In the first essay in “Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy” — “The Badness of Undeath” — Richard Greene asks, basically, why is it bad to be undead? And, specifically, why is it so bad that people are willing to die instead of becoming undead? Shouldn’t it be the case that we would rather live, even as an undead, than actually die? Other than there being an afterlife that will be far better, of course.
Now, Greene does make this claim about his starting point:
My proposal is … to treat those modifications that radically alter out concepts, such as the existence of “good” vampires … as interesting hypothetical experiments. … I’ll not consider Angel, Spike … and others of their kind to be “real” vampires. … Moreover, all vampires will be considered to be cursed or damned and evil by nature …
I think that excluding the Buffyverse vampires are a major mistake, and lead to his both needing to take far more time to get to the conclusion he does come to and being unable to finish his analysis. As a bit of a spoiler, at the end of it all Greene will conclude that it’s easy to see why someone who is not undead might prefer death to becoming one, but hard to see any reason why the undead would find it bad being undead. So, it’s easy to see why becoming a vampire is bad, but not why being one is. I think that the Buffyverse can show us why in amazing detail … and aren’t that far off the archetypical vampires.
What’s interesting to note about the Buffyverse is that regardless of whether vampires there were created by a curse, the only vampire that we absolutely know has been cursed is, in fact, Angel. And, not coincidentally, he’s the first vampire — and the only one for a long time in the series’ — who is actually clearly tormented by being a vampire. And this is because Angel is, in fact, actually cursed; the gypsies cursed him with regaining his soul and thus becoming a “good” vampire as revenge for an act he committed against one of their members. Spike also becomes tormented as he moves towards becoming good. Darla, when she returns as a human, also experiences some torment, and even more when she is under the influence of her unborn child.
But, without those curses, they all, in fact, didn’t seem tormented at all. Angelus — Angel’s vampire alter-ego — clearly enjoyed being a vampire. So did Spike and Drusilla, as did Darla. In fact, most if not all of the vampires in the Buffyverse didn’t seem tormented at all, and this does seem to be, in general, consistent among most vampires. It’s been a while since I read “Dracula”, but he doesn’t seem to terribly bothered by his curse, and neither do his brides. In most cases, the vampires themselves don’t seem all that bothered about being vampires.
So, then, why would people fear even becoming a vampire? Well, note what they take pleasure in. They take pleasure in hurting, torturing and killing people … or, at the very least, aren’t bothered by it at all. They enjoy drinking blood. In short, they enjoy their new existence … that is, in fact, utterly evil and inhuman. They have, in fact, become totally inhuman, at least, and have no qualms about destroying even the things they used to love. Angelus killed his family, even the ones he liked. Spike turned his mother, and ended up killing her. One of Darla’s tests for Angelus was to have him kill and “eat” a baby. Dracula kills and turns his victims. Ultimately, these are totally inhuman, evil creatures … and they like it that way.
And thus, the fear: that we will become such evil creatures. The first fear is that the evil persona will take over, and the human persona will be buried, able to observe and feel but not influence the events at all, becoming an unwilling participant in the inhumanity. This is the case for Angelus when Angel is in control, and it is implied that that might be the case for Angel when Angelus is in charge. The second fear is that we will well and truly become such evil, inhumane creatures; we will, ourselves, become all that we do not wish to be. Either way, that’s a fate worse than death.
However, there is one group of people that have nothing to fear from becoming a vampire: those who are already evil. Because if you’re evil, if you desire to be inhumane, then becoming a vampire gives you the power to act that out. For such people, being a vampire is in no way undesirable, and in fact is completely desirable. The evil have nothing to fear from being compelled to be evil, and having inhumane desires. They already have them, and this just gives them the power to act on them.
And yet … we have tortured vampires. We have Angel. We have Spike. And a number of other examples. But all of these examples are of vampires that are, in fact, in some way tied to being human and at least not pure evil. Angel and Spike have souls, and that is what drives their torment. In fact, pretty much all of the examples of tormented good vampires are of vampires who are still connected somehow to their humanity, and find the clash between their strongly inhumane desires and their still human consciences. Thus, they live with a set of strong desires that they have to constantly fight against to maintain their humanity. This is truly utter torment.
Thus, we can see from this why it might be bad and good to be undead. If you can bury your humanity and give in to the inhumanity, your desires and your nature will be in harmony and you will have a great life until some vampire slayer comes along and drives a stake through your heart. However, if you can’t bury your humanity and remain human, and desire what humans have and have a human conscience, then the instinctive desires that you get from being a vampire will leave you in a permanent and almost constant conflict, fighting these inhumane desires that you cannot eliminate every step of the way or risk adding to your likely already significant store of guilty.
So, then, it’s bad to be a vampire … if you’re good. It’s good to be a vampire … if you’re bad. Because bad is good to us, and good is bad to us.