Monday, June 17, 2013

Zombie America - Installment 4

A year and a half ago, as I was thinking about the state of things economic, political and environmental in this country, the phrase "zombie America" popped into my head. What is a zombie? The original use of the word is for a dead body, devoid of real life and soul, that is reanimated and caused to walk around by witchcraft or dark magic. In the ever popular science fiction of recent years, the concept of zombie has evolved to mean a person who has as the result of infection or exposure to unspecified substances been robbed of their humanity - of their personality, intelligence, soul and will - and transformed to a monster that kills and feeds on uninfected humans (especially their brains). Those that are not killed also infected and become themselves zombies.

Zombies are variously referred to as the "undead" and the "walking dead," phrases that I think can be applied to American economy, politics and society at large. The nation is still lurching and weaving about, animated but no longer truly alive, dead (or dying) but because still animated, so that many observers still imagine it to have life. Pretty pessimistic stuff, right? 

Personally, right now, this week, this month, this past year, my life is pretty great. I have a job I really like (most of the time), enough income for current needs, and few debts (just my house). Since I have tenure I'm unlikely to lose my job any time soon, and I'm over 62 and not far from full-retirement age with (I hope) adequate retirement savings. So unless the entire U.S. economy and government break down completely, and civil disorder and anarchy overtake us I'm in pretty good shape personally.  The problem is that as a sociologist, I believe that such a break down with ensuing disorder and anarchy due to environmental problems, the inherent contradictions of capitalism and the cultural/political divisions of U.S. society, will occur before I die - or alternatively, attempts at repressive totalitarianism to maintain order will prevail in places for a while (think NBC TV's "Revolution") as an attempt (futile in the long run) to contain disorder.  

Most of the time I function happily and contentedly within my personal present. I enjoy the lovely woods and hills that surround my home, I enjoy my conversations with my husband, playing with my dogs and cats, interactions with friends, television and novels, and artistic activities. But, ugly reality intrudes through news stories, articles friends link on Facebook, and most of all through my work as a sociologist. Because it is my job to teach students about society and the environment, about social problems and about inequality. 

I do learn or discover many positive things as I do the research necessary to be an good instructor in these fields or just simply in interacting with the world. There are whole states, whole communities taking wonderful positive actions. There are many non-profit organizations and even more individuals engaging in positive actions towards an environmentally, economically, and politically sustainable future. Occasionally there are even political decisions at the national level that are positive (two from the Supreme Court in just the last few days - striking down the right of private companies to patent naturally occurring human genes, and striking down Arizona's discriminatory citizen test for voter registration). But the bad stuff just keeps coming as large corporations seem to be able to do whatever they please to make the profits they crave regardless of their human and environmental consequences. The rich get richer and the rest of us (not just the poor) and the earth get poorer, more beaten down and more broken. The good things seem like band aids placed here and there on a body gone septic throughout with drug-resistant infections. 

The sad thing is that in an absolute there are solutions. The problems with our economy, our political system and our environment are not written in stone. These are all humanly created institutions and they can be changed.  There are other countries that have made changes or are making changes that could cushion them from the worst of the fall-out from the United States spiral into chaos. But as a society we do not have the political will to change, largely because a huge percentage of voters and their representatives refuse to see our institutions as humanly created capable of being modified or even ditched for something better, insisting instead that they are "God" given, unalterable, sacred institutions. 

But there is something horribly wrong, horribly broken with a society and an economy that has more empty houses than it has homeless people (, governors can sell off highways, colleges, prisons and other public resources rather than tax the rich (, and people in eastern Kentucky where I live think that the way to save their community is to bow down to everything the coal companies want, even if it is leveling the mountain behind their home. 

No comments: