The Philosophy of Hell


Zombie FriendsJean Paul Sartre notoriously said, “Hell is other people.” Terry Eagleton counters, “It is exactly the opposite. It is being stuck for all eternity with the most dreary, unspeakably monotonous company of all: oneself.”

It’s not too much of a stretch if I say that there is something hellish about the zombie.  The tagline from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was “When hell is full the dead will walk the earth,” after all.

As I’ve argued previously, that the zombie monster attack our understanding of ourselves as individuals by absorbing us into the horde.  The zombie horde is a hyperbolic comment on the radical individualism that dominates out culture.   In this context, it seems as if Sartre is arguing that the zombie apocalypse is heaven.  Eagleton quite correctly disagrees–focusing inward, to the self, is to experience hell.

C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape, an expert on the subject of Hell, supports Eagleton’s positions when he tells his demonic nephew Wormwood

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. “To be” means “to be in competition”.

Human beings, it seems, were made for each other.  We are happy when we are with other human beings, and although it’s sometimes nice to have some alone time, we are made for cooperation.  The most extreme form of cooperation is self-sacrifice–this is what parents do for children, and what, ideally, husbands do for wives and vice versa.

At least part of the cure for zombies, then, is to resist the radical individualism–the philosophy of hell–that spawns them and instead, live by the principle that the “good of one self is to be the good of another.”

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