF. 

I hope it was.

Not likely, but I hope it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* for the one of you that was wondering exactly why I’ve stopped watching The Walking Dead, I can only explain my dis-fandom by saying the show caught a bad case of The Dumb.

Y’all that also don’t watch any more know what I mean.

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The Utilitarian Calculus Will Shut That Shit Down, NO EXCEPTIONS

WELL… IT’S FALL and if autumn means one thing, it means the return of my favorite hate to love/love to hate TV show, The Walking Dead.
I’ve been watching this show, basic cable television’s highest rated zombie-infused soap opera, since the first episode aired in October 2009.

It’s only now that I’m really beginning to question if I should have devoted so much time to this t.v. show.

Now, before you start going on about how if I don’t like the show, I should just stop watching, for starters, I’ve been telling myself that for the past three seasons. Second, I would stop watching The Walking Dead if they would stop putting so much philosophy in it.

It’s the worst best philosophical show on t.v.
Best because the show combines my two favorite things: philosophy and zombies.

Worst because of this guy

 

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UGH.

 

That’s right. I’m no fan of Negan.

The more I watch Negan, the more I kinda miss the Governor.

 

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GOTTA ADMIRE A GUY WHO CAN USE THE SIGHT OF HIS GUN WITH AN EYE THAT ISN’T THERE

 

Rick Grimes’ current nemesis , the mononymously named Negan, first appeared in the season six finale episode “Last Day On Earth”. Armed with his barbed wire-wrapped Louisville Slugger Lucile, Negan declares himself the ultimate badass, bludgeons not one, but two of Rick Grimes’ group (Abraham and Glenn), humiliates Rick in front of his people, and nearly forces Rick to cut off the arm of his son Carl.

Negan does all of this and he still becomes a fan favorite.

Seriously, just Google Negan cosplay.

Up until season eight Negan was just a deranged, leather coat wearing, inexplicably leaning back, monologuing, constant dick joke telling, bat wielding psychopath. But, in the season eight episode 5 episode “The Big Scary U”, The Walking Dead shows us is that Negan isn’t just a guy with a ridiculously wide, bright-toothed grin in a leather jacket who’ll bash your brains in, he’s actually got a philosophy.

Dare I say the man’s got ethics.

Being that this is The Walking Dead, one guess what system of ethics Negan uses.

You guessed it: Negan is a utilitarian.
The big scary U is utilitarianism.

 

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THAT U IS BIG… AND KINDA SCARY

 

Well, actually in the show it’s the unknown.

However, ethically speaking, the big scary u guiding damn-near every dumb decision ever made by any character on The Walking Dead seems grounded in the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.

I say seems grounded.

Because most of the time they get it wrong.

 

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LOOK CLOSELY: RICK IS JUST CAME UP WITH ANOTHER DUMB IDEA

 

Well, before I get into how they get utilitarianism wrong on The Walking Dead, it’s probably a good idea to explain what utilitarianism is.

Utilitarianism, the consequentialist ethical theory which stats that an act is judged morally right or wrong depending on the consequences (of that action). Although consequentialist ethics have been around since humans have had ethics, the origin of utilitarianism s credited to the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 –1832).
Bentham’s consequentialist ethical theory (hedonism) is grounded on the principle of utility.
Bentham states:

By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness.

For Bentham, maximizing pleasure is the goal of any action. The maximization of pleasure is the highest good.

 

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HEDONISTIC PLEASURE: MAXIMIZED

Although Bentham is credited with inventing modern utilitarianism, the British economist and philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is the philosopher most associated with utilitarianism.

 

I guess if you don’t include Peter Singer.
Or Henry Sidgwick.

…or G.E. Moore.

Mill rejects Bentham’s hedonistic calculus (Mill states that pleasure alone cannot be the standard by which we judge the morality of an act). According to Mill, an act is morally right if the act maximizes the happiness of the community.

Mill defines happiness as well being.

The primary principle of Mill’s utilitarianism is the Greatest Happiness Principle.
And that, according to Mill, is:

The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals “utility” or the “greatest happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

We’ve seen plenty of (sometimes opposing) ethical systems on The Walking Dead.

The deontological ethics of Dale Horvath.

Hershel Greene’s biblically based morality.

The egoist tendencies of the Governor.

The Hobbesian nightmare of Terminus.

Daryl Dixon’s ethics of loyalty.

The moral grab bag that is Rick Grimes…

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHERE ARE THIS GUY’S ETHICS?????

 

So, when you see a man beat a man to death with a baseball bat, one may be inclined to ask, “exactly how does he justify doing this?”

Luckily the fifth episode of season eight tells us exactly that.

Negan’s justification is Utilitarian.

 

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THERE’S SOMETHING NOT RIGHT ABOUT HAVING TEETH THAT BRIGHT THREE YEARS INTO A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

 

Negan explains to Father Gabriel that he hasn’t “killed anyone who didn’t need it”.
In an exchange with the recently deposed leader of the Hilltop (and all-around weaselly guy) Gregory

Apparently, no one has a last name in a zombie apocalypse.

Negan explains to Gregory that he is not guilty of committing brutal murder. On the contrary, Negan says, his seemingly evil actions are not only justified but necessary.
Their conversation goes like this:

Gregory: Listen, I mean it when I say it – Negan, I don’t like killing people any more than you do.
Negan: I like killing people… I say it’s about killing the right people. So you kill the right people at the right time, everything falls into place. Everybody’s happy. Well, some people more than others. But you kill one, then you can be saving hundreds more – and THAT is what we are all about. We save people.

The right people.
The right time.
Everybody’s happy.
We save people.
Saving hundreds.

Furthermore, when Father Gabriel suggests that Negan’s workers are being forced to work against their will, Negan tells Gabriel (or “Gabey”, as Negan calls him) that his worker class is “an economy”. Negan says no one is a slave no one goes hungry.
No one goes hungry.

 

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AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF PICKLES: THE PERKS OF TURNING COAT AND SELLING OUT YOUR FRIENDS TO NEGAN

 

If we evaluate Negan’s explanations to Gregory and Father Gabriel, according to Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, a Sanctuary full of happy, safe people with full bellies make a damn good argument in favor of Negan’s justification for killing a few people.

Even if those people are Abraham and Glenn.
And Denise
And Olivia
And Spencer
And Benjamin
And Sasha…

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

The Walking Dead. “The Big Scary U”. Story by Scott M. Gimple, David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Teleplay by David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis. Original airdate: November 19, 2017.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/

You Picked A Fine Time to Hit Me, Lucille

THE LATE GEORGE A. ROMERO, father of the modern movie zombie, crushed the souls of The Walking Dead fans when he declared his not-fondness for the show, stating that The Walking Dead was nothing more than a soap opera with an occasional zombie in it. The problem with The Walking Dead, according to Romero, is that the show lacks the deeper meaning found in his zombie films.

Although The Walking Dead has certainly met the blood and guts standard, the show is short of substance. At least according to George A. Romero.

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LEGIT ZOMBIES CAN BE DESCRIBED IN METAPHOR. IN THIS CASE (1978’s ‘DAWN OF THE DEAD”) THE METAPHOR IS MINDLESS CONSUMERISM

As much as I love Romero’s films, I disagree with his assessment of The Walking Dead.

Not the soap opera part. The Walking Dead is a soap opera. And that occasional zombie was a season two thing. You know, because AMC canned Frank Darrabont… and the budget got slashed, so they didn’t have as many zombies… and all this stuff…

Oh, wait. Where was I?

was I anywhere?

Anyway, I think that there’s plenty of substance going on in The Walking Dead.

Some of it is kinda obvious.

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THIS KIND OF OBVIOUS

I’ve been writing about philosophy in The Walking Dead for awhile, now. In fact, I think I’ve written about The Walking Dead more than any other thing I’ve decided to analyze from a philosophical point of view. Most of my TWD posts are about how this or that character does this or that that is or isn’t the morally correct thing to do.

Writing about ethics keeps my posts pretty much on the side of Western philosophy.

I’m pretty sure that there’s a lot to write about The Walking Dead from an Eastern philosophical point of view as well.

The series dipped into Eastern philosophy in the season six episode “Here’s Not Here”, and the character Morgan Jones’ morality is grounded in an Eastern point of view.

Honestly, I don’t write about Eastern philosophy because its not my forte.

That’s not gonna stop me from doing it, tho.

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Because I’m a philosopher. And philosophers are qualified to write about everything.

There are many well-known Eastern philosophical texts: the Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Analects, Upanishads, and The Art of War.

Not the Wesley Snipes movie, the book.

This book.

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And never to be confused with The Art of the Deal, written by the current U.S. president, Donald J. Trump.

More specifically, I’m referring to the 5th century text on military strategy and tactics written by the philosopher-general Sun Tzu. The Art of War is considered to be the definitive work on strategy and tactics and although The Art of War was not intended to be general audiences (like Hegel), Sun Tzu’s treatise is read by such diverse readers as U.S. military intelligence, sports coaches, and business leaders.

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THIS GUY PROBABLY THUMBED THROUGH “THE ART OF WAR”

Although The Art of War is requited reading for those who want to conquer the enemy from generals to CEOs to kindergarten teachers with the soul of a Mongol conqueror, it’s obvious that this book does not exist in the fictional world of The Walking Dead.

When it comes to strategy and tactics, the characters in The Walking Dead do too much dumb.

A particular master at the dumb is the current charming and way-too-attractive-to-be-a-real-bad-guy-in-the-real-world, the villain without a full name, Negan, played by Jeffery Dean Morgan.

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NEGAN

Negan may seem like a badass to most but to some he is a mess of a shitstorm level, already-doomed-to-fail, bad decision making.

This would not be the case if Negan had read The Art of War.

You see, in The Art of War Sun Tzu lays out the perfect plan for defeating one’s enemies.

Negan does none of that plan.

Sun Tzu writes that war should not entered into casually. A leader should ask if war is even necessary? Moral aptitude and decisiveness are required (in leadership) for a quick victory.

The aim is victory without war. According to Sun Tzu,

“Weapons are ominous tools to be used only when there is no alternative.”

Skillful generals win by taking advantage of enemies weaknesses, annexing territory and supplies, and disrupting the relationship between a general and his army.

Sun Tzu also writes that wars are to be short with the least amount of loss possible.

Seems like a pretty easy to-do list, right?

Not for Negan.

Negan starts off with violence.

Violence courtesy of Negan’s barbed wire wrapped Louisville Slugger named Lucille.

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Now, Sun Tzu says the goal is to break resistance without fighting. But when your first contact is smashing someone’s head in with a baseball bat and taking their stuff, you’ve thrown out the possibility of avoiding fighting.

In fact, all you’ve done is sown the seeds of anger, resentment, and a festering want for revenge.

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NO MAN BLOWS A SNOT BUBBLE LIKE THAT AND DOESN’T WANT REVENGE ON THE MAN WHO MADE HIM DO IT

It’s clear that Negan is practicing a kind of Roman scorched earth policy; intimidation by overwhelming strength. But it’s obviously not a good tactic. At least it’s a tactic that isn’t guaranteed to always succeed. Negan is not just facing war with Rick’s group at Alexandria, but with two additional settlements, The Kingdom and Hilltop, as well.

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HILLTOP IS LEAD BY A MAN WITH A PET TIGER. A. TIGER. 

Not to mention there’s growing dissension within Negan’s own ranks.

Dissention within Negan’s “army” is attributable to Negan’s leadership style.

Sun Tzu writes,

“A leader leads by example, not by force”

Negan’s compound, The Sanctuary, is ruled by force. Negan is sole dictator, with a cadre of men (or Saviors) who enforce Negan’s absolute rule.

Negan takes the wives of The Sanctuary’s men and persuades/coerces the women to be his “wives”. The men are no longer granted access to their former wives or else face the consequences.

Like a hot iron to the face.

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DWIGHT CAN TELL YOU ALL ABOUT THAT HOT IRON TO THE FACE THING

People in The Sanctuary are not permitted to leave.

Everyone and everything “belongs” to Negan. When asked the question “who are you?”, personal identities are thrown aside, as the proper answer to the question is “I am Negan”.

Failure to answer the question correctly earns you a beat down.

Because Negan leads by force.

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In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes,

“Treat captives well, and take care of them”

Sun Tzu says when one takes care of the captured enemy, one is “using the conquered foe to augment one’s strength.”

Naturally, Negan screws the pooch on this one when he captures Rick’s greatest warrior, Daryl Dixon.

Daryl is imprisoned, psychologically tortured, mistreated, and malnourished – nothing that would sway his loyalty from Rick and his fellow Alexandrians. Negan wants to “break” Daryl, but had he read Sun Tzu, he might have realized that a better tactic might have been to use honey with Daryl Dixon instead of vinegar.

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I HAVEN’T PLAYED ONE NOTE, BUT YOU’RE ALREADY HEARING “EASY STREET” IN YOUR HEAD. ADMIT IT. YOU ARE, AREN’T YOU?

It’s clear that Negan knew that a little bit of care works, as playing the gracious host is how he wins over captive Alexandrian, Eugene.

Negan also uses the charm offensive in an attempt to win over another captive from Rick’s group, Sasha.

But Sasha swallows poison and kills herself rather than join Negan’s Saviors.

Can’t win ‘em all, eh?

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YOU HAVE REACHED A WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF SUCK-ASS WHEN A WOMAN WOULD RATHER KILL HERSELF AND REANIMATE AS A ZOMBIE THAN TO SPEND ANY TIME WITH YOU

While demonstrating to the King of Wu that his concubines could be trained like the King’s best soldiers, Sun Tzu placed two of the King’s favorite concubines to serve as generals to the others. After giving the women orders, the groups of concubines were commanded to carry out the orders as instructed. The women did not comply.

They giggled.

Sun Tzu informed the King that failure to comply is the commander’s fault. Sun Tzu told the King,

“But when they [orders] have been made clear, and are not carried out in accordance with military law, it is a crime on the part of the officers.”

Sun Tzu then ordered that the King’s favorite concubines be beheaded.

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SUN TZU TRAINING THE CONCUBINE ARMY

This story is apocryphal, but still applies.

If Negan claims that everything as his, including people, then Rick’s group (Rick’s “army”, if you will) also belongs to Negan. Negan’s new acquisitions fail to comply with his orders because their leadership prevents them from doing so – that is, the Alexandrians’ loyalty to Rick is interfering with their obedience to Negan.

Negan allows Rick to remain leader of the Alexandrians, and as a consequence orders are not carried out in accordance with Negan’s law.

Rick Grimes is a bad general.

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THIS IS THE REASON WHY RICK’S GROUP WILL NEVER CARRY OUT NEGAN’S ORDERS. THIS. 

Negan keeps Rick around even though it’s clear that he should have bumped Rick off from the get-go. Unfortunately, Negan is a rabid weasels bag full of TV tropes (including, but not limited to “evil gloating”, or as coined by Roger Ebert, “The talking killer”). Instead of doing what would assure The Savior’s victory, like, I don’t know, killing the leader of a rival group – Negan insists on giving Rick Grimes and the Alexandrians even more reason to seek revenge against The Saviors.

That means that both groups are headed towards “all out war” – something that won’t be resolved quickly.

Exactly what Sun Tzu says shouldn’t happen. Sun Tzu writes,

“What is essential in war is victory, no prolonged operations”

In all fairness, there is one thing that Negan gets right.

Sun Tzu writes,

“Hence the wise general sees to it that his troops feed on the enemy…

Negan’s system of tribute, forcing other settlements to provide food, weapons, and supplies to the Sanctuary, keeps The Saviors well fed and supplied.

So I guess even by Sun Tzu’s standards, Negan is a completely awful leader.

You can’t be an awful leader when you wear a snazzy leather jacket.

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COME ON, YOU GOTTA ADMIT IT. EVEN IF YOU HATE NEGAN THAT JACKET IS FREAKING SWEET

In the end, I can’t be sure if nobody read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in The Walking Dead universe. Before the undead conquered the earth, Negan was a PE coach and probably had plenty of spare time between coaching vigorous ping pong games to read Sun Tzu’s work and fantasize of being the leader of the second most badass group to populate a Washington DC-adjacent post-apocalypse.

Seriously, Negan was a ping pong coach.**

Although I generally consider myself the last person to argue with the inventor of the flesh eating ghoul as a viable movie subgenre, but, despite appearances, you can squeeze a whole hell of a lot of deep stuff out of The Walking Dead.

…even a 5th century Chinese manual of military strategy and tactics.

George Romero might not have realized it, but it’s actually quite easy to take a handful of out of context Sun Tzu quotes and apply it to a basic cable soap opera with an occasional zombie in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

** For more on Negan’s adventures as a ping pong coach, check out The Walking Dead multi-part prequel comic Here’s Negan.

SOURCES:
Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Trans. by Samuel B. Griffith. 1963. London: Oxford University Press.

Curious about “the talking killer” trope? Check out: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilGloating

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

SOMETIMES IT’S DIFFICULT to participate in a fandom.

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

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

Unless the movie is Star Wars.

Star Wars people are NUTS.

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NOT EVERY POPULAR FRANCHISE CAN CLAIM TO HAVE FANS THIS DEDICATED

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

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

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

Cosplay:

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

Cosplay.

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THE MOST AWESOME COSPLAY EVER

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

In particular, fans of this character

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Daryl Dixon.

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

Or obsession…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I don’t remember if I have.

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

Or should I say that Rick Grimes is morally fluid?

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But that’s another blog post for another day…

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

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

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

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

I actually don’t know.

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

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

…but he is consistent.

Philosophers value consistency.

consistency

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

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

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A moral obligation grounded on loyalty.

Daryl Dixon’s primary moral principle is loyalty.

Daryl Dixon loyal almost to a fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHEN DARYL CRIES, WE CRY

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

Because he is loyal to Rick.

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

You get the idea…

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

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TOTALLY YOUR FAULT, DARYL

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

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

That keeps Daryl pretty consistent, morality-wise.

Which is more than I can say for this guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trust me, I’ve done that before.

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

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

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

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

At least so far as moral consistency goes.

…or according to fangirls.

 

 

 

 

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

A BRIEF ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF DETERMINISM ON THE WALKING DEAD

I’VE ALWAYS HAD an inkling that there was something odd about the way characters act on The Walking Dead. Sometimes a character’s actions defies common sense. Like something makes them act in a particular or peculiar way.

Those things are usually called writers.

But seriously, characters on The Walking Dead sometimes seem unable to do other than what they do, even if what they don’t do is the logical thing to do – almost as if an unseen force is compelling these characters to act in a specific way.

Characters on this show often have a bad case of the dumb.

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THE REAL TITLE OF THE SHOW

I used to think that the inexplicable choosing of bad choices was the product of bad writing.

I blamed bad writing until I saw The Walking Dead Season 7, episode 16, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”

It was then that everything became more clear to me.

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Characters on The Walking Dead do dumb things because that’s what they’re determined to do.

In the universe of The Walking Dead there is no free will.

There is only determinism.

Determinism:
“Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

The reason why I think the lives of the characters on The Walking Dead are governed by determinism has a little something to do with a speech by Maggie Rhee.

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PICTURED: MAGGIE CONTEMPLATING HER ROLE AS POSSIBLE MORAL CENTER OF THE GROUP. SHE SHOULD WATCH OUT ABOUT THAT

In the aftermath of the brutal bludgeoning murders of Abraham Ford and Glenn Rhee (Maggie’s husband) by the leather jacketed, inexplicably leaning to the side, baseball bat-wielding Negan, Maggie delivers this speech:

The decision was made a long time ago. Before any of us knew each other. We were all strangers who would have passed each other on the street before the world ended. But now we mean everything to each other. Glenn didn’t know you but he helped you. He put himself in danger for you and that started it all. From Atlanta, to my daddy’s farm, to the prison, to here. To this moment now – not as strangers; as family – because Glenn chose to be there for you, that day a long time ago – that was the decision that changed everything. It started with both of you and it just grew, all of this: to sacrifice for each other, to suffer and stand, to grieve, to give, to love, to live, to fight for each other. Glenn made that decision, Rick. I was just following his lead.

As poignant as Maggie’s voice-overed speech was, there was something that struck my mind about it, namely, the first line: The decision was made a long time ago.

Maggie’s speech suggests that everything that happened (presumably from the first episode on) was the inevitable outcome from one decision.

A decision that was made a long time ago.

A decision I call determinism.

The French-German philosopher (and hard determinist) Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789) writes of man’s actions:

Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant. He is born without his own consent; his organization does in nowise depend upon himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; his habits are in the power of those who cause him to contact them; he is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control, which necessarily regulate his mode of existence, give the hue to his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. He is good or bad, happy or miserable, wise or foolish, reasonable or irrational, without his will being any thing in these various states.

You will say that I feel free. This is an illusion.

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LOOKS EXACTLY THE WAY YOU’D IMAGINE THAT A GUY THAT SAYS YOU HAVE NO FREE WILL WOULD LOOK, DOESN’T HE?

 

The character’s lives are kind of like dominoes: You knock down the first domino, setting off a chain of events, causing each proceeding domino to fall.

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So…

IF Maggie and Baron d’Holbach are correct, Glenn’s actions, and the events in The Walking Dead are the inevitable consequence of a prior series of events.

Glenn had to save Rick.

Rick had to be reunited with his family.

Shane and Lori had to have an affair.

Rick had to kill Shane.

Lori had to die.

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THIS MAY BE THE ONLY GOOD THING ABOUT DETERMINISM

The group had to leave Georgia.

The group had to find Alexandria.

Maggie had to have complications with her pregnancy.

And this had to happen to Glenn.

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Now, Maggie says that Glenn made the choice, but it is plausible that something else made the decision.

That is, something made the choice for Glenn to make a choice.

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IF GLENN’S CHOICE IS NOT THE OUTCOME OF A CAUSAL CHAIN IN THE NATURAL WORLD, THEN…. 

You can call it fate that Glenn found Rick Grimes hiding in a zombie-surrounded tank in Atlanta. But Glenn had to be there just as Rick had to be there.

Because the decision was made a long time ago.

But who made the decision?

God, maybe?

Is it possible that a Divine power has determined the character’s fates?

The show seems to suggest that (the Christian) God exists, or at least the possibility that God exists.

Religious characters exist in The Walking Dead: Hershel Greene, Father Gabriel Stokes. Characters pray. Bible verses and references to Bible verses appear throughout the series. Events in the show have paralleled stories in the Bible (Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac/Rick’s sacrifice of his son’s arm).

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YOU MAY NOT HAVE REALIZED IT, BUT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THINKING OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS DURING THIS SCENE

 

And a few characters have religious names.

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THERE’S A CHARACTER NAMED JESUS FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!

When Rick’s group encounters a lone doctor, Edwin Jenner, at the CDC, Jenner does not exclude the possibility that the zombie apocalypse may be due to an “act of God”.

If God exists and everything that happens in The Walking Dead is the result of a choice made a long time ago, Maggie Rhee’s view of the world may be fatalistic, events are fated to happen.

There’s a religious doctrine that teaches (us that) all human action is determined: Theological determinism.

Or fatalism, if you prefer.

'Well, You've sent them floods, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, plagues, wars, and hurricanes -- of course they're fatalistic!'

Predestination if you’re a Calvinist.

Theological determinism is a belief professed by St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and the American philosopher, Jonathan Edwards.

Strong theological determinism is the belief that

“everything that happens has been predestined to happen by an omniscient divinity.”

Some believe that the Bible makes the case for theological determinism. Ephesians 1:11 states

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.

According to theological determinism, God does not need to follow (natural) causal rules of d’Holbach’s philosophical determinism. Human actions and events are not the necessary result of a series of prior events, but occur according to the totally inescapable capricious will of an omniscient, all-powerful deity.

UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

Things happen because HE has ordained it so.

A long time ago.

As John Calvin says,

“All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God

So… does Maggie Rhee’s decisions made a long time ago speech mean that The Walking Dead exists in a determined universe? Of course not. If anything, the abundance of bad choices and poor decision making indicates that Rick Grimes, Maggie Rhee, and their fellow survivors possess an abundance of free will.

After all, what kind of all-knowing deity would make people do so many things that are so… dumb?

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that The Walking Dead, like the real world, is frequently governed by dumb luck, chance, and the occasional stars lining up just right that it only seems like everything works out the way it’s supposed to.

 

…unless they’re compatibilists

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/determinism.html

Baron d’Holbach. System of Nature (1770). http://www.ftarchives.net/holbach/system/a11.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theological_determinism

DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

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

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

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

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

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

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

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

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

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

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

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

 

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

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Well, it depends on who you ask.

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

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

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

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

 

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

That’s bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICK GRIMES.

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

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

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

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

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

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

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

 

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REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

WHERE’S CARL? (On The Walking Dead and moral culpability)

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW things that really get me excited these days.

One thing that gets me going is a good deal on outdoor summer plants at Home Depot.

Another thing is watching The Walking Dead.
I’m not going to say it’s the best TV show ever (Lord knows that’s Firefly), but I will say that, as a philosopher, The Walking Dead is chock-full of philosophical whatnot!

Whatnot is a legitimate philosophical term, by the way.

One philosophical topic that is particularly whatnotty on The Walking Dead is ethics.

The show is a never-ending bounty of moral dilemmas.

Philosophers love moral dilemmas.

moral dilemmas

 

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time,

 

Seriously, how does Carl Grimes do five years worth of aging in eight months?

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THIS KID IS GOING TO HAVE A FULL BEARD BY SEASON 7

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time, the primary goal of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his bad of fellow survivors is to survive. Morally speaking, the fight for survival would make the show much like Hobbes’ Leviathan – a world where life is nasty, brutish and short. A war of all against all.

 

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But there’s something else going on in The Walking Dead besides mere survival. The characters don’t just want to survive, they want to live. They want to make a better world. To bring about a greater good.

Unfortunately for Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors, morally speaking, The Walking Dead plays out more like a series of unfortunate events.

How the best of intentions sometimes paves the road to hell.

 

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The idea of pursuing the greater good is the focus of the ethical theory of Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism, most associated with the English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), is based on the Greatest Happiness Principle, which is, according to Mill in Utilitarianism (1861):

 

the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

 

That is to say, utilitarianism dictates that an act is morally permissible if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number (of people).

However, unlike Kant’s deontological ethics, which emphasizes the intrinsic goodness of an act, utilitarianism is teleological, that is, the ultimate rightness of an act depends on an act’s consequences.

This only highlights the main problem with utilitarianism.

The focus is on expected consequences.

 

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IT’S ALL YOU, CONSEQUENCES

You see, when we use utilitarian ethics, we notice something almost immediately. Utilitarian ethics seems very easy to do. We simply do what we think will make the most people happy. Unfortunately, the seemingly ease of utilitarian ethics is often deceptive.

Figuring out what “happiness” is, is often more difficult than it appears to be.

 

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There’s one, BIG problem with evaluating moral goodness on consequences.

 

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As the saying goes, even your best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned. Shit happens, and sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way that we wanted it.

 

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The Walking Dead seems to be plagued by a nasty, little cause and effect scenario: Some character’s (often well-meaning) direct action constantly leads to something worse happening.

And when something worse happens; when outcomes don’t turn out as planned, we’re in a position to assign moral culpability.

 

blame it on

 

Ok, utilitarianism requires us to make decisions based on expected consequences (what we think will bring the greatest good for the greatest number), but we often lack full knowledge of a given situation.

 

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UNLESS YOU’RE GOD. AND IF SO, YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO TURN OUT

Because we do not possess full knowledge of a situation, our utilitarian moral judgments are always going to be based on our best estimates. There is always a chance that even our best estimates of what actions will bring about the greatest happiness will not result in the greatest good.

Even with the best of intentions bad things happen.

Remember: Mill tells us that the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

 

  • So, when Carol tells Sam a story about zombies eating him so he won’t snitch about seeing Carol in Alexandria‘s food pantry/armory, Carol’s terrifying story eventually results in the deaths of Sam, his mother, Jessie, and his brother, Ron. Carol tells Sam the story with the intention of keeping Rick’s group’s plans to take over Alexandria (a move that Rick’s group thought would be for the greater good) secret. However, when Sam and his family are surrounded by a herd of the undead, Carol’s story repeats in his head, causing Sam to panic and draw attention to Sam and his family.

 

The show had already established that Sam was s bit unhinged and suggests that what Carol tells him is what sends poor Sam over the edge.

Because Carol failed to calculate the ultimate consequence of what she said, we feel that Carol bears (at least some of) the blame for Sam’s death.

  • Also in that scene, Michonne fatally stabs Ron with her Katana when Ron points his gun at Rick after Ron’s mother and brother are devoured by walkers. We (and Michonne, we assume) know that if Rick dies, the group will be leaderless.

 

And that would be bad.

Michonne, we presume, stabs Ron because keeping Rick alive would be good for the group (i.e. the greater good).

 

richonne

THIS MIGHT HAVE ALSO HAD SOMETHING TO SO WITH IT

 

However, what happens is Ron shoots Carl in the eye.

An unforeseen consequence.

Because Michonne didn’t calculate the possibility that Ron would flinch while being stabbed through the back with a katana, Carl lost an eye, it wouldn’t be too far fetched if we ascribed a little bit of moral blame to Michonne for what happened to Carl.

 

  • Then there’s Morgan, who lets a group of attackers (The Wolves) escape after they’ve viciously attacked and slaughtered people in Alexandria. Morgan allows The Wolves to escape because he believes that all life is precious and that not killing is the greater good. The bad guys, in turn, attempt to kill Rick. And – a lone Wolf that Morgan captures takes a hostage and nearly gets the woman killed while attempting to leave Alexandria. Morgan’s goal was to rehabilitate the Wolf – something he thought would be good for everyone.

 

It makes sense that people are pissed off at Morgan for thinking that “all life is precious”.

 

morgan jones

ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS. EXCEPT FOR THIS GUY. F@#K THIS GUY

 

That’s because Morgan is morally culpable for The Wolves nearly killing Rick and the hostage.

 

  • Earlier in the series, Carl Grimes taunts a walker stuck in the mud and runs away when the re-animated corpse breaks free from the mud and grabs hold of Carl’s pants. The walker eventually makes its way to Hershel’s farm where it attacks Dale, who has to be put down. Carl wanted to prove that he was capable of handling himself and could contribute to the group and not just be a helpless kid, something that would benefit the group as a whole. However, Carl didn’t calculate that the walker he taunted would follow him to the Greene farm and kill Dale.

And viewers were right to be pissed at Carl for “killing” Dale.

 

Throws-rocks-at-zombie-stuck-in-the-ground-gets-Dale-killed-by-t-a77a78

 

We’re angry with Carl because Carl is (partly) morally responsible for Dale’s death.

 

  • In the series’ third episode, “Tell It to the Frogs”, Rick leads a small group back to zombie-infested Atlanta to rescue Merle who (whom?) Rick has left handcuffed to a pipe on a roof. Rick argues that rescuing Merle is the morally right thing to do. Despite the warning that the camp needs as many available men as possible to protect the camp from the undead, Rick insists that retrieving Merle and Rick’s dropped bag of guns will serve the greater good.

 

While Rick and the small group are away, the camp is attacked by a herd of walkers, resulting in the deaths of several no-named red shirts and a couple of relatively minor characters.

Rick failed to calculate the possibility that the camp would be attacked in his absence.

 

victim the-walking-dead-amy

SERIOUSLY, DOES ANYBODY REALLY MISS AMY?

 

Therefore, Shane isn’t all wrong when he says that by leaving the camp Rick bears some culpability for deaths in the group.

 

tumblr_myuh6q74uh1r1tya9o2_250

BEING THE BAD GUY DOESN’T HELP EITHER, SHANE

 

That’s just a few examples of moral culpability in The Walking Dead.

You can write an entire book about philosophy and this show.

 

the walking dead and philosophy

WELL, WHADDYA KNOW?!?

 

Well – as season six of The Walking Dead draws to a close, there are sure to be more utilitarian miscalculations – as well as many other examples of philosophy gone wrong. And I’m sure I will be watching seasons to come, watching my weekly dose of philosophical whatnot.
That is, unless Daryl Dixon dies.

I’ll be too busy rioting.

 

 

 

if daryl dies we riot

 

 
SOURCES:
John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.. p.8.