Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Our Zombie Culture

Without going much into the lore, literature, and filmography of zombies, there is an appropriate analogy to be drawn between the notion of the "living dead" and the living that deserves to be illustrated. Metaphorical zombies rule our current political culture, as well. At least, that is how I often feel when engaging others in a discussion of politics and even esthetics and contemporary human behavior. Try as one might, such people are proof against reason, beyond redemption or reclamation.

There is, however, more fascination with the subject than I had expected to encounter. One venue I had not expected to see it in is a government website, incredibly, that of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It is a tongue-in-cheek, semi-humorous treatment that employs the notion of a zombie apocalypse to instruct people to prepare for very real disasters, including a pandemic of disease. It isn't confined to one page, but goes on and on through several links and even offers a down-loadable graphic novel tailored to disaster preparedness.
This is your tax dollars at work. It is so reassuring to know that some bureaucrat decided to indulge his sense of humor and subcontract some pricey consultant to create a website devoted to publicizing disaster preparedness, as a way of talking down to us lunk heads and cajoling us into a state of responsible citizenship, doubtless taking a leaf from that patronizing and politically correct PBS children's educational program, Sesame Street or virtually any other instance of children's educational programming.
Briefly, according to some accounts, the term "zombie" was popularized in our culture by Bela Lugosi in his 1932 movie, WhiteZombie. The term has Haitian voodoo origins, of course, and the notion of a zombie has ancient European folklore parallels, as well. Mary Shelley's 1818 Frankenstein monster was assembled from the body parts of the dead, thus technically making it a zombie. Stephen Mallory's "drooling beast" in The Fountainhead could be said to be a zombie, too, a beast deaf to all reason, a thing that lives only to kill, a "maniac who's had some disease that's eaten his brain out….You'd see living eyes watching you and you'd know that the thing can't hear you, that it can't be reached, not reached, not in any way, yet it's breathing and moving there before you with a purpose of its own…"*
Ian Fleming exploited the idea in his 1954 James Bond thriller, Live and Let Die. George A. Romero's low-budget, 1968 Night of the Living Deadboosted interest in the notion of flesh-eating zombies, an interest which has since spawned a billion dollar industry that caters to the zombie-obsessed among the living. AMC's bigger-budget "The Walking Dead" TV series is about to go into its third season. It is based rather loosely on the graphic novel of the same name.
In the TV series, the last surviving doctor in Atlanta's CDC blows up the place and himself in a fit of despair and hopelessness about finding a cure to whatever caused the pandemic. I'm betting the irony was not lost on the executive responsible for the CDC's zombie site.
I do not like horror movies, but have watched some of them to grasp their appeal in an attempt to form a wider understanding of the phenomenon and the culture. I have watched "The Walking Dead" because in it human relationships compete with all the head-lopping, rasping, and flesh feasting. These relationships do not rise above the confusing, complex and banal ones to be seen in daytime soaps. There is no explanation of why suddenly the world is overrun by the walking dead. The title of the series not too subtly indicates the actual, living characters who are all infected with some unidentified pathogen and will rise from death by natural or unnatural causes regardless, and so must be shot in the head before they do. It just happens.
So, what is a zombie? It is a metaphysically impossible creature, dead, but magically reanimated by a virus or a curse or other pseudo-scientific jiggery-pokery, with a functioning motor and autonomous system, a non-causal appetite, a robot oblivious to the weather and its surroundings, conscious but not conscious, volitional but not volitional, teleologically driven or programmed to consume living flesh to survive. But, then, how can the dead "survive"? Survive what? And what for? These are paradoxical questions that needn't be examined, because they are semantic follies. Call a zombie a humanoid plant, or a kind of non-religious Golem.
Americans, too many of them, have an unhealthy fascination with zombies, whatever the antecedents of their favorite walking dead. And too many of them also have functioning motor and autonomous systems, perfect digestive systems, and are selectively conscious. They are eclectically volitional from choice or from habit, and their moral codes make them teleologically driven to consume the living flesh of their fellow men – in the way of social services, government-paid entitlements, surrendering to the state their own lives together with the lives, fortunes and purposes of others. As in "The Walking Dead," they gather in herds and move in herds, chiefly aimlessly, until they find the living.
If, after having seen for themselves what destruction has been wrought by President Barack Obama and his nihilistic policies, and they remain stubbornly blind to that destruction and to the guarantee that he will author even more, and they voted him into a second term, then they are zombies.
If they expect the state to solve every real or imagined crisis, and refuse to grasp that most economic and social crises are caused by government interference or mismanagement or corruption or the systematic expropriation of wealth and effort redirected by force into the bottomless pits of subsidies, welfare, and "social justice," then they are zombies.
If they believe that the state can manage, regulate, or juggle the economy and/or their lives for the public good and for their children and future generations, and guarantee a permanently prosperous, vibrant, and stable society, then they are zombies.
If they believe that incalculable wealth can be stolen from the poor to make others rich, or that a nation's wealth is a static entity that should be divided equally among all, then they are zombies.
If they believe that their mere existence entitles them to economic and spiritual support by their fellows via the state, through taxes, special legislation, and protective privileges, then they are zombies.
If they believe that America was founded as a majority-rule "democracy" and that the principles enunciated by the Founders in the Constitution are inapplicable to the "modern" world, or that the Constitution is a "living" one that can be interpreted any way a court or law professor or bureaucrat or politician wishes to conform with the fiat populism or fallacy of the moment, then they are zombies.
If they believe that principles are merely prejudices or con games designed to manipulate or fool the ignorant and superstitious, then they are zombies. If they believe that the greed of a successful businessman is evil, but that their own greed for the unearned is supremely virtuous, then they are zombies.
If they believe that words have no demonstrable and permanent meaning, that all opinions are merely subjective utterances determined by one's race, gender, class, age, ancestry, or education, then they are zombies. If they further believe that words accrue meaning solely by consensus or fiat law, then they are zombies.
If they believe that the state is the author, dispenser, and steward of all individual rights, and that rights are merely privileges bestowed and granted by the state at the behest and will of a real or fictive majority, and can be withdrawn or obviated at any time, then they are zombies.
If they believe that freedom of speech, guns, and the profit motive are the sole causes of massacres and crime, which they call "tragedies," then they are zombies. If they further believe that speech, guns, and the profit motive should be regulated, and even banned, for the safety and benefit of all, so as to prevent more "tragedies," then they are zombies.
If they believe that all property is theft – and needn't explain from whom – they are zombies.
If they believe that unquestioning "faith" in the ability of government to solve all their problems is justifiable, then they are zombies. If they believe that government is imbued with the power of a deity to work wonders and promise paradise and salvation, then they are zombies. "Faith," by the way, is responsible for the partial lobotomy of most men's minds, making them the walking semi-dead. To many of these zombies, Earth and existence are just a way station to the future or some ethereal realm. Why bother with freedom? Why overvalue it?
If they believe that government can create a tolerable economic and social condition which amounts to tyranny, these zombies are insensible to the consequent loss of freedom. They never understood it and would not miss it, even in their own penury. If you are not a zombie, there's no place in their paradise for you, the living.
The poverty and hardships imposed by the government today will make possible the luxuries and ease of living for everyone tomorrow.
Anyone who believes that is a zombie.
On a final, esthetic note, if a person doesn’t see a difference between Michelangelo's "David" and Giacometti's "Walking Man," he is a zombie.
Doubtless many readers have friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and even family who fit some or all of the foregoing criteria of zombiehood. To know them is not necessarily to love them, but rather to keep them at arm's length before they take a chunk out of one's arm or neck or wallet or bank account.
But today's zombies needn’t get up front and personal to be a slobbering, life-threatening menace. They can elect career zombies to do it for them. Herds of them are busy in Washington and every state capital and municipal town hall, day and night, chomping away at the wealth of individuals and businesses. In Washington, a herd of these zombies – Republicans and Democrats – just this morning, in fact, have come together and maneuvered you to the edge of a fiscal cliff.
The name of the pandemic is altruism. Its symptoms are collectivism and self-sacrifice.
*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. Bobbs-Merrill: Indianapolis-New York. pp. 352-353.

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