So the 113th Congress is back for its final yawn. The budget deadline looms again. There is a December 11th deadline but nobody rational has any interest in going near a fiscal cliff during the Christmas consumerism season, right? Right?
Timed to the elections earlier this month, former Senator and now Heritage Foundation leader Jim DeMint revived “zombie Congress” rhetoric and attributed the phrase to the pundit George Will. Now, that attribution to George Will is now peppered across the internet because of the mass syndication of DeMint’s article. And an additional article from Heritage (“The Dangers of Lame Duck Sessions in Congress—Unfair and Undemocratic” by Hans A. von Spakovsky) appears well-researched with html footnotes, repeats the same George Will attribution but cites only to DeMint’s article again. When did George Will ever say “zombie Congress” let alone become it’s popularizer?
The “zombie Congress” term first hit ZombieLaw from Congressman Jim Cooper in 2012. The phrase referred to the then lame 112th Congress approaching both a fiscal cliff, sequester and taxmageddon, and it was well timed to the ending of the Mayan long calendar. So back in November of 2012, shortly before DeMint even announced he was joining, the Heritage Foundation was already was pushing this phrase.
That “zombie Congress” rhetoric mostly subsided since early 2013, which makes sense if it’s going to be synonymous with lame-duck. Still, I’ve never noticed George Will refer to it. In searching I see one article from 2005 in which George Will has “zombie” but only in the headline as published in Jewish World Review: “Flying Zombies“, so it was the editor there, because the original headline at the Washington Post was “The Wrongs of the Wright Rule“, in both versions it began:
Some things, said Marx, appear in history twice, first as tragedy, then as farce.
Is this the farce repetition for the 2012 zombie Congress? In the tragedy we flew over the cliff, let taxes hike so that no would violate Grover’s pledge when they vote to raise-by-reducing-what-would-otherwise-automatically-rise (so zombie!) and trimming bloat by drowning agencies under sequester (see underwater zombies?).
George Will, could you please chime in? You have a verified twitter, you occasionally retweet others, it’s a simple question: do you take credit for any recent popularization of the term “zombie Congress” or has Jim DeMint mistakenly attributed it to you for some Heritage propaganda?
Contrast this zombie-like usage by Canada Free Press: “You’re not in sovereign freedom any more. Get the picture?” by Judi McLeod:
Two days after Obama’s China ‘goodwill’ announcement, there has been virtually no reaction from the the newly-elected Republicans and Conservatives, who will arrive zombie-like to Congress in January.
McLeod calls the new Congress “zombie-like” but Jim DeMint thinks the “zombie Congress” is the returning lame-duck session. So, is the zombie the lame-duck or the impassioned newbies? Answer: it’s Congress, they are all zombie!
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… see the Duck Test. And that’s sort of the same as my previous post’s question of obscene-consciousness: do we know it when we see it. Are all political actors (politicians, pundits, press) just undead quacking ducks?
the “zombie Congress” that returned to town this week (the reelected and the not-so-lucky) will do more business in the weeks following the election than it did in many months preceding.
That sounds easy because they’ve done so little in the preceding months but hopes for rapid progress seem overly optimistic. Though it was fun to see them voting yesterday, neither the Keystone-XL-pipe-dream nor the NSA data collection modifications passed Congressional muster and rumor has it President Obama will be ordering executive action on immigration tomorrow. He should have done that from day one, six years ago. There is so much more he can change immediately with the swipe of a pen. He should. Now. That’s why we elect presidents not zombies.
BaltimoreExaminer: “Zombie Democrats won’t be saved in 2016 because GOP already won” by Martin Sieff:
Where is the Democrats’ new vision for America’s future? Where are the detailed programs to revive industry, to credibly create scores of millions of well-paying new jobs, battle the drug addiction plague, restore border security, end the financially ruinous drain and bloody cost of wars without end around the world?
Until they wake up and start coming up with those answers, they’ll stay Dead Men (and Women and Gays) Walking, they’ll stay political zombies. They’ll stay The Living Dead.
Just like on the other side of the pond, “Ukip Think The Tories Are Behaving Like The BNP, And The BNP Agree” by Charlotte Meredith quoting BNP spokesman Steve Squire:
the mainstream political parties were “useless zombie parties”.
Or across our own continent, in Seattle Weekly: “The Voting Dead: How Zombies Predicted the Midterms” by Mark Rahner:
All the zombie-apocalypse prepper folks were really skilled political trend-watchers. … These zombie shows aren’t just entertainment. They’re practice.
To conclude this post about political zombies, there is a new course offering next semester at Brandeis University entitled “The Political Zombie” by Professor Jodie Lynn Austin. Maybe one of her smart students can research a more definitive meme-tracking for “zombie Congress” than what I’ve got so far; or maybe somebody knows George Will and can ask him directly about his involvement.
Scientific American: “A True and Complete Account of the Neuroscience of Zombies” by Gareth Cook questioning that ZombieLaw favorite, the pre-eminent new UCSD assistant professor, Dr. Bradley Voytek, Ph.D.
“ Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain” by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek
At first I didn’t think this article was particularly noteworthy. I’ve written about Voytek many times before and his new book doesn’t strike me as all that new. Perhaps being in Scientific American magazine is noteworthy enough, while we may worry about the quality of older institutional brands, this brand still holds wide popular credibility. Still, I might not have done more than retweet it (which I did yesterday morning) but then I read it and now I have to respond. He mentions the Supreme Court.
Wait what? Yes, he quotes Justice Potter Stewart’s cliched concurrence from Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). I mean it is a neuroscience book so I guess cliche is really all we can expect; as if the mind could be found in the material, ha! Nevertheless let’s examine Dr. Voytek’s usage of this particular legal cliche, shall we:
it’s quite difficult to define consciousness, but much like US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s views on pornography, most of us, “know it when we see it,” and zombies ain’t it
Voytek is saying that consciousness is like obscenity (well, he says “pornography” but the actual Stewart opinion is about “hard-core pornography” and particularly about the legal notion of an obscenity exception to the First Amendment’s free speech freedom). So Voytek is saying of consciousness, “know it when you see it“.
This is interesting for at least two reasons. First because in the history of consciousness we have not been particularly good at knowing it when we see it (or not good at seeing it – more on this below). Second, in the context of the history of obscenity law, the court’s decision in Jacobellis (in which Stewart concurs) was that the allegedly pornographic film, Louis Malle’s 1958 “The Lovers“, was Constitutionally protected speech.
Justice Stewart’s concurrence is actually rather short, here in its entirety:
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring
It is possible to read the Court’s opinion in Roth v. United States and Alberts v. California, 354 U.S. 476, in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which, in those cases, was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court’s decisions since Roth and Alberts, [n1] that, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. [n2] I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
1. Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago, 355 U.S. 35, reversing 244 F.2d 432; One, Incorporated, v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371, reversing 241 F.2d 772; Sunshine Book Co. v. Summerfield, 355 U.S. 372, reversing 101 U.S.App.D.C. 358, 249 F.2d 114; Manual Enterprises v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 (opinion of HARLAN, J).
2. Cf. People v. Richmond County News, 9 N.Y.2d 578, 175 N.E.2d 681, 216 N.Y.S.2d 369.
Is Dr. Voytek saying something similar about consciousness, that it “may be indefinable” and perhaps we will “never succeed in intelligibly” defining it? Is that the defacto premise of neuroscience? It’s part of the material determinist philosophy. We’re just matter, responding to other matter. That “you”, you think you are, you’re just an emergent moment in a complex pattern of environmental system transactions.
Two years after Jacobellis the Supreme Court revisited obscenity law to further clarify obscenity law. In the case against “Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” by John Cleland, again the court upheld the First Amendment’s protections, and then again in creating the Miller Test.
Incidentally (and since I am plugging Voytek’s book I may as well plug mine) I almost included that case, Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966), in my book collection: “Creativity in the Supreme Court” but I cut it for space constraints and because the word “creativity” only appears in an appendix not actually in the justice’s opinion.
But I’ve digressed, let’s now look away from the Court’s obscenity laws and consider Voytek’s use of the Stewart quote in context of the history of consciousness. Historically we have not actually been very good at knowing consciousness when it is before us. How long did it take to recognize that women and black people shared enlightened consciousness? What of animals, still so much modern disagreement about their consciousness. If our best neuroscientists can’t provide a definition of consciousness, how would we ever prove it for a chimpanzee? (see Nonhuman Rights Project)
Voytek is comfortable asserting that zombies lack consciousness. He invokes the classic p-zombie argument but later in the article references Haitian drugged zombie slave workers. Voytek is aware of the possible abuses of oppressed people. I’ve called him out for it before in reference to his cartoon zombie diagnosis and see “Oppression of the Neuroscientist“. This philosophy is inextricable from neuroscience philosophy. The possibility of a p-zombie, a person without consciousness, is a rhetorical and theoretical ground for neuroscientist investigation. Unfortunately, it risks making us all subhuman.
Like the unraveling of obscenity into community standards, neuroscience carves away at the practical possibility for defining consciousness as anything but signal firings. They insist on looking in the material and then are surprised they can’t find it there. Hint: it’s not in the brain.
Voytek’s reference to “Blade Runner” is well-placed. His praise of Harrison Ford’s performance is noteworthy because Ford plays it so stoic-straight. The performance more usually praised is Rutger Hauer’s emotional death scene where the audience sees the machine as conscious (“seen things you people wouldn’t believe”), the rain as tears, the dove offering the power of symbolic meaning. This challenges the audience to wonder if we are anything more than machines ourselves. And Deckard himself, portrayed in Ford’s sterile performance, is perhaps himself also a replicant that doesn’t know he’s a replicant.
“Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott directed “Thelma and Louise” and “Alien”, and so many other movies that explore similar themes of otherness. His upcoming movie “Exodus: God and Kings” hits theaters soon and is already blurring metaphors between Batman and Moses. These are stories of raising consciousness.
Consciousness is a frame of otherness, a way of respecting difference and the behaviors of the environment. What we feel in ourselves neuroscience considers a powerful illusion. We are not here. We are lagging behind, responding to bodily stimuli, looped through historical habits, in blooming fractal glory. For neuroscience, we are the dreaming zombies.
Only outside the sciences, in the humanities, can we become more fully human, but sadly, nobody knows which arts are the truly valuable arts or even what it might mean to have a greater consciousness (how can we quantify it if we can’t define it). So we keep falling back to the neuroscientists, but they will never be able to tell us; they’ll only know it after they see it. We need more consciousness studies of non-material reality to better define what we are looking for, but from a scientific community standard, any talk of the non-material may as well be obscene.
Chicago Pride: “Bitter Old Queen: Sodomite Semen” by Sukie de la Croix:
thanks to Reagan, the insane now walk among us babbling about Starbucks and sodomite semen in this zombie apocalypse we call the 21st century.
The American Spectator: “Nancy Pelosi Blames Midterm Losses on Ebola” by Emily Zanotti:
should a zombie apocalypse befall the Western hemisphere, we’re better off assuming that the CDC will be the first to infect themselves
Canada Free Press: “You’re not in sovereign freedom any more. Get the picture?” by Judi McLeod:
Knowing without any doubt that the newly elected cannot help but be his zombies, Obama is the cat who swallowed the canary.
Today to honor Veterans day I watched the movie “World War Z” with Brad Pitt, the unrated version, streaming on NetFlix. The movie was better than I expected. It’s a comedy right? And also totally pro-military-public-health propaganda. People globally will see that movie and perhaps learn to take their vaccines (and to buckle their seat belts on the airplane).
Since the last few ZombieLaw posts have been about zombie Anonymous, we should also mention the “Tomb of the Unknowns“. It’s a good reminder that not all anons are hackers and whistle-blowers, many are patriots and boots on the ground who were lost on the field. See also the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
The poem concludes:
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Wear a red poppy to support the cause. But who is the enemy? Remember “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque:
“It’s queer, when one thinks about it,” goes on Kropp, “we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?”
What is allegiance to nation? What is allegiance to an idea? Recall Pfc Moyers court martial for his resident evil patch.
As much as we love anonymous, Veterans Day seems a good time to remember that “loose lips sink ships” (and zombies have loose lips). The blindly loyal cocker spaniel knows…
Speaking of dogs, remember the veteran animals too, Shakespeare‘s “dogs of war” help fight our wars and also need to be treated well when they come home. Pets can also be helpful for treating soldiers with PTSD. Yay for animals, zombies’ best friends; lots of love, never say a word…
Brad Pitt is like that cocker spaniel, pretty hair, sporting ideological propaganda. Like one of the puppets in the South Park guys’ “Team America”. “World War Z” (the movie, Max Brooks book is different) teaches us to build walls, kill the masses, and get vaccinated – ‘murica F-yeah. It also offers a paradox that though we can’t trust the military, they remain our best and only hope.
Thank you to all the veterans. Ye know not what you do, and the enemy doesn’t either, and in the midst of it, everyone is a zombie. The moral reflection on poetry and literature are activities that soldiers have fought and died to make possible for us. They made themselves into animals to protect the possibility of our humanity. We may question your missions, question our vaccines, but we do not “break faith with” ye; that one day all the zombies will be eradicated, and everyone can go home… until then, thank you, because there are enemies that can’t be reasoned with and institutional violence may be the only viable response.
At Joystiq: “WoW Archivist: The zombie plague event” by Scott Andrews details a historic event in World of Warcraft history:
the most memorable pre-expansion event in WoW’s long history: the zombie plague.
Now, you might be thinking this has nothing to do with law but it’s important because it’s about world-building and collective communities. World of Warcraft is an important subculture and their history is worth exploring.
of course, players were driving it. People organized zombie raids on different cities with the intent to cause maximum devastation. The game gave them the tools and they took full advantage.
Being a zombie was enormous fun.
What was so amazing about this event is that it felt so authentic. It felt the way you always imagined a zombie outbreak would feel. Minor incidents led to escalation and then to absolute world-ending mayhem. The best ways to survive it were the ways you’d expect: staying in large groups, remaining armed and ready at all times, and avoiding population centers.
The zombie plague event garnered tons of press for Blizzard, including mainstream media. All this excitement most certainly helped fuel WoW’s climb to its peak subscription numbers
Also, we could pick sides. We could choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. We could hold steadfast against the Scourge or join their ranks and ravage Azeroth’s cities. It’s hard to explain just how cool it felt to be an actual bad guy, even just briefly. And it felt amazing, as well, to drive back the undead and save a city from the plague. However you approached the event, you were having fun — but only, of course, if you wanted to participate.
Andrews explains that many fans were not as happy about it, referring to their “vocal outrage” but despite that, he is nostalgic for this craziness. Bemoaning their more recent efforts, he wonders if Blizzard would ever have the chutzpah to do something so risky again.
Do we need a global catastrophe in order to bring us together? Is the only way to form community to share chaos and tragedy? Can we find a better way? And if not, if there is no better way to build community, then would it be justified for the government to create these horrible events in order to promote the social welfare?
That would be a crazy conspiracy-theorist nightmare, but then again, see comments from Professor Coleman of McGill University in National Post: “Hacker, creeper, soldier, spy” by Adrian Humphreys:
in this post-WikiLeaks moment, where there have been many leaks that have shown how, under the mantle of security, law enforcement and intelligence organizations have really abused their power, I think we have to take these claims very seriously. This is something we can no longer ignore or brush under the rug as being a crazy conspiracy.
Matt DeHart’s tale is simply incredible, unbelievable and crazy scary. Humphrey’s reporting is book length but worth every minute of time to read. And it includes many zombie themes i.e. PTSD, torture, terrorism, Anonymous, psychotropic medications, child porn prosecutions, the death of Aaron Schwartz, Canada!
“Talking to him on the phone, he sounded like a zombie,” said Paul DeHart, Matt’s father.
Well, what would you sound like if suddenly everything you knew was turned upside-down? As Andrews wrote of the WoW zombie plague:
We have so many great stories and fond memories because for the first time in a long time, we logged in and we didn’t know what would happen.
Is game design all that different from motivating government participation? Let’s hope so.