“The show is valuable because it allows you to apply the principles of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill to a sort of game-theory decision tree in a “real world” simulation.”
Mario Loyola, “The Walking Dead’s Political Philosophy,” National Review, Dec. 5, 2015
I was recently in a meeting where the topic of food storage and preparing for natural disaster came up. I noted that anyone who tunes into “The Walking Dead” will at least be left with the thought that maybe it’s a good idea to stock up on essentials in case of a disaster. I found it interesting that only one other person had seen the show and they agreed, although several said they would give it a look.
I too resisted the series for a couple of years thinking it was a typical, run-of-the-mill zombie show with lots of gore and a standard plot-line. However, one day I tuned in on Netflix and was hooked. The program actually employs a strong philosophical thread, as the article from National Review notes, but also tackles a wide array of psychological and sociological themes.
One thing that is hinted at, but made more apparent in the spin-off, “Fear the Walking Dead” is the social decay that would ensue if the traditional infrastructure collapsed. What happens when there is nobody to call for help? What happens if there are no police or military to come in and save the day? What if everyone was left at everyone else’s mercy? And what if, as I assume there will be no zombie epidemics in our future unless someone messes up with a nano-technology experiment, society disintegrated due to a pandemic, war or catastrophic economic collapse? Would it be that much different than the world of the TV series?
In my book, “Freedom from Conscience – Deliverance from Evil” https://amzn.to/2qULWvO the heroine, Melanie Lindberg, is kidnapped by a serial killer who anticipates a societal breakdown and has prepared himself in a compound in eastern Oregon. His vision is that people in the cities would run out of food and begin a march to the suburbs in a quest to take what they lack. The suburban soccer moms and hockey dads would not fare well, but there would be enough people with guns to finally decimate the rampaging hordes. Yet in the end survivors would be clustered into small networks without much of an aim or focus beyond survival. That would lead to a power vacuum our super-villain, Vincent Elkington, anticipated filling.
So is that how things would work out? Would psychopathic individuals establish their own little kingdoms and we would return to an era similar to 12th Century Europe? The world of, “The Walking Dead” gets viewers thinking about this in reference to three communities, Woodbury, Terminus and Alexandria. In the first we are presented with a charismatic psychopathic leader who will employ any sort of Machiavellian principles to maintain power and protect his community from both humans and zombies (I know they are called “walkers” but I will stick to the more recognizable term). In contrast we later are presented with Alexandria which is filled with people who appear akin to folks that support Bernie Sanders, and are led by an idealistic woman who used to be a congresswoman. I won’t deal with Terminus because they had devolved into cannibals and we are not given detailed background in explaining their collapse into barbarity. Yet the Woodbury and Alexandria settings allow us to explore extremes in social thinking that can be applied to regular society even without a disaster scenario. In Woodbury might makes right, but people are willing to fight to hold onto what they have. Again, their leader may not be all that stable but in Hobbesian world sometimes you need to be tough to have the benefits of eventually securing a society ruled with the ideals of John Locke. As we see in Alexandria the people are isolated from danger and have become weak; easy prey for those who would do them harm. Do such societies survive in real life? Sadly history has shown that they do not unless they have the security of existing as a sub-culture in a powerful state.
Overall I have to say that “The Walking Dead” is far deeper than most entertainment on TV today. If nothing else if one takes away from it the need to be prepared in case of disaster then that is an important lesson since our modern society and infrastructure while, being complex, is actually increasingly vulnerable to weather, disease and whatever mankind can come up with in the quest for power. And lastly, what would your community look like if the lights did indeed go out…go out for good?
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