My favorite chapter in Derrick Jensen’s new book Dreams is entitled “Zombies.” Jensen describes the corporate elite as zombies, that is, as “flesh-eating…mindless monsters who are not only to be feared for their insatiability and ferocity, but because their sickness is highly contagious….Zombies eat human flesh, but they are also as relentlessly omnicidal as corporations. They destroy forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans, mountain tops, and the mountains themselves. They consume everything, and they shit out plastic” (367).
For Jensen, “zombie capitalists” are especially terrifying, because “on the one hand, they pursue their prey–I mean, profits–with an unfeeling, unrelenting, insatiable mindlessness, unheeding of all the pain and suffering they cause in their victims–I mean, in the resources they exploit (I mean, develop). On the other hand, they fabricate extraordinarily complicated rationales for their zombie economics (or zombinomics) and for the further zombification of the world and all its inhabitants” (368).
Jensen imagines a “realistic zombie film” being made, in which “the remaining humans”–the ones who haven’t been consumed or infected yet by the zombies–are “refusing to resist, but instead hoping against reason that the zombies will stop on their own, that the zombies will undergo a miraculous awakening…or that if they personally could just live sustainably, then their shining examples will cause the zombies to suddenly stop, look at the torn flesh all around them, and say, ‘What have I done? I need to make this right!’….In a realistic zombie movie,” Jensen says, “too many humans would try to stop the zombies by gardening, taking shorter showers, recycling, petitioning. In a realistic zombie movie…many of those humans who opposed resistance would be revealed near the end to not really be on the side of the living but rather, unbeknownst even to them, already among the living dead” (369).
Unfortunately, all too often, even those who profess to be on the side of justice and environmental sanity are eventually shown to be soulless creatures of the corporate capitalist zombie machine.
It seems that the minute an authentic human leader arises who has the possibility of successfully resisting the zombies and making real change, s/he is either smeared and discredited; corrupted with financial payoffs; driven mad with frustration by repeated, humiliating obstructions; or simply imprisoned or killed off.
Thus we have watched with horror as our beloved Barack Obama, the young man we came to know and love in Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope, has slowly had the soul sucked out of him by the zombification crucible of politics and media. The face remains the same, but the eyes are hollow, and the spirit is clearly guttering.
Bill McKibben is still holding out valiantly against the zombies–maybe it’s that pure Vermont air that is keeping his head clear of contagion so far. Derrick Jensen has some harsh questions for Bill, though, which I think are entirely reasonable. Given the steady destruction of the planet by the zombie forces of corporate capitalism, Jensen asks, “Would McKibben ever countenance the physical dismantling of infrastructure in order to stop civilization from killing the planet?” Jensen’s question, “for McKibben and for everyone,” is: “What is your threshold?” At what point will we stop bearing silent witness to ecocide, and begin to seriously resist?
The reason the Occupy Wall Street protests have so seized the American imagination is because the young people out there on the street are so clearly NOT ZOMBIES. Not yet, anyway. They have not been corrupted; their souls are intact. That’s why they can see so clearly that what the zombie nation accepts as normal–the enrichment of the few on the backs of the masses–is not normal at all, and is neither just nor sustainable.
There is another up-and-coming activist who is right now wavering on the border between zombie and human. His name is Van Jones, and he’s the man behind the Rebuild the American Dream movement. Jones is all about developing “green-collar jobs”; in other words, rebooting the old American Dream in a new, more sustainable version. Unlike Occupy Wall Street, Jones comes armed with a nice bullet-pointed list of “demands.”
Nothing wrong with his list. But it’s just not radical or visionary enough to ignite the minds and hearts of the young people out in Liberty Park Plaza. Even the way his website is presented, with red-white-and-blue stars and flashy campaign-style graphics, is very likely to turn a lot of the Occupy Wall Streeters off. It reeks of zombification.
When you look into Jones’ bio, you see why: “Jones served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009 and is currently a senior policy advisor at Green For All. He also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.”
I’m sorry, but once Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School get their hands on you, zombie contagion is almost assured. You may not want to become one of them–the elite, the 1%–but like it or not, you will be beholden to them, and they will begin to mold you in ways you won’t even be aware of.
For example, contrast that slick Rebuild the Dream website, completely cleansed of its grassroots origins, to the Occupy Wall Street website, with its livestream coverage of the chaotic goings-on down on Liberty Square. The livestream may be focusing on a dark corner, but you can hear people in the background singing together and talking in real human-speak–not the carefully crafted politician-speak of Rebuild the Dream’s “demands.”
I don’t like to dis Van Jones, any more than Derrick Jensen likes to dis Bill McKibben. All of these men, including the old Barack Obama, are heroes for our time for having dared to at least try to resist. Bill McKibben is still holding out, and we need to applaud him for it and help him in any way possible.
But most of all, we need to help those kids out in Liberty Square. We need to make sure they know that what is best and most powerful about their nascent movement is the fact that it is not slick, not uber-organized, not hyper-networked. It’s human, and I still dare to hope it will stay that way. I still dare to hope that a real resistance to the zombie elite might just be getting underway.