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Zombies in Western Culture

 | 
John Vervaeke
, 
Christopher Mastropietro
, 
Filip Miscevic

5. The Four Horsemen of the Zombie Apocalypse: Converging Evidence for a Crisis in Meaning

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Fig. 8: Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (ca. 1498).1

1Evidentiary arguments for the meaning crisis cannot be reduced to empirical research, though such research remains integral. It would be impossible to shed light on an indeterminate condition without venturing into territories where no present research exists. The evidence of crisis is sprawled across a spectrum of phenomena. To survey such a vast coastline, a degree of disciplinary eclecticism is required. This does not mean that our theory of the crisis is eclectic, but that to properly triage the condition, our account of signs and symptoms must vary according to the kinds of expertise required to investigate them. This suggests that an integrative, holistic approach is essential. Such is the only justification for an essay on human meaning via an exegesis on zombie lore.

2However, we now have a plausible hermeneutic of the semiosis of the zombie as a symbol of the meaning crisis. It is now time to consider the empirical evidence for the existence of the crisis. While it may be possible to give a partial account for each of the individual phenomena we investigate without invoking the zombie, no such explanation can dispel the mystery of how, and why, these seemingly disparate crises are developing simultaneously and in a mutually reinforcing manner. There is, as Charles Taylor (1991: 3) notes in The Malaise of Modernity, “a certain convergence on themes of decline. They are often variations around a few central melodies”. Although our base is holistic, we shall demonstrate a convergence of evidence for a crisis in meaning. Respecting the zombie apocalypse as the flag-bearing symbol for the meaning crisis, we propose to rhetorically organize the evidence for the crisis into categories analogous to the iconic symbol of the Christian apocalypse, viz., the four horsemen. “Through distinctly Christian symbolism, the zombie can be seen to represent a subversive rejection of an enforced Catholicism” (Moreman 2010: 264-65). The four horsemen of the Christian Apocalypse―Famine, Pestilence, War and Death―carry the themes of decay and self-subversion suited to scaffold our zombie apocalypse.

3If the zombie draws out our withdrawal, stands for our lack of standing for anything, and is in touch with how out of touch our worldview has become, then the zombie is the embodiment of domicide. Its lack of reflection is revealed in a disturbing trend of radical disengagement cutting across all domains of human life, deeply severing ties to ourselves, others, and an overarching social metanarrative. We stand to lose our cognizance, communicability, community and culture. We stand to become the walking dead. This is our zombie apocalypse.

4We hunger for meaning in the normative void of a collapsing worldview, starving of an empty mind, facing Famine in a culture of excess. Loneliness spreads, quite literally, like a disease (Cacioppo, Fowler, and Christakis 2009), poisoning and thinning our relationships like Pestilence. At the same time, we are deeply disillusioned by cornerstone cultural institutions such as politics, marriage, religion and media―casualties of a War with (and within) the state. Death, the spectre of domicide, disengagement from our worldview, is at once the means and end, the alpha and omega of the meaning crisis that animates the horror of the zombie apocalypse.

5.1 Death

5In chapter 3, we discussed the gradual formation of the zombie symbol through a sequence of films leading up to the present day. These films moulded the features of the zombie, developing the apocalypse more and more explicitly. However, perhaps the most significant property of the zombie apocalypse is the relationship it has with religion. If our culture’s worldview was successfully maintained by the meta-meaningfulness of the Christian faith, the zombie apocalypse represents the death of this worldview, and the death of faith itself. Michael Walzer makes the following observations in reference to Romero’s films, which, as discussed above, are the prototypical exemplars for the phenomenon:

[Zombie] films at face value appeal to a faithless world-view. […] Many critics have recognized the racial, feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-war, and generally anti-authoritarian stances in Romero’s films. Few, if any, have paid much heed to the religious implications, however. When religion appears in these films, it is generally shown to be ineffective. (Moreman 2010: 272)

  • 2 We are not being religiously apologetic or hearkening for a return to Christian symbolism; we have (...)

6Religion is the most universal instance of worldview attunement to preside in the history of our species.2 It is, like our individual homes, “a dense moral culture within which [people] feel some sense of belonging” (Walzer 1987).

Worldviews―that is, these life-constructing and directing meanings―are not “ideas” that are held but “worlds” that are inhabited. Indeed, Peter Berger, would say that sharing a worldview provides a community with a “sacred canopy”, a mythic cover of protection for life, under which the day-to-day business of making homes, shaping community and sustaining life together can happen. (Walsh 2006)

7Consider the role of religion prior to the scientific revolution. In the West, the Roman Catholic Church was not separated from the dealings of other societal systems; its creeds and councils governed all of the systems that facilitated significant practices in society―political, economic, judicial, marital, recreational, etc. Everything was understood under the governance of the church, and it was by virtue of this overarching governance that everything came together. That is why Geertz defined religion as a meta-meaning system, a form of worldview attunement that integrates cultural relevance in all of its forms, and places all other meaning systems into an order of coherence and stability. Then came the separation: “church and state”. A reflection of diminishment in the integrative power of the system. Broadly speaking, we in the West do not gather as a society around our churches any more. We do not rally to them for restitution. When fortuitous events occur, we do not tribute them. When terrifying events occur, we do not round on them.

  • 3 In the philosophical tradition, the Absolute is a concept of ultimate reality, truth or essence wh (...)

8In the West, we are realizing with divisive discomfort that our Judeo-Christian model of meaning, which occupied our teleological awareness for over a millennium, was unprepared for the post-scientific world into which it was ushered. In our contemporary division of the sciences, burgeoning naturalistic accounts supported by a dawning comprehension of the brain, much of our scriptural teleology no longer satisfies us to our core, and our previously personified, cooperative universe can no longer be trusted to hold us in its favour. At no one moment in particular, we as a civilization lost the anchorage by which we could govern and organize a sense of the Absolute.3 It is an ill-kept secret that the institutions of older worlds are increasingly held in contempt, left to witness the dissenting of their congregations. In general, attendances in churches worldwide are failing despite the strained attempts of religious bellwethers to reaffirm their relevance (Norris and Inglehart 2015).

9Research for the trend is piling up. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, nearly a quarter of the US public4 and “a third of adults under 30―are ‘religiously unaffiliated’ ―the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling”5 history, overtaking Catholics, mainline Protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths. This percentage has risen steeply just in the last few years, and the demographic data is telling: many of the unaffiliated in the study are identified as young adults who, unlike prior generations, are characterizing their lack of attendance in religious services as a form of disengagement reflective of their disregard. In other words, fewer people are inclined to say “I am Catholic” if they don’t regularly attend a Catholic service. Instead of simply identifying with religion on a de facto basis (as with citizenship or ethnicity) more people are actively refusing the identification in cases where it is obviously inapplicable. This unclassifiable group has come to be called the religious “nones”. In roughly half of the world’s countries, they are the second-largest religious group.6 According to the Pew Research Center, they mark the symptoms of an increasingly widespread disaffiliation from institutional religious participation. However, the religiously unaffiliated have not necessarily rejected a spiritual life. In fact, many cite the desire for a genuine spiritual life as related to their disinclination to organized religion. In other words, the refusal to invest in specific organized religions does not indicate irreligiousness. 58% of the “nones” report feeling a deep connection with the earth or nature. This finding is no different than the percentage for the general US population. Many research participants expressed the following sentiments: that though religion in general does in fact benefit society, the religions themselves are just too isolating and unsatisfying in content and in practice. In 2016, only 55% of millennials credited religious organizations with “having a positive impact on the way things were going in the country”, compared with 73% six years earlier, demonstrating the increasing irrelevance and, in fact, disdain for religious institutions.7 Though fewer and fewer people identify openly with a particular organized religion, it seems that the want of a meaningful spirituality has never been more pregnant. What is clear, however, is that the spiritual vacuum is not moving people towards organized religion; it is (at least in part) causing their dissent.

10In the culture of criticism, “nones” of analysis have now emerged in response to the vacuum. Many of them assemble loosely under the title of postmodernism, taking an approach to theory that subverts conventional formulations of structure, and subjects human activity to illimitable interpretability. Postmodernism reacts to the precariousness of social identity, the dilemmas of relativism, the problems of agency and the denaturalizing of mind, message, power, language and the anthropocentric world. It wonders how the individual hopes to navigate an unnavigable sea of possible meanings and whether there can ever be an essentiality to the living of life, a definitive indication of who and where we are and what we ought to be. It wonders because the answers aren’t clear anymore, because modernity feels the absence of a singular governing system for our beliefs. It is as though we are struck suddenly with the realization that no one is watching us. There is no skyhook of appraisal for our performance. There is no superintendent to approve or disapprove of our actions. We have awoken to the task of being our own minders, responding to our own directives, drawing our own maps and writing our own rules. We are adolescents reeling from the prospect of our independence, disarranged from the sudden loss of a parental source. And now, it sometimes seems that anything goes. The world no longer offers itself as an attendant. All responsibility we put upon the once fated world now rests entirely upon our shoulders.

11Evidence that our cultural institutions are failing us can be found in the worldwide rise of the religiously unaffiliated―these so-called “nones”. Yet their disillusionment does not inoculate the “nones” from the corresponding losses of religion. They still crave a sense of home, a presence in community, and a system of shared beliefs. The lapse of the “nones” from religious participation, though different in many respects from the domicide of the Anishinaabe, poses a similar, if more gradual, declension in worldview attunement. Since this attunement is fundamental to the agent-arena relation discussed above, the loss has a calcifying effect on its ecology, and on all meaningful participation that was inculcated by the coverage of a sacred canopy. As Walsh and others have observed, this canopy does not simply project doctrinal and creedal beliefs, but every element of religious activity that has psychological importance; the social, communal and ritual dynamics of participating in the world beyond oneself. These dynamics are like a respiratory system for the ecology of attunement, providing fluidity to the economy of the agent-arena relation and its mutual affordances for action. In the absence of this fluidity, the ecology of the religious worldview is not sustainable. The respiratory system, without the accord of its component chambers, cannot function properly.

12For the “unaffiliated” portion of our population, respiration of worldview attunement is no longer performed by organized religious influence. If the worldview of Christianity is eclipsed by secularization, then there is no viable way to recapture its potency as a meta-meaning system. This means that we need to find alternative systems of meaning that provide similar combinations of symbolic provocation, ritual and social fluency. As it turns out, such systems are not easily recreated. You cannot breathe deeply, after all, without an adequate respiratory apparatus. Out from under the canopy, our culture is left gasping in a miasma; finding our bearings in the world, establishing our capacity for action, understanding what is expected of us―these are all Sisyphean tasks while the different arenas of life remain farraginous and uncoordinated to the eyes of the agents who navigate them.

  • 8 The authors are astonished that many seem offended by the suggestion that these Ersatz mythologies (...)
  • 9 Our replacement functionalities have been insufficient. They are derivative of systems—particularl (...)

13Evidence of our gasping has surfaced widely across contemporary popular culture. Ersatz mythologies have emerged as a kind of similitude for the collapsed lung of religious institutions, presenting would-be symbols of vitality obverse to the decay represented by the zombie. “A panoply of new religions formed in the wake of the [sacred] canopy’s rending” (Moreman 2010: 273). Like the zombie itself, these mythologies have their origins in narrative fiction, with properties that have, in some cases, generated mass following and elevated them to the status of zeitgeist. Though they differ by source, certain elements of these fictions are concentric with the structures of the Christian mythos, and draw their significance―consciously or not―from the echo of Christian archetypes.8 In this way, we call these mythologies pseudo-religions; they mimic the structure of religious narratives and embody those narratives through a form of ceremonial role-play that recalls the rituals of liturgical sacraments. However, though the mythologies have participatory elements, none have espoused the complexity of belief that integrates their narrative into a fully-fledged, dynamical worldview.9 Even while participating in these mythologies, the identification of the participants is limited, and their disbelief, while suspended, remains intact. Where a person mistakes a pseudo-mythology for a genuine religious worldview and identifies with its narrative beyond a plausible limit, his belief is regarded as infantile or delusional. At best, he is thought to be unsociable. At worst, he is considered cultish.

Fig. 9: San Diego Comic Con (2012). Photo by Kevin Dooley.10

  • 11 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

Fig. 10: The emergence of two of the most prominent modern pseudo-religious symbols, exemplified in the usage of the words “zombie” and “superhero” from 1930-2008 in predominantly English books published in any country.11

14Modern superhero myths are among the most pervasive of the neoteric pseudo-religions. Originating in comic series in the early 1900s, their popularity has burgeoned gradually over the last half-century and―like the zombie―spiked precipitously in the last two decades, evidenced in Fig. 10. To date, there have been over 200 superhero films made by major studios in the United States, grossing over 15 billion dollars12 worldwide and supplemented with copious merchandising. As the frequency of these films has increased, an interesting phenomenon has begun to occur; the studios responsible for these creative properties are making more deliberate attempts to establish metanarrative across the spectrum of their works. They have rolled out shared universes for their characters, with longer arcs and more integrated storylines. These are all efforts to situate the various films in a way that makes them gesture across time, makes them more relevant to one another, and by extension, makes them more intrinsically relevant to themselves. These sweeping endeavors, piloted by giants like Marvel and Lucasfilm, are regenerating their popular mythos into continuous, cultural phenomena, featuring cosplay, conventions, and a cast of heroes that are as significant to many people’s lives as their own professional identities and occupations.

15The superhero myths have great staying power because they are practicable. Though the identification is―in the most literal terms―only in pretend, the playfulness and sense of community are manifest. Most significantly, these mythos feature figures that, like the prototypical Superman and the monkish Jedi, have unmistakable resemblances to Christ, Buddha and other divinities. The pseudo-religious mythologies have impressionistically co-opted this resemblance for maximum cultural impact. Even when the likeness is uncanny, the appeal of these mythologies is unshaken.

  • 13 We discuss this further in section 5.2.3 below, “Suicide, Marital Status and Religious Affiliation (...)

16The internet and social media have provided new playgrounds through which to shape our involvement in these pseudo-religions, allowing people to come together under various memberships and affiliations. This is religion without existential import―its wisdom is only as good as the universe it comes from. The reasons for this are complex, and beyond the scope of this book. Sufficed to say, it is uncontroversial to presume that one may live as a Christian or a Muslim, but not as an Avenger, Jedi or Brony.13 Despite secular arguments that invoke fairy tales to argue that religious narratives are quixotic fantasies, most sense implicitly that these comparisons are wanting. The Marvel Cinematic Universe does not have equal import to a religious meta-meaning system, and one cannot simply substitute one for the other. It seems plausible however, that the rise of the former, coinciding with the decline of the latter, may be trying to make up some portion of the difference.

17The pale horseman of Death rides at the axis of the meaning crisis, and the other horsemen on his flank―Famine, Pestilence and War―are variations on a sweeping cultural dissolution at the scales of individual phenomenology, distributed over social experience, and manifest writ large in the treatment of political life and institutions. In all cases, the phenomena, to the scales of each of these levels of resolution, are characterized by the same radical disengagement, the unravelling of the systems that were oriented by religious meta-meaning that is now setting below the horizon. It is important to reiterate that while each of these individual scales―we might think of them as sections of an orchestra―play a dirgeful rendition of “melodies of decline”, Death provides the central rhythm. The Western decline of religion, concomitant with imitating mythologies and the growing demographic of “nones”, are co-emergent with the zombie symbol of apocalypse. The many properties that constitute the Deathliness of the zombie―its mindlessness, homelessness, speechlessness, ugliness and heedlessness―are merely analogues for symptoms of domicide that have emerged along the dimensions of our personal, social and civic existence. Our horsemen are mythograms for these symptoms.

5.2 Famine

  • 14 Note that the increase in suicide is not simply accounted for by an increase in population or in l (...)

18There is perhaps no greater evidence for radical disengagement from the world than the rising crimson tide of suicide worldwide. In the US, suicide rates have increased in all age groups since 1999 except those 75+, with suicide rates tripling in the 35-64 demographic as of 2010 (Sullivan et al. 2013; Curtin, Warner, and Hedegaard 2016a). Now, suicide accounts for more deaths each year in the US than by motor vehicle accidents, and is the second leading cause of death of those aged 10-34.14

19And this isn’t exclusively a North American phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates have increased 60% worldwide over the past 45 years. Worse still, the Center for Disease Control estimates that for every suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts. Assuming this ratio has held constant over the past 45 years, a 60% increase in suicide would suggest a 1500% increase in suicide attempts worldwide. The number one cause of suicide is reportedly untreated depression,15 suggesting that its sufferers experience a hopelessness so thorough that the only perceived solution is to remove oneself from one’s situation in the most literal sense possible. There is a deep dissatisfaction with everyday existence and a disquieting horror of its perceived inescapability.16 Only the vacuum solution of death beckons. One is starved of alternatives. Suicide is hunger for a way out.

20But a way out of what, precisely? Though we in the West tend to view suicide as a highly individual phenomenon, some of the earliest research on suicide, such as the extensive study on the subject conducted by Émile Durkheim (1897), cogently illustrates the deeply social nature of suicide and its intimate ties with a person’s sense of place in a social, religious and cultural order. According to Durkheim, the horror of losing one’s place in the social and cultural apparatus drives the individual symptoms of anxiety and depression that lead to suicide.

21Our need for a socially and culturally meaningful life, according to Durkheim’s social integration theory of suicide, resonates with the experiences chronicled in Victor Frankl’s international bestseller, Man’s Search for Meaning (1946). Frankl makes a case study for the protective effect of meaning in one’s life, drawing from his many observations of the suffering endured in the concentration camps of the Second World War. The book’s original German title was … Nevertheless SayingYes to Life, which is telling, as Frankl’s exposition of an extreme loss of home, culture and community is precisely the kind of condition that can provoke suicide. Frankl’s prescription for enduring involves deriving meaning from the hope that these may be restored, and that the seed of restoration already exists within the agent. His method of logotherapy gives a prescription for self-affirmation when one is “[i]n a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way […]” (Frankl 1946), hearkening back to the Stoic’s response of the philosopher-physician to the Hellenistic domicide. This alternative, viable way of making sense of the world allows one to remain at home in one’s self, in spite of external circumstances. The corollary is that suicide must not only be consequent of an agent’s hunger for meaning; it is also the result of an inability to locate any in the arena of the world. The impoverishment of worldview engenders famine. Frankl himself remarks that the success of his book is not an accomplishment on his part “but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails” (Frankl 1992: xiii).

5.2.1 Suicide, Economic Status and Economic Volatility

22One’s ability to participate in a social and cultural exchange of meaning depends on a basic degree of economic agency. As such, when the economic standing of individuals or societies is threatened, suicide rates increase in turn. For instance, the market crash of 2008 saw a marked increase in suicides worldwide, mostly in European and American men aged 15 and older (Chang et al. 2013). In the US, the rate of increase in suicides nearly quadrupled, from 0.12 per 100,000 per year in 1999 to 2007, to 0.51 suicides per 100,000 each year from 2008 to 2010 (Reeves et al. 2012). Unemployment accounted for a quarter of the variance in suicide during the most recent economic crash (Reeves et al. 2012), and is so potent a pressure that even the anticipation of a rise in unemployment rate can lead to an increase in suicide (Stankunas et al. 2013).

23The relationship between economic agency and suicide, however, is more nuanced. Durkheim’s insight was recognizing that economic standing is only one of many interacting factors mediating an individual’s social integration. For instance, the effect of poverty on suicide is not as pronounced as might be expected if economics alone are considered. When there is a lower class of which to speak, social integration within that class is possible, and hence the proclivity for suicide decreases. It is, in fact, individuals who face either the extremes of poverty or the extremes of wealth that exhibit an increased propensity for suicide. Additionally, racial gaps in wealth do not correspond to racial gaps in suicide. In the US, for instance, the median net worth of whites in 2014 was at least ten times that of either blacks or Hispanics.17 And yet, the rate of suicide among whites is almost four times greater than that of blacks, and three times greater than Hispanics (Curtin, Warner, and Hedegaard 2016b). The question, clearly, is less about economic standing per se and more about economic agency, insofar as the end of such agency is social integration.

24In the US, suicide rates have been increasing prior to the most recent economic crash and have continued to rise since, despite an economic recovery above 2008 levels (Curtin, Warner, and Hedegaard 2016a). Given the strong effect of unemployment on suicide, it is plausible to suggest that a perception in the faltering of individual agency in the economic arena is at least in part responsible for this suicide trend (Chang et al. 2013; Curtin, Warner, and Hedegaard 2016a; Hempstead and Phillips 2015; Stankunas et al. 2013; Reeves et al. 2012). Furthermore, the fact that an economic recovery has done nothing to ameliorate the suicide rate suggests that though economic standing may largely be restored, there may nonetheless be a looming sense that economic agency has not.

25People have, in part, lost confidence in the institutions that are supposed to nurture both individual and collective economic prosperity. According to a recent Gallup poll in the US, faith in economic institutions is the lowest since polling began in 1973―a striking 12 percentile points lower.18 The OECD concurs that this disturbing trend is reflected in countries across the globe.19 The market crash of 2008, now being hailed as the “Great Recession”, is a guttural example of how the machinations of large-scale institutions can threaten individual financial agency. And yet, we have little choice but to open ourselves up to vulnerability. Our dependence on these institutions is stamped into the shape of modern life, such that renouncing them is to renounce modern life altogether.

5.2.2 Suicide and Political Stability

26Political volatility often interacts with economic instability synergistically, corresponding with a greater combined threat to social integration. For instance, during the reinstation of independence in the Baltic states in the early nineties, amidst massive unemployment and political instability, the suicide rate skyrocketed, reaching (and, in the case of Latvia, exceeding) 40 deaths per 100,000―more than triple the EU average (Stankunas et al. 2013). Political volatility in this region so dramatically saturated the pressures towards social disintegration that unemployment rate, which peaked in 2000 and 2001, had no perceptible effect on suicide rate (Stankunas et al. 2013). The Baltic states also suffered the worst economic losses of the EU countries in 2008, yet saw only a modest increase in the number of suicides, and still only half the peak rates in the nineties. Once again, it seems apt to say that the anticipation of agency being usurped, of losing one’s place in the order of things, is fundamentally what drives the anxiety, depression and suicide associated with economic instability, an effect that is amplified if one’s agency in the political arena is also threatened.

27Another relationship between political stability and suicide is Durkheim’s finding that suicide rates are higher in times of peace than in war, a finding that has since been confirmed in more contemporary studies of the phenomenon (Osman and Parnell 2015). War generally tends to be a collective dissent towards an external threat, and therefore demands alignment towards common goals―a high degree of social integration. In contrast, in times of relative peace, internal issues become more focal and so the opportunity for a relative loss of social integration is greater, hence the increase in suicide rate. The exception to this, of course, is war waged within a state, referring to Durkheim’s point concerning political volatility and suicide.

5.2.3 Suicide, Marital Status and Religious Affiliation

28The religious “nones” are spiritually hungry, but they are not finding anything to satisfy that hunger. They are the most demonstrable microcosm of the effect of worldview famine. Accordingly, suicide rates tend to be higher among the “nones” than the religiously affiliated both within a society (Dervic et al. 2004; Hilton, Fellingham, and Lyon 2002), and when the religiosity of different societies are compared (Stack 1983; Bertolote and Fleischmann 2002). The religiously disaffiliated also marry and have families less frequently, and tend to be more isolated from their relations (Dervic et al. 2004). Independently, it has been established that marriage has a protective effect on suicide (Kposowa 2000; Rotermann 2007). This suggests a curious trend among the religiously disaffiliated: they comprehensively reject or are otherwise unable to participate in major sources of social integration and meaning in life, and therefore systematically lose multiple, independent safeguards against suicide. That the fastest growing religion is no religion at all, as discussed in section 5.1, overwhelmingly signifies that religion no longer guarantees such a safeguard; its promise of a meaningful life is bankrupt. The Death of a binding social and religious metanarrative spells death for individuals.

29Altogether, the rising tide of suicide may indicate that our economic, political, religious and social institutions are failing individuals, and are impotent in helping them to find their place. They fail doubly, too, as they are also unable to point to alternative viable means of engaging with the world distinct from the crumbling ones they offer. As evidenced by the rise of isolated spiritual “nones” and non-voters, people are actively dissenting from these institutions. Without one’s place, and bankrupt of alternatives, hope is a luxury one cannot afford, inviting the systematic and self-reinforcing despair from which suicide can follow. As Popper (1979) said, our great strength is that we can let our ideas “die in our stead”. When we are starved of alternatives, when there are no ideas left to die in us, perhaps death of the body inevitably follows. Culture, as it takes root in the individual, no longer serves to orient the agent in either itself or its arena meaningfully. The self is no longer at home in itself: suicide is domicide in its most interior, personal and radical form. In this sense, the zombie is suicide aborted. The seed of culture has miscarried in the zombie, and the hunger for a way out, rather than ending itself in a final act of agency, has mutated into the insatiable craving for the sapience lost―a literal hunger for brains.

5.3 Pestilence

  • 20 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

Fig. 11: Prevalence of the words “zombie” and “disconnection” from 1930-2010 in predominantly English books published in any country.20

30Culture also informs us in relation to how we should orient ourselves to others, and critically, zombies lack any meaningful relationship to one another. People are fleeing the collapsing sacred canopies once provided by world religions, flocking instead beneath the makeshift tarps of Ersatz mythologies. These echoes of meta-meaning systems, while offering wisps of comfort, cannot afford the complete existential import of a genuine meta-meaning system. Owing to their virtuality, they ultimately fail at providing one of the central things they are sought out for―close interpersonal relationships―inflicting a myopia that seems to make people more distant to us. They are not far-reaching and general enough to make others intelligible to us across all the domains that life demands.

31Evidence from the General Social Survey (GSS) paints a bleak picture of our interpersonal engagement. From 1985 to 2004, the proportion of people who report having no one to discuss important matters with nearly tripled, with people reported having 2/3 the number of confidantes than in 1985 (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Brashears 2006). While some have disputed these results, citing possible technical issues (Fischer 2009), even the most conservative modelling of the data suggests a 70% increase in the number of people who report having no confidantes (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Brashears 2009). As the Pew Research Center corroborates, there is “no ‘smoking gun’ that clearly demonstrates a technical problem with the GSS data”,21 suggesting that the backlash is at least in part as a result of the sheer incredulity towards the data. Pew also found a 30% decrease in the size of core discussion networks.

32Internet and mobile phone users, however, had a more diverse (25%) and a slightly larger (12%) social network than non-users. In the UK, time spent on the internet by adults has more than doubled from 9.9 hours per week in 2005 to 20.5 in 2014.22 This is close to the worldwide median average of 18 hours per week as of 2015.23 Youth aged 16-24 spend more than 27 hours per week online. Given that 40% of time spent on the internet is split between social media (22.7%), gaming (10.2%) and email (8.3%), activities that are of a decidedly social character,24 this modest increase in social network size and diversity is hardly commensurate with the effort and energy expended. That internet and mobile phone users have richer social networks than non-users, however, suggests that technology is not itself to blame per se. The quantity and quality of our social relationships have perceptibly suffered for reasons that seem to be largely independent from the rise in use of these technologies. The want of individuals to “plug in” and stay connected appears to coincide with the massive disconnection they are experiencing.

33Marriage, as a cultural and religious institution meant to foster and protect some of our closest relationships, seems to be failing as well. According to a Pew Research Poll, while the number of marriages in 2010 decreased by 28% since 1960, the number of divorces increased by 280%. Almost a third of adults have never married, compared to half that in 1960. And while divorce is on the rise, so is the number of prenuptial agreements, according to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The survey noted that 63% of lawyers reported an increase in prenuptial agreements from 2010-2013, and that prenuptial agreements have also been on the rise for the past 30 years.25 Though prenuptial agreements are fairly rare (only about 5% of marriages), their rise may be telling of an increasing mistrust of the institution, predicated on a pessimism and premonition of failure. That we are increasingly inclined to place more faith in our money than in other persons is troubling.

34This is particularly ironic considering the economic incentives for marriage. On average, the earning potential for married households is 41% greater than for the non-married. And this has actually increased from only 12% in 1960.26 Although people are marrying later in life, and people with higher education are more likely to marry―both of which contribute to earning potential―fiscal stability is often cited as a major consideration in the choice of partner, irrespective of personal socioeconomic status.

  • 27 The fact that the decline of marriage is concurrent with the rise of loneliness indicates that mar (...)

35Though marriage may be declining, the want for close interpersonal relationships and family is not. 98% of adults say family is one of the most important aspects of their lives, with 76% saying it is the most important thing in their lives. Just as we seem to be shirking from religion but still hunger for what it provides, the institution of marriage seems unable to ensure the holiness of matrimony, yet we still desire the closeness it once provided.27

36There is a strong association between social isolation and suicide (Stravynski and Boyer 2011). Even discounting suicide, social isolation and loneliness increase mortality by 32% (Holt-Lunstad et al. 2015). As discussed in section 5.2.3, married individuals are also less likely to commit suicide (Kposowa 2000; Rotermann 2007). And so, we can begin to piece together a clockwork catastrophe whose ruin has been set into motion by the invisible hand of the meaning crisis. Suicide rates are on the rise. Social isolation is on the rise. Social isolation contributes to suicide. Marriage decreases the likelihood of suicide (Kposowa 2000), and divorce rates are on the rise. Cultural involvement shields against suicide, and religious disaffiliation is on the rise. The religious “nones” feel that luck is more important than hard work, reflecting a damaged sense of self-efficacy and hopelessness.28 Systematic hopelessness can spiral into depression and social isolation. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide. A self-reinforcing system is thereby created, the causes and effects indistinguishable from each other. They are at war within themselves. It is as though we have tools that are no longer serving us, so we are wrenching at them, turning them over, trying desperately to find a way to keep them in use, as they blunt before our eyes, and we beat them ever more harshly.

5.4 War

37If suicide evidences detachment from self, and the rise in divorce and social isolation indicates detachment from others, then political disengagement indicates an appreciable detachment from the state and from political machinery. In 2014, voter turnout for the midterm election in the US was the lowest it had been since World War II. Worldwide, the picture is just as troubling: since 1945, voter turnout in democratic countries has decreased by 12% (Pintor, Gratschew, and Sullivan 2002; Solijonov 2016).

38It seems that―as in the Hellenistic era―we are once again afflicted by a feeling of diminishment in our political agency, a loss of faith in the traction of political institutions, and a disbelief in the political apparatus as an instrument to underwrite the volition of society. But from here, the historical parallels are limited. While the anxiety triggered by modern Western pluralism (or in some cases, its perception) may well be compared to those experienced in the Hellenistic period, the causal parities are not nearly as obvious. This time, there is no single historical shift―even the fall of the Soviet Union, or some significant event besides―that bears responsibility for the reduced political motility, or for general agnosticism toward political participation. The diffuseness of the trend makes it more difficult to source.

39The circularity of the political system poses another diagnostic problem. If we face deterioration in the efficacy in our political institutions, it is simultaneous with a divestment in the belief of its citizenry. What follows, it would seem, is a loosening of the relationship between the elected and their electorate, and between the individual and the institutions to which they ostensibly belong. Though political systems do not independently constitute worldviews (in the model of the meta-meaning system, the sphere of political relations is sub-categorical to the parent function that religion once served) they do consist of an agent/arena ecology similar to that of the larger worldview. If this relation becomes unglued, then the system―dependent upon the mutual fittedness and interdefinition between the institutions and the participants―is no longer sustainable. If individuals are no longer inclined to participate meaningfully in the political process to at least a minimum standard, then the system is severely at risk of failure.

40There are clear signs that such a failure is occurring, and for these we need look no further than to the centre of our modern political nervous system. In the first section of this book, we discussed the breakdown of Americanism, and the cultural discontinuities that are threatening to dilute the potency of the “American” signifier. America is the most powerful political entity of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and it serves as a paradigm for the health of the democratic political machinery and its requisite social capital. We proposed in section 2 that a vernacular religiosity powered the apotheosis of American identification, and that the vitality of its institutions―politics included―was linked to a “faith in America” which was at once religious and not exclusively religious. This faith was a paragon of worldview attunement, the hub at the centre of a moving wheel, anchoring all spokes of American life and culture. It seems reasonable to suggest, therefore, that the decline of religious participation (our first horseman) in the United States, exemplified by the rise of the “nones”, has prefigured the disunion of the political agent and arena. If both losses are generalizable in the West at large, it seems plausible to suggest that, even on this scale, the two types of agnostics are co-emergent. Analysis of exit poll data for the 2014 US midterm election, for instance, reveals that although the “nones” constitute an increasingly larger sect of the population, they still only constitute around 12% of voters, unchanged since 2006.29

  • 30 It is worth noting that the increase in protest, advocacy and intense politicization in the wake o (...)
  • 31 We are speaking here of the dichotomy between two increasingly contrasting phenomena: general civi (...)

41Furthermore, the growing sense of velleity in civic participation seems at odds with the advocacy-driven, often intractable politics related to our social and cultural dilemmas.30 However apathetic we may be toward the formal offices of politics, we are increasingly politicized on the topics of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and religious affiliation (or lack thereof), and increasingly trenchant about staking and defending our identities therein. It seems plausible that our elevated identification with these modalities is also symptomatic of our cultural domicide; it is a victual substitute for religious involvement, satiating our appetites for community and social coherence. In the absence of our sacred canopy, these partial modes of identification are overdrawn to meet the elements. They are exapted as pseudo-religious domiciles, shelters of culture to huddle within as we fend off encroachment by the zombies―elements of “strangeness” in the post-war world.31

42These pseudo-religious domiciles, drawn from the matrix of social identities are attempting to cheat Death by anesthetizing the symptoms of the other three horsemen; countering Famine with self-affirmation, fighting Pestilence with tribalism, and parrying War with politicization. In doing so, they are colligating each sphere of relations through a singular framework, like beams of light concentrated through a prism.

43The problem with these worldview substitutes is that they are inhibited by procrustean heuristics. Though they can virtually govern their existing denizens (advocates or members), they cannot suffice as meta-meaning systems precisely because they already function as single-meaning systems―they relate to one mode of identification, and they do not have the versatility to appropriate other systems or identities. Neither do they become more complex as part of their function. Uniform collectives offer insulation rather than social exposure or diversification. Political advocacy often centers on specific topics rather than generalizable patterns or dynamics. And as would-be comprehensive frameworks, single systems are necessarily reductive; they attempt to integrate phenomena into an explanatory framework, but those frameworks have limited usefulness because they are only applicable to the system from which they originate. Like the Ersatz mythologies discussed in section 5.1, they cannot export a prescription for action that becomes useful even when placed in multiple domains or situations. The fact that one group finds a system deeply meaningful does not define that system as a worldview. It is wide and efficacious applicability among different groups that makes it a worldview.

44It is telling perhaps that these modes of identification have become increasingly political when our participation in politics has declined so appreciably. We may venture to say that the politicization of social identities is a reaction to the divestment from the political process as such―a process that was once chief inheritor to the religious worldview. Consequently, it is likely that our recent divestment from politics qua politics is, at least in part, responsive to the disastrous outcome of the political deification that occurred in the twentieth century.

45As politics is, by necessity of governance, naturally integrative of other systems, it was a proximal replacement for the meta-meaningfulness of religion at the end of the nineteenth century. Though the machinations of politics and political identification historically fell under the normativity of the religious canopy, its systemic complexity made it the nearest and most convincing imitator of that normativity as the influence of religion diminished. The twentieth century therefore bore witness to the rise of the most potent political pseudo-religions we have known in the modern world. These of course, were the totalitarian, nationalist ideologies of Marxism, espoused by the Soviet Union, and National Socialism, espoused by Nazi Germany midway through the century. Not merely instruments of governance, these political ideologies grew to espouse a creedal fundamentalism we might equate with the most zealous form of religious fealty. They were not merely inhibitive, as other pseudo-religious substitutes described above, but widely destructive. The historical conflagrations here are well known to us: though they galvanized millions of adherents initially, these political ideologies were so ill-adapted to the religious project that they conditioned unprecedented scales of violence and genocide. The horseman of War is uncannily suited to describe the fate of these pseudo-religions as they became more and more widespread throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas.

46If once again we take the relocation of the Grassy Narrows as an analogue for spiritual domicide, we might say that the totalitarian political ideologies of the twentieth century were the square walls superimposed onto the circular dynamic of the religious worldview (and in this case, infinitely more overweening). Likewise, the 4th century domicide after the death of Alexander shows us what may ensue when great seats of power fail and diminish. In the wake of the last century, it became clear that if political systems aspired in earnest to a religious level of meta-meaning, they would not only be insufficient, but also inimical to our culture and way of life. It is perhaps little surprise, then, that voter turnout has declined since the fall of Nazi Germany. The notion that politics, operating as a superordinate governor, can offer anything remotely like spiritual restitution, is no longer au courant.

47Though pseudo-religious nationalism is by no means extinguished, our culture’s relationship to the political establishment has changed drastically since the last World War. Voter turnout rates illustrate this, and so do the prevailing attitudes expressed in our popular culture. The rabid fundamentalism of the twentieth century ideologues has, when not transferred to the social enclaves described above, largely been replaced with an obverse attitude: cynicism. Rather than the majority of individuals identifying strongly with specific political parties or organizations, many reject the pretention of any political membership at all. Like the religious “nones”, the non-affiliation does not reflect an insouciance towards political agency, but merely a lack of faith in the efficacy of the existing political architecture―hence, a comparable breakdown of the agent/arena ecology, conditioned by a disbelief in the relation itself.

48As cynicism is aloof by orientation, it is more spontaneous, and a more difficult phenomenon to demystify than ideological zealousness. In this way, it bears some attitudinal affinity with the decentralized, equivocal structures found in capitalist systems (see also Moreman 2010; Webb and Byrnand 2008). There appears to be some correspondence between the pervasiveness of these two Western hallmarks, capitalism and cynicism―a sense of inscrutability, a difficulty with determining accountability, and most of all, an inability to ascertain our own influence on such a system (recall: the Grassy Narrows elder’s meditations, and the Hellenistic estrangement between individual and the structures of the state). All of this conduces to a Kafkaesque sense of detachment; the perception that an individual’s actions are futile in a world where causal rules are oblique. It also increases the number of unaffiliated persons as people find less and less of themselves in the institutions they work for,32 in the governments that represent them, and in the monetary structures that they must use to fulfill their homeostatic needs.

49Our cultural cynicism seems germane to our feeling of futility, which in turn refers us to our Kafkaesque impression of absurdity from the world outside. Accentuating this impression is the loss of some central adhesive to our perspectives; our ability to index our environment―to gain a readable purchase over our surroundings―is waning. This is because the information we obtain from the world, which becomes the epistemic leverage in our decision making, has never been more unreliable. Abundance is one dimension of this problem; one need look no further than news media to appreciate the sheer volume of (often irreconcilable) narratives that compete for authority over our attention. Far more critical, however, is the degree to which these narratives are unconcerned with their own verity, and whether the impetus for their communication has anything at all do with their relationship to reality as such (see also Keyes 2004).

50This lingering question now casts doubt over the trustworthiness of all but the most verifiable assertions, whether they are made by individuals, groups or entire states. The degree to which the contents of published works, the utterances of politicians, the press releases of institutions and the opinions of individuals are rhetorically attractive is not, of course, the degree to which they are true. Yet we feel with increasing dismay that the attractiveness of our expressions is favored over the soundness of their claims. The prioritization of appearance over reality, duplicated noisily in our social media driven environment, and appropriated to great effect by the political establishment, has reinforced and empowered our cynicism. Nowhere is this magnification more evident than in the rise of satirical news programs, which recapitulate political doublespeak as the basis of their comedy. Far from being persuasive, these programs presuppose the cynicism of their viewership, and this is the basis of their success. The disingenuousness of our institutions has long since been taken for granted, and on several occasions (one famous instance took place during Jon Stewart’s final moments as host of the Daily Show) it has been given a recognizable signifier. To understand the signifier properly, we must look to a famous essay on the subject by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt: “On Bullshit” (Frankfurt and Wilson 2005).

5.4.1 Reality Disengaged: On Bullshit

  • 33 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

Fig. 12: Prevalence of the use of the words “zombie” and “bullshit” from 1930-2008 in predominantly English books published in any country.33

51It is very important, in Frankfurt’s formulation, not to confuse bullshit with a lie. The two differ in one all-important respect―namely, in their relationship with the truth. A lie and truth share something very significant: they share a concern for realness. The liar and the truth-teller possess a mutual appreciation for the depth of genuineness because in the case of both, that depth is the referent for their actions―supported by the truth teller or subverted by the liar. The lie and the truth both presuppose an appreciation of the actuality they treat. The liar must know the truth in order to identify it, and she must find it consequential for want to sabotage it. A lie is told to purposefully controvert the truth―it presupposes the importance of truth in desiring to undermine it. We might say then that a lie is told with respect to the truth. Mindfulness of the truth is essential to the projects of both the liar and the truth-teller. Bullshit is so defined because it is not troubled in the least with actuality. Bullshit may be true or untrue. Either way, it is unconcerned. It has no commitment to the truth for better or for worse. It publishes itself irrespective to the status of its own reality.

52Frankfurt’s (2005) theoretical explication of bullshit aids in conceptualizing self-deception far more effectively than lying does. Human beings cannot lie to themselves. We cannot know “p” and then promptly believe “not p”. We cannot know we have $ 1,000 dollars in the bank account and then believe that we have $ 100,000. Even if we desire to, we cannot knowingly invert our apprehension of the truth. Lying to oneself is an inadequate, unhelpful model for explaining self-deception.

53Bullshit is not about making things real, it is about making things salient. The bullshitter means to direct your attention not to the truth or untruth of an idea, but to the catchiness of an idea: a politician tells a crowd of applauding supporters that their country is the best in the world; a commercial shows beautiful women clinging to the arms of a gawky man as he opens a bottle of beer; a company changes the color of their brand and calls it “new and improved”; a student prints her essay on a smoother stationary before handing it in to be marked. Everyone knows the attractiveness of these objects is both irrational and immaterial. The crowd before the politician knows full well that their country is in dire straits but they applaud anyway. The professor reading the paper knows it is not well argued but enjoys turning the pages. Grocery shoppers can see that the ingredients of the cereal brand haven’t changed, but they’re tempted to buy the new box. Male viewers are well aware that holding a particular label of beer will not enhance their sexual appeal. And yet in spite all of this knowing, they are still likely to buy that particular beer. This salience slippage is not a rational phenomenon. We know there is no truth to any of these associations. Even the brands admit (and often wink at) the fact that the images most identified with their brands depict false correlations. Yet this is not scandalous to anyone because the branders are not making propositions that we consider on the basis of their being true or false. Nor, oftentimes, is the politician. She is not making an argument using the elements of reason. She is giving herself an extra sheen of salience. Salience grabs your attention, but by directing your attention, you can make things salient so that they grab your attention even more. The directives of that salience can be entirely disconnected from the depth of realness, and when this happens, you seek merely the catchiness of the idea, the person, or the prospect, and not the substance of its consequence or the reservoir of its competence. You can bullshit yourself merely by directing your attention to certain things over others, selecting certain details over others, and choosing certain expressions over others simply because they come to you more quickly… because you have conditioned yourself to favor them automatically. We can build a commitment to models of thinking and acting solely based on their salience. We can condition ourselves into retaining an idea regardless of its integrity. Our concern for relevance can come at the cost of our concern for truth. This begins a circle of self-deceptive behavior.

54Bullshit and self-deception are infectiously versatile. They can be transmitted by individuals and institutions alike, and in many cases adhere the relationship between the two. As one may imagine, this is poisonous for the agent/arena ecology. If the basis of this relation is polluted by bullshit, it can have one of two deleterious outcomes. It may inspire heedlessness on the part of the agent, in which her attention becomes attracted only to salience, and her beliefs and orientations become completely subsumed into the purported appearances of an individual, institution or set of ideas. This complete surrender to self-deception makes her extremely vulnerable to ideological extremism and fundamentalism. Vigorous cynicism is the other outcome, whereby the individual dismisses herself from involvement in any of these relations. She assumes a position of absolute disbelief and forecloses the possibility of partaking in the ecology, even where it is unpolluted, and would connect her meaningfully to the world.

55Significantly, these two positions are not mutually exclusive, nor as distinguishable as they would seem. Heedless belief often transforms into cynicism when a once undiscerning individual is abruptly disillusioned. Inversely, we have said that cynicism does not remove the appetite for authenticity, and in the case of political relationships, cynicism can be appropriated when it becomes its own basis for political mobilization. Ironically, devout cynicism can make an individual vulnerable to self-deception when it affectively bonds her to other, similar expressions, such that it becomes the singular criterion that guides her relationships and involvement with the world. Singular criteria like this provide dangerously low thresholds for influence and persuasion.

56We are presently seeing the inter-penetration of these two forms of self-deception in political arenas around the world. Yet again, nowhere is the evidence more powerful than in the United States. The decline of the American religiosity, the disproportionately pale declarations of pseudo-religious substitutes, and the overall disbelief in the communicability of truth in politics has suffused the culture with a sense of disenfranchisement. The feeling of futility embedded in this overall zeitgeist has proved volatile, and has inspired increasingly radical demonstrations against the “establishment” viz. not only sitting governments or institutions, but the systemic environment (read: ecology) in which they operate. Unsurprisingly, these demonstrations have often struggled to articulate the complexity of their grievances. In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement declared itself against the absurd inequalities of capitalism writ large. The election year of 2016 saw the rise of political candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders who, each in their partisan vestments, spoke glibly about the erosion of the American apotheosis and electrified the electorate with an uncommonly radical denunciation of the American establishment and their solidarity with the disenfranchised. Their perceived “authenticity” (whether genuine or not) has been embraced as a counterpoise to the quotidian bullshit of everyday life―a war, as it were, against the stultification of civilian life, and the rediscovery of a “greatness” that is barely recollected.

Notes

1 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, CC0 1.0. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/19.73.209/

2 We are not being religiously apologetic or hearkening for a return to Christian symbolism; we have no adherence to its content, merely pointing out its historical functionality.

3 In the philosophical tradition, the Absolute is a concept of ultimate reality, truth or essence whose existence is eternal and unconditional.

4 http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

5 http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

6 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/22/what-is-each-countrys-second-largest-religious-group/

7 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/04/millennials-views-of-newsmedia-religious-organizations-grow-more-negative/

8 The authors are astonished that many seem offended by the suggestion that these Ersatz mythologies are anything but secular and identify this as a ‘masked man’ fallacy. It would be largely uncontroversial for a cultural anthropologist to describe these activities as religious. We conjecture that these activities reflect a desire for religion, but the offense at naming them as such reflects a pervasive sense of the obsolescence, impotence and even damage attributed to organized religion. That these powerful Christian narratives and archetypes are exapted again and again through these Ersatz mythologies, however, validates some of their power and existential import.

9 Our replacement functionalities have been insufficient. They are derivative of systems—particularly Christianity—that have already been eclipsed. They do not offer something new. More than being merely derivative, however, they satisfice without satisfying, preventing the necessary transformations for addressing our meaning crisis. See also section 5.4.1 below, “Reality Disengaged: On Bullshit”.

10 CC BY 2.0, Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/cxQS1s

11 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

12 http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/creative-type/Super-Hero

13 We discuss this further in section 5.2.3 below, “Suicide, Marital Status and Religious Affiliation”.

14 Note that the increase in suicide is not simply accounted for by an increase in population or in longevity. Suicide rates reported here, unless otherwise noted, are corrected to population size (reported as per 100,000). Life expectancy in the US in 2010 was 78.7, up from 76.7 in 1999, not likely to dramatically skew the age distribution of suicide.

15 http://www.suicide.org/suicide-causes.html, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Causes.aspx, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-inworld/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide

16 This is evidenced, in part, by the observation that global, stable attribution styles contribute to suicide ideation (Kleiman, Miller, and Riskind 2012).

17 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/12/racial-wealth-gaps-great-recession/

18 http://www.gallup.com/poll/183593/confidence-institutions-below-historicalnorms.aspx

19 http://www.oecd.org/forum/the-cost-of-mistrust.htm

20 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

21 http://www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media/Files/Reports/2009/PIP_Tech_and_Social_Isolation.pdf

22 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyand-telecoms/digital-media/11597743/Teenagers-spend-27-hours-a-week-online-how-internetuse-has-ballooned-in-the-last-decade.html
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/media-literacy/media-lit-10years/2015_Adults_media_use_and_attitudes_report.pdf

23 http://www.statista.com/statistics/267518/weekly-internet-usage-worldwide/

24 http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2010/what-americans-do-onlinesocial-media-and-games-dominate-activity.html

25 http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303615304579157671554066120

26 http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-rise-of-new-families/

27 The fact that the decline of marriage is concurrent with the rise of loneliness indicates that marriage is not simply being replaced by close, non-marital relationships

28 http://www.statisticbrain.com/percent-who-believe-in-the-power-of-hard-work/

29 http://www.pewforum.org/2014/11/05/how-the-faithful-voted-2014-preliminaryanalysis/

30 It is worth noting that the increase in protest, advocacy and intense politicization in the wake of Trump’s election has not translated into participation in the actual political machinery available (i. e. anti-Trump sentiment seems not to have drawn people to the Democratic Party or otherwise resulted in the emergence of new political entities).

31 We are speaking here of the dichotomy between two increasingly contrasting phenomena: general civic apathy and politicized modes of identification. We are not disputing the existence of valid political causes or the integrity of advocacy independent from any cultural meaning crisis.

32 In the US, employee engagement hovers around 30% (http://www.gallup.com/topic/employee_engagement.aspx), and a worldwide survey of 142 countries revealed that only 13% of employees describe themselves as engaged in their work (http://www.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx).

33 From Google N-Gram Viewer, smoothing factor of 3 (Michel et al. 2011).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 8: Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (ca. 1498).1
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4273/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 205k
Légende Fig. 9: San Diego Comic Con (2012). Photo by Kevin Dooley.10
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4273/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
Légende Fig. 10: The emergence of two of the most prominent modern pseudo-religious symbols, exemplified in the usage of the words “zombie” and “superhero” from 1930-2008 in predominantly English books published in any country.11
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4273/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 87k
Légende Fig. 11: Prevalence of the words “zombie” and “disconnection” from 1930-2010 in predominantly English books published in any country.20
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4273/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 99k
Légende Fig. 12: Prevalence of the use of the words “zombie” and “bullshit” from 1930-2008 in predominantly English books published in any country.33
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4273/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 79k

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