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View Full Version : Is vampire atonement based on a con?



ghoststar
14-12-18, 04:45 PM
There’s a lot of tension in the Buffyverse between the idea that the re-ensouled vampires are good (or at least not inherently evil), as believed by their friends, and the requirements of the desired narrative that they seek atonement for the sins they committed when they were inherently evil; (keep the word “inherent” in mind, because it’s going to show up a lot here). Unfortunately, nobody acknowledges that the two cannot both be true. If they were inherently evil beings when “they” committed their evil acts, then they cannot also be non-evil friends and allies who deserve protection from Slayers and other vampire hunters, because no one can simply quit possessing a quality inherent to their nature. It would be a contradiction in terms.

The three possibilities of vampire nature are a) that they are not inherently evil to begin with; b) that they remain evil; and c) that the combination of a vampire and a human soul is someone else. While I would accept that a) is ambiguous when applied to vampires in general, I think we can reasonably discard it when applied to, say, Angelus, whose main focus in unlife was tormenting the innocent. The numerous instances of noble behavior by ensouled vampires renders b) absurd on its face. That leaves c): Soulless!Angel plus Liam does not equal either soulless!Angel or Liam, and soulless!Spike plus William does not equal either soulless!Spike or William. Although (for example) soulless!Angel did not die, he is now part of a compound entity with a personality of its own– a personality which would not, in its right mind, do the bad things that soulless!Angel did. (It might do other bad things, under the right circumstances, but not the same ones.) Those things were not ensouled!Angel’s choices (and, of course, soulless!Spike’s behavior was not ensouled!Spike’s).

It’s understandable that the ensouled vampires, since they inherited the experiences of their soulless selves, feel a connection to “their” past acts. More baffling is the acceptance of other characters that the ensouled vampires are responsible for the choices of their soulless selves. Granted, it would take the aid of a powerful being to restore a vampire’s soul, but that hardly makes it a calling from capital-G Good. The motivations of the Gypsy clan that cursed Angel were far from good, and it still worked. Willow is just a normal, flawed human, and she restores Angel’s soul. Spike’s ensoulment requires that he want it badly enough to endure several duels, not that prove he’s destined to save the world.

Besides, even if some higher power granted their ensoulments, why would the ensouled vampires be required to work for them? They didn’t (and, really, couldn’t, since their compound selves only come into being once the ensoulment takes place) promise their labor in exchange for their souls. Once ensouled, Angel and Spike don’t owe a debt to TPTB, or to whoever else was behind it. And not only can you not atone for crimes committed by someone else, how would fighting for TPTB constitute atonement for crimes committed against people who died decades ago and whose goals had nothing to do with the grand mission?

I always smell a rat when we hear about the ensouled vampires needing to atone for crimes that their current personalities would never commit, by doing things that have nothing to do with their victims. TPTB, the Slayer, etc., have a lot to gain from an atonement quest, and their hangers-on get to feel like they’re part of a holy mission. I don’t think that everybody who buys into the cult of atonement is lying: For example, post- S1, Buffy believes that she was Chosen to be a Slayer because of destiny, rather than because a metaphysical die showed her number. If she already believes in the basic concept of destiny,* it’s unsurprising that she would credit that an ensouled vampire had whatever destiny someone claimed they did, which rather conveniently happens to involve making up for demonic wrongs by working for the great mass of humankind.

However, I do think that most of the characters are getting conned. Freshly-ensouled vampires, being new entities, are innocent by default, and even if they weren’t, it’s hard to see why they’d owe restitution to the PTB, the current Slayer (at least in Angel’s case, since he didn’t have any apparent contact with Slayers before being cursed), or the Watcher’s Council, instead of to the descendants or pet causes of their victims. But they’re also potentially useful, and the guilt of their memories makes them ripe for exploitation. Essentially, Whistler and the PTB cons them out of their services. For a good cause, most of the time, but still– conning people into donating to a charity would still be a con, and I don’t see any reason to apply different standards to the powers of the Buffyverse.



* Buffy has a tortured relationship with her destiny; nonetheless, the belief that she must fulfill it, even as a contrast with her other desires, defines her character. Provided they were smarter than your average Initiative recruit, a small team of fighters should be able to have as much impact as the Slayer: Her abilities aren’t that far beyond the human range. Yet she falls back on her identity as the Slayer repeatedly when explaining why she– and only she– has to face a given foe. The questions of why she believes so fervently in her destiny and whether or not she has a genuine moral obligation to fulfill it are worth asking, but beyond the scope of this post.

Stoney
15-12-18, 05:15 AM
As I've just said in the other thread on exoneration of vampires, I can understand why Angel and Spike both feel connected to their unsouled pasts and also distinct from them. They are meaningfully different with the addition of the soul but they aren't entirely separate from who they were. They have the literal memories of taking the choices and executing the crimes and enjoying doing so. This then links to the other issue that the demon that drove that behaviour is still a part of who they are too and still desires blood and violence. The soul suppresses and constrains how they respond to those aspects of who they are, but it doesn't eradicate them. And then there is the tricky extra factor that their personality, the strengths and weaknesses that were part of them unsouled from who they were as a human remains a part of who they are too. There is a sense of personal continuity as well as meaningful separation that Spike and Angel both clearly feel. They themselves hold both the connection and separation between unsouled and souled and their perspectives are the most informative really. Because there are aspects that are continuous across both states I can understand them feeling the strong ties to who they were when they committed crimes that they never would when souled. It is completely right imo that they are offered the opportunity as all humans are to choose to do good with their souls in place and are given that despite their own sense of connection and that which people who knew them in both states may also feel. But the issue of atonement is tricky.

It does feel a little like TPTB are taking an opportunity of how someone feels they need to make a difference to benefit from their drive to make amends and lead a deliberately and actively 'good' life. But I don't believe that there is a balance that can be made or a mark that has to be aimed for that would then have the souled vamps as having paid a debt for crimes connected to a 'them' that they no longer fully are. I think they are as obligated to act positively and good as the next person, but not that they have to work off a debt as such. But I can understand though why, especially as immortals, they would feel that they should try to actively do heroic/good acts in part because of who they used to be and because aspects of that person are still part of who they now are. Even if they are no longer driving their choices. So the sense of needing to atone I think is a personal one because of the connection that they feel. I think that they are morally obligated to make the right choices in the same way that everyone else is once souled, but with those connections I can understand why then themselves would feel like it is a point of redemption and atonement, even if I also think they are right to be seen as distinct too. And again I'll conclude on saying that it is complicated. :p

flow
15-12-18, 09:33 PM
ghoststar:
The three possibilities of vampire nature are a) that they are not inherently evil to begin with; b) that they remain evil; and c) that the combination of a vampire and a human soul is someone else.

I read all your options and had difficulties to say "Yes" to one of them. Therefore I came up with a fourth: d)soulless vampires are not capable of nor really interested in being good.

Let`s say, you are hungry and you want to get yourself a hot dog. The guy, who sells hot dogs at the next corner only has one left. Someone else has been quicker and he will snatch that hot dog away from you right under your nose. You could prevent that by taking out a knife, putting it into the back of this guy and thus getting him out of the way. You will not do this for a huge number of reasons. Humanity, morality, empathy, guilt, shame, responsibility, prosecution and probably many more.

But if you are a vampire and you lack all of the above mentioned reasons and you don`t have to be afraid of human jurisdiction, what would prevent you from killing the guy and getting the hot dog? Nothing, I guess.

I do not think that either Angel or Spike are different entities with the soul as opposed to their soulless personalities. I do believe that they are exactly the same persons. What`s different is just that the soul is now added to the mix, which does have a huge impact on their decisions, their judgement and their motives.

I also don`t think, that ensouled Spike (or Angel) just equals the former human William (or Liam). Our experiences are a part of our personality and Spike as well as Angel both have more than a hundred years of experience as vampires. Their human experiences only spans two and a half decades. That`s almost nothing in comparison.
Both of them remain a personality that has been shaped not only by their fighting skills, their predatory instincts and their supernatural strength but also by everything they have lived through, witnessed and experienced in more than a century of existence.

I believe, that a (soulless) vampire is formed and influenced by the personality of the human they were before they died. Added to that are the bloodthirst, the motives and the needs of the demon. In a very similar way, an ensouled vampire is formed and influenced by who they were as soulless vampires, only added with the possibility to feel guilt, empathy, shame, responsibility and so on.

I am not sure, that atonement is something that is expected of Spike or Angel. As far as Angel is concerned, he might feel the desire for atonement because of his deeply rooted religious believes. I don`t see Spike to ever want to atone for something. In my view he is just trying to be "good" from now on. Not because it would atone him, but because it is the right thing to do. He sacrifices himself in the Hellmouth, because he thinks it`s what a champion does and that is, what he wants to be. Just remember, how honored and moved he is, when Buffy calls him a champion.

He also might think, it´s an easy cop-out of his difficult situation with Buffy and his insecurities about himself and the path he should take from there on, but that`s a totally different topic, I guess.

ghoststar:
The questions of why she believes so fervently in her destiny and whether or not she has a genuine moral obligation to fulfill it are worth asking, but beyond the scope of this post.

Are you going to ask (and answer) those questions in another post? Yes, please!

flow

Double Dutchess
15-12-18, 11:07 PM
I read all your options and had difficulties to say "Yes" to one of them. Therefore I came up with a fourth: d)soulless vampires are not capable of nor really interested in being good.

This is pretty much how I see it too. Unlike Angelus and some others, most vampires don't seem to be actively evil; rather they just do what they want without caring about the morality of their actions.

I also agree with most of the other things you said.

ghoststar
16-12-18, 03:03 AM
ghoststar:

Are you going to ask (and answer) those questions in another post? Yes, please!

flow

I might wade into them in the future, but I don't recall writing about them on Tumblr (the site from which I'm desperately trying to rescue my fannish works). Although, even if I had, I wouldn't have any guarantee of finding it. I'm pretty sure that Tumblr's staff has flagged me as porn without a warning-- I can't even run searches on my own page for things like "my edits," "slayers," "ethics," etc.

EDIT: As an aside, if anyone I with whom I participated in a B-verse thread on Tumblr in wants to archive/post our conversations anywhere, I have no problems with that. Or, for that matter, with anybody archiving/posting my other B-verse posts, as long as they aren't claiming that they wrote them. When Tumblr inevitably sinks for good, a lot of content by a lot of people is going to get lost, unless the fandom as a whole makes an effort to save it.

thenewbuzwuzz
16-12-18, 05:21 PM
Although, even if I had, I wouldn't have any guarantee of finding it. I'm pretty sure that Tumblr's staff has flagged me as porn without a warning-- I can't even run searches on my own page for things like "my edits," "slayers," "ethics," etc.

YIKES. Does it help at all to go through http://sunnydale-digest.tumblr.com/tagged/author:%20dreamsofghostsandstars ? That's not advanced search, though. :(

ghoststar
16-12-18, 06:36 PM
YIKES. Does it help at all to go through http://sunnydale-digest.tumblr.com/tagged/author:%20dreamsofghostsandstars ? That's not advanced search, though. :(

That’s a good idea. If nothing else, I should run into that time my post offended enough people for the Herald to take sides!

Dingoes8MyName
16-12-18, 06:37 PM
ghoststar:

However, I do think that most of the characters are getting conned. Freshly-ensouled vampires, being new entities, are innocent by default, and even if they weren’t, it’s hard to see why they’d owe restitution to the PTB

This is such an interesting topic. I’ve never thought about the motivation of the Powers That Be when it comes to recruiting demons.

I see the PTB as entities outside of the mortal realm who don’t really care to understand the day-to-day. I feel like they’re drawn to people who have a desire to atone and pay penance and they respond to those individuals by intervening. I don’t think this is limited to demons either. I think they’d intervene for someone like Faith or Anya as well. They very well may have, though I can’t think of any concrete on-screen evidence.

Stoney:

I can understand why Angel and Spike both feel connected to their unsouled pasts and also distinct from them. They are meaningfully different with the addition of the soul but they aren't entirely separate from who they were.

I agree with this. I think becoming a vampire changes the mortal person, then the addition of a soul also changes the vampire. At the core, I believe they remain the same person, but their perspective changes and possibly their capacity for love and emotion.

flow:

d)soulless vampires are not capable of nor really interested in being good.

Interesting take!

I’m curious to know everyone’s feelings on Spike’s chip alongside this discussion. Here we have a soulless vampire with all the desires and needs of a demon, no conscience/remorse, and he gets a chip implant that forces him not to harm innocents. This has an affect on him long before he’s ensouled. He’s forced to curb his urges and restrain himself because it causes him physical agony to give in to them. He begins to take direction from those around him, following examples of doing the right thing even if he personally doesn’t care what’s right and wrong. He doesn’t actually feel guilt or remorse, but he does feel physical pain, which sort of trains him to behave a certain way.

Stoney
17-12-18, 02:54 AM
The chip definitely affected him and it certainly contributed to him reassessing his existence and his belief that he could be what Buffy needed despite being unsouled. But S6 showed very specifically throughout that his soullessness was still a limitation to being able to understand where the lines should be drawn and didn't stop him enjoying destruction and not being able to see why some actions (hiding Katrina's body for example), weren't right. When he thought his chip had failed he was certainly torn about what he was doing and there were no doubt several factors at play (such as the potential consequences with Buffy), but he still chose to try to regain his image/sense of original self by trying to bite the girl in Smashed. And at the end of the day he wasn't able to keep to his own promise to not hurt Buffy and came to see that he wasn't able to draw the line unsouled. Having the chip was life affecting and played its part in the path that led him to become souled, but it didn't in itself change him significantly enough that it ever managed to be a substitute for a soul as he'd thought it could be, and then proved himself wrong on.