Vampires And More Undeath

Epistemic status: messy analogical reasoning.

Conjecture (to ground below): vampires consume blood as pica, like the ghosts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets floating through rotten food in a vain effort to taste anything, because they cannot find the comfortable dissolution of their agency zombies can, and cannot fill or face or mourn the pain and emptiness that has entered their souls.

In Aliveness, I used a metaphor where life represents agency, being agenty when what you want is unattainable is painful, and the things causing this pain such as literal mortality and the likely doom of the world are “the shade”. Types of “undeath” are metaphors for possible relationships with the shade.

Because literal life entails agency and agency requires literal life, and agency is a part of the part of literally living that makes us want it, many feelings and psychological responses about them are correlated.

Fiction is about things that provoke interesting psychological responses. Interesting world-building about magical forms of undeath is frequently interesting because it represents psychological responses and how they play out to death (a very common reason for value to be unattainable). I think more commonly, the metaphor cuts through to a metaphor about reality in terms of agency, roughly as I described.

For instance, consider Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. He had a short-lived romance with a goddess of the sea, Calypso. She left him on a boat for 10 years ferrying souls with a promise they’d be together afterward. She didn’t show up, he was heartbroken, he helped her enemies imprison her, and then cut out his heart and put it in a box, this made him unkillable, but the point was to escape his emotions. He says of his heart, “Get that infernal thing off my ship”. He abandons ferrying souls, but still never leaves the ship. He tempts sailors to embrace undeath as his crew out of fear of judgement in the afterlife. Not to change the judgement, only temporarily postpone facing it. Having his crew whipped to kill a ship full of people to get at one of them, he says, “Let no joyful voice be heard, let no man look up at the sky with hope, and may this day be cursed by we who ready to wake the Kraken.” While killing those who refuse to join his crew, he says, “life is cruel, why should the afterlife be any different?”

In other words, his desires were thwarted and he could not bear it. He tried to seal away his desiring to escape the pain.

Why does he hate hope? Presumably, something like prediction error as in predictive processing (a core part of agency), in other words, seeing anything but cruelty that validates his worldview reminds him of his own thwarted desires, the pain to resurface, the connection to his heart to be thrust upon him again.

So he carries out tasks that have no meaning to him. (Sailing his ship and never touching land it’s part of the curse, apparently living only to inflict cruelty). In other words, he hangs out in structure that has no meaning because meaning is caused by and triggers the activity of core.

Eventually his heart/core is captured by others and used to enslave him.

Calypso returns to use him again, and he has not accepted his own choice to take revenge on her. He has not mourned the love he hoped for. (Allowed the structure to be chewed up in the course of being changed by core under the tensions of Calypso’s manipulation/abandonment/enslavement of him.) So she is able to call his bluff that he doesn’t love her. He is seen to be easy to manipulate again. Of course. He shut down his defenses. He couldn’t process the grief and learn its lesson, that act of running his agency was too painful.

This seems closest to a sort of undead I’ve been informally calling “death knight”s, after a version of that mythology where a death knight is someone who is cursed in punishment for something and cannot die until they repent. I’m much less satisfied with either the name or the solidity of this cluster than with vampires though.

Undead types are usually evil for a reason. They symbolize fucked up tangles of core and structure.  (In D&D monster descriptions, revenants are often given an exception. And, in my opinion, revenant is the best or close to the best relationship to the shade.)

Describing structure close to core, they are also closely reflective of isolated choices made long ago. For instance revenants are formed by an intent which manifests as a death grip on a possibility of changing something on Earth, chosen long ago over experience to such a degree that they will leave heaven and inhabit a rotting corpse to see it done. Revenants are often described as unkillable. Their soul will find another corpse to inhabit. Or they will regather their body from dust through sheer determination. So their soul (core) is a thing which keeps their body (structure) healed enough to keep moving. Not complete and whole, because that gives diminishing returns and what matters more than anything is the thing that must be changed on Earth, but it’s still an orientation towards agency and life unlike Davy Jones and death knights. 

People who become zombies and liches on the other hand, would choose heaven. (who can blame them?) So once the Shade has touched them, they sink into the closest hope they can get, whether they have the craft to continue some cohesive narrative-of-life around it or not.

I think vampires are people who have made the choices long ago of a zombie or lich, who have been exposed to the shade to such a degree that it left pain that cannot be ignored by allowing their mind to dissolve. The world has forced them to be able to think. They do not have the life-orientation that revenants have to incorporate the pain and find a new form of wholeness. But this injury (a vampire bite) demonstrates to their core the power of the shade, and the extent to which sadistically breaking and by extension dominating (pour entropy into someone beyond the speed of their healing and they will probably submit) can help them get the benefits of social power, which is enough to meet most zombie goals. This structure which is the knowledge of this path is reflected in “The Beast“, which can be “staved off” by false face structure.

Zombie goals are pica, and the emptiness is always felt on some level, which a vampire can’t ignore like a zombie. But they will not face the truth that those false goals hide like a revenant does.

So they suck the blood (energy, which is agency integrated over time) from other people and it is for nothing, they will not even be truly satisfied. (Caveat: I bet it’s at least a little enjoyable to them, just not what they really need/want.)

Vampires bite and beget vampires. (Although the beast could not take root in a good core, a lich might have a phylactery that staved off the bite, a revenant might know how to heal the bite or not, and if not, would accumulate another painful wound without much slowing, and a zombie can be bitten many times before they are awakened.)

A vampire whose core chose to put up a false face of humanity would slowly have their sympathetic “just needing some love” non-evil self-image devoured, warped, as the structure representing to their evil core expectation that following morality will help their true values falls out from under their self-concept. Here’s some vampire lore about replacements for morality to “stave off” the beast. As they are being chosen by a core that wants to suck blood, they cannot be things that say not to do that.

Let’s hear from now-notorious rapist and probable vampire Brent Dill.

Goddamn Vampire: Someone with the Spark, whose primary motivation is domination of their local social landscape. Can often look VERY MUCH like a Wizard. Many Goddamn Vampires used to be Wizards, and many Silicon Valley social conflicts involve both sides claiming to be Wizards, while calling the other side Goddamn Vampires. 

Being a Goddamn Vampire involves a particular kind of trauma, and a particular kind of coping mechanism, and a certain amount of dark triad (Narcissism / Sociopathy / Machiavellianism) aptitude.

Many Goddamn Vampires are nice people – a good sign of a “nice” Goddamn Vampire is a constant lament that they feel that love and happiness are forever out of their reach, because they can’t afford to sacrifice their accumulated wealth, power and prestige to truly experience them.

They’re still Goddamn Vampires, though.

I didn’t reread that (this year of writing, 2018) before writing this far. But trauma (unignorable touch of the shade), particular coping mechanism (the beast), constant lament from frustrated emptiness that domination does not get them love and happiness, the spark (aliveness), it fits.

Here’s a memorable quote from someone realizing their folly in not fighting him after his deeds came to light.

I caveat (metaphorically) that in skimming all the comments above I shifted from modeling Brent as a human to modeling Brent as a limp vessel through which some dread spider is thrusting its pedipalps, and while this model allows me to retain compassion for the poor vessel, it is obviously not a healthy way to view a person, and I’m going to go back to modeling him as a human momentarily, now that I’ve spoken the name of the fear that grabbed at me as I digested all this information.

I think this person could see the false face eroding into a thin veneer. If they were reading I’d advise them to act as though they had no compassion for the mask. Even if the mask has moral patiency in our utility functions, which as far as I can tell might be the case, it’s core that has the agency, core that possesses bargaining power in the social contract, and core that we must mind as an agent to constrain by any desired social effects of our approval or condemnation.

Other less well developed clusters me and a friend of mine have noticed include mummy (someone who pretends that the Shade doesn’t exist, and tries to fix in place the trappings of aliveness (corresponding to flesh) without the core (the brain is whisked into a slurry and poured out the nose)). This is based on the same choices made long ago as a zombie or lich, but with a different coping mechanism.

Also, phoenix a relationship to the Shade resulting from being a good person who actually believes that the total agency of good is a sufficient answer to the shade, so that their inevitable death is not entire defeat. Example:

And even if you do end me before I end you,
Another will take my place, and another,
Until the wound in the world is healed at last…

10 thoughts on “Vampires And More Undeath”

  1. > We fear them, because they call to us. So much like us, or how we hope to be: beautiful, passionate, and powerful. They are drawn to us for what they cannot be: warm, kind, and alive. These tormented souls can only hope, at most, to pass their dreadful curse along. Every time they feed they run the risk of passing along their torture to another and in each one lives the twisted seed of its creator. Vampires beget vampires. Suffering begets suffering. Do not be drawn in by their seduction or you may be given their gift—a crown of shadows and the chains of eternal undying grief. Instinct: To manipulate

    (https://www.dungeonworldsrd.com/monsters#TOC-Vampire)

  2. Elliot Rodger was a death knight, not a revenant, despite that he pursued vengeance. This is seen in the fact that he pursued placebo vengeance, rather than the real thing no matter how impossible; the most thorough success he was aiming for could not convince anyone to have sex with him timelessly or causally. His goals were social pica. Moreover, he killed himself at the end of his rampage. That is the opposite of determination which defies death.

  3. Sylvanas Windrunner from Warcraft is a death knight by my definition for the following reasons: she was raised to undeath against her will. She asked for death, and was not given it. She pursued vengeance as a placebo, and when someone else did that for her, she tried to commit suicide, went to hell, was resurrected as undead again, and is now completely ruthless to stay alive, to avoid hell, since she is denied oblivion. And she is her own worst enemy in the way that preemptive defection based on projecting her own evil onto others has driven her to start a war that will probably send her back to hell. This seems an instance of spreading damage the Shade has done to her soul as a consequence of flinching from prediction error, similar to her efforts to wipe out hope in the video linked above, and both similar to Davy Jones.

  4. Wonder Woman seems full of phoenix-not-revenant.

    “I used to want to save the world. To end war, and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their life. And learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. A choice each must make for themself. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.”

    (An accurate understanding of the boundary between good and other things is not necessary for the phoenix undead type.)

    Also seen in the climax of the movie, where her faith is temporarily shaken by the revelation that Ares is not solely responsible for war, mankind, the thing which she puts her faith in, is. And sort of restored by Steve Trevor sacrificing himself. “I can save today, you can save the world.”

    1. Phoenixes are defined by, “true faith”, that good will win in the end. This is not to be confused with a certain type of neutral lich, perhaps easiest type of neutral person to confuse with a good person (although I suspect I don’t have neutral undead types mapped out well), whose phylactery is good itself or something effectively similar like community niceness and civilization. It is made true faith by being willing to subject itself to tests, in a way that phylacteries are not. Because by choices long ago, a phoenix wants to be a revenant in a certain set of worlds.

      This often overlaps heavily with ideal-projection of the sort that paladins do, and may thereby as software absorb the concerns of neutral liches whose phylacteries are good itself.

      Presumably a phoenix that loses true faith becomes a revenant, or perhaps I’m missing good undead types.

      (This does not seem to be a clean line of separation at 50% or whatever.)

  5. The Doom Slayer is a revenant.

    “In the first age, in the first battle, when the shadows first lengthened, one stood. Burned by the embers of Armageddon, his soul blistered by the fires of Hell and tainted beyond ascension, he chose the path of perpetual torment. In his ravenous hatred he found no peace; and with boiling blood he scoured the Umbral Plains seeking vengeance against the dark lords who had wronged him.”

    “Tempered by the fires of Hell, his iron will remained steadfast through the passage that preys upon the weak.”

    “Unbreakable, incorruptible, unyielding, the Doom Slayer sought to end the dominion of the dark realm.”

  6. V for Vendetta (the film, I haven’t read the original) seems full of revenant nature. V is a revenant. Interestingly, he tries to turn Evey into a revenant, duplicate his own experiences into her: torture, imprisonment. Afterward,

    “Listen to me Evey, this might be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it. They took your parents. They took your brother from you. They put you in a cell and took everything they could take except your life. And you believed that was all there was didn’t you, the only thing you had left was your life, but it wasn’t, was it? You found something else. In that cell you found something that mattered more than your life. Because when they threatened to kill you unless you gave them what you wanted, you told them you’d rather die. You faced your death Evey, you were calm, were still, try to feel now what you felt then.”

    Also,

    “That’s it! See at first I thought it was hate too, hate was all I knew, it built my world, imprisoned me, taught me how to eat, how to drink how to breath, I thought I’d die with all the hate in my veins. But then something happened. It hapened to me just as it happened to you.”

    and of course,

    “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”

    I once tried to turn someone into a revenant. (torture and imprisonment not included), by convincing a single good misidentified by buckets error lich to break their phylactery and look at what it had hidden in order to fix their epistemics. It didn’t stick, mixed choices made long ago are an equilibrium.

  7. Molly’s Game (the film, I haven’t read the book) is full of vampires.
    Most obviously, “I don’t play poker, I destroy lives” (I might not have the quote exact).

  8. Iji is a revenant, and the game contains a very compelling portrayal of unyieldingly righteous choices in a grim world. And of the moral challenge, not just physical, that such a world presents.

  9. This clip contains philosophical clash between a revenant and a death knight, with a lot of surprisingly accurate remarks.

    “There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss. But when it looked back at us, you blinked.”

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