The Rise of Zombies and the Fall of Capitalism

Max Brooks’ depiction of society under a zombie apocalypse was especially interesting to me because it exposed how much our current society is driven by profit. Social status, health, safety, and opportunity were at first heavily tied to how wealthy one was, yet during the Zombie War, this whole capitalist system crumbled. This made me think about what we value as a society and how much this is driven by a very basic and selfish human need to survive. From an economic perspective, we all seek to maximize our living conditions within a given set of constraints, and when these constraints change, so do our preferences.

At the start of World War Z, money is still perceived as something that is all-powerful because it is highly fungible, guaranteeing safety and health. One of the first accounts in the novel tells of the black-market organ trade, where those with money can purchase their way to a longer life. Dr. Oliveira recounts, “Few of you Yankees asked where your new kidney or pancreas was coming from, be it a slum kid from the City of God or some unlucky student in a Chinese political prison. You didn’t know, you didn’t care” (Brooks 34). His patients simply assumed that paying a hefty sum would be the end to their problems. At the same time, the operators of the black market were similarly profit-minded, willing to take risks and shun health precautions in order to pad their own pockets. This account reminds me of the Phalanx ordeal later on in the war, when people swarmed to buy placebo pills marketed as a vaccine for zombification. People were so ready to believe that there was a cure-all for the zombie plague because the other option would just be too bleak, but I also believe their gullibility was in large part due to the huge value money has in our society today. It’s a reality that money can purchase us better healthcare and longer lives nowadays, so why wouldn’t people believe that they could simply purchase a panacea? Another striking example of wealth-based privilege is that of the heavily-armed sanctuary populated by the rich and famous who hoped to ride out the zombie war in style, broadcasting their frivolities within the mansion while the outside world was fighting for survival. Even as money was rapidly depreciating in its power to keep people safe, people did not yet recognize this at the beginning of the war. Their wholehearted belief that they could buy their way to safety seems foolish and myopic, yet it seems all too likely that this is what would happen in reality.

As society crumbles and money completely loses its significance, a new social order springs up, one based on health and physical ability. In areas designated as sanctuaries, only the healthy are let in, regardless of former occupation, religious belief, or any other factors. And when America begins its rebuilding process, its those with actual physical and mechanical skills, rather than the high-paying white collar ones we value today, that are valued in society. As one interviewee puts it, “That’s the way the world works. But one day, it doesn’t. No one needs a contract reviewed or a deal brokered. What it does need is toilets fixed. And suddenly that peon is your teacher, maybe even your boss” (175). This passage was particularly striking to me because it made me realize that many of us would be screwed in a disaster situation. It’s very true that what is valued by society today is managerial, analytical, and verbal skills, since these can generate more “worth” than any type of physical labor. And yet, as we discussed in class, our current system is all very fragile.

In an economics class I am taking this semester, we were taught a theory about how investment in human capital increased only due to the inevitable acceleration in technological progress that made human capital more valuable than physical capital. In other words, people had an incentive to invest in education since doing so would increase their earning potential in the future in a technologically advanced society. The Zombie War renders modern technology obsolete, and thus, the skills valued in such a society as well. Both World War Z and Enders Game caused me to think about humanity’s very deep and basic need to survive. When money is the key to survival, and I would argue that it is in today’s society, at least in the U.S., our entire social structure is driven by profit. When suddenly money no longer matters and physical ability becomes the key, the social hierarchy shifts to reflect this change. This is a very bleak idea to me, as I’d like to think that there is more to humanity than just the need to survive and pass on our genes. Both books do acknowledge other dimensions of humanity – faith, love, and art – yet in order for those to survive, so must humanity. Thus, novels about the end of the world make it clear that at the very core, stripped of all our complexities, humans just want to be alive.

Hearts and Brains – Humanity in Times of Crisis

In class we talked a little bit about the zombie apocalypse as a metaphor and the way it can be replaced by any other disaster. We also asked whether World War Z is an anti-empathy novel or a pro-human factor novel. I would like to discuss the two questions in tandem – in other words, while the zombie apocalypse can serve as a metaphor for natural disaster, pandemic, or war, I think we also need to read it as a specifically zombie war. In the case of this war the enemy that humans face is something that is fundamentally inhuman though it takes on the, albeit mangled, form of a human.

If we are superficially comparing the anatomies of humans and zombies we can reduce the most essential parts of each entity into the heart and the brain respectively. In WWZ, some emotions are expressed in relation to the heart. Kondo Tatsumi expresses surprise or realization as “something that almost stopped [his] heart” (216); Saladin Kader describes his excitement as a heart that is “about to burst” (43); Father Sergei Ryzhkov describes a “tingling sensation that began to work its way up through [his] heart and lungs” (297). On the other hand, zombies rely solely on brains to function; it is the “only measurable difference between us and “The Undead”” (35). Max Brooks depicts a scenario where the consequences of ‘heartlessness’ or inhumanity are hyper-violence, brutality and aggression, suggesting that without human empathy we will quite literally eat ourselves into extinction. Thus, it is important to note that the fear propagated in the novel is not one for a general apocalypse, but one that is specifically directed at zombies, or in other words it is a fear directed at the possibility of humans existing without their humanity.

At the same time, Brooks posits that in order to win war it is necessary for a group of people to take on attributes of their enemy. In the Robben Island section, the interviewee describes the Redeker plan, an “eminently logical but insidiously dark” (109) plan that was formulated by Paul Redeker, a man of “no feelings, no compassion, no heart” (110). The plan was so brutal that Redeker was psychologically unable to live with the identity that created it post-war but was also necessary and was adapted by several other countries during the war. Or, in the interview at Odessa, Bohdan describes the use of chemical weapons to wipe out large groups of people as a way to differentiate/separate the infected from the others (120). In order to eliminate the zombies and to prevent the further spreading of infection, the military not only ‘heartlessly’ killed the uninfected but also did so using a weapon that is prohibited by international law for being inhumane. Thus, Brooks presents in WWZ the paradox of humans fearing the loss of their humanity but simultaneously needing to shed their humanity in order to confront the enemy that threatens their humanity.

If war is an act that diminishes humanity, then the narrator/interviewer’s writing becomes a way to regain the lost humanity – to re-incorporate the ‘human factor’ into the history. To return to the question of whether WWZ is an anti- or pro-empathy novel, I interpret the novel to be pro-humanity. Though humanity may be necessarily shed, it seems the interviewer feels that in the end it is essential for humans to return to their ‘default’ state of intimacy, feelings, and opinions.

Another thing I noticed about the novel was the ambiguity of the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’. We discussed in class about how, despite having a common enemy, humans would still turn against each other and sometimes those that do the most damage to humankind are the people trying to save it. Several times throughout the novel we see interviewees use the pronoun “they” or “them” as opposed to specifying exactly which party they are referring to. For instance in the dialogue between the interviewer and Breck Scott, Scott says “…that’s what they said it was, right, just some weird strain of jungle rabies… You know, “they”, like the UN or the…somebody” (56). In this case it is ambiguous just exactly who is propagating lies or withholding truths. In the section with Mary Jo Miller, the interviewee describes how a neighbor always referred to everything that’s happening as “them” (65). In this case, the pronoun is used to describe the general state of society. Lastly, Maria Zhuganova describes “they” as “everyone: [her] officers, the Military Police, even a plain-clothed civilian” (77).

This ambiguity of “they” results in an ambiguity of who exactly the enemy is. This is also shown in the title of the novel “World War Z”, which is curiously not the moniker that the narrator/interviewer prefers for the disaster (“The Zombie War”). The title connotes the two other ‘World Wars’, wars between countries and between humans. Thus, in titling the book “World War Z” the author not only indicates that what occurred is a zombie war but also that it is a ‘World War’, a global war between nations.

Zombies and Climate Change

Before diving into some of my thoughts about the book, I’d like to digress for a second and tell about my experience reading this book. Probably, like many people in our class, I was at home over break reading this book while also balancing family, food, and friends. I realized that the only way I could get myself started reading was if I could convince my whole family to do it as well. For that reason, I downloaded the audiobook for free (you get two free audiobooks with an Audible trial, I discovered). After first accidentally downloading the German version, I finally found a narration that we could all understand. My parents and I were traveling around Death Valley which was fitting in some ways, not only because of the spooky namesake, but also because traveling in that seemingly lifeless desert valley forces one to think about survival in a similar way to how this novel forces one to think about what one’s own response would be in the face of a zombie invasion. Every so often, between chapter breaks my mom or dad would chime in, “Well, I would just go find an island,” or “This place would be perfect as long as you could bring enough food and water with you!”

 

I have to admit that after listening to the details of how a zombie dismembers a human while passing through the Mars-like landscape of Death Valley has left me a little jittery, jumping at every little shadow. As we made our way through World War Z, I was stunned by the way Max Brooks dutifully explored and deconstructed almost every possible response to the zombie invasion. My family and I thought we were intelligent and on top of it by thinking that escaping on a boat or to a mountain or island would be the answer. However, Max Brooks carefully deconstructs each of these responses, explaining the way in which virtually every response would crumble in the face of a crisis. For me, this was one of the most impressive aspects of the novel, the vast amount of research and care that Max Brooks must have taken to construct these detailed narratives of individuals in each country.

 

After our discussion in class, I was curious to know what sort of research Brooks put into his novel. I also really wanted to know how various countries received these packaged analyses of their potential reaction to an epidemic. After a bit of research, I could not find any answers to my latter question. However, in an article Brooks wrote dispelling the comparison of his novel to the Ebola outbreak, he commented briefly on the extensive research he did to create this novel. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/10/16/is-ebola-the-real-world-war-z-spoiler-alert-its-not/ In addition to studying the history of pandemics and responses to natural disasters, Brooks interviewed a number of doctors, soldiers, journalists, and intelligence personnel, “in an attempt to illustrate the fragile global systems that shield our species from the abyss”.

 

Not only was the benefit of these interviews reflected in the details or content of the interviews, but also in his writing style, including the interaction between the narrator Max Brooks and each character. It must have taken a great deal of care and knowledge to construct a fictional oral history that is still based in research and some fact. Brooks chose a challenging style in creating an “oral history;” however, this chosen style does additional work for the story as we see the interaction between narrator or interviewer, Max Brooks, and his interview subjects. The interview structure of this novel forces Brooks to make a number of admissions in the Introduction as he identifies the importance of recognizing the “human factor”. Additionally, in the introduction, Brooks writes, “ I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own” (Brooks 3). Brooks’ decision to include this disclosure is especially ironic, considering the entire novel is his own commentary on humanity and human systems. However, in my opinion, the awareness that this comment reflects does give the novel an extra element of legitimacy.

 

In all of Max Brooks’ gory descriptions of zombie attacks, it is not the grisly details that have continued to haunt me; it is the government’s ineptitude and inability to deal with such a massive crisis. As I may have made clear in class, the metaphorical zombie that this book represents for me, is climate change. Brooks has done us all a favor by going through the thought experiment of identifying where major world powers are going to crumble in the face of a massive, devastating, faceless enemy such as climate change. Yet, despite this example, among countless other writings that detail how our national and international systems will be stressed under increasing temperatures, very few actions have been taken internationally to mitigate the effects of climate change. Up until this point, refusals to create international cooperation, and uncertainty as to how to address the unevenness or “unflat” nature of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions have made progress on climate mitigation almost non-existent. World War Z only worsened my “climate anxiety” as the international systems that we depend on crumbled in the face of the zombie invasion. As a result, I honestly have very little hope for international cooperation in the face of global threats. The COP 21 in Paris will be an interesting case study in how much our world leaders have learned in the past year.

 

While I don’t have much hope for the effectiveness of international treaties and cooperation in the face of an imminent yet faceless threat, I do think that outside of government structures, humans have an incredible capacity to build resilient and cooperative communities. In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit posits that the large problems in response to disasters come from governments, not individuals. However, most do not distinguish between a government’s response and that of individuals or society. This lack of distinction leads to an overall perception that in the face of a disaster individuals will turn on each other for their own benefit. However, in World War Z we see certain examples of individuals banding together in the face of a common enemy. This is also supported by non-fictional examples in Solnit’s, A Paradise Built in Hell, as she describes a number of examples from Hurricane Katrina to earthquakes in San Francisco where individuals formed a community and truly supported each other in the face of a disaster. There are clearly a number of reasons why the smaller scale, national examples in Solnit’s book differ greatly from something as large and international as a zombie invasion. There also exist many examples in these two books and elsewhere of individuals turning on each other when it comes to the ultimate question of scarcity and survival. However, it seems that depending on the ability of individuals and communities to organize and protect each other may be the only option in the face of an issue as dangerous, international, and unwieldy as climate change.

Also, if anyone is interested in hearing additional breakdown of zombie invasion theories and IR theory, here is a Foreign Policy blog: http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/08/18/theory-of-international-politics-and-zombies/ . Apparently the author of the blog also wrote a book, Theory of International Politics and Zombies

Hindsight is 20/20: Zombies and Hurricanes

The discussion on World War  touched briefly on the connections between the novel and the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Having grown up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I also thought of Hurricane Katrina while reading the novel. But unlike the aftermath of the hurricane in New Orleans, where the degree of damage and loss of life was rightfully blamed on the government’s failure to adequately prepare  (“Make Levees Not War” shirts were popular in late 2005), the victims in Mississippi didn’t have such an easy target for blame. There were no faulty levees at fault for the loss of life and property in my hometown of Biloxi. It was just a historically strong storm that hit directly.

But since we like to believe we have control, and that nothing is simply inevitable, we naturally seek someone to blame. This is where I saw the narrator’s reactions in World War Z reminding me of the days following Hurricane Katrina. Particularly when interviewing survivors about the early days of the outbreak, I felt the weight of Brooks’s narrator’s persistent “Why'”s, and even heavier, the “why not’s.” Why weren’t you prepared? Why didn’t you listen to the warnings?  It’s easy with hindsight to look at the warning signs that should have been heeded, and to assume that you would do better at recognizing and responding to them (notably, the narrator never tells us how he survived the “war”).

I heard the same questions asked following Hurricane Katrina. While most people were talking about the government failure in New Orleans, the few people talking about the rest of the Gulf Coast often wanted to know why people didn’t prepare better. After all, they lived in a hurricane-heavy area and were given a mandatory evacuation order well before Katrina made landfall. I’ve told stories of my friends having to swim out of their attics, and been asked why they hadn’t left before. But just as the World War Z survivors mentioned that the zombie outbreak came on the heels of swine flu, ebola, and countless other pandemics that fizzled out, a Gulf Coast-native is quick to remind you of how often the alarm bells are raised for hurricanes that do nothing. Less than a year before Katrina, we had Hurricane Ivan. Also a Category 5, also headed straight for Mississippi, also with mandatory evacuations and predictions comparing it to Hurricane Camille (Camille was the hurricane by which all others were compared until Katrina came along). And at the last minute, it veered east and hit Florida and Alabama instead. For some families, the decision to evacuate is a difficult one, including loss of income and the expenses required for gas, lodging, etc. So while the rest of the country saw the media panic over Katrina as something new, to those who purchased hurricane tracking maps every year, it looked like business as usual–right up until the moment it wasn’t.

So when we talked about the people’s right to be given all the information on a possible crisis, we talked mostly about the government’s motives in hiding the truth to avoid panic and hysteria. But the opposite effect is also possible. When all the information is given, the ratings-hungry media will hype every tidbit they’re given, and the public will eventually become more weary than wary.  We can only panic for so long until we begin to notice crises rarely turn out as bad as they seem, and begin paying less and less attention. This is not to defend governments for withholding information from the populace that could help prepare them, but to say that the governments are not entirely incorrect in viewing the public’s willingness and capacity to respond as a limited resource.

Zombie Anxiety and the American Ethos

While it is a very handy guide for how to manage the zombie apocalypse, World War Z offers a fascinating look into America’s modern psyche. The author himself seems to embody the anxiety about the future plaguing the upper middle class. I argue that this novel reflects the ethos of a nation—one riddled with feelings of insecurity and weakened faith in the state. The popularity of post-apocalyptic storytelling in recent decades—particularly among generations—is a product of this overwhelming uncertainty for what the future may hold, as well as misplaced nostalgia for the past. Globalization, global warming, the rapid pace of technological innovation and high pressure lifestyles all contribute to this sense of inevitable destruction.

The most obvious culprit for the spread of the zombie virus in World War Z is our intense global interconnectivity. Human trafficking, refugee movement and organ black markets are held responsible. This reflects current concerns regarding the Syrian refugee crises in Europe. As we discussed in class, Mike Huckabee’s views are a symptom of this mentality—goods and people are flowing more freely among nations than ever before, and no one can really control what comes in. This fact leads to ominous predictions about terrorism, super viruses and weapons and how it could all lead to our inevitable destruction. We are currently acclimating to a new interconnected world, and novels like WWZ are byproducts of a discomfort with this change.

WWZ also offers a critique on attitudes that place too much faith in technological innovation. In the Battle of Yonkers, the US brought impressive firepower to bear against the zombies, but were ultimately humiliated. This goes to show that technology is no trump card—like all tools it can be misused. One point brought up in class was the mindset that incoming catastrophes like global warming can be mediated by our technological prowess. I argue that the novel’s dismissal of technology is another symptom of anxiety. Our innovations seem to be outpacing our knowledge of how to best use them and this leads to a nostalgia for simpler times, where we thoroughly understood our tools—the sort of environment created when zombies overrun the US.

The yearning for a pre-high tech lifestyle is also symptomatic of our generation’s apprehension regarding the future and discontent with the present. It’s a phenomenon we see cropping up everywhere—from popular culture to fashion to literature. Learning a practical trade—something that would be useful in the oncoming zombie apocalypse—is very much in vogue. Oftentimes it seems the only way to resurrect this simpler way of life would be for the world to effectively end. I hypothesize that this fantasy is because of the high pressure lifestyles of the average American consumer and how it induces feelings of helplessness. A recent article in The Atlantic discussed a rash of teen suicides in Silicon Valley. The cautious conclusion to the piece was that these suicides were caused by mass feelings of being trapped in high-stress situations, and that the only way out of the punishing cycle was death. It is easy to draw parallels between this mentality and the attractiveness of post-apocalyptic scenarios where everything is ripped down and constructed anew.

Ultimately WWZ is the product of an anxious, upper class American mind. The story embodies key elements of the current national ethos—most glaringly a sense that what we have cannot be sustained. Our Western civilization is depicted as a toppling house of cards. Our technology does not save us, and our greed-induced globalized supply chains and foolish war-making ultimately brings us to our knees. Yet, out of the ashes emerges a global coalition dedicated to constructing a new world order—the preferred solution of our generation to our current international woes. When looked at through this lens, the zombie apocalypse is perhaps less a nightmare and more a daydream.  

 

Lessons from World War Z: What “truth” do governments owe us?

When I first picked up Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z, I anticipated that I was about to read a 400-page novel explaining the ins and outs of zombies. I have seen my fair share of zombie films and am quite familiar with the standard plots. Typically in zombie films a group of people –– usually teenagers –– go somewhere and then they encounter zombies and must fight for their survival. However, from the outset, Max Brooks’ novel is different. First, rather than focusing on a small group of teenagers’ experience with zombies, Brooks’ novel explores the ways in which people and governments around the world are confronted by the un-dead. Second, in Brooks’ novel, the zombies come to the humans, rather than silly teenagers going to a part of town where they probably should not be, thus eliminating the possibility of readers simply dismissing the events by saying that the humans should not have sought out the zombies. Readers cannot immediately place blame on the humans for encountering zombies because the zombies came to them. Third, unlike the typical zombie movie, Brooks’ novel is about far more than fighting zombies. It stays true to intricate relationships between counties, like South Korea and North Korea, and is even rooted in real historical events and the ways governments have approached ‘handling’ pressing issues.

While reading World War Z, I was particularly struck by the sections that discuss the Phalanx drug. In promoting the use of Phalanx, an anti-rabies drug, the United States Government knowingly deceives the American public with a placebo in order to both prevent mass panic and help strengthen the U.S. economy. The slogan, “Piece of Phalanx, Peace of Mind,” (page 82) is essentially indoctrinated into American society. I understand that in times of crisis people are looking for a magic-bullet type solution (which is what the Phalanx was), but it seems morally wrong that capitalist entrepreneurs like Breckinridge Scott are able to profit enormously on giving the American public a false sense of security and that the U.S. Government promotes the Phalanx drug even though they “knew Phalanx was a placebo, and were grateful for it [because Phalanx] calmed people down and let [them] do [their] job” (page 75). Former White House chief of staff, Grover Carlson, even admits to pushing Phalanx through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The American people should be able to have confidence that the FDA will serve its mission to protect U.S. public health and monitor the safety of food and drugs in the U.S., free from any political agenda.

Similarly, the Phalanx issue reminds me of the 1951 U.S. Civil Defense Bert the Turtle, “Duck and Cover” film shown to children in the 1950s during the Cold War. The 10-minute cartoon video provides instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. It explains that children should hide under their desks at school and should practice the duck and cover technique under desks, chairs, or tables –– all while a light-hearted and catchy song plays in the background of the video. In an effort to calm anxieties about a possible nuclear attack, the video compares a nuclear explosion to fire drills, car accidents, and really bad sunburns. However, in the event of a real nuclear attack, it is highly unlikely that hiding under a table would save someone’s life.

In both the Phalanx and “Duck and Cover” instances, the government is providing Americans with a false sense of security in an effort to prevent mass panic. Keeping the public calm is not in and of itself morally wrong. Indeed, governments have a duty to maintain the security of their countries and preventing mass panic certainly falls under the umbrella of security. So, in a democratic system like the U.S., is it the general American public’s responsibility to hold their government accountable and ensure that the information the government is providing is true to the best of their knowledge? Or, in the name of national security, should the government be able to rightfully justify knowingly withholding or even providing false information to the American people?

 

 

Why Do We Love Disaster Stories?

As a few of us highlighted in class yesterday, disaster films, novels and television shows hold a certain fascination for the American public. From the cult following of The Walking Dead to the massive box-office success of the earthquake disaster film San Andreas, there is something about mass devastation that draws us in each and every time. Someone in class expressed a belief that it could be the interaction with our own mortality that makes us so enamored with these films; but I believe that something decidedly more positive plays a role in this mass consumption. When it comes down to it, disaster films, novels and shows play into tropes that are highly valued in our culture and by doing so, they become media that can reflect what we believe is the optimum society, the society we should be.

Disaster stories are rarely about the disaster itself. Rather, the event is just a vehicle for a much broader topic, namely people and their interactions with each other under duress. Thus, the stories are always centered on individual characters, fleshing out their relationships (or lack thereof) before throwing the catastrophe into the mix. This formula (used one way or another in all disaster media) allows for us to see humans just like ourselves engaging in a situation of extreme stress and terror and, as it often is, we empathize with them. We get invested in their decisions (and at times, even make the decisions with them), we cry when they cry and triumph when they triumph. And when the same values of heroism, love and finally redemption appear consistently in these films and novels, that empathy translates into a sort of understanding. Even if the characters who uphold those values die, we understand them to be the example to look up to. We understand the message that not even disaster should unravel our humanity; if anything, it’s meant to make it stronger.

Reading World War Z brought this topic to mind because I read the novel having already seen the film. Thus, I could see that though there was general inspiration taken from the novel,  as a whole, the film adaptation of World War Z didn’t touch on the intricate political and social considerations that the novel did. Instead, the directors went with that classic disaster film trope: the hero going above and beyond to save his family and managing to save the world too along the way. It is interesting to think about, then, how even criticisms can be turned around to focus on redemption.

All in all, disaster media shows humanity as unwaveringly good, even under the strain of absolute chaos, and I wonder if we hope that seeing it play out on screen enough times will make us replicate these heroes’ actions, should disasters like this ever come true.

World War Z: Human Nature and Survival

World War Z does a great deal to show different aspects of humanity during times of plight. I really appreciated the fact that the story highlighted the experiences of different people of diverse backgrounds from different countries, rather than focusing on one character who resolves the story with a neat and tidy (or not) end. It shows the raw emotions behind human motives, the selfishness as shown by Breckinridge “Breck” Scott, the desperation to be unaffected by the outbreak as shown in Sharon’s story, and how people are able to overcome their shortcomings in times of difficulty as evidenced by Kondo Tatsumi and Tomonaga Ijiro with shut-in lifestyles and blindness, respectively.

During our discussion yesterday, we questioned whether humanity would ever be able to come together during times of crises and what that would look like. Who would lead the new order? Would humanity even survive this kind of onslaught? I’m going to preface my opinion with the fact that I tend to think the worst of people. I think that people are often self-centered and are mostly in it for themselves; not to mention that in any given apocalyptic show, there’s bound to be some selfish character that ruins it for everyone because they’re okay with the status quo, are too weak and unwilling to do anything, or both. This tends to show up in this genre, be it about zombies, monsters, titans, disease, or anything else. I really think these people are based on the fact that there are those kinds of selfish people in the world. We might even be those selfish people.

Yet, despite all of this, I still think that humanity would be able to survive this kind of calamity, mostly because Kondo Tatsumi’s story reminds me of the fact that people do have survival instincts, no matter lazy or how much of a shut in they are. Granted, I was first very frustrated with him when he stated that he hadn’t questioned the fact that his parents disappeared when he stated that  “the only reason that I cared was because of the precious minutes that I was wasting having to feed myself,” on page 204 on the Kindle version. Still, I found his story relatable because of the fact that I can be like this character, an otaku who lives in a world away from the real world. The greatest moment, for me, in this book was when he “awakened.” “My mind was finally clear, maybe for the first time in years, and I suddenly realized that I could smell smoke and hear faint screams. I went over to the window and threw the curtains open” on page 206. These were the greatest lines in the book, at least in my opinion.

I think that line would reflect the manner in which humans regain the sense that they would need to survive, that their lives before would not matter as much as the desire the survive. I’m not sure about how well people would group up and work together or even which nation would lead the world after recovering from such trauma. After all that talk about how the US is used to being leaders in the world, who knows if those people would even survive? I highly doubt the rest of the world would be willing to listen to some person from, let’s say, Wisconsin, or even if that person has the knowledge to begin to communicate with people in other cultures. All in all, humanity has made it this far, survived other calamities, I think we should be able to survive this one somehow.

World War Z: Humanity’s “undead” mistakes

I perceive this book more as a very strong satire of humanity’s self-destructive mistakes, rather than a typical story about a foreign invasion against humanity. To better elucidate my point, I compare World War Z with Ender’s Game that we read last week. On the surface, the two works of literature seem to be thematically similar; both tell the stories of humanity fighting against an outside and abnormal force. Yet upon closer look, there are actually two stark differences between the works. Firstly, Ender’s Game draws a clear proximity between humanity and the buggers, thus emphasizing the external nature of the threat. Meanwhile, World War Z blurs the battlefields and home fronts, hence creating a frenzied chaos as the enemies strike from within the borders and localities. Secondly, while Ender’s Game portrays a successful coalition that humanity creates to combat the alien invasion, World War Z depicts individual nations’ selfish policies and disjointed international responses. Through this post, I underline the significance of the two traits that set World War Z apart as a work of literature.

Building on the first contention, it is very crucial that the author obscure the line between the battlefield and the homefront; as a matter of fact, the two become almost synonymous and one within the book. This paints an image that what humanity is facing is actually not an external threat, but rather a disease that emerges from the inside. Unlike Ender’s Game, World War Z deals not with a scenario in which humanity must unite against a common external foe; instead, it sets up a scenario in which humanity must rid itself of its own disease. In my opinion, the use of zombies actually further buttresses this claim when we consider the nature of these horrid creatures. The book explains how these undead creatures are deceased human beings who turn into cannibalistic monsters. In other words, these monsters are not as ‘foreign’ and ‘alien’ as we might have initially thought. They originate from human beings; from humanity itself. The fact that legends and folklores across cultural boundaries each have their own version of zombies further conveys the point that the zombies symbolize a common and inherent issue that all cultures are aware of. These zombies are representative of the vices and errors that humanity itself had created, yet refused to deal with in a straightforward manner. Instead, humanity chooses to sweep them under the rug of legends, hoping that they would eventually turn into forgotten myths. This book, however, delivers a story in which said myth becomes reality; the errors that humanity selfishly makes and ignores are finally exploding into a monstrous pandemic.

We are talking about racial injustice that remain unaddressed even within the 21st century, as neighbors turn against each other, ‘vigilantes’ run about shooting protesters, and cops kill civilians. We are talking about political bigotry, in which a certain presidential candidate spreads trepidation of those who are different, encourage hate crimes, and demand the closing of the borders. We are talking about climate change, in which everyday households and the everyman’s lifestyle can very well accumulate as the source for global destructions. We are talking about terrorist groups who are now capable of infiltrating communities beyond the restraints of borders, as they commit crimes against humanity from within the domestic soils. We are talking about indiscriminate air assaults and bombings, inconsiderate of their targets, in which collateral damages include hospital facilities and even weddings. We are talking about countries racing to develop weapon technologies so destructive that they become obsolete, for the aftermath offers nothing but mutual destructions  In every single one of these real-life issues, do we not see disturbing parallels to the world of World War Z? A world in which chaos and violence run rampant in the local neighborhoods, while the countries are driven by fear into closing their borders; a world in which everyone has the potential of becoming a monster, while horrid creatures massacre people in large numbers from within the communities; a world in which monsters and deaths visit indiscriminately, while advanced technology proves to be futile and useless against the ‘new’ enemy.

This is also the reason why an effective international coalition does not exist within World War Z, the way it does within Ender’s Game. Humanity is not rallying under one banner against an external foe; it is struggling to survive against cancer within its very own body. In addition, our current international regime, order, and system are also built upon humanity’s selfishness, which has now turned into zombified marauders. To me, the main question this book raise is not how the international system can resolve this issue, but rather why it fails to do so.  Political infighting, selfish individual interests, and corrupt collusions have become the motifs of many international organizations and the existing world order. Disparities stand gigantically between the Global North and South, while authoritarian regimes receive aids as long as they support a hegemon’s actions. The United Nations loftily assert itself as the body of global governance, only to undermine itself with a self-defeating veto system within the permanent security council. International Criminal Court struggles to bring justice for the global community, yet lacks the signature of the world’s biggest superpowers, including both the US and China. The world is not flat. Consequently, the international system and organizations are used to preserving the status quo in which the world is not flat. This is their idea of a stable global community. In the events that they must operate to ensure fair distribution of security across the globe, to make the world flat, they fail. The system cannot go against a crucial piece of its own foundation: selfishness and ignorance. This is why, within the books, the author depicts how various countries immediately start with the initial blame game. The Palestinians suspect the catastrophe as being a Zionist trick, while the Americans blame the Middle East conflicts for stalling US responses. Selfish policies, such as the closing of borders and apartheid-based system, then become the normative responses. The reason is simple: ignorant selfishness is what the global community and individual nations are used to.

World War Z has brilliantly depicts a nightmare that is so close to reality. This is not your typical zombie-chasing fictional stories. Instead, the true horror of the story lies within its close relevance to our reality. Indeed, there is an ‘undead’ disease lying in waiting for humanity; a disease that we have created ourselves and for ourselves. Said disease knows no geographical boundaries, and stalks behind every culture and nationality. Should we fail to address this corrupting disease that is born out of corrupt human practices, then a ‘zombie’ apocalypse is really not a farfetched concept.

World War Z: The Morality of Phalanx

When I first came across Breckinridge “Breck” Scott’s story, I was appalled.   Breck was the man behind the Phalanx vaccine that claimed to prevent the “African Rabies.” While it may have been true that his vaccine really did prevent rabies, it was ineffective for preventing the zombie plague. With the help of the FDA, doctors, congressmen, and the White House, he was able to make money from a misinformed and desperate public. His eagerness to prosper from a situation of panic, fear, and uncertainty felt deeply immoral to me. Moreover, his unapologetic attitude and his crude mockery of those who believed in Phalanx worsened my impression of him and strengthened his image as an unscrupulous profit-seeker. Breck’s capitalization of people’s fear is comparable to much of the weight loss industry, which is largely reliant on the misinformation surrounding exercise and nutrition. The industry essentially sells hope to desperate people, which reveals a downfall of the capitalist system but also exposes the power of fear and desperation to cloud people’s rational judgment and tendency to scrutinize bold claims.

However after reading his story, I felt increasingly ambivalent. Breck argues that he was selling a sense of safety and protecting people from their fears. Because of Phalanx sales, the biomed sector began to recover, restoring consumer confidence and boosting the economy. People could continue living their everyday lives, even if it was under a false sense of security. Breck argues that the once drug was revealed as a hoax, people started to panic and all stability was lost.

Breck’s situation raises important questions about weighing the costs of exposing the hard truth versus the benefits of hope. The truth was that there was no vaccine or cure to the zombie plague. However, when this truth entered public knowledge after having the hope of an effective vaccine, it caused a massive panic.

Did Phalanx actually benefit the American public by giving them more time to continue their everyday existences and function as a society?

While Breck sold Phalanx solely for his personal gain, the involvement of congressmen and White House could suggest that they knowingly approved the fake drug, actively choosing to create a sense of security and safety for the good of the people rather than undermining stability. This situation reminds me of the Hong Kong reaction to SARS in 2003, which caused a massive economic recession, as schools and offices were closed down. The reaction was ultimately not proportional to the actual threat it posed. While downplaying the threat of the zombie plague had detrimental consequences in this case, from a politician’s point of view, perhaps there is value in remaining calm, assessing the situation rationally, and emphasizing order and stability.

World War Z examines the nature of fear in times of crisis. Throughout the book, we are presented with scenes of people buying guns, stocking up on food, taking Phalanx, and being prepared to run or fight at any moment. These scenes reveal the fragility of the global system and how easily the laws and norms of society are abandoned in the face of an uncertain danger.  Moreover, they remind us of our primitive “fight or flight” instincts and how easily we resort to herd mentality. As readers, we realized that fear and panic are not rational emotions and serve to guarantee our survival. This conclusion reinforces Breck’s comment that, “Now I understand why it used to be illegal to shout fire in a crowded theatre” (57). Breck’s story helps us realize the importance of formulating an effective crisis management strategy that is proportional to the threat posed.