Almost fifty years ago, Stewart Brand wrote in the Whole Earth Catalog that we were as gods and that we might as well get good at it.
At roughly the same time, George Romero made Night of the Living Dead.
Guess which one inspires our culture today?
Fifty years from now, the zombie might have the quaintness of little green men, but for now, they are everywhere. Newt Gingrich observed some time ago that for better or worse, the Earth is about human beings now. The zombie is our reflexive response to the disgust this idea rightly inspires: a fear our modern world is a fragile thing that fights nature, enabling concentrations of power that persist when they should rightly decline. The zombie says that we are Greek gods, petty and short-sighted, bad gods. Fifty years ago, our lone Gnostic writer Philip K Dick wrote pulps; today his work still inspires movies.
Perhaps we should be more optimistic. Last weekend I attended Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s inaugural Zombie Workshop, to kick off their spring 2015 satire Zombie the American. Along with zombie movement explorations (we form herds so quickly when we pretend to be dead) and hilarious script scenes, the theater hosted a discussion of “zombie economics” with the law professor Ilya Somin.
Somin pointed out that for all our fears and survivalist paranoia, a modern interconnected society would have a much better chance at containing a viral outbreak, assuming even a modest competence in our leaders (which the play’s satire, of course, does not).
For example, look at the difference in Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and the US. Of course, we had the advantage of foresight, of wealth, of the latest medical care — but how did we get those advantages? By being good enough gods at least to finance all these helpful technologies.
It would of course be better for our whole dei-system if we found a way to share these benefits with our fellow gods, even the ones in lesser Olympuses, but it’s something, at least.