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Because Evil Spelled Backwards Is Live: Vampire Biology in the Barbverse II

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A lot of the human concept of ‘good’ boils down to ‘beliefs and actions which tend to promote the survival and well-being of the group.’ Evil, conversely, boils down to ‘actions and beliefs that tend to undermine the survival and well-being of the group.’ Groups and movements which inculcate their members with this kind of meme will tend to survive, and groups and movements which fail to do so will tend to fragment and disappear. Sorry, Ayn Rand, in the long run, you're doomed.

Where it gets complicated is, most people belong to many different groups – families, tribes, faiths, races, nations, and so forth – which may have conflicting needs and goals. There are some basic principles which are common to most moral codes, because those principles contribute very strongly to group survival. ("Don't kill people.") However, those basic principles are almost always modified by particular groups, sometimes in radical ways. ("Don't kill people, unless they belong to That Other Group, and your group has authorized you to do so under conditions A, B, or C.")

What is 'good' in one group, under one set of circumstances, may therefore be considered evil, or value-neutral, in other groups under other circumstances, and vice versa. This leads to all those classic moral dilemmas: is it right to steal bread to feed your starving family? And so on. What any given person considers good or evil, then, depends to a great extent upon how they define the group(s) they belong to, what priority they give each group, and to what extent the needs and goals of those groups conflict with one another and with the needs and goals of groups to which the person does not belong.

This complicated system works for humanity because humans are highly social animals. The most important activity humans engage in above bare-bones physical survival is forming, cultivating, and monitoring social bonds. Humans survive better in functioning groups, largely because our young take so long to achieve physical and social maturity, and because our culture (possibly the most useful survival tool we possess) comprises more information than any one person can memorize and transmit. The survival of individual humans is vastly enhanced when they create a stable group to raise their young and preserve and transmit their culture.

When I wrote the first version of this essay, despite much fannish speculation on the subject of 'related' vampires, there was no canonical confirmation that there were any inherited characteristics passed from sire to sired. When the S9 Dark Horse comics came out, they seemed to confirm that no inheritance occurred; instead, a new vampire demon passed from some ill-defined hell dimension into the newly turned human body every time a person was sired. If a demon could not cross over into this dimension, as happened while the Seed of Wonder was destroyed, cutting off Earth from other dimensions, the host body becomes a 'zompire': mindless, animalistic beings given over wholly to bloodlust. There were a number of unanswered questions about this process: If a demon is unable to enter the body, it should just die. And if the demon was unable to properly control the host body, as the comics claimed, then why were the zompires brainless animals? Shouldn't the human personality be more in control, rather than completely absent? Possibly the writers were operating on the thesis that the demon comprised the whole personality of the vampire, but if so, this was never adequately explained.

In any case, Dark Horse S10 ignored all that, and instead asserted that when a new vampire is turned, a portion of the demon essence inhabiting the sire passes into the new vampire. This essence forms a mystical connection between sire and sired, all the way back to the original demon. It also established that at least two different lines of vampires exist: the original line spawned by the Old One Maloker, which occasioned the creation of the Slayer, and a second line spawned much later by the demon lord Archaeus. It's unclear exactly when Archaeous sired the first in his new line of vampires, or who it was. It's also unclear whether or not Maloker and Archaeus are related somehow.) In theory, then, it seems that any sufficiently powerful demon could create a line of vampires. It is possible that the Turok-Han are the result of some third, as-yet-unknown demon progenitor.

Keeping that in mind, let’s consider the biology of Jossverse vampires. Firstly, vampires don’t need to form a pair bond in order to successfully produce offspring. Young vampires require little or no care, and can be produced with very little investment of time or resources by the sire. A single vampire could re-spawn the entire species, if it had to – in fact, vampires are in constant danger of out-breeding their food source. Individual vampires do not get sick or age (or at least, not quickly). While successive 'generations' of vampires do share the demonic essence which animates them, the scarcity of resources and lack of aging and death mean that there is comparatively little biological advantage to be had in protecting or helping related vampires. To a vampire, the next generation is more likely to be a threat than a promise. And because Archaeus's descendants appear to be quite limited in numbers, the demon essence possessed by 99.9999999999999999999etc.% of all vampires is identical, so there is virtually no scope for evolutionary competition on that axis anyway.

Secondly, vampires are obligate carnivores. They occupy an extremely narrow ecological niche. While they can survive on mammalian blood of any type, they show a strong preference for human blood. This physical preference is backed up by a social stigma against drinking non-human blood. Vampires are therefore vastly less adaptable than humans in terms of where they can live and how many of them a given area can support. (See "Vampire Feeding Patterns.") While vampires do hunt cooperatively and there is some additional safety and convenience to be gained in numbers, because of the relative scarcity of resources in the form of human blood, it is not to the advantage of a vampire to create many new vampires, nor to allow many other vampires to share his or her territory.

Thirdly, vampires have not developed a complex culture of their own independent of humans. (At least, there is little evidence of this in canon.) For the most part, they parasitize human or demon cultures, stealing both ideas and artifacts and adapting them to their own uses.

For humans, group well-being often conflicts with individual fulfillment, but group well-being is so important to the survival of individual humans that we’re hardwired to get pleasure from promoting that group well-being. Voila, altruism. For vampires, who are far less dependent upon group well-being for individual survival, altruism is largely a meaningless concept, and sometimes counter-productive.

Vampires demonstrate common predator behaviors which humans find disturbing and cruel: they kill even when they are not hungry, and enjoy playing with their prey. Peasant has speculated that they can also become subject to the kind of frenzied, repetitive behavior found in predators confronted with an excess of prey – the fox who methodically kills every chicken in the coop, for example – and that this, rather than an 'addiction' to blood, explains much of vampire behavior.

Even if you discount the idea that abstract standards of Good and Evil exist, if you postulate creatures who breed and feed as vampires do, they are going to appear selfish and vicious to your average human, because that’s the kind of behavior that promotes the well-being and survival of vampires. A vampire who has betrayed a human acquaintance may, in fact, be unable to understand why the human is upset by this. Vampires are not adapted to form reciprocal social bonds; vampires are adapted to look out for number one. Vampire groups will tend to be small and loosely allied in comparison to human groups. Individual vampires will often betray the needs of the group if doing so will gain them a personal advantage. And this is, in fact, very close to what we see happening in canon.

Of course, there are additional complications in the fact that vampires are hybrids. This is something else confirmed by the S10 comics: A vampire's personality is a compound of the demon essence and the human personality. So in addition to the demon biological imperatives, they have a lot of left-over human memories, impulses, and urges. There will be a tug of war between the demonic imperative to be lone predators, and the revenant human imperative to be social hunter-gatherers. They still love, and hate, and lust, and fear, and get lonely, though all these emotions are often expressed in ways a human would consider violent and strange. These human impulses may sometimes drive vampires to do things which make no sense in a demon context, just as their demon natures drive them to do things which seem senseless in a human context. I speculate that these human social impulses may underlie the apparent desire of many Jossverse vampires to join cults and secret societies – a kind of vampire neurosis, the imperatives of who and what they were superimposed badly upon who and what they have become.

To sum up, when a vampire like Harmony or Spike is suddenly put in the position of needing others to survive, they can draw upon their human memories to some extent and adapt to their new situation. Vampires can be taught (or reminded of) the rules of human social interaction, but it will always be like speaking a foreign language to them. Most vampires will see no point in even making the attempt, and so dealing with them is fraught with danger under the best of circumstances.