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View Full Version : Real-world precedents for exoneration of vampires



ghoststar
14-12-18, 04:58 PM
Unlike most fans, I’ve never endured what appears to be the agonizing internal debate over how much guilt ensouled vampires carry for what they did without their souls. While we may have a hard time explaining just how the vampire is a different person now, our society has at least two long-standing templates for dealing with individuals who, although retaining their memories and impulses, nonetheless merit exoneration for acts they deliberately committed prior to some change in perspective. Neither paradigm of personal growth can account for all outliers; still, they both exist and make more sense than an either-or take on Angel and Spike’s guilt.

The first, and perhaps most obvious in a context of demons and souls, is the “road to Damascus moment.” I’m not making a case that the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts is historically accurate, but it has modeled redemption in the Christian world for around two thousand years and still has many literalist believers. (Most of the people I knew while growing up were strict literalists, including my parents. It’s more common than Tumblr* thinks.) Any attempt to look at redemption in modern Western culture would be incomplete without it.

The interesting aspect of the “road to Damascus” paradigm is that it requires allowing a person into the community whose only change is one of heart. The person now a) believes that the community’s values are correct and b) cares enough to uphold them. They may feel the exact same temptations. In fact, everyone expects them to. The point is that, simply by virtue of having decided not to do the bad things and asking for their sins to be taken away, they have shed their guilt, and no one is allowed to judge them for their past misdeeds, up to and including murder.

Now, in practice, it hasn’t always, or even usually, worked this way. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to trust a convert in a small subculture where people will definitely find out if you turn colors than it is in a state of millions of people, most of whom can’t know you or the people who would be watching, yet whom you could potentially harm. For another, most Biblical literalists are remarkably elastic in their application of their precious texts to their own lives. (Not that die-hard communists or Objectivists or what-have-you don’t tend to be just as hypocritical.) Additionally, I’d speculate that part of the appeal of the original road-to-Damascus story was its depiction of recruitment from “them” to “us” in an us-vs.-them situation; that the human mind struggles to accept millions of people as “us”; and that people feel a need for new criteria for categorization, even if they insist they still believe in the old ones.

Despite its inconsistent application, the idea that you can hit a refresh button and become innocent again has its merits, especially in a small-scale system where you can keep the penitent honest. On a pragmatic level, it helps prevent vendettas and enables the penitent sinner to be more productive than would be possible if they were dead or in jail. Its greatest value, however, is that it recognizes a truth: Sometimes, a person really wouldn’t do the same thing over. It’s unfair to punish a treat a person who wouldn’t do a bad thing as if they would, even if they used to do it.** In real life, it may be more unfair to require past and potential victims to take a chance on the penitent’s sincerity, but, in a universe where the change is detectable and quantifiable, that isn’t the case.

The second paradigm for accepting change is less about redemption per se than about increased moral capacity. Although “juveniles” have been defined by varying ages, and the justice system has been drifting toward mandatory adult punishments for the past few decades, the basic concept that someone can commit a destructive act and be exonerated on the basis of a missing faculty has been a part of our jurisprudence for a very long time. In Blackstone’s time, for example, a child aged 7 or younger could not be charged with a felony, regardless if they had performed an illegal act, because, at that age, “a felonious discretion is almost an impossibility in nature […].” Whether or not an eight-year-old possessed the understanding to be held guilty would be determined on an ad hoc basis. To this day, society struggles to reconcile opposing perspectives on justice, yet the concept of a naturally diminished, but by nature temporary, moral capacity in juveniles remains an important feature of the American justice system. In 2005, U.S. Supreme Court held that a state could not execute a person for a crime committed under the age of 18; in 2012, it struck down laws which mandated life without parole for juvenile murderers.

Members of the SCOTUS may inhabit something of a political bubble (which is generally for the best, since it makes them harder to manipulate), but they didn’t pull these decisions out of thin air. They know, as Blackstone knew, that a person can naturally develop greater moral culpability for their actions, without the erasure of their basic personalities and memories. It is possible to view a person as fundamentally different once they have developed additional personality characteristics, notwithstanding that they also possess many, if not all, of the ones they used to show.

If you remove the emotional component from the equation, then the absurdity of defining a vampire as itself or not itself becomes obvious. I am certain that my father’s six-foot-tall hibiscus was once a seedling. It has continuously grown from that seedling. The seedling and the six-foot patio tree are the same plant, but they are not both seedlings. You cannot fit the patio-tree hibiscus into a seedling’s pot, or arrange it for sun exposure in the same way you could a seedling. It is big now. It has flowers. It can shade out other plants. It is the same plant, but it is very different from how it used to be, and it would do no good to treat it as though it were unchanged.

The same logic applies to ensouled vampires and, for that matter, developing humans. One does not need to establish continuity or discontinuity of experience; one must establish whether their intentions have changed so much that treating them like the culprits in their past crimes makes sense. By this standard, the ensouled versions of Angel and Spike contain the performers of their past actions (the Saul and the sapling are still part of them), but they have expanded too much to be defined by said actions. They are new men with old stories, not old crimes in new packages, and treating them as culpable for the crimes they committed when soulless would be neither just nor wise.



*I originally posted this essay to Tumblr.

**This is not to say that all people who claim repentance or sincere, nor that they are all so changed as to not bear responsibility for mitigating the damaged caused by their prior actions; however, these things are, at least, possible.

Stoney
15-12-18, 04:57 AM
Interesting. In the verse context I can understand why Spike and Angel both feel very distinct from who they were when they committed their vampiric crimes and also why they feel connected. The addition of the soul is meaningful because it would have changed the choices they made, but the demon that did make the choices and enjoyed them is still a part of who they are whether the soul is suppressing it or not. They have the memories of themselves taking those choices and literally committing the acts. But the closest real life equivalent to an unsouled vampire is a psychopath or sociopath I think and so the addition of the soul meaningfully changes their capacities and capabilities. Rather than it being a matter of development in verse context it is an abrupt/sudden distinction. But the end result is the same I suppose as the scenarios you describe where it is a matter of meaningful separation from the person that committed the crimes, if they have expanded beyond who they were then, which they have. What they choose to then go on to do with their souls in place, the choices they then make is up to them, but they are meaningfully distinct from who they were unsouled. I agree that they shouldn't be treated as culpable for their unsouled acts and it is right that they are given the opportunity to carve out who they are now and are given that chance regardless of their pasts. But the demon, their memory and their personalities are continuous throughout and is why I also understand their deep sense of connection to who they were, whilst they also feel the distinction and separation they do when souled too. It's a complex situation that doesn't have a real life direct equivalent, but the comparisons are interesting.

Rebcake
16-12-18, 09:07 AM
I have a lot of problems with the soul as a cure-all, or even as a reason that a vampire should be exonerated of its unsouled actions. For one thing, people with souls commit all sorts of atrocities, and for another vampires in the 'verse without souls might not commit any. But I do accept your reasoning here, that the vampires with after-market souls are still the people they were before the new install, but with a different perspective.

I've heard several interpretations of "what vampires are like" which don’t quite fit my understanding of how the ‘verse works, such as comparing them to having some form of mental illness, being drug addicts or juveniles, or belonging to a marginalized group. Lately I’ve been toying with the analogy of vampires as Nazis.

In this scenario, the person who becomes a vampire/Nazi usually makes a choice to join up, even if they don’t fully understand what they are getting into. Others get jumped in, whether they wanted to join or not. Some, once in the group, become drunk with power and participate in all sort of heinous behaviors, such as slaughtering half of Europe and other war crimes. Some manage to keep away from full-on murder, and participate by entertaining the troops, maybe even offering to suck blood for money or doing secretarial work. Most fall in between, pursuing their own interests, while doing what they are told by their party officials, and getting a bit of a rush from being more powerful than they were before. Even the non-combative ones might take things that don’t belong to them, because they’ve internalized that some people have fewer rights to life, liberty, and property than the vampire/Nazi does.*

They are dangerous, and enough of them are aggressive and likely to kill non-vampire/Nazis that humans are at effectively war with them. When you meet one, you should consider your life in danger and killing a vampire/Nazi is acceptable under the rules of combat and self-defense.

As the war continues, some vampire/Nazi combatants befriend non-vampire/Nazis. Some become prisoners of war. Cut off from their brethren, and exposed to other ways of being and thinking, some of them start to change. Some receive treatment and change quickly. A few vampire/Nazi combatants question whether their bloodthirsty approach to life is really as correct as they previously believed. As they reflect on what they’ve done, some are filled with remorse and horror. Some decide to fight against their former comrades in order to make the world less dangerous. Some backslide before reforming again.*

But, at their heart, vampire/Nazis are people. Individuals.They may’ve done horrible, perhaps unforgivable things. Or not. But some will reject those actions, take responsibility for them, and resolve to make amends where possible. Some are forced to change, and some change when their leaders and comrades change the rules of socially acceptable vampire/Nazism. (See comics.) Some will never change and continue to be a menace to society.*

It's not a perfect analogy. Vampires are a different species with different dietary requirements than Nazis, for instance. Also, vampires don't seem able to organize on any kind of large scale, although some appear to be loyal soldiers.

We often call people we don’t like monsters. As if saying it makes that person fundamentally different from us. It negates the danger of becoming like that person. I am not reassured by the thought that monsters are external to us. I am much more interested in facing the possibility of the monster in all of us — that we can then choose to control.

The monster isn’t out there. It’s right inside us.*We’ve seen it come out again and again in fully human societies. The metaphor of the vampires in the Buffyverse show us that our inner monsters can be overcome. That’s the beauty of it, for me.

bespangled
30-12-18, 04:21 AM
I think you need the soul as a line of demarcation. If someone said "I sent children to death camps, but now I don't hate Jews and realize what I did was wrong" I would be seriously underwhelmed no matter what reason they had for the change. They still deserve to die - or whatever other life long consequences are meted out. I can't see forgiving them, and counting them as a new person because they changed.

I believe that is because of the nature of the change.

I have a friend whose father was in the SS - and the SS did the job of rounding up Jews and sending them to death camps. She excuses his actions by saying he would have been killed had he not signed up, and he never did anything bad during the war. First off, that's BS. Others chose to fight back so he chose his path. And even if he was just a clerk somewhere, he was part of what the nazis did and responsible for his choices. Whether he chose personally who would live and who would die, or whether he just sent the trains to pick up the victims he is still responsible for those deaths. Even if he told his daughter what he did and that it was wrong - he would still be responsible for all his choices. Ironically he could well have rounded up members of my extended family.

While I agree that in reality people with souls commit horrible deed, in universe they have a soul that they choose to disregard. That makes then culpable for the choices they make. There were no limits on their perceptions, and their ability to make informed choices. The lack of empathy, and basic human decency were not pathological - they were individual choices made repeatedly.

In universe vampires without souls are capable of not being evil, but they do not have the complete set of tools to understand what good is and how to be good. They lack a moral compass and a conscience. They are fundamentally incapable of making informed choices. To my mind that would be closest to having a personality disorder - being a psychopath. There are psychopaths who do not commit murder but it isn't because the have empathy or sympathy. Most are serial murderers, blending in with the population. Then there are the ones who go for gusto - huge displays of carnage. Finally, there are psychopaths who have been chemically or surgically kept from doing harm - the wonders of operand conditioning.

TriBel
30-12-18, 11:34 AM
I've heard several interpretations of "what vampires are like" which don’t quite fit my understanding of how the ‘verse works, such as comparing them to having some form of mental illness, being drug addicts or juveniles, or belonging to a marginalized group.

Personally, I don't think any of the above work as a direct comparison. Mental illness is (IMO) insulting - although I'm guessing that a propensity to mental illness carries over as part of the "personality" once a person is turned. How this manifests itself is different. Drug addiction is an over-simplification (and what's the operative term here - "drug" or "addiction"? Are we talking euphoria? What I think we have to bear in mind is that what defines a vampire in 'verse originates with a patriarchal institution and, if vampires are "other", they're likely to be everything that the defining body isn't. For me, it's not that they "represent" a marginalized group but that they operate on the margins and in opposition to those in the centre. It's a structural relationship rather than a representational one. So at any time they can be aligned with ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals, children/juveniles - in fact, anything that isn't a white, male, middle-class, adult heterosexual - without necessarily being representative.They're a necessary "other". I think it's interesting that First Date juxtaposes cross-species attraction with homosexuality. Giles deems the behaviour juvenile because it's chaotic. It disturbs borders. I don't think it's any coincidence that Spike identifies himself as "chaos" in AtF.


In this scenario, the person who becomes a vampire/Nazi usually makes a choice to join up, even if they don’t fully understand what they are getting into.

I don't think that fully encompasses the complexity of conscription. Plus, some soldiers will have had an agenda not entirely in keeping with that of National Socialism.

I have problems with the vampire/Nazi analogy for the following reasons (some of which you acknowledge :)):

a) the Nazis were fanatical about racial purity and vampires are hybrids. Isn't this what Hero (A1-9) is about?
b) I wouldn't necessarily call Nazis "blood-thirsty". Certainly "blood" was central to Hitler's philosophy (ie Blut und Boden) but this was less to do with spilling it then with ensuring it wasn't contaminated. It's the reason the Aryan identity was so deeply rooted in the purity of the rural rather than the decadence of the urban. The Camp Commandants tended to be highly cultured - and distanced themselves from actual blood (a bit like Travers and the WC hierarchy).
c) the Nazis couldn't have run the camps as efficiently as they did without bureaucracy (or industrial techniques). I don't remember too many bureaucratic vampires.
d) the Nazis were (for the most part?) ideologically driven. It seems to me that most vampires are psychologically or biologically driven. I don't think vampire groups are large enough to necessitate or sustain an ideology - a dominant fiction. Humans are a food source - a need (admittedly, there are other sources of sustenance). What the Nazis did wasn't out of need but desire (conscious or otherwise).
d) there's a tendency to talk about vampires as psychopathic. According to psychologists, Eichmann (for instance) was neither a psychopath nor a sociopath.
e) there's a difference between the Nazis and the Wehrmacht. As far as I'm aware, historically the German Army had a tendency to function with some autonomy - a "state within a state" as it were. The jury seems to be out on the extent to which the two forces blurred.
f) what bothers me most about the Nazi analogy is, IMO, it's humans who display traits associated with them. For instance, Giles description of the WC: "this stuff, the, uh, bureaucracy, the pulling of political strings, they're the best in the world. They can kill you with the stroke of a pen". Similarly, I always feel a bit sick when Buffy and Xander resort to the discourse of hygiene ("dirty dead thing" etc.) because that sort of objectification is something I associate with the Nazis. The description of the first vampire follows a similar logic of unclean (infected). In addition, the Nazis were very fond of technology and it's humans I associate with technology. Certainly, indiscriminate "othering", "rehabilitation" camps and the (mis)use of technology are central to S11. Then there's the Initiative...


We often call people we don’t like monsters. As if saying it makes that person fundamentally different from us. It negates the danger of becoming like that person. I agree but I don't know if it negates it as much as displaces the fear that we could become, or are, that person. "The fear of the other "outside" is actually a fear of the "other" inside". What we fear in the other is the unknown/the unknowable in the self? And...this is the point you make. :D Isn't it what S6 is about?

Rebcake
02-01-19, 12:17 AM
I think you need the soul as a line of demarcation. If someone said "I sent children to death camps, but now I don't hate Jews and realize what I did was wrong" I would be seriously underwhelmed no matter what reason they had for the change. They still deserve to die - or whatever other life long consequences are meted out. I can't see forgiving them, and counting them as a new person because they changed.

I can understand believing that some crimes are too great for the perpetrator to ever be redeemed — and Naziism and other genocidal actions ought to qualify, if anything does. For some people, vampiric actions would also qualify, were they not fictional.

I still don't quite get how the soul makes a person eligible for redemption though, as I tend to look at actions, not perceptions, as the basis for how people (and other unliving things) should be judged — in or out of 'verse. If a vampire doesn't do anything evil, then why should their inability to deeply understand goodness be an issue? If an unsouled vampire actively does good, even without full spectrum understanding of what that means, is that action somehow less good? Same with sociopaths and psychopaths — if they overcome their antisocial tendencies does it somehow mean less when they do altruistic things? I don't get why motivation should count for more than the actual action, I guess.

- - - Updated - - -


I have problems with the vampire/Nazi analogy — what bothers me most about the Nazi analogy is, IMO, it's humans who display traits associated with them.

That was sort of my point, actually. It IS humans who display those traits, and it's humans who CONTINUE to display those traits. It's entirely possible for two sets of humans to BOTH "other" and attempt genocide against one another at the same time. All the freaking time, unfortunately. With far less reason than a fictional vampire would have. To say that vampires, the Watchers Council, Buffy, AND the Initiative all use some tools from the same awful toolbox doesn't mean that any of them are fundamentally better or worse than the others. Vampires don't value human life because they feel superior to their food source — once they leave one "club" for another — and are frequently cruel. The Watchers (as a group) don't really value Slayers, either — uneducated young women, so far below them. The Initiative harvests anything of military value from those they "other". You're quite right that everything that doesn't fit the standard — male, white, het, educated, etc — is devalued to varying degrees by all sorts of factions in the Buffyverse. I agree so much! I also agree that the analogy is imperfect, but I keep trying to find a reason a soul should be an overriding factor in whether anyone's actions are redeemable (or not), and I just can't find a way that it works for me.

bespangled
02-01-19, 01:53 AM
I can understand believing that some crimes are too great for the perpetrator to ever be redeemed — and Naziism and other genocidal actions ought to qualify, if anything does. For some people, vampiric actions would also qualify, were they not fictional.

I still don't quite get how the soul makes a person eligible for redemption though, as I tend to look at actions, not perceptions, as the basis for how people (and other unliving things) should be judged — in or out of 'verse. If a vampire doesn't do anything evil, then why should their inability to deeply understand goodness be an issue? If an unsouled vampire actively does good, even without full spectrum understanding of what that means, is that action somehow less good? Same with sociopaths and psychopaths — if they overcome their antisocial tendencies does it somehow mean less when they do altruistic things? I don't get why motivation should count for more than the actual action, I guess.

I'm not a Christian so to me redemption is not a state of being - it's not the shanshu washing clean your past. Even with vampires that past does not wash clean - those victims have already been killed. Redemption is the actions you choose to take after you realize you were wrong. It takes place inside you, you learn and you change. That's why Angel will never believe he is redeemed, and Spike will never try to. It's not a stopping place.

A soul brings some sort of greater understanding according to the Buffy mythos.. A vampire with a chip in his head who does not kill and who is trying to do good is not a worse being for having no soul. But he's also lacking an entire level of understanding. That is that line of demarcation - and it excuses vampires to a degree. Intention is part of the equation. I feel very different about a lion who kills a child and the local pedo with sharp implements in a soundproof room.

I think we just have very different ideas of what a soul is. I kind see it as a cochlear implant and not a passport into salvation. It does have a purpose in the B-verse, and that purpose seems to be more corrective than anything else. A cochlear implant gives a person the chance to experience a whole new level of life that they didn't know existed. But they require a lot of work, a lot of adapting, a lot of decisions.

Rebcake
02-01-19, 02:09 AM
I think we just have very different ideas of what a soul is. I kind see it as a cochlear implant and not a passport into salvation. It does have a purpose in the B-verse, and that purpose seems to be more corrective than anything else. A cochlear implant gives a person the chance to experience a whole new level of life that they didn't know existed. But they require a lot of work, a lot of adapting, a lot of decisions.

I don't actually have a very clear idea of what a soul is. The only thing I can ascribe to it 100% is its ability to make beings feel shame. Which would be a, well, a shame. I do like your idea of a cochlear implant (or maybe eyeglasses?), but I feel as if I have to do too much work to get to that conclusion, given what we got on the show.

bespangled
02-01-19, 02:52 AM
Unlike glasses, it's the work that matters with the implant. Your brain has no idea what sound is in some cases. Your mind no longer works well with the distraction of ambient noise. Concentration is incredibly difficult if you have never learned how to tune out noise.

My BIL got an implant as an adult and it took a lot of work to find the level of sound he wanted at any given time. He had to choose between having the implant on or off for starters. Before he got the implant he never had to listen to someone he cared about boring the crap out of him. Then it became unavoidable just like it is for the hearing crowd.

When you adapt to something like an implant or a soul it changes who you are and the choices you make. Shame is not a bad thing. Too much shame can be - but too little also brings some serious problems. Small children have no shame, and no problem crapping on top of your dining room table even if you are a stranger. Shame is pretty much what keeps everyone else from doing the same = although arthritis can be a factor as well.:)

Souls are going to be different - and require different adaptations. Spike won't get all broody, and Angel won't stop killing. But they themselves report that they have changed because of their souls. I think all we can look at is the change because the other factors can be different.