International community: Zombie apocalypse not likely | Scholars and Rogues
Daniel Drezner’s visit to Graceland a few years back taught him something important about writing about zombies. Fellow tourists seemed to fall into two contingents:
The first contingent was thoroughly, utterly sincere in their devotion to all things Elvis. They were hardcore fans, and Graceland was their Mecca, their Jerusalem, and their Rome…. The second group of tourists was equally delighted to be at Graceland, but for a different reason. These people took great pleasure in the kitschy nature of all things Elvis.
Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a “tour of a different kind of Graceland, only with a lot more footnotes. Oh, and zombies.”
Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a member of the Zombie Research Society. His little book, which successfully balances sincere theoretical discussion with pop culture kitsch, is a stroke of genius.
International relations professors use Theories of International Politics and Zombies to introduce complex theories in an accessible way. Students love it because zombies are cool. Drezner plays to both with pitch-perfect tone.
The premise of the book, which began as a legitimate scholarly paper, is simple: “What would different theories of international politics predict would happen if the dead began to rise from the grave and feast upon the living? How valid—or how rotten—are these predictions?”
He realizes that “[s]erious readers might dismiss these questions as fanciful, but concerns about flesh-eating ghouls are manifestly evident in popular culture. Whether one looks at films, songs, games, or books, the genre is clearly on the rise.” It’s possible to dismiss the zombie trend as mere pabulum used to feed a mass public that craves the strange and bizarre, he says, but such an explanation would be only skin-deep. “Popular culture often provides a window into the subliminal or unstated fears of citizens,” Drezner says, “and zombies are no exception.”
“Clearly, public fears of being devoured by flesh-eating ghouls can only be allayed by rigorous scholarship,” he argues.
Drezner believes zombies represent “the perfect twenty-first-century threat: they are not well understood by serious analysts, they posses protean capabilities, and the challenge they pose to states is very, very grave.” (It’s worth noting, by the way, that Drezner can almost never resist working in a pun like that, which makes the book all the more entertaining.)
He replies on two sources of evidence to buttress his theoretical paradigms:
The first data source is the social science literature on events akin to an attack of the undead: pandemics, disasters, bioterrorism, and so forth. Past responses to calamitous events can inform our expectations of how states and nonstate actors would respond to the presence of reanimated and ravenous corpses.
The second data source is the fictional narratives about zombies that exist in popular culture. In recent years, policymakers have relied on the creators of fictional narratives for insights into “out of the box” threat scenarios.
Drezner draws on diverse source material to illustrate examples and test his ideas, yet a reader doesn’t have to be indoctrinated into the inner circle of zombie fanboys in order to get his drift. He explains everything—zombies and theories alike—as he goes.
His honest attempt at applying various theories about international politics to the zombie apocalypse milieu proves to be surprisingly fascinating—and what he finds undercuts one of the most basic premises of the genre.
“Traditional zombie narratives in film and fiction are quick to get to the apocalypse,” he notes. However, his application of international relations theories suggest that “a vigorous policy response to the menace of the living dead” would, in all likelihood, prevent total apocalypse. “The public benefits of wiping the undead from the face of the earth are quite significant, boosting the likelihood of significant policy coordination,” he says.
“These kinds of predictions suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon’s dominant narrative of human extinction is overstated,” he concludes.
Thank you for that note of optimism, Mr. Drezner. Thankyouverymuch.
“What you don’t know can eat you”: A conversation with the world’s leading zombie expert
Night of the Living Dead and the birth of the modern zombie
An oral history of the Zombie Apocalypse
If this is the Zombie Apocalypse, why am I rolling my eyes?
What would happen to international politics if the dead rose from the grave and started to eat the living? Daniel Drezner's groundbreaking book answers the question that other international relations scholars have been too scared to ask. Addressing timely issues with analytical bite, Drezner looks at how well-known theories from international relations might be applied to a war with zombies. Exploring the plots of popular zombie films, songs, and books, Theories of International Politics and Zombies predicts realistic scenarios for the political stage in the face of a zombie threat and considers how valid--or how rotten--such scenarios might be.
Drezner boldly lurches into the breach and "stress tests" the ways that different approaches to world politics would explain policy responses to the living dead. He examines the most prominent international relations theories--including realism, liberalism, constructivism, neoconservatism, and bureaucratic politics--and decomposes their predictions. He digs into prominent zombie films and novels, such as Night of the Living Dead and World War Z, to see where essential theories hold up and where they would stumble and fall. Drezner argues that by thinking about outside-of-the-box threats we get a cognitive grip on what former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously referred to as the "unknown unknowns" in international security.
Correcting the zombie gap in international relations thinking and addressing the genuine but publicly unacknowledged fear of the dead rising from the grave, Theories of International Politics and Zombies presents political tactics and strategies accessible enough for any zombie to digest.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His books include All Politics Is Global (Princeton). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Zombie Research Society.
"Drezner . . . comes up with an intriguing intellectual conceit to explain various schools of international political theory. He imagines a world overrun with zombies and considers the likely responses of national governments, the U.N and other international organizations, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs). . . . This slim book is an imaginative and very helpful way to introduce its subject--who knew international relations could be this much fun?"--Publishers Weekly
"A light, breezy volume, TIPZ is a valuable primer in international relations theory for laypeople, and thank God for that--it's been a long time coming. But Drezner's real genius is that he's written a stinging postmodern critique of IR theorists themselves, applying the full force of their structured reasoning to topics as diverse as Michael Jackson's breakdancing zombies, Peter Jackson's lesser film canon, and romantic zombie comedy flicks--'rom zom coms,' as he puts it. It's both a pedagogical text and a lampoon of pedagogy. . . . Theories of International Politics and Zombies is one hell of an important tome."--Adam Weinstein, Mother Jones
"Besides offering a condensed and accessible survey of how various schools of international-relations theory would respond, he reviews the implications of a zombie crisis for a nation's internal politics and its psychosocial impact. He also considers the role of standard bureaucratic dynamics on managing the effects of relentless insurgency by the living dead. While a quick and entertaining read, Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a useful introductory textbook on public policy--as well as a definitive monograph for the field of zombie studies."--Scott McLemee, Inside HigherEd
Table of Contents:
Introduction . . . to the Undead 1
The Zombie Literature 11
Defining a Zombie 21
Distracting Debates about Flesh-eating Ghouls 23
The Realpolitik of the Living Dead 33
Regulating the Undead in a Liberal World Order 47
Neoconservatism and the Axis of Evil Dead 61
The Social Construction of Zombies 67
Domestic Politics: Are All Zombie Politics Local? 77
Bureaucratic Politics: The "Pulling and Hauling" of Zombies 87
We're Only Human: Psychological Responses to the Undead 99
Conclusion . . . or So You Think 109
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Zombies
Regardless of what parents tell their children, books are routinely judged by their covers. Indeed, many book titles encapsulate a premise so obvious that the text itself seems superfluous. I'm talking about the literary equivalents of Hot Tub Time Machine or Aliens vs. Predator. I should know—I'm the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
I can envision a future when such books will pass from individual to individual via secret-Santa office parties. They'll be good for a chuckle, and then not surface until the ensuing Christmas. Most of my colleagues assumed that I wrote this book to make political scientists laugh a little—and they would be partially right. And yet a funny thing happened while I crafted a satire about world politics and zombies: I learned about the virtue of seriousness.
To be clear, the zombies in my book are not metaphors for thuggish political discourse or symbols of brainless economic ideologies. I'm talking about the genuine article: ghouls rising from the grave to feast upon the living.
Why write a book about the threat posed by the living dead? Sure, the ratings of AMC's The Walking Dead demonstrate their popular cachet, but international relations is Very Serious Business. There is no shortage of "real" threats to scare analysts: nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, financial instability, cyberwarfare. Why introduce an implausible, shuffling, stumbling creature that desires only braaaaiiiiiinnnnnnns into the mix?
The premise started out innocently enough. Scanning the Web on a bright August day in 2009, I stumbled upon a serious paper that modeled zombies as representative of certain kinds of pathogens. The paper soberly concluded: "An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. ... A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly."
The paper was entertaining and informative—but it lacked a political analysis. It failed to take into account variations in national responses, not to mention the cross-border coordination problems that an army of the undead would create. So I spent a few hours thinking about how various international-relations theories would respond to a zombie attack, wrote up a blog post intended to make a few colleagues giggle, and moved on.
The response to the post dragged me back in. A brilliant discussion thread emerged, with inspired comments tackling paradigms I had overlooked. At the next professional meeting I attended, more than one colleague told me that my post would be useful for teaching students. The more feedback I received, the more I realized that the average undergraduate knows a lot more about zombies than about world politics. A straight explanation of abstruse theoretical paradigms can cause a student's mind to wander. Explaining realism, liberalism, or constructivism by way of references to Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead is much easier.
I'm not the only political scientist to recognize this fact. Major academic presses have recently published books that use everything from the literary canon to The Godfather to explain foreign affairs. Peer-reviewed scholarship has been published on international relations and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter books. Wizards, vampires, aliens, and hobbits had been covered, but I could legitimately identify a "zombie gap" in the literature.
My motivations were not strictly pedagogical. I have been in too many brain-rotting seminar debates about whether someone should be labeled a "defensive realist" or a "neoliberal institutionalist." I've read the works of too many scholars who throw around quotes from Kenneth Waltz's Theory of International Politics as party apparatchiks must have done with Mao's Little Red Book. I love my field—but I worry about its descent into scholasticism for its own sake. Applying international-relations theory to a zombie-infested world was a way of affectionately but satirically tweaking the field's strictures.
But first I had to educate myself about the zombie genre, about which I knew little. I've never been a fan of horror movies—indeed, truth be told, my only childhood memory of a horror film was watching 10 minutes of Poltergeist and then not sleeping that night. But I delved into the zombie canon, from the obvious highlights (George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, Max Brooks's World War Z), to more obscure fare (Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, one of the funniest and most disgusting films ever made).
Armed with a knowledge of the undead that extended beyond Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, I sat down to write—and quickly hit a brick wall. My prose was clunky and ham-handed, full of obvious, unfunny jokes. It turns out that it's hard to write about the living dead without drowning in puns. I drew attention to "gnawing problems with the literature" and declared my intention to "get at the meat of the problem." I could feel the decaying corpse of Milton Berle elbowing me in the ribs. I sought advice from my editor, Chuck Myers, who wisely explained that my tone needed to be as deadpan as possible. Only by writing in a serious manner could the absurdity of the premise be revealed. Now the words began to flow, although it was etymologically impossible to root out all of the puns.
On the way toward completing the book, I encountered a series of intellectual surprises. For starters, I realized that zombies are a great synecdoche for a constellation of emerging threats. Even though it is relatively easy to define a zombie, the genre diverges widely on the capabilities of the living dead. In some films, like, say, Planet Terror, zombies possess enough intelligence to act like bioterrorists. In others, zombies are more like mindless but intuitive disease vectors. In this way, the living dead are the perfect 21st-century threat: They are not well understood by serious analysts, they possess protean capabilities, and the challenge they pose is very grave. (See what I mean about the puns?)
I looked at the literature on "zombielike events," calamities akin to an army of reanimated, ravenous corpses. This meant researching the sociology of panic, the political economy of natural disasters, and the ways in which past epidemics have affected world politics. I was new to this scholarship—jumping into it gave me the same thrill of discovery I felt as a grad student.
In predicting possible outcomes, I embraced Rudra Sil and Peter Katzenstein's concept of analytic eclecticism, which draws from multiple theoretical approaches to attack a policy problem. The standard international-relations paradigms have their uses, but practitioners within them tend to develop conceptual blinders about causal mechanisms that do not conform to their own model's internal logic.
Thinking through the implications of a zombie attack, I came away with a more optimistic take on humanity and a more pessimistic take on my field. While traditional zombie narratives tend to end in apocalypse, most of the theoretical approaches I surveyed suggested vigorous policy responses should we be attacked by the living dead. Realists would push for a live-and-let-live arrangement between the undead and everyone else. Liberals would call for an imperfect but useful global governing body to regulate the undead—a World Zombie Organization. Constructivists would call for a robust, pluralistic security community dedicated to preventing new zombie outbreaks and socializing existing zombies into human society. Bureaucracies would very likely err in their initial responses, but they'd adapt.
Predictions such as those suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon's dominant equation of zombies + feckless humans = postapocalyptic wasteland is perhaps overstated. That said, even these "optimistic" outcomes would be unmitigated disasters from the perspective of human security. In a world where zombies concentrate in the weakest countries—stronger states are better equipped to fend off the threat—billions of human beings would face an additional menace on top of disease, poverty, and the erosion of the rule of law.
As I thought through these various scenarios, it became clear that the ability of standard international-relations paradigms to adequately analyze threats is eroding. Most theories are state-centric, but interstate conflict is on the wane. Consider again the list of real-world threats above; almost none of them emanate from states. Neither terrorists nor hackers possess large swaths of territory, making retaliation difficult. Natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes do not possess "agency" as we understand the concept. Neither do diseases or melting glaciers.
The international-relations profession has always started with the state—and governments will continue to play a vital role in world politics. But the field has been slow to adapt to the plethora of asymmetric threats that we now face. Unless that changes, international-relations scholars will be hard-pressed to offer cogent policy responses to emerging threats, much less the living dead.
Combining satire and scholarship is a risky enterprise. I have no doubt that many readers will conclude that I failed miserably. On the other hand, if the book gets people who wouldn't ordinarily care about world politics to laugh, and then think, then the royalties—I mean, the intellectual benefits—will vastly exceed the costs.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. His latest book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies, has just been published by Princeton University Press.
Special Book Review: Theories of International Politics and Zombies
David Cameron acknowledged in this week’s PMQs that the UK is under serious threat from coordinated zombie attacks. In light of this, Sara Yasin reviews an important book that draws on years of zombie research to bring the Prime Minister the guidance he desperately needs to protect all our brains.
In his latest book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Daniel W. Drezner discusses how major theories of international politics would address the rise of a zombie attack. Coordinated attacks from brain-hungry zombies are of course one of the most pressing security issues for the government to address, as David Cameron acknowledged during this week’s PMQs. This book could not be more timely.
A professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts, as well as a member of the Zombie Research Society, Drezner’s book draws upon current discussions in the international community. Through an analysis of zombie-themed films including Night of the Living Dead (1968), Drezner aims to answer the following question: “What would different theories of international relations predict would happen if zombies started roaming the earth?”
Combined with examples from such films, Drezner also draws upon the policies of different nations to theorize about how they would cope with an attack from the undead. He draws upon examples from current events in order to hypothesize about what would actually occur in such situations. In particular, he primarily focuses on realism, liberalism, constructivism, neo-conservatism, bureaucratic politics, and domestic politics. Drezner does a great job of summarizing the different theories, and successfully differentiates them.
The author actually takes a deep look into zombies, and analyzes them as the very legitimate threat to international security that they are. The greatest strength of the book lies in how thought provoking it is; the questions that Drezner asks are pertinent to exploring how the international community must cope with other problems that impact us all, such as epidemics, or maybe even an uprising of robots.
Another strength of the book is its simplicity. It actually serves as an easy way to differentiate between major perspectives on international policy. The topic of zombies actually makes the discussion of international politics less intimidating and more interesting and would therefore be a great way to create wonderful dialogue in the classroom.
I have never had a particular fondness for zombies, but I still enjoyed the pop culture references. A zombie enthusiast reading this book would probably find it even more enjoyable. Smart, funny, creative, and thought provoking, Theories of International Politics and Zombies is a worthwhile and engaging read, and is essential reading for all political leaders if the fight against zombies is ever to be won.
Should the government have policies to deal with fear of zombies?
From the always sublime Dara O’Briain:
I give out when people talk about crime going up, but the numbers are definitely down. And if you go, “The numbers are down”, they go, “Ahh, but the fear of crime is rising.” Well, so fucking what? Zombies are at an all-time low level, but the fear of zombies could be incredibly high. It doesn’t mean you have to have government policies to deal with the fear of zombies.
But let’s look at this in more detail. If there was a large demand for it, should the government have policies to deal with the fear of zombies? By zombies, we do mean non-existent flesh-eating fictional undead monstrosities that don’t exist.
If we model governments as representative democracies, with the elected officials using their own judgement to best follow the broad wishes of their constituents, then it’s clear that they shouldn’t do anything about the fear of zombies. Virtually everyone is ignorant about most everything (we can’t be experts in more than a few domains), so the politician, with access to research institutes and civil service advice, should make their decision in our best interest. There are designs for governments – such as futarchy – that explicitly seek to distinguish between values and beliefs, making the politicians follow values while figuring out the beliefs separably.
This “it’s in their best interests” approach is at its strongest when the voters’ preferences are inconsistent. For instance, voters often claim they would like the government to follow such and such economic approach, but they base their voting decisions strongly on the actual economic growth they experience. In this case, there’s a pretty strong case that politicians should ignore voter’s stated preferences, and go along with their revealed preferences.
But if there were a significant voting block clamouring for Zombie protection, and they based their voting on that, election after election, then I feel it isn’t unreasonable that the government should consider doing something about it. The electorate have the right to be wrong, even consistently wrong, and part of the democratic contract is that we have to accept to bear the costs of this. It isn’t healthy for governments to consistently overriding the views of the electorate.
But how should they deal with the fear of zombies? One approach would be education: explain again and again to the voters that they have nothing to fear, that the non-existent zombies might be alas terrifying, but they remain fortunately non-existent. But this is unlikely to work (successive governments have completely failed to convince the population of the recent plunge in criminality) and could result an intrusive and excessive propaganda campaign inimical to democracy.
So it seems the government should consider taking action to protect the population from a non-existent threat. If the actions were expensive, then they shouldn’t (and most likely wouldn’t) be considered. Acting irrationally like this is a luxury; if the costs get too high, then the case simply ignoring the issue gets stronger, as the extra money will have to come out of someone’s pocket or services.
But policies constructed to deal specifically with a panic are unlikely to be good. If the fear of zombies resembles a moral panic – if for instance, a particular group is scapegoated for being a source of the zombie threat – then these measures should be resisted, on minority rights grounds. Even without that, the measures passed in fear lead generally to security theater - useless policies that feel good for the population, such as gratuitously putting more “bobbies on the beat”. It’s not hard to see why such measures feel so attractive (“I see a policeman there, so I’m safe from mugging right now”) but can make little difference (someone is still likely to get mugged whenever or wherever the policeman isn’t around). And these security measures are often hard to get rid of, as no bureaucrat is willing to cancel the measures and take the blame if something does go wrong.
Here, though, the non-existence of zombies works in our favour. The whole point of these measures is to make security theater; and the bureaucratic disincentive is reduced: it’s not as if there would be any zombie outbreaks if some official decided to suspend these measures. Plus, this may allow some useful measures (such as increasing food reserves), to be smuggled in under the banner of zombie defense. But there are other costs to going along with security theater: it creates a large constituency of people benefiting from these policies who would want to keep them (anti-zombie security guards, anti-zombie training lecturers, shops selling patented anti-zombie knee slicers) and more people would become fearful of zombies and start taking the zombie threat seriously.
It is precisely to avoid this official approval that governments are often reluctant to fund some pseudo-scientific fields. The costs may initially appear trivial, but it legitimizes the field, and makes it harder to resist calls for funding from similar domains. Then again, the British National Health Service already funds homeopathy, a wholly regrettable state of affairs. The sums involved though, remain modest (£152, 000, apparently), and, whatever the signals it sends out, there is no sign it has lead to an explosion of pseudo-science in the NHS. Something like £152, 000 for widely demanded but useless anti-zombie measure might seem an acceptable use democratically assigned public funds.
Some might claim that their fear of zombies is based on religious beliefs (which is not at all implausible given the origin of the zombie myth). There is a long-standing and broadly approved tradition of giving religious beliefs special accommodations in society, so this would strengthen the argument for anti-zombie policies. But equally, to prevent abuse of these privileges, they are normally only accorded to large well established religions, a bar it is unlikely zombie-fear would reach for many generations.
From the politicians’ perspectives, there is an extra consideration: if they fail to pander, other politicians will, thus depriving them of votes for their other, much more important policies. Meeting the anti-zombie brigade half-way would at least allow reduce the negative impact, rather than staying uselessly out of power and watching the other side implement the full gamut of anti-zombie policies. This does have consequences, though: it shifts the Overton window on the subject, and can ratchet up demands for more measures that were not initially intended. The shifting attitude of the political left in Europe towards immigration restrictions is an example of such as transformation.
So, should governments have policies to deal with fear of zombies? Well, only if they’re heavily demanded by the public, cheap to implement, unlikely to grow more expansive, and unlikely to set unfortunate precedents. But in that case, I think these policies are a luxury we should afford.
FEMA Blog: From CDC - Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse
Editor's Note: We wanted to share a blog post from our friends at the Centers for Disease Control.
Preparing for a zombie attack, or other fictional disasters, can provide useful tips to get prepared for a real disaster. The following is an excerpt of the original blog post on the CDC Public Health Matters Blog May 16th, 2011 by Ali S. Khan.
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