Killing zombies

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Zombies surround us. They’re everywhere. Television, movies, computer games. Jane Austen has co-author credits on a novel about them. There are websites and books dedicated to giving tips on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, including academic papers involving mathematical modeling and tax implications.

Brown University even offered a course, "Zombie as Metaphor," which seeks to "introduce students to recent US intellectual history by examining the changing ‘evils’ as represented by zombies in popular culture." Doing so, "involves not just a critical analysis of zombie films and associated fiction, but also a deeper reflection upon the changing (and challenging) social landscape that gave rise to this genre."

Social commentators and media obviously see in zombies a metaphor of the social condition. Most famously, director George Romero saw zombies as evocative of the effects of consumerism and capitalist consumption gone berserk. Which probably explains why Dawn of the Dead mostly takes place in a mall.

But there are other plausible interpretations as to why zombies strike a nerve in us. My own take is that it’s a subconscious lashing out against the receding of rationality and the imposition of a wrong notion of humanity. Or it’s probably just representative of our secret desire for revenge against all the stupidity surrounding us.

Anyway, to better explain the former, let’s look at the traits that make up a zombie. There are many kinds of zombies, by the way: there are the shuffling zombies of Night of the Living Dead as well as The Walking Dead; then you have the running vicious zombies of Dawn of the Dead or Zombieland; then there are the ultra-slow zombies of Shaun of the Dead; the dancing zombies in "Thriller"; there’s the better not mentioned romantic zombies of Warm Bodies; and, finally, you have the frenzied, incredibly aggressive zombies of 28 Days Later and World War Z (although I’m not really sure if they’re zombies but rather just crazed infected people).

Nevertheless, despite the variety, zombies possess an essential nature, which zombie.wikia described this way: "A Zombie, in its broadest sense, is a person who has lost his or her sense of self-awareness and identity, and cares only for the destruction (and often consumption) of any human around, no matter what the circumstances, or cost to his or her self. They make up for this loss of intelligence in sheer numbers, as the state of zombieism is almost always contagious, and spreads like wildfire. Technically speaking, true zombies are always dead."

Marilla Mulwane, in (the quite ironical) Life Paths 360 Blog, clinically enumerates the known characteristics of zombies as: pale grey skin, unhealed wounds, lack of communication skills (no zombie can carry an intelligent conversation), shuffling when trying to walk, one track mind. Of the last: "Here is the most obvious way to tell if you are dealing with a zombie. They are only interested in one thing: your brains. Zombies will do nothing but shuffle along in the direction that they sense the brains are. They will not be distracted by anything else. They will hunt down the brains even if it means falling over cliffs, into burning buildings, or into someone’s pitchfork. Because of this, zombies are incredibly easy to spot."

An inarticulate unthinking self-indulgent slacker mob going around hating and wanting to destroy anyone with brains? Social media anti-intellectualism right there! But, less flippantly, perhaps the true reason why we’re so gripped by zombies is our inherent abhorrence of the irrational. And zombies, despite their human form, are exclusively geared toward serving its compulsions for which reason (including free will and personal responsibility) plays no part.

Secular progressives and liberals are quick to jump on this mindlessness angle by equating the zombies with religious folks. They are sadly mistaken -- it’s actually the reverse. Liberals miss the point about zombies. It was once asked in Season 3 of The Walking Dead whether or not zombies are human. After all, they have limbs and faces, walk and look like humans. Language or their humanoid form can’t be the dividing line. The main religions will refer to the absence of a soul, with Catholics (following St. Aquinas) adding the utter lack of reason.

On the other hand, as they can’t acknowledge the soul’s existence (for obvious reasons) or concede completely regarding the intellect (as they then would have to admit to free will and personal responsibility), liberals are compelled to rely on David Hume’s idea of passions -- not reason -- being the moving force for humans. Which necessarily leads them to their inability to answer as to what therefore separates humans from zombies.

The point: because of media’s, the academe’s, and even governments’ insistence in marginalizing God and objective morality, people are constantly pressured to embrace the unthinkable idea that our humanity is relative and irrational. The resultant loathing they feel they then project subconsciously on zombies. And thus the glee whenever one gets blown away on TV.