Zombie Prophet

If you are worried about what you see in our culture: the moral relativism, rampant consumerism, and the marginalization of religious ideas and institutions—and religious ways of interpreting life, the world and everything.  If you are concerned about the loss of meaning and the other results of a general turn from God, then you need to know that you have a powerful ally—the zombie horde. The zombies are on your side. They are challenging some foundational cultural assumption and beliefs that lie at the root of secularism. I’m not suggesting that we can shape the zombie into some object lesson to promulgate a Christian agenda. We don’t have to shape it to critique secular society, it’s doing it already —and doing it beautifully. Ok, not beautifully . . . it’s doing it hideously. The zombie is a creation of our culture made to critique our culture–and it wasn’t deliberate.  Monsters never are.  They show up when they sense a weakness.  The weakness that has attracted them is, on a cultural level, that we aren’t convinced that we are who we thought we were.  We thought materialism was the next natural step in human development.  Collectively we now wonder if this is true.  The zombies are an embodiment of this doubt.

We just need to listen to the critique. Christians will find that the zombie critique overlaps with the Christian critique of culture.

Seen this way, zombies are a powerful apologetic for a more Biblical view of reality.

But perhaps I over-stated my case when I said that the zombies are on our side. Sure, they challenge modern secular society about its basic beliefs, but as residents of this society Christians have strayed a little toward the secular, a little too much, perhaps. The zombies, then, will perhaps challenge the way Christians live out our faith. The walking dead could be thought prophets in that they have much to tell us, and we’d be wise to listen.

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Leningrad Cemetery, Winter 1941 — A poem about zombies?

So you don’t like poetry?  Give this one a chance, not because the author has won several prestigious awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award.  Not because she is one of the leading voices in contemporary poetry.  And not because she’s got incredible range, writing about anything from family to political events.  Give this poem a chance because in it Sharon Olds is getting at the same thing that zombie movies are getting at.  And it’s not simply that the setting for the poem is a graveyard.

On September 8, 1941, the German Army encircled the city of Leningrad (modern-day St. Petersburg).  They were in a hurry to get to Moscow, so they simply besieged the city so as to starve it into submission.  The siege lasted almost two and a half years.  It is estimated that a million city residents lost their lives.

Here’s the poem:

Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941

That winter, the dead could not be buried.
The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger,
the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with
something
and taken on a child’s sled to a cemetery
in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil,
some of them wrapped in dark cloth
bound with rope like the tree’s ball of roots
when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets,
their pale, gauze, tapered shapes
stiff as cocoons that will split down the center
when the new life inside is prepared;
but most lay like corpses, their coverings
coming undone, naked calves
hard as corded wood spilling
from under a cloak, a hand reaching out
with no sign of peace, wanting to come back
even to the bread made of glue and sawdust,
even to the icy winter and the siege.

You will notice that there are two kinds of corpses in this poem.  The first kind is described using two different similes–“like the tree’s ball of roots/when it waits to be planted” and “stiff as cocoons that will split down the center/ when the new life inside is prepared.”   The second kind of corpse, the majority, “lay like corpses.”

The key difference between the two kinds of corpses is in the similes.  The tree’s ball of roots and the cocoon expect to be planted and to “split down the center when the new life is prepared,” respectively.  They have a future hope.  The other corpses, “lay like corpses.”  This looks like a simile, but it’s not; its the literal and brutal truth–for these, there is no hope after death.  This is why they do not rest in peace.  The symbolic “hand reaching out” is desperate for life because this life is all there is.

Zombie narratives present this same idea to the viewing audience.  Zombies are a response to the fairly new idea that this life is all their is.  This is why, in the classic zombie films, a group of survivors that are desperate to survive–they will do anything.   I wonder if the desire for survival is also present symbolically in the undead as well–does their animation communicate the same desire as the symbolic hand in the poem?  Life of any kind, is better than oblivion in a materialist universe.

 

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The God of Abraham

lucilleOf course I watched the season 7 premier of The Walking Dead to find out whose head got smashed with Lucille, in last season’s finale.  I expected Abraham because he’s too much of a soldier; Rick and company need to be vulnerable in the face of Negan.  I was also prepared for Glen because he gets it in the comic books.  However, I was not ready to lose both.  It was intense emotionally, and gory visually.  My twitter feed was full of indignant fans who said, “This time they went too far!”

Maybe they did, but that’s not what I was thinking about as the credits ran.

I was thinking about the event that actually broke Rick, the event that broke the viewing audience, THE central event of the episode that changes the trajectory of the show–I was thinking about the near-amputation of Carl’s arm by his own father, called off by Negan at the last second.

This is an obvious allusion to Genesis 22 where God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and . . .  sacrifice him . . . as a burnt offering.”  Abraham obediently took Isaac to the place designated for the sacrifice. Isaac, ignorant of the plan,  asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice.  Abraham was evasive and answered that the Lord would provide the lamb. Once they arrived at the site, Abraham bound Isaac with ropes and put him on the stone altar.

Negan makes the same demand on Rick–“Sacrifice your son!” or at least, permanently maim him.  It seems as if we are expected to interpret this scene in The Walking Dead, in the light of Genesis 22, so here’s some background.

In Hebrew  culture, the first born belongs to God; Yaweh (the Hebrew name for God) has a claim on the first born as representative of the family (Exodus 22, Numbers 3 and 8) — the firstborn’s life is forfeit.

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Exodus 22:29-30)

A foundational premise in The Walking Dead, the ancient Hebrews also understood that people were generally guilty of evil, either overtly or in their heart–usually both.  The first born, as the representative of the family, bore the guilt of the entire family and belonged to God as payment for this moral debt.  God’s demand of the sacrifice of Isaac was simply a calling in of the debt.  That’s how Abraham took it anyway.

So Negan is in the position of God, Rick in that of Abraham and Carl, Isaac.  It might be said that Rick and his “family” of survivors, owes Negan.  In season 6, Rick and a number of Alexandrians carried out a pre-emptive attack on Negan’s people, the Saviors.  The reason for the attack is that the Saviors were extorting supplies from the peaceful Hilltop community and Rick expects them to eventually do the same to his Alexandria community, so he proposes the attack.  Morgan, assuming the role of moral conscience, opposes the idea.

As evil as the Saviors are, we ought to have been a little disturbed by the nocturnal attack.  Rick walks into a room and finds a guy sleeping, and he silently presses a knife into his head. The guy never wakes up. This silent execution is repeated by Glenn and Heath.  They admit to each other than they have never killed a living human being. Heath can’t do it, Glenn murders both in their sleep.  The entire Savior outpost is whipped out in two episodes.  And we see our heroes do some very questionable things.  They aren’t comfortable with them.  Carol even leaves the community because she can no longer handle the guilt of these events.

Negan has been wronged and, like the Hebrew God, is simply calling in the debt.  In the ancient, eye-for-an-eye legal code, he has a right to an arm and a life–this is his declared purpose for killing one of Rick’s people–which turns out to be two.  Both Glen and Abraham were a part of this clandestine first strike on the Saviors.

Although the Abraham of the Bible would have been distressed by the loss of his son, sacrificing Isaac was also an act of giving God his due, but Abraham’s blow never falls on his son.  Before he can carry out the sacrifice, angel of the Lord calls out “Stop.”

The demand for Carl’s arm, and the sudden and unexpected revocation of that demand solidly correlates Negan to Yaweh.  So what is the point of this allusion?

Is it meant to draw a comparison between the harsh demands of the God of the Old Testament?  If this is the case, the writers missed some pretty important elements of the story.  Immediately after the biblical Abraham is commanded to stop the sacrifice,

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  (Genesis 22:13)

God himself provided the alternate sacrifice.  The ram functions as a substitute for the first born who is himself a substitute for Abraham’s family.  Christians draw a parallel between the ram and Christ who dies on the Roman cross as a replacement for sinners.  It’s a story where Grace is at the centre. The God of the Bible transfers the punishment for humanity’s moral failings upon himself.  It seems to me, in order to understand this pivotal scene in TWD, we need to look for the substitute, after all, Carl doesn’t lose his arm.   What is sacrificed in it’s place?  Rick’s strength or defiance is destroyed.  Negan can see it in his eyes; Rick is broken.

Negan’s method to achieve Rick’s submission to his will is coercion. Negan threatens to destroy Rick’s whole “family” if he doesn’t comply.  God, as represented in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, does not use force.  Although many elements of The Walking Dead’s season premiere and the story in Genesis 22, and the Gospels is similar, this difference is absolutely key.

To illustrate:  Imagine Negan making that whole season 6 finale speech that somebody must die.  And he does the “eeny meeny miny moe” thing, and then stops and says,

You are guilty and all deserve death for what you did to my people and what you’ve done to others since the dead began to walk.  Rick, don’t you know that human beings were made to do wonderful things in the world.  Yeah I know, the zombies complicate things, but they are no excuse.  You got distracted from that purpose, Rick.  And then you killed people.  And I am pissed about that Rick, and someone is going to die because of all the bad stuff you’ve done.

And then he nods and they bring a ram into the circle and smashes its head with Lucille, and they all sit down to a dinner of roast lamb.

A New Testament version would end with:

Remember Rick.  You and your people, all people actually, you were made to thrive, not just to survive.  I want you to get back on track Rick, start thriving.–because I love you Rick.

The allusion breaks down because Negan isn’t comparable to God regarding righteousness.  Negan is far from righteous.  Rick has paid for his sins against Negan with the deaths of Abraham and Glen, but, to use biblical language, Negan is still piling condemnation upon himself.

I don’ think the writers of the show are trying to make some statement on the Old Testament God.  I think they are making a statement on guilt–Rick’s guilt, and that of his band of survivors.  In the world of The Walking Dead, our group of would be survivors might just be a new chosen people, who are called to return to humanity’s purpose.  To thrive in the world despite the zombies.  I am hoping that the allusion to the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac plays out with a form of redemption for Rick and the rest of the “family” as they seek their lost humanity.

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Zombies, Ghetto and Human Goodness

WP_20160807_12_52_09_RawThe Walking Dead explores human nature and, like almost all other zombie narratives, it too suggests a simple reality: take away the blessings of civilization and people turn bad.  Even the good people do terrible things–zombie stories then ask the question, “Are they still good?”

There’s quite a bit of evidence that human beings are naturally evil–watch the evening news or read the comments on pretty much any post where someone offers an opinion.  But there’s also quite a bit of evidence that people are basically good. Everyone knows lots of people who are good and not too many who are bad–bank robbers and such.  I know lots of people who are good too.

I picked up a book in Warsaw at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  The book contains excerpts from The Ringelblum Archive, a collection of documents and testimonies collected by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his team of researchers between September 1939 and January 1943.  Dr. Ringelblum did not survive, but his collection did.

In one interview a man named Aron Einhorn says,

It is difficult to say whether this moral swamp which we see around us nowadays is the result of the abnormal conditions prevailing in the ghetto, or whether the ghetto uncovered that which had previously been covered up, masked.

He goes on to describe this “moral swamp” of thefts, looting, cheating, cruelty, indifference, oppression, and WP_20160804_16_57_37_Raw corruption.

The ghetto was filled with a large proportion of people who used to be good.  They were good because they had homes, clothing, food and hope.  Many had money, respect, freedom and safety.  It’s easy to be “good” when you have these things.  When these things were taken from them, or at least became scarce, their true nature came out to the surface.

When I look around my community, I see a lot of good people.  I also see a lot of people who have homes, clothing, food, safety and hope.  Many have money, respect and freedom.  But are they really good?

Am I really good?  If I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear and self-centeredness slithering around inside me.  As I walked within the area that was once the Warsaw Ghetto and stood at the sight where the residents of the ghetto were put on trains bound for Treblinka, I wondered what I would have done if I had lived there in 1942.  I’d like to think I would have been good, but there’s a very good chance I would not have impressed Aron Einhorn.

WP_20160807_12_53_10_Raw

The only remnant of the wall that surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

If the Bible is right, we are naturally evil, and we will be judged accordingly.  What people don’t realize is that we will not be judged by what we’ve done.  It’s not what we do that is the issue, it’s who we are.  What I would have done had I lived in the Warsaw Ghetto is a much better indicator of who I really am, than living in my townhouse near a lovely golf course.  I will be judged for who I am.

This is pretty scary,  but if the Bible is right, there’s also some good news; the best news.  It’s been arranged that, if you want, you can judged as if your very nature were perfect and someone else will take the judgement that you deserve.  You need only ask him to take your place.

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Zombies and Rituals

Zombie ritualBoth routines and rituals involve a regular repetition of some action.

But they are very different.

Routines can flatten life: contribute to zombification.  Rituals can thicken life and reverse zombification.

Routines are like ordinary time and rituals are linked with “higher times.”

With a routine there is a clear, linear connection between the act and the purpose of the act. The routine of brushing your teeth is performed so that you have clean, healthy teeth. The “double-tap” routine, illustrated in the movie Zombieland, has a clear link to its purpose–making sure a downed zombie stays down. There is no more meaning in a routine than the desired outcome.

A ritual does not have this clear relationship between the act and its purpose. The purpose of a handshake, or fist bump or whatever it is the kids are doing these days, has nothing to do with the touching of hands.  You don’t carve a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat onto the handle of your pistol because of its aesthetic appeal.

The meaning and purpose of a ritual transcends the action itself.

In some circles it is a given that we must avoid “mindless rituals.” Notice that the basis of this censure is that it is non-rational. This preferment of the mind over all other aspects of being human still dominates the Western world. The thing about rituals is that they are fundamentally not about the mind–they are supposed to be mindless. Does shaking hands when we greet someone make any rational sense? Rituals train us in ways much deeper than the mind, deeper than the emotions even. They train and transform our essence, precisely because we do them over and over again. And it’s not with our minds that we repeat rituals, but with our bodies.

James K. A. Smith says in this book Desiring the Kingdom, that rituals aren’t just things we do, they are things that do something to us. He says we’ve got it all wrong when we think that humans are primarily rational beings, rather, we are desiring beings. Descartes was wrong with his conclusion, “I think therefore I am.” Smith says, “I love therefore I am.” Rituals get at the core of who we are, through out bodies. If you must watch “The Talking Dead” with a Bud Lite Lime every Sunday night, you are embodying a devotion not just to a television, but a community of “Walking Dead” lovers.   This simple ritual of watching The Talking Dead, shapes your identity, and it “thickens” experience in the world as it connects a person to a community.  This is kinda cool.  Unfortunately, because of the choice of beer, this ritual ultimately degrades the individual.  It shows a mindless dedication the efficiencies of mass production.  Bud Lite Lime is to beer what a zombie is to a human being.

We engage in functional, but empty routines all day long. I wonder if we can’t elevate some of these to the level of ritual.

I think I just leave the brushing of my teeth as a routine, but there are some interesting possibilities for ritualizing my morning coffee.

 

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Zombies and Styrofoam Cups

Coffee 1Do you choose to drink your morning coffee our of a Styrofoam cup?

To cure the zombies we need a dose of objective Reality.

We have this idea, in the Modern West, that meaning is in the mind–the individual mind. The logic being: It has to be, because it can’t be anywhere else. We start with this assumption and are forced to the conclusion. But what if the assumption is all wrong.

The Greeks used to think meaning was external–in creation–in the logos. Judeo-Christianity also taught that meaning was external–it’s source in the transcendent God. In the recent past, we made a couple of optional turns in our thinking and end up assuming that meaning lies within us as individuals–meaning, indeed reality, is subjective–this is subjectivism.  Subjectivism is one of the contributing factors to our fear of zombies.

It’s as hard to disprove this foundational assumption of subjectivism as it is to prove it, but we can look at where this view takes us in the end, and perhaps draw some conclusions.

Do you choose to drink your morning coffee our of a Styrofoam cup? I don’t know anyone who would. The coffee itself doesn’t taste any different, but the experience is, for some reason, inferior. It sucks to drink coffee out of Styrofoam. My grandfather, it is said, refused to drink coffee out of a clear-class cup–I’m with him, but glass is better than the paper cups we get from Starbucks and nothing is as good as a ceramic one. This may be a universal experience.

I think tea drinkers are even more aware of this principle–the mug matters.

There is meaning in the mug.

I don’t subjectively decide one vessel is superior to the other for the consumption of hot beverages, it’s an objective truth and it lies in the mug itself. These objective qualities that make one mug superior to another is not simply a matter of practical considerations, although these are important; if the vessel it too large, or the walls too thin, the beverage will cool too quickly. There is inherent value in the mug itself that most enhances the consumption of its contents. This has to do with blending of a host of qualities, not the least of which is tactile. That point at which its physicality encounters my own. A mug is more than a mug, the physical thing, in the same way, although perhaps to a lesser degree, that I am more than a physical thing.

Perhaps the mug is magic?

If the mug is just a mug, then the drinker is just a drinker. When we devalue the world of objects, we also devalue ourselves.

If you sense that you are more than a resource, than a thing that has value only for its utility, then perhaps you are in no immediate danger in becoming a zombie.  If you want immunity, start by seeing the inherent value in your coffee cup.

When the world is flattened, we become flattened.

So part of the cure for the modern malaise is the recovery of objective reality.

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Zombies and Time

Time and DespairWe modern folks have a very modern view of time. Having emptied time of transcendence, we think of it as mere chronology or sequence. Still, this sequence can be viewed optimistically; in our culture we tend to find meaning in time in terms of human progress. Zombies challenge this optimism and represent a darker view of time in the absence of higher things. This darker view can result in despair.  The kind of time that causes despair, that’s “zombie time.”

This is the way Maneck a character in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry understands time.  This is not a zombie novel, but, at least with respect to time, it gets at some of the conditions necessary for the zombie infestation.

Time and its relationship to meaning is woven through the novel, most often through the words and musings of this young man. For instance, there is the idea that life is essentially tragic because it is embedded in sequential time:

Our lives are but a sequence of accidents–a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call LIFE.

Why does Maneck see life as tragic and time as meaningless? It’s because for him there is no God who is active in his creation. He has this conversation with landlady, Dina:

‘God is dead,’ said Maneck. ‘That’s what a German philosopher wrote.’

She was shocked. ‘Trust the Germans to say such things,’ she frowned. ‘And do you believe it?’

‘I used to. But now I prefer to think that God is a giant quilt maker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it.’

In the novel, we find reflections on the nature of time as we experience it–no minute is like another minute. Where I find this a piece of an argument for meaning in time, Maneck ends up using the same phenomenon as evidence against meaning:

What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.

On his return home after the spreading of his father’s ashes, Maneck sits on the porch and begins

escorting a hose of memories through his troubled mind.” His mother’s interruption of his thoughts irritated him “as though he could have recaptured, reconstructed, redeemed those happy times if only he had been given long enough.” While he sits in the deepening dusk he spies a lizard. “He hated its shape, its colour, its ugly snout. The manner in which it flicked its evil tongue. Its ruthless way of swallowing flies. The way time swallowed human efforts and joy. Time, the ultimate grandmaster that could never be checkmated. There was no way out of its distended belly. He wanted to destroy the loathsome creature.

In a world where God does not exist, or has gone far away, if we are to find meaning in time we must find it someplace else. Some will find all attempts to find meaning under these conditions impossible. They, like Maneck, may despair.

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Zombies Never Have Birthday Parties

Zombies are, in part, a product of our view of time.  We understand time to be sequential.  Of course there is a sequential dimension to time, but is this the only way we experience time?

I don’t think so.  Let me illustrate:

Is today (January 28, 2016) closer to

A) January 27, 2016

or

B) January 28, 1986?

The obvious answer is A), because we almost always think of time as sequential, but for the friends and family of the five astronauts and two payload specialists that died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on this date in 1986, the answer would likely be B). LambI watched the launch of the Challenger with my grade 8 and 9 students. We watched for a few hours after as we tried to understand how this could have happened. This was a meaningful event. Chronologically, yesterday is closer to today, but if meaning is our standard, at least for some people, today is closer to this date 30 years ago than was yesterday.

It’s the same with birthdays, anniversaries. Each of these is a step out of sequential time where the present moment moves closer to a past event.

Rituals are a part of this conversation as well.  By repetition we connect a present moment with a past moment.   I always watch the Super Bowl with the same group of guys while eating Buffalo wings wearing my Seattle Seahawks shirt.  These ritualized activities link this February to many previous Februaries.  By this standard these events are closer in time, not closer in chronological time, shall we say, kairotic time.

Religious rituals are particularly powerful in warding off the infections of the undead.  These bend time by centuries.

Lamb6The Jewish Passover commemorates the salvation of the Hebrew people from the Angel of Death–a substitute lamb died instead.  This event contained echoes of Abraham killing a ram instead of his son 500 years before that.  The Christian Communion commemorates also commemorates the death of Jesus Christ, aka: “The Lamb of God” who died in place of all people.  All these rituals celebrate the bloody death of a helpless victim, who died instead of someone who deserved it.  The ritual celebration of Communion in 2016, loops back 2000 years to the first Communion, which was a celebration of the Passover meal, the first of which was 1500 years before that.  Those who eat and drink the wine and bread of Communion stand in the convergence of these three events.

I have this theory that some people are much more immune to spontaneous zombification.  Religious people fall into this category, in part, because through the celebration of rituals, they do not conceive of time as meaningless and mechanical.

Not religious?  You can at least start with birthday parties!

 

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Zombies and Progress

The above quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. I don’t think it’s true. For one thing, I don’t think it is necessarily the most dangerous phrase — others are more dangerous. For instance, “because we’ve always done it this way, let’s try something else” would be more dangerous when applied to walking into dark unknown places without listening for the dry sucking zombie respirations. Sometimes the way we’ve always done things is the best way to do it.

That’s the way it is with sayings; they aren’t universally true, but they communicate a truth.

Hopper’s saying resonates particularly with Westerners because we love change. We tend to equate change with progress. We believe that new ways are better than old ways.

We believe time is structured by progress.

Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.

Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy. In one episode, Diomedes has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear throw that severs the braggart’s tongue. Aeneas attempts to recover Pandarus’ body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.” The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than the men alive in their time, and not only in terms of physical strength.

The modern story, however, believes that our times are better than previous times. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the conversion of knowledge to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.

Check out this Radio Shack flyer from twenty-five years ago. The author of the accompanying article points out that the function of almost every item from the coolest page in the newspaper in 1990 is now on the phone in my pocket. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.

It is progress, but only in two categories. Progress in scientific knowledge and technological power is not the same as cultural or moral development. In these we’ve not progressed at all; human beings remain the same. The problem is that our scientific knowledge and technological power do not make us better, they only increase the effects of what we do–whether that be good or evil.

Human cultural and moral progress is a myth.

People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved.’

The nugget of truth in this saying, uttered by Agent Colson, in the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., is that time is not structured by progress. C. S. Lewis agrees:

“The idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. ”

— (“The World’s Last Night”)

The zombies apocalypse suggest to us that this faith in progress might be misplaced.

For one thing, in the zombie apocalypse, most of our technology is useless.  Once the gas and the canned beans run out we’re stuck back in the stone age.  This idea that progress is inevitable is a myth and the zombies force us to face this truth.

The zombie itself further debunks the progress myth.  We’ve gotten this idea that humanity is always progressing.  Evolution tells us so.  But every zombie movie shows us that the next evolutionary step for humanity is the zombie–I’d say that’s a bit of a backwards step.

It appears that we are progressing technologically and to some extent politically, but we are going no where morally.  Under the pressure of the zombie infestations, humans become more of a threat to each other than are the zombies.

We are certainly progressing technologically, and we are moving steadily toward a more free, open, liberal or tolerant society. But make no mistake, humanity is making no progress culturally, politically or morally. Nor will we–ever.

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Zombie Burger

zombie BurgerMy three most memorable hamburgers are: 1) the Kobe Beef Burger that I eat at the Issaquah Brew Pub every spring with my gaming buddies. 2. The burger I ate at Norma’s in Lacey, Washington, was by no means a gourmet burger, but it tasted great and had that 1950’s diner flavour to it. 3. This past summer I ate at a hamburger joint off the highway in Redding, California: Bartel’s Giant Burger. It too was a great burger–it was fast, served in a paper basket, but it was one of my most memorable burgers. All three of these burgers are very good and all three are very different.

Then there’s the approach to the hamburger that McDonald pioneered. No matter where you eat your burger, it will be exactly the same. This approach was obviously extremely popular and many Americans came to accept the idea that difference in hamburgers is a bad thing.  Not many are aware that this approach is one of the factors that promulgate a zombie infestation.

Zombies are, in part, the application of the “sameness is good, difference is bad” principle to the human race.  Aside from minor differences in dress and degree of decomposition, zombies are the same because the locus of difference has been obliterated.  Significant human difference is rooted in brains, minds, consciousness, emotions, hearts, souls or wherever, and the zombie has none of these–in fact, in large part the defining characteristic of the zombie is the absence of this seat of difference.

Hamburgers aren’t the only site of this force of zombification–we see it in the beer industry as well.  Since the lifting of prohibition we were forced to drink just one kind of beer, the American Adjunct Lager. It’s fizzy, light bodied, has low bitterness and thin malts. This beer was made for mass production and consumption, not flavour–thank goodness that’s changed–if you want, you can get a wide variety of locally breed craft beers all over North America.  So if you want to counter the forces leading to the apocalypse, drink craft beer.

The story of beer suggests that there is some resistance to the homogenization of experience, but we are still all too comfortable with sameness. It used to be that all coffee was the same–cheap, industrial and zombie. In general, our culture is moving away from this crappy coffee, and that’s a good thing, but the forces of sameness are still at work on us. Starbucks is the same whether you are in Seattle or Spain. A lot of people think this is a good thing–it’s called the Starbucks Experience.  But it still contributes to zombie culture–it’s just that the zombies are wearing nicer clothes.  Of course I don’t want a bad coffee experience, but this is not the same thing has having a different coffee experience.

If we homogenize our experiences there is a greater likelihood that we will avoid a disappointing experience, but we will just as certainly avoided an a surprising one.  Zombies are never disappointed, but that doesn’t mean I want to be one.

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