I know I’m not the only one who has mulled over the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. But let’s be honest – it’s never going to happen. However, while watching the latest series of The Walking Dead in which the protagonists meet and interact with other survivors in a very empty world, it occurred to me that this was what the human world would have looked like thousands of years ago. Different civilisations discovering one another and making peace, or war. If you take the zombies and the ever-present danger they pose out of The Walking Dead, you have a very primitive environment. At one point, Rick Grimes, the leader of the protagonists poses a rhetorical question; “Nowadays, people are just as dangerous as the dead, don’t you think?”
One thing that grabbed my attention in the latest series was the solar power in the Alexandria Safe Zone: where would the human race be without electricity? In most parts of the world, our entire way of life is dependent on electricity and as a result there are very few parts of our lives that would remain unaffected by a sudden and permanent loss of power. Utilizing existing fossil fuel and nuclear power stations would be extremely difficult with the knowledge of a power plant manager, and without that knowledge it would be impossible. In The Walking Dead, we see Rick and his group being invited to join the Alexandria Safe Zone community. In a post-apocalyptic world, the struggle to hold onto resources like electricity are likely to become violent and when I imagine how a sudden blackout and the consequent search for power generation methods would play out in our world, I think about a wind turbine on a hill near where my parents live. I imagine that the hill could be chosen as the location for a settlement, as a guaranteed access point to power. In the future, it could be resources like this that battles are fought over, instead of large areas of land, as who needs control of huge areas of land on a planet with barely one million inhabitants?
In The Walking Dead, the characters all possess certain skills left over from their previous lives. In one episode, the decision over whether to give a gravely injured doctor precious medicine is heavily influenced by the fact he is a doctor because in the event of a loss of a population of 90% or more, people with valuable, practical skills will be in short supply. While a lot can be learnt from a textbook a lot cannot, which means that skills have to be taught to as many of the next generation as possible. The most important profession is arguably that of a doctor. It takes many years of intense training and study to qualify as a doctor, so surviving ones would likely become a highly valued asset to a community, particularly those at war.
The previous paragraph leads me nicely on to the subject of other people. With the absence of the state and their apparatus to maintain law and order, people are, at some point, likely to take advantage. Like Rick Grimes said, “Now people measure you in terms of what they can take.” As his group meets others in The Walking Dead, the majority of the groups are aggressive and out to take what they can. Also, while some are just desperate for resources, some are cruel and extremely dangerous. In a real life post-apocalyptic world, I’m moved to think it would be a very similar state of affairs. When people are pushed to the limit, they do drastic things out of sheer desperation. You only have to look at migrant women and their babies embarking on the perilous journey from North Africa across the Mediterranean to see that desperate people do desperate things.
As people attempt to install order in their newly founded communities, leaders would be chosen to create laws and instill new social norms. Punishment for not complying with the new rules would likely vary a lot. With a blank slate, social ‘norms’ play less of a part because there would be no ‘norm’ anymore. Instead of wasting valuable food, drink and electricity on keeping people in confinement alive, why not just shoot them and be done with it? Particularly if they are elderly and without a valuable skill to offer? A dark way to look at things, but perhaps a realistic one!
Such a catastrophic disaster is certainly well within the realms of possibility. With climate change on course to alter the habitability of our planet significantly over the next century, things are undoubtedly going to get harder for the human race. But how would we deal with the collapse of our civilization? Perhaps it would be a blessing in disguise – an opportunity to start again and give our planet a much needed rest from intensive agriculture and pollution.
One thing that could be done in preparation for such a horrifying (albeit very unlikely!) event is the creation of a codex, which contains as much knowledge about human civilization as possible. Everything from the known natural history of the planet to how to cook a fried egg would be included, so that future survivors of a catastrophe would have a point of reference when trying to rebuild. I heard about the codex proposal when reading Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock. He argues for a physical book as opposed to a digital one – with good reason of course, particularly given leading experts’ warning of ‘digital decay’.
Also, if you haven’t watched The Walking Dead, watch it. Even if you don’t like zombies.