The Trouble with Zombies

Zombies are a real problem, a real crisis, and a real threat.  Each of us must act or zombies may destroy us all.

What are zombies?


The popular television show, The Walking Dead offers a useful guide to zombies:

  • Everybody (living or dead) is infected.
  • The infection can sicken and kill the living; and reanimates the dead.
  • The dead mindlessly wander in packs, driven by insatiable hunger, spreading death and destruction.
  • The living face choices:
    • Is life worth living?
    • Why? What’s the point?
    • At what cost?

At its best, the show explores these deep questions.

A real problem

Professor John Vervaeke, psychology professor and cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, suggests that zombie popularity points to a real problem.

  • We use stories/myths to express difficult ideas.
  • The zombie myth expresses an idea that there is a problem – something going very wrong.
  • The zombie myth is popular because the problem is real and pervasive.

A real crisis

Zombies symbolize the real crisis – a meaning crisis, says Vervaeke, our lack of meaning (purpose).

  • Zombies lose the capacity for meaning (cannot think, cannot speak).
  • Zombies are mindless consumers who attack and destroy meaning. (They kill the living and eat the brains that give meaning.)
  • Zombies are adrift, wandering aimlessly, with no sense of belonging (no home).
  • Zombies have no personal responsibility because they lack self-awareness.
  • Zombies have no community responsibility because they have no community, only the herd – a destructive mob.

Viewers can offer the survivors little advice, says Vervaeke, because we are trapped with them.

A real threat

The meaning crisis threatens us with annihilation, in a very real sense, unless we confront it.  In a sense, the post-modern world is the zombie apocalypse.

It takes courage even to name the problem.  The word “zombie” is almost never spoken in zombie stories, says Vervaeke.  We struggle to identify and confront the problem because this requires standing against popular postmodern thinking.

  • This leaves us without (spiritual) meaning and (ultimate) purpose, and the capacity to think/speak in those terms.
  • Materialism is unsatisfying, while scientific rationalism attacks the institutions that give (spiritual) meaning.
  • This leaves us adrift, aimless, with no sense of belonging.
  • Personal responsibility erodes, as moral traditions are replaced with ideologies that reject morality and responsibility.
  • The community (society, family) decays, replaced with unthinking and destructive mobs.

So, the post-modern world is the zombie apocalypse.

  • We are the infected.
  • Our postmodern infection sickens us and threatens to kill us.
  • Postmodern thinking leads nowhere but death and destruction.
  • Without meaning (purpose, values, morality), life feels pointless – like its not worth living.

An answer

We must build a meaningful civilization, says Vervaeke.

  • We must each help our self before we can help others.
  • None of us can save the world, but each can save our self and help others.

How do we find meaning and purpose?  Is it really that important?  This post is the first in a series on meaning and purpose.

Next: Postmodernism Part 1, Truth is Dead