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.

 

STRANDED

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

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

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

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

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

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NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re never told exactly why.

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

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

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

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

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MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

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

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

Ayn Rand also writes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

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

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

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SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

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

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

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

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

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

Yet he does not.

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

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

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

Perhaps.

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

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

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

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

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NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

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

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

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

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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

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I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

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.

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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).

 

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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”.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

All About That Shane

WELL, ZOMBIE FANS it looks like another season of The Walking Dead is drawing to a close. It’ll be a whole half year until the adventures of former sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes, and his fellow survivors will return like a walker to entertain us with more, gruesome zombie killings and plot holed plotlines that will make a sane man scream like a madman at his TV.

PICTURED: A COUPLE WATCHING THE EPISODE WHERE OFFICER DAWN KILLS BETH. THE MAN IS UPSET THAT DAWN ATTEMPTED TO DOUBLE-CROSS RICK’S GROUP. HIS GIRLFRIEND IS PLEASED THAT THE CHANCE OF BETH HOOKING UP WITH DARYL DIXON HAS JUST DROPPED TO NIL

PICTURED: A COUPLE WATCHING THE EPISODE WHERE OFFICER DAWN KILLS BETH. THE MAN IS UPSET THAT DAWN ATTEMPTED TO DOUBLE-CROSS RICK’S GROUP. HIS GIRLFRIEND IS PLEASED THAT THE CHANCE OF BETH HOOKING UP WITH DARYL DIXON HAS JUST DROPPED TO NIL

Like many popular television shows, fans of The Walking Dead have created their own fan theories and in-jokes about the show: The Black Highlander Theory*, the mind-numbing stupidity of the show’s female characters… and the one sign that a character is certainly going to die – the moral compass.

don't be black

There’s been a number of characters on The Walking Dead who have occupied the position of the moral center of the group: Dale, Hershel, T-Dog, Bob, Tyreese, Glenn…

THE MORAL COMPASS’ LOOK OF MORAL OUTRAGE (AKA: DALE FACE). IT IS ALSO AN EXPRESSION THAT GUARANTEES A CHARACTER IS DOOMED TO DIE

THE MORAL COMPASS’ LOOK OF MORAL OUTRAGE (AKA: DALE FACE). IT IS ALSO AN EXPRESSION THAT GUARANTEES A CHARACTER IS DOOMED TO DIE

It’s worth noting that all of these characters are dead.

Oh wait,

Except Glenn.

Oh no….

Glenn

Although it’s a bit of an in-joke among fans of the show, the inevitable death of the moral center does present a bit of an ethical problem in the world of The Walking Dead. If the group’s moral center has a habit of dying, then we can assume that those who remain are the not-so-good people. In the Season 3 episode “Clear”, Rick Grimes’ long-lost friend, Morgan Jones, tells Rick that the good people die first.

morgan GIF

In a zombie-infested world where people must fight to survive and those who are prone to performing acts of goodness will be the first to go, we know that bad people population will explode at an exponential rate. But think about it, in a world where the only occupation you have is surviving to see the next day, how not so good is a person, really?

We can re-evaluate anyone’s seeming bad acts as good acts if, as Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us, we see truths from a certain point of view.

A certain relative point of view.

kenobi

The Walking Dead has had its share of bad guys (Dr. Jenner, The Governor, Claimer Joe, Gareth, Officer Dawn Lerner…) But there’s one bad guy that though he’s been called evil, if we re-evaluate him from “a certain point of view” may be the most moral character in the show’s five seasons: Shane Walsh.

SHANE WALSH: THE SEXIEST WIFE-STEALING, BEST FRIEND ATTEMPTED MURDERING PSYCHOPATH ON TELEVISION

SHANE WALSH: THE SEXIEST WIFE-STEALING, BEST FRIEND ATTEMPTED MURDERING PSYCHOPATH ON TELEVISION

He’s not going to win Miss Congeniality, but what Shane lacks in social graces he makes up for in his single-minded moral consistency. And that’s what’s important when discussing morality, isn’t it?

SHANE IS INITIALLY INTRODUCED AS RICK GRIMES’ SIDEKICK. HE IS A HAN SOLO TO RICK’S LUKE SKYWALKER - THE SCOUNDREL TO RICK’S HERO. AN EDGIER STEVE MC QUEEN TYPE TO RICK’S WHITE HAT GARY COOPER

SHANE IS INITIALLY INTRODUCED AS RICK GRIMES’ SIDEKICK. HE IS A HAN SOLO TO RICK’S LUKE SKYWALKER – THE SCOUNDREL TO RICK’S HERO. AN EDGIER STEVE MC QUEEN TYPE TO RICK’S WHITE HAT GARY COOPER

Unlike Rick, who is often criticized for his inconsistency** Shane is suffers from no moral ambiguity. He is totally morally consistent. Although his actions appear contradictory, Shane has a singular goal: to save Lori and Carl Grimes.

….and to eventually steal them both away from Rick.

shane friendzoned

The reason why Shane is actually a morally good person is because his motives are actually not all that bad.

Ok. I know. Shane wanted to steal Rick’s wife from him but think about it this way: Shane’s desire to keep Lori Grimes for himself actually saved the group.

We know that Shane is willing to violate moral rules, however, Shane is also willing to do whatever it takes to survive – which makes him, in a way, a very moral person.

Although it seems like the morally incorrect thing to do:

  • Shane defends a battered woman when her husband smacks her by beating the tarnation out of the guy.
  • Shane makes the right call when he leads the group to kill the walkers in Hershel’s barn.
  • He’s ultimately right in his decision to “cut loses” and discontinue the search for Sophia. Shane says that the group is needlessly risking their lives to search for Sophia who is more than likely dead (Shane is right about Sophia and Daryl is nearly mortally injured when he is thrown from a horse and impaled on an arrow).
  • Shane makes the right call in shooting Otis to save the life of Carl. He reasons that Otis did not belong in the world of the dead (He‘s right).
  • Shane even makes the right decision when he informs Lori that her husband is dead. Shane knew the Lori would not have left her husband behind if she suspected that there was a chance that he was alive. If Lori had stayed she and Carl would have likely died (In a flashback scene we see Shane attempt to save Rick while Rick is in a coma in the hospital when the facility is overrun by the undead. So contrary to what Lori thought, Shane didn’t abandon Rick. ).
  • Even Andrea observes that Shane has done more to protect the group than Rick. Andrea says Shane is willing to make the tough (moral) choices that others can’t (or won’t).
 SHANE’S SINGLE ACT OF PURE EVIL WAS THE MURDER OF THE PRISONER RANDALL. SHANE TAKES RANDALL INTO THE WOODS AND KILLS HIM AND THEN FAKES RANDALL’S ESCAPE TO LURE RICK INTO THE WOODS TO KILL HIM. SHANE USES RANDALL WTHOUT REGARD FOR THE PRISONER’S LIFE. THAT WAS DEFINITELY NO BUENO

SHANE’S SINGLE ACT OF PURE EVIL WAS THE MURDER OF THE PRISONER RANDALL. SHANE TAKES RANDALL INTO THE WOODS AND KILLS HIM AND THEN FAKES RANDALL’S ESCAPE TO LURE RICK INTO THE WOODS TO KILL HIM. SHANE USES RANDALL WTHOUT REGARD FOR THE PRISONER’S LIFE. THAT WAS DEFINITELY NO BUENO

Ultimately, even Shane’s bad intentions or “evil” (or self-interest if you think about it) sometimes has good outcomes. Although he’s selfishly focused on his own interests (Lori and Carl), by extension Shane’s selfish acts saves the lies of the group. Optimally, we want people to act on good intentions, but do intentions truly matter when the outcome is good?

John Stuart Mill writes:

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

So if you think about it Shane is kind of a utilitarian.

Shane’s only rule is protect Lori and Carl at all costs.

… so maybe Shane’s a rule utilitarian.

Rule utilitarianism, as defined by Wikipedia is:

Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that “the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance”

THIS CHART SHOWS SHANE’S ACTIONS ARE PERFECTLY OK

THIS CHART SHOWS SHANE’S ACTIONS ARE PERFECTLY OK

Ok, I know what you’re saying. Shane is a bad guy. He did bad things. He didn’t have to kill Otis or the walkers in Hershel’s barn. And Shane definitely played his bad guy card when he attempted to kill Rick. I admit it. It’s difficult to successfully argue that Shane Walsh is not just a good guy, but a guy whose moral aptitude is worth praising.

someone forgot to pack shane's morality

Rick Grimes may be the focus of the show, but Shane by far is the more morally interesting character. Shane leaves the viewer asking “would I do that?”. We get angry at Shane because we know that we’re also capable of going to extremes to protect the ones we love.

Sure, Shane does a lot of bad things: he sleeps with his best friend’s wife, points his gun at anyone who disagrees with him, attempts to rape his best friend’s wife after she refuses his advances… but we’re all putting Shane Walsh on our fantasy zombie hunting team because we know Shane is willing to do anything, ANYTHING to protect the people that he loves.

And that seems like a pretty good thing to do.
* If you’re curious about The Walking Dead and the Black Highlander Theory check out:

http://www.walkingdeadforums.com/tv-series/walking-dead-producer-dismisses-black-highlander-theory-spoilers/

** For a list of Rick Grimes’ inconsistencies: http://www.wired.com/2013/11/walking-dead-recap-indifference/

SOURCES:
John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism.

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

Of Mice and Mika

Ask this philosopher what her favorite TV show is.

Go ahead. Ask.

Ok then, I’ll tell you. My favorite TV show is The Walking Dead.
You know, the one with the zombies.

Although it’s (just) a show about zombies, The Walking Dead is basic cable’s highest rated scripted drama.

It’s been on for four seasons. Here are each of the season’s posters:

 

TWD poster season 1

 

 

TWD poster season 2

 

 

 

TWD poster season 3

 

 

TWD poster season 4

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah, this is the poster for the second half of season 4.

 

 

TW poster season 4 #2

 

 
All of the posters have the character Rick Grimes on it. He’s the star of the show.

Rick does stuff and things.

 

 

tumblr_inline_mk7hkl38JM1qz4rgp

 

 
So far, season 4 has been kinda slow.

 

 

 

 RICK’S FARMING MAKES SEASON 2 LOOK ACTION PACKED

RICK’S FARMING MAKES SEASON 2 LOOK ACTION PACKED

Although season 4 has been a bit on the slow side, no matter how boring a season of The Walking Dead gets, you can guarantee a season will include a few things:

 

  • Plenty of zombie blood and guts
  • A likable bad guy
  • Soap opera-esque dialogue (except for Michonne. She barely says anything)
  • The T-Dog Effect*
  • The constant fangirl threats of “If Daryl dies, we riot”

 

if daryl dies we riot

 

 
And Rick Grimes totally eye F-ing the camera.

 

 

eye F

The Walking Dead is certainly tainted with zombie-flavored melodrama, but a little known fact is that the show is packed with philosophy – if you decide to look for it.

 
That is, if you can get past visuals like this:

 

 

dale

 

 
Or this:

 

 

zombie eating

 

 

Or this:

 

 

merle zombie

 

 
A recent philosophically-packed episode had something to do with the death of the character Lizzie Samuels.

 

 

 THIS IS LIZZIE SAMUELS

THIS IS LIZZIE SAMUELS

 

What makes the death of Lizzie philosophically significant isn’t just the fact that Lizzie is a child, but also the utilitarian justification for her killing.

 

That’s right, I said killing.

 

Someone intentionally kills Lizzie Samuels.

 

That person is Carol.

 

That’s right. Carol.

 

The same person who killed David and Tyreese’s girlfriend Karen, Carol.

 

THREE FOR THREE

THREE FOR THREE

 

This is what happens:
In The Walking Dead season 4 episode titled “The Grove”, Carol, Tyreese, baby Judith (Grimes), and the Samuels sisters, Lizzie and her younger sister Mika, find an abandoned farm. Once there the group decides to – you know, nevermind. Long story short (too late) Carol and Tyreese discover that there is something seriously wrong with the eldest Samuels sister Lizzie.

 

Lizzie Samuels is a psychopath.

 

lizzie messed up

 

 
Lizzie expresses an unnatural fondness for zombies (or “walkers”) that endangers the lives of the small group. Lizzie believes that zombies are not dangerous and that zombies are her friends.

 

Wait. It gets worse.

 

Not only does Lizzie believe that flesh-eating zombies are capable of sustaining friendships, she believes that becoming a zombie isn’t such a bad thing.

 

Oh – before I forget – before Carol, Tyreese, Judith, Mika, and Lizzie found the farm they were are a prison. Someone at the prison was feeding rats to the zombies and eviscerating small animals. That person was Lizzie.

Lizzie also named the zombies.
She became quite fond of one she named “Nick”.

 

This, as you may see, is a problem.

 
I think it might be the right time for a list.

 

THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH LIZZIE SAMUELS:

 

  • Lizzie freaks out when she discovers that someone has “killed” Nick.
  • Lizzie violently admonishes Carol when Carol kills a zombie (Lizzie claims she was merely playing with the potentially dangerous flesh eater).
  • Lizzie fails to (re)kill a zombie when a revenant threatens the lives of Lizzie, Mika, and Judith.
  • Lizzie expresses reluctance to kill any zombie (she does not, however, have any difficulty killing the living).
  • While “protecting” Rick Grimes’ infant daughter Judith, Lizzie attempts to smother the child.
  • And lastly, Lizzie kills her sister Mika.

 

It’s okay, Lizzie says. Her sister will come back.

 

lizzie says her sister will come back

 

 
Oh yeah, after killing Mika, Lizzie intends to kill Judith.

 

lizzie's babysitting service

 

 

 

Carol and Tyreese conclude that Lizzie must be dealt with. But how? Lizzie is a child and any extreme method of dealing with the child must be considered very carefully.

The options are as follows:

 

  • Abandon Lizzie and let her fend for herself (this would be cruel)
  • Watch Lizzie at all times to make sure that she doesn’t have the chance to harm anyone else (impractical)
  • Attempt to reason with Lizzie (impossible given Lizzie’s mental state)
  • Physically restrain Lizzie to prevent her from killing more people (cruel and impractical)
  • Kill Lizzie

 

Carol reluctantly concludes that the only way to effectively deal with Lizzie is to kill the child.

 

Of course Carol finds this morally troubling.

Carol’s moral predicament is not unlike the classic Trolley Problem.

 

The Trolley Problem goes like this: a trolley filled with passengers is heading down a stretch of track that – well, something is wrong with the track: a bridge is not extended, a section of track is missing, whatever. However, you can save the lives of the passengers on the trolley of you divert the train to another track. The problem is, there is someone or some people (like five or so) on the other track. Now, do you send the trolley down the track with the five people, lower the bridge, etc. knowing that doing so will kill the people on the other track? Would you save the lives of others by intentionally ending the life of another person?

 

You know, this explains the problem much better than I can:

 

 

 

 

 
Although Lizzie killed her sister, she is unaware of what she’s done – her actions are not malicious. In fact, Lizzie’s intention was good. She believed that, by becoming a walker, her sister was in a better place.

 

Carol decides to kill the one person to protect the lives of the rest of the group because doing so is the only feasible option. Carol has to stop Lizzie from being a threat to others. Lizzie doesn’t realize that the “walkers” are dangerous. She kills her sister Mika in hopes that she will resurrect. She attempted to smother Rick Grimes’ infant daughter Judith.

 

Lizzie’s death parallels the death of Lennie in the Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men. In Steinbeck’s story, George kills his mentally handicapped companion Lennie after Lennie accidentally kills the wife of a fellow farmhand. Like Lizzie, Lennie did not realize that he had done something wrong.

 

George kills his friend to protect him from a worse fate (a lynch mob). Similarly, Carol kills Lizzie to save others from a worse fate – even to save Lizzie from herself. The motivation to do the greater good (for the greatest number of people) is the basis of utilitarian ethics. Carol’s motivation is to protect the others in the group.

 

John Stuart Mill writes in Utilitarianism:

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*

 
The utilitarian goal of providing the greatest good for the greatest number or conducting one’s actions according to the Vulcan principle “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”, is what ultimately leads to Carol’s dreadful decision.

 

 

trolley problem bear

 
This situation is also kind of like the end of the movie The Cabin in the Woods.

 

When whatsherface had to kill whatever his name before sunrise or else the gods will kill everyone on Earth – that’s a Trolley Problem.

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T LET THE TROLLEY RUN OVER ONE GUY TO SAVE THE LIVES OF OTHERS

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T LET THE TROLLEY RUN OVER ONE GUY TO SAVE THE LIVES OF OTHERS

 

 
You see, utilitarianism is based on results. An act is right or wrong (morally) if the expected outcome produces the best result or increases the happiness of the people as a whole. Once we decide which act will result in the greatest good for the greatest number, we are morally obligated to do that act. Lizzie was clearly a danger to others. There was no way to convince her that the walkers were dangerous or to stop her from killing another member of the group. Therefore, as the Trolley Problem dictates, one life must be sacrificed to save the lives of the greatest number.

 

So, barring no other viable option, Carol is morally obligated to kill Lizzie.
Carol ultimately takes the girl to a patch of flowers where she kills the girl as quickly and humanely as possible.

She shoots the girl in the back of the head.

 

 

look at the flowers

 
Obviously the problem with utilitarianism is that doing the morally right thing doesn’t always make us feel better.

 

 

At the close of the episode the group may be safer, but we know that Carol and Tyresse are far from being happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Happiness may or may not include emotional happiness. Happiness may also be defined as physical well-being or safety. The fact that killing Lizzie did not make Carol or Tyreese emotionally happy is secondary to the fact that Lizzie’s death made the remaining members of the group safer.

 

 

* For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, the T-Dog Effect goes something like this: every time a new African-American male character is introduced, an already-existing African-American male character dies. This is the T-Dog Effect:

 

 

funny-Walking-Dead-black-characters

 

The effect has generated humorous memes such as this:

 

 

y twd no keep a black character

 

 

And this:

 

t-dog reached season 3

 

 

And this:

 

 

twd new black guy

 
However, the simultaneous existence of African-American male characters Tyreese and Bob Stookey have proven that the T-Dog effect does not hold. The T-Dog Effect is more of an urban myth (or joke) amongst The Walking Dead fans than a (fictional) reality.

 

 

SOURCES:

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

A View From Monster Island (Is That an Unmanned Drone????????!)

Some people are into certain seasons.

Some people are Spring people. Some people like Summer. Or Winter.

I’m definitely an Autumn kind of gal.

I’m super into Halloween.

 

Yes, I refer to Halloween as a holiday.

It’s like my Christmas.

I dress up, bake holiday-themed goodies, and play holiday-appropriate music.

 

No. I don’t worship the Devil.

 

I’ve been asked that before.

 

For me, Halloween is the time to dwell upon all things spooky and scary.

I like to think of myself as spooky and a little bit scary. Wednesday Addams is my totem animal.

 

it's wednesday again

 
I’ve found the quickest way to get into the spooky and scary mood is through the cinema.

Actually, the quickest way might be through a Ouija board. But then, who wants to risk conjuring up Captain Howdy while trying to communicate with the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe?

 

THINGS WOULD HAVE GONE SO MUCH BETTER IF SHE HAD WATCHED A CREATURE FREATURE INSTEAD

THINGS WOULD HAVE GONE SO MUCH BETTER IF SHE HAD WATCHED A CREATURE FEATURE INSTEAD

 

I must say that it’s not very often that watching a creature feature gets one thinking about U.S. foreign policy. After all, the point of a creature feature is to spook you out or even scare you a little bit. It’s even less likely that a 1950s B-grade, sci-fi flick would get one thinking about foreign policy and philosophy.

It would be fair to say that it doesn’t really happen at all.

 

It’s not that fifties cinema wasn’t political or philosophical. Fifties films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (not to mention Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone) not only are classic sci-fi films, but are also plenty political and philosophical.

Spend an afternoon watching movies on Syfy. You’ll see.

 

The reason, I think, so few sci-fi flicks get me (us?) thinking about politics and philosophy really has more to do with the fact that Hollywood so rarely makes old-fashioned monster movies these days. Modern cinema is all special effects or all slice and dice.

Paranormal Activity-whatever numbered sequel they’re up to by now.

We don’t think because movies no longer encourage us to think… about anything.

Oh wait, Cloverfield came out a few years ago.

That movie got me thinking. Not sure if all my thoughts about it were political or philosophical, though.*

To be honest, that movie kind of messed me up, man.

I used to think that only vampire and zombie bites were dangerous.

Eeech.

 

 

THIS MOVIE QUITE POSSIBLY RUINED MY LIFE

THIS MOVIE QUITE POSSIBLY RUINED MY LIFE

 

Unfortunately for monster flick lovers like me, we have to look to the past to enjoy a good “What the F@#K is THAT???!” flick.

Giant lizard films from the sixties are always a good place to start.

A remake of Godzilla was released a few years ago. I’m not going to beat a dead horse but if there was anything worth watching in that barely watchable movie (admit it, it was barely watchable), it was Jean Reno – who is by definition required viewing no matter what movie he is in.

 

JEAN RENO. BADASS LEVEL: EXPERT

JEAN RENO. BADASS LEVEL: EXPERT

 

Actually, the problem isn’t the Godzilla remake. To be honest, there is a problem with Godzilla movies in general. Watch more than two Godzilla movies and you’ll soon discover that if you can get past the comically bad dubbing, the weird made-for-American-audiences re-editing, strangely choreographed monster fight sequences, and chuckle-inducing monster suits, your intestinal constitution is stronger than any champion competitive food eater.

 

WATCHING THIS MOVIE WILL NOT SO MUCH AS PHILOSOPHICALLY ENLIGHTEN YOU AS IT MAY REVEAL YOU HAVE UNRESOLVED ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES

WATCHING THIS MOVIE WILL NOT SO MUCH AS PHILOSOPHICALLY ENLIGHTEN YOU AS IT MAY REVEAL YOU HAVE UNRESOLVED ANGER MANAGEMENT ISSUES

 

 

Oh God, I hear they’re making another one. Another remake.

Why must they punish my eyes so?

 

The funny thing is, is that even though Godzilla flicks are, qualitatively speaking, pretty awful movies, once you see past all that‘s not worth watching, there’s actually something really smart going on. Godzilla movies are not only some of the finest examples of unintentional madcap comedy, they’re some of the best teaching tools around.

Especially if one is inclined to think about philosophy or foreign policy.

 

WARNING: FLASHBACK AHEAD

WARNING: FLASHBACK AHEAD

 

When I was a kid, weekends meant only one thing: spending my Saturday afternoons watching bad movies. In the days before basic cable and the endless stream of made-for-Syfy and the Lifetime Network’s obscure 80’s actors cinematic crapfests, one only had local television affiliates and a bunny-eared antenna to view the best of the worst cinema ever made. I remember the local Los Angeles affiliate, KHJ (now KCAL) aired Movie Macabre, hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

 

elvira's movie macabre

 

I spent many Saturday afternoons watching craptacular gems like The Werewolf of Washington, The Monster Club, The Devil’s Rain, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and The Incredible Melting Man.

 

WITH SPECIAL EFFECTS LIKE THIS, IT HAS TO BE CRAP. I KNOW, I KNOW. RICK BAKER.

WITH SPECIAL EFFECTS LIKE THIS, IT HAS TO BE CRAP. I KNOW, I KNOW. RICK BAKER.

 

 

I may be wrong but I think John Saxon hosted a show called Kung-Fu Theatre.

Those movies were pretty bad, too.

Still, more than any other memory of those Saturdays spent boob-tubing away my early childhood, I remember watching Godzilla movies.

Enough Godzilla flicks to last a Japanese school boy in too-tight-shorts a life time.

 

Admittedly, by the time Godzilla was pitted against the giant, flying, pollution-dispensing, melted shuttlecock-looking, Smog Monster, the intelligence quotient of the film series had reached an all-time low.

 

AL GORE SHOULD HAVE USED THIS MOVIE TO ARGUE FOR PROOF OF GLOBAL WARMING.

AL GORE SHOULD HAVE USED THIS MOVIE TO ARGUE FOR PROOF OF GLOBAL WARMING.

 

By the mid-1960s, Godzilla flicks had started the slippery slide down the crap scale from slightly stupid movies to full-blown, “you’ve got to be kidding me”-inducing plotlines involving the son of Godzilla (never once addressing where Mrs. Godzilla, was) and pitting the King of Monsters against America’s own racially-metaphored monster, King Kong.

 

STILL A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

STILL A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

 

 

The sad thing is Godzilla started out as kind of a smart film.

An invention of the Toho Picture Company, Godzilla made his film debut in Gojira released in 1954. Originally an anti-nuke, anti-war allegory, Gojira was re-cut for U.S. audiences with footage of American actor Raymond Burr (best known as TV’s Perry Mason) and re-titled Godzilla, King of Monsters.

 

raymond burr in godzilla

 

Gojira was intended to be a cautionary tale; a warning against man’s arrogance and want to harness the power of the gods creating real-life monsters (nuclear weapons) that can destroy man and the planet. Gojira producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said:

 

The theme of the film from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.

 

GODZILLA’S REVENGE LOOKED LIKE THIS.

GODZILLA’S REVENGE LOOKED LIKE THIS.

 

 

However, in the Americanized Godzilla, King of Monsters, any references to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and U.S. hydrogen bomb tests (in the original Gojira we’re told the hydrogen bomb is what created Godzilla) were also removed from the film.

 

ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN VERSION THIS HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GODZILLA.

ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN VERSION THIS HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH GODZILLA.

 

 

By the way, Raymond Burr plays a reporter named “Steve Martin”. His character’s name still makes me laugh.

 

 

 DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE IS A WILD AND CRAZY GUY, HE’S HARDLY THE TYPE TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM A HYDROGEN BOMB-CREATED SAURIAN BEAST.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE IS A WILD AND CRAZY GUY, HE’S HARDLY THE TYPE TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM A HYDROGEN BOMB-CREATED SAURIAN BEAST.

 

It’s not unreasonable that a Japanese film company would make an anti-nuke movie.

Japan is the only country to have been bombed twice with nuclear weapons.

 

Watching the original Gojira and its anti-nuke message got me thinking: Of course, being anti-nuke is a political position, but if being anti anything means you’ve taken a stand against something because you think it’s wrong, you’re taking a moral position as well.

 

If you’re talking morals, you’re talking philosophy.

 

And if you’re talking about the ethics of atomic warfare, you’re talking foreign policy.

 

We’ve all heard the explanation before: The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save lives that would have been lost in U.S. invasion of Japan. The explanation is utilitarian. The bombs were dropped to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) explains:

 

… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

 

The utilitarian position is this: if dropping atomic bombs on Japan would save lives and end the war, ending thousands of Japanese lives was a small price to pay for saving millions of American and Allied lives. U.S. government argued Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets; which made destroying the cities all the more necessary. Therefore, the total destruction of two Japanese cities was a necessary and morally justified act.

 

It was the only solution.

 

after the atomic bomb

THIS LOOKS LIKE A PRETTY GOOD SOLUTION ALRIGHT.

 

Utilitarian justifications for military action are not uncommon. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Bush Doctrine, military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Libya, Grenada, the Balkans, and American support of coups in Iran and Chile, were all based on utilitarian arguments. In arguing for military action in Iraq, President George W. Bush stated:

 

By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it… We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with the hope of a better day.

 

That, my friends, is a utilitarian argument.

 

But wait, you say, the Vietnam War ended badly for the United States. As did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think about it, more than a few “interventions” have gone very badly. If this is so, how can you justify military aggression if the result is worse than the initial problem?

If you just said that, congratulations. You figured out the problem with utilitarianism.

 

You see, the utilitarian (moral) position tells us that if we possess the means to end or prevent the suffering of others, we are obligated to act. We would be neglecting our moral duty if we do not. Taking lives is not necessarily wrong if our ultimate goal is to increase the overall good (or happiness) of the whole.

So, if dropping bombs from unmanned drones will decrease violent acts of Islamic extremism, then blowing up weddings, unarmed journalists or people eating lunch is morally justified.

 

utilitarian cartoon

 
On its face, that all sounds fine and dandy. But, if you haven’t already realized it, not every bomb falls on its intended target. And sometimes our best utilitarian intentions fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if we ought to act if we have the means to increase the happiness of the whole, but the sometimes inaccurate calculation of (best) consequences leads to bad things happening rather than the outcomes we expected. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and expectations, the situation ends up much worse than before we did anything.

 

WORSE LIKE THIS:

 

 

godzilla 1956

 

 

If you’re a utilitarian, this is unacceptable.

 

Because the moral rightness or wrongness depends on the consequences of our actions, not our intentions. We can have all the best intentions in the world, but if we act and the consequences are bad, then our actions are morally wrong.

 

hiroshima after bomb

WAS THIS REALLY THE BEST THING TO DO?

 

Because in the real world when we act, we risk more than creating an irradiated, 150 foot, “big-gutted, big-butted” prehistoric beast hell-bent on destroying Tokyo.

In the real world, we must weigh our actions against the possibility that we’ll kill real people and cause real damage to others.

Even if our intentions tell us unmanned drones will get the job done.

 

 

 

 

* Actually Cloverfield is a political movie. One need not look too deeply into the plot to see the parallels between the events in the film and the terrorist attack on New York on September 11th, 2001.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
1) John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

2) Sam Stall, Lou Harry, and Julia Spaulding. The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures: 1001 Things You Hate to Love. 2004. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. p.108.

3) Steve Ryfle. “Godzilla’s Footprint”. Gojira DVD insert.

4) The Evolving Presidency: Addresses, Cases, Essays, Letters, Reports, Resolutions, Transcripts, and Other Landmark Documents, 1787-2004. 2004. 2nd Edition. Ed. Michael Nelson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 288.

Oh, Carol!

Zombies.

They’re in, you know.

When you’ve gotten to the point you’re using zombies to sell cell phone plans, you know society is in pretty bad shape.

 

 

You don’t have to ask around, but I think it’s entirely safe to say that zombies are probably the least appealing monster in the movie monster kingdom.

It’s not that the zombie’s least appealing status is undeserved. There are plenty of reasons to dislike them. Zombies aren’t at all like well-cultured, romantic, erudite Vampires. They’re not mischievous like your local poltergeist.  They’re not powerful and all biblical like demons. And they’re not beastly manifestations of man’s repressed id like a werewolf.

 

Nope. That’s not a zombie.

 

Zombies are smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

If a zombie finds you, it will not bid you good morning or offer you its seat on the bus. A zombie will tear you apart and eat you.

Zombies don’t sparkle. They don’t talk to you through the TV. They don’t look like David Naughton. Zombies look like this:

 

The-Walking-Dead2

 

You can’t get rid of a zombie with sunlight. Or by driving a stake through its heart. Or with love. You can’t hire a priest to perform an exorcism.

The only way to get rid of a zombie is to do this:

 

dawn-of-the-dead-head-explosion

 

Even killing a zombie is pretty gross.

It’s a wonder why zombies are so popular these days.

 

Wait a minute. That movie Warm Bodies. They cured zombies with love, didn’t they?

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

 

If you ask me, Warm Bodies movie is the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 of zombie films.

It’s an ok movie, but… I think they aimed for the wrong audience.

But then, we’ve dealt with running zombies, haven’t we?

 

For the last time, zombies do not run!

For the last time, zombies do not run!

 

It is a well-established fact that you have to kill the brain to kill the ghoul. But zombie brain bashing might get a little messy.

Some people might be put off by that. Squeamish types, you know.

However, there is one thing about zombies that isn’t too gross zombies are fantastically ethical monsters.

You can discuss matters of ethics using zombies, that is.

Luckily for us, the AMC television network has made discussing zombies fairly easy.

Yes. I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

 

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

 

In the season 4 episode “Indifference”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) kicks fellow zombie apocalypse survivor, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), out of the group for killing two people who are sick with a deadly strain of the flu. Rick tells Carol that the two might have lived (Carol hadn’t given them a chance to get well), and that Carol had no right to decide who lives and who dies. Carol tells Rick that her justification for killing the two sick people is that she was trying to prevent anyone else from getting sick; that she was protecting the group.

If we look at Carol’s actions through our ethics glasses, we see that Carol’s reasoning is based on the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. John Stuart Mill wrote in Utilitarianism:

The creed which accepts [utility] as the foundation of morals, 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.

Carol believes that she has done the right thing. And by killing two people, she believes that she will prevent the deaths of the several dozen living people in the camp. Carol argues the two were terminal, and it’s not wrong if you kill someone who is terminally ill. Carol tells Rick that she ended their suffering, and by hastening their deaths, she saved them from a very painful death of drowning in their own blood.

If a couple of people die so that others may live, Carol reasons, so be it. She tells Rick that she “stepped up” and did something when no one else (including Rick) was willing or able to do what had to be done.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

 

If we judge Carol’s actions based strictly on the Greatest Happiness Principle, Carol appears to have done the right thing.

Of course, there’s a problem.

Vulcan logic might work well for Mr.Spock, but when people in the real world use the Vulcan logic dictate that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (…or the one)”, things don’t always work out well.

The problem with utilitarian ethics is that utilitarian-based decisions are often based on speculation. Our actions are based on what we estimate will be the best outcome. Unfortunately, we know, despite our best guesses, that speculation is sometimes wrong.

How do we determine what “the needs” are, and more importantly, how can we definitively know what is the best solution for satisfying those needs?

The answer is we can’t.

The reason why is simple: we can’t know all things. That is, humans lack the ability to foresee all possible outcomes. So all the utilitarian is really stuck with is good intentions and a hope that things turn out for the best.

So, we can assume that we’re doing the right thing so long as out intentions are good, right? If Carol meant to do the right thing, she’s in the moral clear….. Right?

Nope.

We might think that what matters (when we act) is that our intention is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but according to utilitarianism, intentions don’t matter. An act is morally permissible if the act actually produces the greatest good for the greatest number. You might be driven by the best of intentions, but if your actions fail to produce real world good outcomes or makes the situation worse, you’ve done something wrong.

Carol did something wrong.

Listen, there’s no denying that Carol’s argument is appealing. She meant well and she did what she thought was the best thing to do. It’d be tough to argue that anyone shouldn’t do what they think is best. And several killings on The Walking Dead  were committed (justified) in the interest of the Greatest Happiness Principle (Otis, Dave, Tony, Randall, Shane, Big Tiny, Tomas, Andrew, and Hershel’s leg). However, Rick concludes Carol’s utilitarian-based argument doesn’t hold.*

Of course, as Rick surely must have been thinking to himself, the problem with Carol’s argument is that her rationalization for killing the infected is based on speculation. Carol perceived the pair as an immediate threat and determined that the only way to deal with the immediate threat was to kill whoever was infected with the flu. Rick counters Carol’s argument, stating that there was a chance, however small, that the two might have recovered from their illness. We know that even the most virulent strain of flu (like the 1918 Spanish influenza upon which The Walking Dead flu is based) is not 100 percent fatal.

 

what ever you do. do. not. cough.

 

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if there is another, equally acceptable or better solution, we are obligated to either consider other options or not act as we had intended. In short, if there was a chance that the pair might not have died, Carol was morally obligated to NOT kill them.

Carol’s miscalculated utilitarian ethics led her to commit an act that ultimately was not only morally wrong, but showed that Carol was liable to act without fully considering other possible outcomes. Carol went for the immediate, not best solution. Carol’s impulsive act made her a threat to the (overall) safety of the group. This is why Rick is perfectly justified when he kicks Carol out of the group.

By removing Carol from the group, Rick did the greatest good for the greatest number.

 

Oops. Carol's bad.

Oops. Carol’s bad.

 

Carol argues that she was trying to save the group, but ultimately her effort did not work. Other people were infected with the flu and died. AND to make matters much worse for Carol, Tyreese, the boyfriend of one of Carol’s victims, has pledged to kill whoever killed his girlfriend.

Carol not only failed to save anyone, but by killing people, she put her own life in double jeopardy if the flu doesn’t kill her, Tyreese will.

 

Carol isn’t a well-intentioned hero. She’s nothing more than a common murderer.

AND

let’s not forget that because of her actions Carol was kicked out of the group and left to fend for herself in a world populated by smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I speculate that Carol’s reasoning might have been more on the side of rule utilitarianism that simple utilitarianism (or act utilitarianism).  I think Carol might have followed a rule utilitarian position as described by JCC Smart:

“generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. In general, they are relevant only in deciding what rules are good reasons for acting in a certain way in particular cases”

Carol might have believed that in any circumstance where there is an immediate threat to the group, one must eliminate the threat (the rule). However, as a rule utilitarian, she might have not actually acted on her principle until this particular set of circumstances.

 

 

 

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 5th edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. (Wadsworth) 2007. p. 208.