Zombie Sunday (on Thursday night) 3


Originally posted at TPM-aholics:


Good morning, children.  Today we’re going to talk about one of our favorite topics: The zombie-ridden post-apocalypse.




We’re not talking the classic Haitian voudou zombi here, as described by Harvard researcher Wade Davis in “The Serpent and The Rainbow” as an individual placed in a pharmacologically induced catatonic state.


We’re talking about the shuffling undead brain-eaters characterized in pop culture, beginning with George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and leading all the way to the recent mashup novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”.


We’re looking at the post-apocalypse of Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” (a favorite for many years, and the novel I’d most like to make into a feature film) and Walter Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (another great work of speculative post-apocalyptic dystopia) as our setting.


OK, OK, so I can see it as you read this: “Why?”  Or more likely, “For the love of God, why this?”


It’s because I read stuff.  And this morning, I was reading an article from the excellent Canadian aggregator The Mark: How to Thrive in Our Zombie World.


Mark Kuznicki makes an interesting argument therein.  He begins with a citation of William Gibson’s quote: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”


His argument begins thus:


In places around the world, normal life and the institutions that support it have already collapsed. And we’re not just talking about Africa or the Middle East. We’re also talking about the developed North. Within the evacuation zone of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, recovery is probably a generation away. In Detroit, a 25 per cent population decline over the past decade calls for the city to shrink. There are some bold ideas circulating about returning parts of the city to wilderness or farmland. This is post-apocalypse in the heartland of the American industrial age.


We’re seeing drastic dislocation, massive disruption, failures of industries, institutions, and infrastructures, and a general sense that the ground has shifted and things are no longer as we thought they were.


It’s all true.  And I’ll let you muse on that in your own time.


Done?  Good, let’s move on.


Kuznicki does, as part of his article, make a couple very good points about post-apocalyptic zombie-world life, excerpted here:


Those from the fundamentalist tradition of apocalyptic Christian belief warn us to “repent, for the end is nigh,” but they are missing the point. The world as we know it has already ended. We’re past the point of no return, and look around: I don’t see any evidence of the Rapture anywhere.




Once we realize that the world has ended but that life continues, we will adapt, and we will rebuild. Belief that the end is nigh, or that the world can be restored so that it once again exists as it did before, are ideas that disable action because they make our desired goals seem impossible, and our actions futile. Humans have always found ways to adapt to changing environments, but we cannot do this if our mental models are out of touch with the realities of our environment.




So, in order for life and civilization to thrive again, do we first need to understand that we’re already beyond the apocalypse? Maybe the revolution we need is first and foremost a revolution of thought – a new way of making sense of our world, and of accepting the true nature of 21st-century life.


Clearly, what we’re most in need of is first, the realization that things are not as they (never really) were, and next, that we do have the chance, if we’re propelled by the right sort of vision, to remake things in better ways.  Our opponents are not the Republicans, not the teabaggers, not the fundamentalists, at least not entirely.  Our real opposition is the idea of restoration, of return, of having reached limits – the defeatist mentality that tries to tell us that the only thing left is to extract what remaining wealth there is and squander it on our few remaining moments, in order to go out with a bang and leave behind monuments to our former power far more massive than those of ancient Rome.


That’s bullshit.


That’s Shelley’s Ozymandias:


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away”.


We’re better than that, or at least we can be.  I don’t have the answers, or even some of the questions, all I know is that what we’ve done so far shows promise but is not, in the parlance of that wretched TV show, a “final answer” to anything.




After a birthday party. 2

I attended a birthday party recently for a wonderful 6-year-old son of friends.  Lots of people, both family and friends, lots of merrymaking, seemingly endless amounts of both good food and conversation, and things went well into the night.

He’s a great kid – talented, imaginative, and fun.  Maybe sometimes I get him a bit overwound but his parents love to see him enjoying himself and no harm gets done.  He even brought me up short that day, when I told him I thought he was a cool little guy.  He looked at me, grinned, said “Cool big guy!” and laughed.  So did I, and I had to agree with him.  He’s 6, after all.  He gets to be a big guy now if he wants.

They’re wonderful people themselves, his parents.  Kind, generous, always determined to feed everyone within an inch of being unable to breathe and then send them home with leftovers, and that great, fun, lively 6-year-old is their unending joy.

He’s also a living, breathing gesture, no, a stand, a stand of defiance.  Something of them will outlive them, and go forward into a whole new world.

Why a stand of defiance, you might ask?

They’re Cambodian.  Both of them survived Pol Pot.

Dessert’s done.  Time for the spinach.

When people must bend in the service of an ideology, Pol Pot happens.  As do Pinochet, Stalin, Mao, bin Laden, the Crusades, Hitler, and more.

The particular ideology, in fact, doesn’t mean nearly as much as the belief that it must be implemented no matter the price.

No less a historical figure than Joshua bar-Joseph opined in his wisdom that “The law was made for man, not man for the law!” and that remains a universal truth ignored only at the cost of untold lives.  Sadly, many of his adherents – who cannot among themselves agree on a correct understanding of that wisdom, at the cost of many more lives – seek to implement various laws they believe man made for.  (See “Crusades, the” as mentioned above.)

It’s far more important to see that people’s needs are met than to be “pure” in any particular idealism.  And that requires understanding some things.

First, let’s look at the concept that we all do better when we all do better.  I would turn here to the late, wonderful Chicago Daily News/Sun-Times op-ed columnist, Sydney J. Harris, who opined in an essay that most people fail miserably when asked to define their own best interest, feeling that it was purely their immediate benefit, when in reality it was that which extended the farthest around them, because it did not set them apart, rather, it integrated them more thoroughly into the social fabric.

Societies benefits, as observers going back to de Tocqueville have noted, from the stabilizing influence of the middle class – those who have a stake in, and participate in, society and thus stand to benefit when those around them do well, and feel the adverse impact when they do not.

Self-interest is a noted shibboleth among the Libertarians.  It’s the very core of Ayn Rand’s (barely readable) “literature” and perhaps the most poorly understood notion among that cohort.  Their perception of self-interest extends only to themselves, or if they’re particularly – and uncharacteristically – generous, their families.  This ignores the very real damage done to society by resentments borne of inequities of opportunity, to say nothing of the potential wasted thereby.

More will follow in time.  I am not a rapid writer when it comes to such things.

For the fun of it… 3

I referred to this in an earlier post.

There is something in the psyche of those who either willingly inflict, or allow others to inflict, suffering on others.

They enjoy it. What other possible explanation can there be? The people who demand that what little still remains of the “safety net” be shredded and burned simply have to enjoy the misery of others.

We see more of this with the apologists for torture. Here it is complicated by the apparent willingness to enjoy it at a distance, though I suspect most who champion the practice would never stoop to dirtying their own hands with the blood of others, never assault their own eardrums with the pained screams of their victims, never want to bear the memories of having done any of it themselves, they merely want the feeling of superiority that arises from being able to inflict the carefully metered doses of suffering, rationalizing it all the while in the name of their shibboleth of the moment.

As an aside, one of the more horrifying moments I’ve experienced came one morning on the road, acting as a location guide for a feature film. We were in a small city in Middle America, having breakfast after getting our sunrise beauty shots, and as we awaited our eggs we were treated to the revolting sounds of someone at a nearby table going into a sociopathic level of detail about the physical damage he’d like to inflict on the children of suspects, in their presence.

There was little if any point to commenting, nothing was going to change the mind of this character – a typical Midwestern nobody, of course, who would never get close enough to the situation to do any such thing, and knew it all along. Most likely it was something said to build up his status in the minds of his companions.

As we left, I asked the rest of our small crew about their reactions. We were all dumbfounded. Nothing in any of our minds could have brought any of us to the point where we’d consider anything of the sort.

Now, to return to the original point…

It’s a common enough thing to read, in the comments section of a news story on any social program, posts left by the self-styled “fiscally responsible” sorts who are willing to do just about anything to anyone (short of themselves, of course!) to shave a few bucks off any relevant budget. Most of them fulminate about “handouts” and “layabouts” while going into mind-numbing detail about the imagined transgressions of those who, in most cases, are simply less fortunate, and genuinely in need of some sorts of assistance.

It’s all nonsense.

The true nature of the supposed Libertarian is that of the sociopath. No one else matters. So it’s easy, even enjoyable, to deprive others, in order to accrue more wealth.

The part I genuinely don’t get is the people who will never achieve anything remotely resembling wealth in their own lives taking similar positions, even as they themselves get skinned by those they support.

That’s why all I’m left with at the end of it is the feeling that it’s pure sadism.

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be 2

Note: This is taken from TPM-aholics, where it originated.




What do we want 2050 to look like?

We know a few things already.

It will be more crowded.  Estimates put us somewhere north of 9 billion people worldwide.  Maybe 14 billion by the end of the century.  I might make it to see the 9 billion, unappealing as that sounds.  The 14 billion, well, I’m glad I’ll be long gone for that.

Some nations will be much older, others will be younger.

It will be warmer.  Whether temperature increases stay steady, accelerate, or slow, they will continue for the foreseeable future.  As will weather instability, as we have seen in the last few months.

It might well be drier, and that’s not a good thing, as water is the one thing we absolutely, positively cannot live without.

Let’s leave the global aside for a moment and look at the national – and maybe even closer.

There are two main possible directions for the future.  One is to continue along the increasing corporatization of America, until we begin to resemble something akin to an electronicized feudal state, where ownership of most of the economy is concentrated in the hands of a very few, with the great numbers of people having almost no say or stake in anything.  This is the Libertarians’ ideal, of course, though many of their adherents are foolish enough to believe that they’ll somehow be on the ownership side of the fence.

They won’t.

They’re cannon fodder to the people really pulling the strings.  And they’ll resist that truth to the last breath.

Or we can set about reclaiming the concept of a public good, redefining ourselves in terms of a society rather than simply an economy, and relegating all religious discussion to its rightful place in the private sphere.

Something to work for, don’t you think?

What if that goal was even such a simple notion as that there is no good reason for anyone to have to go to bed hungry, or to not have a bed to go hungry to, or even a roof overhead?  That there is no good reason for a child to grow to adulthood unschooled?  That everyone having basic health care is a huge social positive in many more ways than there are room to list here?

We live in a society.  An economy is just a component of that society, and those who confuse the two shortchange not only this society, they also shortchange themselves.

It would appear that the choice is fairly clear – stark, even.  On the one hand, we can live in Rand Paul’s dreamland, an electronicized Somalia, with no functioning government to speak of and a tiny, cosseted elite exploiting everyone else for fun (more on this in the future) and profit, or we can change direction and realize that we will indeed do better if we all do better.

So, what do you want 2050 to look like?