Will There Be Zombies?By John Médaille for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
Address to the Roman Forum, July 7, 2011, Gardone, Italy
As we all know, the end of the world is coming soon. No, I don’t mean the eschaton, the final event in which the Son returns all things to the Father. That will be, by all accounts, a very cinematic event, full of all sorts of special effects. It will be, no doubt, very entertaining for those fortunate enough to be raptured in time to get a ring-side seat to the festivities to enjoy the spectacle of suffering for all those left behind. However, it is an event I know nothing about—and certainly not the day and the hour—and even if I knew that, there is not much I could do about it. I would like to address a quite different sort of end, the end of our world. Now, while the eschaton will come but once, the end of the world in this sense is something that happens with appalling frequency, and is usually an appalling event. These events are, at a minimum, the loss of familiar things, the comfortable and customary things, and even when they are things that we do not particularly love, and may even especially hate, they are at least things that we are used to, and giving up such things can be wrenching.
I will immediately concede that predictions of collapse are far more frequent than actual collapses. What the predictions generally ignore are two things: the first is the remarkable adaptability of human beings, their ability to create institutions “on the fly,” as it were; the second is the remarkable courage and endurance of many people in the face of adversity. Indeed, it is the virtues, and the virtues alone, that equip us to survive difficult times. Justice, courage, temperance, and prudence, perfected by faith, hope, and caritas. Still, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that collapse is imminent; indeed, I do not believe that constitutional government, or such of it that remains to us, will survive to the end of the decade, and that the Union, and the world with it, will fracture into many pieces.
Now, every collapse is different, but the particular shape of the collapse is given not just by the conditions that cause it, but by the quality of our response; men will go mad, or men will go rational, and that will seem like a kind of madness. And it is in this regard that the study of the coming collapse is important for this group, for it is only groups like this, I believe, that can form a remnant, and the purpose of a remnant is to conserve true faith and knowledge, and, when the moment comes, to rebuild the world, or more importantly, to rebuild their own neighborhoods. That moment, I believe, is fast upon us. It is the remnant that must lead the way, must exercise that rational madness which will allow us to rebuild—if not the world—then our communities, and these functioning communities must show the world the way to rebuild itself.
What I wish to do here is to examine the causes of the coming collapse and the shape it might take, and then to examine the resources the remnant can bring to the world. And most especially, I want to examine the one factor that makes this collapse unique in all of history, and that is the presence of the zombies, and I want to answer the question posed by popular culture, namely, “Will there be any zombies?” More of this anon.
Let me start by noting the whole problem of the collapse of complex societies. Certainly, we live in an extremely complex world, one which we have difficulty understanding. Now, social complexity itself begins as a way to make systems more robust, and to incorporate as many elements of society as possible into a coherent system. But as time goes on, parts of the system that were designed for one purpose get used for another, and usually inappropriate, purpose. Each little part of the system acquires its defenders who will not let it change, or will change it in complex and inappropriate ways. When this happens, systems become extremely brittle, and by “brittle,” I mean that a failure in a small part of the system will cause massive failures in large parts or even of the whole system.
We just saw a perfect example of this in the financial markets. There, a failure in one small part of the system, the sub-prime mortgage market, caused a failure of the whole financial system. The sub-prime market was, at its height, worth about $1.4 trillion. Most analysts understood that the market was failing, but they were not particularly worried about it, since the market was so small in the overall scheme of things. What they failed to understand was that a comparatively few mortgages had been magnified to make the whole system brittle. What happened is that the banks, after making the loans, would package them into securities, called MBSs, which they sold to hedge funds. The hedge funds borrowed money from the banks to buy loans the banks had made to home-buyers. Then the hedge funds re-packaged the MBSs into CDOs which they sold to investors, which the investors bought with money they borrowed from the bank. Or another hedge fund might buy them in combination with CDSs to create synthetic CDOs, with money they borrowed from the banks. The whole system was supposed to be “insured” by something called a “credit default swap,” or CDS, which was sold by insurance companies like AIG. But since nobody believed there could be a general failure, AIG and others did not keep reserves for insurance losses; they just treated the premiums as “free money.” Further, investors (using money borrowed from the banks) began buying massive quantities of CDSs on securities they did not actually own. It is as if all of your neighbors started buying a fire insurance policy on your house. If that were to happen, two things would follow. One, your neighbors would all be encouraging you to smoke in bed, and two, when you did have a fire, there would be not one claim, but hundreds, and no insurance fund can survive that.
The sub-prime market reached default rates of 16%, and the whole structure fell apart, and achieved the positive miracle of causing $30T in losses in a $1.4T market. But beyond these losses of nominal wealth, there was the recession in which people who had no involvement in this elaborate structure lost their jobs, their homes, their positions in their communities, and perhaps even their marriages and self-respect. Here we see how complexity works, or fails to work, in its brittle stage: a small failure in a small market causes massive failure throughout the system. Nor can such systems be easily repaired, as we are discovering. Despite all the pundits and politicians, brimming over with good advice and simple fixes, it turns out that the system can only be “fixed” in one place by breaking it in another; every patch weakens the whole, and every “solution” is its own recipe for disaster.
When we go through the catalog of our economic, political, and social systems, we find a network of the same brittle systems, all of them ripe for failure, and any of them sufficient to cause the failure of the whole system. Our systems of trade, defense, education, entertainment, agriculture, housing, transportation—you name it—turn out to be fragile, dysfunctional, and beyond repair. They are all systems of inter-locking fragility, such that the whole system is brittle and on the verge of collapse. I would like to focus on just two of these systems to illustrate our situation, energy and advertising.
As for energy, our entire industrial civilization for the last two or three centuries has been dependent on cheap energy, first coal and then flow-able oil. But we are now in the stage of peak oil, and the system cannot be sustained. Peak oil does not mean we are running out of oil, and certainly not that we are running out of energy; that we will never do since we cannot outrun the sun, the source of all our energy. But we are using four barrels of oil for every barrel we discover, and what we are discovering is in increasingly difficult places and less useful forms. The sweet, light crude that was the mainstay of the oil age is in increasingly short supply, and the other forms are more difficult to refine. Indeed, much of the oil isn’t pumped at all, it is mined, as in shale “oil” or the tar sands. These sources are expensive to turn into flowable products that can actually be put into, say, a car; and the energy-in, energy-out ratio is very low. And the use of corn-ethanol produces little more than it consumes, and makes food compete with fuel for farmland.
The debate over peak oil is over, because it is reflected in the prices. On the day we invaded Iraq, oil was at $27/bbl, and that was considered high, a reflection of uncertainty in the Middle East. Now it is four times that amount. And we see a consistent pattern. As economic activity picks up, oil use increases, which drives up the price, which depresses economic activity, which again lowers usage and hence the price, but only along an upward trend line. And so it goes. Oil acts as a tax on productivity, which places a cap on the economy.
Now come the intricate dependencies. Our global trading system, agriculture, transportation, and urban systems all presume cheap oil and will not work without it. For example, when the price of oil was driven by speculation to $140/bbl, the price of shipping a container from Shanghai to Los Angeles went from $2,000 to $6,000, which wiped out any wage or regulatory advantages that the Chinese had, and companies made plans to bring their production back to our shores, which would have devastated the export-dependent economies of China, India, and others. The crisis passed, but the lesson was clear: at somewhere between $120-$130/bbl, the world trading system breaks apart, and we are not far from that.
A second dependency is agriculture, which is largely oil-based. Now, Americans have largely given up on eating food, or at least anything our grandparents and great-grandparents would have recognized as food. Increasingly, our diets consist of highly processed and manufactured food-like substances, composed mainly of corn syrup, starches, fats, salt, and the chemical compounds necessary to keep the whole thing from instantly rotting. But the farms themselves have become extensions of the factory food systems, where the soil is no longer used to grow food. Rather, the soil, or what remains of it, is merely used to hold the plants in the ground; it must first be sterilized, like instruments in a surgeon’s operating theater, and then a variety of petrochemical substances are applied to stimulate growth, fight disease, and ward off pests. The crops are planted and harvested with a large array of capital and energy-intensive equipment, to produce standardized products, most of which were unknown a generation or two ago. As the price of oil goes up, the price of food must follow. Nor can most farmers return to pre-petrochemical days, as they have destroyed their own soil, and it will take years to get it back. We do not have machinery for making soil; that comes in God’s own time with man’s own care. And if we don’t care, it won’t happen.
I could go on with this analysis through system after system, but I think you get the idea, and I would like to turn our attention to another and more serious problem, namely the problem of culture and religion. It is here, I believe, that we confront a situation for which there is no precedent in human history. Here my thesis is very simple: culture has been subordinated to the needs of commerce, a commerce that has exhibited some rather peculiar and even demonic needs. Now, at many times in the past, the merchant has moved culture, and this was not always a bad arrangement. Commerce sought to ennoble itself with culture, an arrangement that was often to their mutual benefit, as many of the monuments of Italy give testimony. The merchant, through his patronage of the arts and the Church, sought to lift up his fellow citizens, ennoble his city, and obtain honor for himself.
But what is happening today is something quite different. Although something of the old spirit of patronage remains, in the main the vast engines of culture have been turned from uplifting the citizen to degrading him. Indeed, the whole point of the exercise is to turn each of us from being a citizen into being a a pure consumer; that is, from being a person who takes responsibility for himself, his family, and his community, into being a person whose self-respect is invested only in what he buys, and who is directed only by unregulated and easily manipulated passions.
We are told that the economy is regulated by “self-interest,” but this is a lie. Indeed, it cannot be so, since self-interest is never something known in advance, but rather something discovered by experience. Who among us has not had the experience of getting exactly what we wanted only to find that it wasn’t what we wanted at all? And who has not feared the worst, only to find that it was all for the best? No, self-interest is revealed to us, not known in advance. What we can know—and what advertising appeals to—is our desires. Desire can be converted to self-interest only when guided by the intelligence to good ends and disciplined by the virtues to good means. Intelligence and virtue: these are the enemies of any good marketing program. Modern advertising appeals not to our virtues but to our vices. And it has at its beck and call an incredible and bewildering array of technologies capable of intruding into every corner of our lives and our souls.
Marketing has displaced philosophy to become the preeminent integrative science of the modern age. At one time, we relied on the philosophers to put together all the knowledge that was, and to advise princes, merchants, and soldiers on the proper way of the world. But today, the philosophers have become second-class citizens—even within the academy—and it is advertisers who put together all the knowledge of the world for their own ends. That is, advertisers hire the best psychologists, sociologists, mathematicians, musicians, composers, writers, actors, and artists, and their work directs the engineer and the scientist to push the limits of surveillance and product technology. But this patronage of the arts and sciences has a quite different end from, say, the merchant dukes of Venice or Florence; marketing patronage seeks to destroy the intelligence and play on the vices. That is to say, it seeks to create zombies, people whose lives and brains have been destroyed, and whose only object is consumption.
Let me add a word here on popular culture. I first became impressed with the ability of pure pop culture to see things that had escaped others when I started working with computers back in the 1970’s. These were truly impressive machines; the IBM 360/65 that I worked on was eight or nine feet tall and perhaps five feet wide, with rows and rows of blinking lights and banks of switches. The machine had one million bytes of memory—an incredible number for the time—stored in a row of cabinets as long as this room. Never has there been a scientific marvel which approached the power of the computer.
And yet, as soon as the children got to use these marvels of science, did they use them scientifically? No. They played Dungeons and Dragons; they entered a world of knights and wizards, and lost themselves in the simulacrum of a lost age. That is to say, they recognized it instantly not as science but as magic, and—if anything—pre-modern, and they were right to do so. For electronic technology is fundamentally different from the mechanical and electrical technology that preceded it. When I was a boy, the car was the limit of our technological desires, and every young man, or nearly, thought nothing of pulling the manifold, changing a head gasket, or fiddling with the carburetor. Of course, we never knew as much as we pretended to know, but at least in principle we could have known the whole thing, and known it to any desired degree of precision.
But that is not so with computers, for no matter how many doctorates one holds in computer science, at some point the system disappears into a world of magic. Thus the hardware engineer finds operating systems bewildering, while the systems programmer is mystified by telecommunications, and the communications engineer can’t help you with applications. Expertise is one area is matched by ignorance in other areas, so that to each practitioner of the computer arts, at some point the whole thing fades into a world of wizardry. This is why, when you call him for help, and after pressing “1” for English, Sanjay in Mumbai often appears to be bewildered by your problem; he is not always the wizard to help you, but you both know a wizard is required.
And it is often so that popular culture, guided only by its intuitive and communal wisdom, sees what can’t be seen, but is nevertheless real. But having gained some trust in that, I was still confused by the rather odd phenomenon of the zombies. Why did this rather obscure Caribbean cult of people in a drug-induced catatonic state get so easily transformed into such an elaborate metaphor of the post-apocalyptic world? And why did they think that the world after the collapse would be filled with people stripped of their souls, stripped of all feelings, whether of pain or pleasure, anger or joy, who spent their time relentlessly pursuing one product?
And then it struck me: they aren’t looking into the future, they are looking at the present moment; and they aren’t looking at what will be done to others; they are looking at what has already been done to themselves. The image, so silly on its face, resonates with the young because they know, at some intuitive level, that we are already in the midst of the apocalypse, that the world wishes to strip them of their minds and their hearts and make them pure consumers, and relentless consumers of one product, the advertiser’s dream. They know, in their heart of hearts, that the world is out to get them, and means them no good. They have seen a deeper truth than anyone cares to admit.
And what they have seen is something for which there is no parallel in history. Literature and the arts have always had, as their purpose, the transmission to the young of the most important values of a culture; they were the means of initiating the young into their own history, of telling them their own story. But never in history have such vast engines of persuasion and manipulation had, as their sole purpose, the degradation of the young, the stripping them of their minds and spirits; never has any society deliberately dedicated so much energy and wealth to corrupting its own young, to sacrificing its children to the idol of mindless consumption. There have been, to be sure, periods of bad literature and awful art, but even the worst was done with the best of intents; its purpose was never deliberate degradation for mere commercial advantage. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has once again affirmed that the organized corruption of the young is a commercial right, even as it has affirmed in the past that exposing them to prayer in the classroom would be a violation of their rights. No civilization has ever committed such crimes against its own children.
Or perhaps there is a precedent. The Carthaginians, under siege from the Romans in 146 BC thought they could revive their fortunes by sacrificing their children; 300 children were thrown into a furnace to the god Moloch, but the city fell anyway, the inhabitants were sold into slavery, and the ground sowed with salt so that nothing would grow there, so deep was the Roman revulsion with the city. Carthago delenda est, and no city more deserved its fate.
But what of our fate? Have we not, in a way, committed the same crime to be condemned to the same fate? Have we not condemned our children to be sacrificed to the fires of a commercial Moloch, and must we not suffer a fate much worse than Carthage? Well, after all of this, I have a rather odd message: be of good cheer. We can get through this; we can do this, and perhaps it is only us, and people very much like us, who can do it. I believe that if we keep our wits and our faith about us, we can show our neighbors how to live—once we relearn the art ourselves.
We start by asking what happens in a collapse. The first thing is that the center cannot hold. That is, the central government—and centralized production companies—can no longer provide services to the periphery. At some point, the periphery simply refuses to obey orders or to remit funds. It occurred to me several months ago during discussions of California’s budget problems that there was a simple enough solution. California is facing a 20-month deficit of $38 Billion, yet in that same 20 months, it will remit to the federal government $50 billion more than it will receive in benefits, with the excess largely going to the Midwest states for things they neither want nor need, or to foreign adventures, which nobody needs and only a few want. So the great state of California could solve its problems by simply seceding from the Union. It is, after all, the world’s eighth largest economy and could easily stand on its own. And by seceding not only would the state have funds to solve its own problems, but the fiscal problems of all its cities and counties as well. Of course, Jerry Brown is an unlikely successor to Jefferson Davis, and the people of California are likely not ready for such a radical solution, but sooner or later, such a solution will occur to the states, and there is not much a bankrupt federal government will be able to do about it.
Secession then will cease to be an issue because it will have become a fact. The formal union may or may not continue, and there may even be some attempt at military government, but the army is simply too small to hold a country this size, even assuming the troops are willing to fire on their fellow citizens. States and cities, thrown on their own resources will find their own way. People will simply stop paying taxes. Indeed, large corporations have already done so, albeit by legal and quasi-legal means, and at some point the general public will follow; some 40% are already exempt from the income tax, although they still pay the payroll taxes. And if people simply refuse to pay the income tax, there is not much the Federal Government can do about it. Enforcement of any law depends largely on voluntary compliance. As more entities evade the tax—as the large corporations already do—more will be encouraged to follow their example.
But the large corporations will be having their own problems, and their failure to support the state financially is the commercial equivalent of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Corporate power depends on government power, and both will go down together; they are part and parcel of each other. Without a powerful federal government to enforce patents, people will use the knowledge they have to make the things they need. Without subsidized roads, the Wal-Mart distribution model will be shown to be expensive and inefficient. Without a big government to pick up externalized costs or provide large subsidies, corporate collectives will go the way of all collectives, whose very size condemns them to inefficiency.
But what shall we do, when there is no longer a remote government to care for us and a large corporation to feed us? How shall people get their daily bread when they discover that bread doesn’t grow on grocery-store shelves?
The task we will face will depend on the shape of the collapse, which will vary from city to city, and from town to countryside. Modern life is dependent on complex networks for electricity, water, sewer, transportation, gas, education, security, banking, food supplies, medical care, and so forth. Almost all of these are allocated by an exchange for money in market or quasi-market systems. Money, however, will be the first thing to go. Money is a social product, and never any stronger than the society which issues it. There will either be (and you can pick your favorite theory on this one) hyper-inflation or hyper-deflation; that is, money will either be too plentiful to have value or too scarce to be useful.
Our problem will be to restore each of these services on a community-by-community basis, and to find a variety of ways to distribute them, ways that will range from a circulation of gifts to barter, to local and ad hoc currencies. But will there be anything to exchange, either as gift, as barter, or for money? The first problem, of course, is food. If the mega-farms fail, can large populations be fed on the “three acres and a cow” approach the distributists favor? How about growing 1 million pounds of food, 10,000 fish, and 500 yards of compost on three acres. It is a simple system, using aquaponics, where water from tanks of tilapia is distributed over gravel beds where vegetables are grown. With greenhouses, the system runs 12 months/year, and the only heat source necessary is the compost bins. The whole system is “low-tech,” requiring only one pump and gravity to run the whole thing. That’s what you can do on three acres, and you don’t even need the cow. In fact, you don’t even need the three acres, since the same system would work on the roof of an apartment building in the midst of the city.
But some crops, such as wheat, do indeed require larger scale farming to be practical, and at present, such farms require capital-intensive machinery. And most of the requirements of modern life are, or are connected with, manufactured things, and we assume the factories in which these things are made are large and expensive. Does a collapse mean that we must return to a pre-modern and more primitive standard of living? Look at the work of Marcin Jakubowski of Factor E Farm. Faced with the need to buy expensive farm machinery, he developed his own low-cost and highly robust alternative, a tractor that could be built in six days from widely available materials, and for $4,000. But it is more than a farm tractor, because he also built a detachable scoop, which makes it a front-loader, a hoe that makes it a back-hoe. It has power take-offs to power other machinery, such as a brick press capable of 5,000 bricks per day. Indeed, the same farms are developing plans for the 50 most important machines for industrial civilization, plans that allow these machines to be built from a variety of materials, and built to be long-lived with low maintenance costs. Indeed, you can even buy today a low-cost 3-D printer, capable of “printing” plastic or metallic parts using only blueprints. In fact, a 3-D printer can print most of its own parts to be self-replicating.
Indeed, if we look around our neighborhoods, it is likely that we will already find enough equipment to provision a fairly respectable machine shop. The proliferation of highly functional but low-cost tools has given families and neighborhoods an enormous but usually unrealized creative potential. What this means is that even an “industrial” economy need not be dependent on large concentrations of capital, but can be (and in some places already is) distributed to widely dispersed production of short production runs that can easily be switched from product to product as demand requires, and done so on a neighborhood and family basis.
But the key terms are not machinery and technology, but “families” and “neighborhoods”; the mechanical stuff our culture can handle, on scales large and small. The problematic areas are the ones involving human relationships. Indeed, the family today is often a temporary arrangement, enduring only until we can get the kids out of the house, and we often get them very far out of the house indeed, across the country or around the world. Even with all of our “social” technology, we often find it difficult to retain close relations even with our closest relations. And neighborhoods are often nothing more than collections of habitats characterized more by their anonymity than by anything that could be called neighborliness. It is this neighborliness, more than any technical or physical quantity, that will be the scarce commodity in any effort to rebuild.
In this sense, we have all been turned into zombies; we are in proximity, but not in community. Like the zombies, we pursue the same goal, our supposed “self-interest,” but we pursue it mindlessly and without cooperation with each other, or at least, not outside of the forced and formal cooperation of the workplace. The zombies gain their power not from cooperation, but from having their goals limited to one thing, which they pursue relentlessly and without regard for others. But when the government and the corporations can no longer provide these workplaces, when we have to solve our problems in absence of these institutions, then self-interest, as understood by the modern world, will no longer serve. You might say that self-interest is no longer in our best interests, if it ever was.
What we will need is neighborliness, which is the exact opposite of self-interest understood as desire, as the pursuit of a private passion. Neighborliness requires a certain degree of sacrifice, of true caritas, that is, a willingness to see our own good in the good of our neighbors. But is this possible in a world of zombies? Would not the zombie see no other good than his own, recognize no other truth than his own? Here I would like to offer a rather strange suggestion: A world of zombies may prove to be an advantage, if we can use it correctly. Let me offer a case to make this rather surprising point.
The familiar world order collapsed with the first world war, and the world between the wars was full of good men of passionate intensity. Seeing the obvious disorder, the collapse of all that was customary and familiar, they wished to find some universal truth that could save the world. The men who opted for communism, or fascism, or Nazism, or Liberalism were, for the most part, good men who had gotten hold of the worst kind of lie: the half-truth. They committed great crimes in order to save their half-truth from all the other competing half-truths. But there is no danger of this happening with the zombies. The post-modern world has destroyed the whole notion of truth, even, or especially, the notion of the half-truth. What the zombie knows, and knows with mathematical and moral certainty, is that he has been lied to. He knows this because he knows everything is a lie, and he is correct, in the sense that everything the world has told him—and told him 24/7—is in fact a lie.
Post-modernism thus has the advantage of allowing us to find the end of ideology. Not that post-modern nihilism is itself the end of ideology; it is actually just another ism and hence another ideology with its own content; that is to say, it really isn’t nihilism at all; just a king of grand intellectual negativism with its own agenda. But it did allow us to create true nihilists, men who devote their lives to pursuing what they don’t really want but must have; their nothingness really is nothing, and not just the nothing advanced as an alternate “something.” But the zombie really does have a truth: the knowledge that it’s all a pack of lies. Men for the last 200 years or more have filled themselves with empty ideologies; the zombies alone are truly empty and waiting to be filled with truth.
But this “truth” they yearn for cannot be just another ideology, another ism. Indeed it cannot even be Catholic-ism, for this too is just an ideology, perhaps the worst. That is to say, it cannot be a Caholicism that is merely the spiritual support of some political ideology, be it the liberalism or constitutionalism of Scalia or Woods on one hand, or the liberation theologians and political liberals on the other.
So I return to the question: Will there be any zombies? That is, will mindless violence be the way of the future, or is it already the way of the past? Will the zombie die with the civilization that created him or will he come into his own? My answer to my own question is, “I don’t know.” However, I suspect the answer will depend very much on what we do. If we show the zombie a truth, rather than just preach one, we may release him—and ourselves—from his prison. By showing him a truth, I mean showing him a community, a community that functions economically, socially, and, I think it important to add, liturgically. I mention this last point in passing, although it has a prime organizing function in any community that would take another lecture to elucidate. But community, whole communities, are by themselves tools of evangelization. For example, the California missions were not just churches where one could preach to the Indians, but communities where a Christian way of life could be demonstrated, could be made visible and concrete to the Indians, something they could compare with their own lives.
To sum up, the technical problems of rebuilding the world, the problems that seem insurmountable, will turn out to be trivial: there is enough knowledge and resources to accomplish that task. But whether we are able to do it is another thing. The modern world begins by discovering—or rather inventing—the autonomous individual; the self-made made man who has no connections save contractual ones freely chosen and broken at will, for indeed there can be nothing higher than than individual will. Such a man is already half-way to being a zombie. And we must admit to ourselves, that we are all zombies, to some degree we are influenced by the technologies of persuasion and “need-creation.” We are all people who feel a need to work to buy what we don’t need, and then to discover new needs, which we must work even harder to fill. The modernist project ends with post-modernism, and with the true zombie, that is, with the creation of emptiness.
On a practical level, we need to first prepare ourselves. We must know what we really want and buy—or make—only what we really need. Growing a tomato is an act of resistance; fixing a car rather than buying a new one throws a wrench into the system. And making your own music defeats the entertainment industry, while entertaining your children and your neighbors defeats the whole wicked world. Educating one’s children, with or without the dubious help of the schools defeats both government and industry. And all of these provide the seeds from which a new economy, and a new civilization, a liturgical civilization, can be built, one that will fill the zombies and make them human again, and us as well.
We need to be looking around our neighborhoods and areas for resources to solve all the problems when the professional problem-solvers no longer can. If we look closely, we are likely to find more than we suspect. But mostly, we need to be looking at our neighborhoods to find our neighbors; all too often our neighborhoods are not at all neighborly, but rather anonymous and temporary housing, not real places but only real estate. By finding real neighbors, we will find real solutions. And here I make the assertion that to find anything real is to find something genuinely Christian. And only in a real Christianity will we build a real world.
To conclude, I say again, let us be of good cheer. To be sure, we must be realistic about the dangers we face and the hardships we will, no doubt, endure. There will be a certain madness abroad in the world, and this is unavoidable in times like these. People, deprived of comfort and customs, and anxious over the next meal or a place to sleep, will at least be mad, and likely prone to madness. But they are unlikely to fall victim to mere ideology, and we may have it in our power to calm their anxiety. And I suspect that we will discover that the things we will have to give up are not things that we really wanted anyway, and that what we stand to gain is what we were always looking for. And what we gain, we may give, and give to our fellow-zombies, who in their true emptiness of heart want only to be filled with the truth. This, I suspect, is our vocation, our calling, and this is our moment.