The Thinking Person's Guide to Fighting Zombies

It’s simple: You think in order to fight zombies.

Philosophical zombies, perhaps, but zombies nonetheless.

I first learned about philosophical zombies from Peter Watts’ blog (Law of Internet Invocation, I invoke thee!) shortly after reading his book Blindsight. The idea of a nonconscious creature that acts as if it were conscious to try to fit in… well, that fit with my experience of most of humanity. Anyway, it’s a year later, and I’ve absorbed a lot of sociobiology and a lot of sociology in that time. And, in case you somehow couldn’t figure it out, Mead really sticks out as either tying it together or anticipating movements years in advance. Especially when it comes to consciousness. Consciousness is considered – in Watt’s words – the pointy haired boss of the brain. Not really functional, and just acting like the worst of middle management.

Not so for Mead. Mead’s conception of consciousness implicitly and explicitly requires compassion and empathy for others, or at least the ability to determine the motivations of others. For him, this is exemplified through the saints and (interestingly) capitalism, since to form a better communal society with increased benefits for all, one must be able to empathize with the other. (Capitalists who don’t figure out what other people need and want don’t sell a lot of stuff.) Except that, as with any communal situation, you run into the free rider problem (see here for an exhaustive description). This is where pattern recognition becomes important – because a philosophical zombie (also, almost implicitly, a sociopath) can mimic social reprocity, but not truly *have* it. By Mead’s definition, one who does not have a conscious experience (a p-zombie), cannot truly empathize with another. Therefore, sooner or later they will slip up, and you’ll be able to either exterminate them or teach them empathy. Your pick.

Pattern recognition then becomes a very worthwhile skill to have – because you can detect zombies. 🙂 So where’s the problem? Eventually, pattern recognition spawns off other things – like religions (again, Peter Watts has a good, if irreverent, dissection of this). Religions – like most any social structure – have a tendency to become calcified over time. It’s exactly that calcification that Jesus was so famously kvetching about when he reduced the Law of the Hebrews to a couple of pithy sayings. So when religions – based originally on pattern recognition and empathy – become calcified rituals, they lead to predictable patterns which are things that zombies can mimic more easily.

Which brings us back to thinking people. Most modern society – as noted earlier – is made up of handshaking protocols. These are essentially low-level defenses against free riders. However, introspection and conscious thought – something not common in everyday society – is needed to deal with zombies. (Postmodernism, then, becomes the latest iteration; its fractitious nature is a feature, not a bug.)

So you have antibodies – those people who are more prone to introspection – around. They then (effectively) alert the population when zombies have become too powerful, leading to more introspection and either awakening the zombies or effectively castigating them (or at least not letting them be free riders). It’s arguable, then, that Jesus is a zombie repellent… though not for the D&D reason.

Add to this: Zombie movies have been most popular during times of social upheaval and war.

Compassion – the anti-zombie.