The following post was originally published on elephant journal on October 17, 2011.
Look to your immediate left. The first object you see will be your only weapon during the Zombie Apocalypse. How will you survive?
This is the kind of post that has been showing up with disturbing regularity on my Facebook page over the last year or so. In fact, if not for the social medium we all love to hate, I would never have learned how the world is going to end. I would have continued to worry about global warming, mass extinction, resource depletion, overpopulation, economic collapse, nuclear meltdowns, global pandemics, meteorites and earthquakes. But no, the end of the world will be brought to you by the living dead.
That’s what all the savvy kids are saying anyway, and I’ve come to believe them. At first I thought the Zombie Apocalypse was just a fringe meme that would quickly go the way of Rickrolling and LOLCats. Instead, the Zombie Apocalypse has, if you’ll pardon the pun, gone viral. Just ask the Center for Disease Control, who in mid-May posted a clever article entitled “Zombie Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse,” which received enough hits to bring down the site and almost instantly increased CDC’s Twitter following from around 12,000 to 1.2 million. There are other sites and countless blogs devoted to zombie preparedness; there’s a Zombie Apocalypse movie in the works, a band called Zombie Apocalypse, and an Xbox game with the same name.
Clearly, the Zombie Apocalypse is big. The big question is: why?
Here’s my premise, which I invite you to take seriously: the Zombie Apocalypse is big because it’s real. And it’s not going to happen; it’s happening right now.
Doomsday of the Dead
Sure, it’s easy to chuckle at the high camp of the early zombie films, and at the old-school zombies in particular, who tend to stagger through the night like monkeys on morphine. Indeed many zombie films are openly self-mocking, and even the Zombie Apocalypse is usually presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Despite the fact that zombies have been portrayed as quick and agile in recent years, they remain a titillating but toothless threat.
By contrast, the apocalypse has never looked so threatening, as many of our life support systems—ecological, economic, and social—continue crumbling beneath us. Both the extent and magnitude of the crises we currently face are unprecedented, a fact well understood by ecophilosopher Joanna Macy, who writes: “…we have lost the certainty that there will be a future for humans. I believe that this loss, felt at some level of consciousness by everyone… is the pivotal psychological reality of our time.”
Although there have been groups in the past who have proclaimed the end of the world, never before has the prospect been spelled out in sober scientific data.
At the very least, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and very few people feel fine. In fact, the spirits of the times are fear, grief, helplessness, and uncertainty. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by these harbingers on horseback, we need a scapegoat, something that poses a more manageable threat.
Enter the zombies. They’re scary, but in a cool and campy way. They are, in other words, a defense mechanism against the genuine fear of doomsday.
Still, beneath the cheesy makeup there is something apocalyptic about zombies that accounts for their sudden popularity. First of all, they have the ability to multiply exponentially and overwhelm all social safeguards, causing widespread panic and chaos. Another reason for their relevance, I believe, can be found lurking in the psychological shadows. Like all horrific monsters, zombies represent our unconscious fears; but with their vacant, emotionless stares, the brain-dead undead can be seen to represent unconsciousness itself. Whether driven by primal forces or manipulated by sinister overlords, zombies know not what they do, and something about that strikes a deep and ominous chord.
Lifting the Veil
Readers with a strong political bent may already be thinking, “Yep, those folks on the other side of the ideological divide are obviously zombies, operating under the control of their sinister puppet masters.” I confess that I’m hard pressed myself to see the spark of humanity in the eyes of certain politicians who speak with pride about executions or with cold indifference about the environment, or in the parasitic greed and outright thievery of Wall Street executives. Like walking corpses, these people seem to have lost their connection the living Earth, to their own souls, and to reality itself.
It’s all too easy to turn my political adversaries into zombies, but as soon as I accuse them of being inhuman, I lose part of my own humanity. To dismiss someone as completely bereft of self-reflection and compassion is to fail to use these uniquely human capacities myself. If I assume that my perceived opponents are acting unconsciously rather than malevolently (a challenge, in some cases), are they not confined to a narrow spectrum of emotion? Are they not imprisoned by their conditioning? Indeed, even if they are acting with malicious intent, are they not even further removed from true vitality, beauty, and love? Are they not suffering?
Truth is, we’re all suffering. But it’s not really because of the Koch brothers, the radical right, the loony left, or even the 1%. It’s mainly because of the real zombies, and the real apocalypse they’re bringing about. “Apocalypse” is a Greek word meaning “lifting of the veil” or “revelation,” so let me finally reveal the identity of the true zombies.
The real zombies are mindless, emotionless, soulless, and devoid of conscience. They cannot usually be located in space, yet they exist everywhere, and affect almost every facet of human life. They are not people, yet they hold many of the rights of persons, and uphold few of the responsibilities. They’re not even alive, yet they grow and multiply, mainly by consuming resources that rightly belong to everyone. If left unchecked, they will destroy life as we know it. Their only aim is to maximize profits, regardless of the consequences.
If you’re still not sure who the zombies are, just ask the Wall Street trader who bluntly told a BBC reporter that “Governments don’t rule the world; Goldman Sachs rules the world.” Or, ask the protestor on the other side of the barricades, camped out in Zucotti Park with a sign reading: “I won’t believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.” For that matter, ask the thousands of Occupy Wall Street supporters slowly amassing in city centers around the country to demand accountability from the corporate elite. Just ask any world leader who the real zombies are. Or, ask the venerable Noam Chomsky, who concludes a recent Al Jazeera article with these words:
“I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.” (italics mine)
Peaceful Warriors vs. Zombies
By this point in the story, zombies have overwhelmed and infected the military and police forces, and cannot be counted on to defend the citizenry. We the people are basically on our own. But it’s not “every man for himself;” it’s time to take stock of our collective resources, talents, and skills in preparation for the showdown between the living and the undead. The situation looks daunting, but it’s far from hopeless.
To help people move from despair to empowerment, Joanna Macy often tells the prophecy of the Shambala Warriors. Dating back over a millennium, this Tibetan prophecy speaks of a time on Earth when mighty nations possess powerful weapons capable of laying the earth to waste. At this time, says the prophecy, there will arise a coalition of nonviolent warriors dedicating to dismantling these weapons of mass destruction. Without leaders or uniforms, and armed with wisdom and compassion, the Shambala Warriors will have confidence in their success, because they know something crucial: since the weapons have been made by the human mind, they can also be un-made by the human mind.
Although Macy usually applies the Shambala prophecy to nuclear weapons, it could also apply to corporations, which are indeed more powerful than nations and arguably as lethal as WMDs. But they have been created by humans, so humans can undo them as well. Granted, this undoing will be met with strong resistance and will thus require great courage. As Shambala Warriors, we will have to fight, nonviolently, against the zombies.
We must fight the zombies in the streets by raising our voices to raise consciousness, by marching, dancing, shouting, and singing for equality, justice, freedom, and life. Slowly and surely, our numbers will grow, our movement will crystallize, and we will become impossible to ignore.
We must fight the zombies in the courts by working to take away their rights to personhood and restore our human rights and dignities. It’s happening in places like India, where the country is suing Monsanto for bio-piracy, and in Ecuador, which is suing BP for the 2009 spill in the Gulf. Zombies may be stealthy and even invisible, but they are not invincible or immortal.
We must fight the zombies in the marketplace by supporting local businesses, shopping at farmers markets and co-ops, joining credit unions, using local currencies, and spending less money and more time sharing with our friends and neighbors. Zombies are kept alive by our money, which is derived from our life force, and they thrive on our ignorance and laziness.
We must fight the zombies in our homes and communities by turning off the television and tuning out the advertising that infects our minds, erodes our souls, shrinks our imaginations, and compromises our relationships. We must remain connected—to each other by interacting in the “outernet,” and to our precious planet by tending gardens, riding bikes, walking, and wandering in the wild.
Most importantly, we must fight the zombies in our own minds and hearts by working to change our own unconscious programming and destructive habits, eradicate our own greed and selfishness, and enlarge our unique human capacities for self-reflection and compassion. We must not let the zombies dehumanize us. We must fight the living dead by remaining fully alive and awake.
Look within. The gifts you find there will be the weapons you will use during the Zombie Apocalypse. How will you survive?