I AM VEGAN

 

THERE ARE ONLY TWO months of the year that mean anything to me: October and February.

Not because of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why October and February hold such a dear place in my heart is because October and February are the months when The Walking Dead seasons begin.

First half of the season begins in October. Second half begins in February.

It’s March. Second half of season 8. They just killed Carl Grimes.

No old man Carl. No Lydia licking Carl’s empty eyehole. No Carl doing ANYTHING.

Dammit.

Oops. Spoiler alert.  

3e881fe46e827186d42633e8789f5954

 

Well, anyway….

 

While watching a tv show about flesh eating ambulatory revenants, my mind drifts, from time to time, to the subject of flesh – namely, the fact that zombies consume human flesh.
In the world of The Walking Dead, living humans are just meat to eat.

Even the vegetarian zombies chow down on the non-undead.

It must be quite odd for a person who has their entire life not eating animal flesh to die, knowing that their reanimated corpse will compelled to eat nothing other than the substance they’ve sworn off.    

I mean, is a vegan zombie morally offended every moment they’re devouring a person?

Can a zombie experience an ethical dilemma?

il_570xn-373713740_294l

 

A zombie probably can’t, but a living person certainly can experience the ethical conundrum – should I eat meat?    

Now, I’m not asking if a person can eat meat – most humans have canine teeth, meat is digestible, and we can derive nutrients from animal products.

Heads up: I’m not making my argument here.

Not doing a because-we-can-we-ought-to kind of argument kind of thing.

giphy

But I will say this. I’m gonna say it right now:

I eat meat.

This is a fact about myself that I’m not exactly proud of.

As a person who is halfway aware of the way things are and remotely concerned about my health, I’m aware that the unnecessary suffering and abuse inflicted on animals on factory farms is not only cruel to my fellow living beings, but also the unsanitary conditions (and excessive use of antibiotics) makes for meat that is potentially harmful to human health as well.

And as a philosopher, the infliction of pain and suffering on sentient beings should bother me (at least a little bit) morally.

 

It does.

 

But still… despite what I know about harvesting and eating, I continue to consume meat. I feel like there’s something that is keeping me from joining the growing chorus of voices that have abandoned their meat-eating ways and declare I AM VEGAN.

 

…and not just because bacon tastes yummy.

tenor

 

I think the reason why might have something to do with speciesism.

A lot of humans, whether they know it or not, practice speciesism.  

In his book Animal Liberation (1975), the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (born: July 6, 1946), describes speciesism as a bias in favor of one’s own species and against a species because that particular species is that species. That is, people are biased in favor of people (and people-like animals like primates) at the expense of the interests of other non-human species.

We are less inclined to consider the interests of species that do not resemble humans or ones we cannot anthropomorphize. 

9fdffbb80721ad231f6f84776fc778c3

THE ONLY REASON WHY YOUR FIRST THOUGHT ABOUT THIS MOUSE IS “AWW” INSTEAD OF “KILL IT BEFORE IT INFECTS THE SHIP”, IS BECAUSE FIVEL IS ADORABLE. HE’S ADORABLE BECAUSE OF A-N-T-H-R-O-P-O-M-O-R-P-H-I-S-M

The fact that non-human animals are not human or can’t be given human-like qualities shouldn’t exclude them from our moral considerations. Non-human animals feel, and that, Singer argues, is enough to consider the interests of non-human animals.

 

 

Preferably using utilitarian ethics.

 

According to Singer, speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism.

We recognize that prejudice against humans based on religion, gender, or race, is arbitrary (therefore, unjustifiable). Most people would reject the argument that a particular race or religion is more valuable than another. The notion that men are more valuable than women is…well, we like to say that we’ve advanced beyond thinking about women like Aristotle. Or Nietzsche.

 

b94d8efaf4c5d30be872b8457706d328_1443021846

YEP…HE WROTE THAT

 

Likewise, according to Singer, valuing human life over non-human life or treating a species better because it is cute and cuddly (and it does “human” things) is arbitrary and unjustifiable. To insist that a cat or a dog is more valuable than a cow or a chicken is, according to Singer, a double standard.

Historically speaking, philosophy hasn’t been kind to animals. Aristotle referred to non-human animals as “brute beasts”. Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) maintained that animals are incapable of reason and do not feel pain. Animals, Descartes stated, are mere organic machines.

Because animals cannot reason, Descartes argued, they don’t have souls. And because animals don’t have souls, we are not morally obligated to consider their interests.

Remember, folks… that howling you hear isn’t the sounds of an animal screaming in pain.

 

It’s the sounds of the clock’s springs breaking.

 

Although the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) believed that animals are mere beasts, Kant rejected the notion that we can do with non-human animals as we please. Kant argues that, although we are not directly morally obligated to animals, we have an indirect moral duty to care for their welfare. Kant argues that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of those we have a direct moral obligation to  people.

Kant argues that people who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to people.

In Lectures on Ethics, Kant states:

American philosopher Christine Korsgaard (born: April 9, 1952), not only argues that it is wrong to kill animals for consumption, but also argues that the factory farming, specifically the production of meat, is more damaging to the environment and human health than a plant-based diet. Korsgaard argues, like Singer, that our moral obligation to animals is not negated by the fact that animals are not human.  

Korsgaard states:

 

…the loss of life matters to a human being in certain ways that it wouldn’t matter to another sort of animal… I don’t think it follows that a non-human animal’s life is of no value to her: after all, the loss of her life is the loss of everything that is good for her.

On factory farms, Korsgaard states:

 

…the whole human enterprise will be supported by a bloodbath of cruelty, hidden away behind the closed walls of those farms.

 

Korsgaard also observes the irony of maintaining the belief in the higher rationality and morality of humans while simultaneously justifying the killing of other, supposedly less developed, species. 

Ok… Factory farms are bad. And maybe we shouldn’t eat animals. But that doesn’t mean that we should start treating non-human animals like people, right? Humans are just different from other animals… right? But what, if anything, makes people different from non-human animals? What makes people different from cats and dogs and cows and chickens has something to do with a little concept called personhood.

i_am_a_person_by_geeko_hhh-d3hz5nh

Our friend, Wikipedia defines personhood as:

 

the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.

 

If you are a person, you are worthy of moral consideration.

If you are worthy of moral consideration. your interests matter.

And exactly what makes you a person with interests that matter?

If you ask Immanuel Kant, you are a person with interests that matter if you are rational.

Kant writes:

 

…every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves.

 

Non-human animals can’t be “persons” because they are not rational.

Hold on a minute, you say. There are plenty of humans that aren’t rational.

 

irrational-behavior-1024x768

PICTURED: NOT RATIONAL PERSON

 

Small children are notoriously irrational. Mentally ill and developmentally disabled people may also lack the degree of rationality required for personhood. On the other hand, non-human animals such as crows, pigs, octopuses, certain breeds of dogs, and primates (like chimps and bonobos) often display a degree of cognitive ability (aka, rational thought) not seen in some humans. 

So, that means some animals are persons, right?

 

 Well….

 

In 2013, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court of Manhattan on behalf of a pair of chimpanzees named Kiko and Tommy, arguing that the pair should be released from captivity and placed in an outdoor habitat. The lawsuit claimed the chimpanzees’ captivity violated their rights. Wise argued that Kiko and Tommy are entitled to the same legal rights as persons.  Their lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that chimpanzees (like Kiko and Tommy) possess the mental capacity for complex thought and can perform tasks and make choices.

 

170608-d_tov_chimpcourt1_170310-ac-1032p_bf36e6ab1cf3eae4e438a56af12ec21a-nbcnews-fp-1200-800

KIKO AND TOMMY

 

Now, if philosophers (including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant) hold that the capacity for cognitive thought and decision making are qualifications for personhood, it should follow that a non-human animal capable of complex thought and decision making – even to a minimal degree − is a person.

If not legally, then at least philosophically.

And if we hold moral objections to eating animals that are like us or are us, then we should not eat non-human animals.  

Unfortunately for Tommy and Kiko, the Appellate Court in Manhattan ruled that Kiko and Tommy are not persons under the law and therefore not entitled to human rights.  

The Court ruling stated:

 

The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions

The Court added that non-human animals “lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing.”

 

So…. What are we to do?

 

As of now, non-human animals are not entitled to legal personhood. Legally speaking, speciesism remains the law of the land. Killing, eating, or experimenting on (most) non-human animals is legally permitted, if not, in large part, socially acceptable.

Unless the law changes (or a zombie apocalypse turns us all into meat eaters), the question of eating meat will remain a philosophical conundrum – a matter of personal taste between you and your ethical theory of choice.

Until then…. Subway® Chicken & Bacon Ranch sandwiches. Forever.

giphy1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/peter-singer-on-speciesism-and-racism/

https://green.harvard.edu/news/ethics-eating-animals

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/

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

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/captive-chimps-tommy-kiko-not-entitled-human-rights-court-article-1.3231598

 

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?

carl

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.

 

anigif_enhanced-buzz-2514-1381252332-0
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.

 

mg7ts

 

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.

 

consequences

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.

 

mad-men-don-happiness

 

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

 

the big problem

 

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.

 

meat

 

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.

 

god

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.

Red Solo Machete

*Note: this post was originally written October, 2014.

 
Well, philosophy fans, it’s fall.

You know what that means.

That’s right. Fall means it’s the season for Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the smell of crisp autumn air, and the green leaves of summer turning into rustic scenes of brilliant shades of gold, crimson, and brown.

 

 

 

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

DON’T YOU WANT TO JUMP RIGHT IN TO THIS PICTURE AND RUSTLE UP SOME LEAVES RIGHT NOW?

 

Unless you live in Australia.

Because it’s spring down there now, isn’t it?

If it is, do they still have pumpkin spice lattes in November?

 

 

 TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

TELL ME YOU DON’T YOU WANT ONE OF THESE RIGHT NOW

 

 

I think we’ll all admit that nature’s splendor is great and all, but the beginning of the autumn season can only mean one thing to the horror television fan: the return of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

You know, the zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 
No, not that zombie show.
This zombie show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one with the ratings that regularly beats Sunday Night Football.*
Fans of the show know there’s plenty of things to talk about on The Walking Dead – the TV show versus the graphic novels, the show’s black guy rule, how much Andrea sucks, how much Beth sucks, the hotness of Norman Reedus….

Plenty.

 

Andrea

 

 

With the half season over, it’s time for the regular-viewer’s eyes to turn to things other than hating on Beth Greene and zombie head shot counts (AKA: nitpicking the hell out of the show).

 

 

 

beth haters

 

 

For those fans who are philosophically inclined also like to talk about one topic for

discussion in particular –

 

Guessed it yet?

 

Hint: this blog is about philosophy.

 

 

thinking guy

 

 

You may no know it, but some The Walking Dead fans (ok, maybe just me) like to talk about how the show is all about philosophy.

Really, it is.

 

 

this is going to be fun

 

 
If you have a preference for thinking about television philosophically, I should say that it’s worth mentioning that it’s awfully fun to talk about The Walking Dead and morality.
Well, fun if you’re a philosopher.

 

 

…. And you watch a lot of TV.

 

tyler watches TV

 

 

 

There’s plenty of moral dilemmas to be found in a typical episode/season of The Walking Dead, but the one moral dilemma that seems to rear its undead more often than others is the problem of moral ambiguity.

 

 

the good the bad the morally ambiguous

 

 

Moral ambiguity, as defined by Urban Dictionary, is:

[the] lack of clarity in ethical decision making. that is, when an issue, situation, or questions has moral dimensions or implications, but the decidedly “moral” action to take is unclear, either due to conflicting principles, ethical systems, or situational perspectives.

 

 

images scumbag steve uses UD

 

 

That is to say, moral ambiguity is lack of moral clarity; the line between good and bad actions is blurred.

 

my favorite color is moral ambiguity

 

 

Speaking of blurred lines….

 

MUSIC BREAK!

 

 

 

 

 

Although, given my tastes, moral ambiguity in the zombie apocalypse would sound a little more like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing is, the problem of moral ambiguity isn’t exclusively a The Walking Dead problem. Moral ambiguity seems to have infected other AMC shows as well – Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt and Catch Fire and Hell On Wheels are all afflicted with morally ambiguous characters and situations.

This guy may be the worst of them all.

 

 

 

worst

 

 

The problem, if you will, with moral ambiguity isn’t just a problem for AMC . It’s prevalent in more than quite a few movies and television shows.

 

 

moral ambiguity character chart

 

 

Wait – everyone here knows when I say AMC I mean the television network American Movie Classics, right?

Just saying that so we’re clear.

‘Cause clarity is important when you’re talking philosophically.

 

 

clear_as_crystal

 

 

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: what’s the harm in a little moral ambiguity? After all, life isn’t as cut and dry as we’d like it to be – and sometimes, despite our own moral convictions, a situation calls for us to get our hands a little dirty. To violate our moral principles; to play on both sides of the moral fence.

In a land overrun by undead, morality (and especially moral consistency) takes second place to the act of surviving. We can excuse Rick Grimes when he violates his rule “you don’t kill the living” and we can sympathize with the murderous cannibals at Terminus because these characters do whatever is necessary to do to survive.

 

It seems inevitable that the will to survive leads to some moral ambiguity.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to eat a another man’s leg to save our own lives.

Wait, just me?

 

oh.

 

 

 

bob-b-que

 

 

At first glance, a non-distinct moral style is more than justified in a zombie apocalypse. After all, when it comes to survival, are you really going to worry about moral consistency?

Yeah, me neither.

But we’re all philosophers here. And you know what philosophers don’t like? Non distinct things. And you know what non distinct things are? Ambiguous. Philosophers hate ambiguity.

And there’s an obvious problem that arises when we fail to clearly define the line between right and wrong. Namely, not clearly defining what is morally right and what is morally wrong makes it difficult to perform morally correct acts.

That is, when our morals are not clear we may fail to do the right thing.

 

 

do the right thing

 

 

Worse yet, if our morals are ambiguous, how can we judge which acts are good or bad?

And worse than that – if right and wrong are not clearly defined how is a TV watcher to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

The ability to do so may be very important if you find yourself surrounded by a horde of the undead.

Believe it or not, doing so relies on having a clear sense of morality.

 

 

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS IT HELPS TO BE REALLY SURE OF ONE’S MORAL PRINCIPLES

 

 

You see, moral ambiguity may be no big deal to television writers or to fictional fellows like Don Draper, Walter White or Shane Walsh, but in the real world, the consequences of moral ambiguity probably won’t make you anyone’s favorite antihero. In the real world, moral ambiguity can lead to such awful things like moral relativism or (gasp!)

 

moral nihilism.

Yeah. You end up morals like this guy:

 

 

old fred

 

 

 

Or (worst case scenario) a total breakdown or rejection of all morality.
Actually, that kind of stuff happens in the fake world, too.

 

 

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

IT WAS AT THIS MOMENT THAT MILDRED REALIZED THAT HER FAVORITE TV GOOD GUY WASN’T ALL THAT GOOD AND THAT HER LEAST FAVORITE TV BAD GUY ISN’T ALL THAT BAD

 

 

You see, when a TV show begins to blur the line between good and bad it can become difficult to sustain one’s like for a character – especially if one’s fondness for a particular character is predicated on the belief that the character is good. For instance, Rick Grimes’ shifting morality and his willingness to violate his own moral principles (i.e., “we do not kill the living”) makes it increasingly difficult to discern which side of the moral fence Rick Grimes resides on: is he a good man who does bad things or a bad man who occasionally does good things?

The problem is, we can’t tell. Rick’s morality isn’t static. We can’t pinpoint exactly where Rick Grimes’ morality (or any of the other characters in The Walking Dead) falls on the morality scale. It’s ambiguous. The characters of The Walking Dead aren’t guided by a ethical code as much as they are dictated by expediency.

That often makes the characters act inconsistently.

And inconsistency causes trouble.

Moral trouble.

Moral ambiguity trouble.

 

 

 

shit happens GIF

 

 

Ok. Let me give a long winded example: As many fans of the show know, Rick kicked Carol out of the group for killing two people, Karen and David; deaths that Carol claimed were necessary to save the rest of the group. Carol believes that although she intentionally killed two people, her actions are morally correct and tells Rick that (morally speaking) her actions are no different than when Rick killed his best friend Shane.

By the way, if you don’t know who Shane is or was, go back to The Walking Dead seasons 1 & 2.

Anyway, Rick is outraged at Carol for killing two people that Rick argues could have recovered from their illness.

An illness that, by the way, when it kills you, you end up looking like this:

 

 

EWWWWW

EWWWWW

 

 

So naturally, Carol thought the solution for that was doing this:

 

 

karen and david burned

PRETTY DANGED EFFICIENT OF CAROL, IF YOU ASK ME

 

 

 

 

Rick’s moral outrage (because Rick suddenly has a clear sense of morality) seems to be rooted in his season 1 declaration “we do not kill the living”. Rick declares that no living person is to be killed even if that person poses a potential risk to the group.

 

 

 REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

REMEMBER WHEN THIS GUY ACTUALLY HAD A SENSE OF MORALITY?

 

 

 

Of course Rick’s moral outrage would have made sense if we were still in season 1.

That was back when Rick had a clear and distinct moral view.

 

 

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

BACK IN SEASON 1 RICK POINTED A GUN TO YOUR HEAD BECAUSE YOU WERE A BAD GUY

 

 

But something has happened to Rick that the fact that Rick takes offense to Carol’s actions should strike us a little odd. The thing is this: by the time Carol kills Karen and David, Rick’s morals are no longer distinct as we would (or the writers would ) like (us) to believe.

In fact, by season 4, Rick has developed a nasty habit of killing living people.

 

This is a pretty easy thing to if your morals are ambiguous.

 

Because TV. That’s why.

 

 

 

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP....POOR RANDALL

IF ONLY HAD RANDALL POPPED UP IN SEASON 1 “WE DO NOT KILL THE LIVING” RICK WOULD HAVE WELCOMED HIM INTO THE GROUP….POOR RANDALL

 

 

Seriously, the reason why Rick Grimes is so willing to kill the living is because Rick’s ethics are no longer grounded in the distinction between the moral rules dictating what is morally good and what is morally bad. Ok, remember when Rick told the racist (and soon-to-be mono-handed) redneck Merle Dixon that distinctions among races no longer exist; there are no more black and white people; only the living and the dead?

 

Well, like race, in a world populated by the living dead, morals are no longer distinct. Good guys like Rick do bad things and bad guys like The Governor do good things. So much so that it’s hard to tell who is good and who is evil.

 

 

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE  A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

WOULD A TRULY BAD GUY PROVIDE A SUPPLY OF COOL DRINKS AND RED SOLO CUPS? NOPE.

 

 

We are supposed to be morally offended at Claimer Joe’s ethic of teaching a liar a lesson “all the way”, but we commend Joe for doing the right thing and defending Daryl against Claimer Len’s false accusations. That makes Joe a good guy, right? But then, when Joe and the Claimers threaten to kill Rick and rape Carl and Michonne, Joe is a bad guy again.

Kind of confusing if you let it get to you.

Here’s the thing, though: we’re supposed to think that Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors are good people (certainly better than the cannibals at Terminus or at Phillip Blake’s (aka the Governor) who ruthlessly turns his weapon on his own people), but how can we think that Rick or his actions are good when we see Rick and his group massacre (a bad thing) the survivors of Terminus? Or when Rick’s loosely-rooted morality enables him to kill the living like this:

 

 

rick kills shane

 

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick shooting dave

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead tony

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick slicing tomas

 

 

And like this

 

 

 

rick kills guy in bathroom

 

 

And like this

 

 

rick kills joe

 

 

And like this

 

 

dead gareth

 

 

And finally, in the season 5 mid-season finale, like this

 

 

rick kills ofc. bob

 

 

 

Mind you, Rick kills the cannibal (by necessity) Gareth even as Gareth begs for his life.

 

Now, some folks may have no problem with Rick Grimes’ actions. They still believe that he’s a good guy. But think about it: can we to simply shrug off Rick’s actions because we think he’s doing what is best for his group; because his actions are in service to the greater good?

Because all those other bad guys – they’re trying to serve the greater good, too.

Even Officer Dawn Lerner says so.

 

 

dawn GIF

 

 

This got me thinking; Is Rick really more morally certain (i.e. morally right) than the Governor? More certain than the cannibals at Terminus? Than Joe and the Claimers? Or more morally certain than Eugene Porter who lied to save his own life?

Can we tell?

 

mullet of lies

 

 

Ok, I know. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got this all You’re thinking the problem on The Walking Dead isn’t moral ambiguity. Well, for starters, you’re probably right.

The appearance of moral ambiguity on The Walking Dead may not be that Rick Grimes has succumbed to Walter White syndrome; it may be nothing more than the product of sloppy writing.

Gee, I hope not.

 

 

knocks_breaking_bad

 

 

After all, Rick Grimes isn’t very much like Don Draper or Walter White. However, any fan of the show is bound to notice that there has been a noticeable moral shift in Rick Grimes. Rick’s moral certainty seems less assured now than it did at the beginning of the series. It’s clear that Rick is more than willing to cross the moral line, even in situations when it seems that Rick is clearly doing the wrong thing.

It is exactly in the space between moral certainty and moral nihilism that we see Rick Grimes headed towards. It’s why we find – ok, why some of us find – Rick Grimes such a compelling television character.

 

 

 

 

Someone explain to me how killing one of the “good” cops benefits the situation, again?

 

 

 

In the end, whether Rick’s moral shift is television’s finest example of rule utilitarianism or some other ethical theory (or bad writing), the manifestation of moral flexibility (or moral degradation) to the point of moral ambiguity is worth thinking about – not just in the fictional world of a zombie apocalypse, but in the real world where we often feel that we can no longer easily navigate what is morally right versus what is the morally wrong thing to do.

But I’m sure that by the next half season Rick will be fully morally functional and none of this will make any sense whatsoever.

 

…. If it doesn’t make sense already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
* http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2014/11/12/why-the-nfl-is-losing-the-sunday-night-primetime-tv-battle-to-the-walking-dead/

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=moral%20ambiguity