Monday, July 14, 2014

The Ongoing Zombie Apocalypse, part 2

Perhaps the closest real world analog to the fictional zombie virus is rabies. Rabies is a viral disease well-known to affect mainly warm-blooded animals. Pet owners are often legally required to have their dogs and cats vaccinated against the virus, as infection can cause animals to turn vicious and usually results in the death of the infected animal. Probably the aspect of rabies that is most striking is the change in behavior of the animal that is effected through infection. A normally docile dog or cat may start acting aggressively, scratching or biting anyone who comes near it. This change in behavior is understood to be the way the virus propagates itself. Since rabies is found in high concentrations in the saliva of infected animals, the virus alters the behavior of the animal to increase the chances of it biting another host, thus spreading the infection.

What is striking here are the parallels between the mechanism of transmission of the rabies virus on the one hand and of technology on the other. When an animal is rabid, it seeks to roam and bite other hosts. It is crucial to note that the animal is unable to distinguish the motivations of the virus from its own motivations, even though from an outside perspective, behaving in an erratic, violent way does not benefit the animal in getting it food or sexual mates. The behavior, though embraced by the animal, only benefits the virus by increasing the chances of propagation. If given the chance, the virus would presumably try to infect as many hosts as possible, though the underlying motivation for this phenomenon, if there is one, is, as for all viruses, still unclear. It is a mistake to interpret the animal's new, post-infection behavior as stemming from the animal's inherent nature or personality--the disease is distinct from the diseased. Nevertheless, the animal will feel compelled to act in ways that it should otherwise understand to be self-detrimental, picking fights and risking injuries that are actually unnecessary. Likewise, technology, specifically high technology that depends on the subjugation of people, seems to only benefit itself at the expense of not only its host species but also the environment. Of course, those who are infected with the technology "virus" believe that technology, and the actions that it requires, benefits themselves--like the rabid animal, they are unable to distinguish the motivations of their infection from their own motivations, for their own motivations have been subsumed by technology, and they sacrifice and toil for technology willingly, aggressively spreading it with absolute conviction. Like rabies, once a population acquires high-technology, that population tends to spread it to surrounding populations, but it is not possible for the uninfected populations to disinfect an already-infected population. The trend is usually toward increasing infection until the virus, running out of new hosts, dies out on its own. When a population acquires technology, its behavior begins to radically change, and its priorities shift dramatically in favor of propagating technology, even at the expense of the population's own interests. Increased aggression is observable, along with a host of previously unknown symptoms like meanness, deceit, greed, and misery. When an animal becomes rabid, it is impossible to reform its aggressive behavior through any amount of incentives or punishments--the virus precludes the possibility of lucid thought, just like a zombie. A rabid animal, like a zombified neighbor, can only be put down. Leaving the animal alive out of pity risks more bites and more infections.

The question is, how accurate is this parallel between rabies and technology? If the comparison is absolute, then the prospects of ridding ourselves of the technology infection seem dire, like the third act of a zombie film. There certainly does seem to be a relentless, too-late-to-turn-back quality to the current pandemic of techno-dependence. We would just have to wait until the fire of infection runs out of kindling, annihilating most of the current biosphere. Or can we realize in time that this infection has to be quarantined as quickly as possible to protect what nature is left? Can we see the current situation for what it truly is: an ongoing zombie apocalypse, as mindless, relentless, and merciless as anything we've watched on the movie screen?

Perhaps the important thing to remember is that, just as rabies is not inevitable in an animal population, neither is technology and the negative changes in human behavior it entails destined to crop up among humans. A common argument against anarcho-primitivist ideas is that the current dominance of technological society was inevitable, predetermined by innate human curiosity--"should we somehow succeed in stamping out technology tomorrow, there will sooner or later be a group of humans somewhere that will once again pursue progress with technology". I have written previously about how diseases such as cancer are incorrectly thought of as inevitable aspects of human existence, as cancer is by no means inherent in human aging. Cancer is not inevitable, nor is rabies, and neither is technology. If a dog or cat lives its entire life without contracting rabies, it is not somehow incomplete, and it is not a lesser animal than an animal that does acquire rabies. Neither eventuality is inevitable, though either can be made more or less likely by environmental conditions. The word "inevitable" is used by the system to dispel any hopes for a way out. The word is part of the infection that is trying to overtake your mind, convince you of its rightness despite the obvious degradation happening all around us.


  1. I first heard of your blog on John Zerzan's Anarchy Radio and I've been enjoying it ever since. Thanks for your efforts.

  2. Hi Ian,

    I, too, became familiar with your blog after hearing John mention it on his show. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you're writing about veganism, I think we share many of the same opinions on that issue. I really try to write only about ideas that I haven't encountered anywhere else so as not to waste readers' time, so I wasn't planning on going into veganism too much since you and Kevin Tucker and others have done a great job already, but maybe I will reference your blog in the future at some point if the opportunity arises. Talking about this stuff, you know how all sorts of topics become related in the course of a discussion, and that, I think, is really a sign of the strength of this kind of critique.