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Zombies in Western Culture

John Vervaeke
Christopher Mastropietro
Filip Miscevic

7. Conclusion

Texte intégral

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

Fig. 13: Prevalence of words from 1930-2010 in predominantly English books published in any country.1

1Our four horsemen of the apocalypse are, like the zombie itself, mythograms for a crisis in meaning that is decentered from any particular object or symptom that may refer back to it. Just like our present ecological crisis, there is no single anthropogenic or historical cause; rather, it is emergent from the unpredictable combinations of historical and perennial forces that define the interactional tension between agent and arena. As such, there is no “silver technological bullet” to solve our ecological crisis, nor stake to vanquish our zombie apocalypse. It is important to understand the implications of this. Responding to such an emergent problem is not simply a matter of doctoring. Communities of intelligent people can combine knowledge to triage problems in medicine, economics, and engineering, but resolving the problems discussed in the second half of this book requires more than simply pooling knowledge and resources; the solution, like the problem, must be more complex than the sum of these parts.

2The problem seems sufficiently nebulous that we cannot ruminate our way out of it, and while it is not our intention to foreclose the possibilities that human ingenuity might bring to bear, the problem is likely too multifarious to be treated with any existing cultural apparatus. As we have argued, the only apparatus that provided a comprehensive worldview attunement―which could both empower and connect the arenas of individual, social, spiritual and political life in the way that we crave―is no longer a live option for us.

3It is not controversial to note that the features of our Christian worldview are the prime movers behind many of our cultural zeitgeists. If this is true, it is also likely that the rising popularity of the superhero myths and similar trends reflect an unconscious response to the loss of that worldview. These mythologies, as we have discussed, contain unmistakable recursions to Christian forms, and that these mythologies are so culturally powerful may suggest that our need for a religious worldview retains a powerful hold over us. Despite our increasing skepticism and secularity, we are continually referring back to our most known spiritual quantity. This paradox reveals a complicated tension: our research demonstrates that we are increasingly―and perhaps irreversibly―abdicating religious institutions, but our cultural mythologies depict us ever more desperately beholden to religious meanings. This tension is embodied in the religious “nones” who hang ambiguously between secular and religious identities, wanting for something that integrates and transcends the realness of both of these perspectives.

4A worldview that governed perspective for two millennia does not simply vanish. Its decline is gradual like that of many lesser empires. Its continued influence through the kaleidoscope of popular culture is a trailing therapy to disarm the nihilism of a secularizing world. Yet it is doomed to fail in this role. These mythologies that refer to Christianity contain little that is new or revelatory, and their gesturing has an inert effect rather than a transcendent one. If this crisis has in part been induced by the decline of Christianity, then attempting to retrieve Christianity is an ill-fated attempt at a solution. The very hard problem is this: that we suffer a lack of viable alternatives. As we have discussed, twentieth century solutions to the problem of religious decline have resulted in the trauma of disastrous political ideologies. We are rightly wary of duplicating this result with another secular attempt at worldview attunement. Absent these meta-meaning systems―one diminishing, and the other counterfeit―the only alternative seems to be the raw domicide of nihilism.

5The impasse posed by this trilemma is a spiritual bankruptcy that cannot be thwarted by the benefit of historical hindsight; our only known cure for cultural domicide―the one that relieved the Hellenes―is now at the very centre of the ailment. The philosopher-as-physician was the fountainhead of Christianity’s spiritual framework, and our divestment from this framework foregrounds our current predicament. It remains unclear to what extent, and in what form, this framework can be salvaged in a secular world, and this is the most significant formulation of the problem we face as a society. This unanswered question, while outside the scope of this discussion, will be the subject of the authors’ forthcoming work.

6Our spiritual bankruptcy, deepened and exacerbated by the symptoms of crisis in each of our horseman’s domains, are symbolized powerfully by the zombie apocalypse: by the vapid environment, the craving monster, the perverted transformation of world, the lack of instructive precedent, and the absence of an apparatus to treat or to explain. The growing recognition that there is no single technological solution to the environmental crisis corresponds to the lack of stake or silver bullet for a zombie apocalypse. The semiosis of the zombie’s physicality, the ambiguity around its name and iconicity, its subversion of archetypally heroic narratives and its undermining of our purchase on realness: all of this serves to make the zombie an exegetically polymorphic monster―a versatile symbol for despair, decay and faithlessness. That the zombie’s myth centers on the abjection of Christian apocalypse and resurrection suggests that its evolution is culturally responsive to the eclipse of the religious worldview, reflecting a loss of normative agency and emblematizing the estrangement of individuals from one another and the infertility of their ecology with the world.

  • 2 This book is situated within a more encompassing argument, presented in Buddhism and Cognitive Sci (...)

7It is important for the authors to stress that we are not resigned to the nihilism described in this book. To say that a problem is not easily solved is not to say that it is unsolvable. Rather, the purpose of this work has been to articulate the ways in which the symbol of this prominent cultural zeitgeist correlate to the decline of the Christian worldview, and to the many forms of crises that seem in turn connected to this decline. It remains imperative not to permit the voguishness of the zombie zeitgeist to undermine its philosophical import when appreciating the impact of a crisis in meaning, nor to reductively attribute the zeitgeist to any single horseman of crisis discussed in this book. The effects of both the Grassy Narrows and Hellenistic domicides discussed in section 4 adduce the gravity of consequence that follows the disintegration of a meta-meaning system. A comparable disintegration is extant; the zombie is a multi-vocal analogue for the contemporaneous domicides occurring in the personal, social, political and spiritual systems of the present. We may speculate without great imagination that this gradual onslaught of meaninglessness will―in the absence of a new sacred canopy―continue to threaten and infect us for the foreseeable future.2


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

2 This book is situated within a more encompassing argument, presented in Buddhism and Cognitive Science: Responding to the Meaning Crisis, University of Toronto. Available on YouTube at

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Légende Fig. 13: Prevalence of words from 1930-2010 in predominantly English books published in any country.1
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