5 Reasons the Zombie Apocalypse is a Prevailing Metaphor for Our Times

Myth and metaphor play an important role in constructing our culture and creating purpose in our lives. They are tools that help the subconscious mind to digest the happenings of a world that is too complex for our five senses alone. The poet uses these tools to arouse you. The screenwriter uses them to amuse you.

When we hear tales of Homer and his Odyssey we also receive cues we need to uncover the strength and perseverance required to face personal challenges. When we follow Ahab on his journey against the white whale, we are shown, in metaphor, the perils of our own intensely burning fires of vengeance and obsession, and thus warned on a deep level of the folly of allowing one’s lowest nature to dominate the higher self.

But, well beyond the tales of Ahab and Homer, we have today the widespread proliferation of the modern Zombie tale, one of the prevailing metaphor for our times.

A Zombie is an animated corpse. A walking, un-dead lunatic. A former person, now devoid of the qualities we all know as explicitly human, such as compassion, logic, love, awareness, self-preservation and so on. The Zombie is a soulless animated human cadaver inhabited only by some of our lowest capacities and cravings. A Zombie drools and spits, mindlessly walking into peril with absolute disregard. Robotically driven to cannibalize and feast on the living, the Zombie is only capable of committing acts of violence or acts of stupidity. The Zombie is born of witchcraft, chemistry or disease and is hopelessly beyond reform. A Zombie is nearly unconscious. Hypnotized. Dumb. Deadly.

But the hero has his ways as well. As the myth of the Zombie goes, there is always some unsuspecting survivor watching the world spiral from civility to Zombie apocalypse in a short period of time. For the remainder of the tale, an orgy of entertaining and righteous violence ensues, until a king of the slaughterhouse is crowned and our half-wit hero stands proud atop the pile of gore that once was his community, neighbors, family, fellow man and so on. Total insanity.

Insanity Resonates

So what is it about this myth that makes it so resonant in today’s world? Why do more people show up for Zombie make-believe night in the local park than show up to an anti-war rally? What does the myth of the mindlessly violent zombie invasion tell us about ourselves?

Nearly Unconscious Plebs on the Loose

Human consciousness is variable. A child is aware only of his immediate needs and surroundings, and a wise old sage is considerate of the self, plant and animal life, and even the cosmos above. But the majority of so-called adults operate within a state of awareness that rarely breaches the boundaries of their personal worlds.

We witness today a massive disconnect between our desires and the effects of those desires. On a micro level, most are wholly engrossed in personal dramas, portable devices and the satiation of cravings. For the greater world, carved up by tribalism and nationalism, and managed by conflicting interests, it is clear that, en masse, people are wildly unaware of the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life on planet Earth.

An Army of the Undead

Record numbers of people, including children, regularly take medications and mind-altering pharmaceuticals for one reason or another. And if you don’t have a prescription, you still receive hefty doses of this garbage from our contaminated water supplies and from food produced with contaminated ingredients. These drugs pollute the natural faculties of the mind and alter one’s personality, often making one numb to the emotional realities of life.

Television, for many, is an all day/all night affair. It doesn’t matter if you watch The Discovery Channel or Jerry Springer, the brain reacts the same; by slipping into a low alpha state, growing groggy and slow, mushy, suggestible and reptilian. The effects of watching programming on the boob tube are dastardly mind numbing.

We are also a heavily poisoned society and there seems to be no reprieve in sight for the degradation of our environment. GMO’s, nuclear power, vaccines, water fluoridation, depleted uranium, chemtrails, arrogant oil barons and a grotesque addiction to plastics, are all signs that our respect for life is near zilch. Living in a world so stressed out by toxicity can feel like being dead already. And this course is a guaranteed death sentence for all, given sufficient time.

Hypnotized Automatons

Individuality is being erased as more and more people succumb to the hypnotic indulgences of a poisoned, consumer-driven, media-controlled way of life. Group think is at an all-time high in America, and watching people cheer and whinny by the thousands over a political campaign or a sporting match is like nervously watching the advance of a drooling Zombie army.

Hypnotic and entranced, far too many people follow orders and obey ridiculous rules, laws and regulations. Observing an airport security line is a fine example. Does Grandma really need to be felt up to ensure a safe flight? Of course not, but the TSA agent was told to do so, and the people witnessing were told to do nothing about it and so a passerby from a sane universe might have to wonder what nefarious witch’s spell is making all these people carry on mindlessly with such humiliating affairs.

Even the means by which most of us earn our daily bread has become so mundane and automatic that we might as well be Zombies. The trek to the office, spending most of the day and most of the week performing tasks and tricks for someone else. The neck-ties, the 401k’s, 4% annual raises, company handbooks, pee-in-a-cup exams and all that…

We have been trained, or be-crooked, into defining ourselves and self-worth by our jobs, belying our natural human tendency to desire freedom and individualism.

Violence, Violence, and More Bloody Violence

From the top down, our society is trained to resolve issues with violence. The government leads the way and sets the tone by forcing upon us a punitive system where all infractions are punishable by fines, imprisonment, death, or worse. Even something as benign as selling raw milk can result in an armed police raid. And with the modernization of warfare and a bottomless public budget for fancy tools of death, there really is no end to the government’s capacity to kill and destroy. We are all in the crosshairs now.

And as above, so below, as the populous is whipped into a frenzy of cage fights, random street beatings, school massacres, drug wars and road rages. Our preferred sources of entertainment masterfully and ceaselessly plant these powerful auto-suggestions into our minds. Creativity in violence is the order of the day.

Every Cannibal for Himself

It is evident that millions upon millions of Americans are stocking up in preparation of a societal collapse scenario. Fine enough, but sadly the emphasis is broadly on self-defense rather than community defense, or better yet, community prosperity. People have somehow concluded that if everyone else is dead, things will be all right.

Even pre-collapse, we see how citizens are already turning against each other in thought and deed. People are falling victim to the fearful suggestions of a police state, submitting more and more readily to the notion that to be safe, one must do harm to others. Now we are being prodded to report suspicious things to uniformed ‘authorities’ and obey every dehumanizing order given from the dropout, riot-cop enforcement class, no matter how degrading.

Most significantly, though, people willingly turn a blind eye to the injustices perpetrated by government. The prison population balloons with non-violent ‘criminals’ while the wars, ‘collateral damage’ and ‘civilian casualties’ continue unabated after a good ten-plus-year orgy of death from above. With no effective protest movement for any cause, the Zombified masses don’t seem to really care what happens to their fellow man.

In The End

When civilizations start to die, they go insane. Let the air, soil, and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged. We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony.

The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death. It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress. The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression – which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide.

When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology. Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical.

The war on the Native Americans, like the wars waged by colonialists around the globe, was waged to eradicate not only a people but a competing ethic. The older form of human community was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the primacy of the technological state and the demands of empire.

But something essential to human dignity and independence was lost with the destruction of pre-modern societies.

Seventeenth century European philosophy and the Enlightenment, meanwhile, exalted the separation of human beings from the natural world, a belief also embraced by the Bible. The natural world, along with those pre-modern cultures that lived in harmony with it, was seen by the industrial society of the Enlightenment as worthy only of exploitation. Descartes argued, for example, that the fullest exploitation of matter to any use was the duty of humankind. The wilderness became, in the religious language of the Puritans, satanic. It had to be Christianized and subdued. The implantation of the technical order resulted, as Richard Slotkin writes in Regeneration Through Violence, in the primacy of “the western man-on-the-make, the speculator, and the wildcat banker.” Davy Crockett and, later, George Armstrong Custer, Slotkin notes, became “national heroes by defining national aspiration in terms of so many bears destroyed, so much land preempted, so many trees hacked down, so many Indians and Mexicans dead in the dust.”

The demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate consumption, senseless exploitation and industrial growth is now imploding. Corporate hustlers are as blind to the ramifications of their self-destructive fury as were Custer, the gold speculators and the railroad magnates. They seized Indian land, killed off its inhabitants, slaughtered the buffalo herds and cut down the forests. Their heirs wage war throughout the Middle East, pollute the seas and water systems, foul the air and soil and gamble with commodities as half the globe sinks into abject poverty and misery.

The conflation of technological advancement with human progress led to self-worship. Reason makes possible the calculations, science and technological advances of industrial civilization, but reason does not connect us with the forces of life. A society that loses the capacity for the sacred, that lacks the power of human imagination, that cannot practice empathy, ultimately ensures its own destruction. The Native Americans understood there are powers and forces we can never control and must honor. They knew, as did the ancient Greeks, that hubris is the deadliest curse of the human race. This is a lesson that we will have to learn for ourselves at the cost of tremendous suffering.

All that concerns itself with beauty and truth, with those forces that have the power to transform us, has been extinguished by our corporate state. Art. Education. Literature. Music. Theater. Dance. Poetry. Philosophy. Religion. Journalism. None of these disciplines are worthy in the corporate state of support or compensation. These are pursuits that, even in our universities, are condemned as impractical. It is our very souls that the culture of imperialism, business and technology has crushed.

Walter Benjamin argued that state capitalism is not only a formation “conditioned by religion,” but is an “essentially religious phenomenon,” albeit one that no longer seeks to connect humans with the mysterious forces of life. State capitalism, as Benjamin observed, called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and futile quest for money and goods. This quest, he warned, perpetuates a culture dominated by guilt, a sense of inadequacy and self-loathing. It enslaves nearly all its adherents through wages, subservience to the commodity culture and debt peonage. The suffering visited on Native Americans, once Western expansion was complete, was soon endured by others—in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The final chapter of this sad experiment in human history will see us sacrificed as those on the outer reaches of empire were sacrificed. There is a kind of justice to this. We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name, and now that the game is up we all go down together.

Societal reinforcement of a popular myth is an indication that said story strikes a resonant chord with the many, containing widely felt truths. In this way, our greatest and most told legends and myths reveal to us the contents of our collective subconscious mind, the things that otherwise may be too awkward, too misunderstood or too obvious to express literally.

Addendum

Zombies are the new vampires in the entertainment world, but unlike pop culture vampires, they don’t sparkle, they aren’t sexy and brooding, and you don’t want to turn into one.

The most popular show in cable TV history is The Walking Dead. Dozens, if not hundreds, of zombies are slain in every episode.  Head shots are taken with no more compunction than swatting as mosquito before it lands on your arm. An axe to the skull, a pick through an eye socket, blunt objects, arrows, daggers – anything goes. What’s more, it doesn’t matter if the zombie is a man, woman or child – it must be killed immediately as it staggers hungrily towards you.

Even the US military is getting into the spirit of the Zombie Apocalypse, holding mock disaster drills with the shuffling horde as the enemy.

It’s all in the name of fun, right? Simply entertainment and anyone who says otherwise needs to lighten up, right?

Perhaps not – perhaps we need to take a look at psychological experiments undertaken in the last century to determine whether the Zombie craze is just a big psychological experiment being perpetrated on us.

In 1971, a 2 week experiment was funded by the US Office of Naval Research to study the effects of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard. A mock prison was set up at Stanford University, and 24 students took part in the experiment, half taking on the roles of prisoners and the other half, guards in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.

The situation escalated quickly into a cycle of abuse and torture. The psychological reactions were so dramatic that the study was suddenly halted on day 6. Out of more than 50 people who had observed the experiment, one graduate student finally objected to the abuse and torture.

This experiment proved how fragile the human resistance is to wrong-doing under stressful situations, and how quickly people who are normally considered to be “moral” and “mentally stable” can digress to behavior that is both sadistic and repugnant when that behavior is considered normal for the circumstances.

This occurs because of a behavioral theory called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance (a phrase coined in the book When Prophecy Fails, by Dr. Leon  Festinger) describes the mental discomfort that a person feels when faced with two diverse values – the reality of a situation and the moral belief system of the person collide. When this occurs, the person must make alterations to one or the other in order to regain his equilibrium. According to Dr. Festinger theory, “people engage in a process he termed “dissonance reduction”, which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.”

So, using the theories of cognitive dissonance and predictive programming, we can understand that through popular culture, any mass of crazed, violent, hungry people may be considered no longer human. Members of the military, police forces and guards can distance themselves from violent actions by reprogramming their moral compasses and aligning them with the adjusted reality that it’s okay to kill women and children and the hungry, because they are sub-human. They are to be dispatched quickly and efficiently to quell chaos and return to a more comfortable situation.

We are being pre-conditioned by the entertainment industry to accept death on levels so massive that they make concentration camp videos look like a Disney movie.

We are being pre-conditioned to accept the inevitable scenes of death that will be flooding our evening news, so that we won’t object when we watch these real-life incidents of mass extermination. We are being socially programmed to find the unacceptable to be a matter-of-fact, everyday occurrence when we watch an axe be delivered to the head of a dirty, hungry, feral child. Forget racism – we are being taught a new kind of bias – the categorization of someone terrified and hungry as something less human than us – a threat to be enthusiastically destroyed without remorse.

During the 1950s, Solomon Ashe conducted a series of experiments on conformity. The conclusion of the experiments was that

“Self-categorization theory suggests that our individual functioning at any given moment is dependent on whether or not we categorize ourselves as similar or different from groups. When we see ourselves as similar to a group, we engage in depersonalization, a key concept in self-categorization theory. Depersonalization is when individuals see themselves as embodying the social category of the group rather than their own personal identities. Therefore, from this perspective the Asch results are interpreted as an outcome of depersonalization processes whereby the participants expect to hold the same incorrect opinions as others in the “group.”

It’s a lot harder to brainwash people who know they are subject to manipulation. By your very awareness of the motives behind entertainment and media patterns, you can protect yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be mindlessly “entertained” by death and violence – don’t allow this to become the social norm. When/if you watch things like this, do so with an engaged mind – don’t be a passive recipient.

Fight the cognitive dissonance by thinking critically and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable with the reality being forced upon you by the media. That’s what taking the red pill is all about.

Dylan Charles