The Walking Dead: Surviving the State of Nature

November 6, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory


The Walking Dead is a show on AMC which is now in its second season. The show is based on a virus which infects nearly the entire population of earth and makes them zombies. These zombies feed on the living human flesh of the few humans that remain healthy. It follows a group of several people that have banded together in order to work together in their survival efforts. At one point, one of the children in the group gets injured and it becomes apparent that they need more medical supplies. Two of the men, Rick and Otis, went to an overrun high school to find some, knowing that it would be surrounded by zombies. After they got some supplies and are trying to get back out of the area, they get swarmed and chased. After using up all but one of their bullets as they ran, Rick decided to use his last bullet to shoot his comrade, Otis, in the leg, leaving him to be swarmed by the zombies so that he could make his get-away.

Rick and Otis run from the zombies

This got me thinking about some of the things we had talked about in class, especially the “state of nature.” In the post-virus world that exists in the show, it is practically the “state of nature.” There is no government, there are no rules; there is only survival. There is only life and death. So, when is someone justified in taking another’s life in order to save his own? Is it only in a case of self defense? If so, does this situation fit under the term self defense? Where is the line for self defense drawn? In the show, Rick shoots Otis so that he can live, but Otis wasn’t directly attacking or endangering Rick. In fact, they were working together to escape. In the grand scheme of things, I do not think this qualifies as self defense. It seems to me that this is blatant murder; the only difference is that the act of killing Otis was what let Rick survive. However, Hobbes might argue otherwise. In his discussion of the state of nature, it seems as if he would think that whatever you can do to survive is acceptable. In the state of nature there is nothing but survival, and that is what Rick did. It just happened to occur at the loss of Otis’ life.

In modern life, the situation is different due to the fact that we are not simply in the state of nature. We have government, we have politics, and we have structure. This is why something akin to Rick’s actions would not be acceptable today. Hobbes might argue that it should be, but I believe it simply cannot be allowed in today’s society. In order to maintain order, lines must be drawn. The line of self defense has been drawn, and it is that you must be directly protecting your life in order for it to be acceptable. It is an interesting concept to think of, however, because the state of nature has a strange way of emerging in society now and then.

In conclusion, when is self defense allowed? Rick killed Otis in an attempt at survival, but Otis was not directly endangering him. Does it make a difference that the medical supplies needed to be returned to the rest of the group, or is it still simply murder?

Hobbes would advocate Rick’s actions because he was acting in his own self interest and survival. Today’s society would most likely deem this action murder, though. What does this say about Hobbes?

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5 Comments on “The Walking Dead: Surviving the State of Nature”

  1. bsrobin Says:

    The state of nature is a form of society that we, in modern day Michigan, have never seen in our lifetime and hopefully will never have to see. Some might see it as a better way to live life when there is no established system and society is primitive. However, the human race climbed out of the state of nature because it was not the most effective way to conduct society. An established order is absolutely necessary in order to keep things organized and fair. That word, fair, is key because in the state of nature nothing is fair and only the stronger or more skilled individuals will be successful. In response to the question posed, it is almost never justified to kill someone else for your own survival. In the state of nature even, it is still not acceptable to kill people for your own benefit. The only time I would ever think it is justified to kill someone is when there is a clear you or them situation in which one of you is going to die or both of you. Even so, it would be hard for anyone to take someone else’s life.

    Hobbes encourages the state of nature but in todays society it simply is not plausible. The world has grown and simply expanded to an unthinkable level of complexity and size. There needs to be order and control now more than ever before in human history. Hobbe’s theories can still be analyzed today but they simply can not be applied to our society. Chaos would be the result of the state of nature today.

  2. zschmitt17 Says:

    First off, I love this show. I like the way that you are connecting the zombie infected world to the state of nature, because that is exactly what the world has become. All the survivors are only trying to survive longer.

    At this point in the show the main group of people are not fully in the state of nature though. They want government, they want to group up in order to make their chances to live greater. It isn’t a me vs. you world for them. Its more like me and you vs. zombies. All of the surviving humans are still conditioned to living under a government, concepts of right and wrong are still heavy in their decision choices. On the otherhand, if a new generation of humans were to be born then I think that those children would be complete state of nature because that is what they would be raised in.

    The scene with Rick and Otis, is the point where Rick is fully embracing the state of nature mind. He is turning to the “dark” side. I don’t think that it was out of self defense, but would be classified as a justified murder. The weak or out of shape die while the strong survive. Hobbes would see it as Rick perserving his life, but I don’t think that it can be called self defense because Otis was not attacking him and actually helped Rick to escape from the gym beforehand.

  3. rpsafian Says:

    Even though I have never personally seen The Walking Dead, I admit that I am a fan of zombie movies because of the decisions like this one that must be made when life and death are at stake. I think that Rick killing Otis in order to escape from the zombies is a perfectly legitimate action given the state of nature the two men find themselves in. I don’t see this particular instance as being an act of self-defense, since Otis was not attacking Rick, and Rick’s reason for killing Otis was not because he was threatening him. Rick killed Otis not only to save his own life but other lives as well. He believed that he had to spare his own life at the cost of Otis’ because he had to escape from the school somehow and get the medical supplies to those who hadn’t yet been attacked by the virus. This is not an action of self-defense but rather a moral dilemma, figuring that saving many lives at the cost of one is justified.

    Hobbes would agree with Rick’s actions because he was doing what he needed to do to survive in his own self-interest. I think today’s society would not see Rick’s actions as murder since he was not the one at fault for taking Otis’ life. Yes, he could not have shot Otis and tried everything he could do to save him. However, because he just left Otis behind to be attacked by the zombies and did not actually kill him, Rick would not be accused of murder. I commend Rick for his actions and believe that if I were in the same situation, I too would have to endanger and possibly take someone’s life in order to spare others.

  4. sarahspath23 Says:

    As I read this post, I imagined actually watching The Walking Dead and seeing the scene described above. I thought that I knew how the post was going to relate the state of nature and the show. After I read that the show was about zombies who fed on healthy humans, I was certain that the post was going to be about how this show is like a state of nature because the healthy people were fighting for survival, as were the zombies. I was thinking that it was a state of nature because there were two groups fighting to survive at the cost of one another since the zombies couldn’t survive without feeding off of the healthy humans. However, I was shocked to hear that Rick shot Otis so that he could get away from the zombies. I was imagining this scene and felt somewhat awful that one of the “good guys” so to speak was basically killed by someone he thought he was working with. I felt upset with Rick (yes, I realize this is just a show) because in our society, hurting someone else to benefit yourself if you are not in danger from that person is unacceptable and against the law. It is especially alarming in this case because Otis probably didn’t suspect that Rick would turn his back on him. This part is more of a moral issue.

    In any case, I think that the overall show and this specific instance could be seen as a state of nature. I do believe that everyone in the show is in a state of survival mode and that is all anyone is worried about. There is a constant fear of death that motivates both the healthy people and the zombies to do whatever is necessary to make sure they survive. Also, there does seem to be chaos and no form of government that could protect the people. Rick shot Otis, who he was working with, so that he could survive. This makes it seem like there was no form of cooperation or alliance.

    However, I also think that this show might not be a state of nature. To me, the healthy people are all working together to survive against the zombies. Although, this may be because there is strength in numbers, since there may be more zombies than there are healthy humans. Also, the zombies are not fighting or killing each other since they feed off of the healthy humans. Therefore, I would think that they are kind of working together to survive as well. Although, they could kill each other so that there was more food for them, but this doesn’t seem to be the case from what I have read in the post.

    Just as a side note as well, I was thinking about what would happen if since there are more zombies than humans, how the zombies would survive if they were no healthy humans left. Would the zombies then die themselves? In which case, this might not be a state of nature because the end result would be that no one is alive. I think the state of nature is more of a perpetual chaos that could not be foreseen to come to an end. However, it could be possible in Hobbes’ state of nature that one person survives all the rest but then will eventually die, leaving no offspring. In that case, there would be no one left as well.

    Going back to the main storyline of the show, I think that overall it is not exactly a state of nature. Although Rick did shoot Otis so that he could get away, I think there is more to it than just the selfish need to survive. I do not believe that this was a case of self-defense as I think of it because Otis was not putting Rick in direct danger personally. I also think that Rick wanted to get the supplies back to the other healthy people so that the child could live. Wasn’t that the point of Rick and Otis risking their lives in the first place? This was obviously more important to Rick at the time and it was not a selfish reason for shooting Otis. However, Rick could have always given the supplies to Otis and shot himself, but Rick might have thought that he was more capable of getting past the zombies to bring the supplies back. Although there might have been some selfish reason for what Rick did, I think the majority of his decision came from a place of wanting to save the child. If you think about the situation as well, it would seem logical that you would want to save the children because for one, they are more vulnerable and it is the adult’s job to protect them, and two, the children still have a long life ahead of them and are more likely to procreate in the future.

    Lastly, I will just touch on self-defense as a justification for hurting others to benefit yourself. Hobbes was writing about a state of nature where the only thing people could focus on was survival. In today’s society, that is not the case. It is only the case in a situation of self-defense where the only thing someone can think of is how scared they are of death and the need to survive at the cost of the person attacking/harming them. I actually think that Hobbes state of nature explains our view on self-defense. However, in no other circumstance is hurting someone else justifiable because we do not have the need to survive anymore. That is more of a given since we have a government that protects us from that chaotic state of nature.

  5. Brian Hall Says:

    Two men in the forest stumble upon an angry grizzly bear. The first screams and the second bends down to make sure his shoes are tied. “What are you doing?! You can’t outrun a bear!” says the first man. The second man replies, “I don’t have to, I just have to outrun you.”

    Classic joke, but implemented with zombies, nice. There is a special place in my heart for zombie cinema. Applyig Hobbes’ state of nature is interesting because it’s not quite the same as the natural circumstances man found himself in 20,000 years ago. The presence of the zombies is a confounding factor, as they are a specific predator of humans. Not to mention, they don’t seem to starve to death (at least in most imaginings I’ve ever seen), so they don’t really behave like animals in the wild, but rather like specifically antagonistic people. In this environment, the state of nature certainly applies to the remaining human survivors, but the circumstances are particularly dire, so the application would be especially brutal.

    As far as Dirty Hands, I’d probably have done the same thing as Rick. Utilitarianism at its finest.

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