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

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

 

 

My Other Brother Daryl

I used to think it was kind of cheesy whenever I would hear someone claim that the lyrics from a song or a character from a book or a movie changed their life.

 

With a world filled with so many real-life heroes and heroines, to say that your life changed after watching an episode of Mob Wives seems a bit trivial.

 

Although I will say that I was more than a little bit moved after watching Cloverfield.

 

 

THOSE PARASITES, MAN.

THOSE PARASITES, MAN.

 

 

Even if one has never experienced something as profound as being permanently changed by the lyrics of “Girls, Girls, Girls“, one can recognize that watching the “life” of a character from a TV show or a movie can be philosophically interesting.

 

One character I find philosophically interesting is the character Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus on AMC’s hit horror-drama, The Walking Dead.

 

 

keep calm and love daryl dixon

Fans of the show like Daryl Dixon because he is a badass.

 

 

the zombie died

 
I like Daryl Dixon because he discovers the meaning of life.

 

Or rather, that Daryl Dixon discovers the meaning of his life.

 

 

  DARYL DIXON. BADASS LEVEL: SEXIEST HILLBILLY IN GEORGIA.


 DARYL DIXON. BADASS LEVEL: SEXIEST HILLBILLY IN GEORGIA.

 

 

Ok, I know I’ve written about The Walking Dead more than a few times already. And I know that some people think that the show is nothing more than inane television. They are befuddled by the fact that ANYONE can enjoy a show with characters that are straight from the TV clichés handbook. They are even more perplexed by the fact that the show is not only the highest basic cable drama on television, but and that anyone would look for, much less find “deeper” meaning in the soap opera-like plots and hammy (sometimes borderline unintentionally comical) acting.

 

There’s a reason why Mad Men wins the big awards and The Walking Dead isn’t even nominated.

 

 

YEP. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY EVERYONE LOVES MAD MEN.

YEP. THIS IS EXACTLY WHY EVERYONE LOVES MAD MEN.

 

 

 

Some people even question the judgment of people who express a fondness for former sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes, and his band of survivors.

 

And to that, I say,

 

 

haters

 

 

 

Many TV show characters have a following, but Daryl Dixon may be the only character in television history whose fans have threatened an uprising if the character is removed from the show.

 

 

If-Daryl-dies-we-riot

 

 
Daryl Dixon is initially introduced in season one as the delinquent younger brother of the racist, sexist, Heisenberg-using Merle Dixon (played by Michael Rooker). Daryl’s entrance is as memorable as his character: he emerges from the woods, crossbow in hand, grimy from head to toe, a bounty of dead squirrels strung around his neck. Daryl doesn’t care about anything or for anyone other than his brother.

 

Daryl Dixon angrily expresses his contempt (angrily contempt, is that redundant?) for the group when he’s told that his brother (Merle) was chained to a roof and left behind in zombie-infested Atlanta. And when the camp is invaded by the undead, Daryl declares that the reason why the camp was attacked is because the group has reaped what it sowed.

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CHAIN MERLE DIXON TO A PIPE…. AT LEAST ACCORDING TO HIS BROTHER.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CHAIN MERLE DIXON TO A PIPE…. AT LEAST ACCORDING TO HIS BROTHER.

 

 
Consequently, Daryl agrees to accompany Rick back to Atlanta not to retrieve a valuable bag of guns that Rick left behind in the city, but to find his brother Merle.

 

 

UNFORTUNATELY FOR DARYL, THIS IS WHAT HE FINDS IN ATLANTA.

UNFORTUNATELY FOR DARYL, THIS IS WHAT HE FINDS IN ATLANTA.

 

 
Although Daryl proves he’s handy with a crossbow, without his brother or a defined and/or useful skill (other than brooding and squirrel hunting) Daryl’s place in the group is unclear.

 

 

THIS IS THE ONLY EXPRESSION DARYL DIXON HAD ALL OF SEASON ONE.

THIS IS THE ONLY EXPRESSION DARYL DIXON HAD ALL OF SEASON ONE.

 

 

In the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead, everyone’s role is clearly defined:
Rick Grimes is the leader of the group (undeniably). Rick’s former partner and best friend, Shane Walsh, is Rick’s second in command. Glenn is to go-to guy. Old man Dale is the voice of reason. T-Dog is the lone black guy. Carl Grimes is the incorrigible child. Andrea is the useless chick. And Rick’s wife Lori – let’s not talk about Lori.

 

 

ALL I'M GONNA SAY IS THAT JANET WEISS ISN’T THE ONLY CHARACTER THAT PEOPLE YELL “SLUT” WHEN SHE APPEARS ON SCREEN.

ALL I’M GONNA SAY IS THAT JANET WEISS ISN’T THE ONLY CHARACTER THAT PEOPLE YELL “SLUT” WHEN SHE APPEARS ON SCREEN.

 

 

lori grimes, slut

 

 

 

See?

 

Nearly every character in the group has a place to fill; a purpose. Daryl does not. He’s just a crossbow carrying, squirrel-hunting, brother-of-a-racist hick who knows choke holds are illegal.

Sure, Daryl Dixon is a fan favorite, a total badass, and can survive in the woods, but he lacks a reason for being where or who he is.

That has “easily expendable” written all over it.
Daryl Dixon is a The Walking Dead redshirt.

 

 

death had a near-daryl experience

 

 

 

Seriously, though. Daryl tells Rick and Shane that choke holds are illegal.

After Shane chokes him.

Cops aren’t supposed to put people in choke holds.
Because they’re cops.

 

choke hold's illegal

 
The meaningless existence of Daryl Dixon seems destined to be Dixon’s fate until the first episode of the show’s second season. In the season 2 opener “What Lies Ahead” something extraordinary happens – a character goes missing.

A child. Sophia Peletier.

 

THIS IS A WONDERFUL THING FOR DARYL DIXON.

 

 

WHO KNEW THAT A MISSING CHILD WOULD BRING ABOUT SUCH FORTUITOUS CONSEQUENCES?

WHO KNEW THAT A MISSING CHILD WOULD BRING ABOUT SUCH FORTUITOUS CONSEQUENCES?

 
Wait a minute. I have to go forward a bit for this to make any sense.

BACK TO THE ‘82

BACK TO THE ‘82

 

 

Ok. So in season four, the group is attacked by The Governor and they’re forced to flee the prison. Daryl and Beth Greene (the one who sings) find themselves alone (together) and – wait –

Damn. Now I gotta explain that.

 

Ok… Rick Grimes and his group find sanctuary at an abandoned prison. They’re able to clear out the undead (they’re never called zombies on the show) and make a safe place for themselves. But then this dude called “The Governor” shows up.

He’s a pretty bad guy.

 

How do you know The Governor is bad? He’s got an eye patch.

 

EYE PATCH = EVIL

EYE PATCH = EVIL

 

 

Long story short (too late) The Governor and Rick’s group can’t find a way to make nice-nice during the zombie apocalypse (this should be an easy thing to do, right?) and the opposing groups soon turn to war.

 

 

Then this happens:

 

 

Hershel beheading

 

 

 

And then this happens:

 

OK, I KNOW THIS IS A STILL FROM SEASON 3. BOTH OF THE GOVERNOR’S ATTACKS ON THE PRISON INVOLVE BLOWING UP THINGS, SO THIS PICTURE IS STILL TOTALLY APPROPRIATE TO USE.

OK, I KNOW THIS IS A STILL FROM SEASON 3. BOTH OF THE GOVERNOR’S ATTACKS ON THE PRISON INVOLVE BLOWING UP THINGS, SO THIS PICTURE IS STILL TOTALLY APPROPRIATE TO USE.

 

 

 

 

So this happens:

 

 

beth and daryl

 

 

Now, the natural inclination for any The Walking Dead fan on the prospect of an entire episode devoted to Beth Greene (she’s the one who sings) would be to avoid that episode at all costs. That would make sense if you watch the show solely for a weekly fix of blood, guts, and badassery. But remember, there are things more important than watching a character shoot a crossbow and kick ass.

 

norman reedus obsession meme

 

 

Namely, that The Walking Dead is also a philosophical show.

AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO THINKS HEISENBERG HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

AM I THE ONLY PERSON WHO THINKS HEISENBERG HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

 

 

You see, the search for little Sophia allows Daryl to find his purpose.

 

That’s philosophical.

 

It’s Daryl who leads search for young Sophia and is the most dedicated to finding the lost girl.

 

Well, I guess the girl’s mother would be the most dedicated to finding Sophia.

 

Daryl is thrown off a horse, impaled on one of his own crossbow bolts, gnawed on by a zombie (luckily it was only biting on Daryl’s boot), and is grazed on the side of the head by a bullet when Andrea mistakenly assumes that Daryl is a zombie and attempts to shoot him in the head.

ANDREA REALLY IS THE USELESS CHICK, MAN.

ANDREA REALLY IS THE USELESS CHICK, MAN.

 

 
Daryl helps Andrea to find a reason for living. He supplies T-Dog with antibiotics after T-Dog’s wound is infected. Daryl saves Glenn from a simplified Randall. And let’s not forget that it’s Daryl who steps forward to put down Dale after Dale is attacked by a zombie.
I’m not even going to say spoiler alert.

 IF YOU DON’T KNOW THIS HAPPENED BY NOW (IF NEWS THAT DALE IS DEAD IS A “SPOILER”) DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO WATCH THE SHOW.

IF YOU DON’T KNOW THIS HAPPENED BY NOW (IF NEWS THAT DALE IS DEAD IS A “SPOILER”) DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO WATCH THE SHOW.

 

 
Daryl consoles the grieving Carol Peletier by delivering her a Cherokee rose and telling her the tale of grieving mothers on the Trail of Tears.

 

 

daryl on merle

 

 
When Rick kills Shane by stabbing Shane in the chest, Daryl steps forward to occupy the newly-vacant position as Rick’s new right-hand man. When Daryl is nearly fatally injured and hallucinates a vision of his missing brother Merle, he rejects “Merle’s” allegation that the group rejects Daryl and has no use for him.

 

 

DIXON BROTHERS

 

 

Of course we know that Daryl is actually arguing with himself.

daryl's hallucination

THAT DUDE MUST HAVE FALLEN HARD TO SEE MERLE.

 

 

Daryl’s steadfast devotion to find Sophia shows the audience that Daryl not only cares for the group (Sophia, anyway), but more importantly, that he no longer is just Merle Dixon’s little brother. Daryl starts to forge a place for himself in the group.

 

panties dropping

 
In a world where Beth Greene attempts suicide because she finds life in a land full of the undead not worth living (Beth specifically uses the word “pointless”), the zombie apocalypse gives Daryl the opportunity to establish himself as a useful and trustworthy member of the group; a member with an essential role as protector, provider, multi-weapons specialist, tracker, and trusted confidant. By the end of season four, Daryl Dixon is not at all like he was when he was introduced at the outset of the show. Daryl has a purpose.

 

And through a purpose, Daryl Dixon’s life has meaning.

 

 

daryl's purpose

 

 

Daryl confesses to Beth that in the pre-apocalypse, he hadn’t done anything with his life other than follow behind his older brother Merle. Daryl’s life, other than his devotion to Merle, lacked engagement in any other significant activity – activities that, for most people, make our lives meaningful.

 
(Sidenote: the whole scene where Daryl confesses to Beth is a little weird. Beth is supposed to be about seventeen years old or so. That’s fine and dandy until you ask “how old is Daryl?” The actor who plays Daryl Dixon, Norman Reedus, is in his mid-forties. The way Beth extracts info from Daryl is while playing a variation of Truth or Dare (just truth, no dare). The whole situation is kind of creepy (and not just because they play the game while swigging moonshine). The situation gets downright odd when Daryl tells Beth not only has he never been arrested (ok, fine), but he also gives the impression that he’s never done a few OTHER things, as well. Yes, THAT. Are the viewers expected to believe that Daryl Dixon is THAT inexperienced? Is his character supposed to be closer to the fictional Beth Greene’s age and not the actual age of Norman Reedus? Does anyone know? )

 

 

 

JUST HOW OLD IS THIS DARYL DIXON, ANYWAY?

JUST HOW OLD IS THIS DARYL DIXON, ANYWAY?

 

 

The philosopher Susan Wolf says that a meaningful life is a life that a person is “actively engaged” in “projects of worth”. Active engagement, according to Wolf, is any activity that a person is “gripped, excited, involved” in.

 

 

Wolf writes:

To be actively engaged in something is not always pleasant in the ordinary sense of the word. Activities in which people are actively engaged frequently involve stress, danger, exertion or sorrow… However, there is something good about the feeling of engagement: one feels (typically without thinking about it) especially alive.

 

 

 

I KNOW IT'S NOT A PICTURE OF DARYL DIXON BUT THERE AREN'T ANY SCREENSHOTS OF DARYL DIXON CONTEMPLATING THE MEANING OF LIFE.

I KNOW IT’S NOT A PICTURE OF DARYL DIXON BUT THERE AREN’T ANY SCREENSHOTS OF DARYL DIXON CONTEMPLATING THE MEANING OF LIFE.

 
Life in the zombie apocalypse may be a life that is, as Hobbes described in Leviathan, “nasty, brutish, and short”, but it is in this world that Daryl Dixon finds his meaning in life. Daryl Dixon is actively engaged in protecting the lives of his fellow survivors. He is a man that others look to with admiration and for guidance (like the unfortunate patient zero Patrick). The world may suck and Daryl himself may not be aware of it, but Daryl Dixon’s life is not nothing; it‘s not meaningless. He’s done plenty with his life.

 

And not just hunting squirrels with his crossbow.

 

Well, if anything, this is the purpose of Daryl Dixon existence:

 

 

daryl is for the ladies

 

 

This is it. Right, ladies?

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
Susan Wolf. “Meaning In Life”. The Meaning of Life: A Reader. 2008. Eds. E.D. Klemke and Steven M. Cahn. NY: Oxford University Press. 232-3.

Current Events

Five minutes into the conversation and I was already regretting saying anything in the first place.

 

I’d made the mistake of telling a lady I’d just met that I was a political science major in college. Apparently she was one of those types who liked to discuss politics.

And when I say “discuss”, I mean someone preaches at you for the next thirty-three minutes.

There really are perks to being a wallflower.

 

Listen: I don’t mind discussing politics. I like to, actually. That’s kind of the reason why I majored in political science. I wanted to know how government works. To be formally educated on the form and function of our representative republic.

Unfortunately, the only lesson I can say that I’ve had so far, is that when you meet anyone wants to discuss politics one needs to tread lightly. I now realize that there’s a difference between an exchange of political ideas and a full-scale inquisition of all of my political opinions.

That’s what I’d been experiencing for a full five minutes.

 

A full-on Spanish-style inquisition.

 

the spanish inquisition

 

 

She demanded to know my opinion on Syria. Afghanistan. Edward Snowden.

Voter ID laws, abortion, 9/11 Truth, Obamacare, and Ted Cruz.

The corporate media. Fox News. And gun control.

Fracking.

 

Illegal NSA surveillance. Same-sex marriage. Drones. The Zimmerman verdict. Wikileaks and Bradley Manning.

 

Chris Christie.

 

What I thought about the Tea Party, Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Hillary Clinton hasn’t even announced her candidacy yet.

 

OH YEAH. SHE’S RUNNIN’ FOR PRESIDENT, ALRIGHT

OH YEAH. SHE’S RUNNIN’ FOR PRESIDENT, ALRIGHT

 

 

Getting waterboarded had to be easier than this conversation.

 

Five minutes into a lecture about dissolving the Federal Reserve, and all I could think of was how much this didactically-oriented (and annoying) lady looked like a young Walter Becker.

 

I felt the urge to sing “Reeling In the Years”.

 

THIS IS WALTER BECKER. NOW, IMAGINE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE WALTER BECKER LECTURING A FELLOW PROGRESSIVE ABOUT THE EVILS OF CAPITALISM, WHILE WEARING A DEMOCRACY NOW! T-SHIRT… WITH BOOBS.

THIS IS WALTER BECKER. NOW, IMAGINE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE WALTER BECKER LECTURING A FELLOW PROGRESSIVE ABOUT THE EVILS OF CAPITALISM, WHILE WEARING A DEMOCRACY NOW! T-SHIRT… WITH BOOBS.

 

 

Sometimes I want to discuss politics, but I don’t want to discuss politics.

 

I definitely don’t want any conversation to feel like I’m being interrogated at Gitmo.

 

Sometimes I really don’t feel like discussing anything politically important.

I’d rather talk about Justin Bieber’s retirement, Miley Cyrus’ latest media-grabbing antics or if Kim K really plucked her infant daughter’s eyebrows.

 

MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN DISCUSSING THE SEQUESTER

MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN DISCUSSING THE SEQUESTER

 

Sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about anything philosophically significant.

Sometimes I really don’t feel like dealing with reality.

Sometimes I want to hold on to my Panglossian view of the world. But my view keeps getting interrupted by current events. Reality can be annoying like that.

It’s hard to face reality every morning when this kind of headline is the first thing you see on the internet:

 

 

Capture fukushima

 

Looking at the headline I can conclude one of two things: I’ve been totally irradiated by fallout from Fukushima or Armageddon is going to start soon.

I’m pretty sure that both involve Godzilla rising up from the Pacific Ocean.

 

That’s just the start of the horribleness. If you think about it, there’s plenty of things going on in the real world that makes you not want to face the real world.

 

th (4)

 

That can be difficult if you’ve assumed the life of a philosopher. Philosophy is supposed to be about thinking about reality and stuff. There’s a whole field of philosophy devoted to doing just that.

 

It’s called metaphysics.

 

 

I SWEAR THIS IS NOT WHAT I'M DOING. BUT IF IT APPEARS THAT I AM, I'M JUST DEEP IN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

I SWEAR THIS IS NOT WHAT I’M DOING. BUT IF IT APPEARS THAT I AM, I’M JUST DEEP IN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT

 

But really, there are times that thinking about truth and what’s real and all that is just plain exhausting. I’d much rather think about the discontinuities in the Star Wars movies, comic books, and TV shows. I’d rather write The Walking Dead fanfic about romantic liaisons between Rick Grimes and his former friend and partner, Shane Walsh.

 

THEY SHARED A LOVE THAT DARED NOT SPEAK IT'S NAME... AT LEAST IN THE STORIES I WROTE.

THEY SHARED A LOVE THAT DARED NOT SPEAK IT’S NAME… AT LEAST IN THE STORIES I WROTE.

 

I so prefer an unreality reality that I’m totally obsessed with Don Draper but I have almost no interest at all in Jon Hamm.

I prefer this:

 
suit & tie

 

To this:

 

I SWEAR THIS GUY DOES NOTHING FOR ME

I SWEAR THIS GUY DOES NOTHING FOR ME

I’m way past elementary school but I still enjoy daydreaming.

 

Sometimes I would prefer to spend my day floating inside Robert Nozick’s experience machine than deal with what’s actually going on.

 

YEA! SENSORY DEPRIVATION!

YEA! SENSORY DEPRIVATION!

 

I mean, I know reality is a “big deal” and the point of Nozick’s thought experiment was to point out exactly why we shouldn’t want to spend our time in an artificial reality. But really, how much reality do we have to deal with?

Is it ever ok to just tune out? Ever?

The real world is often much too bothersome to deal with.

There aren’t enough philosophers to deal with the overwhelming dumbness.

It’s scary sometimes.

And besides, Kant says we’ll never truly know ding an sich, anyway.

 

neil de grasse tyson doesn't give a shit

AND BY NOBODY I REALLY MEAN “I”

 

 

Ok, I know. The answer is no. As a philosopher and as a human being, I should want to be intellectually, emotionally, and philosophically engaged with the world. The philosopher Robert Nozick (1938-2002) said that we should prefer real world experiences because our lives are made richer by the experience of actual (as opposed to electronically simulated) living. And to examine one’s life, as Socrates suggests, requires that one face all aspects of life, both pleasant and unpleasant.

 

DAMN YOU, ROBERT NOZICK!!!

DAMN YOU, ROBERT NOZICK!!!

 

I understand that the purpose of Nozick’s experience machine is to convince us that we should not want to escape reality. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Completely escaping reality is not what I had in mind. Reality sometimes is a fun thing. There’s Disneyland, the smell of Tide detergent on freshly-washed sheets, hot chicken pot pies, getting kicked in the face in the pit at a Pantera concert. All of these things should be experienced first hand. And really, if escape is the plan, there are easier ways to do that. I could drop acid every waking moment of my life.

And those moments would look like THIS:

 

psychedelic image

 

My question is that as a philosopher, am I required to pay attention to everything. Would I (or anyone else) be neglecting my (our) philosophical duty if I (we) decided that there are some subjects that I’m (we’re) not going to think about? If I do does it make me a bad person? Am I wrong if I decide to think about these fictional people:

 

downton abbey

 

 

Instead of this guy:

 

edward snowden

 

 

Which reminds me. The new season of Downton Abbey is on.

Gotta go.

 

 

 

 

(Although my tone is somewhat light-hearted, this was and continues to be a real dilemma for me. I think others may understand when I say that thinking about too many things often leads to a philosophical fatigue or intellectual malaise, where one may be tempted to not think or care about anything beyond trivial matters. I think the origin of my dilemma resides in the fact that a lack of knowledge or interest in worldly matters is a sign of malignant narcissism or stupidity. I insist that in my case that neither is so. I had mistakenly operated under the impression that either my attention has to focus on “important” issues or on the trivial, and had neglected to consider the possibility that one can do both. I found this quote by Nietzsche useful: “To live alone one must be a beast or a god, says Aristotle. Leaving out the third case: one must be both – a philosopher.”)

 
SOURCES:

The Portable Nietzsche. 1982 [1954]. Ed. and trans. Walter Kaufmann. NY: Viking Penguin Inc. p 467.

On the Unlikely But Probable Existence of Gettier Truths

Generally speaking, it’s good not to lie to people.

Most people aren’t very good at it and if you make a habit out of lying to people you’re likely to end up getting caught in a web of your own lies. Your lies, as the Blue Fairy would say, become as plain as the nose on your face.

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

Lying isn’t just wrong according to the Bible (which is bad enough as it is) but if you’re a fan of Immanuel Kant the act of lying is a big no-no.

To quote Kant from his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, “lying is no bueno.”

Of course, as with anything else we’re not supposed to do, like premarital sex, serial arson, or liking Nickleback on Facebook, an admonition to not do something has never stopped anyone from doing anything in the real or make-believe world. And rrally, if you watch enough TV you might think that lying is the necessary evil glue that binds fictional universes together.

…or at least habitual lying makes Don Draper sexy.

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

In fact, when a fictional character lies it often reveals a greater truth. Even if the liar has no idea that’s what they just did.

If you make it your mission to become an observer of fictional liars and fictitious lies, you’ll soon discover that after binge watching three seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, basic cable’s ratings powerhouse, the show (ostensibly) about zombies, is a veritable Whack-A-Mole Ô of primetime lying. After spending approximately one and a half days of my life watching zombie chow-downs and survivor shenanigans, I compiled this short list of lies (in no particular order):

  • Lori lies to Shane about who is the father of her baby.
  • Morgan lies to himself into thinking that he will be able to shoot his reanimated wife.
  • Shane lies to everybody about what really happened to Otis.
  • Guillermo lies to Rick about his “ferocious” dogs.
  • Shane is lying to himself about his “love” for Lori (it’s so obvious).
  • Daryl lies to that vato dude about what happened to the guy who pissed him off (Nobody pissed him off. It was actually Merle’s severed hand).
  • The governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what really happened to the National Guardsmen.
  • Shane lies to Lori about Rick’s “death” (Wait. That may have not been a lie as much as it was wishful thinking. Or a mistake. Whatever).
  • Randall lies about merely watching the two girls getting gang-raped in front of their father (we all know that Randall is a shifty slime ball who probably fully participated in the girls’ rape).
  • Randall lies to Carl that he is a good guy.
  • Jim lies to Jacqui when she discovers that he’s been bitten by a walker.
  • The Governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what kind of person he really is.
  • Glenn lies to Merle about who is at the prison.
  • The Governor lies about what happened to the helicopter pilot.
  • Maggie (initially) lies to Glenn about her attraction to him.
  • Shane lies to Dale when Dale catches Shane pointing his gut at Rick.
  • Axel lies about why he is in prison.
  • The Governor lies to Andrea about his true intentions after his “truce” with Rick.
  • Tomas lies to Rick when he “accidentally” takes a swipe at Rick’s head (Tomas tells Rick “shit happens”. Rick agrees with Tomas and then cleaves him in the head with a machete).
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing about Andrea’s trip the prison.
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing who burned the walkers in the pit.
  • Andrea lies to Michonne when she denies that she chose sex with the Governor over their friendship.
  • Rick fails to inform the group that they are all infected with the zombie virus (this is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless).
  • Shane lies to Rick about “banging” a high school P.E. coach (we all know Shane was lying).
  • Shane lies to Rick about playing nice-nice after their fight  (after they failed to successfully abandon Randall).
  • Shane lies to Rick so he can lure Rick into the woods so he can kill him.
  • Shane lies to Carol about his sympathies for Carol after Sophia’s funeral.
  • Shane lies to Randall to lure him into the woods so he can kill him.

My God, Shane does a lot of lying.

Shane is not as big a liar as Don Draper. But then, what fictional character is?

For those who are inclined to view their television through an ethical lens, Shane Walsh demonstrates why Kant tells us that lying is wrong. Namely, that lying violates the Categorical Imperative. Kant tells us that before we perform any act, that:

I only ask myself: Can I will that my maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to myself, or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible enactment of universal law, and reason extorts me from an immediate respect for such legislation.

Kant also says that we cannot treat others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

… every rational being exists as a end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In his actions, whether they are directed towards himself or toward other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end… Man, however, is not a thing, and thus not something to be used merely as a means; he must always be regarded as an end in himself.

You see, Kant tells us that lying (Kant calls “false promises”) is morally wrong because no matter how well-intended our intentions may be, telling lies inevitably leads to some greater moral evil. Kant writes:

Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? And I could say to myself that everyone may make a false promise… Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense… Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

In short, Kant says if everybody lies, then no one would believe anyone.

And for all his lies, this is how Shane ends up:

shane walsh as a zombie

Kant would call that retributive justice.

Shane Walsh is an example of what happens when someone lies. Despite the fact the Shane believed his intentions were good, the consequences of Shane’s lies proved that even the best intentioned lie can have disastrous effects. People can get hurt.

And if you are Randall or Otis, people get killed.

… well actually, if you’re Otis, Shane will shoot you in the kneecap, leave you to the zombies, and then lie to everyone about how you really died.

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES... NO, WAIT -- IT'S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE'S GUN

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES… NO, WAIT — IT’S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE’S GUN

A funny thing about lies.

Even though Kant tells us that all lies are inevitably bad, sometimes when someone lies something weird happens: in the middle of the lie is the truth.

Not just a kind of truth, but THE TRUTH.

The kind of truth-telling lie that reveals how sinister someone truly is.

In the season three (episode three) “Arrow On the Doorpost”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey) meet to discuss terms for a treaty following an attack on The Governor’s stronghold in Woodbury.

Wait, this is out of context:

You see, this dude, Merle Dixon, kidnapped two of Rick’s friends, Glenn and Maggie, and so Rick and a few of his people went to Woodbury to rescue them and well, let’s say things went badly enough to require a cease fire between the two survivalist factions.

Ok. So, the meeting between Rick and The Governor pretty much goes nowhere (although Rick agrees to one condition for a peaceful settlement: he agrees hand over one of his men (actually it was a woman) in exchange for peace). But when each man returns to his camp, The Governor and Rick do the exact same thing: they lie.

The Governor tells Andrea wait

Ok, Andrea used to be in Rick’s group, but she was separated from the group when Hershel’s farm (I’m not explaining, just follow along) is overrun by the living dead. Andrea is rescued by Michonne, the nearly-mute, katana-wielding, dreadlocked, badass, who, while she was in Woodbury, got suspicious of The Governor’s motives and skipped town.

Oh yeah, when she returned to Woodbury, she stuck her katana through the skull of  Penny, The Governor’s zombified daughter.

… and she also stabbed out The Governor’s eye.

Folks, if you aren’t watching this TV show, you should be.

Get the plot so far?

Ok. So, The Governor tells Andrea that he and Rick have agreed to let bygones be bygones and as long as Rick’s people stay on their side, things between both groups will be hunky dory. But, when out of earshot of Andrea, The Governor tells his men his real plan that he intends to kill Rick, Michonne, and everyone else in Rick’s group.

We expect The Governor to lie because he’s a bad guy. He does not let the audience down.

But, when Rick returns to his group he tells his fellow survivors that The Governor intends to kill everyone in Rick’s group.

The Governor did not tell Rick this.

But by lying, Rick reveals The Governor’s true intentions.

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

Rick does lie, but in a strange way, Rick tells something like a Gettier truth: he’s right about The Governor.

But only accidentally so.*

 

This all makes me wonder: was Rick aware that he was telling his group the truth?

Or was it Rick’s intention to get his people gunned-up to kill The Governor no matter what settlement the two men had reached regarding the attack on Woodbury? Although it would tickle my philosophical soul pink to see it, I’m thinking that a deep, philosophical analysis of Rick Grimes’ motivations isn’t going to be had anytime soon.

Well, not since Andrea died, anyway.

I get the feeling she was the only character who had any idea who Edmund Gettier was.

Oops. Spoiler alert.

 

 

 

* For more information on misapplying the concept of Gettier problems, see my previous post “99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One”.

 

 

Sources: Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Second edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 19, 45-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because after all, he is Rick Grimes.

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

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

Do what is right, though the world may perish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shane Walsh solves his moral dilemmas like this:

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

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

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

Shane eventually ends up like this:

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES:

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

Doubletapping Socrates: On How The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes IS the Philosopher-King

Halloween was a few days ago.

I had completely intended to write up few spooky-themed posts, but as nature has a way of making its own horror show, my plan was thwarted by an unusually strong bout of food poisoning.

I’m fine now.

But, had I been able to write before Halloween (instead of spending a week hovering over a… well, you know), this is what I would have posted:

For those who are unfamiliar with this image or the AMC Network television show The Walking Dead, this slightly rugged, gun-pointing fellow is Rick Grimes. Rick Grimes is a  sheriff’s deputy who awakes from a coma to find the world overrun by hordes (in the show they’re called “herds’) of flesh-eating zombies.

Rick played by the British actor Andrew Lincoln.

I mention this only because the show takes place in Georgia and Rick Grimes isn’t English.

I must say he fakes the accent rather well.

Anyway, the reason why Rick is such a big deal (besides the fact that he carries a gun) is because Rick is what we call a H-E-R-O. The famous writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell describes what a hero does as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

We like Rick because he is a hero. Rick is not only smart and capable, he is also loyal, not only to his wife Lori and son (the ever-annoying Carl), but to the other survivors who are looking to Rick’s abilities and leadership to guide them through the zombie apocalypse. Rick steps up to the plate when no one else is either willing or capable of doing so. It’s No doubt that, when zombie movie enthusiasts pick their fantasy zombie killing team, Rick Grimes is at the top of the list.

It’s a good enough reason to appreciate Rick Grimes for his action hero qualities, but there’s another reason why we should like Rick — moreover, there’s a reason why the philosophically inclined should like Rick Grimes — Rick Grimes is positively philosophic.

….at least that’s what I think after reading Plato’s Republic.

Most political philosophers will tell you that Plato’s Republic is the greatest and most influential political work ever written. Written around 380 BCE, Plato’s political treatise asks (and answers) the question “what is justice?”, but more importantly, Plato (through the character of Socrates) asks how does the state achieve justice?  Through the characters, Plato examines different ways of answering the question (what is justice). Through Socrates, Plato argues that the just state is one where the people value and are guided by reason and virtue. Socrates argues that when a person is acting in a virtuous manner, society (as a whole) benefits. Acting virtuously enhances the soul — and a good soul, according to Socrates, is the soul of a philosopher.* Socrates argues that we must be taught to obey the laws and to do good. When we are introduced to the character Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, we see that Rick is a police officer, the guardians and enforcers of the law (it is worth noting that, in Plato’s Republic, the just city also includes a class of guardians who are charged with keeping order in the city).

In fact, Rick’s coma-inducing injury (he’s shot) happens while Rick is attempting to apprehend suspects following a police chase.

Even after Rick awakens to find the world full of walking dead people (aka “walkers”, “geeks”, and “biters”), he does not abandon his sense of upholding the law. When Rick goes back to the police station to retrieve firearms, he puts on a clean police uniform, badge, and hat. We see that although though the world has gone to seed and lawlessness, Rick believes that the fact that civilization has disappeared does not give people the right to act uncivilized. He repeatedly cautions others to keep their heads and not to let their emotions dictate their actions. When the potentially threatening (and definitely shady) Randall must be dealt with, Rick tries to reason his way to the best solution for dealing with Randall, even though Rick’s best friend, former partner, and nemesis Shane Walsh wants to take Randall out back and snap the poor, doomed boy’s neck.

Speaking of Shane Walsh….

Just as ever hero has his nemesis, Rick Grimes has his. Rick’s is his former partner and wife Lori’s I-thought-my-husband-was-dead-so-I-started-banging-the-nearest-guy-with-dropped-trousers lover, the late and then late again, Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal). Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that action heroes are the only people out there with arch nemesis but that assumption is incorrect. Like Rick Grimes, Socrates also has an adversary. Socrates’ nemesis is named Thrasymachus.

This is what Thrasymachus looked like:

Socrates and Rick Grimes have the souls of philosophers. They believe that reason, controlled emotions, and a sense of justice should guide our actions. According to the philosopher, right and wrong are not matters of opinion or taste, but perpetual and universal standards to which everyone should be held.

This is the way that philosophers should think.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ theory of justice is challenged by the sophist Thrasymachus (see above). As a sophist, Thrasymachus believes that rhetoric and persuasion (not well-reasoned logical arguments) are the prefered method of argumentation. Thrasymachus, whose name (in Greek) means “rash fighter” is depicted as intemperate and arrogant. He lacks virtue and believes that might makes right. Thrasymachus attempts to win his argument with Socrates by force rather than by logic. Thrasymachus is willing to do anything, including personal attacks on Socrates, to win the argument. In a verbal confrontation with Socrates, when Thrasymachus feels that he cannot defeat the philosopher’s logic, he aims his attack not at Socrates’ argument, but at Socrates himself:

Thrasymachus: “Tell me Socrates, have you a nurse?”

Socrates: “Why do you ask such a question, I said, when you ought rather be answering?”

Thrasymachus: “Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose.”

In many ways Shane is like Thrasymachus. Shane is often guided more by his emotions than by reason. He believes (and more importantly acts like) might makes right. Shane never fails to remind Rick that his thinking man’s demeanor is unfit for a world filled with zombies and that Shane’s re-kill first, ask questions later philosophy is. Unlike Thrasymachus, who kept his attack of Socrates at the verbal level, the conflict between Rick Grimes’ Socratic and Shane’s Thrasymachean dispositions finally result in a physical confrontation between the two men.

Here are a few of Shane’s (other) Thrasymachean qualities:

  • When fellow survivor Carol Pelletier’s husband, Ed Pelletier, slaps his wife, Shane promptly beats Ed senseless (while telling Ed that he is going to beat him to death, no less).
  • When Lori tells Shane that their relationship is permanently over, Shane attempts to force himself on her.
  • While in the woods looking for “walkers” Shane aims his gun at Rick (however, it’s not clear whether Shane intended to shoot Rick or not).
  • Shane repeatedly engages in ad hominem (personal) attacks on Rick and his leadership style (but often has to admit that Rick makes the right decision).
  • Shane believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he is the one to protect Rick’s wife and son (and unborn baby that may or may not be his).
  • When Randall is captured and brought back to the survivors’ farm, unlike Rick, who wants to reason his way to a proper punishment, Shane immediately concludes that the right and only choice is to kill Randall. Shane is so convinced that he’s right that when the group leaves Randall without supervision, Shane takes Randall out into the woods and kills him.
  • And, in an attempt to wrest the leadership of the group from Rick, Shane tricks Rick into looking for an escaped Randall with the intention of killing Rick. He fails to do so.

Shane’s failed attempt at unseating the philosophical Rick Grimes results in the Thrasymachean Shane Walsh winding up like this:

I’m pretty sure Shane has seen better days

…and Rick still gets the chick.

 

Oh wait, she just died.

 

* Socrates’ thinking on the soul of the philosopher (aka Socratic virtue) goes a little like this: through reason and controlling our emotions we attain wisdom –> wise people possess virtuous qualities such as courageousness and temperance –> when we are temperate we attain internal/intellectual harmony –> things that are in harmony function according to purpose (i.e. as they should) –> when things function as they should this leads to a good soul –> philosophers (esp. philosopher-kings) possess good souls.

Zombies and Matters of Pragmatism

Funny thing about zombies…

The zombie film, most associated with George A. Romero’s flesh eating ghouls first depicted in Night of the Living Dead (1968), isn’t supposed to be something that one thinks about — that is to say, when one watches a zombie flick, one’s attention would not be focused on analyzing complex philosophical issues or concepts. Certainly with the standard zombie fare represented by notable titles such as Bong of the Dead, Redneck Zombies, Hood of the Living Dead, L.A. Zombie, Nudist Colony of the Dead, Zombie Strippers, Pot Zombies, and Aaah! Zombies, it’s no surprise that any serious philosopher would dismiss the entire zombie horror sub-genre as crap. I will admit I am no exception to this rule.

Don’t get me wrong, most zombie movies are crap. And really, they need not be anything more than what they are — simply movies with people being attacked and consumed by hoardes of the undead. (NOTE: the fact that a movie is crap does not negate the fact that it may be entertaining). The funny thing about generalizing, even when you generalize in the name of philosophy, is that sometimes — often times — you make a mistake. The mistake I’m thinking about goes by the name of the AMC series The Walking Dead.

Now I know what you’re asking, “what on earth does a TV show about zombies have to do with philosophy?”. Philosophers can debate whether zombie movies and TV shows like The Walking Dead are worthy of metaphysical or epistemic analysis, but certainly no philosopher in his or her right mind would ever claim that a zombie and/or zombie movie or TV show cannot be subjected to ethical scrutiny. My answer to the question is this: SHANE WALSH IS THE MOST PHILOSOPHICALLY FASCINATING CHARACTER ON TELEVISION. And how, you say, is Shane Walsh the most fascinating character on television? The answer is this: ETHICS.

Ethics is defined as the science of morals in human conduct. Ethical philosophers construct theories concerning how individuals can and should act. Ethical theories include utilitarianism, deontological ethics, situational ethics, divine command theory, ethical egoism, emotivism, intuitionism, pragmatic ethics and applied ethics. To be sure, Shane Walsh, or rather the late Shane Walsh (formerly played by Jon Bernthal) is certainly an ethical piece of work. We, the audience, watch Shane, a cop before the zombie apocalypse, devolve into a paranoid, murdering, unrepentant, would-be rapist psychopath, whose scheming to murder his best friend and former partner Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) results in Shane’s eventual death and zombie resurrection. To the causal observer Shane Walsh lacks any remaining thread of civility, but the philosophically-oriented eye, Shane is a case study in pragmatic ethics.

Just as pragmatism, founded by American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910) holds that the truth of a theory rests on how the theory works in practice, Shane Walsh’s method of dealing with and operating in the zombie apocalypse rests on his ability to get things done — that is to say, how his theories work in practice. William James wrote, “In practical talk, a man’s common sense means his good judgment…”, and certainly Shane Walsh’s common sense is based on his good judgment.

So… when Shane shoots Otis in the leg and leaves him to be eaten by a pack of zombies, or openly expresses his desire to call off the search for Sophia, or when Shane, against Rick’s orders, opens Hershel’s barn and treats the denizens of Hershel’s farm to the zombie equivalent of a turkey shoot, or when Shane openly challenges Rick’s ability to protect his wife and son (Shane tells Rick, “I don’t think you can keep them safe”), or when Shane leads Randall out to the woods to kill him, or attempts to kill Rick on three separate occasions, it’s not because Shane has lost all contact with his humanity. Shane does what he does because he know that his method of getting things done is simply what works.

Shane tells Rick, “You can’t just be the good guy and expect to live”. And in the end, Shane is right. In the last episode of season two, “Beside the Dying Fire”, Rick Grimes (after dispatching Shane) declares that he is leader of the group of survivors and that the group is no longer a democracy (fans of the show lovingly refer to Rick’s declaration as the beginning of the “Ricktatorship”). Rick realizes that Shane is right. In the post-civilization zombie world, high-minded ethical systems like Kant’s deontological ethics or Aristotle’s virtue ethics are no longer applicable. If a man wants to survive the onslaught of the undead he has to be willing to only do what has practical value — what will allow not only himself, but others to survive.  Shane Walsh does not lack morality, as some have claimed. He is neither amoral, nor is Shane Walsh purely in it for himself (Shane’s repeatedly tells Rick that he wants to protect Rick’s wife and son, and even saves the lives of others, including Rick Grimes and fellow survivor Andrea, thus demontrtating that he is motivated by someting other than his own desires). Instead, Shane Walsh exhibits the kind of morality that is not bogged down by concepts of virtue or absolute duties. Shane’s willingness to follow the pragmatic approach to morality not only saves lives, but also allows Rick Grimes to live long enough to stab Shane through the heart.