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

It is your destiny (Or, why I never wanted to be Luke Skywalker)

Even if you can’t STAND Star Wars,you know someone who loves it. Right?

Every body knows a guy who not only likes Star Wars, but LOVES Star Wars. The guy who, if he actually met George Lucas, handing “the Maker” a note suggesting that he get as far away as possible from this Jedi robe-clad Annie Wilkes would be the best course of action. We all know that guy.

The FANBOY.

The guy who stood in line for three days and dressed up as Qui Gon Jinn to the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace when it opened. The guy who knows the difference between a wampa and a bantha. The guy who knows exactly what kind of crystal powers Mace Windu’s light saber.

That guy.

these are the kind of fans i’m talking about

As any fanboy will tell you, George Lucas used ancient myths and legends as the backbone of his Star Wars saga. And as any Carl Jung fan will tell you, George Lucas’ space opera is crammed with Jungian archetypes.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is the wise old man? Yeah, Carl Jung invented that.

You know, you can spend a couple of days reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces (or you can spend 6 hours listening to it on audio book like I did) to get a full grasp on the ideas behind George Lucas’ Star Wars double trilogy, but what’s more fun is to overanalyze the Star Wars saga philosophically.

By the way, does anyone know what the correct numerical word is for a six-part movie series?

Now, anyone who’s thumbed through an introduction philosophy book and subsequently watched a Star Wars movie will quickly figure spot a few philosophical themes in Star Wars: good and evil, Yoda’s stoicism, the monastic religion of the Jedi order, even the politics of building an empire. There’s one theme that, although it runs through the entire six-part saga (and the animated Clone Wars movie — remember that one?), might not stick out as having any philosophical importance: free will versus determinism.

Ok, it miiiight stick out with all the subtlety of a cudgel to the head.

If you’ve watched any of the Star Wars flicks, you’ll have noticed that there’s a word that pops up several times: destiny. Everybody in these movies is either witness or subject to some kind of preordained future. In Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace several characters (including Jedi masters Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, and Mace Windu) refer to a “prophesy” of “the chosen one”. The “chosen one” (Anakin Skywalker, father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa) is prophesized to destroy the Jedi and democracy-hating Sith and bring balance to the Force. In Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker not only sees the suffering of his friends in Cloud City (Yoda informs Luke that it is the future that he sees; which begs the question: did Yoda see Luke’s friends suffering in Cloud City, too?), but is told by his nemesis/father Darth Vader that Luke will turn to the Dark Side of the Force because it is Luke’s “destiny”.

Vader tells Luke he knows Luke will turn to evil because the Emperor has “forseen this”.

Here’s a short list of other things the Emperor “forsees”:

  • Everything that happens in The Phantom Menace (Episode I)
  • The Clone Wars (Episode II)
  • Luke turning to the Dark Side (Episode V)
  • Luke confronting his father (Episode VI)
  • Luke destroys the Emperor (Episode VI)

Although Luke doesn’t turn to the Dark Side, all this forseeing business that everyone is chatting about does leave us wondering is, do Luke Skywalker and his companions have free will or are their acts determined?

Before we answer the question, let’s remember what determinism is.

Determinism is defined as:

The belief that everything is caused: the doctrine or belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will.

* Just in case you didn’t know, free will is the opposite of determinism.

Now think about it, there’s a pretty good argument for believing that the Star Wars universe is not one where people chose to do exactly what they want to do: In The Phantom Menace, Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin (Skywalker), is prophesized to be “the Chosen One” — the one who will destroy the Sith and bring balance back to the Force. Anakin (as Sith Lord Darth Vader) eventually kills the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine and is redeemed, thus destroying the Sith and fulfilling the prophesy of “the Chosen One”. In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon Jinn (even) tells Anakin and his mother that meeting the boy and his mother was “the will of the Force” AND the Jedi council sense that young Anakin Skywalker may be dangerous a sentiment that certainly becomes a reality in the following films.

Ok, you say, that’s just one person. The fact that one character’s life is the fulfillment of a prophesy doesn’t mean that any other character is subject to the same thing, right?

Well, if you think about it, Luke Skywalker’s life is pretty determined, too. Even when Luke appears to choose, he’s not really choosing according to his own free will.

Here’s my argument why:

Remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi lays the double whammy on Luke and tells the naïve farmboy that not only wasn’t his father a crewman on a spice freighter, but a Jedi Knight who fought in the Clone Wars and that he must accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan to deliver the data readouts of the Death Star to Princess Leia’s father, Luke tells Obi-Wan that he can’t go along because he’s got work to do at home on his Uncle Owen’s moisture farm? Obi-Wan tells Luke that Luke must do what he thinks is right, but while Obi-Wan’s  blowing smoke up Luke’s patootie, Obi-Wan knows that as Qui-Gon Jinn observed, events (like life) are subject to the will of the Force.

That’s why when Luke goes back home, his aunt and uncle are dead, leaving him no choice but to follow Obi-Wan on his damned fool, idealistic crusade.

And as practitioners of the Force, Jedi (including Luke Skywalker), are also filled with midi-chlorians microscopic life-forms that not only make for a fantastically handy, if not completely mystifying plot device, but are also symbiotic entities. Qui-Gon Jinn tells Anakin that the midi-chlorians tell (or is it dictate to?) the Jedi the will of the Force. This means if Luke is a Jedi and all Jedi are chocked full of midi-chlorians, and midichlorians tell Jedi the will of the Force, and the will of the Force makes things happen, like Qui-Gon Jinn meeting Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine, then events in the Star Wars universe are determined. Luke Skywalker might have thought that he had the ability to choose to stay on his Uncle’s farm, but in reality, there was no such choice.

Because like, the will of God, the will of the Force makes things happen.

You don’t have to believe me on this one,

but the midi-chlorians would say you’d be wrong if you didn’t.