Would Ethics Survive the Apocalypse?

Anthony Weber —  January 1, 2013 — Leave a comment
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The second half of Season Three of The Walking Dead is about to begin. I have been blogging  my way through The Walking Dead and Philosophy, an interesting book which uses the show to address some serious questions about life. The conclusions often leave much to be desired, but the book (and the show) provide a great opportunity to become part of the discussion.

Here is an excerpt from my final post based on the book:

The basic idea behind natural law is that unnatural actions will be self-destructive. Something is bad when it “isn’t functioning according to its general design plan, whereas an evil thing is, strictly speaking, something willful which chooses to act against what is natural or just.” Natural actions (that which participates in the good, as Aristotle would say) will be beneficial.

Elizabeth Rard (“Dead Ends”) notes the implications that follow from these contrasting ethical position: “Do these moral values exist objectively, or are they something invented by man? If they’re objective, the apocalypse… will not change the fact that doing X is wrong. If they’re invented… perhaps there really is no reason to be moral people at all.”

Tauriq Moosa (“Babes in Zombie Land”) forsees an apocaplypse in which our invented moral “X’s” will no longer necessarily be wrong: “We can’t assume that any action is by definition wrong. Our focus therefore is on an action that appears obviously good or beneficial: surviving. To be consistent, we must ask: if killing can be good and justified, perhaps surviving can be bad and unjustified?”

To explain his affirmative response to his own question, he examines the case of Maggie and Glenn’s desire to have a child. He writes: “It’s hard to conceive of anything worse for survivors to do than to make children suffer along with them…What reasons could there be for making another mouth to feed and another body to protect… [they] have a moral obligation not to have children.”

Wayne Yuen (“What’s Eating You?”) disagrees. He thinks the moral status of “X” will survive the apocalypse: “To say that survival is a good reason to throw out ethics, is like saying, ‘I’m exempt from being moral whenever my life is threatened.’” This clash of moral ideals has real world consequences.

Moosa’s conclusions lead him to this remarkable claim:“Our world is just as dangerous as Maggie and Glenn’s world. This means the argument against Glenn and Maggie having children apply to us, right now.” Hmmmm. That’s a huge analogical stretch. None of us are surrounded by cannibalistic zombies (though Jersey Shore may yet take a bad turn). Most of us live in a world where there is a social net of some sort to help those who struggle (community, family, church, government, etc). There is no real world equivalent to what Maggie and Glenn are experiencing in the show.

However, the poor comparison is not my biggest concern. Moosa is suggesting that some parents have a moral obligation right now to abort, since the child will be forced to participate in the danger and hardship of the world into which it is born. But has that not been a challenge throughout most of human history? How many eras have been so calm as to lead us to believe that the world is an easy, pleasant place in which to bring new life?

Perhaps one could argue that the upper classes, the politically and economically powerful, have had that luxury. Let’s stipulate for the sake of discussion that money and power are sufficient to create a sufficiently good life into which children can be introduced without guilt.

Does that mean that the most noble of the poor and oppressed throughout history ought to have aborted their children, while the wealthy and comfortable ought to have been the ones who had theirs? Would the downtrodden have actually been immoral every time they brought a child into the world? That’s a troubling perspective.

You can read more here.  If you  are a fan of the show, and you have any comments about this post or others, please feel free to weigh in!

Anthony Weber

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Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.