The gods that built this place are undead: the Borgesian model of zombie stewardship

Several weeks ago I answered a call for abstracts. The subject? The economics of the undead. Ain’t nobody got time for that?

Here’s where I went with it: vampires are too easy, they retain so much of their humanity that their laws of economics are virtually unchanged from ours. I wanted to make a tongue-in-cheek yet faux-scholarly defense of zombie economics. Apparently what you read below either wasn’t tongue-in-cheek or faux-scholarly enough. I’m happy with it, though, and was eager to flesh it out into a full paper. Anyone else want to compile a book of zombie papers? Harvard? MIT?

As always, I struggled against the maximum word length (500, in this case). Instead of expanding the abstract now that it has been rejected and word length is a moot point, I am posting exactly what I submitted to the editors.

–C.E. Alexander, March 29, 2013

Unplacated zombies demonstrate no capacity for wealth creation, reason, physical movement or division of labor. Their narrowly-focused consumer preferences and disregard for legal rights, human rights and currency—-to say nothing of their unique and ever-diminishing food sources—-stand apart from established economic views.

Accommodated or placated zombies, however, present unrealized cultural value. A Borgesian zombie (“The Immortal”) is proven to maintain its intellect even with outward displays of “barbarity.” It experiences lucid episodes, rebuilds those cities it has destroyed and—in the case of the title character—writes a classic epic novel and works as a rare book dealer. “Echo and memory” allow the zombies of Les Revenants to perform their jobs at a higher function than they would have before they died. Comically, the closing frames of Sean of the Dead show zombies working, marrying and playing video games. The question of successfully placating the undead seems fairly simple to answer: even depictions of the more violent strains of zombie outbreak (The Walking Dead) have demonstrated that keeping zombies well-fed will pacify them.

Questions of moral obligation arise: in a free society, particularly one at the point of collapse (World War Z), zombie stewards will hardly be lining up to volunteer. Even today the invisible hand is an alluring idea which leaves no room for zombie caretaking conscriptions.  Rational, law-abiding citizens, making the world better as captains of their own barge will be too busy surviving to agree to varmint ranching. However, this essay will conclude that modern, interdependent society is not so far away from the Borgesian model of zombie stewardship. Tyler Cowen (George Mason University) demonstrated that “the economic value produced by the median individual”—meaning an “able-bodied, working-age individual,” not a sickly retiree—is quickly being outpaced by “the economic value needed to produce or maintain the modern individual.” In this light, the zombie as a metaphor for dropouts on the dole—their sad predicament resting solely on their own, unsquared shoulders—needs a critical look. (Even the title of 28 Days Later suggests a rehab movie, not a zombie flick, which presents the debate surrounding drug screening of welfare recipients in an unexpected way.)  Proposals for maintaining the intellect indefinitely—-whether at the expense of the body (“Hedonistic Imperative”) or altogether separate from the body (transhumanism)—-seem generally unburdened by the discussion of welfare politics.

So perhaps like all great jokes, the tongue-in-cheek opening to Sean of the Dead may contain a kernel of truth and invoke perhaps one of the strangest of all zombie stories, that of the hive mind as described by Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Are we zombies already, lurching toward the coffee maker, dumb with smart phones, feigning productivity at work? The article concludes that the matter of moral interdependency for industrialized nations may have already been decided, while rugged individuals dozed online, still somehow valuable to the hive, even while exchanging design tips and recipes via Pinterest.

-Written by C.E. Alexander (@CAlexanderRun). His fiction debut The Music and the Spires is available now through Zidi Publishing.

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Napoleon’s World

Since yesterday’s post the Zidi offices have been buzzing with alternate histories. (While we were confirming the source of the Civil War proof, we found an alternate timeline named Napoleon’s World via AltHistory Wiki, and it led to a great deal of unplanned reading. There’s got to be a Pinterest meme going around about that being the best kind, but it’s Sunday, and we’ve all got work tomorrow.)

Napoleon’s World: user KingSweden cites the timeline’s divergence from ours as Napoleon’s victory in Russia, which reverberates long after his death. “The Tsar falls in battle at Petrograd, making the battle the symbolic end of the Russian Empire.” From there, “With all of Europe either consolidated into the monstrous French Empire or a rump state (Portugal, Josephite Castille, Denmark, England, Scotland, Ireland, Papal States, Ostpreussen) the colonial scramble for Africa and Asia never occurred.” Europe never got around to its two world wars, although a civil war took place throughout the 30s and 40s. Russian exiles established a kingdom in Alaska and a border dispute with the United States resulted in years of hostilities. (In this timeline, many known politicians are entertainers and vice-versa, so it is fitting then that the Russian exile was led by “the powerful Tolstoy family.”)

There is even a daily news feed, last updated January 20: “Brian Williams is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.” On February 24, 2012 the nation of Siam witnessed a military coup against Communist Party officials. On April 14, 2011, England’s incumbent prime minister Hugh Grant and Labour Party leader Jack Davenport debated prior to the May general election.

In Napoleon’s World the names are mostly the same, although oftentimes personalities play themselves on TV. Here Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a stand-up comedian. Humphrey Bogart is a gangster while Alphonse Capone and Leon Trotsky are screen actors. Harrison Ford is a college football coach and Mark Hamill is the current U.S. vice president (no word yet on Carrie Fisher). “Geoffrey Rush is the current Prime Minister of Oceania” and H.P. Lovecraft founded a pagan cult.

This alternate world timeline is not just a snug addition to our alternate book cover reveals (read C.E. Alexander’s Vibrant for a taste of his own parallel timelines). It is terrific reading throughout, and we wish Henry the best of luck on his forthcoming book.

Related posts:
Book of Constants: the covers that weren’t
More than just a pretty face: the Book of Constants cover reveal

Book of Constants: the covers that weren’t

C.E. Alexander’s forthcoming Book of Constants follows a middle-aged widower and his son to a small development in rural Wyoming. The city is named New Potomac, with tall concrete barrier walls inspired by recent architectural monuments in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Take the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, for one:

Perot_Museum_of_Nature_and_Science_pano_02

Or the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (find more representative pictures here or here):

450px-Ft_Worth_Modern_06

Various characters in the story refer to New Potomac as a troy, using the word as a common noun and without further explanation. We would ultimately settle on the chalkboard theme, but first we explored the idea of fortifications, bunkers, walled-in cities and castles. The shot that really caught our breath was the one below. If it looks familiar, it’s because the top third of the image wound up in our masthead. The image dates back to the U.S. Civil War, and is riddled with those wonderful film blemishes and exposure issues you just can’t recreate with digital. (Yeah, we saw that AltHistory Wiki article, too. If it turns out that this 150-year-old photo is actually a 4-year-old hoax, we’re crawling under a rock. After, of course, we change our masthead back to that grainy picture of the birds.)

Here it is, our first Book of Constants cover that wasn’t. If we’ve just whet your appetite, might we suggest The Music and the Spires as amuse-bouche?

Bomb_proofs_-_NARA_-_530321_tif

More than just a pretty face: the Book of Constants cover reveal

As it happens, we’ll follow up The Music and the Spires with C.E. Alexander’s Book of Constants, not Bar Juchne, as we previously reported. Both are written. One boasts a slightly more, shall we say? Clearer complexion?

Here’s our working version of the cover. For now we’re calling the release date June 16:

NARA cover

Related posts:
More than just a pretty face: the Bar Juchne book cover reveal
Alternate book covers

Reviews

Dave K. writes in with more remarks on C.E. Alexander’s collection of short stories The Music and the Spires. Buy here. Read more here.

Been reading some more. “Vibrant” was so wonderfully creepy. Nightmarish…. And Radio Wind is a great phrase (one I’m sorely tempted to appropriate). I have to read it again, I think there are things I missed–especially in the relationship between Bleibtreu and the guard.

Loved “Dogs and Baghdad”–maybe my favorite so far. At first I was kind of startled with the straight real world setting, but there’s still this sense of unreality permeating everything. Like the way everything is somehow mediated–the body painting through video, the conversations with Goose through translation, even the way that the feeding of the owl was somehow weirded out by the naming of the mice…. And then of course, that damn televised invisible war is hanging over everything. The story reminded me of good collage–with elements working together to produce a feeling rather than a thought. Did you ever see any of Rauschenberg’s combines? Some of them (like Odalisque, and Bed, and even Monogram) are kind of stunts, but some of them–Canyon for instance–are amazing. Very sad. And profound without being pretentious–which is something people don’t even try anymore. Anyway, I’m digging the book.