Monday, April 07, 2008

All We Want To Do Is Eat Your Brains, Pt. 2
We're At An Impasse Here, Maybe We Should Compromise

It's been several months since I last wrote on the subject of zombies, and I'll admit that this is mainly because I found the task so daunting that I nearly gave it up. The subject is vast, and very near to my heart; I didn't want to screw it up. I was spurred into action, however, by the novel Dead in the West, by Joe Lansdale. The book is billed as a "zombie western", and is meant as an homage to the classic pulps of days gone by, but falls into the same trap that snared Rodriguez' Planet Terror; namely, they manage to capture just how terrible pulps were. The book isn't about zombies, per se. It focuses more on the main character, "a gun toting preacher man who came to Mud Creek to escape his past. He has lost his faith in the Lord and his only solace is the whisky (sic) bottle." This quote is from the dust jacket, and it contains more character development than the entire book.

The zombies aren't even particularly interesting ones; they're magical in nature, and so the resolution of the conflict comes with a heaping dose of deus ex machina. And yet, this book kept me up until three in the morning, and after I finished I got up and made sure that my door was locked and I had weapons readily accessible. Why is it that zombies do this to me?

First of all, zombies (or at least the zombies under consideration in this case) are unequivocally evil. You don't need to feel bad when you kill them. You don't need to capture them and reform them (as you would with, say, Nazis), and there's no sense of killing something that, while unequivocally evil, has the potential to be good (like vampires). There does not exist a more clear-cut example of "kill or be killed" than with a zombie. Killing zombies is not only Not Evil; it almost certainly falls under the purvey of Good, since by killing a zombie you are protecting not only yourself but others. (Details are, of course, situational.) This isn't to say that moral conflicts don't exist during a zombie apocalypse. I still don't have a good answer to the question of what you do when a stranger comes, begging for help, to the door of your hideout. However, one matter will always be perfectly clear. Zombies will never be anything more than mindless, soulless automata.

Which brings me to my second point: Zombies are mindless. Thus, any conflict with zombies pits their weakness against humanity's biggest strength - our endless adaptability. If one is battling some other form of evil, like Communists, one must engage in a constant battle of wits, fighting to outsmart them while simultaneously evading the grasp of their Communist wiles. Zombies, on the other hand, are perfectly straightforward. Fighting them has more in common with surviving a natural disaster or disease than fighting a war.

However, there is one key difference. You don't fight an earthquake, you survive it, if you're lucky. Poverty, hunger, all are greater evils today than zombies, but you can't go out and kill poverty with a shotgun. (If you do, you're probably doing it wrong.) Zombies present a problem that can be addressed in a tangible, unilateral manner. This is in addition to the fact that the situation is lacking in moral ambiguity, as observed above - zombies present an evil that every one of us can confront, and defeat, head-on.

The key to surviving any natural disaster is preparedness, and surviving a zombie apocalypse is little different. This conclusion is a natural deduction from the previous point; since zombies are mindless automata, their behavior is very predictable. Since their behavior is predictable, one can survive by being prepared. A prepared individual can be practically assured of survival before the dead begin to rise. The careful observer, who checks every building for its defensibility, knows where to find food, water, and shelter in an emergency, and sizes up every item for its utility as an improvised weapon, will be rewarded for his paranoia when the zombies come.

This leads me into one of my genuinely serious points. Survivalists tend to be crazy people; rather, if you're a survivalist who drives a car, you're an idiot, since you're much more likely to die in a car accident than be in a situation where lifelong paranoia will save you. And yet, the nutbag gun-totin' survivalist understands one very important thing. Modern society is interdependent to an incredible degree. The food I ate today probably came from all over the continent, if not overseas. By its nature, the fragility of any system is proportional to its complexity. Any significant upheaval (such as might be brought on by a zombie apocalypse) would, to put it lightly, have a major impact on modern society as we know it, by disrupting this interconnectedness that is only noticed in its absence.

As stated previously, this sort of upheaval doesn't have to come from zombies. In fact, the best predictions of the consequences of an outbreak can be found by considering non-zombie-related historical examples. The first one that comes to mind is Hurricane Katrina, and the chaos in New Orleans and the surrounding area that followed, but this is simply a recent, American example. Wars, plagues, famines - all provide us with object lessons in the outcomes of a zombie apocalypse.

Here's the key bit: the reverse is also true. Zombies aren't real. I'll be the first to admit it. However, acting like they are can give insight that can be applied to other, real dangers. Zombies are not going to come shambling through Pittsburgh, but if there was (say) a flood, a riot, a total collapse of government and civilization... I'd like to think that I'd be better prepared, more likely to keep my cool and make it through alive, because I've spent so much time thinking about zombies.

(Note: I am not the first to come to this conclusion.)

So bring on the zombies. I'll be brandishing my machete at the top of my demolished staircase, laughing and thinking This is the day I've been waiting for as they come. And when it's not zombies, but flash floods, or jackbooted fascists, or the onset of middle age... well, maybe I'll be ready for those, too.


remember that I love you



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