War — what’s it good for?

walking dead

I’ll be honest here, I’m kinda tired of writing about war — It took me something like 8 years to finish my dissertation (I was working full-time too..) — and that was 8 years thinking and writing about war — just war theory and all that…  If you want to know what I think, you can read that stuff — or other posts here about the topic…

Instead, how about a bit about the ethics of war behind the Walking Dead?

A while back the hubby and I got into the Walking Dead — we’ve binge-watched it all, and have the current episodes automatically sent to us on Amazon — we’re fans.

The thing is, the Walking Dead brings up an interesting point about personhood, as well as stuff about war.

First of all, the personhood stuff — and personal identity… the obvious first thing is about the personhood of the “walkers” (zombies) — they don’t have intellectual capabilities, they don’t have emotions, they can’t reason, they don’t even actually sleep — or feel pain… they’re just brain-stems that keep moving until they don’t…

side note — when DO they actually stop naturally?  Do they eventually run out of calories or something?  Do their bodies disintegrate enough due to natural causes that they just stop being able to move — and, if they can’t feed — do they eventually just stop?  You’d think that they’d run out of energy in some basic way…

If you’re someone who takes a basic biological function view of ‘personhood’ — you more or less have to conclude the walkers are human — and thus killing them is wrong…. or, is it — more on that later..

What’s interesting, from a personal identity point of view, is the actions of those still clearly living and human — the way in which their views of everything are shaped by the combination of their new physical surroundings, their prior lives, and the people they’re with on this adventure… These new and old circumstances lead them to make different decisions about how to treat others (more caution about strangers, more forgiveness for those they know and generally trust) — as well as some of the key components of their own identities… they’re no-longer police, teachers, etc — they’re fighters with particular skills and values to the group as a whole… some are healers, some are good at thinking about security, some are good at adapting to new circumstances, and some are bound by old values and experiences.

In terms of war — and the ethics of the use of violence — it seems that the living people in the Walking Dead are in a permanent state of Supreme Emergency (see chapter 5 of my dissertation for more details on that).  Their very society is under constant threat, both from the walkers and from other people who would take their resources OR kill them preemtively… either way, in a Supreme Emergency, more or less anything goes because self-defense is a primary value.

The trouble with the personhood = biological function (like many anti-abortion arguments assume) — is exactly this… what if that biological being you consider a person is trying to harm you?  Don’t you have a right to defend yourself?  Right there, the ‘life of the mother’ exceptions to anti-abortion stances go away.

But, let’s go further — when a character on the Walking Dead chooses to kill a walker when that walker isn’t posing an immediate threat to the life of the person doing the killing, or their group — but, could potentially pose a threat — none of us think that’s really wrong… but an abortion on the same grounds isn’t ok… why not?  At the early stages of fetal development, the fetus has even fewer characteristics of a person than does a walker… but they do share basic biological functions — and, if those biological functions are all it takes to make something a person, both the fetus and the walker ARE persons.

So — I bet you didn’t see that coming — frankly, neither did I… 🙂 .

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One response to “War — what’s it good for?

  1. JC Davis

    — but, could potentially pose a threat —

    I got stuck here. How do we know? Am I afraid of them because I saw six of their kind previously eat my friends? But what if I saw a 5′ tall red-haired, blue-eyed girl cause harm? (I think you know where I’m heading with this…) What about that tall black-skinned guy walking down the street? Am I now wary? Or worse (cue Zimmerman)?

    This is peripheral perhaps to your argument, and I understand WHY we as human beings classify things and make judgement as an evolutionarily hard-wired short-cut to promote our survival… but perhaps that brain function is no longer needed and it’s an evolutionary remnant now that we live in a civilized society? Perhaps other, similar, short-cuts that help our brains process and classify information are still valid but this one is a relic?

    But back to your argument… personhood = biological function? No, I don’t think that’s enough. Plants have biological function. How about personhood = self-awareness?

    Or did I just open a whole different can of worms??

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