All Us Zombies

Lucius and I had a disagreement about zombies. I thought they had become popular for some deep psychological reason. He thought zombies were just a fad perpetuated by unimaginative hacks.

Granted that there are many valid ways to look at what zombies represent, I still think I was right.

Zombies primarily symbolize a deep misgiving we have about the power of bad ideas and the mind-body split. If we look at zombies politically, both Democrats and Republicans can get strong confirmation bias that they symbolize the other team. But we need to get outside the political mode to see the underlying issue: zombies represent bad ideas that won’t die.

Zombies (generally) represent a hopeless view of those infected with bad ideas: the best you can do is avoid them, or shoot them in the head (the locus of infection that animates the zombie).

Who gets infected with bad ideas? People. Warfare can be seen as the attempt to kill ideas or at least limit their power, by killing people. Of course, it’s not the dead who keep coming back to life; it’s the idea that infects them that won’t stay down. But when you have begun to look at people as merely the vector of a bad idea, whether they’re mindless resurrected people or people units with the same zombie traits, it doesn’t really matter. 28 Days Later is a zombie movie, even though the infection isn’t supernatural and the killed zombies stay dead — the point is that what looks superficially like a human is basically dead to us and yet still a threat.

To liberals, people infected with fascism are the main zombie threat (as opposed to those infected with the more general “authoritarianism”). After WWII, academics on the left worked hard to define, isolate, and produce a cure for fascist ideas. They cast a baleful eye at Nietzsche, Heidegger, Darwin, and classical philosophy. “We have decided the people aren’t the problem. We’ve tried killing them. Other fascist zombies just take their place.”

Unfortunately, they turned to linguistics as the antidote. “Maybe ideas don’t live in human minds,” someone suggested. “Maybe ideas live in _language_.”

“Is this true?” others asked.

“Eh, who gives a crap? It’s a _good_ idea. Let’s run with it, and not worry about the biology that might be involved. That stuff’s too hard, anyway, and wrong… probably… maybe. What’s truth, anyway? We’ll make our own truth.”

So neoliberal language manipulation was born, with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, it’s based on an error. Ideas are discovered, not invented. They are ultimately true in reference to an underlying reality that actually exists outside social construction and pushes back against falsehood. You cannot kill ideas by destroying them with language tricks. You only delay their articulation, and that of the better ideas that might actually be effective against them. (Ever wonder why critical theory papers aren’t written in plain language? It’s not because they’re written in rigorous technical language.) The best approach to creating a strongly articulated framework of propositions is killing bad ideas with falsifiable good ideas, which means science when we’re talking about the realm of facts (as opposed to the important but irrational realm of Meaning, of “What makes life worth living?”), so science really comes in for the stink-eye too.

If you’ve ever wondered why conservatives distrust liberals from an academic perspective, this is it. We can say #notallliberals, but only if we understand and fight the misguided attack on articulated knowledge that undermines (neo)liberalism. The magic spell against zombies that redefines previously serviceable terms like “privilege” and “racism” to kill their old meanings just doesn’t work.

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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