The Walking Dead: A State of Nature

November 5, 2011

Political Theory

Imagine living in a world where government and society no longer exist and every man must survive on their own.  A world where every day is a struggle to survive and death is always lurking.  A world where resources are scarce and you can’t trust anyone.  This is the post apocalyptic world where the characters of the TV series, “The Walking Dead”, learn to survive. 

In this series a small group of survivors travel across the zombie ridden United States to find a new home.  Throughout the show this group of people must make difficult decisions regarding resources, people who have contracted the zombie disease, and other groups of people.  While some choose to loot, steal and do anything possible to survive, the group of survivors the show focuses on work together in a peaceful way in order to survive.  The two main characters of the show, Rick and Shane, used to be partners at a sheriff’s department before the outbreak and work to lead and protect their survival group.  Because this world lacks authority and government people are left to survive on their own, Hobbes would call this a state of nature.

            Hobbes claims that in a state of nature people are interested in their own survival, but don’t want to hurt others.  In the show, The Walking Dead, Rick fights for his survival and the survival of his family, but never harms other humans unless they jeopardize his survival.  Throughout the show Rick knows that his only chance of survival is to work with other people in a peaceful manner.  Hobbes would say that Rick is demonstrating the laws of nature by being peaceful and trusting others.  Rick’s partner and best friend Shane takes a different approach in surviving as shown in the last episode. 

            In the most recent episode of The Walking Dead Rick’s son was shot and needed medical supplies from a nearby zombie occupied town.  Shane and Otis (the man who accidently shot Rick’s son) volunteer to venture into the town in an effort to save Carl, Rick’s son.  After getting the medical supplies the two men find themselves surrounded by dozens of hungry zombies.  In a state of nature Hobbes claims that all people have a fear of violent death.  In this post apocalyptic world being eaten alive by zombies is the violent death that all survivors fear.  As the two men run for their lives both are confronted with the assurance game.  Shane with a sprained ankle and Otis who is overweight run at about the same pace and decide to run from the zombies.  However the zombies are dead and do not experience fatigue, so as they closed in on Otis and Shane, Shane tried to determine the best way to assure his survival and the survival of Carl.  As the zombies start to catch up to Shane and Otis, Shane shoots Otis in the leg in order to turn him into bait.  When the group of zombies reach Otis they graphically eat him alive while Shane hurries to get the medical supplies back to Carl.  Hobbes would agree that Shane did what he needed to do in order to survive in this state of nature.  If Shane had not shot Otis they both could have been killed and then Carl would not have gotten the medical supplies necessary to save his life.

Here is the scene where Shane kills Otis.

            Do you think Shane’s decisions were moral?  Does a moral code exist in a state of nature?  Would you have made the same decisions as Shane?  Why?



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2 Comments on “The Walking Dead: A State of Nature”

  1. brianfrankel Says:

    The last scene you mention is an interesting case of the “Dirty Hands” problem, as well. While I have never watched the show because I prefer to not watch scary tv shows, it seems that Shane acted against the morals of society (killing another individual) in order to serve some greater common good (saving his life and Carl’s). However, can it be argued that, since society has broken down, that there are no morals and that only the most basic survival needs govern individual action? In my opinion, I think the answer is yes. Killing another to save oneself is a common trend in history, especially as one goes back into more ancient times.

  2. mturner1013 Says:

    I think you bring up a very interest point about Shane’s decision. The world that the survivors live in as you pointed out is very similar to Hobbes state of nature. It is a kill or be killed world, where you rarely will trust or interact with anyone else. If you look at Shane’s decisions disregarding the environment they were made in, I do not think that his actions were moral. Very immoral as a matter of fact, because he essentially killed a man that has bestowed of all his trust in Shane. However, which Shane being in a state of nature environment, he did what was necessary for his own survival, and according to Hobbes survival is your number one priority. So I do think that Shane’s actions, according to Hobbes state of nature were the right thing to do. Although I may not agree with it, and may have made a different decision had I been in his shoes, because of Shane’s decision, he traded Otis’ life for Carl’s, and because of the fact that Otis had already put Carl’s life in jeopardy, it only seemed fitting for Otis to give his life in exchange for Carl’s.

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