The Primate Diaries

i-c8b11fcc2499e135c43c2e2a192e8a61-cautionzombies.gifAs I highlighted in my previous post, evolution works on zombies just like any other organism, the main difference is that they reproduce like cells rather than like animals. Darwin’s discovery that zombies pass on hereditary material in their bites, and that this has resulted in natural selection, helps to explain the diversity of zombies now before us. Below are a few of the main strategies that an evolutionary understanding can bring to counter the marauding hordes of decomposing evil that now threaten to overwhelm us.

#1 – Don’t get bitten. Okay, this is a no-brainer (pun intended). But the basic fact of evolution is that without reproduction there’s no selection pressure. We’ve gone from the lumbering drones known as Zumbi romero to superzombie killing machines in the form of Z. crimsoni in just thirty years. This means that too many zombies have been getting through our defenses. Protect yourself. Make sure your bunkers are air tight and only travel in groups. Wear thick clothing, gloves, as well as helmets whenever you’re outside (you can also use cut up blankets and duct tape for additional protection). Also make sure you work together so no one gets left behind to become infected (see numbers 4 – 6 below).

#2 – Attack the big zombies first. Because zombies reproduce horizontally by infecting a host, we should eliminate those viral genes that promote increased size to the recently undead (see Z. nemesi in the previous post as an example). This process has been demonstrated among living species. In 2003 it was reported that, because of overfishing and preferentially harvesting large fish, the average size of fish had been reduced significantly. The advice from the researchers was for commercial fishing operations to release the largest fish that turn up in their nets. Our approach should be just the opposite. Certainly decapitate any zombie that breaks into your fortress, but when going on zombie hunting raids focus your energies on taking down the largest zombies you can. This also goes for the fast ones. By eliminating those gene variants from the population we can help to slow the most dangerous menace we face.

#3 – Use monoculture to our advantage. Biodiversity is the living world’s protection against parasitism and disease and it’s also useful for the undead. The invention of sex was most likely a mechanism to “shuffle the genetic deck” so that an offspring had a different genetic makeup from their parents. A disease adapted for one individual was much less likely to be able to take out two generations at the same time. In an example closer to home, because of the foolishness that gave rise to ever larger concentrations of our agricultural products into fewer and fewer companies, we now understand the importance of biodiversity (afterall, when a third of the nation’s spinach crop becomes contaminated with E. coli you know something’s wrong). We can use that system in reverse to reduce the threat of rampaging zombies. In addition to targeting the large and fast zombies first, make sure to kill all members of a species wherever possible to eliminate that genetic diversity. Genocide is only a crime against humanity, the undead are exempt. If all we have left are legions of Z. romero wandering about bumping into walls, there’s a much higher chance that researchers can develop an anti-virus to wipe them all out in one fell swoop. Or we can put them to work at Wal-Mart.

But many of us will be unable to directly challenge these creatures and will need to resort to defensive tactics. Popular choices are inside homes with boarded up windows, shopping malls, and top floor apartments in a high rise building (but by all means stay out of pubs with large, easily breakable front windows). Fortunately evolutionary thinkers have some advice on how to make best use of your dire circumstances and promote groups that work together to repel this menace.

#4 – Stay close to your relatives. William Hamilton’s theory of kin selection found that species tend to cooperate best with their close relatives. This is probably why clan affiliation among non-industrial peoples around the world is largely based on ties through kinship networks. When your bunker is ambushed by screaming monsters intending to feast on your grey matter, you can’t afford a situation where it’s every man for himself. If kin networks promote altruism, use that to your advantage. Connect with other families and be wary of lone travelers until they’ve demonstrated their trustworthiness and willingness to defend the group as a whole.

#5 – Foster cooperation and group cohesion. Let’s face it, if all of your family members have been turned into slobbering ghouls who want to eat you, things aren’t going so well. Your best option is to join a group and work together as a team to defend against the undead onslaught. A great tactic is to think like vampire bats (fight ghouls with the ghoulish, right?). Based on Robert Trivers’ theory of reciprocal altruism, members of a species will cooperate more when they’ve seen other members of their group cooperate in the past. This was applied to vampire bats and it was discovered that individuals will be much more likely to regurgitate blood into another bats’ mouth when they went hungry one night if that same bat had done the same thing for them. A similar concept has been shown in rats through a process known as generalized reciprocity. Helping other members of your group will increase the chances that someone will help you, even if you haven’t helped them before. It operates on the “pay it forward” principle. Since you’re all refugees in the zombie wars, in a group of cooperative strangers it pays to be cooperative yourself.

#6 – Punish cheaters. There’s always going to be free riders who take more food than they deserve or who don’t pull their weight nailing planks over the exposed windows. They need to be made an example of. A mathematical model by Robert Boyd, Herbert Gintis, and Samuel Bowles found that cooperation can thrive if enough people work together to punish a member that isn’t contributing. Remember, this punishment doesn’t have to be severe. Even organized verbal denunciations from the group can be enough to promote cooperation (from the individual in question and from those watching who were tempted themselves).

These are, of course, long term strategies. But that’s the way evolution operates. We don’t know how long this threat will plague us so it’s best we consider options for the long hual. Good luck out there, and keep an eye out behind you.

Comments

  1. #1 Passerby
    July 9, 2010

    Not sure where this fits into your Zombie theories, but today, I saw mention of Zombie Sunspots.

    ‘ An active region is emerging over the sun’s northeastern limb. It appears to be the remains of old sunspot 1082, but unlike a genuine corpse, these remains are animated. The region is crackling with low-level solar flares’.

    http://www.spaceweather.com/
    July 9 entry.

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