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ZombieLaw studies zombies in law, politics and current events.

banks, debts, deep discounting, japan, new york, UK

Globes: “The financial system is close to the abyss” by Irit Avissar quoting Prof. Anat Admati:

Zombie banks constantly gamble

it will reveal which banks are good and healthy, and which are weak to the point of being zombies - the walking dead.

If a bank is a zombie it won’t be able to raise capital, and I fear that there are a lot of banks like that.

A zombie bank cannot issue new credit, so it is already not a source of oxygen for the economy. Zombie banks only continue to gamble with more and more money to try and cease being a zombie, while simultaneously not recognizing their losses in their balance sheets, in order to avoid collapse.

FT Adviser: “FCA restructuring to see two executives depart” By Ruth Gillbe :

Financial Conduct Authority chief executive Martin Wheatley admitted the regulator’s handling of the probe into so-called zombie insurance funds that caused a ‘disorderly market’ was not the FCA’s “our finest hour” in April.

Referring to FT Adviser: “Wheatley admits he will face ‘serious questions’ on blunder” By Donia O’Loughlin:

Financial Conduct Authority chief executive Martin Wheatley has admitted the regulator’s handling of probe into so-called zombie insurance funds that caused a ‘disorderly market’ on Friday (28 March) was not “our finest hour”.

Consider Japan, see Market Oracle: “Princes of the Yen: Central Banks and the Transformation of an Economy” by Jesse:

Japan, and the ‘Asian tigers’ as well, were mercantilist in their outlook and crony capitalist in their composition. The enormous amounts of monetary stimulus were dissipated in supporting zombie corporations, a ruling elite, unproductive investments, and widespread soft corruption and insider dealing.

Times: “Japan’s ‘zombienomics’” by Kevin Rafferty:

My worry is that Japan and Abe are practicing “zombienomics,” repeating mantra — like “three arrows” — as if they are magic spells that will bring instant success.

Japan is becoming a zombie society, where people do not question old shibboleths.

From my base at Osaka University, I despair of the emphasis on conformity and refusal to question authority, when Japan needs more questions, more solutions, more entrepreneurial thinking, not more zombies.

Meanwhile in New York, the Governor is getting credit for new rules for debt collection – particularly regarding attempts to collect illegal debts that have exceeded their statutory limit - so not really a new rule, so much as new ways to protect a rule that already exists.

Local Syr: “New York State issues new rules for debt collection“:

The fourth regulation guards against zombie debt collection.

Long Island Exchange: “Senator LaValle: NY Making Additional Efforts to Protect Consumers from Fraudulent and Abusive Debt Collectors“:

Protections Against Collection of “Zombie Debts”: If a collector attempts to collect on a debt that exceeded its expiration date, before accepting the debtor’s payment, the collector must provide notice that they believe the debt has expired.

CUTimes: “NY Adds New Rules on Debt Collection” by David Morrison:

The notification that the statute of limitations may have expired is meant to help consumers confronted by debt collectors trying to collect on what the department called “zombie debt”, which is debt older than its legal statute of limitations.


These new, finalized state Department of Financial Services regulations will provide consumers with important disclosures to help combat aggressive and deceptive practices that take advantage of confusion or fear, help stop attempts to sue to collect “zombie debts,” establish a new debt “substantiation” requirement so that consumers can request information to avoid paying what they do not owe, and address other widespread abuses in the debt collection industry.

Meanwhile, and only tangentially related, at 4Hoteliers: “Why You Shouldn’t Sell Rooms for $7 on Hotel Tonight.” by Vikram Singh:

Discounting is dead. Granted, it’s a zombie that comes back to life every now and then when hotel owners, managers and marketers completely run out of ideas. But you don’t have to be a victim of zombie discounting. There are many other approaches that can help you through a slow season.

It’s tangentially related because banks might try to deep discount their bad debt and less scrupulous debt collectors take the risk. But if the risks are too high then the deep discounts cause bigger problems.

Recall there are at least three types of “zombies debt”.

And see more ZombieLaw: Money

American Zombie uncovers political corruption

In the ongoing race for Louisiana Senate, the investigative journalist at the blog “American Zombie” has posted “Paging Dr. Cassidy…..” with a document dump of public records related to Congressman and Senate candidate Bill Cassidy. The issue is his billing for hospital work. The claims is that he billed for more hours than he told the House ethics committee. According to a new ad from supporters of Senator Mary Landrieu, the congressman appears to be in two places at once.

Bayou Buzz: “Did Bill Cassidy double bill?” by Lou Gehrig Burnett:

Heading into the final week before the election, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy has come under fire and is on a hot seat concerning allegations he was double-billing (double-dipping) by charging for work at LSU while he was getting paid for his Congressional duties.

The investigative reports, first broken by the websites The American Zombie and CenLamar, have now been picked up and are being pursued by local and national media, including The Times-Picayune, The Advocate, WWL-TV New Orleans, The Hill newspaper, ABC News, and the NOLA Defender.

Politico: “Landrieu ad riles New Orleans Fox affiliate” by James Hohmann:

Last week, a blog called “American Zombie” posted what it described as an “opposition research” dump. It was a series of emails and time sheets, obtained through public records requests, about Cassidy’s work as a teacher and physician for Louisiana State University.

Recall the blog ‘American Zombie’ was also important in the conviction of Mayor Ray Nagin; see the ZombieLaw post: “The Zombie that took down Ray Nagin“.

Blogger, Jason Berry, is dedicated to exposing public corruption within New Orleans. It’s coincidental that double-billing, or appearing in two places at once, is a sort of zombie-like sci-fi phenomenon relying on assumptions of material bodies and physical time and space. Also it’s related to labor and compensation practices and it’s at a hospital. So there are many zombie themes here. But it’s American Zombie because it’s related to public corruption. It’s a public hospital, and at the very least, something appears to be wrong with Cassidy’s filings to House Ethics.

Incidentally, “American Zombie” is not to be confused with “ZOMBIE: THE AMERICAN” a theatrical performance show coming next season to the Woolly Mammoth theatre thanks in part to a $60,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. See Washington Post: “Kennedy Center program among several D.C.-area groups to win grants from NEA” by Peggy McGlone:

Other NEA grants include $60,000 to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company for the world premiere of “Zombie: The American,”

And see Washington Post: “Next Season Preview: Woolly Mammoth Theatre” By Peter Marks

“Zombie: The American,” by Robert O’Hara, directed by Howard Shalwitz. (May 25-June 21, 2015)

noticed also coming to the Woolly next season:

“Famous Puppet Death Scenes” created and performed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. (Dec. 9-Jan. 4, 2015)

The Woolley Mammoth is located in Washington DC, so it makes sense that their show titles might have a political skew to appeal to their local audience, but it’s not every theatre that gets a 60k grant of federal money. We should probably wonder how cozy this theater’s relationship might be with their local partisans. Is this another case of political corruption?

Let’s also not confuse the American Zombie blog with the “Blog Zombie” by Lawrence White, starring John Byner, which aired on PBS this past summer and still currently available online at WMHT. And see Lawrence White’s explanation of his film at Times Union: “Blog Zombie on PBS“:

The good, bad and ugly occurs on blog time. It provides a sharp-focus snapshot of our society that is both revealing and challenging.

Is blog time like Matrix time? Speaking of movies, let’s conclude by not confusing any of this with “American Zombie” (2007) directed by Grace Lee:

mockumentary horror film … documentary filmmakers who investigate a fictional subculture of real-life zombies living in Los Angeles.

Which also reminds me also of L.A. Zombie (the gang and the queer cinema movie by Bruce La Bruce), which are clearly not the same as “American Zombie” in New Orleans, LA.

Zombie Wind PTC

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan) represents Kansas’s 4th congressional district and has been reelected again to return in the 114th Congress. He wrote today in The Hill: “Congressman’s response to Sierra Club and union’s call to extend wind PTC“:

Kansans, like all Americans, love freedom and are willing to work hard creating real and lasting jobs for their families: they just want government to get out of their way, stop picking winners and losers and let them innovate.

The Wind Production Tax Credit has expired. It’s been out of our lives for nearly a year. Why on earth would we bring back this zombie tax favor at the expense of the wage earning families that can afford it the least?

zombie mike pompeo kansas

For context see Wikipedia: “United States Wind Energy Policy

See also the following non-zombie links:

NYtimes: “Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels” by Diane Cardwell, Nov. 23:

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas. That day appears to be dawning.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources.

It’s time for wind tax credit to get blown away” by Thomas Pyle, a father and “Expert on all things energy” writes:

a vote for the tax credit is a vote for Obama’s climate change agenda. But there’s another important reason to reject the wind production tax credit: America’s largest and wealthiest corporations exploit the subsidy at taxpayers’ expense.

Both Pyle and Congressman Pompeo make reference to the same Warren Buffett quote, where Buffett says he only invested in wind because tax credits made it beneficial. This talking point seems to miss the point entirely, it’s not a useless subsidy if the businesses weren’t going to do it otherwise. This tax credit seems to be a real incentive to get change to happen. The climate is out of control, it’s changing and that’s terrifying and we don’t know what to do, so setting up ugly wind mills at least makes it seem like we are doing something! Now that it’s finally nearing competitiveness it’s not time to pull the plug, keep going and push the transition away from dirtier fuels!

Also, jobs! The go ploy of every bill, but this sounds like this is more jobs than the Keystone Pipeline and it’s cleaner.. See Huffington Post: “The Wind Energy Production Tax Credit Isn’t About Politics, It’s About People” by Mary Anne Hitt, Director, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign:

The PTC has expired and been renewed many times in the past, creating a boom bust cycle that isn’t healthy for any industry. The last time this happened, 5,000 jobs were lost and some developers seriously questioned America’s commitment to a clean energy future. It’s time to stop beating around the bush and tell Congress and wind energy investors that Americans want clean, wind energy and our energy policies should reflect that.

And the public likes it, see The Energy Collective: “New Poll Finds 73 Percent of Voters Support Crucial Tax Policy for Wind Energy” by Shauna Theel:

The Gotham Research Group poll found 73 percent of registered voters support continuing the Production Tax Credit (PTC), including 63 percent of registered Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, and over 71 percent overall in all regions of the country.

Ironically, Obama might have to veto it anyway, see Mother Jones: “Will Obama Pull the Plug on Wind Energy?” by Tim McDonnell:

President Obama threatened to veto a $440 billion package of tax breaks negotiated by a bipartisan group of legislators


Whatever tax deal Congress ultimately passes will probably include the PTC, says Jim Marston, vice president of US energy policy at the Environmental Defense Fund. Some of the credit’s biggest proponents are powerful Republicans from windy states, such as Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who said on the Senate floor last week that gutting the PTC “would cost jobs, harm our economy, the environment and our national security.” But a veto could mean a long delay—and more of the uncertainty that the wind industry fears.

Seems like the Kansan and Iowan republicans disagree about their wind credits? Is this a fault line within the Republican party, or are they setting up a lose-lose situation for President Obama. Maybe it’s actually a win-win. Who knows. Because yes, Ms. Hitt, it may be about people, but it’s clearly about politics.

Sioux City Journal: “Iowa wind energy tax credit under fire” by Erin Murphy:

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who authored the tax credit in 1992, says he is open to the eventual elimination of the incentive. But he says it should be phased out, not eliminated all at once.

“I know it won’t go on forever. It was never meant to, and it shouldn’t,” Grassley recently said in remarks on the U.S. Senate floor. “I’m happy to discuss a responsible, multi-year phase-out of the wind tax credit.

Contrast Wall Street Journal: “Wind Power Is Intermittent, But Subsidies Are Eternal” By Tim Phillips:

Over the past seven years, the PTC has cost taxpayers $7.3 billion, and it is expected to pay out $2.4 billion more in 2015.

The program operates as one of America’s least-known wealth-redistribution schemes, forcing taxpayers to pick up the tab for wind farms beyond their borders.

Is that really the problem, or is this mostly big business oil-coal interests holding on to power. See, The Hill: “Americans for Prosperity urges Congress to reject wind tax credits” by Laura Barron-Lopez:

The conservative Americans for Prosperity is pressing Congress to oppose an extension of tax credits for the wind power industry.

Is it about innovation or prosperity? All we are is dust in the anthropocene.

Zombie Thanksgiving

Thank you all for your zombie readership.

And thank you zombie Columbia University, see the Columbia Spectator: “Thanksgiving alternatives in NYC” by Rebecca Farley:

Columbia dining [was] selling a “Thanksgiving survival kit,” which, despite having a rather dark name (anyone else thinking of zombie-apocalypse Thanksgiving?), is a helpful bundle of foodstuffs for students staying on campus. The kit, which is $89 total, contains deconstructed sandwiches, dinner entrees, and lunches, among other things

Haha at “deconstructed”. Thank you Derrida (Thank you Freud. Thank you Hegel.)

Money Week: “How to unlearn hundreds of years of painful lessons” by Bill Bonner:

The pilgrims washed up in the wrong place, and then proceeded to almost exterminate themselves with clumsy central planning. Their system discouraged work and encouraged zombies.

Most new initiatives from government reduce the incentive to work and increase the rewards for not working. Not surprisingly, this results in fewer workers and more zombies.

You’ll remember our definition of a zombie – someone who lives on the output of others.

And especially for that, we say, Happy Thanks-giving!
Isn’t this the American dream?

The statistics Bonner cites are mildly staggering:

Between 1988 and 2011, the percentage of the public that has been zombified by government transfer payments increased 62%. That leaves about 86 million full-time private sector workers paying taxes, and 148 million on the receiving end.
… Meanwhile, the number of people on disability has soared. There were 51 working Americans to support every disabled person in 1968. Today, there are only 13.

What if we just keep going? Could we get it down to just some robots and machines doing all the work and we could live as zombies? More free time for humanities and arts or like a flock of turkeys on a industrial farm?

Thanksgiving: death to turkeys!

Recall from last year: “turkey-focused zombie apocalypse”, and the year before “Zombie Turkey, Undead Pilgrims, Slaughtered Native Americans AND Black Friday Hordes

To conclude with some holiday cheer, I finally bought a copy of “Elf off the Shelf” (it’s now under six dollars new at Amazon); recall Green “Elf off the Shelf” is parody of red “Elf on the Shelf” in part because of the image on the book’s back cover of a ‘Zombie Slayer DVD’. Now looking inside the book, one passage:

Forget the ball… and the doll… And that stupid toy train. Let’s go with gift cards and cash, And that sweet new zombie videogame.

So that DVD image is apparently supposed to be “Zombie Slayer” the video game. The book continues:

Feliz Navidad, and Happy New Year, I wish I could say, I wish you were here.

None of us are here. Easier to forget. Indulge in the illusion with bodily gorging of food, football, consumerism, the native American celebration of consumption.

zombie slayer elf


I hope no one considers this too much of a spoiler but if you watched “Homeland” last night then probably you are thinking about themes related to zombie Benghazi.

These themes are very timely with the release of the House Intelligence Final Report: Investigative Report on the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012 [PDF]

Some people think that report should be the end of the story. Senator Lindsey Graham disagrees calling it “garbage” and “full of crap”. See CNN: “Sen. Lindsey Graham: GOP-led Benghazi report is ‘full of crap’” by Sara Fischer. Meanwhile at Mother Jones: “Benghazi Is Over, But the Mainstream Media Just Yawns” by Kevin Drum argues that the report didn’t get enough attention.

At Raw Story: “#Benghazi is dead, long live #Benghazi because zombie #Benghazi will never die” by Tom Boggioni (though the zombie is only in the headline (and graphic) so it might be from an editor at Raw Story and not Boggioni).

The bottom line is that if people think it’s a government conspiracy, then a government report is not going to convince them otherwise. Additionally it doesn’t help that the report uses so much political doublespeak. For example, it

finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks.

because the Intelligence Community:

did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.


the intelligence was and remains conflicting about the identities, affiliations, and motivations of the attackers.

So, I know I am not trained in intelligence, but that sounds like an intelligence failure to me. I understand that what they mean is that there was no failure because they didn’t have the information so they didn’t fail in communicating known intel. But it’s still a failure with regards to the intelligence system’s ability to gather intel before (and after) the attack.

Also in regards to Ambassador Rice’s public misstatements:

mistakes were made in the process of how those talking points were developed.

They “found no evidence that any officer was intimidated” and “found no evidence that CIA conducted unauthorized activities in Benghazi and no evidence that the IC shipped arms to Syria.” Let’s repeat the keywords there:

found no evidence

Which is, of course, not conclusive proof of anything.

Finally, let’s note the sentence:

Relevant documents confirm that the IC did not posses intelligence indicating planning or intentions for attacks on the Benghazi facility on or about September 11, 2012.

The next sentence begins:

And thus the IC did not fail to provide such a warning.

But of course, they did fail to provide a warning, it’s just that the failure was not internal to their communication, it was a failure to gather the intelligence. And to highlight that particular doublespeak let’s also notice that between those two sentence is a footnote. Which footnote, well, number 66, of course. Not quite the mark of the beast, but awfully close. Footnote 66 notes that ODNI provided “429 intelligence cables, reports and assessments ranging from February to October 2012″. So I guess if there was no intel in that package then no one knew anything, right? By the way, 429 is equal to 3 x 11 x 13. Do those numbers matter? I don’t know, a conspiracy theorist can’t overlook anything.

For a different kind of crazy, see Renew America: “Our new Congress must impeach Obama–Attacks will happen anyway” by Laurie Roth:

Obama wants the GOP to impeach him, sue him, and attack him in the media. He and his progressive traitors believe this response will land them the 2016 election, especially with the “obedient zombie,” illegal alien vote. So…do we do the opposite of what Obama expects and let him write and implement the game board plans for our country? No, and no. We do what is courageous and right. We get ahead of the message and throw Obama’s game right off the table. We tell the American people the truth of his breaches, law breaking, and assaults on our national security. We not only impeach him in the HOUSE, but we boldly campaign in the SENATE and find our voices on the DEMOCRAT side who may wax a little liberal but love their country and see what has happened.

Hmm, is that even remotely possible? Actually, yes I think maybe it is. Many in the GOP’ers would love to impeach President Obama, and then there is always groups like LaRouche that want to impeach every president. President Obama knows that there will be calls for his impeachment, which is partly why it was a good time for executive action on immigration. Either they are going to impeach him or not, it’s not going to be about what he actually does, so he may as well do stuff that he thinks is good. Obviously President Obama doesn’t really “want” Congress to impeach him, but he is daring them to do it because he knows it would most likely hurt them most. No one likes to watch Congress waste time. They need to get back to passing legislation. Then the President can veto if he wants, and we can debate actual proposed ideas instead of political puffery and Congressional inaction.

Meanwhile, closer to reality, in Ohio, Cleveland Leader: “ Let’s all watch Hillary Clinton lose Ohio in 2016” by Tim Russo:

Hillary has a choice, which Ohio is putting before her, right now, in this ODP Chair mess. Hillary can continue along the rigged path, send the message that in fact Hillary supports rigged primaries, like the ones ODP has institutionalized for decades, that she does not feel it’s necessary to go through her own primary, and let the Ohio Democratic Party continue its zombie walk into irrelevance. Or….Hillary can try to salvage those 2016 empty campaign offices in 2014, try to fill them with activists who don’t feel played for fools.

We are all being played for fools, but that doesn’t mean we can stop being activists. Political organization is always a type of conspiracy. The lack of evidence is insufficient reason to stop sharing ideas.

what up “zombie congress”?

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?

From NPR via WBUR: “Get Ready To Watch This Lame-Duck Congress Sprint” by Ron Elving:

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.

We needed those answers six years ago. We still need them now. But it’s not like those answers are coming from the either side; see CSPAN: “Senate Democratic Agenda” and “Senate Republican Agenda“.

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.

Until then, see the ZombieLaw posts tagged: zombie-Congress and more generally the ZombieLaw tag: Congress.

consciousness is like obscenity

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:


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.


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