‘There is us and the dead, we survive this by pulling together not apart’
We all have our dirty little secrets and I must confess mine is the AMC series The Walking Dead. I don’t even mind that its overarching mythos is Neoliberal. One of frontier self-reliance, adaptability, resilience. One in which even originally ineffectual or cowardly characters, such as the verbose and fearful Eugene and the tortured preacher Gabriel, by season 9, have been emboldened and recast as heroes by the world remade. Nobody has PTSD or PASD (Post- Apocalyptic Stress Disorder). However it isn’t the theme of individuals surviving in a hostile environment which interest me. Nor, I hasten to add, is it the stylised violence and gore, or indeed the zombies, which as any TWD aficionado will tell you, are purely incidental.
Perhaps it is that I simply find the improbabilities presented in the TWD comforting, reassuring. After all of all the possible scenarios which might terminate our tenure on this planet, snuff us out, or merely make our lives as we presently live them untenable, a zombie apocalypse seems, as I write, the least likely threat. I’m naturally far more concerned about climate change, the death of bees, oceans of plastic, and the sixth mass extinction, than about the possibly of the dead walking.
A few months ago, on Facebook, that perversely popular social media platform, an acquaintance posted an article by an economist, the gist of which was that Capitalism will save the planet. The article argued that when developing countries reach a level of affluence and prosperity that population on mass would be begin to make ethical and environmentally sound choices, that there would be seismic positive change. That all we, in the developed industrial nations, need to do is to keep consuming. I was horrified by the naivety of the notion that somehow shopping might save the planet. At some point in the thread I made a statement about the free market economics being a fantasy. Then of course I had to explain what I understood the free market economy to be and why I believed it was a fantasy (you know how it goes on Facebook). How I understand it, and I’m no economist, free market true believers believe that if the market is unhampered and truly free then it will balance itself. It will afford prosperity, fairness and justice to all.
What my acquaintance didn’t understand is that this is just a theory. A theory which hasn’t been tested. The free market doesn’t exist anymore than zombies exist. For the theory to be tested certain obstacle which skew the market would need to be removed. Lets call these obstacles ‘Marxist litter’. Things like schools provided by the state, free at the point of service healthcare systems, welfare payments for the sick, disabled and unemployed. Get rid of these things, this ‘Marxist litter’ and Capitalism will work properly. That’s the free market. A Capitalism free from hinderance, responsibility and obligation.
I often hear people say ‘if only compassion could be inserted into system’. I don’t get it. If compassion was shoehorned in to Capitalism it would be something else. It would need to be called something else. Some other yet to be coined ‘ism’ because Capitalism has no ethical compass. It doesn’t care that your clothing is made in a sweatshop or that the components in your laptop rely on modern slavery or if the micro plastics in your toothpaste are found in salmon. It is morally neutral. It is about profit. It doesn’t care about you either way. It doesn’t make a distinction between a salary of £77,500 per annum and a zero hours contract. It will be on whatever side it wants to be. In fact it is usually playing both sides against each other. It doesn’t care if its host is thriving or starving, if it deforests your country and pollutes your rivers so be it. Elsewhere it has allowed the few to live in luxury.
Capitalism just wants to live and reproduce itself whatever the cost. It is like a virus. If you have a fever and shiver with flu for a week so be it. If the virus mutates and the dead walk what difference does it make. Capitalism gotta do what Capitalism gotta do. If Capitalism kills it host so be it. If it eats you alive, so it goes. It is the nature of the thing. Another host will come along.
It is in the nature of Capitalism to squander resources both material and human. On its most basic level it encourages us to do jobs, which many of us hate, of if not hate at least find no inherent meaning or purpose in, beyond allowing us to pay for shelter and sustenance, and to buy consumer goods which we don’t actually need or want. In the hetrotopias of the TWD things are different. As the world has been reset so humanity has been reset. Nobody is browsing the pages of the latest Ikea catalogue, obsessing over the newest iphone, or converting limited edition Nike trainers. No body is a slave to their mortgage. No body is trying keeping up with the neighbours, updating their online status or checking ‘likes’ received on Instagram.
Those who have survived the initial phases of apocalypse, the roamers, the walkers, and defeated various waves of Alt-Right survivalists have been striped bare, remade. In the Post-Apocalyptic communities of Hilltop, Alexandria, and The Kingdom, the primary settlements in TWD, everyone knows what is import. What is real. Was isn’t worth thinking about. The ever present threat of being bitten or eaten and returning from the dead aside things are good. Did I say earlier that TWD was a Neoliberal allergy? Well, I think it is and yet it offers various Post-Capitalist blueprints.
Hilltop is presented as a William Morris style Proto-Socialist commune. Pre-Industrial craft skills are privileged, apprenticeships offered and aspired to, decisions are made collectively, the community is run by committee along communitarian lines, and, like all TWD society, it is moneyless. Instead, a barter system exists, which reflects use-value, for those rare commodities which are not provided freely to all as a matter of course. For trading between communities who hone different skills, have if you will developed different guilds, there is a market, but it is the market stall of the Medieval market place only.
The community of Alexandria embodies a kind of small town America wholesomeness. Gender inequality, racism and homophobia are old world diseases cured by the greater distinction which now prevails. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alexandria. Everyone who is not Them, is be default Us (‘There is us and the dead, we survive this by pulling together not apart’). The initially hierarchical Alexandria is now organised by a central rainbow committee along communitarian lines, law and order are privileged along with neighbourliness. It is a Participatory Democracy. The Kingdom, presents yet another Post-Capitalist model, that of a modern style monarchy which leads from the front. It is without attraction based as it is on consensus and notions of chivalry and service. Like all the communities in TWD, it utilises predominantly Medieval technologies, irrigation systems, and windmills constructed with plans supplied by Georgie, the leader of a mysterious (vinyl collecting) humanitarian group.
None of these Post-Capitalist models are without fault, belief in them relies partly on the fact that their internal structures are sketchy drawn in favour of interpersonal and intergroup politics as with any long running narrative. Yet they do offer a vision of hope. Where as the virus of Capitalism so often makes us forget ourselves, who we really are and what really nourishes us the virus in TWD afforded positive possibilities for humanity to live free of obsolete associations and notions. As a species we find ourselves at a pivotal point, it isn’t the zombie apocalypse which Rick Grimes once woke up to, it is something more real. Choices must be made. Hard decisions. It will be hard to rid ourselves of the virus, to ween ourselves off of stuff and consumption, and wanting more, feeding our hunger no matter what the consequences but the consequences of not doing are truly horrific.