Home > Uncategorized > Are mindless zombies a projection of what we fear we have really become?

Are mindless zombies a projection of what we fear we have really become?

from Ikonoclast (originally a comment)

It’s strange in a time of gross over-population that dystopian fiction so often focuses on hypothesized fertility crises. We see this in The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men, for example. This is when the real problem is of course the diametric opposite. The earth has a vast over-population crisis of humans and an accelerating decline of all other forms of life (the sixth mass extinction).

It leads me to wonder if genuine fears are deflected by an invocation of the opposite in story-telling. Dystopian and horror fiction give us a delicious thrill of vicarious fear when we actually feel fully secure that “that could never happen”. What people enjoy about disaster storytelling is feeling proof against the specific disaster depicted. It could only happen to others or so we think. We are not so foolish and purblind as the people in the story so that could never happen to us. Actually, we are as foolish and purblind but in a afferent way. The laws of nature would never recoil against us and seriously threaten us with zombies. Actually the laws of nature do recoil against us and are about to do so in a catastrophic manner, though probably not by generating zombies. Although, it must be said that humans infected by capitalist ideology are pretty much like mindless zombies in the way they consume today without thought for a sustainable tomorrow. Are mindless zombies a projection of what we fear we have really become? Are we truly afraid of ourselves, of our inner mindlessness, as we indeed should be?

Political messaging is story-telling. The true fear must be deflected by a false fear and indeed the best false fear for this purpose is the diametric opposite of the truth. The false fear of China (or the CCP) about its demographic crisis is of a piece with this. Its ageing demographic is not a problem while technological production increases in efficiency. True, it could be a problem when the global catastrophe hits. But that crisis will be made even worse by having an overall larger population. If or rather when the real crisis hits, the demographic old age bulge will solve itself. Sad to say, old people die rapidly under challenge. We see this with the COVID-19 pandemic, the first of the great natural challenges of this century to be generated by our insane levels of global over-population, over-production and over-connection.

  1. June 6, 2021 at 2:24 am

    Imagine China on a gradual glide to six hundred million people. Yes there are more elderly to care for. Even so, Earth begins to heal and yield unpolluted bounty to a smaller population using long ago paid for infrastructure built by a former larger population. A gently declining population is one hallmark of an advanced modern culture that has solved the capitalist problem of growing at a compound rate on a non growing finite planet.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 6, 2021 at 5:02 am

      I agree that with modern technology, wisely and minimally applied, China (for example) could glide to a sustainable 600 million, or it might even be a sustainable 300 million. Earth indeed “could begin to heal and yield unpolluted bounty to a smaller population using (not just) long ago paid for infrastructure built by a former larger population but also low-impact high-tech solutions and a general social contract to be equitable and frugal. Advertising, over-stimulus of human appetites and over=production would all have to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

      It’s going to take a lot of wisdom and luck to achieve something like that from now. We have done enormous damage to earth systems already; damage that will take thousands of years before a full and proper re-stabilization. I am not sure we have that much wisdom or that much luck left but let us hope so for our descendants’ sakes and for other life on earth.

  2. Ken Zimmerman
    June 6, 2021 at 8:53 am

    There certainly is not unanimity on the ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’ discussed here. Some say these problems as they are defined here don’t even exist. One such is Julian Simon. In the introduction to his book ‘The Ultimate Resource 2,’ What Are the Real Population and Resource Problems? He writes:

    Is there a natural-resource problem now? Certainly-just as always. The problem is that natural resources are scarce, in the sense that it costs us labor and capital to get them, though we would prefer to get them for free.

    Are we now “in crisis” and “entering an age of scarcity”? You can see any-thing you like in a crystal ball. But almost without exception, the relevant data (the long-run economic trends) suggest precisely the opposite. The appropri-ate measures of scarcity (the costs of natural resources in human labor, and their prices relative to wages and to other goods) all suggest that natural re-sources have been becoming less scarce over the long run, right up to the present.

    How about pollution? Is this not a problem? Of course pollution is a prob-lem. People have always had to dispose of their waste products so as to enjoy a pleasant and healthy living space. But we now live in a more healthy and less dirty environment than in earlier centuries.

    About population now: Is there a population problem? Again, of course there is a population problem, just as always. When a couple is about to have a baby, they must prepare a place for the child to sleep safely. Then, after the birth of the child, the parents must feed, clothe, protect, and teach it. All this requires effort and resources, and not from the parents alone. When a baby is born or a migrant arrives, the community must increase its municipal ser-vices-schooling, fire and police protection, and garbage collection. None of these are free.

    For the first decades of its life, an additional child certainly is a burden not only on its parents but also on others. Brothers and sisters must do with less of everything except companionship. Taxpayers must cough up additional funds for schooling and other public services. Neighbors hear more noise. During these early years the child produces nothing material, and the income of the family and the community is spread more thinly than if the baby had not been born. And when the child grows up and first goes to work, jobs are squeezed a bit, and the output and pay per working person go down. All this clearly is an economic loss for other people.

    Just as surely, however, an additional person is also a boon. The child or immigrant will pay taxes later on, contribute energy and resources to the com-munity, produce goods and services for the consumption of others, and makeefforts to beautify and purify the environment. Perhaps most significant for the more-developed countries is the contribution that the average person makes to increasing the efficiency of production through new ideas and im-proved methods.

    The real population problem, then, is not that there are too many people or that too many babies are being born. The problem is that others must support each additional person before that person contributes in turn to the well-being of others.

    Which is more weighty, the burden or the boon? That depends on the economic conditions and institutions, which we shall discuss at some length. But also, to a startling degree, the decision about whether the overall effect of a child or migrant is positive or negative depends on the values of whoever is making the judgment-your preference to spend a dollar now rather than to wait for a dollar-plus-something in twenty or thirty years, your preferences for having more or fewer wild animals alive as opposed to more or fewer human beings alive, and so on. Population growth is a problem, but not just a problem; it is a boon, but not just a boon. So your values are all-important in judging the net effect of population growth, and deciding whether there are too many or too few people.

    From the economic point of view an additional child is like a laying chicken, a cacao tree, a computer factory, or a new house. A baby is a durable good in which someone must invest heavily long before the grown adult be-gins to provide returns on the investment. But whereas “Travel now, pay later” is inherently attractive because the pleasure is immediate and the piper will wait, “Pay now, benefit from the child later” is inherently problematic because the sacrifice comes first.

    You might respond that additional children will never yield net benefits, because they use up irreplaceable resources. We shall see that additional per-sons produce more than they consume in the long run, and natural resources are not an exception. But we can agree that there is still a population problem, just as there is a problem with all good investments. Long before there are benefits, we must tie up capital that could otherwise be used for immediate consumption.

    Please notice that I have limited the discussion to the economic aspect of investing in children-that is, to a childs effect on the material standard of living. If we also consider the nonmaterial aspects of children-their meaning for parents and for others who enjoy a flourishing of humanity-then the case for adding children to our world becomes even stronger. And if we also keep in mind that most of the costs of children are borne by their parents rather than by the community during the childs early years, whereas the community (especially in developed countries) gets the lion’s share of the benefits later on, the essential differences between children and other investments tend to im-prove rather than weaken the social economics of children.

    Whether or not there is cause to believe that population, resources, and the environment are worse “problems” than in the past, the public believes them to be so. It has surprised me to learn, when preparing the second edition of this book, that the nexus of issues treated here is nowadays seen by the public as by far the most pressing set of problems facing society.

    • June 15, 2021 at 8:03 pm

      “But almost without exception, the relevant data (the long-run economic trends) suggest precisely the opposite. ”

      And there is your catastrophically fatal error:
      ‘Alright so far.’ is the folly of playing blind-man’s buff in a minefield, on an island that is almost under water.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        June 16, 2021 at 8:59 am

        How do your remarks counter that Simon won all but one of his bets with Paul Ehrlich, etc. To stand any chance of convincing the public that those who argue like Simon are wrong we cannot just dismiss what they say and the people who support them. Simon’s arguments continue to have great influence today. Particularly in the USA.

  3. Ikonoclast
    June 6, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    Ken,

    The objective facts are completely against Julian Simon. As a libertarian, neoliberal economist he most patently understood nothing about the hard sciences or refused to apply what he did understand. His views are economistic beliefs founded on conventional economic dogma. There is so much real scientific data available refuting Simon that it is not necessary to rehearse arguments here against his cornucopian fantasies. I will satisfy myself with a link or two and a comment..

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419/full

    The world’s most limiting resources are turning out NOT to be primary input resources (energy and materials) but rather downstream waste sinks, geo-services and bio-services including earth systems (like climate) biosphere circulations and ecological balances. This emergent development surprised me too at first though it is old hat knowledge now. I too was once fixated on the depletion of primary energy sources and materials. It turns out that the disruption of earth biosphere systems and services is going to be the crucial issue.

    Click to access 8252.full.pdf

    Our civilization systems are having too great a disruptive influence on these earth systems. Once the earth systems fail to dilute and process waste materials and waste energy safely and/or once certain systems shift to a new state (stable or unstable) our global civilization will be severely disrupted and perhaps even collapsed and comprehensively destroyed. Climate can change, methane clathrates be released and ocean currents reversed, to note a few real possibilities which will have tremendous consequences. The sixth mass extinction proceeds apace and global ecological balances are being seriously disrupted. Macro species, including humans, will be decimated (several times over) and micro-species like bacteria and viruses will greatly multiply to feed on the dying and dead macro biota. When this “building” pan-cake collapses, the top floor is first to go. This is when being on the top floor, as humans in human civilization, will be the worst place to be.

    This is when people say to me “I don’t believe that will ever happen.” The facts say it has already begun.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      June 7, 2021 at 7:39 am

      Ikonoclast. These are not either-or issues. Simon argues that our notions of increasing resource-scarcity ignore the long-term declines in wage adjusted raw material prices. Viewed economically, he argues, increasing wealth and technology make more resources available; although supplies may be limited physically they may be regarded as economically indefinite as old resources are recycled and new alternatives are assumed to be developed by the market. Simon challenged the notion of an impending Malthusian catastrophe—that an increase in population, more pollution, food problems, climate change always have negative economic consequences; that population is a drain on natural resources; and that we stand at risk of running out of resources through  over-consumption. Simon argues that population is the solution to resource scarcities and environmental problems, since people and markets innovate.

      That people innovate and with the right structure markets can help people innovate is supported by abundant historical evidence.  It’s also clear from historical evidence that improperly structured or operated markets can produce dystopian economic and social inequality and often authoritarian political arrangements. Which leads me to conclude we need both Simon and the government interventions and regulations Simon so vehemently opposes. Now the issue upon which we really must focus. Doing both at the same time.

       One suggestion is to restructure corporation boards.  For example, each corporation with capitalization $5 million or greater will have this design for its board. 30% workers up to middle management; 30% regular investors; 30% federal and state regulators; 10% corporation officers (e.g., CEO, CFO).

  4. Gerald Holtham
    June 6, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Human population is sure to peak. It is doing so naturally in richer countries given higher infant survival rates and the emancipation of women. If it does not occur naturally it may well occur catastrophically. The climate situation is serious but the future remains unpredictable. We are on course, according to the models, for global warming above 2 degrees C. There are potential feedbacks both positive and negative that we cannot predict. If you focus on the positive feedbacks you can frighten yourself to death. .The response of national governments to the incipient crisis will accelerate but is likely to lag events and be inadequate to prevent serious disruption.. Unfortunately the universe does not care about the fairness of human lives. Developed societies living at high latitudes will probably cope. Poorer societies in lower latitudes may well face cataclysms.
    If you are trying to influence policy to be more far-sighted, the experts tell me it is more productive to say “we can get through this if we pull hard together” than to say “we are all doomed”. As inconoclast notes, people tend to respond to the latter message with denial.. Contrary to his view, short-sight and avarice are not exclusive properties of capitalism. Subsistence farmers in the Sahel and Easter Islanders managed to undermine their ecologies and the old Soviet Union was among the worst polluters on earth, destroying the Aral Sea and damaging the Caspian, not to mention the damage done by jerry-built nuclear reactors. Our problems lie deeper than current social organisation. Addressing ecological crises probably precludes trying to run a social revolution at the same time. Keep your eye on the ball.

  5. Ikonoclast
    June 6, 2021 at 10:53 pm

    Gerald,

    I admit I am not good at messaging. It is hard to know how to shock people out of their complacency. That is why I have noted in other posts that it will be necessary for us to receive what I call a salutary shock or demonstration from nature. That would be a rapid and damaging catastrophic event unambiguously attributable to climate change or other earth system disruption event. This earth system event in turn would need to be unambiguously attributable to the over-impact of our civilization and economy on the natural world. Finally, the event would need to terrify the majority of people sufficiently, by mass deaths and mass destruction of property unfortunately, for them to radically change their behaviors and take radical action including radical political and political economy action.

    You state “Addressing ecological crises probably precludes trying to run a social revolution at the same time.” This is not so. In medicine there is the phrase “heroic measure(s)”.

    “In medicine, heroic treatment or course of therapy is one which possesses a high risk of causing further damage to a patient’s health, but is undertaken as a last resort with the understanding that any lesser treatment will surely result in failure.” – Wikipedia.

    We are in last resort territory already although few recognize it. The same logic does and will apply to running a social and political economy revolution in an attempt to prevent a catastrophic disruption of earth systems and thus a catastrophic collapse of civilization. Any lesser course of action will surely result in failure. The progress of the ecological crisis to date signals this as does the fact that we have still taken NO effective action whatsoever to change our system to prevent the oncoming crisis.

    In any case, a radical revolution is not an event we can simply instigate and cause. It is an event which will emerge (in the philsophical and scientific senses of emergence) from the stresses on our systems (earth system and civlization system) and thus the stresses on the main masses of people. The point is and will be to have theory ready (meaning both scientific and political economy theory) to deal with and direct, as far as is humanly possible the, chain of events.

    As a footnote, short-sight and avarice are indeed not only characteristics of people under capitalism. But the systems of capitalism have raised the encouragement of short-sight and avarice in people to an art form, inducing maximized quantities of these attributes. Over-consumption, over-indulgence, planned obsolescence, the fashion for new consumer items every season and so on are our highest values. Change radically or die en mass! That soon will be not a slogan or assertion but a palpable and obvious on-going fact. At that point people will get the message. The point is to develop now the theory for the revolution and the new and necessary political economy. Debunking conventional economics is one necessary starting point. Fallacious foundations must be cleared and new foundations built for a new, sustainable and equitable system.

  6. JD
    June 7, 2021 at 2:40 am

    The “salutary shock” may be when rich white folks with expensive waterfront homes find they can no longer insure their property against changing environmental forces. If you can’t insure a home against increasingly likely events, it will be difficult-to-impossible to sell it, since no lender will finance such a risky purchase. This is the class that essentially owns the government and we’ll hear their squawking from many miles away. We are likely to see that addressing ecological crises actually requires social revolution, that there is no other way to do it. The upside of this dismal scenario is that the collapse of the American Empire will actually be good news for almost everybody on Earth, just not for us, the tiny minority who use such a disproportional share of the world’s resources and energy and who have benefited to such an extent – until recently – from the damage to the Earth’s most basic life-support systems.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 7, 2021 at 3:49 am

      JD,

      I agree with everything you write there except with caveats in relation to the USA. My caveats may be inapplicable if you delineate “American Empire” from “USA” which you might do,

      The collapse of the Pax Americana (which was only a Pax for privileged elites and lucky allies) could cause tectonic shifts in global geostrategy. One of the main dangers but not the only one is the “Thucydides Trap” in relation to China.

      “The Thucydides Trap, also referred to as Thucydides’s Trap, is a term coined by American political scientist Graham T. Allison to describe an apparent tendency towards war when an emerging power threatens to displace an existing great power as the international hegemon. – Wikipedia.

      China has already displaced the USA as the global economic superpower even though the Americans are too prideful (and deluded) to recognize this. China’s economy is already larger than that of the USA and soon will be much larger. This is on PPP (Purchasing Power Parity measures) which give a better picture of the reality. China now possesses 30% of world manufacturing capcity and the USA only 15% approximately. This measure is even more indicative. Then there is China’s over 4 to 1 demographic advantage which translates (among other things) into more geniuses. China is likely already more technologically advanced than the USA especially in super-computing and AI. It’s a terrifying prospect if one assesses China as authoritarian, expansionist and belligerent (just as is or was the USA).

      Other factoids about China are;

      (1) It makes more than 50% of the world’ steel.
      (2) It makes more than 50% of the world’s portland cement.
      (3) It is adding a navy bigger than France’s navy to its own navy every year now.
      (4) China’s naval fleet size may have alredy surpassed the USA’s.
      (5) China has more obese persons than the USA though a lesser percentage.
      (6) China has a larger middle class (at over 200 million) than the USA.
      (7) China is the highest greenhouse gas emitter of all nations.
      (8) China will overtake the USA as the highest aggrgate all-time emitter of CO2 in the world in the relatively close future, probably by 2030 but I am still seeking data.

      The contest is over. The USA has lost. What that may mean geostrategically will take a lot of pondering. Too keep it to ecology and biospehere science it means we are in more trouble than ever and China following on from USA and the West’s constriubtions will tip us completely over the edge or Seneca cliff. How do we deal with this and not have WW3? I admit I don’t know.

      • pfeffertag
        June 7, 2021 at 9:49 am

        Re China.

        A microchip cold-war has begun. Have a look at this Bloomberg video:

        There are three advanced chip makers: Samsung in Korea, Intel in the US and TSMC in Taiwan, the last being the absolute leading edge for “logic chips” and upon which everyone now depends – though it, in turn, depends on chip making machines from California. Very expensive and difficult thing. China throws money at it, imports expertise from Taiwan but chalks up many failures.

        Little Taiwan has the factory and the supporting chip ecosystem and education system. It is about to build a factory in the US – arranged by Trump as were the US sanctions which have apparently made a mess of Huawei.

        Maybe microchips are more important than nuclear bombs.

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