(Awesome image of zombie me by Joseph Hewitt of Ataraxia Theatre and the originator of the cool RPG Gearhead Check out my fellow bloggers to see their zombie pix! I wonder if New Society would let me use this as my book jacket photo for the new book?)
As all of you obviously know, July 1 is International Zombie Day – celebrated around the world by the zombifying oneself, posting brain recipes, strategies for fightin’ em off, etc… Well, ok, it is kind of a new, science-blogs-only-holiday so far (credit for the idea goes to Scicurious!), but following the stunning success of international talk like a pirate day, I’m assuming that the major media will pick it up any time now.
And you know here, well, I’m the queen of zombie avoidance strategies (although they don’t seem to have worked well today, do they?). In fact, on my blog, zombies are so ubiquitous that I didn’t actually even have to create a category “zombies” – we already had one.
‘Round these parts “when the zombies come” is code for “when the real problems come, but let’s not make ourselves nuts.” And since we all know that zombies are the one difficult part of our future that we are probably *not* literally facing (more on this in a second), they make a useful metaphor for the real. Not to mention that zombies are awesome.
(I admit, as long as I am free to ramble wildly through zombie-related tangents, that I am painfully jealous of Seth Grahame-Smith for thinking of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” before me. I feel a compelling urge to steal his idea and write a terribly derivative “Canterbury Tales and Zombies” or at least eat his brain in vengeance. I wonder if this is just exactly what T.S. Eliot meant when he said “Immature poets borrow. Mature poets steal.” And does stealing an idea from someone who stole it from Jane Austen make me a mature poet, an immature poet, or a zombie poet? These are the kind of important questions we try to provide you with answers for at Casaubon’s Book (title also stolen from a great novelist, thus proving my genius) – or at least we obscure the fact that we haven’t answered them by nattering on a while. Who is we? Yet another unanswered question by a mature zombie poet.)
Anyway, on the subject of whether you have to prepare for actual zombies, above I suggested you did not. And in a literally “horrible undead things devouring your brain” sense, you can probably skip that. But I do want to raise the semi-serious (it is a real issue, but there’s only so serious one can be when writing the word “zombie” over and over again) issue of a real zombie problem that all of us are going to be facing for a long time to come. Zombie institutions and zombie infrastructure.
If you take the word “zombie” to mean something that is no longer living functionally in any meaningful sense, but has become an agent of destruction, we now have a real problem. Because almost every bit of our infrastructure and the major institutions that serve us are, in many ways, zombie institutions. They depend heavily on fossil fuels that we neither will have in abundant supply, nor can burn if we want a human-habitable planet. They presume growth and increases in wealth, and make all their planning assumptions on the idea that things will get back to a normal of unfettered use of resources and endless growth. These zombies can hurt us.
One of the central challenges of adapting, then, to our new zombified reality, and to thriving within it will be figuring out which institutions can be saved and turned into non-zombie institutions and resources that enable our future, which ones must be destroyed, and which ones can be bypassed and ignored entirely. And since much of this work involves lots of meetings, fundraising and organizational restructuring, I think it is both wise and urgent to conceive this as *exactly like* fighting zombies – you either avoid them, kill them or fix them. Think of it as a video game, and you can sit through the meeting on your local anti-poverty agency’s strategic planning, or your public school’s way of dealing with busing issues in a crisis.
Every major thing we rely on is going to have to be adjusted – how will schools work productively, preparing kids to be useful citizens in a changing world, with changing expectations? How will we put the nails in the coffins, literally, of the private car and begin shifting our tremendous investment in highways into investments in public transport? How will we begin adapting our system to bear the realities of much greater poverty and unemployment. These are jobs all of us have to do in every community, less we be destroyed by the zombie institutions around us.
How many people get to live in a zombie-fighting video game for real? It would, of course, be more fun if the tools of our trade were less good listening, organizing, fundraising and showing up and more uzis and axes, but hey, you can’t have everything. Get out there and fight those zombies! Use those brains while they are uneaten!