This past Yom Kippur was the first time in five years that I fasted. And it sucked. As I entered the 22nd hour, I was doing laps in an Olympic-sized pool of self-pity. For perhaps the first time ever, I regretted taking a day off of work. I kept thinking how unnatural the whole thing was. I was hungry. There was food. I should eat. Fasting went against every animal instinct I had.
It was at this point that some part of my hunger-addled brain began to flicker. How great is it that we can not eat–by choice. I could’ve eaten any number of things lying around the house. Or I could’ve gone out and ordered food. Or I could’ve called a phone number, and someone would have brought food to me. In other times and other places, being presented with all of those options would have been nothing short of a miracle.
And yet it’s because food is so plentiful that we have the choice not to eat it. It’s like the old joke about how you never visit the legendary landmark next door until someone comes to visit you. Since you know it’s always going to be there, you don’t feel the need to take advantage of it immediately. And so it is with food. The more we have, the less we need.
Of course, these thoughts didn’t help the fast go any faster. As soon as 6:06 rolled around, I went after the snack tray as if the dolmas might evaporate any second. However, the fast did make me think, which I guess is the point of the holiday. It also reminded me of a concept I heard about a while back called the tragedy of the commons.
The idea refers to a hypothetical plot of land shared by a number of farmers. If the farmers each have enough sheep to keep the grass at a constant level, everybody wins. However, as soon as one farmer decides to try to earn more by adding another sheep, eventually the grass will run out, the sheep die, and everyone loses.
This applies to any limited resource; people will try to get as much of it as possible for themselves, but if everyone does this, the resource runs out. However, if we know we have enough, we can feel safe taking what we need, and nothing more.
And yet, even though we live in an age of unparalleled prosperity, there is still a general sense of unease. We know that the world is at a tipping point. It seems that the higher we build, the more complex we get, the more precarious our position: the recent financial collapse has demonstrated that quite clearly.
Historically, humanity’s goal has always been to grow. But, as we stand on the brink of 7 billion people, it’s becoming apparent that growth isn’t sustainable. What would happen if some crisis struck and crippled our modern infrastructure? Could we repair our own cars without electricity? Could we plant a garden without looking to the internet?
Which brings me to zombies. As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. These unreasoning, brain-hungry corpses are neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.
Several of my friends have started planning for the zombie apocalypse, and even have an escape route planned out in case of zombie attack.
While both vampires and zombies are undead creatures roaming the night looking for more people to infect, over the years vampires have been transformed into sparkling sex symbols, while zombies remained violent, bloodthirsty brutes. However, in recent films as well as all across the internet, the interest in zombies tends to focus on the aftermath of a zombie attack, rather than on the zombies themselves.
There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper from the University of Ottawa about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Part of the attraction of the zombie apocalypse is the sheer freedom of it. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for various underworld kingpins.
However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.
In almost every zombie movie, the survivors are forced to find a way to provide their own food, shelter, and clothing–to survive without modern technology or conveniences. You’d have to be prepared to go days without eating, and to live with only what you can carry. So, really, the aftermath of a zombie outbreak could stand in for that of any large scale disaster.
Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electric grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at the very least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. You can see it in the increasing popularity of hobbies like knitting, homebrewing, and DIY projects in general. There’s something in the air, and real or not, it’s best to be prepared.