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zombies aren’t only about economics

March 12, 2013

Apologies to my loyal readers (if there are still any) this is a bit of a long rant – I should have proof-read it more before posting it but, ya know, I just don’t really care right now- zombie:

I’d like to go out on a limb for a moment and suggest that the current rhetoric suggesting zombies are about economics is wrong. Well, not wrong so much as just reductive and mis-focused. Economics is a useful lens and if you are an economist then everything is explainable as economics (and apparently even English professors are economists now) Which is great if you want an economic explanation. The same is true for physicists who can explain the entire world as physics. If only reality fit so neatly into categories. As a lawyer and psychological scientist I think there is a lot more than money in the zombie meme (although it is awfully overlapping).

Zombies as economics has been a popular refrain and because of our current political situation that makes sense. They tie to death and since the war is largely a cause of our debts along with an aging population who won’t die on time, plus tremendous banking losses. OK sure all that’s true. And yes we still are debating economic philosophies of old dead Keynes and Marx and other dead white European ideas. But this is true in every academic domain, of course money is involved but why should we limit ourselves to thinking zombies are primarily economic?

Zombies are more broadly about consciousness, of which economic class consciousness is only one part. Consciousness is poorly understood. It is easy to conflate it with economics because (and particularly in our age of digital consciousness) our society requires money to buy technology. Technology allows for communication and global presentations of self, ways of being and learning that are exclusive for those with economic access. But it’s not just about the economics – it’s the access and knowing how to use it which makes consciousness from a zombie.

Advocates of capitalism would like us to think it’s just economics. They want us to believe that if we get more money then we will be happy. They want us to believe that freedom comes from buying more things. This is a consumerist illusion of which there is no end, only a deeper zombie state. Of course, that perspective is from my privileged position of having access. Once at this level it is helpful to view the world through other lenses. Economic metaphors cannot achieve consciousness — consciousness is not the ability to buy whatever you want.

They want us to be zombies, they want us to buy stuff and keep this ponzi scheme going. And isn’t that what we all want? I don’t have time for anarchy – I’m told it would be exceptionally difficult to be a farmer and to mill my own meal. It’s probably true that I have no choice but to trust in economies of scale to provide access to what I consider a life worth living. There is a lot of talk about makers, DIY’ers, that make their own stuff. There are 3D printers that print guns, there are open source tractor designs, people who knit. But most people are consumers. The fantasy of independence is what makes us think we are zombies, because when we look around (and again, particularly in a digital landscape) we realize we are never independent and consciousness does arise from the physical stuff we can access.

We don’t know facts. And even when we know facts, they aren’t enough to understand what is really happening – spurious correlations, misinformation and insufficient information. So we can pretend as if the only uncertainty is economics or race or whatever index you like but I would argue Zombies are about individual identity in large complex systems and the feelings of lost self-control. This phenomenon is not just economic and the more we reduce it to money, the more we miss the larger problem. Capitalism would reduce everything to money but there are properties of the world which are non-economic, that cannot be accounted from with economic estimates (and there are also non-physical events and non-sociological and to each discipline their own).

Individuality (and the zombie) are ‘divide by zero’ kind of stuff because like we never know both where the electron is and how fast it’s moving – which is to say, individuality is dead (killed long ago by anthropologists and sociologists of the digital trace) but long live the individual, zombie on forever, never more alive than when dead. Individuality is the essential zombie idea of the Enlightened Renaissance, cogito ergo uncertainty.

When #occupy first started I thought it was going in this direction. The poster was a ballerina dancing on the markets asking what we wanted. The economics of the bull and of wall street are undeniable. But in the beginning the occupation wasn’t about money. The 99% idea emerged later. The mainstream media latched onto that economic wealth disparity issue because they liked it. Because it was easier to understand than most of the other muddled messages. But the movement would never have been so large throughout if it was just about one message. It was about individuals expressing community disapproval. 99% resonated because it was about community. The vilification of wealth was only part of the message. It was the makers festival the same week and the makers came together – they built a digital tent city and made old forms of protest feel new again – like Woodstock – which was itself constructed in my mind by the marketing of the recording industry. It was maybe a mud pit but the history tells me what it was…

Occupy was co-opted into a fight amongst banks. But it was really a fight against intellectual property. It was a fight for digital rights – for zombies Aaron Swartz and Jeremy Hammond and Bradley Manning. It was a #Anonymous boots on the ground dDos assault against the criminal our government has decided not to prosecute. The media changed the message early and redefined a lot of what was happenning. So now, Occupy seems definitively about wealth inequality – and by association the zombies do too – and now they are. But don’t think they can claim all the zombies so easy. Zombies are about loss of self – #anonymous is the absence of author function – yes sure a major part of the alienation is economics, but it’s not the only important issue.

We become zombie most through what Louis Althusser called ideological state apparatus. It’s almost like a jedi mind meld in that our super-ego becomes co-opted by the message of the propaganda or marketing. The little fascist in each of us demands order and control. As above, we just don’t have the time (or patience) for civilized anarchy. We long for narratives of order, like Drezner who disavows those that would believe in conspiracy of multinational corporations; but those marketing forces are pernicious. They are systematic, constructing consumers behavior through marketing and cross-marketing.

We are zombie manipulated by metaphors we don’t know who is pulling the string, which pictures are Photoshopped, whether Krugman went bankrupt (he didn’t), how big the next SuperStorm will be– But why are they raising zombies?!?!? George Lakoff might tell us not to think of an elephant but then we have no choice. The more we focus on zombie economics the more we think it’s just economics and ignore other root causes.

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From → economics, Occupy

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