Vampire Philosophy – Is it good to be undead?

I have another semi-regular blog feature which I am planning on doing.  It will be based on two separate creative endeavours.  The first is a book called “Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy” which follows on a few other such books that I have read dealing with pop culture and philosophy.  The second is the series I, Vampire.  I had been reading this through the early stages of the new 52 and I dropped it, but I got the impulse to read it again, only to find out a day or two later that it was being canceled.  I thought to give the series a better perspective then that I might frame it within the philosophical concepts of this book and that I would roughly read one chapter of the book and compare it to every issue that I read (though to do so I am skipping the zombie chapters.) 

The first chapter of the book is titled “The Badness of Undeath.”  As with any philosophical discussion there are a lot of different points brought forward here, some quite relevant and others not.  In short though it makes the following claims - that the undead is inherently evil (though it is sometimes portrayed as good), but that being undead is not inherently bad.  It is only bad because we have comparison of what it is to be human.  Our human instincts tell us that it would be bad to kill others and as this is a state of being for the undead that it is not desirable for us. 

I should first of all set the stage a little.  I, Vampire #8 is the last issue in a story arc called Rise of the Vampires where Andrew Bennett has returned from post undeath death and is given new vampiric powers beyond those which he previously had.  The first problem with the application of these philosophical concepts to this series is that Andrew has been shown as a good vampire.  As the author notes, it would not really be well accepted if someone rewrote To Kill a Mockingbird with Atticus Finch as a bigot, so it is strange to recast vampires in modern years as something more than blood thirsty terrors.  This being the case there are a lot of vampires that are shown to be not so evil, and Andrew Bennett to this point has been one.  After his return he has evidently become evil, but to celebrate his return instead of going to feast on some humans, the first thing which he does is to kiss Mary passionately.  This desire for love is another thing unknown to most interpretations of vampires (but this is getting beside the point, as I have made this point, although not everyone will agree with it.).   

The second and more compelling aspect of the argument deals with the actual badness of being a vampire.  Not evil, but actually whether it is bad to be a vampire.  Of course as Andrew has decided to take control of the vampire army and to later unleash them on mankind, this would be something evil, but the perception of bad is only inherent to us as humans.  None of us are vampires and so we cannot accurately say whether this is in itself bad.  We can only frame this from our perceptions as humans.  The sensation of unleashing an undead army on the world might be a better feeling than anything we can feel as humans and from a natural standpoint we as humans think we have a well-earned right at the top of the food chain which these vampires are challenging. 

Inherently though, I don’t find myself agreeing with this standpoint.  I can understand the vantage of a non-human based philosophy where our interests are not the basis for the worth of other events, but as we are the only creature that we know of that can determine right from wrong, in an otherwise vacuum of morality, ours trumps everything and everyone else’s morality and especially fictional creatures created by us.  Because of this I think I can say that it is still absolutely bad to be a vampire and something which we should not aspire to ever become, except in the happy fictionalized version (I call Count Chocula).       

  

27 Comments
27 Comments
Posted by jloneblackheart
Of course as Andrew has decided to take control of the vampire army and to later unleash them on mankind, this would be something evil, but the perception of bad is only inherent to us as humans. None of us are vampires and so we cannot accurately say whether this is in itself bad. We can only frame this from our perceptions as humans.

Similar to Galactus destroying worlds, we perceive this as an abomination, he thinks it's dinner time.

The difference here being that Galactus serves a cosmic purpose. What purpose do the vampires have? This is a clash of species.

I don't read it, but I see no reason why the vampires would want to extinguish their food supply. I think, vampire or not, they know that what they are doing is wrong.

We don't think of killing cattle as evil to eat, but I think we would if we went on an all out cattle genocide. Surely some vampires also have different opinions on morals as well.

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Posted by RazzaTazz
@jloneblackheart: Interesting points, I am only one chapter into this book and maybe that stuff will be brought up later.  I think in terms Galactus (or cow) analogy that humans can't die under the right conditions and become Galactus or cows, but they can die under the right conditions and become vampires (in fiction of course).  Death in this sense is therefore quite different as death is not just -1 for the losing species but also +1 for the gaining species.  In fact the only way that vampires can really procreate is to kill more.  
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Posted by akbogert

One thing I find difficult with the entire notion of the undead, and much supernatural fiction in general, is that it tends to be lazy in its understanding of the nature of supernatural.

Dracula is incredibly interesting to me, as it's an explicitly Christian piece of literature. It recognized undead status as a sort of temporary hold between this life and the eternal, and even a soul which had been pure and Godly was forced to endure indirect responsibility for its body's actions as a vampire. Killing the vampire was the way to release the tormented soul to finally have its rest with God. It's worth noting that the vampire here was incredible rudimentary and bestial; only after centuries of observation and development was Dracula able to actually take on any semblance of humanity, and we see him slipping up when he tries to act in an environment with which he is less familiar and comfortable. Today's vampires are at worst the same as the human who became them; at best, they are augmented versions of that human. But Stoker's vampires were infants with urges they didn't even know to think to control.

So then the issue becomes, do today's vampire stories actually acknowledge souls, or any real supernatural plane beyond the convenient? What is the animating force that keeps vampires moving? Whence their personality? Whence the concept of damnation, anyway -- who damns?

So you brought up the distinction between bad and evil, and I think that's kind of the issue. Without some official arbiter between "good" (or righteous) and evil, then we have a very relativistic scale of what makes something good (desirable) or bad. True moral weight does not equate something which is enjoyed with actually being good (some very unenjoyable things are still deemed "good," and many "evil" vices are considered pleasurable). So the reason a God-fearing human would seek to avoid being a vampire is more to do with the knowledge that a vampire will enjoy things which are objectively evil; not only that, but to a certain extent perpetrating evil acts will become a necessity for survival.

To that end I'd view vampirism in the modern sense as an intrinsic evil which one must ever endeavor to suppress; but a vampire can never actually be good, not as good as the human self may have been capable of being. Of all things, I actually really love the way The Vampire Diaries portrays vampirism; something you'd never wish on someone else, a true curse, where the only way to truly enjoy it is to ignore the human belief that it is evil -- to "shut off" the humanity within.

Anyhow, I guess I rambled (and maybe diverged?) there, but I guess the key is that unless we accept a higher power than humanity for determining what's actually morally good or evil, then the distinction is already somewhat arbitrary, and this is exemplified by your inquiry as to whose standard of righteousness is to be used when judging vampiric behavior.

Posted by RazzaTazz
@akbogert said: 

To that end I'd view vampirism in the modern sense as an intrinsic evil which one must ever endeavor to suppress; but a vampire can never actually be good, not as good as the human self may have been capable of being. Of all things, I actually really love the way The Vampire Diaries portrays vampirism; something you'd never wish on someone else, a true curse, where the only way to truly enjoy it is to ignore the human belief that it is evil -- to "shut off" the humanity within.

Despite this sequence of blogs that I aim to create, I am actually not a real fan of the genre.  I have never seen Tru Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twlight or really much of anything.  So it is interesting to receive this perspective :)
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Edited by Rumble Man

@RazzaTazz: Its the basic problems of humans writing non-humans, and how they tend to view 'advantages' as a curse or slip in some moral dilemmas inwards.

In short though it makes the following claims - that the undead is inherently evil (though it is sometimes portrayed as good), but that being undead is not inherently bad. It is only bad because we have comparison of what it is to be human. Our human instincts tell us that it would be bad to kill others and as this is a state of being for the undead that it is not desirable for us.

Totally subjective, it is a mere biological function that they feed on humans in a same manner in which we eat our vegetables.

It is only 'bad' to kill others because of the consequences that may ensue

Posted by RazzaTazz
@Rumble Man: It is still evil based on our perception though.  
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Posted by Rumble Man

@RazzaTazz:

Depends on who is giving the perception, would eating cows be evil? yes says the vegetarian, would killing virtual characters be evil? yes says the concerned parents, would killing societies undesirables be evil? no says the Nazi.

Posted by RazzaTazz
@Rumble Man: True, but morality is not as extreme as that in most applications.  
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Posted by Rumble Man

@RazzaTazz: killing videogame npc's are hardly serious, eating vegetables too. 'Empathy' is the main issue here.

Posted by RazzaTazz
@Rumble Man: Perhaps, all I mean to say is that basic things like murder or equal across most societies, and those that don't hold such principles are considered backwards or barbaric.  The reason vampires became so popular is because they represent something which is aside from this norm.  
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Posted by Rumble Man

@RazzaTazz:

I like them because they represent a window for escapism where I can indulged in this archaic barbarism, to release the animal inside. I simply find it weird when they play with their food, in a way where a woman would romance a roast of chicken during thanksgiving. Death penalty still applies in parts of the world (even in the states | hurrah)

Posted by akbogert

@RazzaTazz: I wouldn't necessarily call myself a fan either; but I had watched a couple episodes of that particular show and got a bit hooked, and at some point decided to go back and read Dracula (and then I started reading More Stephen King stuff, so that included 'Salem's Lot). That's the extent of my knowledge on the whole ordeal. The jump between the "original" popular vampire story and the ones we have today is ridiculously huge, and we've pretty much romanticized something which was supposed to be an entity of pure evil/corruption.

Posted by RazzaTazz
@Rumble Man: I am not sure how the death penalty ties into this.  
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Posted by Rumble Man

@RazzaTazz: general notion of whether 'killing' is a bad thing .

Posted by colonyofcells

The main problem for vampires will probably be boredom, depression and suicide and this is explored in some vampire tv shows like True Blood.

Posted by akbogert

@Rumble Man said:

@RazzaTazz: general notion of whether 'killing' is a bad thing .

I think you're hard-pressed to find societies where the notion of killing is considered immoral. Most, if not all, cultures, accept that ending life is part of living; and many see the use of death as justice fitting of some crimes. Even the Ten Commandments make a distinction between necessary and unnecessary death -- it's "thou shalt not murder," not "thou shalt not kill," though we sometimes fail to draw the distinction. The reason for vampires to kill would, by most moral standards, fail to classify as righteous. If, for example, they require a certain amount of blood for survival, they could simply take multiple victims and let them live, as supposed to draining one to the point of death. And insomuch as killing is done more for carnal pleasure than for necessity, vampires murder, which would classify as wrong even in a culture which does not intrinsically assume that ending a human life is unacceptable.

Posted by Rumble Man

@akbogert: I agree with the kill as natural part,

The reason for vampires to kill would, by most moral standards, fail to classify as righteous.

Just as we do with livestock, we would not wish to waste resources.

If, for example, they require a certain amount of blood for survival, they could simply take multiple victims and let them live, as supposed to draining one to the point of death.

They don't want to make more vampires 'competition' since they thrive on being the minority, since more vamps means less humans to feed on. A problem adressed in Daywalkers where overconsumption creates a famine for the undead.

And insomuch as killing is done more for carnal pleasure than for necessity, vampires murder, which would classify as wrong even in a culture which does not intrinsically assume that ending a human life is unacceptable.

Just like how some hunters get their prize after a good game, switched in a different perspective from the weak which antagonize the strong.

Posted by Mega_spidey01
@ rumble man what anime is that ? from i might check it out.
Posted by akbogert

@Rumble Man: Well again, it quite depends on which vampire story you are following. As I've said, I really like the way The Vampire Diaries handles it, because turning someone into a vampire requires them to die with vampire blood in their veins. So killing by feeding is simply killing, not conversion. In fictions where biting transfers vampirism, sure, that's more complicated. And of course that's why debating the morality or really anything about vampires is so hard, because no one tells the same tale, haha.

Posted by Rumble Man

@akbogert:I like how JJBA handles it or little vampires do it, the old version needs them to get blood from the sucker. Yet that method can make them as lesser familiars to control and manipulate.

Posted by akbogert

@Rumble Man: hahaha. That image is classic.

Posted by Rumble Man

@akbogert: I like my vamps open

My #1 reason for hating twilight is the absence of vampire cows

Posted by Grey56

"Inherently though, I don’t find myself agreeing with this standpoint. I can understand the vantage of a non-human based philosophy where our interests are not the basis for the worth of other events, but as we are the only creature that we know of that can determine right from wrong, in an otherwise vacuum of morality, ours trumps everything and everyone else’s morality and especially fictional creatures created by us."

Compelling deontological questions, ma'am. Nietzche and Kant talk at length about what our inherent obligations are to ourselves and those around us - even to that of the state. Yet the thought-play becomes far more compelling when we begin to apply principles of morality toward other lifeforms capable of 'higher emotional/intellectual' capacity - and whether we can truly cast stones at those simply doing what their genetic imperatives compel them to.

Posted by Rumble Man

@Grey56: Its interestingly the same reason why most folks see immortality as a 'bad' thing

Posted by Grey56

@Rumble Man:Well, ultimately people sell what they know - and that's by evolutionary design. We're all programmed to do/perpetuate what's comfortable/familiar to prevent rocking the boat so to speak. Change as a macro-clause can be destructive and not always consistent with self preservation or the perpetuation of our genes. Ah well. It's lunch time!

Posted by Rumble Man

@Grey56:

Posted by Grey56

@Rumble Man said:

@Grey56:

-

- This sir, is a delight and so are you for posting it.