Sunday, May 17, 2015

We're Not All Zombies & We've Always All Been Zombies

In We're All Zombies, Robert Bonomo writes about (1) how zombies are popular, and (2) how they're popular because we're mindless consumers who can't support ourselves. Bonomo offers a rather traditional article, in the sense that he discusses how previous generations of humans wrongly thought that sky was falling, but how they were self-sufficient, lived off the land, understood their technology, and were therefore filled with purpose, while modern humans have recently lost purpose while simultaneously discovering that the sky is actually falling this time for reals yo.

Lots of fun things suggest themselves. Firstly, the recursive marveling at "the zombie phenomenon," which is one of those quixotically undiscovered aspects of postmodern omnipresence, wherein everything is both new and and old. In The Ancient Battle Against the Undead, we discussed how conceptions of stories about undeath were not fantasies based upon our repressed psychological fears, but rather, culturally encoded warnings meant to prohibit very real, tangible, objectively falsifiable behavior patterns, such as the correlation between sickness, warfare, and life extension techniques. In Classic Necro Pr0n, we covered the thousands-of-years-old history of zombie stories, which extend deeper into the Terran past than printing or writing.

Bonomo hits all of the popular prepper memes, right down to discussing preppers themselves. One of his telling blindnesses--and thank you again, dear Michael--is the "willing consumerism" parable he foists on the great unwashes masses of the proletariat (in which he graciously includes himself):
Our craving for money is really the craving for the work of others, for the sweat and blood of millions to furnish us with unlimited amounts of food and consumer goods.
Here again I'll cite Dr. Dawson's article on the linguistics of the term "consumer," to remind us that, emphasis mine:
But do we roll our cars off cliffs to see them explode? Do we scramble to pour our just-bought beverages out in the grocer’s parking lot? Do we rush home to smash our appliances with sledgehammers, then burn the sledgehammers in our fireplaces, then allow fire to burn down our houses, all to maximize our destruction — our consumption — of goods?

Of course we don’t. We gas and fix our cars, cap and refrigerate our un-drunk beverages, and care for our homes and appliances until upgrade becomes possible or further repair becomes irrational or impossible. In general, we work hard to maintain the products we acquire and use. Whenever possible, we strive to counteract product wear and tear, which is ordinarily an unintended, costly, and regretted consequence of our product usage, not its goal. Usefulness, pleasure, longevity, and cost minimization are our normal goals as product users. Consumption, the final using up of a product, is almost never our intention.
The pre-Nazi German parenting trope of children as "useless eaters" or "shitting eaters" comes to mind here, too--that's how the creditor-priests see "us," in the sense of us being consumers, rather than they (producers, a.k.a. those who oversee our production for ourselves on their behalf). Bonomo's dutiful assignation of "desire to consume" to the world's laboring billions--who want very much to not use up the things they want/need--is indicative of analytical failure. Sure, when I'm forced to suffer through the odd episode of The Walking Dead, I, too, want nothing so much as for the zombies to eat up the terrible morons who pass for main "characters," and let the show come to an end. And yet, one supposes that the majority of its viewers are more interested in the character dynamics of the humans who try to survive the deadly onslaught.

The creators of the original Walking Dead comic, and the editors of the current television show, are not ones sufficiently strong to address the issue well; they discovered the idea of zombie apocalypse, and wrote about it, but they didn't really understand it, which is why it is taking them years and millions in order to begin to contemplate possibly someday forming a committee to potentially address the question of whether or not to fund a taskforce that might be charged with the possibility of analyzing the feasibility of proposing brainstorming sessions to discuss a multitude of topics, one of which could conceivably be how the zombie plague originated. These excited people simply picked up an idea and created part of a story without understanding the whole; it's possible they'll come up with a tokenly anti-Monsanto spinoff explaining something they never understood from the beginning, but highly unlikely that they'll take the time to learn what actually makes undead and how to necessarily craft such a world.

No, we're not all zombies. Zombie myths, and zombie apocalypses, aren't a modern obsession; bad movies and television shows about them, though, are--but that's only because of cathode ray tubes and the like, combined with western illiteracy, Orientalism, and the belief that Vedic culture didn't exist, while European culture was novel. The reasons our predecessors created zombie myths were to warn us what would happen if we allowed necromancers to take worldly resources and build undying abominations. As Charles Dickens tried to warn us about how Victorian bourgeois ladies' associations would result in fourth-wave feminism, it wasn't a warning we were keen to heed; ergo the Gates Foundation will soon patent your stem cells.

For what it's worth, though, if we all were zombies, there wouldn't be anything new about it. Bonomo does the usual lament of how we "don't grow our own food," and are therefore doomed, to whit:
Modern man is almost entirely without out any practical skills. He doesn’t know how to grow food, hunt animals or build a house. He uses all sorts of electronic tools whose core technologies he doesn’t really understand and which he doesn’t have the slightest idea how to fix.

This set of circumstances is a recent development in human history, beginning in the 18th century and growing exponentially in the last 30 years during the information revolution. We are helpless slaves to technologies we don’t understand and to media that programs us to believe all sorts of propaganda designed to keep us from actually thinking critically.
Ooh, scary! A recent development! The sky is falling! Time to hit Costco for a 120 day supply of 2000 calorie nutritionally balanced meals, so that in case Putin nukes Boston, I can get in my sailboat and read old copies of Locke's Second Treatise for 120 days before I make land and get gang-raped by a team of cybernetic Hell's Angels trying to repopulate the Earth.

This kind of warning is the inverse of Better Than Kings of Old, in which we pretend not that the ancients had it so much worse than us, but that they also, paradoxically, had it better. After all, they could grow their own food, right? So they could survive?

Um, no. Prehistorical human agriculture still required groups of humans. Humans have been evolving socially 'round these parts for at least ten thousand years, and it's not reasonable to assume that single farm families (let alone individuals) in most of the world are going to be able to freehold-survivalist themselves past the apocalypse, whether they are 8th century Gaul herders or 21st century day traders. People of Yore had plenty of the infirm, elderly, toddling kinds of people, who couldn't survive on their own under any circumstances, and they had plenty of weak or injured people. They had irrigation problems, plowing problems, animal husbandry problems, tool problems, et cetera. A farmer with a basic knowledge of blacksmithing still didn't have access to the ore he needed to repair his plows, and without a steel plow, he would have to revert to more pliable alloys, or friggin' stone, and he'd also have to be a tanner to know how to thong the stone to the wood to harness it to the plow animal. So even if we had some real Renaissance man--sorry, pre-Renaissance man--living in a temperate climate with great rainfall (to remove the problem of maintaining irrigation channels), he's not going to be able to sustainably farm throughout even a single lifetime without also becoming a miner. And becoming a miner is its own issue, and it takes a lot of manpower and/or dynamite and/or heavy machinery (which latter pair also take a lot of manpower to do a lot of).

The way people got around these issues, being so small and weak, was through society, and they've depended on it for tens of thousands of years. Sure, medieval farmers knew more about fields than modern day traders, but without somewhat-organized populations of somewhat-sizable size, they would be just as likely to die off in some kind of supply-chain apocalypse.

"What if the grocery store stopped having food in it?" Yeah, that's scary, but so is, "What if your ox got sick and the trader didn't come through next season"? Well, you could buy one from your neighbor...fine, well, what if all the oxen in that region got sick? It's the same problem--humans have been living with the logical fear of a social apocalypse for as long as they've needed society to survive. There's no particular reason to be more envious of some "self-sufficient" farmer in ye olden days than there is to be terrified of being one. The magical state these people are yearning for--where they don't need to rely on other people or things in order to live--is everdeath, where isolation is total and permanent. Existence implies togetherness, and so too does life around these parts require it.

You think the division of labor is new? People love to squawk about how we don't understand how our cars and computers work, but one of the great tasks of social organizers of old--the bourgeois before the bourgeois--was to fill society with little "mysteries of trade" that justified reliance on managers. The medieval peasantry was often as ignorant of one another's trades as we are today. E.g., it's easy, in a sense, to learn most of what your doctor, lawyer, accountant, schoolteacher, grocery clerk, truck driver, police officer, and agricultural worker do. It's also easy to learn a little bit of smithing, tanning, grooming, and agriculture.

It's not "easy" like "youtube easy," but it's "easy" like, if every kid took a couple years of basic education in these things in their early teens, most adults would have a generalized grasp of the concepts. You're not supposed to know that, but the military knows it, and they have cute manuals that they use to teach non-college-educated field medics the bulk of what trauma teams, dentists, etc. do professionally. That doesn't mean they know everything, but they know a good deal toward the "survival" side of the equation. Many South American countries, incidentally, have dental technicians who perform cleanings, checkups, and fillings, without college or dentistry degrees--and plenty of westerners go there for cheap work. The quality is just the same, or even better, because people who just "do fillings" can often do way better at it than some little overachieving white kid who spent an additional two and a half years learning about orthodontics, jaw cancers, and small practice management in order to get a fancy degree.

If the shit hit the fan in medieval times, at least all the able-bodied men would be able to hunt, right? Well, how long do you think that would last, while every other able-bodied man was hunting and trapping ferociously in an attempt to provide for his family? That's right--about as long as it would take for a post-apocalypse crowd to peacefully clean out a Costco before the bullets started flying. Game animals were readily available in feudal Europe because people were actively engaged in nurturing and eating livestock. Absent that livestock, and the trade patterns and social networking that supported its sustenance, wild game would've been about as reliable as the delivery trucks at your local grocer. Hunting, gathering, and living off the land required careful environmental husbandry done in coordination with other groups of humans, or else overfishing and overhunting could spoil everything for everyone, and a region could die off in a few years. Medieval kings made it a mortal offense to trespass on their private hunting grounds, which they kept stocked not only for sport, but in the equivalent of a Congressional nuclear-war bunker filled with baked beans and freeze-dried steak dinners. Private game preserves are the old-world fallout shelters, owned by the same kinds of assholes who now fantasize about reading comic books and eating homegrown tomatoes while everyone else is dead.

Tech-critics like to talk about solar panels and local farms, but how about restocking game? Solar panels require copper and steel or plastics that have to be mined and/or maintained, farms discriminate against the differently-abled who can't work them, but animals support themselves--and sometimes, they drop dead, leaving behind meat that can be harvested and cooked by the wheelchair-bound. Let's have an initiative to release hundreds of thousands of deer and cougar into San Francisco as part of a sustainable green initiative.

Aww fuck. Why'd all the green activists get so quiet all of a sudden?

Anyway, my dears, don't get afraid when people tell you that you can't survive as well as farmers of yore. Or at least, don't get any more afraid than were people of yore.

6 comments:

  1. I'm about halfway through this, but got to the point of the oldness of the implicit fear of social apocalypse. I think there are two points to emphasize here:

    - though correct in a technical sense, humans have demonstrated much lesser degree of explicit awareness that "society" exists.

    - more important, related to the "this time is different trope", in one important way this time it really is different: the modern social sciences (politology, sociology) appeared precisely when the world of politics and society become separated from the melting molassess of traditional societies when everyghing was basically one thing into which people got embedded at birth, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    There is one pretty prominent Russian thinker (contemporary) - Andrey Fursov - who makes an important point that should be obvious in retrospect, but wasn't for me: these disciplines NO LONGER HAVE AN OBJECT OF STUDY. Both politics and society literally disappear, and are supplanted almost entirely by an 'undead machinery' that soon will micro-manage the smallest aspect of life and will literally kill you if you deviate. Because, ya know - machines like people to be predictable. If people are not predictable, machines get angry and kill them.

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    Replies
    1. Social sciences are damned adaptive. Fursov's observations only make it all the more imperative that at least twelve State universities send out calls for papers and convene conferences to determine the sociopolitical consequences of polities and societies that no longer have either. (Use the right font on the letterhead, and you'll have 100 papers to review by July.)

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  2. Toynbee, Naisbitt & Asimov
    Toffler, Popcorn & Horx

    The hooker strove to get him off
    but found nothing that works

    The John perused his psyche
    the cobwebs therein a hurdle

    "Young lass, I'd find it mighty
    if at least you'd remove the girdle."

    Downstairs in a velvety reception
    the Madame spoke to her clients

    "Remember our workers' deception--
    they must treat you all as Giants."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wheelchair users, not wheelchair bound.

    I mean, unless you want to piss the wheelchair users off.

    ReplyDelete