Now that we’ve Zombified ourselves to death in tv and film– Wikipedia lists 641 individual titles– let us pause and contemplate our fascination with the denigration of the human race as we know it.
What is it about the walking dead chewing through the faces of the few of us left alive that captures our attention so thoroughly? Is it our primordial schadenfreude of seeing the top dog fall, even if it’s our own species? Or does it have to do with our innate appetite for fresh flesh?
One thing the Zombie genre continually illustrates is how thin the facade of “civilization” is. Take away the police, and traffic lights, and the rest of the rules that maintain surface order, and we’re no better than a pack of wild animals.
But how insulting to animals is that? They’re not the ones destroying the earth in these movies. They’re rarely as barbaric to each other as we are. They hardly exploit the planet’s resources like we do. And yet, Human Exceptionalism– the idea that we’re somehow superior to every other species– still prevails as a reason to eat them in large quantities.
We flatter ourselves with the belief that the history of the world is the history of human evolution. But isn’t the idea that all this was made for us just a vestige left over from however many religious creeds? Aren’t we ready for more?
For all of the eye-rolling we do at the salad chomping vegans, they have some pretty common sense arguments concerning the human being’s place in the bigger picture. Carnivores want to argue that we’re the top of the food chain, as if that were the end of the discussion. We’re more evolved than other animals, because we use language and reason and plan for the future… but so do animals to certain degrees. Don’t whales sing? Aren’t squirrels planning for the future hiding acorns?
Why exactly is a human life is more important than a cow’s or a chicken’s? Is it because we can talk? Birds can fly and we can’t. How many points do they get for that? Is it because we have intelligence? So do dolphins and octopi and White Tailed Deer: know why they give birth near the highway? It’s not because they like exhaust. Their primary predator, wolves, get hit by cars trying to get to them. Pretty smart strategizing.
And what if we weren’t at the top of food chain? What if an alien species lands on tomorrow to check out how their work on the pyramids is holding up and decide to stay and enslave us in fattening pens, eventually mass processing us for food? By our own reasoning, it’s justified, because they’re now the superior species, right?
Wait, no, okay, go back– The reality is, we’re carnivores by nature. It’s how we got to this point in evolution! Our brains evolved because we ate meat. Those thousands of years of protein intake got us to where we are today!
But it’s a false premise. The reality is, we’re omnivores, and more so, the majority of non-human primates are mostly vegetarian. Probably because it’s easier to pick a berry off a tree, than chase after something running like hell to get away from you. Or something that might turn around and kick you in the skull, ending your hungry, brutal life.
I’m curious, in all these debates, how many carnivores have slaughtered, gutted, and cleaned what they’ve eaten? I know the answer for 99 percent of them. And I wonder how much it would change their feelings about what they eat if they did. The truth is, today we can survive, even flourish, without eating meat. And that we used to do it isn’t a reason for continuing to do so.
We used to enslave people before we abolished it. Why it took so long to is another jeremiad, but let’s just consider for a moment that we may not be as smart a species as we think.
Vegans hope to bring some awareness to our current anthropocentric prejudices. Their questions are basic: Are we causing suffering by confining animals in cages? Are we cutting their lives short? Doesn’t every animal want to live as much as we do? Can we admit that our primary justification– that our life is more important— is bogus?
For the majority of us tearing carelessly through resources in an attempt to make more money and take nicer vacations, I’d argue not really. The planet might be better off with a few less over-consuming humans and a few more baby lambs, who’s eco-hoof print is nearly nil.
What about the fact that animals eat each other? It’s true, but it’s not what we’re debating. Animals are not moral agents, and they’re not industrializing slaughter, or wasting what they don’t eat like only humans can do.
Granted, if you live in the Himalayas and yaks are the only thing around, you’re going to eat them. Or if it the zombie apocalypse does happen, and a squirrel will get you through the night, then you do it to survive.
But we’re not talking about life or death circumstances here. And we’re not talking about a limited, or ritualistic consumption of meat every now and then. We’re talking about the mass processing of sentient beings; creatures that feel pain and have wills to live and reproduce and nurture their young and mourn their dead, just like we do– because we have acquired a taste for them.
So it’s not that we’re superior, or that we deserve it, or that it’s just natural.
And that will become clear when the zombies finally arrive. I am certain someone, somewhere is working on an app for communicating with them. The one that translates, Please don’t eat me and my loved ones because we want to live and love life, into a series of comprehensible gurgles.
Or maybe, we can reason with them. Tell them being a vegan zombie is not such a bad life choice. There’s enough beans and kale and watermelon for the undead too. And they taste pretty amazing.