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October 30 2007

The Modernization of the Vampire. Interesting article that explains why we should no longer fear the vampire. One of our favorites gets a special mention.

[ edited by Damon (zeitgeist) on 2007-10-30 02:58 ]

I'm surprised there was no mention of 30 Days Of Night, the intentional counterpoint to the trend currently topping the box office...
Interesting piece. I've often thought that vampire mythology resembled the mythology of the resurrection of Jesus.
Fascinating article. I never thought to think of Angel as "Calvinist". I guess it could make sense from a certain perspective (though I'm assuming canon-wise, he would have been brought up Irish-Catholic).

He leads a monastic life of self-denial, terrified that any temptation might destroy him.


Personally, I've always felt Angel's tendency towards isolation had as much to do with deep-seated emotional issues as it did his curse. It's pretty obvious he had some issues prior to his turning.

I can't say I agree with the author's conclusion though. Angel is a hell of a lot better than most people, let alone vampires. He may not end up living a blissful afterlife in heaven, but that would be due to his past actions as Angelus, not the person he is as Angel. Whether you're good or bad is determined by one's actions, not an arbitrarily decided moral guideline.
True deepgirl187, but what determines whether one's actions are judged either good or bad is an arbitrarily decided moral guideline ;). Personally, I always had a big problem with Angel (and Spike) having to atone for their evil deeds cos it wasn't them right ? The whole point of unsouled vamps is that they're not moral agents, can't make moral decisions, so how can the human soul be held responsible for their vampiric acts (which were committed by a demon) ?

(sure, we'd have no show without it, just always seemed inconsistent - not to mention totally unfair - to me)

I've often thought that vampire mythology resembled the mythology of the resurrection of Jesus.

Yeah, modern renderings of vampirism are heavily influenced by Jesus and religious iconography (in earlier, more religious times I guess blasphemy/desecration was a fairly natural go-to to generate a visceral reaction) but i'd peg it more as a natural enemy of Christianity - i.e. paganism - since blood has been important to many religions since way BC (and the resurrection idea certainly wasn't new to Jesus - in ancient Greece, Egypt etc. some gods had the power to return from death and even humans popped in and out of various post-mortal underworlds a fair bit, though generally not without cost).

(pre-christian god Mithras who was born of a virgin allegedly on December 25th - though, as with Jesus, that may well be a Roman addition based on their Sol Invictus mid-winter festival - even had a last "supper" then ascended to "heaven" in a chariot)

And mainly I think vamps've been defanged because it's the only other place you can go with the idea. What are we gonna do, make them more evil than evil incarnate ? Struggling to see how.

(wiser heads could probably make a point about changing attitudes to sex too - vampires long being identified with sensuality - and how that's gone from something to be ashamed and afraid of to our current, by and large healthier, attitude)
Was going to post, but then Saje said it all :)
Personally, I always had a big problem with Angel (and Spike) having to atone for their evil deeds cos it wasn't them right ? The whole point of unsouled vamps is that they're not moral agents, can't make moral decisions, so how can the human soul be held responsible for their vampiric acts (which were committed by a demon) ?

I thinks it's more complicated than ordinary, well, traditional, um...I mean it's more complicated than Biblical or The Exorcist-type possession. There's no indication I'm aware of in the whole 'verse that the vampire demons had any independent existence before the humans were turned. They were apparently made from the human personalities, though obviously those personalities were horribly changed. As early as The Dark Age in season 2 Buffy, we learned that Angel's demon version was still in residence along with his soul, and that was expanded on in AtS, especially in the "Angelus Returns" arc.

Meanwhile, while we never learn where Angel or Spike's (maybe more correctly Liam and William's) souls were in the interim between their supernatural deaths and returns - coming back seems to make them into composite entities, rather than what they were before death. They wouldn't have a body to return to, without the demon, no bodily immortality, nor superstrength. What they are now has to include the demon, whether or not young Liam or William would have done any of those terrible things if they'd just died in their time. I think I'm rambling about this because of seeing The Trial in reruns early early this morning.
Personally, I always had a big problem with Angel (and Spike) having to atone for their evil deeds cos it wasn't them right ? The whole point of unsouled vamps is that they're not moral agents, can't make moral decisions, so how can the human soul be held responsible for their vampiric acts (which were committed by a demon) ?


Actually, the issues I had with that were a lot different. I always felt that the "demon" being a completely different person from the original human was a bunch of hogwash. Remember this scene?

Willow: It's horrible! That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and... skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay.
Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: Well, actually... That's a good point.


I know that's not the most descriptive statement, but Angel has a point. The demonic and human parts of a vampire aren't so cut and dry. There has to be some kind of gray area between the two, my meaning being that the vampire isn't just purely evil, just like humans aren't purely good. Spike's character wouldn't really make sense if you went by the premise that all vampires are purely evil.
The whole point of unsouled vamps is that they're not moral agents, can't make moral decisions, so how can the human soul be held responsible for their vampiric acts (which were committed by a demon) ?

That's why I always found the struggle for redemption in Forever Knight a lot more interesting than in Angel. The killing wasn't because of a lack of soul, but because of a sense of kill-or-die predatory entitlement.

Anyway, this article just proves that zombies are indeed scarier than vampires.
There's no indication I'm aware of in the whole 'verse that the vampire demons had any independent existence before the humans were turned.

Hmm, I don't have to tell you of all people that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, right dl ? ;)

Time and again in Buffy/Angel we hear stuff to the effect of the human is gone, that we're looking at what killed him/her. Sure, the demon essence seems to take on aspects of the human personality (Vamp Willow is "kinda gay" before even Willow knows she is) but the demon is what remains, there's no evidence that what we see is the human soul but just twisted. And if they're to be "blamed" afterwards for those personality aspects then clearly we all should be - we all have a potential murderer inside us, maybe worse.

And while we don't know where the souls go when they're not in Spike or Angelus we do know they go, so how can the souls be in any way responsible for what happens when they're out ? It's like someone chopping off your finger and then you going to jail when it's used to pull a trigger during a murder. Even if it's re-attached afterwards, you still didn't do it.

... my meaning being that the vampire isn't just purely evil ...

At best they're purely amoral in exactly the same way a shark isn't evil when it kills a swimmer. I think the human personality inspires the shape of the vampire's acts because the demon inherits all the person's memories, all their resentments (so Liam, who could be cruel becomes Angelus, William a sensitive poet who basically wasn't cruel becomes Spike, "love's bitch" - still a very nasty piece of work but not in quite the same way) but good people don't become good vampires. Ever. There isn't a single instance of a good vampire or even one that can be seen to ponder a genuine moral choice in the whole show IMO (Spike only didn't kill people initially because he was chipped, even then he was entirely self-centred for the vast majority of his pre-re-ensoulment time - the other reason he didn't kill e.g. Buffy being he wanted her for himself).

(sorry to make a liar out of you BTW zeitgeist ;-)
Spike's character wouldn't really make sense if you went by the premise that all vampires are purely evil.

I don't really want to get into the progression of soulless Spike, not that I'm scared to (aside from the scary Spike fans, ok, maybe I'm a little scared to), but I thought that recently ensouled Spike kind of illustrated the composite being idea. He tries to regress into William younger than when he died ("William's a good boy.") But that doesn't work and he tries to make William the vampire ("William's a bad man"), but that's not right, either. He ends up having to make a new William/Spike who's called Spike.
Because the ensouled Spike also has all the memories of what he did as Vamp-Spike and that's hard to live with when you're not either evil or amoral (most people have a lot of trouble living with what they did in a war for instance) - hence the "composite being" i.e. finding a version of himself who can live with what "he" remembers doing.

To illustrate: if someone slipped you a drug that made you act on all your impulses, no matter how violent, should you be held responsible for what you do ? The entity that did the deeds is a "composite" of you and the drug, after all.

(obviously I think not because you didn't act knowingly, you weren't a moral agent - Spike/Angel are a step further in that, as far as the Buffyverse is concerned, "they" weren't even present when the deeds were done - though of course, that opens the whole "what actually is a Buffyverse soul" can of worms ;)
Saje, damn, near simultaneous posts, and we went by each other. I think you're basically arguing that if you woke up in the body of a serial killer (I admit that's extremely unlikely), but it was also your own body, with your own memories, as well as the serial killer's, and with his/your face and social identity - you could still make a convincing argument for your innocence, at least to yourself. And if not, how do you exist outside of that body?

ETA: It happened again. I'm going to stop posting for at least about twenty minutes.

[ edited by dreamlogic on 2007-10-31 00:20 ]
I think the human personality inspires the shape of the vampire's acts because the demon inherits all the person's memories, all their resentments (so Liam, who could be cruel becomes Angelus, William a sensitive poet who basically wasn't cruel becomes Spike, "love's bitch" - still a very nasty piece of work but not in quite the same way) but good people don't become good vampires.


Well I certainly wouldn't say Spike (or for that matter, Angel) was "good" by any means. Just that saying a vampire is completely without conscience doesn't hold. If vampires were truly evil, irredeemable beings, then Spike (and Darla, even if she was being influenced by a soul) would never have been able to make a decision that was "good". At least that's my take on things. I sometimes got the impression from the show that soulless vampires were partly devoid of free will (i.e., they were unable to make any decision that wasn't evil).
The way I see it, the writers were much more interested in what worked dramatically than in what worked metaphysically (and, for the most part, rightly so). But that approach occasionally caused problems--particularly in this case, where personal identity was based sometimes on the soul and other times on memories, depending on what served the story.

On one hand you have repeated assertions that the vampire is simply and solely the demon that killed you ("Lie to Me"). On the other hand, you have the frequent assumption that the human and the vampire are in some sense the same person (Angel's need for redemption, human Darla's desire to be revamped, etc.).

It's interesting, though, that vampires always seem to think of themselves as having continuous identities. (When Spike tells Buffy how he was turned, for instance, he clearly thinks of himself as the same person as William.) So from the vampires' perspective, Liam-Angelus-Angel are all the same person.

. . . and now I've confused myself. ;-) Which is what usually happens when I try to figure out Whedonish metaphysics.
Being the broody type, it makes sense that Angel would assume responsibility for what the soulless vampire did. And since it was his body that was being kept alive by the killing, then yes, I could see that there is some guilt by association.
Spike on the other hand seemed to have less problem with it. Perhaps he is in denial, perhaps he really doesn't care. The jury is out on that one as the Spike in Season 7 Buffy is not the same Spike in Angel. The former seemed to care, the latter didn't much.
And I agree with kyrumption that they seem to see themselves as one entity, person and vampire, souled and soulless.
. . and now I've confused myself. ;-) Which is what usually happens when I try to figure out Whedonish metaphysics.

I think philosophers and psychologists usually have to follow artists. Since you've mentioned it, though, even if the memories you had were an entirely other person's, if they were yours you'd think they were you. This has been done on some scifi shows.
Who you see yourself as is down to memory. If you remember always being you then you've always been you (at least to you ;).

Yep, that's exactly it kyrumption, it seems inconsistent because it is - the "rules" change depending on what works for the story. S'just that, though I can usually get past it because the stories are so damn good, sometimes I struggle with that a bit ;).

I think you're basically arguing that if you woke up in the body of a serial killer ... you could still make a convincing argument for your innocence, at least to yourself.

Well, in the real world, no because I don't believe in souls, don't even believe in an essential character outside of the body - "we" are completely mixed up with our matter, in fact, IMO, we are our matter, which is to say our bodies. Not just feet of clay but the whole damn thing I reckon ;).

In the Buffyverse though, they do have "souls" which seem to be a person's "essence". In that universe, a "person" can be entirely removed from their body and stored safely in a jar and in that instance, if e.g. my soul was removed and someone else's put in its place (as in the 'Angel' ep "Carpe Noctem") then I wouldn't be responsible for acts committed using my body IMO (even if the other soul could access my memories and so on).

(the whole thing rather depends on a, frankly naive IMO, dualism which doesn't really bear close inspection in our world. Nice device though, kudos - as usual - to Joss and the gang)

If vampires were truly evil, irredeemable beings, then Spike (and Darla, even if she was being influenced by a soul) would never have been able to make a decision that was "good".

Ah, but she was influenced by a soul - even Darla knew she wasn't "herself" when she made her beautiful sacrifice. And i'm not saying they can never do a good thing, i'm saying they can never do a good thing solely because it's good. An unensouled vampire will never have a Faith style "Because it's wrong" epiphany, they're not capable of it, s'what makes 'em the villains of the piece (and why Buffy can kill the unensouled with impunity).

Course, another argument entirely is "Can anyone do a good thing solely because it's good ?" i.e. "Is there even such a thing as pure altruism or must there always be an element of self-interest ?" but I have to hit the sack unfortunately, maybe tomorrow ;).
Well, in the real world, no because I don't believe in souls, don't even believe in an essential character outside of the body - "we" are completely mixed up with our matter, in fact, IMO, we are our matter, which is to say our bodies. Not just feet of clay but the whole damn thing I reckon ;)

OK, for tomorrow, do you think our clay memories are immutable. Because I think that there's a lot of evidence that they aren't.
Nighty-night. ;)

And for tomorrow...

Course, another argument entirely is "Can anyone do a good thing solely because it's good ?" i.e. "Is there even such a thing as pure altruism or must there always be an element of self-interest ?" but I have to hit the sack unfortunately, maybe tomorrow ;).


I'm gonna come down on the more cynical side of things. Humans always act in at least minimal self-interest; it's one of the things that drive us to survive. That being said, it seems it would be hard (at least to me) to say a vampire could never commit a solely good act, especially if humans can be judged by that same aforementioned criteria.

Mind you, I'm thoroughly exhausted right now, so all of this will probably sound like gibberish in the morning... ;)
The Golden Rule is stated in terms of the self, I think because we don't have any other measure in/of morality. But I don't think that negates the possibility of altruism.
" ...scary Spike fans", dreamlogic??. Them's fightin' words. Fortunately I'm too tired to fight. ;)
But not too tired to say how much I love the philosophical ramblings on this forum, inspired by Joss's work & by vampire mythology in general.
Happy Halloween to all and Blessed Samhain, if there are any fellow Pagans about :)
And a Blessed Samhain to you. Did I say "scary?" I'm sure I meant "fervent."
That being said, it seems it would be hard (at least to me) to say a vampire could never commit a solely good act, especially if humans can be judged by that same aforementioned criteria.

Hmm, not sure why, to me that's definitionally true of an unensouled vampire in the Buffyverse - it really is what makes them the baddies IMO. It's why Angel never gave up on [ensouled] Faith but kills unensouled vamps without a second thought, absolutely secure that he's doing the right thing - Faith, as mentioned and shown, is capable of redemption, even a sort of "boot-strap" redemption whereby she takes the first steps herself without outside intervention as in "Who are You ?". Is it morally right to treat clearly sentient beings that way ? I'm not so sure but it is the way it is IMO.

And personally, I also think we're hardwired to be reciprocally or kin altruistic i.e. to be nice only out of self-interest, where "self" may include our genotype rather than what we normally think of as our "self" BUT (and with us there usually is one ;) we alone can choose to obey our nature or not. Mechanisms in place for the survival of the individual (or the individual's genes at least) can be subverted by our will and applied to e.g. group survival ("the needs of the many ...") or to saving a complete stranger, even at the cost of our own lives - there are very good biological reasons why we might sacrifice ourselves for our own children, few for why we'd do it for a genetically unrelated child. But people still do and not that rarely either.

(in the same way that we see faces in clouds due to our inbuilt pattern recognition "software" going a bit overboard, we also do things with our kin-selection mechanism that it wasn't intended for. We're sort of nature's hackers ;)

OK, for tomorrow, do you think our clay memories are immutable. Because I think that there's a lot of evidence that they aren't.

No, I don't. AFAIK it's still an open question in the philosophy of identity i.e. How can you be the you you were when you were 5 ? Or 15 ? Or even yesterday ? If our identities largely depend on our memories and they change, do our identities also change ? The only reason you think you're the same you from day to day is because you have an unbroken chain of experiences telling you there's been no discontinuity. If "you" went away then came back and had actual proof (in the form of centuries of other memories) that there was a discontinuity i'd say you'd have real trouble putting the pieces back together (and Spike and to a lesser extent Angel has exactly that problem). You might be forced into denial or you might be "forced" to accept responsibility for acts you didn't commit just to stop your consciousness from fracturing.

We only have a sample size of two though, maybe if there were more ensouled vampires we'd have a better idea ;).
Thanks dreamlogic, & umm, maybe "fervent" is a bit of an understatement. ;-)

Saje, sometimes I worry that your brain might explode, kind of like a mental supernova, spewing atoms and sub-atomic particles and tacyons(sp).... which I'm certain exist .... and such like. But it would be one hell of a show.
Well, that's a nicer image than viewing my posts as bits of Saje-brain dribbling down the wall of life ;-).
Okey-dokey. Much more coherent than last night. ;)

Is it morally right to treat clearly sentient beings that way ? I'm not so sure but it is the way it is IMO.


I don't think it is either. But I always thought it was fascinating how they treated the subject in the show. Buffy, Angel, and the others were always able to kill some demons without a second thought, while others (Spike, Anya, Illyria, etc.) were spared, even though they committed the same (or worse) crimes. I appreciate that they where able to portray that in such a realistic manner. Humans do extend courtesies to some (celebrities, family members) that they wouldn't to others.

And please don't go all brain-explody on us Saje. Rare is the time I get to have such interesting conversations (not to mention intelligent ones). :)

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