Beyond Zombies and Vampires
Zombies & Vampires, Oh My! This post, an essay for Vinay Gupta's The Future We Deserve, delineated the lay of the land today. We are hemmed in by these two types, both of behaviors and of ways of looking at those around us. But, in the end, is there anything to be gained by remaining stuck at this stage, of cataloging some sort of guide book on the myriad of zombies and vampires haunting our landscape?
What do we do, and how do we proceed, so as to get beyond this ultimately futile exercise?
Popular culture is infested with these tropes. We repeatedly dwell on the suffocating hordes of zombies and take perverse pleasure in their destruction. The glories of the "double-tap!" Political manipulation at the "highest levels" now translating undesirables and would-be terrorists into a new class of zombie non-persons. We all know what needs to be done with them. Double-tap by drone is most efficient, after all….
At the same time we, or at least the young and residually affluent among us, celebrate the hollow, empty pleasures of extreme Narcissism by imagining themselves through their avatars in various media as luscious vampires filled with the peculiar combination of world-weary ennui and a hunger for invincibility and immortality that mark a state of terminal adolescence.
At every turn we are confronted with zombies who see themselves as vampires and vampires who see themselves surrounded by zombies. In this we populate the extreme, resultant state of accelerating atomization. Where each of us is alone, lost and trapped in our Ego's pursuits, and easy prey to every form of manipulation because this is all we are accustomed to.
What happens in a culture based on harvesting agreement, or manufacturing consensus, when the limits of what that strategy can achieve are reached?
This is what we see going on about us now. As we become ever more embittered at the dysfunction of not just the outcomes of a system of negotiation, but the foundations of that system; we begin to see each other as no more than either zombies or vampires. We end up taking on these roles to various degrees ourselves as we narrow our capacity to do anything but play out this scenario we have fallen into.
Let's put this simply. If we can only see a good outcome proceeding from agreement, from our getting others to see things precisely as we do, then we are bound to fall into modes of action that will produce increasingly bad outcomes. We also, by the same mechanism, alienate ourselves from any other conceivable way to interact with each other.
We see disagreement as a problem in and of itself. This means that we take the only possible avenue by which we can be exposed to fresh perspectives and close ourselves off to it. We see anyone or anything that does not conform to our "lights" as a problem to be overcome. Trapped within habits of conflict and consensus we expect that our problems can only be alleviated by destroying the sources of our discomfort. We devalue the "other." They become, in our eyes, either plodding zombies to be mowed down wholesale, or as evil, conniving vampires out to prolong their miserable existences by feeding on our lifeblood. That these judgements are projections of our inner conflicts on the world is something we remain blind to. How can we not be? We won't listen to anything but echoes and agreement with our current evaluations.
How do we come to abandon our love affair with agreement and the destruction of all who "oppose" us?
As with any failed behaviors that persist contrary to their host's best interests, these are addictions. They "satisfy" in the ways addictions do, by a combination of short-term boosts to our sense of well-being – pep-rallies and smiting the foe fit the bill – along with an aura of guilt and self-destructive backlash which takes any sense we might have of imbalance and twists it into embracing what we now "know" is not good for us because "we deserve no better!"
We are a culture of co-dependents. Whether by banding together in mutual agreement – either feigned or genuine – or by standing in opposition ready to destroy those arrayed against us; we support each other in these grand delusions. Our "enemies" with whom we stagger about the ring embracing each other in our exhaustion and rage; as well as the roaring fans surrounding us in our individual arenas; all strive to maintain this insanity until extinction removes us from the stage.
This is the significance of our public arena and our private dramas today. A willful blindness to any possibility of creative change combined with a transcendent agreement among all parties that maintaining this horror is the most important thing.
Agreement has its place. But in this climate that place is vanishingly small if it is not to be our downfall.
All of our systems and habits – our conditioning – are predicated on the perpetuation of this mechanism. Along with engaging in dialogic interaction – in which agreement has no particular weight and negotiation is completely besides the point – we need to accept how dangerous our habits of seeking agreement and consensus have become. "Agreeing to disagree" has devolved into surly defensiveness behind ever more armored and fortified walls.
Until we recognize the terrible and immediate dangers we put ourselves into by holding to these habits we will remain locked in this mad embrace. We will have no attention left or space in which to learn dialogue at all. We will have abdicated any chance for creative responses to form or take hold. Dissensus will remain an odd term with no particular consequence and dialogue just another sloppy synonym for discussion and debate.
Let us think of that the next time we embrace an ally or turn against a foe.