Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby andypalmer » Mon May 24, 2010 3:34 pm

Knives wrote:Why, for example, are there no vampires who prey upon rapists, muggers, and murderers?

Edward did that for a decade; he was still taking human life and realized he was no less a monster for killing other "monsters."

I have to respectfully disagree on the empathy argument. Empathy exist on a moral foundation ('Golden Rule', 'Do unto others', etc.). Without a moral foundation, empathy doesn't exist - after all, how does feeling bad about someone else's plight help me with mine? In animals that exhibit "empathy-like" actions, those actions are consistent with instinctive traits developed in a Darwinian system; caring for the young helps perpetuate the species, protecting pack-mates keeps the pack strong, allowing for maintaining of territory against rival packs. In humans, empathy doesn't serve a Darwinian purpose, in fact it is just the opposite as it often serves a purpose counter to Darwinian principles. Yes, caring for our young could fit the bill, but empathy for strangers, for rivals to our resources EXISTS yet is completely counter to "survival of the fittest."

You could argue that a human without any moral eduction might also exhibit some of the empathetic traits; I would argue that that just strengthens my argument for a divine influence in our moral foundation.

Yes, some extreme segments (religious or otherwise), and to a lesser degree our military (though its not nearly as extreme as you make it out to be), the existing moral foundation is ... modified, with one that is less empathetic, but I see that again as a strong argument that a moral foundation exist (to be modified in the first place).

As far as the other "vampiric diet possibilities", keep in mind that only a small subset of vampirism is covered in the Twilight books. Also keep in mind that things like racism are most commonly founded in fear, a fear that would go away with the change; when combined with the need for secrecy, a racially motivated killing spree would not be something that would make sense, at least not as more of a footnote on how to bring the Volturi on you for being stupid.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby December » Mon May 24, 2010 6:31 pm

Knives wrote:Empathy is more than someone just saying, "God, that could have been me." It's the mind providing itself with a striking conception of what being that person is like.

Lovely. And so true.

The idea that we might have a natural instinct for empathy -- quite separate from any reasoned (or taught) notion of "right" and "wrong" -- is certainly not unintelligible. As to where that instinct comes from (God, evolution, the All-Pervading World Spirit, Sears Roebuck...), well that's a question we're not going to be able to settle here, any more than we can settle where our ability to talk -- or turn handsprings -- comes from. It's pretty deeply human, clearly. And where we got our human-ness from is definitely too big a question for the Lex!

I'm trying to understand, Knives, why it's problem for you that Stephenie doesn't engage with the full spectrum of moral possibilities between the Cullens' strict "vegetarianism" and an indiscriminate red-eyed-vamp killing spree. (And as Andy points out, in fact Edward does try a vigilante diet of the sort you describe for a while, before deciding that (for him at least) even killing violent criminals feels like murder). Do you feel she's unduly critical (or that I am) of the ordinary vampire? If so, then you're probably attributing a stronger moral stance to her (and me) than is warranted. Stephenie certainly went out of her way in her conversation with Tennyo (PC#12) to condone the way of life most vampires choose, and to argue that as a different species, they should no more be blamed for killing us than we should be blamed for killing a beef cow. Less, in fact, because when a vampire forgoes their "meat", it hurts. A lot. And I think I'd say the same -- what the Cullens choose to do is superrogatory: a stunning act of self-sacrifice which one could hardly be blamed for choosing not to undertake.

But it's late. I may have missed the point of what you were saying.

Glad you came back and reconstructed your lost post, anyway!
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Knives » Sat Jun 05, 2010 12:06 pm

I remain alive! And I have come to (finally) make some replies. Sorry about the wait!

@Andy - With all due respect, I don't understand where in the nine flaming hells you got the idea that empathy has a moral foundation. The Golden Rule is, essentially speaking, empathy put into legalize, and I'm fairly certain people were capable of basic respect for one another long before anyone bothered writing it down (and believe me, Yeshua of Nazareth was far from the first to come up with the idea). Ironically enough, empathy as an ethical/moral foundation reveals itself not in successes, but in patterns of abuse. In every society that condones the murder or abuse of one group or another, the first thing to go is empathy - and the re-introduction of empathy is often enough to shatter the system. Slavery. Nazi Germany. Feudalism. Fantacism. I'll reiterate my previous point - when one group wants to oppress another, they make that other group from humans into the enemy, and that's when the entire cycle starts.

As far as empathy informing against survival instinct, your argument does not necessarily capture the entire picture. Voluntarily giving up absolute freedom in exchange for certain protections (i.e. forming a culture) is an act motivated both by empathy and self-preservation. Do you need to kill your own food? Tend to your own injuries? Manufacture your own tools? No. Society takes care of these things for you, and it provides many other practical, social, and medical rights and privelages as well. Empathy comes with (or triggers) a number of other emotions, such as guilt, pity, love, friendship, et cetera - all of which are powerful societal motivators to keep everyone playing by the rules that hold it together. So, by creating a layer of protection between the individual and the world, society (an empathic construct, remember) enables a much higher chance of survival than acting soley out of selfish pragmatism.

Which brings me to clarifying my point to December - I find Ms. Meyer's portayal unrealistic. Empathy relies on perspective, which is one thing vampirism changes immediately. Sure, a young vampire probably thinks mostly in human terms, but how can a human be expected to relate to them? Humans don't have the thirst. Humans don't have any of the wonderful advantages. A human doesn't have those five vanity pounds permanently attached for the rest of forever. The Cullens are fighting a pointless and futile battle against time which is going to end in distance from humanity.

On the other end of things, though, vampires can still remember what it was like to be human. That memory can form the basis for empathy - or at least guilt - when it comes to victimizing random innocents. It gets more complicated than that as well, when one takes into account the supposed intelligence of beings such as the Voulturii. Even total bastards have empathy, which often makes them that much more insidious. There's a reason you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Look at Cardinal Richileu - charming, decisive, rewarding of loyalty and, by all accounts, a kind and pious man. He was also a manipulative total Let's Not Bring Our Parentage Into This. who constant schemed to increase France's power and glory. How did he do it? Playing on empathy. For a great literary example, look no further than Tiphinie D'Ath (Lady Death) of S.M. Stirling's Change series (starting with Dies the Fire, though she becomes Lady Death later on). Cold. Calculating. Manipulative. Ruthless. Also possibly the most enlightened ruler in the Portland Protective Assosiation, having introduced laws protecting serf's rights, provided basic human needs, and inspired incredible loyalty.

Sounds a long way off anything Ms. Meyer expects us to believe, doesn't it?

Also, regardless of her stance in interviews, Ms. Meyer does a very thorough job of portraying non-Cullen/Denali vampires as total monsters in her works; I'm arguing off of the stance I have observed, not the rhetoric she spouts for a microphone.

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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby andypalmer » Sat Jun 05, 2010 1:02 pm

Knives. We'll have to agree to disagree on the morality/empathy topic; it's not a topic I can be swayed on and I get the sense it's enough of a hot button topic for you that further discussion would be fruitless.

On the topic of SM's portrayal of vampires, I think you are leaving a few things out of your analysis. The Danali sisters were "succubi" before they changed their diet, seducing men and then killing them. This is neither in the mold of evil cold-hearted killers nor the vegetarianism of the Cullens, but something in between. Even Laurent's aborted killing of Bella showed a compassion for his prey.

In fact, of the vampires portrayed in any detail, the only ones who are truly "wholesale evil" (with regards to how they treat humans) are the participants in the "Southern Wars" and the "Immortal Child" incidents, ... and the Volturi (who lure in defenseless tourists yet are equally as coldly evil to vampires). Even James and Victoria, major antagonists in the saga, are portrayed as, respectively, driven and obsessively angry, rather than evil.

So, my take from the saga is that Vampires in SM's world tend to, at worst, treat humans as responsible hunters treat game - going for a clean, quick kill and avoiding killing those pregnant, nursing, or caring for young. How much of this behavior in vampires is driven by remembrance of their humanity or simple efficiency is open to debate but, outside the Volturi, my read of the saga doesn't portray vampires generally as being evil and malicious. They feed because they have to and try to do so quietly and efficiently.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Openhome » Sat Jun 05, 2010 2:40 pm

Knives wrote:I remain alive! And I have come to (finally) make some replies. Sorry about the wait!


Welcome back!!

Like Andy, we will have to agree to disagree on the topic of empathy. However, mine is for a very different reason (though, yes, I am also a proud, card-carrying member of the religious right -- different flavor than Andy).

My husband and I foster and adopt. I have also become a bit of a specialist in RAD children as we have two. If you do not understand what a RAD child is, I would like to direct you here and here. The fundamental issue with these kids is that they have no "conscience," no internal empathy whatsoever. All children who are victims of neglect and abuse have attachment issues, but RAD kids are the worst. So, what my husband and I have become through a baptism by fire is instillers of empathy.

Knives wrote:In every society that condones the murder or abuse of one group or another, the first thing to go is empathy - and the re-introduction of empathy is often enough to shatter the system. Slavery. Nazi Germany. Feudalism. Fantacism. I'll reiterate my previous point - when one group wants to oppress another, they make that other group from humans into the enemy, and that's when the entire cycle starts.(


We do agree on this, though I thought by your previous posts that you did not. However, for most historians, it isn't necessarily the empathy that goes first, but the designation of a human as less than such. I can give you specific historian who argue these points if you wish. Most societies that promote genocide in any way do not get rid of the totality of empathy, but only empathy towards a core group. In fact, to bring up your argument, most leaders promote empathy for their group or their government. De-humanizing becomes the key here, and the result is not a destruction the empathy, but the perversion of it. This is, of course, arguable. :)

Knives wrote:As far as empathy informing against survival instinct, your argument does not necessarily capture the entire picture. Voluntarily giving up absolute freedom in exchange for certain protections (i.e. forming a culture) is an act motivated both by empathy and self-preservation. Do you need to kill your own food? Tend to your own injuries? Manufacture your own tools? No. Society takes care of these things for you, and it provides many other practical, social, and medical rights and privelages as well. Empathy comes with (or triggers) a number of other emotions, such as guilt, pity, love, friendship, et cetera - all of which are powerful societal motivators to keep everyone playing by the rules that hold it together. So, by creating a layer of protection between the individual and the world, society (an empathic construct, remember) enables a much higher chance of survival than acting soley out of selfish pragmatism.(


With all do respect, NO! No, no no. This was once the view on empathy, conscience, and bonding, but it has been overthrown for years now. Bonding and trust the are keys to empathy. Trust is formed when needs are met, so yes, the society does promote this. However, if a child has all their needs met but does not bond (as a child in the foster system often does) they become un-able to internalize the basic understanding of right from wrong. They know what is right, but they don't care. They have no empathy, and are totally unable to grasp even the most rudimentary of ethical questions. In fact, the need to bond is SO important that it is the primary concern of child placement now.

This isn't philosophical, it's a day to day reality. It takes a loving human to make a loving human. In other words, society has very little to do with it until the child is a pre-teen. If by the age of two, and in the case of my adopted daughter, one, a firm bond hasn't been established, the damage is permanent, not uncontrollable, but permanent. If a child is given all it needs, but no love and no trust, it will turn into a monster, and I am NOT overstating it. I personally know a six year old who was well cared for as she was bounced from foster family to foster family, who tried to poison her adoptive family with liquid plumber in the milk. She was cared for, but broken beyond measure. Society cannot overwhelm the survival instinct or our natural selfishness. Only consistent, loving care from a human can do that. If you want to argue this, please feel free, but be warned, I am an expert on it.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Knives » Sat Jun 05, 2010 4:32 pm

I'm...not exactly certain how our views are opposed, Openhome. Your statements on Reactive Attachment Disorder (which is, from what I can gather, another name for sociopathy, which is defined as a lack of empathy) fit neatly into what I'm saying - namely, that empathy is the foundation of morality/ethics and common human interaction. These children didn't have their needs met, and as a consequence, they lack empathy. They understand (intellectually) the concepts of "right" and "wrong", but don't bother themselves much about it. Am I right so far?

Regarding your point as to dehumanization, that's again what I've been saying - one group becomes something else (typically the enemy, but animals is also common) and that disconnect enables a lack of empathy towards that group. Hitler portayed Jews, Roma, and other groups as less than human; slave-holders in the south treated their charges as beasts. My point was that the process of dehumanization is to enable one group to withdraw empathy for another - something that cannot normally be done without a potent trigger (like rage) or sustained abuse.

With all do respect, NO! No, no no. This was once the view on empathy, conscience, and bonding, but it has been overthrown for years now. Bonding and trust the are keys to empathy. Trust is formed when needs are met, so yes, the society does promote this. However, if a child has all their needs met but does not bond (as a child in the foster system often does) they become un-able to internalize the basic understanding of right from wrong. They know what is right, but they don't care. They have no empathy, and are totally unable to grasp even the most rudimentary of ethical questions. In fact, the need to bond is SO important that it is the primary concern of child placement now.


I really need to learn how to make clear points >.>

Andy spoke of forming a society and/or acting according to one's empathy as informing against survival instinct, and my post mostly dealt with the idea of empathy and society actually being a better method of survival. After all, depending on how they're willing to live, even the most wretched vagrant can have three meals a day. Granted, they probably come out of a dumpster. But the point stands; thanks to the concept of forming a society, humans (theoretically) no longer have to hide from predators, hunt (or even kill) our own food, or even create our own shelter. Culture provides.

My statements on guilt, love, friendship, et cetera revolved around them being used as societal enforcement, which most sociologists recognize rather readily. Most cultures use both positive and negative reinforcements (such as medals, or shame/ostracism), and almost all of these reinforcements can be traced back to basic human empathy. Lacking that empathy, an individual cannot fit in - much like those children you've been describing to me.

What I think the basic difference between our points on this matter is goes thusly; you and Andy believe in right and wrong. I do not. Do I have gut-level reactions to things I've viewed? Are several acts horrendously unnecessary? Certainly. But at the end of the day, if asked the question What makes something wrong?, we would have vastly different answers.

As far as the Denali, can you tell me how their seduction (and slaughter) of men is in any kind of gray area? Or your reasoning on James and Victoria in more detail, for that matter, as I'm not quite getting your thought process here.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby andypalmer » Sat Jun 05, 2010 5:45 pm

Knives wrote:As far as the Denali, can you tell me how their seduction (and slaughter) of men is in any kind of gray area?
A quote from Edward in BD comes to mind, "We could go back," he said solemnly, but there was a teasing light in his eye. "Whoever it was out there, if they were men, they probably wouldn't even mind death if you were the one delivering it." The Denali's gave something to the men they killed before they killed them, something many of the men would have felt was worth dying for. In the context of hunter vs. prey, a more than compassionate approach, and viewed in that light, if you do feel you're forced to kill to survive, it's a nicer way to go about it. [Yes, in strictly human good vs. evil terms, it's still evil, but based primarily on the foundation that taking innocent human life at all is evil]

Knives wrote:Or your reasoning on James and Victoria in more detail, for that matter, as I'm not quite getting your thought process here.
The silly scene from the movie aside, my take on J&V is that they hunted when necessary, without undo mess or fuss, trying to stay inconspicuous and not seeking to terrorize. The Volturi, on the other hand, seemed to revel in the terror they caused as they led the tourists into what would become a slaughter room; there was no quiet, quick, clean kill, there was wanton mayhem, deliberately allowing others to watch the slaughter and knowing it was only a matter of time before it would be them. From an "animal rights" perspective, its the difference between a hunter who only kills what he needs, seeking to minimize his impact on the environment, and the owner of a slaughter house who leads animals to be killed among their own kind (it's not an exact analogy, and I'm not trying to start THAT discussion, but I'm hoping its sufficient to illustrate the difference no matter your personal views on those issues).
- While James performs some more evil and deliberate acts with Bella, his motivation is the hunt; Bella is merely collateral damage, a pawn to help achieve his means. He received no joy from those acts, outside of furthering his hunt; unlike the Volturi who I perceive to receive personal joy from the terror they cause from their feeding frenzy.
- Victoria also performs some evil and deliberate acts, but here again, her motivation is grief and revenge, not to receive personal joy from the terror.

Yes, at this point, we're talking different shades of evil, but shades nonetheless.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Openhome » Sat Jun 05, 2010 7:30 pm

Knives wrote:I'm...not exactly certain how our views are opposed, Openhome. Your statements on Reactive Attachment Disorder (which is, from what I can gather, another name for sociopathy, which is defined as a lack of empathy) fit neatly into what I'm saying - namely, that empathy is the foundation of morality/ethics and common human interaction. These children didn't have their needs met, and as a consequence, they lack empathy. They understand (intellectually) the concepts of "right" and "wrong", but don't bother themselves much about it. Am I right so far?

Regarding your point as to dehumanization, that's again what I've been saying - one group becomes something else (typically the enemy, but animals is also common) and that disconnect enables a lack of empathy towards that group. Hitler portayed Jews, Roma, and other groups as less than human; slave-holders in the south treated their charges as beasts. My point was that the process of dehumanization is to enable one group to withdraw empathy for another - something that cannot normally be done without a potent trigger (like rage) or sustained abuse.

Andy spoke of forming a society and/or acting according to one's empathy as informing against survival instinct, and my post mostly dealt with the idea of empathy and society actually being a better method of survival. After all, depending on how they're willing to live, even the most wretched vagrant can have three meals a day. Granted, they probably come out of a dumpster. But the point stands; thanks to the concept of forming a society, humans (theoretically) no longer have to hide from predators, hunt (or even kill) our own food, or even create our own shelter. Culture provides.


Sorry about that. Based on previous posts on the Explorations thread, I thought you were making the typical but erroneous assumption that society ingrains empathy. This is an old and still popular misconception among the sci-fi community (stories in which society raises perfect children without primary caregivers) and it is utterly wrong in it's presumptions. Society can't instill a conscience, we've tried and failed.

I'm glad we agree on the dehumanization. I thought from previous posts that you felt that the horrors of the past had no real basis in conscience or empathy. Yes, we totally disagree on right and wrong, but I'm thrilled that we do agree on what must happen to overthrow basic human decency.
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby December » Sun Jun 06, 2010 7:52 am

Golly, what a discussion. These are profound issues, and you guys have been doing a lovely job of treating them with passion AND mutual respect. No time at the moment to contribute properly (*frustration*) but hope to get back to this when I can!
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Re: Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings

Postby Knives » Mon Jun 07, 2010 5:39 pm

So, to be entirely sure that I have this straight, you feel that the Denalis were "less evil" because they fussed themselves about killing quickly and cleanly?

I'm going to spend a couple of minutes breathing deep here before I finish my reply. I may also punch a baby seal, but since I'm in Kansas, I kinda doubt that I'll get the chance. Oh, hey, wait a minute, there's that flash game where I can abuse a bouncy ball...

*Stops typing off-topic material to abuse a bouncy ball*

Look, just because they didn't play with their food doesn't make those actions any less heartless, careless, and callous. Did the Denalis do background checks on their victims? See if they were paying child support? Check into their college careers to be sure they weren't slaughtering the next great scientist? No. They victimized random innocents. James and Victoria victimized random innocents. The Voulturii at least have the common sense to victimize a specific subset of innocents (since they don't believe in crapping where you eat). Excuse me while I go off on a psychology (human and otherwise) tangent here that has nothing to do with morality and more to do with how one human (or former human) treats another - as well as my biggest complaint about Ms. Meyer's portrayal of vampirism. A-hem:

Human beings do not victimize each other for no reason.

Plain. Simple. Immutable. There's always an excuse, a rationalization, a break from reality, or any combination thereof. Whether the motivation is fear of the unknown (or the different), brainwashing, lack of empathic connection, rage, or even sorrow, human beings do not and cannot casually abuse, victimize, and murder one another. They may sit on the sidelines and simply watch, but they don't act for no reason.

The easiest way for vicimization to start is either fear or rage. People pick a target - blacks, jews, women, nerds, rich people, whatever. Someone different. Often, someone to blame. At that point, the group becomes the enemy, and an empathic disconnect occurs which enables guiltless vicimization.

Vampirism doesn't come with an instant quick-ticket to thinking like a predator. The Cullens and the Denalis are more than ample proof of that. Their existence, however, is maintained on death - of animals, or of humans. If they must prey on humans, they either have to become entirely cold-blooded and ruthless (read: the Big Bad V-Crew of Italy) or pick a frigging target. Anyone but "random people" will suffice. Criminals. One race. One gender ("HOW DARE YOU VOTE! GRAAAAAARGH!" <-Sexist vampires are scary). One religion. Again - whatever. Once a target gets picked, psychologically, the vampire can bottom out somewhere above "animal with a cruel streak". Regardless of what modern fiction and the Judeo-Christian religions would have people believe, even the sickest mind justifies its actions to itself. No one acts, positively or negatively, "just because", and victimizing random innocents falls smack-dab into that category. It's just as unrealistic and annoying as reading a villain who proclaims how evil he is.

*Deep breath*

Okay, that's all for now.

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