The Unabomber Manifesto, Part 5: Reform

Industrial Society and its Future, Cont’d

The following continues a condensed summary of the Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future.  The ideas, below, are Kaczynski’s.  The headings and numbers are his.   This is no endorsement of violence or anarchy. The document is presented in parts.  Previous parts include:

Industrial-Technological Society Cannot be Reformed
  1. Only revolution can protect freedom over time. History shows the futility of reform.  Long-term, the industrial system grows at the expense of freedom.  Reform would be timid and ineffective. Large change is threatening, risky, and unpredictable. Only revolutionaries would risk radical change, and accept dangerous, unpredictable results.
  2. It is naive to believe we can reconcile freedom with technology.  That is not reform of industrial society, but reinventing society.  We can’t plan utopian society and expect it to function as planned. So, any new society will give unpredictable results and might collapse.
  3. In general, it seems highly unlikely we can reconcile freedom with technology. More specific reasons follow.
Restriction of Freedom is Unavoidable in Industrial Society
  1. Industrial society must control us in order to function.  We depend on the system for survival and basic security needs.  To meet those needs, the system must control our behavior with rules, regulations, and bureaucracies.  Increasingly, it must control us by shaping our minds, using manipulation and the education system.
  2. The system forces us ever further from natural human behavior. It forces children ever further from natural outdoor play, into unnatural classroom study and academic pressure.  The system pushes grudging boys into what it needs – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  3. The relentless pressure to control us causes a growing backlash.  Growing numbers of people can’t or won’t conform: the dependent, gangs, rebels, radicals, saboteurs, dropouts and assorted resisters.
  4. Industrial society must manipulate and demean us, or it can’t function.  Our votes are insignificant.  Our decisions matter little.  Each day, we lose more control.  Propaganda peddles the illusion of control.
  5. Conservatives call for “local autonomy” that no longer exists.  Local communities completely depend on the larger system and are vulnerable to it, even to distant environmental threats.
  6. We serve industrial society, not the reverse.  This is not political ideology.  It is technical necessity.  The system meets basic human needs because it needs humans.  It meets some psychological needs for the same reason.  “Mental health” means not showing stress in a stressful system.
  7. Technical necessity limits autonomy.  Workers must sacrifice personal goals for enterprise goals, for the sake of the enterprise.  Industrial society requires most of us to lack autonomy.  Small businesses enjoy limited autonomy.  Nobody can escape technological change and remain competitive.
The ‘Bad’ Parts of Technology Cannot be Separated from the ‘Good’ Parts
  1. Industrial society cannot be reformed because its parts are interdependent.  The “good” can’t be separated from the “bad”.  We can’t have modern medicine without industrial society because modern medicine depends upon industrial society.
  2. Modern medicine brings good and bad.  Some people are genetically predisposed to disease.  The population becomes more vulnerable if modern medicine makes genetic susceptibility more widespread.  There are two solutions: eugenics or human genetic engineering.  Eugenics is unthinkable.  Human genetic engineering makes us a manufactured product.
  3. Human genetic engineering may be the ultimate threat to freedom.  Government regulation of human genetic engineering is needed or disaster beckons.  Government will first regulate human genetic engineering, then will regulate our children’s genetics.
  4. Extensive human genetic engineering is inevitable.  Its benefits are irresistible.  Protecting freedom requires banning human genetic engineering – which won’t happen.  Industrial society seems certain to make us a government regulated, manufactured product.
Technology is a More Powerful Social Force Than the Aspiration for Freedom
  1. Freedom loses when it compromises with technology.  Technology is more powerful and repeatedly forces us to compromise our freedom, bit by bit.  In the end, freedom vanishes.
  2. Technology is a far more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom.
  3. Today’s innovations may threaten freedom, tomorrow.  Today’s optional technology may be required, tomorrow.  Automobiles were optional, once.  Transportation is required, today.  Our survival depends on the transportation system.  The price we pay includes transportation costs, licensing, insurance, regulation, and freedom from that system.
  4. Technology is a powerful social force because of our desires.  We desire small technical advances that accumulate to erode our freedom.  Few complain about electricity, indoor plumbing, or phones.  Technological society demands a price – that we surrender control and freedom.  We may yet become genetically engineered products at the price of our humanity.
  5. Technology is a powerful social force because it moves only forward.  We and the system depend on technology advancement.  As technology marches forward, it forces freedom to retreat.
  6. Industrial society rapidly advances, endlessly launching simultaneous attacks on our our freedom.  It invades our privacy, spies on us, spewing rules and regulations, and propagandizing us.  Resistance is futile.  No reform can stem technology’s overwhelming tide.
  7. Our governments, schools, institutions, and corporations manipulate us and trample our freedom and privacy.  Government, law enforcement, and corporations are inconvenienced by our freedom, privacy, and rights.  They believe their goals are more important.
  8. Psychology favors industrial society, not its opponents.  People work harder for rewards than to avoid punishment (negative outcome).  Industrial society rewards scientists and technicians, not its opponents.  Opponents are less motivated because they strive to avoid negative outcomes.  This weighs against reform efforts.
  9. Social arrangements are weak defenses against technological advance.  Laws, institutions, customs, and ethical codes change over time.  Technological advances are more lasting.  Social arrangements may pause technological advances, before breaking down, but lasting protection is an illusion.
  10. For these reasons, technology is a more powerful social force than freedom.  However, industrial society is under stress – economic, environmental, and social.  This may cause it to break down.  This may weaken it, such that revolution succeeds and freedom proves more powerful.
  11. If stress weakens the industrial system, Kaczynski argues, then we must destroy it.  We cannot compromise and let it recover, he says.  If it recovers, it will wipe out all of our freedom.
Simpler Social Problems Have Proved Intractable
  1. We can reform industrial society no better than we can deal with less complex social problems.  Society struggles with environmental protection, political corruption, domestic abuse, and drug trafficking.
  2. It is doubtful that we can ever succeed at rational, long-term social planning.  We leave the hard decisions and consequences to future generations.  We solve major social problems, rarely, if ever.  Problems are dealt with politically and not with rational planning.
  3. If we lack the capacity to solve less complex social problems, we can’t solve more complex social problems.  The problem of reconciling freedom with technology is far too complex for us to solve.
  4. Perhaps, we may solve our environmental problems.  If we do, that will require even more control, more effective “socialization”, less freedom, and less autonomy.

Next: Part 6, Crossroads

The Unabomber Manifesto, Part 4: Science, Freedom, History

Industrial Society and its Future, Cont’d

The following continues a condensed summary of the Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future.  The ideas, below, are Kaczynski’s.  The headings and numbers are his.   This is no endorsement of violence or anarchy. The document is presented in parts.  Previous parts include:

The Motives of Scientists
  1. The principal motive for science isn’t “curiosity”.  Most science is beyond normal curiosity because it is so specialized.  Science is a surrogate activity.
  2. The principal motive for science isn’t the “benefit of humanity”.  Some science is clearly dangerous. Much is unrelated to human welfare.
  3. The principle motive for science is psychological.  It satisfies the power process need.  Scientific problems, research, and solutions are power process goals, effort, and attainment.
  4. Science is not purely a surrogate activity. Scientists have other motives, the same psychological needs as non-scientists.
  5. Science and technology is a powerful mass movement. Like other mass movements, it may help satisfy the power process need.
  6. Science blindly marches on – not to serve human welfare.  It serves the psychological needs of scientists, government officials, and corporate executives.
The Nature of Freedom
  1. Industrial society cannot be reformed to stop the erosion of human freedom. What do we mean by freedom?
  2. Freedom is the power to control our lives, have real goals, and autonomy.  Industrial society denies us this.  It controls, manipulates, and constrains us, even when benevolent.  It sticks us with artificial goals.
  3. Technology and economy determine freedom more than laws or government.  The Constitution is flimsy protection against our powerful technological surveillance state.
  4. Freedom of the press is a weak check on the system.  Mass media serves the system because the system controls it.  Mass media drowns out our voices.  Kaczynski killed, he said, so he’d be heard.
  5. Constitutional freedoms serve the state and the collective, not the individual.
  6. Society unconsciously controls our subjective need for freedom.  Oversocialization unconsciously controls some leftists. In turn, they seek to impose socialization on others.
Some Principles of History
  1. History is the sum of two parts: one erratic, the other regular.  The erratic part is unpredictable events.  The regular part is long-term trends.
  2. First Principle. Small changes have short-term effects on long-term trends.  Political reforms only work short-term. Small changes have long-term effects only if they advance the trend.
  3. Long-term trends are stable against small changes or they wouldn’t be long-term trends.
  4. Second Principle. A large change, with long-term effects on long-term trends, alters society as a whole.  This is because society’s parts are interrelated.
  5. Third Principle.  A large change, with long-term effects on long-term trends, alters society in unpredictable ways.
  6. Fourth Principle.  We can’t plan a new society and expect it to function as planned.
  7. Human societies, economies, and behavior are complex and unpredictable.
  8. Fifth Principle.  People do not  form society consciously and rationally.  Societies evolve outside of rational human control.
  9. The fifth principle follows from the other four.
  10. Reforms don’t make lasting change.  Revolution does. It changes society unpredictably.  Utopian revolutions never work as planned.
  11. The American Revolution was less a revolution than a war for independence.  It was political reform that changed society little.  It advanced America’s long-term political and societal trends.
  12. These are rules of thumb for thinking about the future. They must be considered and not easily disregarded.

Next: Part 5, Reform

The Unabomber Manifesto, Part 3: Social Problems

Industrial Society and its Future, Cont’d

The following continues a condensed summary of the Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future.  The ideas, below, are Kaczynski’s.  The headings and numbers are his.   This is no endorsement of violence or anarchy. The document is presented in parts.  Previous parts include:

Sources of Social Problems
  1. All societies suffer social and psychological problems.  Modern society suffers more than primitive societies did.
  2. We suffer more because modern society is radically different from our evolutionary conditions.  Modern society denies us autonomy and empowerment.  There are other reasons, too.
  3. Humanity evolved in small communities (family, tribe, village) unlike modern society.  We live in dense populations, apart from nature.  We suffer more rapid social change.
  4. Crowding increases stress and aggression.  Industrial society enabled population growth.  Densely populated urban centers replaced rural societies.  Disruptive technologies destroyed peace and quiet.
  5. Industrial society robbed us of the security of a relatively stable natural world.  It gave us insecurity and a rapidly changing technological world.
  6. Conservatives are fools.  They want the benefits of rapidly changing technology and economies without the costs (societal impacts and inevitable breakdown in traditional values).
  7. Industrial society erodes traditional values.  It undermines family and community bonds (small groups).  It demands our highest loyalty, at the expense of small groups.
  8. Industrial society tolerates only small groups that serve its ends.  Personal loyalties (family, community) are inefficient (nepotism, favoritism).
  9. Crowding, rapid change, and community breakdown cause social problems but don’t explain the extent of our problems.
  10. Crowding doesn’t seem the decisive factor.  Uncrowded rural areas suffer similar problems to urban areas, just less so.
  11. American frontier expansion also broke down families and small groups.  Many families lived in isolation, with little or no community.  They seemed to suffer fewer psychological problems.
  12. American frontier society changed rapidly and deeply.  People went from lawlessness and a rugged struggle for survival to lawful, orderly communities and regular jobs. Change was deeper, then.  But they enjoyed more optimism and self-confidence and seemed to suffer fewer psychological problems.
  13. The difference is autonomy.  The pioneers chose their land and made farms through their effort.  Small groups built communities (of dubious value).  They satisfied the power process.
  14. Disruption of the power process is the most important cause of modern problems. Other societies had fewer problems, while rapidly changing or lacking community.  All societies disrupt the power process to some extent. Our problem is worse.  Modern leftism is part of this problem.
Disruption of the Power Process in Modern Society
  1. Human drives fall into three groups, those that require: (1) minimal effort, (2) serious effort, or (3) unlimited effort (are out of our control). The power process satisfies the second group (serious effort). The third group (out of our control) feeds frustration, anger, defeatism, and depression.
  2. Modern society pushes most natural human drives into group one (minimal effort) and three (out of our control).  Group two (serious effort) is mostly artificial drives.
  3. Primitive societies push survival into group two (serious effort).  Modern society pushes survival into group one (minimal effort) – requiring mere obedience. This poorly serves our power process need.
  4. Modern society mostly pushes social needs (sex, love, status) into group two (serious effort).  For most of us, this doesn’t satisfy the power process need.
  5. Modern society pushes artificial needs into group two (serious effort), using advertising and marketing.  Most of us must satisfy the power process need through artificial needs and surrogate activities.
  6. Most of us suffer a lack of purpose and “fulfillment” because artificial goals and surrogate activities cannot satisfy the power process need.  This must be satisfied through external goals (survival, sex, love, status, revenge, etc.)
  7. Most of us cannot pursue our goals autonomously.  We have no autonomy or limited autonomy, constrained by a complex, regulated system.
  8. Many expect the system to do for them.  They don’t expect to do for themselves. The system defines available opportunities.  The system defines the expertise needed to achieve them.
  9. We feel powerless because we have little control over basic security needs.  Basic security gets pushed into group three (out of our control).  Others are in control (businesses, doctors, regulators).  They decide on jobs, health, safety, and environment.  They act, not us.
  10. We feel less secure than primitive man.  We enjoy more objective security but we are helpless against unknown technological threats (health and environmental hazards, war, economic disruption).
  11. Our threats are man-made, based on by others’ decisions.  Primitive man faced natural threats.  This frustrates, humiliates, and angers us.
  12. Modern security needs fall mostly into group one (minimal effort for food and shelter) and group three (out of our control).
  13. Modern society frustrates most of our natural impulses (anger, aggression).  It limits our activities because functioning industrial society requires rules and regulations.
  14. Modern society regulates those behaviors that are important to it.  It is permissive in matters less important to it (religion, sex).
  15. Industrial society manipulates our behavior.  It uses psychological pressure, including advertising, propaganda, and media manipulation.
  16. We obsess with longevity and youthfulness because our power process need is unfulfilled. “Mid-life crisis” and falling birth rates are part of this.
  17. We are unwilling and unprepared to accept life’s stages because our power process need is unfulfilled.
  18. Some people need opportunities outside of the system.  They could never be satisfied even if it provided adequate opportunities.
How Some People Adjust
  1. Not everybody suffers psychological problems in modern society.
  2. Some have less drive for power.  Some have less power process need.  Some need little autonomy.  Some are content with servitude.
  3. Some have stronger drives for power.  Some never get bored playing the game or climbing the ladder.
  4. Some are the most susceptible to advertising and marketing.  They end up frustrated from chasing after money but never satisfying their craving for new toys.
  5. Some are the least susceptible to advertising and marketing.  They are less interested in money.  For them, material things cannot satisfy the power process need.
  6. Some are in the middle.  They spend serious effort earning money for goods and services.  This serves the power process need but may not satisfy it.  They may lack autonomy or feel frustrated.  (This is oversimplification.  Advertising and marketing do not entirely drive material wants.)
  7. Some satisfy their need for power by identifying with a powerful organization or mass movement.  They adopt its goals and work towards those goals.  Many leftists find this attractive.  It doesn’t satisfy most people.
  8. Work as a surrogate activity threatens individual freedom.  When highly driven people work more than needed to meet their goals, work becomes a surrogate activity.  When scientists and engineers do this, they threaten  our freedom by expanding and perfecting a destructive system.
  9. For most of us, the power process need is unsatisfied.  Most of us are not highly driven, happy with surrogate activities, or strongly identify with movements or groups.  We feel frustrated by lack of autonomy, restricted by rules, or constrained by the system.
  10. Industrial society is demeaning because it denies us real goals and provides only surrogate activities.

Next: Part 4: Science, Freedom, History

The Unabomber Manifesto, Part 2: The Power Process

Industrial Society and its Future, Cont’d

The following continues a condensed summary of the Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future.  The ideas, below, are Kaczynski’s.  The headings and numbers are his.   This is no endorsement of violence or anarchy. The document is presented in parts.  Previous parts include:

The Power Process
  1. We have an innate need for the power process – not power, but related to it.  The elements of the power process are goal, effort, attainment of goal, and autonomy.
  2. We need to exercise power to achieve our goals.  If we got everything we wished for, we’d become bored and depressed.  Leisured aristocracies enjoy power but become decadent (hedonistic, demoralized).
  3. Achieving goals without effort is demoralizing.  We all have goals, including survival.
  4. Failure to meet goals ends in frustration.  Consistent failure causes low self-esteem or depression.
  5. We need reasonably attainable goals that require effort to achieve.
Surrogate Activities
  1. When survival is easy, we create artificial goals that require effort (our energy and emotion).  These include intellectual or material pursuits (education, recreation, wealth, status).
  2. These are surrogate activities.  They are “fulfillment” goals, rather than survival goals.  Sex and love are not surrogate activities, unless pursued excessively.
  3. Survival in modern society requires minimal effort – mostly mere obedience.  Most activities in modern society are surrogate activities (in whole or in part).
  4. Surrogate activities somewhat satisfy most people.  They satisfy more than survival goals because that requires minimal effort.  This denies us autonomy because we survive as cogs in the social machine.  Surrogate activities satisfy more because we pursue them autonomously.
  1. Most of us need some autonomy in the power process (choice, direction, and control) as an individual or part of a small group.  Rigid hierarchies deny individual autonomy.  So do large groups, where decisions make us insignificant.
  2. Some require little autonomy.  They may need less.  They may have powerful group belonging and identity.  They may enjoy blind obedience.
  3. Most need the power process for self-esteem, confidence, and empowerment.  We need goals and the autonomy to achieve those goals.  Denied those opportunities, we suffer mentally – inferiority, depression, anxiety, hostility, and other disorders.

Next, Part 3: Social Problems

The Unabomber Manifesto, Part 1: Leftism

ted-kaczynskiArrest photo

Ted Kaczynski (“the Unabomber”) was a brilliant mathematician turned terrorist.  Kaczynski carried out a terror campaign from 1978 to 1995, which he stopped only after publication of his manifesto, Industrial Society and its Future (the “Unabomber Manifesto”).  His controversial manifesto raises interesting questions.

Ted Kaczynski

berkeley-professor-kaczynskiBerkeley Asst. Professor

Kaczynski was a brilliant mathematician.  He was a child prodigy who was accepted to Harvard at age 16.  He earned a PhD in mathematics from the University of Michigan and was briefly an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Kaczynski reportedly had an IQ of 167, when tested in the fifth grade.  He skipped two grades, only to face bullying by the older boys.  He became more socially withdrawn.  His mother considered having him studied for autism.

Prof. Henry Murray

At Harvard, Kaczynski was the subject of an arguably brutalizing and ethically questionable psychological experiment by Harvard psychologist, Henry Murray.  Murray was said to be the former chief psychologist for US military intelligence, “the wizard of personality assessment” who “had monitored military experiments on brainwashing and sodium amytal interrogation.”  Murray’s Harvard experiments reportedly focused on “psychic deconstruction by humiliating undergraduates and thereby causing them to experience severe stress”.

Kaczynski left Berkeley for Montana to live as a recluse.  He dedicated himself to studying political philosophy, notably the French philosopher Jacques Ellul.  Ellul was a “Christian Anarchist”, who criticized technological society but opposed violence.

unabomber-sketchComposite sketch

Kaczynski carried out a terror campaign that murdered three and injured 23 others.  He mailed homemade bombs to his victims, including pipe bombs and nail bombs.  Kaczynski also attempted but failed to blow up a passenger airliner.  His victims included professors, students, scientists, businessmen, and computer store owners.

Kaczynski, now aged 75, is serving out 8 life terms at a federal supermax prison.  The FBI apprehended him with the help of his brother, David Kaczynski.  A court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Ted Kaczynski as paranoid schizophrenic but Kaczynski rejected an insanity defense.  (Prison psychologists rejected the claimed mental illness as “ridiculous”.)  Kaczynski pled guilty to the charges in order to avoid the death penalty and spare his brother any guilt for aiding law enforcement.

Industrial Society and its Future

The following is a condensed summary of the Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and its Future.  It is presented to help provide insight into Kaczynski’s mind and motivations.  Was he paranoid schizophrenic, as the court-appointed psychiatrist claimed? Or was he sane, as the prison psychologists argued?  Kaczynski committed terrible acts for a purpose.  What was that purpose? 

The ideas, below, are Kaczynski’s.  The headings and numbers are his.   His manifesto is lengthy.  So, the arguments are condensed and restated to be concise.  This is no endorsement of violence or anarchy. The document is presented in parts.

  1. Technology is a disaster for man, the planet, and society.  In advanced nations, people suffer long and unfulfilling lives. In developing nations, people suffer shorter lives.
  2. Our system may fail.  Its survival will cost us our humanity, dignity, and autonomy.
  3. If the system fails, we will suffer.  As it grows, we will suffer more when it fails. So, it it better for us that it fails sooner rather than later.
  4. Revolution against industrial society is necessary.  This is economic, not political revolution.
Psychology of Modern Leftism
  1. Leftism is a symptom of a deeply troubled society.
  2. Leftism includes various psychological types – socialism, collectivism, feminism, and [radical] activism (LGBT, animal rights).
  3. This definition is unclear and incomplete. But, it helps identify the psychological drivers of these movements.
  4. Leftism has two psychological drivers: “feelings of inferiority” (all of leftism) and “oversocialization” (only an influential segment).
Feelings of Inferiority
  1. Leftism is mainly driven by “feelings of inferiority” – low self-esteem, feeling powerless, depression, guilt, self-hate.
  2. Hypersensitivity to [trigger words] (ethnicity, gender, disability, culture) is motivated by feelings of inferiority.
  3. Political correctness comes from a white, privileged academic elite, not the “oppressed”.
  4. Many leftists unconsciously view “oppressed” groups as “inferior”.  They identify with that inferiority.
  5. Feminists secretly fear that men are more strong and capable.
  6. Leftists hate the West because it appears strong, good, and successful.  They condemn western militarism, imperialism, and racism, but excuse these in socialist countries or “primitive cultures”.
  7. They reject individualism (self-reliance, initiative, optimism).  They want collectivism to care for them because they doubt their own abilities.  They fear competition because they feel like losers.
  8. Leftist intellectuals prefer sordid, desperate, or hedonist art.
  9. They argue for cultural relativity.  They attack objective reality, science, and reason, because of hostility driven by feeling inferior.  They reject reject scientific truth and biological bases for human behavior.
  10. Leftists can only feel strong as members of a mass movement because they deeply feel inferior.
  11. They feel self-hate.  This explains their masochistic tactics, such as lying down in front of vehicles, and provoking police.
  12. Their motives are hostility and power – not compassion or moral principle.  That’s why they engage in hostile, counter-productive confrontations.
  13. If society had no social problems, leftists would invent them.
  14. This doesn’t accurately describe every leftist.  It’s just a general indicator of leftist tendencies.
  1. We learn to conform to society through socialization.  The well-socialized function well in society and obey society’s morals.  Leftists are oversocialized, and only seem to rebel against society.
  2. Society’s demands (morality, social norms) make us feel morally inadequate because we all have failings.  The oversocialized feel severely burdened, rationalize their shortcomings, and resort to self-deception.
  3. Overuse of shame makes us ashamed as beings.  Our thoughts and actions fall short of social norms and morality.  This makes the oversocialized feel shame, self-hatred, and powerless.  This places a seriously cruel psychological leash on them.
  4. Important and influential leftists are oversocialized, notably university intellectuals and the upper-middle class.  They are the most highly socialized and most left-wing.
  5. The oversocialized left struggles to break society’s psychological leash, but doesn’t rebel.  Instead, they align with societal norms and (rightly) accuse society of falling short of its own norms.
  6. The oversocialized left enforces conformity to society.  For example, affirmative action enforces white upper middle class norms, leaving minorities only superficial minority religion and culture (music, dress).
  7. The most oversocialized leftists may rebel against society, to break their psychological leash.  They may resort to to violence, but justify themselves based on social norms (such as racism).
  8. This rough thumbnail sketch of leftist psychology can’t completely capture complex reality.  It is only a rough indicator.
  9. These problems are widespread, especially on the left – low self-esteem, depression, defeatism.  Socialization pressure is greater today than ever, and is ever more intrusive (diet, sex, fitness, parenting).

Next, Part 2: The Power Process

The Trouble with Zombies

Zombies are a real problem, a real crisis, and a real threat.  Each of us must act or zombies may destroy us all.

What are zombies?


The popular television show, The Walking Dead offers a useful guide to zombies:

  • Everybody (living or dead) is infected.
  • The infection can sicken and kill the living; and reanimates the dead.
  • The dead mindlessly wander in packs, driven by insatiable hunger, spreading death and destruction.
  • The living face choices:
    • Is life worth living?
    • Why? What’s the point?
    • At what cost?

At its best, the show explores these deep questions.

A real problem

Professor John Vervaeke, psychology professor and cognitive scientist at the University of Toronto, suggests that zombie popularity points to a real problem.

  • We use stories/myths to express difficult ideas.
  • The zombie myth expresses an idea that there is a problem – something going very wrong.
  • The zombie myth is popular because the problem is real and pervasive.

A real crisis

Zombies symbolize the real crisis – a meaning crisis, says Vervaeke, our lack of meaning (purpose).

  • Zombies lose the capacity for meaning (cannot think, cannot speak).
  • Zombies are mindless consumers who attack and destroy meaning. (They kill the living and eat the brains that give meaning.)
  • Zombies are adrift, wandering aimlessly, with no sense of belonging (no home).
  • Zombies have no personal responsibility because they lack self-awareness.
  • Zombies have no community responsibility because they have no community, only the herd – a destructive mob.

Viewers can offer the survivors little advice, says Vervaeke, because we are trapped with them.

A real threat

The meaning crisis threatens us with annihilation, in a very real sense, unless we confront it.  In a sense, the post-modern world is the zombie apocalypse.

It takes courage even to name the problem.  The word “zombie” is almost never spoken in zombie stories, says Vervaeke.  We struggle to identify and confront the problem because this requires standing against popular postmodern thinking.

  • This leaves us without (spiritual) meaning and (ultimate) purpose, and the capacity to think/speak in those terms.
  • Materialism is unsatisfying, while scientific rationalism attacks the institutions that give (spiritual) meaning.
  • This leaves us adrift, aimless, with no sense of belonging.
  • Personal responsibility erodes, as moral traditions are replaced with ideologies that reject morality and responsibility.
  • The community (society, family) decays, replaced with unthinking and destructive mobs.

So, the post-modern world is the zombie apocalypse.

  • We are the infected.
  • Our postmodern infection sickens us and threatens to kill us.
  • Postmodern thinking leads nowhere but death and destruction.
  • Without meaning (purpose, values, morality), life feels pointless – like its not worth living.

An answer

We must build a meaningful civilization, says Vervaeke.

  • We must each help our self before we can help others.
  • None of us can save the world, but each can save our self and help others.

How do we find meaning and purpose?  Is it really that important?  This post is the first in a series on meaning and purpose.

Next: Postmodernism Part 1, Truth is Dead