16 July 2016

Zombies and personhood

'We’re All Infected: Legal Personhood, Bare Life and The Walking Dead' by Mitchell Travis in (2015) 28(4) International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique 787-800 argues that
greater theoretical attention should be paid to the figure of the zombie in the fields of law, cultural studies and philosophy. Using The Walking Dead as a point of critical departure concepts of legal personhood are interrogated in relation to permanent vegetative states, bare life and the notion of the third person. Ultimately, the paper recommends a rejection of personhood; instead favouring a legal and philosophical engagement with humanity and embodiment. Personhood, it is suggested, creates a barrier in law allowing individuals in certain contexts (and in certain embodied states) to be rendered non-persons and thus outside the scope of legal rights. An approach that rejects personhood in favour of embodiment would allow individuals to enjoy their rights without being subject to such discrimination. It is also suggested that the concept of the human, itself complicated by the figure of the zombie, allows for legal engagement with a greater number of putative rights claimants including admixed embryos, cyborgs and the zombie.
'Zombies, International Relations, and the Production of Danger: Critical Security Studies versus the Living Dead' by Jason J. Morissette in (2014) 36(2) Studies in Popular Culture 1-27 comments
In recent years, zombie fiction has clawed its way out of the grave and into mainstream popular culture. Once only a small niche in the broader horror genre, zombies — and depictions of the “zombie apocalypse” in particular—have emerged as a cultural phenomenon in the past decade, as the living dead have infected film, television, literature, and video games with their unique brand of putrescent terror. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even launched a section on its website titled “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” in 2011, capitalizing on the zombie craze to promote disaster readiness (Khan). Why has zombie fiction struck such a chord with contemporary audiences? In a 2008 interview, filmmaker and architect of the modern zombie genre George A. Romero indicated that, in his mind, the zombie apocalypse represents “a global change of some kind. And the stories are about how people respond or fail to respond to this” (McConnell). In turn, Romero’s cinematic mis- sion statement could just as easily describe the field of international relations and its scholarly emphasis on understanding how state and non-state actors alike respond to any number of global challenges, ranging from nuclear proliferation to climate change to the abuse of human rights. 
In Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Daniel W. Drezner describes the living dead as both “one of the fastest-growing concerns in international relations” and “an important puzzle to scholars of international relations” (1). As Drezner goes on to demonstrate in his work, the fictional threat of zombies can serve as a powerful metaphor through which to explore and deconstruct the discipline’s core assump- tions. To this end, he applies various theoretical perspectives drawn from the field of international relations - most notably the realist, liberal, and social constructivist paradigms - to the imagined landscape of the zombie apocalypse, shedding light on what kinds of global responses each school of thought might predict under these dire circumstances. Woven throughout Drezner’s analysis is the underlying fictional assumption that zombies, as depicted in works of popular culture, constitute an existential threat to the state, creating a security environment in which war with the undead is virtually inevitable. The present article questions this assumption from the perspective of critical security studies (CSS), exploring the securitization of the undead and the production of danger in fictional human-zombie relations. How does the hegemonic discourse surrounding the zombie apocalypse predispose states to respond with violence? Why are these outbreaks so frequently presented as threats to the survival of the state and not as humanitarian crises or global health emergencies? This article argues that the imagined securitization of zombies creates a world in which the discourse of fighting the zombie apocalypse delegitimizes any effort to instead solve the zombie apocalypse. Moreover, the present article contends that strikingly similar discourses routinely shape the “real world” of foreign policy with regards to such controversial issues as terrorism and nuclear proliferation, privileging violent responses over less coercive options.
'On the Conceptual, Psychological, and Moral Status of Zombies, Swamp‐Beings, and Other ‘Behaviourally Indistinguishable’ Creatures' by Julia Tanney in (2004) 69(1) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 173-186 comments
In this paper 1 argue that it would be unprincipled to withhold mental predicates from our behavioural duplicates however unlike us they are “on the inside.” My arguments are unusual insofar as they rely neither on an implicit commitment to logical behaviourism in any of its various forms nor to a verificationist theory of meaning. Nor do they depend upon prior metaphysical commitments or to philosophical “intuitions”. Rather, in assembling reminders about how the application of our consciousness and propositional attitude concepts are ordinarily defended, I argue on explanatory and moral grounds that they cannot be legitimately withheld from creatures who behave, and who would continue to behave, like us. I urge that we should therefore reject the invitation to revise the application of these concepts in the ways that would be required by recent proposals in the philosophy of mind.
'Between the Living and Undead: How Zombie Cinema Reflects the Social Construction of Risk, the Anxious Self, and Disease Pandemic' by Robert Wonser and David Boyns in (2016) The Sociological Quarterly comments
The zombie film has become an important component of contemporary popular culture. The sociological nature of the themes addressed by these films reflect prominent social concerns, and lend themselves to sociological analysis as texts themselves. This article examines the zombie film genre, its history, predominant themes, and its illustration of sociological dynamics related to identity, collective behavior, disease, contagion, and the privileges that come from social inequality. Particular attention is placed on what the zombie films, themselves, can tell us about society and how they illustrate sociological principles. First, we examine the origins and history of zombie cinema. Next, we move to a discussion of the central narrative devices around which zombie films are organized. In particular, we focus on two narratives in zombie films: those that emphasize zombie possession; and those that focus on the sociological risks of zombie pandemics. The discussion then moves to an analysis of zombies as selves, and how zombie films express cultural anxieties about selfhood, loss of autonomy, and threats of de-individualization. We then explore the roles of power and privilege in the social epidemiology of zombification, paying particular attention to how those who succumb to zombiedom illustrate the sociological dynamics of health disparities in the real world. Finally, the sociology of infectious disease is used to address how zombiedom correlates with real disease outbreaks, what we know about the social aspects of infectious disease transmission, and the sociology of pandemics.
 The authors go on to argue
While in zombie cinema protagonists frequently debate the existential situation of the infected, the aggression of zombies toward the living causes them to be encountered, and usually defined, as ecological adversaries to humans. As such, killing the infected is not only deemed acceptable in zombie films, it is necessary for the survival of humankind. Consequently, in some films (e.g., Dawn of the Dead and Zombieland), individual zombies are sniped wantonly for sport. In other films (e.g., Day of the Dead and 28 Days Later) they are warehoused for crass experimentation. With the issue of zombie selfhood as a pivot-point, however, many protagonists are confronted with moral questions over the human nature of the zombie. Is killing a zombie equivalent to killing a human? How can one kill what is already dead? What are the implications of killing a human that does not have a self?
The moral struggle over the personhood of the zombie is an important narrative device in much of zombie cinema, and is a salient subtext of many such films. Because a zombie is human in appearance, but exists without self, there are ambiguities as to whether or not they should be considered full-fledged members of the human community. If zombies are infected, but still living people, then the harm inflicted on them by the uninfected is problematic. If, however, zombies are in fact dead, devoid of personhood, and aggressive, then humans are under no real social or moral imperative to help, protect, or refrain from killing them. This predicament is a central theme underscoring the drama of zombie cinema: Are zombies people with suspended selves deserving to be saved; or are they undead ghouls to be feared and ultimately exterminated for the survival of the human species?
As a narrative focus, the moral quandary about zombies and their selfhood is directly explored in many zombie films. As a consequence, individuals like Hershel Green are often portrayed as unwilling to kill their infected friends and family members. This is also illustrated in films like Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead. What if Hershel Green is right and a residue of the human self remains? As examples of the prevalence of this theme, zombie films like Fido, Shaun of the Dead, and Day of the Dead all examine the potential existence of a vestigial self among zombies. In Day of the Dead, Romero uses the setting of the shopping mall to create an allegory of mindless consumerism and give his protagonists the opportunity to debate the existential situation of the zombie. During one famous scene, zombies lumber aimlessly past abandoned storefronts and pause to stare blankly at forsaken window displays. A group of humans (including Francine and Stephen) who have taken refuge on the rooftop of the mall comment on the paradoxical behavior of the zombies and reflect on their absence of selfhood:
Francine:What are they doing?Why do they come here?
Stephen:Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do.This was an important place in their lives.
That the zombies appear to have some memory left of their living past raises the question as to whether or not some semblance of selfhood remains. Similar examinations of the selfhood of zombies are further explored in Land of the Dead (2005), where some zombies continue to instinctually engage in their old jobs, most notably “Big Daddy” who repeatedly pantomimes the pumping of gasoline.
The clearest philosophical treatment of selfhood and the zombie comes, perhaps, from Day of the Dead (1985). In this film, a scientist named Dr. Logan attempts to socialize zombies through behaviorist systems of punishment and reward. Logan has trained one zombie, whom he has named “Bub,” to engage in simple human behaviors and to use basic language. His efforts are met with some success. In conversation with his assistant Sarah, Logan remarks:
Dr. Logan: You see, Sarah, they're – they are us. They are the extensions of us. They are the same animal, simply functioning less perfectly. They can be fooled, you see? They can be tricked into being good little girls and boys, The same way we were tricked into it on the promise of some reward to come.
For Logan, while zombies may have lost their own sense of self, they may have retained the capacity to learn, if properly taught using stimulus and response conditioning.
In one memorable scene depicting Logan's socialization experiments, he gives Bub a telephone to play with: Dr. Logan:
He remembers. He remembers everything that he used to … [Giving Bub a telephone, Bub puts the phone to his ear.]
Extraordinary isn't it? That's right, Bub! Say hello to your Aunt Alicia! Say, “Hello, Aunt Alicia!” “Hello!” Bub: A-… a-… alloooooleeeeesha!
In another example, Bub engages in some purposeful “communication” with Captain Rhodes as Bub salutes him:
[Bub salutes the group and stands at attention.] Dr. Logan: Apparently he was in the military! Return the salute! See what he does!
Captain Rhodes: You want me to salute that pile of walking pus? Salute my ass!
Dr. Logan: Your ignorance is exceeded only by your charm, Captain. How can we expect them to behave if we act barbarically ourselves?
As Land of the Dead informs us, while lacking a fully formed self, zombies are capable of behavioristic conditioning. To Dr. Logan it seems, this development could signal the need to reevaluate how we understand zombies; not as mindless cannibals but something more akin to wild animals capable of at least some rudimentary training.
In some films, such as the comedy Shaun of the Dead, the moral issue of zombie selfhood is taken to an extreme. While saving Shaun and his girlfriend, Shaun's best friend Ed is overwhelmed by zombies and succumbs to the attack. As the film closes, the viewer finds that Shaun has kept a zombified (and potentially threatening) Ed “alive” in his backyard shed so they can continue to play video games together. While Ed does not appear to have a sense of self, he is regarded by Shaun as a person with a socially meaningful life. Of course, zombies like Ed create ambiguities surrounding the sociological membership of the zombified in the world of humans, but highlight selfhood as an important theme in zombie cinema. Even Ed remains a threat to the uninfected. The primary danger of the zombie is that with their bite they threaten to steal away individual selfhood, and reduce a human to their “bare life,” a de-individualized member of an anonymous mass.