Civic Engagement in the Zombie Apocalypse

Imagine the early days of the zombie apocalypse: a few zombies shamble down the street but society hasn’t quite yet reached full-stage desolation.

It is very clear that something is wrong, but the whole situation is shrouded in chaos and uncertainty. People who seem more or less normal one minute become brain-hungry monsters the next.

Leaving the cities seems like a wise idea. With so many people becoming vicious and unpredictable, it’s probably best to isolate yourself from the mass of humanity.

But at the same time, you can’t cut yourself off all together. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I probably don’t have the skills to survive in the wilderness on my own. I’d like to think I’d have something to contribute to a small, post-apocalyptic society, but I would most certainly need a community – people to help me forage and fight back the zombie hordes. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t do that on my own.

I would also be inclined to argue that community provides broader value – that living amongst at least a few other people would be better than living in total isolation – but I suppose such an argument goes beyond the scope of what I’d like to write about today. Even on purely practical, utilitarian grounds, one must trust at least a few other people in the zombie apocalypse world.

The challenge here is that, especially during the initial waves of the zombie apocalypse, it is entirely unclear who it wise to trust. The zombies, after all, aren’t some inhuman creatures instinctually distinguished from ourselves – indeed, every zombie was a person first.

One might hope that the human/zombie distinction would be clear once the full zombification of a person has taken place, but there’s every reason to think that it would not be clear in the early stages. Indeed, until you properly learn to recognize the signs, a trusted human might go to monstrous zombie more quickly than you could anticipate the tragic transformation.

This leaves the important question of what civic engagement and civil society would or should look like during the zombie apocalypse.

Do you err on the side of welcoming people into your post-apocalyptic community, benefiting from their skills and talents but risking their future thirst for brains? Or do you isolate as much as possible – protecting yourself from infection, but cutting yourself off from the benefits of society and decreasing everyone’s chance for survival?

Both options have risks, and either could be decried as foolish.

For myself, I lean towards community. Isolation may have its benefits and at times may have its appeal, but ultimately, such tactics are a short-sighted solution. Facing the desolation and despair of the apocalypse, one would do well to remember: isolation may help you survive another day; but community is how you go on living.

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