"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
There seems to be an emerging Zombie movie/game sub-genre which attempts to reconcile the existence of zombies with civilisation. Examples of such movies includes “Maggie” (acted by Arnold Schwarzenegger no less) and “The Returned” where the zombie crisis is contained, but not eradicated. Thus civilisation and social order is still intact and the zombie and zombie affected areas are in the minority. From here there would be all kinds of questions about the extent to which civilisation would go to prevent a zombie apocalypse from happening and ensure its own survival.
Because of the normalcy of the environment, there is not that sense of urgency to eradicate the zombies to save civilisation. Thus loved ones will normally start hiding or harbouring their zombie or infected relatives. no doubt out of sentimental reasons, and the authorities will attempt to hunt them down and quarantine them to prevent an all out zombie apocalypse.
These zombie movies bring out the conflict between what it means to be human and the treatment they deserve, and the survival of civilisation or social order which may need us to negate whatever empathy we may feel towards them. It would be instructive to compare between the two versions of the “Dawn of the Dead”, namely, the 1978 version and the 2004 version. In first version the show starts off with people executing the zombie with great reluctance and there was a great debate about “human rights” and treating zombies as humans. In the later version those issues have more or less vanished and zombies are executed seamlessly and mercilessly.
The concept of a zombie is morally and philosophically interesting in that they are humans of morally ambiguous status. Suppose you are faced with some humans who, in the face of overwhelming evidence, is completely committed to eating other people. Furthermore, in modern zombie genre, the zombie “virus” can spread if you do not execute them at once, threatening everyone around them and potentially entire nations and civilisation. In that sense, even if these zombies themselves have not done anything because, say, they have just got bitten and haven’t bitten anyone else in turn, one is justified in executing them simply because of what they are rather than what they did.
Of course one can speak of hoping that someone can find a cure or maybe there is still some lingering humanity left in the zombie. However in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and in the absence of an actual cure, the fact that they are biologically human means nothing, and their constitution, rather than their actions, has already determined their fate.
The new emerging zombie sub-genre is interesting in that while most zombie movies requires us to kill them to simply survive, the sub-genre we have in mind calls us to quarantine them and separate them to preserve civilisation or social order. Such movies vividly illustrates the reactionary scenario as the reactionary often emphasises the way in which civilisational and social order is fragile and its survival is often dependent upon disciplined and rigorous measures. Humanity must be divided, our innate sense of empathy for another fellow human being must be denied, those infected with a zombie virus must separated and taken out lest the entire social order collapses. It is a classic case of a conflict of loyalty between a supposed common humanity, or familial ties, and the demands of civilisation or even human survival which requires us to negate our empathic and familial ties.
(To digress a little to a more real life example of such a conflict, the necessity of negating deeply felt familial ties for survival purposes was actually something which was tested during the recent Ebola outbreak. Officials explicitly told the Africans to avoid contact and not to address or touch the bodies of the deceased, but out of some emphatic sense of caring for their relatives with touch, including a ritual whereby they are supposed to wash the dead bodies of their relatives, they ignored the instructions and got infected themselves.)
Anyway to continue, suppose we extrapolate the analogy from a behavioural modifying virus to a behavioural modifying ideology or “meme”. The term “meme” by the way was previously used by Daniel Dennett to refer to an idea which propagates itself analogous to a “gene” before it became purely associated with internet pictures. It seems here that we’re confronted with an interesting either-or. Should we treat people according to what they’ve done or what they believe? One can say that certain beliefs are compatible with a range of mutually exclusive actions. But this is simply to say that the belief is inconsequential and has no behaviourial impact. On the other hand if the belief does lead to behaviourial consequences, then the belief becomes significant and one can treat people differently according to what they believe. Suppose we have someone openly espousing ISIS ideology, but hasn’t actually done any bombing, killed anyone, or even planned anything. Can we jail such a person simply because of that person’s beliefs?
As Mark Steyn has very helpfully noted:
By the way, what does “vetting” even mean? In a multiculti world, you can believe everything Caliph al-Baghdadi does – that infidels are unclean, that women are the property of men and should be forbidden to feel sunlight on their faces, that homosexuals should be tossed off the roofs of buildings, that apostasy should be punishable by death, that Sharia should be introduced in western nations, and that the Islamic crescent should one day fly from the White House and Buckingham Palace and the Élysée and St Peter’s. And Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have no problem with that, as long as you don’t actually build a pipe bomb or blow up an airliner.
So there is no actual way of “vetting” anybody until after you’ve left a big pile of body parts all over the floor.
In that light is the concept of the human really all that significant for determining how we treat each other? It seems that the concept of a zombie implies that behaviour towards other humans aren’t based on some notion of a universal human nature, but instead it is based on some other contingent feature of humanity, e.g. dispositions and behaviourial traits.