Zombie Politics and the Walking Dead

Written by 

(written w/ R. Michael Fisher)

~~~~

There’s a lot going on in the TV show The Walking Dead that’s worthy of comment, but there’s one aspect of the show that has struck me in particular- that the civilization we’ve built and have come to depend on, could be undermined in short order, returning us quickly to a survivalist state of The-Walking-Dead-Soundtrack1nature.

The show follows a small group of people trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse, and they’re constantly trying to find gas for their vehicles, or medicine when someone is sick (and for that they have to raid abandoned pharmacies, whose stocks are running out). They don’t even really get into scarcity issues involving food and water in the show (although there’s a few hunting scenes), but that’s yet another layer of daily survival that most of us today would be helpless in the face of. Watching the show I came to a conclusion similar to the one Andrew recently came to in his new adventure on the farm- that many of us urbanites take for granted the type of life sustaining comforts that our modern societies afford us. We don’t even realize it; it’s like the air we breathe. But there was something about watching The Walking Dead that brought home to me just how fragile our whole veneer of civilization really is.

As I was pondering this thought last week a couple of other discourses I’ve been introduced to recently started to swirl around and mix in my head and then boom- out popped a thesis about zombies. It consists of two premises, followed by a conclusion. It is as follows:

The first premise comes via Jeremy Johnson in two great articles There Be Dragons and Electric Fairytales. Jeremy argues that art is always a representation of what’s happening in the individual and collective unconscious. Whether the artist knows it or not, what they represent and we see depicted in art is always a message from an unconscious within. It relays our dreams, conflicts, anxieties, fears, goals and so on. Jeremy would add also that this imaginal realm is always in quebec-protest1contact with the bigger, wider wholes of which it’s immersed in (1). In sum then, we can always read art as holding symbols and keys as to what’s going on for us that we ought to be more conscious about. Premise one.

The second premise of this zombie analysis came to me via David Macleod and a conversation a few of us were having on TJ’s post about The Montreal Student Protests. David opened my eyes to a whole field of research and writings that are dealing with “energy decline” and the “limits to growth”. The basic premise of this discourse, as I understand it, is that we’ve built a very complex civilization on the back of cheap fossil fuel energy, but this cheap energy is no longer in abundance (is in fact in decline), and is thus becoming gradually more expensive, which is going to increasingly make our current form of civilization unsustainable, and this disruption of the status quo is going to be politically very unstable. Premise two.

So as I swirled and swished these two notions around in my head with what I’d seen in The Walking Dead, something occurred to me- oh shit, we’re the freiken zombies!!

It could be that the zombie apocalypse depicted in The Walking Dead is a terrified cry from within that we’re zombies who can’t stop wantonly consuming resources, and that we’ll devour this civilization of walking-dead-2ours right to the last morsel if we keep going the way we are. Think about zombies for a second- the zombie (apparently) has little to no frontal lobe activity and is instead controlled by the mammalian instincts of the limbic system. All they want to do is eat flesh, and they’re never satiated no matter how much they get. The smell of flesh triggers in them an appetite that cannot be controlled, and will never be filled.

All of this is also true for the addict. When the rush of craving comes on for the addict the limbic system takes control; this is why in 12 Step programs people are advised to pick up “the thousand pound phone” and call someone immediately. A conversation with another sympathetic human can bring the other more evolved parts of the brain back online, giving the addict the capacity to resist the impulse and make another choice. But if not the addict becomes an undead machine seeking one thing with singular reflex-driven focus. We’re a civilization of addicts. And believe me, this is something I know from the ‘inside’. If we look at our addiction to sugar alone, and what it’s doing to our brains, you can see we’re deep down the rabbit hole. Zombies everywhere.

Consumer capitalism relies on the boundless manufacturing of unquenchable desires to maintain its growth. Here’s the French philosopher and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva:

Modern production, under both capitalism and socialism, make the commodity king. We live in a world in which what we buy, wear and consume defines us. And we try to fulfill our thin but insatiable desires by consuming more and more…In the society of the spectacle, people are tools of the economy; their desires are not their own; desires are manufactured as surely as are the commodities meant to fulfill them. We consume our needs, unaware that what we take to be a wheel of samsara thanka“need” has been artificially produced. (2)

The Buddha understood this suffering-reinforcing state of affairs, this unquenchable craving and thirst. He called it being trapped in samsara. A living hell. And this hell has become omnipresent in our times. Benjamin R. Barber is only one political theorist who has begun to use addiction as a political concept. Here’s Barber from his 2007 book Consumed:

Another indicator of the totalizing and homogenizing character of consumer culture is its apparent addictiveness…My use of the term addiction is not metaphoric: addiction is [consumer capitalism’s] core psychology and hence an ideal means to securing market omnipresence. For addiction leads to repetitive behavior in which the addicted subject returns to the same obsession over and over again, so that it encompasses time as well. Addiction is a clinical term, and many observers use it in speaking of consumer behavior…The aim is commodity based addiction, day and night (omnipresence is a synonym for addiction). Every mental and emotional state demands a commercial facilitator, ideally one on which a dependency can be bred. Since consumerism aspires to a world in which people are consumers all the time, addiction is commerce friendly (3).

How often do we hear people today saying things like “I’m so addicted to _____”, or “man I’ve got a craving for ___”. We’ve so normalized this type of language and behavior that we almost wear it as a badge of identity. But is this really a good thing, this state of more? Somewhere the dealers are smiling as they count their growing stacks. oiladdiction

Our nation states are addicts too, addicted to cheap energy. They can’t give us our supply without it, and without us addicts, the elites lose access to their own addictions- power, prestige, money, pleasure. The Alberta tar sands and the move towards natural gas well fracking are symptomatic of this energy addiction. As Darrin Drda writes, “These extraction processes are extremely costly, both economically and ecologically, representing a frantic attempt to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Comparisons to a junkie searching for a fix are not merely metaphorical; they are the only explanation for our profoundly irrational and self-destructive behavior”. I’ve heard crack addicts talk about frantically combing through their carpet looking for traces when they’re out, smoking lint and other shreds of garbage in the process of trying to get high. Zombies one and all.

I now turn it over to my colleague and co-curator at The Museum of Fearology, R. Michael Fisher. He’s going to talk about zombieism, zombie politics, and the culture of fear. But don't fear! There is a solution.

~~~~

Michael- As much as it may be good to call a 'spade a spade,' to label people zombies is probably not all that helpful; although apparently (smile) certain addicts seem somewhat addicted to labeling themselves their illness for their entire lives ("Hello, my name is x, and I'm an addict"). The connection for me is that predatory capitalism (Peter McLaren), disaster capitalism (Naomi Klein), casino capitalism (Henry Giroux), or consumer capitalism as you say, all are fed by the Hobbesian formation for civilized modern life--that is a culture of fear. It’s normalized and it’s traumatizing. Keep people in that "state" for long enough, they'll become zombies alright. But the fact is they’re hurting and not healing. Any living organism will lose its life force more or less under that distress. Thus, zombieism.

Zombieism is the social, economic, cultural and political state of constant distress, worry, and fear if not terror. A post-9/11 era gives us a good look at the way the addictive pattern and numbing of unhealed trauma (e.g., shock and awe, as Naomi Klein calls it) works. It works on disaster after disaster, on wounding and more wounding. People become walking dead, one way or another--frantic buying and getting high as you point out is one way. Going numb, cocooning and paralysis (apathy) is another mode of expression of the same chronic culture of fear. It’s the choice Hobbes suggested we make to support the Absolute State (aka totalitarianism). Modern zombieism in vampire-squid-450postmodern drag.

I was just reading about Jane Goodall's visit to Auschwitz in her book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. After going through two of the camps, she noted how her mind was numbed. She couldn't feel anything, until hours later and a "wave of anger churned my insides, my heart raced" and when I read that, it's natural to want to "kill" in revenge when one sees evil. Goodall is a peace-leader so she said she felt "sadness." If I see images of zombies in art today they look mad but are really sad, aren't they, because they are operating in an addictive system of self-hatred (traumatization) whereby the only freedom for them is freedom from death, so "kill-or-be-killed." Not a lot of happiness there, even if you get your feast of flesh once in awhile, notice the urge comes again and again insatiable. Goodall wrote, "I felt the full horror of the Holocaust. The pain, the helplessness, the black despair, the apathy of the Mussulmans, the walking dead."

In a culture of fear, my expertise area of study for 25 years, there’s some research by neuroscientists that show that if you put lab rats in a cage and constantly frighten them, where they cannot fully escape or de-stress completely, then their entire brain morphology actually is measurably different. The lower part of the brain stem that Paul MacLean called the R-complex because it is reptilian "flight-or-fight" part, actually builds more dendrites and swells in growth, relative to the mammalian and thinking lobes parts of the brain. I think it’s a cause of concern for human beings living in a culture of fear as well, but of course that research is more difficult to do ethically. Zombieism is an ideological power-system based on the fear-principle. It's nothing new in human civilization but it’s definitely becoming more intense. Images of Zombies are giving us a mirror image, I suspect for our state of fear, culture of fear, or what others have called death culture. The name doesn't matter after awhile, what’s important is to get a critical understanding of the dynamic design of it. Zombieism.

What's the solution? How can we avoid it? Well, over to you.

~~~~

Trevor-  Michael, I appreciate that you’ve added this context of political-cultural fear and terror as the background within which the pattern of consumption and addiction is playing out. There’s much to numb ourselves against to be sure. And as Henry A. Giroux points out in his article on Zombie Politics,  “Manufactured appeals to fear and personal safety legitimate both the suspension of civil liberties and the expanding powers of an imperial presidency and the policing functions of a militaristic state”.
lazarus
The reason I think it’s important to ‘call a spade a spade’ and acknowledge our collective zombification is to break the cycle of denial. To continue with the metaphor of addiction (which, as Benjamin Barber points, isn’t actually a metaphor, but a reality), you could call it an intervention of sorts. But I’m not only pointing fingers outwards. As Bob Dylan said, the blood on the tracks is all of our blood. Nietzsche once commented that it was because he himself was also sick with the disease of Western nihilism that he could understand it and diagnose it culturally.  I too have been bitten; I too have been dragged through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. Enter Lazarus.

The first part of the solution is to recognize how desire functions within us, and to realize that the infinite commodities that are dangled in front of us daily will never fill the God-sized whole at the core of our being. This is the realm of the hungry ghosts, and this is the source of energy that fuels our pathological system. We don’t need to consume anything in order to be filled up; instead weburning man mertens 3-thumb-575x766 need to open and empty ourselves and be filled with what rushes in. It’s wholeness that fills us up, and we feel whole when connected with others, with the earth, with the cosmos.

The good news is that the road to recovery is already well underway. As Darrin Drda writes, “Despite what you have been taught, you are enough, just as you are. You are beautiful, talented, knowledgeable, capable, and complete. Not only that, but you are also a member of the largest, most ecologically conscious, politically aware, culturally sensitive, technically savvy, and interconnected generation in history. The success of your mission is all but guaranteed, should enough of you embrace it fully”.

Amen to that. Jonathan Talat Phillips, co-founder of Evolver.net, writes about the rise of the new spiritual counterculture he sees growing everywhere- “Generally I've found this new spiritual counterculture believes that our monochromatic, corporate society has failed us, given us information over wisdom, consumerism over community, false advertising over deeper healing. Many seem to have given up on fixing the old systems ("Look what happened to Obama," they say) and are now building new models of coexistence and sustainability, ones that enable us to live and share our unique gifts, and to reconnect with the sacredness of nature and each other”.

And if we circle back to the reality of energy decline, it’s creating the conditions of ongoing instability. soeren-kern-madrid-spain-protests-may-2011But this can be a good thing. As world-systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein recently wrote:

The world income squeeze is real, and not about to disappear. The structural crisis of the capitalist world-economy is making the standard solutions to economic downturns unworkable, no matter how much our pundits and politicians assure us that a new period of prosperity is on the horizon. We are living in a chaotic world situation. The fluctuations in everything are large and rapid. This applies as well to social protest. This is what we are seeing as the geography of protest constantly shifts. Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday, unauthorized massive marches with pots and pans in Montreal today, somewhere else (probably somewhere surprising) tomorrow.

This needn’t be a source of fear, in fact, quite the opposite. This is a temporary opening in the matrix through which the future is beginning to appear. As Slavoj Zizek recently wrote, “I'm a pessimist in the sense that we are approaching dangerous times. But I'm an optimist for exactly the same reason. Pessimism means things are getting messy. Optimism means these are precisely the times when change is possible”. We’re beginning to untangle from the culture and dealers of death, and we’re coming together collectively in a growing series of solidarity and protest, and many are experiencing what Hannah Arendt called a "public happiness", "a joy that comes from feeling that one is participating in public life, that one is having, perhaps for the first time, an influence on public affairs" (4). Apparently the Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times” was originally meant as a curse. I don’t take it that way. I hear it as the call to adventure, the herald of a passage to the better world our hearts tell us is possible. A new life beyond our collective zombieism awaits. Godspeed to its arrival.

~~~~~

Footnotes

(1) "Another important characteristic of Thompson’s work is that he pushes us to consider that reality is more than what our waking, conscious ego can perceive. The worlds unseen (but not unimagined) may exist right behind the veil. These worlds, painted and poeticized by Blake and other romantics, emphasized by the psychedelic communities and even strongly articulated by Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious,” urge us to consider that we are more than we think. It’s no mistake that as our materialistic culture expands, counter-cultures erupt into the collective and remind us that reality is always and ever more than we believe we have control over. It is this mystery that Thompson reminds us of. Another integral synonym is “wholeness.” Can our emerging paradigms be whole without considering the unconscious, the imagination, and the mystical? The often forgotten and always fringe dimensions of reality.

When we approach the edges of our known universe, and look over the vast stretches of time that is our evolutionary history and our science-fiction future, we participate in myth. In this strange world between the infinite and the finite, the known and unknown, imagination steps down as a halfway house for the ego to participate with the angel, and myth is then a metaphor for the larger reality we are a part of, but cannot see. It's for this reason that the imagination, that strange and unruly dimension of mind, is essential for any scholarship in an age of synthesis and planetary evolution. It is the imagination alone, sometimes in brilliant flashes of light, that can bind together disparate faculties of knowing, and it is the imagination that both science and mysticism share in their own ways. Thompson is a wonderful example of what a play of both dimensions of mind can do when they come together."

http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/663-william-irwin-thompson

(2) McAffe, Noelle. Julia Kristeva. New York: Routledge, 2004. p.108.

(3) Barber, Benjamin R. Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007. p.235-246. Barber cites some startling statistics surrounding the global phenomenon of shopping addiction. “The figure of twenty-four million compulsive shoppers in America suggests something approaching a pandemic”. Ibid, p.242.

(4) http://www.openfile.ca/montreal/blog/2012/opinion-analysing-origins-quebecs-social-crisis-inside

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19 comments

  • Comment Link Paul Duke Friday, 15 June 2012 19:14 posted by Paul Duke

    Trev, this is fantastic. Love it.

  • Comment Link Lincoln Merchant Friday, 15 June 2012 22:46 posted by Lincoln Merchant

    Yes! Fantastic! George Romero was always explicitly satirizing consumer capitalism with his zombie movies.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Saturday, 16 June 2012 00:16 posted by TJ Dawe

    In Gabor Mate's book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he describes George W Bush saying in a public address that America is addicted to oil, and instead of acknowledging that this is a problematic relationship to anything, and that it's time for us to look at this addiction and see what we can do about it, he went on to use this as a justification to drill in Alaska's wildlife preserve. This is pure addict's psychology: my old supply is running out, or getting too expensive. Time to find a new supply!

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 17 June 2012 21:25 posted by David MacLeod

    Trevor, I almost missed this one, but my wife clicked on TJ's comment because of his mention of Gabor Mate, and then I found the page open.

    This is excellent! I'm recommending Energy Bulletin republish this on their site, or at least post an excerpt.

    I think the idea that "we're the freiken zombies" is entirely appropriate. Writer James Howard Kunstler has been using the phrase "sleepwalking into the future" since at least 1999. He wrote about peak oil, global warming, and even "the after-effects of the 1990s credit and equity bubbles that hoisted American finance (and consumerism) to fantasy levels."

    He wrote, "America’s credit orgy is linked to a deeply unsound global finance system ungoverned by meaningful institutions. When the paper profits evaporate and the debt can no longer be rolled over, there will be economic blood in the parking lots of the bankrupt strip malls. I expect a staggering loss of value in suburban real estate of all kinds throughout the nation."

    "These forces will induce us to live differently, beginning very soon. They will certainly provoke us to change our values as a well as our living arrangements. It will not be a smooth transition. withdrawal from our car-addiction is apt to be very painful. Economic shocks are generally followed by dangerous spells of delusional politics. Right now America is sleepwalking into the new century. When the nation wakes up, it may have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward a sustainable future. "
    http://www.kunstler.com/mags_Sleep.html

    Kunstler wrote about Zombie Economics in 2008:
    "Though Citicorp is deemed too big to fail, it's hardly reassuring to know that it's been allowed to sink its fangs into the Mother Zombie that the US Treasury has become and sucked out a multi-billion dollar dose of embalming fluid so it can go on pretending to be a bank for a while longer. I employ this somewhat clunky metaphor to point out that the US Government is no more solvent than the financial zombies it is keeping on walking-dead support. And so this serial mummery of weekend bailout schemes is as much of a fraud and a swindle as the algorithm-derived-securities shenanigans that induced the disease of bank zombification in the first place. The main question it raises is whether, eventually, the creation of evermore zombified US dollars will exceed the amount of previously-created US dollars now vanishing into oblivion through compressive debt deflation."
    http://www.alternet.org/economy/108481/zombie_economics:_don%27t_bail_out_the_system_that_gave_us_suvs_and_strip_malls/

    In the beginning of 2012 he wrote "When everybody is a zombie, whose brains are left to eat?"

    And a month later, another reference: "The people of the USA, having been let down and swindled in so many ways by the people they placed their trust in, and even freely elected, appear to be in a daze of injury. Maybe this accounts for the obsession with zombies and persons drained of blood - who yet seem to carry on normal lives (at least in TV shows). This odd condition is best defined by the familiar cry from non-zombies: "where's the outrage?"
    http://kunstler.com/blog/2012/01/murmuration.html

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Monday, 18 June 2012 17:23 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Paul, thanks.

    Lincoln, believe it or not, I haven't seen any of the Romero movies. Do you have a short list of which ones I should watch? Also, if you had any links where Romero talks about zombies and his critique of consumer capitalism, please send em my way if possible. It's no biggie, but would be good to have for the files and possible future writings.

    TJ, I remember that Bush quote quite well, even thought about it when I was writing this, but forgot that he used it as an excuse for more controversial drilling. The addict's psychology for sure.

    David, glad you saw this article, I was going to post a link to it in the Montreal Protests piece to let you know. And wow, what an epic cache of resources, thanks so much for these! I'm gonna post these Kunstler articles onto our Beams Facebook page too to let others know. And if Energy Bulletin has any interest in a repost of some sort, I'm fully open to that, thanks for the thought.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Monday, 18 June 2012 17:44 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Here's a comment on the culture of fear in an article by Chris Hedges, published this morning:

    "Our dying corporate class, corrupt, engorged on obscene profits and indifferent to human suffering, is the guarantee that the mass movement will expand and flourish. No one knows when. No one knows how. The future movement may not resemble Occupy. It may not even bear the name Occupy. But it will come. I have seen this before. And we should use this time to prepare, to educate ourselves about the best ways to fight back, to learn from our mistakes, as many Occupiers are doing in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and other cities. There are dark and turbulent days ahead. There are powerful and frightening forces of hate, backed by corporate money, that will seek to hijack public rage and frustration to create a culture of fear. It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over".

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/occupy_will_be_back_20120618

    And here's a couple of other resources also looking at some of the themes in this piece. First a powerful article on "Zombie Politics" by Henry A. Giroux. Reading it is kind of like getting repeatedly punched in the gut, but like Hedges, I think Giroux also importantly brings a certain bold, prophetic slap-in-the-faceness as to the darkness in our times. This is a punishing but worthy read:

    http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/zombie_politics_democracy_and_the_threat_of_authoritarianism_-_part_i_20120//

    And after I published this piece, Darrin Drda sent me a link to a piece he'd written in Oct. 2011 on zombies/politics/culture. I hadn't read it before I wrote this, but there's some uncanny overlap. It could almost be a companion piece:

    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/10/the-real-zombie-apocalypse-has-arrived-darrin-drda/

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 19 June 2012 04:54 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    You nailed it Trevor. Thanks for this. I made the mistake of reading this before bed. It just seems so obvious that we are the zombies, and the elegance of our artists shoving it in our face is paradoxically hopeful. The connection with addiction is critical. It goes beyond, but includes substance and process addictions, doesn't it? I mean, we're addicted to our core narratives, our big assumptions, so our zombie-hood follows us all the way up our evolution.

    The trick may be, as some of the writers on Beams have pointed out, to awaken to our our lives as "selfing projects". That is, there is no fixed self to get committed to, just this process of creative transformation showing up as body/minds. The only way out of addiction and zombie-hood, both personally and as citizens, is a disciplined practice of introducing doubt a la Cezanne into our perspective, and discovery new practices that expand the container, or to change the metaphor, help us to be in the flow of what is actually arising—which means laying down new neuronal beds. The challenge for politicians is that there is even less room for doubt in this arena than in religion. Can you imagine our Prime Minister saying, "I'm not really sure I got this policy right"?

    Mindfulness combined with reading Beam seems like a good start. Thanks again.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 20 June 2012 19:25 posted by David MacLeod

    This morning Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Initiative movement, has a blog post about a recent visit to Manchester to see the Dalai Lama. Rob observes that the center of Manchester is "like an episode of Dr Who, where the place has been taken over by huge leeches, sucking the financial lifeblood out of the city, what Andrew Simms recently called “extractive industries”, funnelling money to distant shareholders. There are endless hideous new ‘iconic’ buildings, massive corporate egos in built form..."

    Rob writes that we are being "steamrollered" into a future that we are not collectively opting for, and that the efforts being made to resist are seeming to be "futile and too small to make any difference." "It feels like we don’t have a hope, and indeed Rio+20, which starts today, seems to have already created an expectation that nothing can, or will, be done."

    He then talks about the history of Tibet, and all that culture has endured. The Dalai Lama was asked if he thought Tibet might ever be free again. "His response was “why not?” He said that it may take decades, that he may not live to see it, and that his approach had always been “hope for the best, and prepare for the worst”. In the past 15 years, he said, there has been a huge amount of change in China, and that human values and understanding are growing, and that a new generation of young Chinese are more open to ideas of change. ”Definitely things will change”, he said."

    Rob's conclusion: "We have no way of knowing that we can turn our growth-fixated, fossil-fuel hungry, carbon-intensive, bigger-is-better culture around in time, or at all. Will be able to successfully tell a new story in time, one that sits alongside, and is more compelling than our two existing ones of austerity or just borrowing more money, both in the relentless pursuit of growth like it used to be? We have no idea if we can prevent the worst case climate scenarios, or whether we can build resilience into our communities in time for the rapid changes unravelling around us."

    "...We don’t know if we will turn things around in time, if we will have any impact, if we will muster the energy and the skilful means to enable us to turn things around. But it is possible. As the Dalai Lama said, “why not?”

    I was left wondering whether as the global movement for change grows, whether through Transition, Occupy, whatever, it’s slogan that might appear on t-shirts and banners might be, rather than “we are the 99%” which Sharon Astyk so beautifully took to task recently, might be “why not?” Why not indeed. It would be a great slogan to take to Rio +20."

    “Why not?” indeed: breathing power into possibilities
    http://transitionculture.org/2012/06/20/why-not-indeed-breathing-power-into-possibilities/

  • Comment Link R. Michael Fisher Thursday, 21 June 2012 03:09 posted by R. Michael Fisher

    Great comments and additions folks. Since the world was going to hell in a handbasket in the late-1970s when I studied environmental biology at university, enough to scare the shit out of anyone with the predictions being made by the turn of the century, I will say, things aren't as bad now as predicted, which really isn't saying much either because things are pretty bad. My point, after awhile, in those 20's of my life (now I am 60), it became clear to me the last worthy thought (idea) I was going to spend my time on was "will we make it or not?" That idea is a hope/fear game run by the engine (and hot gas) of despair--aka, more addiction to a "future" we cannot control but want to. So, I am inclined to a direction beyond hope that unhooks us from the fear-addiction (violence) cycle. Make sense. Oh, and it would probably be a good thing to begin a campaign of educating that revolves around making the ECO-FOOTPRINT awareness/evaluation of ourselves as only 1/2 the problem, and an EGO-FOOTPRINT as the essential complement to self-analysis (never mind corporate or societal analysis). What's the EGO-FOOTPRINT? The footprint of, you guessed it, "Fear" by any other name.

    Keeping on walking... what else can I do... oh, I develop online courses on the culture of fear and other stuff... check out http://csiie.org/mod/page/view.php?id=3

  • Comment Link Lincoln Merchant Thursday, 21 June 2012 18:54 posted by Lincoln Merchant

    The one to watch is "Dawn of the Dead." "Night of the Living Dead", the first one, is probably a better film, but "Dawn of the Dead" just beats you bloodily over the face with Romero's themes. I'd watch them both. I haven't even seen the other Romero pictures.

    Here's an interview/review with Romero at http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2007/10/dawn-of-the-dead-1979/ where he talks about his themes:

    "Time has not blunted the film’s sharp satirical edge. That jabs at consumer culture are obvious but entertaining, though many critics, especially in America, where the horror genre is held in lwo regard, seem to miss the message. “I think generally the European audiences get more of the stuff that underlies the action—but it doesn’t underlie the action,” observes Romero. “People say, ‘There’s a hidden message about consumerism in DAWN OF THE DEAD.’ I always say, ‘It ain’t exactly hidden!’ It’s pretty much right up in your face.”

    Romero explains, “At their core, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the two sequels I made are about revolution, but only in the broadest sense. A new society replacing the old and devouring it—in this case, literally. Sociopolitical criticism and satire is neither hidden nor masquerading as allegory. It’s right out front. We took big, obvious swipes at the media, at religion, at the misuse of family as an institution, and principally at tribalism, at man’s inability to consider perspectives other than his own. That theme is central to all three of my zombie films: mankind bringing about its own defeat.”

    For some fans, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is still the superior movie. They mistake DAWN for a soulless sequel that abandons the tone and style of the original. But in truth the film, like its predecessor, is a perfect reflection of its time, and the “soulless” quality is an element under attack, part of the satirical depiction of the shopping mall, which Romero has dubbed “a temple of mindless consumerism.”"

    Here's the trailer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpuNE1cX03c

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 23 June 2012 15:58 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks Bruce, I appreciate what you're saying in terms of opening to process. I've heard Thomas Hubl saying similar things lately (I searched for a quote in Chris' interview, but couldn't find it), and I know this capability is one of the characteristics of what Carter Phipps calls 'evolutionaries'. This is also at the heart of evolutionary Christianity too. I think this is an important component of the overall story that our spiritual leaders can continue to offer us and the situation.

    I've been thinking of something else over the past few days too though; I can't quite put it into words, it's only still forming. But my feeling is that this capability to live joyfully and openly with process at it unfolds- the great evolutionary adventure- is only going to be embraced by a certain portion of the population. Many more of us will be wanting stability and safety, and a groundedness in family and place as our anchors in the storm. And I'm thinking we need a kind of double movement, along with (or even helped by) this process-evolutionary dimension. To cut to the point- I think that what we'll need to stabilize and transition out of this Zombie turmoil, is a real return to place, earth, soil, community, grass, sun, family. Now, there's already broader movements that are moving in this direction, such as Transition Towns, and resilient communities and such. I think this is great, and just want to consciously support more focus in this direction. Br. Chris is holding a powerful vision of the church possibly become a new hub of community organization moving forward. I think this also has a lot of potential.

    Anyway, I just wanted to presence how important this return to community and real local connection is. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote a piece in 1998 that claimed that neoliberalism (the dominant economic paradigm over the past 30 yrs) was "a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives". I don't think we've even begun to understand how successful this systematic and subtle attack has been. Overturning it will be key. As Chris Hedges recently wrote:

    "Rebuilding this older vision of community, one based on cooperation rather than exploitation, will be as important to our survival as changing our patterns of consumption, growing food locally and ending our dependence on fossil fuels".

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/8808-when-civilizations-die

    As I said, I just wanted to bring forth this dimension of things in this discussion. I know this doesn't pertain to your teachings Bruce, but sometimes I feel the call for opening up "to the leading edge" of evolution can feel very disembodied, very far from the earth and community. Maybe you have some thoughts on how those who are inspired to embrace such a process experience of reality, can help this rebuilding of community and the local?

    thanks Bruce, apologies for the late reply, appreciate your thoughts as always.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Saturday, 23 June 2012 20:47 posted by David MacLeod

    Responding to Bruce, Michael, and Trevor,

    All that you folks are discussing and pointing to reminds me of a Vicki Robin talk in 2006 that still inspires me.

    "So how do you communicate the conditions in this world, not so that people react this way or that way - which is the "activist solution," but communicate the conditions in the world so that people say "I make a difference." ... It didn't matter whether I could succeed or not. It was learning that we are living in such complex times where the desire for certainty certaintly will not be met. If you want to be certain, you are going to be way behind the curve. So the only strategy is to be in the middle of it.

    Sensitized; open mind, open heart.... Being open emotionally, intellectually, physically, and engaged with the sense that we are in a process of turning the tide.

    There is no exact end point. It's a question of engagement and engagement and engagement.

    ...I used to have this hammer called "Your Money Or Your Life", and everything looked like a nail, and I could just fix it. I don't think the world is fixable anymore. I don't think we're going to fix it, I think we're going to live through it...We're up against a wall! Cancer wall, peak oil wall, climate change wall. And being up against a wall is the most creative time. We don't know what the result of our engagement is going to be. We only have the choice whether to engage or go to sleep again. To be in some sort of open, spacious, humble passion with regards to the limits of our times, whatever we're doing. We're going to live through this together - it's sort of as simple as that. ..My desire is to heal our collective psyche that has been so confused by the industrial growth era. To mature as a species, to develop a capacity to live into what is most important, and let go of the rest.... That is the other opportunity. Our engagement with the peak oil issues, and the climate change issues is also an engagement with our own inner light and dark..Our own inner engagement, our own capacity to hold and love all of it, every little scrap of it."

    I put up a partial transcript of this talk here:
    http://sustainablebellingham.org/wiki/wikka.php?wakka=LivingSimplyInAPostPeakWorld

  • Comment Link mmckinl Sunday, 24 June 2012 11:40 posted by mmckinl

    Zombification is a great metaphor for our cultural zeitgeist these days. The despair and depression we only read about are now effecting those we see on the street, even our family members. Those for who the future is now just a series of disappointments, disasters and dreaded misfortunes like lost jobs, salary and benefit cuts, unpayable debt and uncovered health care problems.

    Zombie culture is replacing the Vampire culture as the CEO and investment bankster blood suckers have fallen from national idolatry to national vilification. Zombies are what's left when all the nutrient blood has been sucked from the body, the mind and the soul. Zombies are perfect propaganda. They represent those around us that have fallen out of the conspicuous consumption "Matrix".

    Zombies are to be feared even when they are your friends and family. They are the unacceptable reality that we are destroying everything good and decent to cling to the lies that the "powers that be" employ to keep us on the treadmill to nowhere to fill their pockets and maintain their power. Because you see, the powers that be, need you to believe, that it is you and you alone that matter in the end.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 24 June 2012 18:28 posted by David MacLeod

    Excerpts from this article cross posted at Energy Bulletin under the "Deep Thought" category:
    http://energybulletin.net/stories/2012-06-24/deep-thought-june-24

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 24 June 2012 19:34 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Lincoln, thanks for the Romero passages and the film suggestions, I look forward to sinking my teeth into those (har,har).

    David, thanks for the Vicki Robin talk, some important words there. I look forward to diving a little farther into those themes when I get an opening in the next day or two, and look forward to hearing from Bruce on this too. And thanks for the help with reposting at Energy Bulletin, happy that Michael and I could contribute in some way to the conversation.

    Speaking of which, I think that's how mmckinl found his way here, and I appreciate that comment, great additions. I'd like to dive into some of that when I return too. cheers.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 29 June 2012 02:46 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Trevor,

    Sorry about the tardy reply. I agree that "leading edge of evolution" can sound like jargon and ungrounded, and that we need a safe place to land.

    Two of my books perhaps indicate a little more groundedness, one on what it takes to actually be a healthy spiritual community, and one on ecology, that is basically a plea for us to fall back in love with Earth.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 30 June 2012 17:36 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Have come across a few more resources for this piece/thread in the past couple weeks. The first is from a recent interview with Jeffrey Sachs at the Rio+20 summit.

    “Big business, [Sachs] says, is not only responsible for destroying the American democratic system, but has also transformed citizens into consumer addicts.

    While multinationals continue to line their own pockets, what they leave in their wake is billions of people who are not only unhappy, but are suffering increasing levels of anxiety”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/rio-20-jeffrey-sachs-business-democracy

    And from another article that was sent to me by Troy Wiley after reading the Vampire Capitalism piece, but this passage fits well here:

    “Modern capitalism inflames, through every sense and pore, the hunger for consumption. Satisfying that hunger has become the great palliative of modern society, our counterfeit reward for working irrational hours. Advertisers proclaim a single message: your soul is to be discovered in your shopping.

    Aristotle knew of insatiability only as a personal vice; he had no inkling of the collective, politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth. The civilization of "always more" would have struck him as moral and political madness”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/economics-blog/2012/jun/21/capitalism-red-tooth-claw-keynes

    And to add to the community/destruction of community thread, this is from an article that was sent to me by Dan Bednarz (after we cited his work in The Montreal Protests thread). I think it's a critical article, and I so appreciate receiving it. God bless networks. Anyways, from the article called 'Beyond Harper: Rebuilding Community':

    “It is not news that neo-liberalism – obsessed with the individual, competition and the market – destroys community. Margaret Thatcher made it explicit: “…there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” All happily selling their labor and buying stuff. And that’s all there is – no cooperation, no compassion, no equity, no sharing…

    Yet in the decades since the free trade deals were first signed we have gradually stopped talking about community and have perhaps forgotten just how critical it is to human health and indeed what it is to be human. The hyper-competitiveness promoted by neo-liberalism and the politicians it has captured is completely at odds with our social natures. Community – the commons – is at the core of what we have lost and reclaiming it will be at the core of any successful social movement that halts and reverses the current trends”.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/22/beyond-harper/

    I appreciate mmckinl's point that "Zombies are to be feared even when they are your friends and family". We should probably be on guard that the zombie metaphor/cultural image is not subconciously working on us in this way.

    Which I think circles around to the point I was trying to ask you Bruce, which might not have been communicated well. I guess what I was asking, was how can those of us who've embraced a radically process view be leaders in (re)building community. In getting our hands dirty. In loving our zombie fellows. Perhaps I'm just anticipating the next stage in what will be needed from evolutionary spirituality.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Thursday, 05 July 2012 00:02 posted by David MacLeod

    Trevor,
    Thanks for passing on more resources. I read and appreciated the Counterpunch piece.

    I have one more resource to contribute as well, from Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann. In his book The Prophetic Imagination, he writes that "We will not understand the meaning of prophetic imagination unless we see the connection between the religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation."

    This 'static triumphalism' he also calls "the royal consciousness."

    Brueggemann's thoughts about numbness, death, and mourning for our own funeral, very much fits the Zombie theme.

    "More specifically, the royal consciousness is committed to numbness about death. . It is unthinkable for the king to imagine or experience the end of his favorite historical arrangements, for they have become fully identified with his own person. Indeed, they are his person, as much as he is or has a person. And therefore his his-torical arrangements must be invested with a quality of durability if not eternity. Kings need to assign the notion of "forever" to every historical accident over which they preside. Thus it is not think-able among us that our public institutions should collapse...

    All these denials about endings are necessary in the royal community because it is too costly to face and embrace them. It would suggest that we are not in charge, that things will not for-ever stay the manageable way they are, and that things will not finally all work out. It is the business of kings to attach the word "forever" to everything we treasure. The great dilemma is that religious functionaries are expected to use the same "forever," to attach it to things and make it sound theologically legitimated. But "forever" is always the word of Pharaoh, and as such it is the very word against which Yahweh and Moses did their liberating thing.

    The task of prophetic imagination is to cut through the numbness, to penetrate the self-deception, so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord. Notice that I suggest for the prophet in a really numbed situation a quite elemental and modest task. That task has three parts:
    1. To offer symbols that are adequate to confront the horror and massiveness of the experience that evokes numbness and requires denial...

    2. To bring to public expression those very fears and terrors that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we do not know they are there...

    3. To speak metaphorically but concretely about the real deathliness that hovers over us and gnaws within us, and to speak neither in rage nor with cheap grace, but with the candor born of anguish and passion.6 The deathliness among us is not the death of a long life well lived but the death introduced in that royal garden of Genesis 2—3, which is surely a Solomonic story about wanting all...

    The prophet does not scold or reprimand. The prophet brings to public expression the dread of endings, the collapse of our self-madeness, the barriers and pecking orders that secure us at each other's expense, and the fearful practice of eating off the table of a hungry brother or sister. It is the task of the prophet to invite the king to experience what he must experience, what he most needs to experience and most fears to experience, namely, that the end of the royal fantasy is very near. The end of the royal fantasy will per-mit a glimpse of the true king who is no fantasy, but we cannot see the real king until the fantasy is shown to be a fragile and perish-ing deception. Precisely in the year of the death of the so-called king does the prophet and the prophet's company see the real king high and lifted up (Isa 6:1).
    I believe that the proper idiom for the prophet in cutting through the royal numbness and denial is the language of grief, the rhetoric that engages the community in mourning for a funeral they do not want to admit. It is indeed their own funeral."

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 10 July 2012 16:58 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks for the Brueggemann passage David, it's great stuff. I had started reading The Prophetic Imagination a few months ago, but had to put it aside to pursue other research. But I woke up this morning with a more or less clean state (ie. nothing to officially read), and was moved via your comment to pick it up again, so thanks.

    I found this is 'preface to the revised edition':

    "Whereas the South American societies suffer torture and physical abuse, the cultural situation in the United States, satiated by consumer goods and propelled by electronic technology, is one of narcoticized insensibility to human reality. It may be, however, that torture and consumer satiation perform the same negative function: to deny a lively, communal imagination that resists a mindless humanity of despairing conformity". (2000)

    I also really enjoyed this podcast interview with Brueggemann on the prophetic imagination over at Homebrewed Christianity. A good dip into that territory in a short period of time.

    http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2008/10/08/walter-brueggemann-on-the-prophetic-imagination-for-our-political-homebrewed-christianity-ep27/

    thanks again David, there's lots in the passage you cited that I'll be sitting with over time!

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