What would we, as a species, do if the world fell apart? What would we ‘naturally’ turn to? If society fell away, then via the method of difference, the remainder should make things fully transparent. If society fell apart in a zombie apocalypse, less and less societal relations should remain with people becoming more and more “natural” viz. innately operating.
So what will our “natural” dispositions lead to? If we were truly a blank slate, then the results in a post-apocalypse world would be whatever is left around, incorporated contingently in an ad-hoc manner. Thus, this new history would be made from present contingencies as they exist, and not necessities. But if we’re not a blank state, if there are human dispositions that persist despite social interference, then there must be some inevitable eventualities.
To parse the options, let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s consider the plausibility of The Walking Dead. This can, at the very least, provide an interesting intellectual substrate for speculation on how evolution, or devolution, would proceed.
NOTE: As a casual fan, and not a reader of the comics, somebody may have already written something similar to this that I’m unaware of at the time of writing. If this is so, this merely reinforces evidence for natural convergences within human behavior.
And, SPOILER ALERT, obviously. Also, fast-forwarding through the series as I do below means you might not get a lot out of this if you haven’t seen all the seasons yet.
A) Extinction Event (Season 1)
Every species we know of can survive only so long as the environment provides sufficient resources. Intuition hints at this, and experimental models show it.
Life is hard to maintain and, like any other species, extinction always looms as a possibility. In our modern age, the response to a species wide threat would most likely be some variation of the following:
With this in mind, a zombie outbreak sounds a lot like a mass extinction event, such as that of the Cretaceous event 65 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs and 50% of marine invertebrates, leaving mammals to thrive. Except this time us mammals are not playing the role of the mammals.
If you take the zombie outbreak as the extinction event, then The Walking Dead serves as an allegory for human civilization, in broad (and admittedly Western ethnocentric) terms.
B) Hunter-Gatherer Society (Season 1)
At the start, in the Paleolithic era, human ancestors relied mainly on hunting and gathering.
As both hunting and gathering played a vital role in survival, there was necessarily an egalitarian treatment for all individuals.
Emphasis was placed on travel and being mobile to find resources to hunt and gather.
There were also those who did not fall into the roles of hunter or gatherer but still found a place in society. Biologists take this as the evolutionary basis for the “grandmother hypothesis” to explain how grandmothers occupy an adaptive role in society despite a lack of direct fecundity.
C) Agricultural Society (Season 2)
Nomads don’t have to stay vagrants. Eventually, they settle down on farms and begin work on agriculture.
Experts feel that the changes brought by this are hard to understate. Hence the agricultural or Neolithic revolution moniker. As an example:
“With agriculture, virtually everything changed. The nature of status and power,…
…social and family structures,…
…how humans interacted with the natural world,…
…the gods they worshipped,…
…the likelihood and nature of warfare between groups,…
…quality of life…
…and certainly, the rules governing sexuality.” – Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha
As innovative as early settlements were, they were as error prone as any novel infrastructure is at their inception. Like so many first attempts, the earliest settlements collapsed, sometimes by outside force.
D) Rise of City States (Seasons 3,4)
Future settlements would take into account human-made, as well as natural, dangers. Unlike open farmland, city states that emerged function rather autonomously and provided adequate protection for their denizens.
The idea of protection captured the minds of some such that preemptive expansion of territory appears to be the safer route.
This becomes the justification of empire building
The inordinate amount of stress from these scenarios due to dramatic transitions in lifestyle can usher in new forms of cognition. You can have hallucinations…
…or subtler changes in customs, such as in religion. This leads to deeper changes in metaphysical belief, eg. soteriology, eschatology, etc.
These changes in beliefs concerning death, when boosted by political leaders, spread outward and form the new status quo.
Alas, with changes and communication across peoples, there is a dual growth in welfare and warfare. Sometimes the warfare and cruel aspects are below our visible threshold but deleterious nonetheless.
Whether an invisible pathogen, or social discontent, visually imperceptible problems arise and eventually crystallize as serious problems. These are quelled by entertaining distractions such as gladiatorial battles.
But alongside continuing wars and a high frequency of invasions, there is an eventual decay and ruination of the empire.
This lead to a great number of raiders that capitalized on disintegrating societies and claimed their spoils.
E) Fall of City States (Seasons 5, 6)
The empire eventually fell to “barbarians at the gates” that devoured the resources that remain.
Parts that resemble the old empire may remain.
For instance, the elements of protection were maintained as a professional class to keep out persistent invasion attempts.
Positive interactions, not just violence, occurs due to the movement of peoples. For example, the mixing of cultures can happen.
But even with protection, violence does occur and outside forces can deal powerful blows against fortified locations.
With the looming presence of such threats, some systems will be predicated on forced labor for basic survival coupled with the overriding demands of a strong leader.
This decentralization of power leaves a void which will be filled only once a leader with a sufficiently honed mastery of discipline and punishment takes the reins.
F) Feudal Society (Season 7)
Capitulation to strong leaders is subsequent to recurrent invasions. In exchange for nominal protection, resources are demanded of the groups granted “protection”.
Different regions have different levels of self-rule, albeit as granted by the higher authority contingent upon continuing tithes. This allows again for paradigm shifts in thought, including areas such as philosophy and theology.
Operating on dogmatic principles provides a level of stability but also changes life in many ways. Enforcement of these principles can lead to witch-hunts, inquisitions or other means of torture conducted under the aegis of benevolence.
G) Possible Future Directions
As stated above, I have not read the comics. So some of this may be destined to be wrong. That’s one of the accompanying dangers of making falsifiable claims.
If the allegory holds, however, the feudal kingdoms are likely to be entrenched for some time. The acquisition of Eugene by the Saviors and his knowledge of the armory and bullet-making process means there could be an escalation of warfare technology analogous to the way gunpowder advanced the scope of war.
But there eventually will be greater trade and exchange. So as conflicts become less frequent, the story should focus on future oriented trade situations and networks of commerce and intermingling of groups. This was hinted at with the Junkyard Gang and their basic ethos of finding the best trade terms.
These connections don’t need to be “true” in the sense of being what the writer actually intended. And it cannot be “true” in the sense of being admissible as objective evidence. But it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be convincing enough to prime our intuitions, however fallible those are.
If Robert Kirkman et al. had this allegory planned out all along, then kudos for them. It matters not who connected the dots, or even how the dots were planned to be arranged, but how we see it now. That’s how we construct meaning. Even if we demote the thought experiment from allegory to metaphor or further, it will never reach flatus vocis. If something is conceivable, then it should be logically possible and that’s all a person needs to construct a tendentious narrative.
The narrative I’m putting forth would seem to argue for inevitable human nature variants and courses (perhaps even in interpreting those events as well). It’s an argument for stronger methodology for, but also a vindication of, social sciences that stress that certain patterns will be found unanimously across X humans doing Y actions under Z conditions.
If we make the social sciences more accurate, and some variations are still found to be statistically preferred does that mean there is an inevitable pattern that emerges despite our best efforts? Was this all “rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before the oceans rolled”? Do we have a fate regardless of our actions?
There is nothing inevitable about inevitability. And unpredictability, however ubiquitous, cannot be predictable. Certain patterns that make people believe in destiny are perhaps so large that the challenges seem, but not necessarily are, insurmountable. As a species, we have large aspirations but remain fragile creatures. We are at the mercy of the simplest things, from germs to steel, that could end the richness of life:
“The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain.” – Simone Weil
In the face of our collective fragility, one can opt out, passively persist on the nature of the current course, or resurrect that which is dead. Resurrection involves reversing that which is outside of nature. As we construct narratives, we can create one in which our new choices become normalized and “natural.”
In building a new nature, there are two questions that must be asked:
What world can you live without?
What world can live without you?
With proper introspection and dialogue, and the resurrection of appropriate ideas, maybe the new nature can provide both a livable world and a world worth living in.