Howzzat for a subtle segue into a “Skeptics Collection” post? I have a personal interest in zombies, because I am a big fan of the literature of zombie-apocalypse – “ZA” or “Zulu-Alpha” for hard-core aficionados. I watch the TV series The Walking Dead – whose title initially led me to believe it was a documentary on the Tea Party movement, until I found out better … and realized after the first episode that my original interpretation was not all that wrong – and Z-Nation (which I understand will return to the Sci-Fi Channel sometime in the fall). (If you are not familiar with the latter, run-don’t-walk and watch it when it returns.) I also like stories of the ZA, especially the seldom-equaled and never-excelled Arisen series: eight novels and two prequels (from different points of view) that require an unsettlingly modest suspension of disbelief. But really good ZA fiction is also unsettling because it can be a disturbingly accurate metaphor for several aspects of popular culture and politics.
And economics. A little over a month ago, Paul Krugman, professor of economics at Princeton and a recent Nobel Prize winner in that field, wrote a brilliant New York Times column on zombie economics. In that column, he critiqued Republicans’ persistent inability to actually see reality, and to credit the statistics and hard data that substantiate it. He said that Republicans, in order to humiliate themselves sufficiently before their ideological and financial constituencies, prefer instead to continue talking in terms of assertions and beliefs that, long discredited, should be dead, but that, like the animated corpses from Night of the Living Dead, continue shambling about the political landscape. Now, as an economist, I am a wonderful hairdresser. Not once, when I was single, did I ever succeed in balancing my checkbook. (My wife does it now.) I have stopped waiting for the tsunami of inflation to overtake the Nation as a result of the $800 billion spent to pull the economy back from the naked singularity, much as I stopped waiting long before that for the Second Advent. Both the Second Coming of Weimar Germany and the Second Coming of Christ lost credibility with me by reason of indefinite postponement. Ditto the job losses supposedly to be eventuated by Obamacare. Ditto the exponential increase in health-insurance premiums, which were supposed to be somewhere beyond the Oort Cloud by now. But peace … I have neither Prof. Krugman’s professional chops nor his academic sheepskins. Least of all his Nobel Prize. So maybe I am wrong on all counts. Maybe Prof. Krugman is, too. Maybe the zombies will have the last word, after all – once they learn to talk.
I am a pretty damn good historian. And I have a pretty damn good memory. Finally, I have a pretty damn good ability to spot patterns. So I have more credibility when I call your attention to the following members of the Undead Community …
o … nation building
President Johnson sends 50,000 troops to Vietnam in order to fight off the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and therefore buy time to stand up the indigenous Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to fight for their own nation … which indigenous force promptly folds faster than an origami master when the North reneges on the Paris peace accords a few days after President Nixon resigns and Gerald Ford assumes the Presidency. Sic transit gloria mundi!
George W. Bush orders the invasion of Afghanistan in order to stamp out the Taliban, find bin Laden, and evangelize for democracy and capitalism. A few years later, elements of the Afghani army and police are shooting at Americans, and the Afghani government's writ extends only to the outskirts of Kabul … and is sometimes questionable even then.
George W. Bush orders the invasion of Iraq in order to … I give you three guesses. Notwithstanding, when facing the insurgency, Iraqi soldiers throw down their weapons, take off their uniforms, and in the latest debacle in Ramadi – despite outnumbering the opposing ISIS force more than 10 to 1 – run away.
Is it just me … or did someone forget to shoot the zombie called "nation-building" in the brain stem?
o … environmental denial
I read a story this morning to the effect that, by the year 2100, all the glaciers on the slopes of Mt. Everest would be gone. This supplements the evidence of the unprecedented drought in southern California – and the once-in-a-century cold and snow the Northeast and New England experienced this past winter. The fabled 97 percent of climate scientists who support the conclusion of anthropogenic – human-caused – climate change has become a cliché by now, but is no less true for all that. Yet Congress continues to listen to climate-change deniers like John Christy, whose methodologically discredited “study” of climate change was the only testimony by a professional climatologist allowed before the Committee on Natural Resources. But at least Christy did research, however fatally flawed. Rep. James Imhofe, himself a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil-fuel industry, substituted a snowball for science altogether in order to refute climate change. Perhaps the next step will be Imhofe substituting a baseball for the snowball, and playing scratch softball with the climate-change denial zombie and his cousins, the Koch brothers. The evidence on climate change is overwhelming, but the contrarian zombies keep moaning and stumbling and biting nonetheless. Wonder who's on first.
o … vaccinations and autism
In some ways, this is the most remarkable zombie of all, not because it is any less absurd, but because the “anti-vaxx” zombie has apparently bitten people who ought to know better, e.g., well-educated, high-income, politically / socially liberal people in places like Orange County, CA. Referencing as their secular Bible a now-withdrawn and –repudiated 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet that has been even further discredited in a recent book The Panic Virus, the anti-vaxx zombie seduces people to the belief that they have no obligation to act responsibly toward others with whom they live in community, and that, by refusing vaccinations, they may legitimately choose to turn their kids into tiny biological weapons that will inflict the consequences of that choice on others. Zombie-ism can be spread by the thoughtless and juvenile moral sense of parents no less effectively than by a bite.
All the above instances are traceable to a common cause: zombies are spawned and exist because human beings abdicate their own rationality, paid for in the coin of 4.5 billion years of evolutionary time, preferring to ignore the actual information presented by the Universe in favor of fealty to some financial or power interest or to some ideology they regard as more important and compelling than mere bourgeois facts and evidence. When we believe that, because of "American exceptionalism" or whatever, we can create entire economies, entire political cultures, and entire political and social institutions by fiat of the mere expenditure of seven and eight digits' worth of money, and when we cling to that belief in the face of massive countervailing evidence ... we cede power to zombies. When we ignore overwhelming scientific evidence of impending environmental catastrophe in favor of religious beliefs and favored treatment by various elites ... we cede power to zombies. When we stare 150 years of evidence in the face supporting evolution and choose instead to believe in supernatural, rather than natural, origins for the Universe -- and especially when we attempt to propagate that belief in the educational system by replacing legitimate science with the mouldering mutterings of a middle-Bronze-Age religious text ... we cede power to zombies. When we believe that the choices we make for ourselves and our families are isolated from the consequences for other people, because we exist simply as a Nation Of One ... we cede power to zombies.
At that point, it is not the zombies who are brain-dead. We are.
James R. Cowles