By far my favourite new TV series this year is The Walking Dead, a post-apolyptic zombie tale based on a series of comics by the same name.
I’ve always enjoyed the heart-pounding excitement of horror and end-of-the-world stories.Gore or violence don’t makes these things worth watching but how the characters react to what is happening and how they come together to fight it (or occasionally lose all social cohesion and don’t do anything at all.)
There’s something to be said for wondering if a bump in the night is an indication of something other than just a strange sound, for being prepared for the worst even as one fully expects nothing at all or only good things to be waiting around the corner.
When we go out to eat my Dad has always preferred to be seated at a corner booth where he can sit and observe everyone who walks past us. To the best of my knowledge he’s never been harmed in any way while eating out. 😉 He simply prefers to know his surroundings and to never be caught unaware.
There’s also something to be said for facing the ugly truth within each of us. Scary movies and tv shows can and often do portray painfully sexist, racist, homophobic, and classist views. This is not a good place for those who want to believe that we live in a world in which these things no longer taint how people perceive one another. Things are improving, yes, but prejudice and discrimination aren’t going away any time soon.
If the economic, social and national ties that bind us together were unwoven and people had to fend for themselves (or die trying) the world that the survivors re-created would still be birthed out of all of our old assumptions. In this I cannot disagree with the creators of The Walking Dead and similar shows.
The Walking Dead, like most post-apocalyptic tales, assumes that this new world would be quickly overtaken by sociopaths.
This is Where We Disagree
I understand why someone would assume that a post-apocolyptic world would heavily favour our most selfish tendencies. In a world full of limited resources it would make a certain kind of sense to battle over them in the short term. An individual who goes to bed with a full stomach every night, after all, is going to have that much easier of a time remaining healthy and strong.
Altruism is a better strategy for long-term survival, though. Eventually even the strongest person is going to need help with something: setting a broken limb, having a baby (and at least occasional assistance in looking after him or her for at least the next dozen years), solving a problem, building a home, fixing a broken tool. No one remains young, healthy and independent forever.
It is in these moments that relationships win out. Someone with a history of altruism is much more likely to find the advice and practical help that they needed. Would some selfish or sociopathic people survive? Of course. There will always be those among us who eschew social mores and try to get something for nothing.
I don’t agree, though, that they would define who we are as a species any more than they define us now. Every day I see people looking out for one another in gestures as small as opening a door or offering a subway seat to someone who needs it more to as monumental as a stranger risking his own life to save another. There is so much good in this world, in each of us. (If you don’t believe me, click here.)
Even with our prejudices and deep imperfections people are good. There would undoubtably be conflicts in an emergency situation like the one portrayed in The Walking Dead but I do not, I cannot believe that our future would defined by the grim.