Imagine the world that comes after the apocalypse ends. Few really consider what this would be like, especially when dealing with zombies. Amy and I pose the question, thanks to a commenter from the article The Cure is Worse than the Disease quoted below: What would a community look like? And what would be the structure of it’s morality and ethics, considering the violent and traumatic kind of life lived while zombies walked?
There would still be a lot of thorny moral and legal issues if the world managed to rebuild after zombies. Would people be prosecuted for crimes committed during the apocalypse or not? At what point does a crime become so heinous that it cannot be ignored or does the fact that laws were irrelevant mean crimes didn’t even exist and thus cannot be punished?
Great analysis. And I am really interested in the question you pose about people being prosecuted for things they’ve done during the apocalypse. For example, Randall’s situation. If he was executed by the group, would (and should) that come back to haunt them post-recovery of civilization. He actually hasn’t been convicted of a crime (although we suspect he was firing at Rick and Glenn outside the bar in town.) interesting idea, Amy. After the breakdown of civilization, do the laws existing prior still have relevance after/during?
That’s a great question. But first I think we have to determine whether the same system of ethics and morality apply before we can decide if the laws and/or system of judgment do. The laws are based on our ethics as a group, and it’s plain to see that these ethics have been degrading with each episode — thus Dale’s frustration at the treatment of Randall. Personally, I think that our ethics and laws are worth upholding, though it would be necessary to change the specifics of the laws somewhat because of the circumstances. This also brings up the question of how to handle the different dynamics/decisions made between groups of survivors. One group may decide to act in a way that is civil according to our current standards, but another chooses to act in a completely immoral (according to our laws) manner. How does the “ethical” group defend itself? So many questions to keep asking from that point on!
I don’t consider law to be predicated on morality, so in my mind, they are two separate issues. For instance, some people consider abortion immoral, but it is legal. Conversely, some people consider assisted suicide moral, but it is illegal. Morality has no true right or wrong because it is different culture to culture and person to person. Law, in theory, is concrete, though there are obviously innumerable ways of interpreting it. Of course, the way I am thinking of morality is how it is perceived in popular culture, that is, what people think is “good” and what they think is “bad”.
That said, in an environment such as a zombie apocalypse, it does not seem possible to subscribe to the laws of old. The three branches that deal with creating, executing, and enforcing them no longer exist. If we accept that premise, then the two options are to create a new government or use a moral code to instruct behavior. If the latter is chosen it creates a situation where every group of survivors would have a different way of tackling issues of morality.
You make a good point about the difference of laws and morality…I was trying to say more that our idea of ethics, the philosophical and hypothetical situations where we pose what would be the “lesser of two evils” kind of thought process seem to be what initially directed lawmaking. You and I have discussed the example where a person is standing at a lever that controls a train’s direction. If left to go one way, it will hit your best friend stuck on the tracks. If left to go another, five strangers will die when the train crashes due to broken tracks. Which is the “right”, or better, choice?
With that in mind, I wonder if that kind of reasoning is still applicable in a survival-mode kind of life. Is it possible for people to continue making decisions with that ethical structure when their most basic needs are at risk constantly?
I suppose it depends on which choice in the train example you would consider to be the “correct” one. If you subscribe to the idea that providing the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people is the moral standard, than you would have to save the five strangers. However, we did see in the show how Shane most certainly did not fall into that way of thinking, as his actions were always based on saving himself, Lori, Carl, and later the baby. On the other hand, we see Rick for the most part attempt to do what is best for the group at large. Can we say whether one way is more correct than the other? When it comes down to it, people want to survive and it is difficult to begrudge someone for doing what they can in such an outlandish situation as a zombie apocalypse. We cannot help but judge their actions based on our own moral views from our world, but does that adequately translate to their reality?
Such a difficult question. Especially when you take into account the levels of trauma sustained by seeing most of your loved ones die violently and then return from the dead with a mindless desire to violently kill and consume you. We can’t possibly imagine the full ramifications that situation would have on an individual’s psyche, let alone how that would affect their moral decisions, especially as the situation changes. Unethical situations, like when Shane shot Otis to save himself as the more likely candidate to get back to the farm, as well as to save his own life, are typically rationalized. Put another way, people look for ways to defend themselves socially, so they find “reasons” for why they make the decisions they make. Rarely are these reasons based in true logic or ethical questioning. They are usually based on how they best serve the purpose of saving face with the group.
Shane told the others that Otis handed him the bag and offered to cover his retreat, effectually sacrificing himself. When confronted on that blatant lie, he rationalized that he had indeed left Otis behind as a sacrifice, but it was for Carl’s sake. This is the lie he tells himself to get through the guilt of causing a decent person’s brutal death. Hershel rationalizes keeping Walkers in the barn as the “right” thing to do because it’s humane. He tells himself these people are sick, not walking corpses, because that’s what it takes for him to deal with the grief of losing his family. There are many more examples of this throughout the show, but the main point is that human nature instinctively causes us to create a reason that suits our desires or needs, especially under duress. I think, because of this tendency, we would see and have seen a gradual decline in the nature of lawfulness. But would that continue into the post-apocalypse community? I can’t see how it wouldn’t, at least to some degree. The human psyche is an amazing thing, but with the kind of emotional scars this world would deal, the ethical structure must inevitably be damaged. Perhaps better to say changed, because in a few generations there wouldn’t be any concept of what had been considered lawfulness.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see regression in the laws of the land. Capitol punishment would likely have a huge resurgence, because it would be the easiest way to keep order. Pair that with corporal punishment as a deterrent for theft, disloyalty or other offenses, and you’d have a strong motivation to keep from breaking laws. I would imagine that someone who has been through so much death and terror would be numb to the idea of killing for the sake of safety. But, I would say this situation could only arise if most higher concepts such as hope, beauty, and faith in humanity had been corrupted or lost completely.
If I can back up a little, I like the point you bring up on social dynamics. In a lot of ways the importance of other peoples’ opinions drops down to zero in the zombie apocalypse, as the more pressing concern of mere survival take precedence. Things that we look down upon, such as poor hygiene and invading personal space, would no longer be reasons for scorn. People would have no time to keep up all the little social niceties that used to be expected of them. Conversely, in this new world being in the good graces of other people can mean the difference between life and death. Had Shane admitted openly that he murdered Otis to survive there is a possibility that he could have ended up in the same sort of situation that Randall did. Of course, his relationship with Rick would have almost certainly protected him from the death penalty, but that just illuminates what a difference positive relationships make in that world. Many members of the group were willing to kill Randall merely because he was not one of them.
On that note, I have to disagree with you on what it would take for people to accept capitol and corporal punishment as the norm. We see from Randall’s case how easily they slipped into that mode of thinking and it is not difficult to understand why. It is the sort of group-think that allowed Hitler to gain so much power. As long as the individual is promised protection, the base necessities to survive, and not tasked with doing the dirty work of actually maiming or murdering someone, they will be willing to close their eyes to a lot of things, and even justify brutalities they see firsthand. Once someone has experienced the horror of the dead rising, managed to survive, and then somehow made it into a place with a semblance of normality, they will hold onto that slice of life with a death grip.
That’s a really interesting point, about the social dynamics. Do you think those norms would be completely changed in this new world order? I could see people going back to bathing more, since we know as much as we do about how disease spreads. I would imagine you’re right, there’d be a more hierarchical system where if you’re in good with the leader types, you’re more likely to stay alive. And with someone like Rick, as long as you’re straight with him about things that happen, there’s a level of leniency because of his former training as a law enforcement officer, and after the scare with Dale and wanting to prove that their group isn’t broken. It would certainly be interesting to see!
As for the Hitler’s Germany comparison, I can definitely see that. But do you think that’s still likely after what happened in Randall’s case? After Dale died like that? I suppose if there’s enough time between this one event and reconstruction it’s quite likely. People quickly forget lessons learned, even when attached to such intense situations.
The answers to both of your questions depend on how long the world went on with zombies in it before reconstruction happened. If enough time passed where everyone alive grew up only knowing a world where the dead walked, I would posit that social norms and expectations would be massively different. I liken it to the current generation that does not know a world without instant access to the Internet anywhere, let alone a world without the Internet at all. Language, social interactions and social mores are so different from even just twenty years ago. Even if the time passed was less significant, I still think that whatever society emerged as a result would be forever based on the knowledge that a true horror like the walking dead was possible. Things like regular bathing would go back to normal I’m sure, but others, such as the heightened need for security, would be ingrained so deeply as to be impossible to shake.
As for the issue of Dale’s death stopping the group from using capitol and corporal punishment, that may very well be the case, but only until the next crisis. People tend to have knee-jerk reactions to a shocking event, whether for the better or the worse. After September 11th, Americans pulled together in a way that I had never seen before, putting aside petty issues and differences. It was truly awe-inspiring and comforting in such a trying time. However, as I am sure you remember, it did not take long to return to the old ways of disparaging each other for one reason or another. As humans we cannot seem to help turning things into “us versus them” and that is only compounded when every moment is fraught with danger.
My question to you is what kind of effect will Shane’s death have on Rick’s style of leadership? The manner in which Rick killed Shane was hardly straightforward self-defense and in the season finale he even admits to Lori that he wanted Shane dead at that point. He also openly states that members of the group are free to leave, but if they stay it is no longer going to be a democracy. Do you consider Rick’s actions to be ethical in these cases? Will this take the group in a new darker direction?