Licence to Kill

This post is more of that academic analysis that some people hate. Mr. Minty is just happy I’m inflicting it on someone or something other than him. An oft-complaint in our house is “Must you question everything?!?” Living with an academic can be a chore, I tell you. And Mr. Minty will certainly tell you – loudly, and often. But Sookie and Eric can’t complain, so I can do it to them at any time. They won’t tell me I’ve ruined the moment.

Before I start, just a bit of writing advice. I sometimes see academics or people who’ve done postgraduate research written about in fanfic. They’re usually written pretty badly, and with the outside view of them. For a start, the character might seem smart to the populace, but they aren’t very smart at all. Unfortunately, they’re usually written about by someone who’s never done any research and sometimes by people who probably didn’t do so well at university, if they went at all. They certainly don’t have an open minded, pitbull approach to anything. You can’t replace actual smart with picking up trivia tidbits on the internet and just inserting them into the character’s speech. Or rather, you can, but you’ll only fool people stupider than you. Anyone who’s smarter than you will see through your character in a heartbeat.

Being inside the academic brain is very different to others…well, if you think Sookie questions too many sacred things – like the blood bond – she hasn’t got anything on the academic brain. It’s all about questions and analysis. Nothing is sacred. My advice is to write someone who is as smart as you, and as well educated as you are. You’ll do better at it – it’ll be authentic. Don’t write someone with a speciality for sure. We’re weird creatures – and it’s not the education that produces it – it’s something inborn. Academia just gives it guidance. Our brains seize on things and question them – which is why we naturally have a series of questions at the end of undergraduate degrees, and think that we might like to do research at the end. Then it can’t be just casual “I wonder” questions either – it requires the dedication of writing (to start with) about 20,000 words on the same subject. I had about twenty questions I really wanted answered when I was at the end of undergrad. I chose only one. If I was offered vampirism, this would be the only drawcard – an immortal life to spend researching shit in every single instance I wish. But onto the boring academic type post.

So this is about moral relativism versus moral absolutism. For those of you who haven’t actually studied ethics in depth, I’ll try to explain in layman’s terms. Moral relativism is about allowing different cultures different beliefs – because it is relative to their culture. That everything is shaped by how you’re raised, and there’s no one who wasn’t raised in a culture, so therefore there’s no one to say who is right or wrong. Moral absolutism on the other hand dictates that something is wrong or right, no matter what. Of course, this is where the academic brain makes things torturous, because most people would say murder is wrong – and that this is an absolute. Except if you’re chatting to someone who thinks that the death penalty is okay, or ask questions about self defence or euthanasia.

So of course, I’ve used murder here because vampires tend to present us with the idea of murder. All of the vampires in SVM have committed murders – we just hear about the ones closest to Sookie. Usually there are a contingent of Eric and Bill fangirls who hold dear to the idea that their favourite suitor hasn’t ever murdered a human. That they’ve always murdered weres or vampires, who are somehow deserving of being the victims of the favoured suitors. In fact this statement caused a bit of uproar in the fandom when it was released:

“Young vampires are so hungry; at first, I killed even when I didn’t mean to.”
Dead and Gone, p. 89

The idea that Eric admitted to killing humans? Whoo – that was an outrageous statement. Lots of readers were absolutely outraged – they figured Eric was like a saintly vampire who had never ever murdered anyone. Even now, you can find people saying this is the only time Eric ever killed – when he was young and couldn’t help it. Of course, that’s not true. Bill and Eric murdered a bunch of humans in front of Sookie:

I’d gotten halfway to my feet when the Were, quicker
than the humans, managed to grab my hair.

They lost all control.
I saw firsthand what a vampire could do.

Club Dead, p. 266

See? Humans in that room, and those humans are now dead. They killed humans in front of Sookie – they were not, in fact, in a room full of weres. Usually, a Bill fangirl will try to say that it was Eric who murdered the humans, while Bill just killed the were. And vice versa for the Eric fangirl – Eric is as pure as the driven snow, and Bill is the evil one. That’s belied by the idea that they lost all control. But then we can go further and further down the rabbit hole by calling Sookie an unreliable narrator, and find any reason to avoid that both vampires murdered humans. But let’s just sidestep that crazy, and assume that the text is reliable enough to let us know that Bill and Eric murdered humans. I never really understood why people who read vampire books wanted to make out like vampires are happy-happy-joy-joy helpers of men when the text says exactly the opposite.

But there’s this curious distinction made – one I’ve just shown exists here. Eric and Bill are given a pass to murder all the weres and shifters they feel are appropriate to die. Without ever catching shit for murdering people. Despite the fact that just because they shift shape, that it’s therefore fine to murder them. Like weres and shifters are somehow lesser than the ordinary human. I chose the quote to show that humans were in the room, but often plain old murder is sort of ignored if the victim is a werewolf or a weretiger or whatever. Usually the reason is given that weres and shifters know what it is they’re tangling with, and therefore they are bringing their own deaths upon themselves.

I don’t actually agree with that idea. I don’t make a distinction that it’s okay to murder someone just based on racial characteristics. I kind of think that there should be no special rules to allow the indiscriminate murder of werewolves, just as there should be no special rules to allow the indiscriminate murder of Japanese people, based on racial stereotypes perhaps that they are naturally “smarter” (which is crappy, crappy racism) and therefore have more of an idea of what they’re doing – and are thus courting death because they’re inciting others to violence. I think most people – I hope anyway – would find that sort of statement pretty damn gross. I think it’s pretty gross to say that because someone is part of another race that they are less worthy, and thus fine to be murdered.

I also wonder how the logic plays out with Sookie. After all – Sookie is not all human. Some readers go to great pains to rant and rave at her for not realising she’s not all human, and should class herself as supernatural, despite the fact that she is not. Does that make her more worthy of being killed by all the people who attack her? Especially, one could argue that Sookie is one of those victims who deserves it – no matter who wants to do it – merely because she’s a telepath, and knows what humans are capable of – so therefore, like the weres, she courts her own death – from vampires, two-natured and humans. Surely then it should be de rigeur to just shrug whenever Sookie is attacked. That she deserves it. Of course, there are the morally vacant who do just that – the Sookie haters. But I don’t think that there is a race who are born to be murder victims, no matter what they know.

I feel that way when I consider the murders vampires have committed. I don’t think that there is more of a right to murder weres just because they happen to oppose them. There’s nothing good about Sigebert murdering Sam – it’s still murder. I don’t assess the racial makeup of victims and determine how much they are “worth” and therefore how much they call their deaths on themselves based on inborn racial characteristics or assumed knowledge. If I call any of the vampires murderers, I include Eric’s murder of Longshadow; Bill’s murder of Waldo and Pam’s murder of Hallow. I don’t distinguish by race. In fact, I agree with Eric’s statement about the whole thing:

“We vampires are all murderers.”
Dead to the World, p. 53

Any wilful kind of moral justification as to why they are not in fact just like Eric says is really just a twisted way that people make themselves feel better. It’s got more to do with self perception than it does with actual moral beliefs – people tend to perceive themselves as “one of the good guys” – and the people they like as also “good guys”. So if they’re a “good guy” they will then go through every single ethical twist they can to decree that the character they like is really just misunderstood and maligned, and not really a murderer. Because murderers are well known to be bad, so it says something about you if you like them.

I don’t think there’s anything worth less than a human life that would make it okay for them to be killed by vampires. Weres are mortal, they breathe, love and laugh just the same as humans. They’re not less – if anything they have something extra that makes them different. It doesn’t make them more worthy of being cannon fodder. The thing that makes it bad to murder humans is the same for weres and shifters. It’s still imposing one race as having a greater rights to kill other races without any actual rights to do so. I don’t agree with the view that it is all about vampires having the implicit right to murder.

I should also point out that that there’s a bad distinction too – one that I keep very, very tight due to my work. As many of you know, I’m a criminologist, which means I usually know the risk factors for most crimes. Stuff I can trip off the top of my head statistics wise. Lots of times, the idea of risk factors gets turned into victim blaming. And it shouldn’t. So in the case of weres and shifters tangling with vampires – yes, they’re well aware of the fact that vampires murder anyone who stands in their way. But that just means that they are at greater risk of being killed, not that they were totally expecting it to happen to them. People – vampires, shifters, weres, telepaths – don’t actually think that way. And nor do they have any part of responsibility when they are a victim of a crime. There are ways to lessen your risk, but short of living somewhere in the middle of nowhere, there is no way to eliminate risk. After all, we all live in a world of humans – no vampires, shifters, weres or telepaths – and we still get murder victims. And I highly doubt most of you are willing to give up contact with men.

Yes, there are bigger risks when associating with vampires – they murder people all the time – but that doesn’t mean that if a vampire decides he can’t control himself or won’t control himself he has the right to do what he likes. Again, we could look at the history of white Colonialism, and just assume that white Westerners are racist eradicators of people of colour the world over. That doesn’t give the right to white Westerners to do whatever the fuck they feel like. Nor does it make people of colour to blame for being set upon by white settlers and murdered. Blame should be levelled at the people who commit the offence. Not those who have the offence committed against them.

Risk is somewhat controllable, but that doesn’t mean that just because you’re at risk, you must always behave in a way that reduces risk, or you are to blame for your misfortunes. Weres and shifters – and Sookie – are not to blame because Victor decided they needed to die. That’s really all on Victor. Victor made the decision, and there’s no way you can really say “Yeah, it’s partly Eric’s fault for being a powerful and competent sheriff – he should have known better”. Even though we can look and see the cause, that doesn’t make Eric responsible for Victor’s decision – even if it increases the risk that someone will try to take him out for being powerful and competent. Blaming just enables bullies to say it’s the victim’s fault – that if you don’t cave and grovel, you deserve what you get.

So even though weres and shifters know what they risk, that doesn’t make them the bearers of responsibility for their own killing. Weres, shifters, telepaths, humans, fairies – all are inherently independent beings. There’s no one who is the ‘boss’ of them – they don’t have to kowtow because someone else might have an opposing agenda. After all – the entire world is made of opposing agendas. Even writing this journal – the fact that it exists at all – gets up some people’s noses. It doesn’t give people a right to come around to my house and kill me. I don’t call it down on myself because I don’t shut this down.

This is why murder for example is considered one of the most horrifying crimes – why it carries such heavy penalties – because it impinges on the autonomy of the independent individual being. It prioritises the needs of one independent individual being over the needs of another. It’s permanent, and irreversible. Once someone is murdered, they don’t have recourse to that action. Inherent in the idea of many murderers is this concept of worth as well – that their needs are more important. So too it is with vampires – their right to murder is sometimes born of the idea that they have rights that others don’t have. And that they don’t apply to themselves.

After all, looking at Eric – he murdered the humans and weres in Sookie’s lounge room. One could argue that it was “their due” because Eric has a right to protect Sookie, and his needs are greater than the victim’s needs. Yet, it is Eric who has been murdering for nigh on one thousand years. Surely the world would be served better by getting rid of one of the citizens within it who is so proficient at murder that he wipe out about four people in two minutes, after being shot in the leg. Bill has merely been murdering for a couple of hundred years. If the discussion is based on past crimes and “worth” – well, I just don’t know that Bill and Eric contribute enough to society to make up for the huge deficit that they take from the world.

Is it better that Eric just murders or threatens people who oppose him? After all, we have people whose ‘sins’ against Eric are not so great – and indeed sometimes they haven’t even been proven, and would be with some premeditation:

“But you can see that would be best for all of us,” Eric said.
We’ll take care of everything else.”
“What would that ‘everything else’ be?”
“What do you think?” Bill asked impatiently.

This woman is a murderer herself, most likely. We need to make her talk.”
“The same way the Weres made you talk in Mississippi, Bill?” I snapped.

Deadlocked, p. 200

Bill even uses the justification that Jannalynn is “most likely” a murderer herself. Making it okay to kill her to protect another couple of murderers – Bill and Eric. It’s just fine with the pair of them to torture and then murder Jannalynn to get what they want – prioritising their needs over Jannalynn’s. Even if one could argue that Eric and Bill are doing a good old public service getting rid of Jannalynn, then surely they’d do a greater public service by letting the law deal with Eric – and get him out of the public sphere, since he’s a definite murderer.

Lest some Sookie hater stumble onto this and point out that Sookie is a murderer – way to miss the point. It’s a crappy criteria to rate on who is “worth” more if both parties are in fact murderers. Bill and Eric don’t get higher moral ground because they are the ones targeted by another murderer. That’s not their claim to the right to do what they want without responsibility and blame. Sookie at least doesn’t see it as somehow okay to murder people – she constantly questions whether it is right to do as she’s done – she assesses the situation all the time. And she condemns herself for murdering people – she shoulders her burden of blame.

And if you’ll note, the tendency of Bill’s to justify himself as a good guy doing a worthy thing – even torture and kill – is prevalent yet again. It is he who provides himself an excuse as to why it’s okay for him to do this – that he’s not just hurting Jannalynn because it’s expedient (Eric’s justification) but because there’s a greater good in it. That she’s finally being punished for imaginary previous crimes, and Bill is the arbiter of justice. This is why I respect Eric more than Bill and why I don’t believe that Bill is “more human” – even now he lies to himself to make whatever the fuck he wants to do to others just fine and dandy. Bill’s doing the world a favour. Eric doesn’t try to dress it up as some sort of act of moral beneficence that he kills people.

But then, I’m not sure that I buy the argument about vampires having rights to murder anybody with impunity. Yes, I understand that they have murdered, but just because they’re vampires doesn’t give them any specific rights just because they say so. I also think that part of the problem is the usual justification – that it is in their natures to murder people. Except that that’s not strictly true. In fact, the basis of this theory comes directly from Bill – that vampires are predators – and Sookie later parrots it to Eric:

“So you’re predators, like lions and raptors. But you
use what you kill. You have to kill to eat.”

Dead to the World, p. 53

This is not the case though, with these murders here. The weres and humans in Sookie’s living room weren’t targeted because Bill and Eric were hungry. While they certainly ate while they were doing it, that doesn’t mean that they had a mind to stuff themselves with four murder victims a piece when they were going home that night. Jannalynn likewise wasn’t targeted for nutrition or yumminess. That’s a side benefit. The real purpose is to get what you want – prioritise the needs of your own self over the needs of another.

In fact, as going by the above quote by Eric, any vampire who is not a newborn – ie. not Bill, Pam or Eric – doesn’t in fact need to kill to eat. They are not engaging in predator behaviour with no other considerations. Eric is right that this is a comforting theory, and one that doesn’t make much sense in contextualising vampires and the murders they commit. We’ve seen all the vampires use donors – in fact, Sookie has donated to Bill, Pam and Eric (plus Chow) and they didn’t kill her. That shows that unless under extreme provocation, they are in fact able to eat from a human without killing them. I go with Sookie’s judgement there on what is extreme provocation – the time in the trunk, and Eric feeding on Kym Rowe (because he wouldn’t have been able to stop he says without Sookie’s intervention). The rest of the time, they don’t kill when they feed – they just don’t need to do so. If they do – it’s because they want to.

I should also point out that there is even more to undermine the whole predator bullshit Bill sold himself and Sookie. An antelope isn’t targeted by a lion because it threatens the lion’s business practices. It is targeted because it’s the easiest to kill. An antelope is targeted because it’s slow, weak or young. And that leads to somewhat scary moral reasoning that would have fangirls screeching in outrage. Because the slow, weak, young and easiest to kill among humans are babies. While we know that Eric would like to see a shower of babies, and that Pam likes that idea, that doesn’t mean that I’ve ever read a vampire in fanfic eating a baby and that being something constructed as heroic and right. It seems to me that if you really do buy the “predator” bullshit, there should be more baby eating.

I think that those who sell the “predator” line giving – Eric usually – carte blanche to do as he wishes that he should feed indiscriminate of moral implications – just eat those who can’t get away. The fact that none of the SVM vampires do feed in an indiscriminate way just goes to show that the predator bullshit is in fact bullshit. After all – they all have enough moral understanding to let Sookie survive – and yet she is a willing donor, often pinned underneath them during sex. That should be cue to murder her under the strict role for a predator. You don’t see a lion giving an antelope a pass because they really, really love them, as Eric so astutely pointed out.

Of course, there is still the idea that because someone is a vampire, this gives them a right to kill people. While I would argue that at times it can’t be avoided, that doesn’t make it permissible. This is the argument of a moral relativist – that it is relative to the vampire culture – which allows them to prioritise themselves first with Vampires First. That therefore since it’s okay under their culture, that makes it okay for them in a generalised sense. However, moral relativism really doesn’t condemn anything. For example, moral relativism can be used to justify female genital mutilation, stoning adulterous women to death, and all other kinds of human rights violations – putting culture over individuals.

For example, one would not argue that black slavery was perfectly fine in the South when it existed because it was a principle part of their culture. I don’t know that it is a great idea to say that just because something is entrenched culturally that it is there “good” and those who permit it are “right”. Nor here in Australia – until the year 1992 we decreed that Indigenous Australians weren’t real people – and that’s when we overturned Terra Nullius (meaning land with no one living there) with the Mabo decision. Just because it is part of a culture – even if it has a great deal of historical weight – does not make something right. Cultures are always in flux. Vampires are less in flux because they have members who were still around lobbying for things to stay the same after 2000 years – such as Appius.

So I always reject the idea that it is just fine and dandy for any vampire to specifically murder their victim based on the idea of cultural relativism. After all, they are now integrating with a society full of potential prey. The purpose of mainstreaming is not to impose vampire morals on society, but rather to fit alongside ordinary human society. And then to proceed to milk it for all its worth. Certainly, vampires can’t argue that they have special dispensation to break the law. Because they don’t:

Any vampire who took a human’s blood – against the human’s will – was liable to
execution by stake or sunlight, according to the vamp’s choice. The execution
was usually carried out by another vamp, kept on retainer by the state.

Dracula Night, A Touch of Dead, p. 51

The state punishes what would be essentially assault for a human with the death penalty for a vampire. There is a larger onus on vampires. Of course, they get special dispensation for drainers – and are allowed to murder them in self defence, but that’s in threat of their lives. Vampires like Eric surely know the rules – because they’d want to be sure that they enforce them on guys like Bill. Just because Eric lets someone like Mickey slip under the radar (you can’t tell me Tara wasn’t coerced) doesn’t mean that it is therefore just fine that he continues to break the rules he knows exist.

If the vampires are determined to live within human society, then surely they can’t pick and choose the bits that they follow. Just because they can doesn’t mean they should. While a certain amount of leeway is allowed to vampires now, forward thinkers try to get their hands on other ways to do things – like say, a telepath – so that they can comply with human law as much as possible.

Arguing that vampires break laws because they’re vampires really just makes out like vampires are deeply stupid. And I don’t think they are – they break laws because they can. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother to hide their actions, and they wouldn’t try to stop the police from finding out what they’ve done. It’s clear every time they hide a body, that they know that they shouldn’t have done it. If it was because they couldn’t understand the cultural more of not trying to kill people, they would do it with no shame, right on the middle of the street.

It is also disingenuous to suggest that they don’t know any better. Like any citizen – you have rights but you also have responsibilities. It’s not a one way deal where say you get the right of free speech, and get no responsibility as a commensurate measure against those rights. I believe that the right of free speech isn’t free in America at all – there are laws against inciting violence with that speech. The responsibility is tied into the actual right itself. In fact, politically, this would be why vampires hide that they kill people on occasion – because they cannot hope to gain a full compliment of rights if they refuse to act as a responsible citizenry.

It’s even more dodgy, because really, Eric can understand how to get ordained as a priest, and how to set up and run a vampire bar that complies with the law, but is too stupid to actually understand the rules? No, I don’t think so. So therefore his contribution to society means that he can’t just willy-nilly murder people with impunity. He’s killing off potential customers for a start. Antelopes have yet to set up co-operatives with lions, and yet vampires wish to do as they please within human society. That speaks to a more complex interaction than merely a culturally insular one, or one based on the predator theory.

The predator theory really doesn’t hold weight – it’s all about wishing to justify what it is that they do based on biology. Bill often does that – gives himself special permission to hunt and kill because he is a vampire. I actually think that he does himself and his race a great disservice by arguing that they are like animals. If taken as truth, is it not better to throw vampires into cages, and deprive them, since they are fundamentally unable to control themselves? If I were to take Bill to task over his predator assertions, and the cultural relativism, is it not the logical conclusion to say that we must force vampires into isolation in order for them not to actually haul off and do what they want? If they are indeed uncontrollable animals, then can we in good conscience argue that vampires are free to wander around society? I think that Bill’s argument – while it allows him to justify his brutal actions – also dehumanises himself and all his fellow vampires. That they are no more than animals with a thin veneer of seeming human.

After all, I would not accept the excuse that men rape due to their natures. It is an explanation offered on occasion – but it does nothing more than reduce men down to base urges – no higher brain function. It sullies all men – even those who don’t rape. Because it takes a statement about one man (who did not wish to control himself and fall into the evolutionary psychology route) and applies it to all men – up to and including all men like Mr. Minty and my sons. I don’t buy it – I know lots of men who don’t rape. Barring extreme provocation, such as drugs or mental illness or extreme duress, we don’t see men raping as a whole either. It’s a bullshit excuse. Just like it’s a bullshit excuse for Bill to use the predator excuse to explain why he acts out.

I like to think that while vampires have urges – so do ordinary people. What makes them different is the choices that they make and how they reign themselves in. That’s why Pam hasn’t hauled off and hurt Sookie, even though she’s been in the same room as Sookie when she’s been bleeding. This is not because Pam is “less vampire” – it’s because she’s in control of herself. In fact, vampires take a lot of pride in that:

“We’ll talk when you can control yourself.”
That was a huge rebuke to a vampire, and his back stiffened.

Dead Reckoning, p. 30

So it can’t be both prideful that you are in control of yourself, but also the dichotomy that Bill allows to exist – which is that he’s in control until he’s no longer in control, and subject to biological urges. More importantly, if there is control over oneself, then it cannot be just about giving into your nature. If you act out – if Eric had attacked Sookie here as she feared – then that would have been on Eric. It would have been a choice, just like the hard bite was a choice.

I ultimately don’t buy the idea that vampires have a right to murder, or that they are destined to do so. They do so for the same reasons that humans do – to get monetary gain, to avenge themselves and others, to get things going their own way. I think that reducing them to animals is not exactly comforting, because animals certainly don’t feature anywhere in power over humans but in Caligula’s Senate and other such follies. It infantilises vampires to buy Bill’s lines about predator. I also think that if it were merely just something that was culturally relative, it does not explain why they comply on the surface with our rules, and yet hide their own cultural identities as the killers of men. I don’t believe that being a vampire gives you an automatic licence to kill.