The Walking Dead and Negan’s State


Spoilers ahoy!

Rick Grimes is the leader of a group of survivors in the post-apocalyptic world of the walking dead. I say the word “leader” because I do not mean King, Monarch, President, or any other title that would designate that Rick holds political power over his group. Rick has always been a leader chosen by particular people who were free to leave or come back as they please. That did not mean Rick accepted every single person he came across into the group, as he had his own free will to choose his traveling partners. What I mean by leader is that someone is chosen voluntarily and does not need to force his will on those people.

The new character Negan that joins the show for this season is precisely the opposite of a leader. Negan plays the role of government power, albeit Negan has one redeeming quality that all modern governments lack: honesty about his behavior and his real intentions. He is quite clear with Rick and his group upon their first interactions: Negan declares, “Give me your stuff, or I will kill you.” When Negan shows up to take said stuff, it becomes clear that his initial claim of 50% of the group’s belongings is entirely up to his own arbitrary interpretation of those words.

He takes all of the group’s guns as does any tyrant who want to make sure that people have no ability to fight back against that state’s power. He also takes all of the mattresses and beds and even just destroys them, not even needing to take them for his own uses. This event is to be a constant reminder that Rick and his group belong to the state they are its property and should be reminded of their subservience to it daily. He does, however, take none of the group’s food, because he says he wants to make sure the group remains productive enough to go “work for him” and search out the landscape for things Negan wants to take. States have learned never take all of a person’s income, because it would then have no workers left to tax!

Negan and his crew consistently order people to bow and take a knee as an acknowledgement of their complete ownership over the actions and bodies of their subjects, and he reminds Rick several times that every person, place, or thing is Negan’s possession and/or plaything. The State also claims ownership over all property in a geographical region, as taxation is more or less a rent imposed for living somewhere on “it’s” property, even if that claim to ownership encompasses all places a human being could possibly live. Moreover, the state lays claim to ownership of your actions, allowing and disallowing behavior however it sees fit to. Albeit, certainly not so much with the kneeling/bowing anymore.

Negan calls his group or, more precisely his army, the saviors. All governments claim that they are just helping people and that, without them and those that enforce their mandates, where would society be? Central planners claim themselves to be the saviors of humanity and the “fixers” of capitalism. Negan consistently refers to “bringing back civilization” as if civilization means forcing people to obey his rules and pay him tribute. Rick’s group even refers to Negan’s thievery as taxation, further showing the political nature of Negan’s demands.

Negan is the ultimate arbitrator of his version of justice; he constantly refers to “the rules”, as pundits in the modern world demand that you obey “the law”. Punishments he executes for disobeying those rules include being locked in cages, having your face scalded with a hot iron, and even death. Sound familiar, maybe except for the iron part? States have always claimed the power to enforce their rules no matter how outlandish or absurd these rules may be, and they claim the right to dole out their favorite punishments of cages and even death. It’s also very predictable that most of Negan’s “rules” benefit him in some way, in the same way that government laws are generally created by corporations and businesses with the intent to abolish their competition or give them some advantage in the market.

Negan even claims to be providing Rick’s group a service in exchange for the taxes he demands by killing a few zombies outside of Rick’s stronghold. States always provide some lackluster “services” as an excuse to take people’s money even though any of those services would far better be provided by private businesses competing in an open marketplace. Rick was actually doing fine protecting himself from zombies for 6 full seasons before Negan even came along. Some of Negan’s “services” include destroying one village’s gates in the middle of the night and ushering in hordes of zombies to remind the village that he could have protected them if only they did not resist his so-called “help”.

While Rick and his group are off scouring the countryside looking for treasure for Negan, even going so far as to swim through zombie infested water for him, Negan does what many states do and takes on the role of the missing parental figures in the family. The parents are depicted in the show as people too busy to spend time developing their children, as they are off working two jobs in order to produce enough to give taxes to the government and still afford everything, so the state puts the children in it’s public schools for it’s special brand of re-education. Negan in the story attempts to subvert Rick’s son by re-educating him, showing him all the wonders of state power and how ruling over people bestows a lot of benefits to that ruling class.

Economic calamity caused by state interventions, the results of some of which are a lack of available jobs, economic uncertainty, diminishing value of savings and buying power, constantly rising prices for certain goods, etc. can put heavy strain and stress on people’s marital relationships. Moreover, sometimes state welfare benefits require not having two parents at home, splitting the family in two out of economic despair, once again caused by state economic interventions.

Destroying or intensely controlling the family is an age old state dream most notably put forward by the Communists, where some have even suggested that children should be taken into state care at birth and should spend no time with their biological parents. It’s understandable why the state would consider the family to be a threat: the family is a spontaneous, voluntary, and economically strong unit in society. Members of the family look out for each other and care for each other, something that is in direct competition with the state’s claim to be the sole “savior” of poor, downtrodden humanity.

Negan’s state has its shortcomings, of course. He’s not able to control everybody through his threats of punishment, and there are rumors of mutiny and revolution within the saviors. He also seemingly never learned from the states that came before him by playing the game of “democracy” and displaying several tyrants for the people to choose from. This brilliant invention of the state has, in the modern world, successfully hidden it’s monopoly and true behavior, the kind that Negan is so open and honest about, by pretending that people have a choice over which political ruler they will be subservient to and therefore have any say at all in the types of “services” it provides.

Rick believes at first that if he just gives in to Negan’s demands that maybe he’ll finally be left alone. He’ll be able to go back to producing for himself and his group. However, Negan’s demands only become more hysterical and increasingly taxing each time Rick gives in to those demands, and Rick finally realizes that political agents are never happy with their initial demands. The federal income tax in the US in 1913 was almost nonexistent for the common person and has since grown exponentially, as has almost every other tax and regulation and license and every other state decree imaginable.

Science fiction today seems to be the only media genre capable of showing the state as it truly is: a group of people dedicated to initiating violence and issuing threats thereof, despite it’s claims of benevolence and “progress”. The more that people realize that the state’s violent behavior has fundamentally remained unchanged throughout all of human history and will continue to be violent throughout all of the future, post-apocalyptic or not, the closer we can come to finding the real solution for humanity: a society where the state’s role is miniature or even nonexistent. Despite all their promises of alleviating scarcity, providing justice, fixing the world, the only real tool Negan and his ilk have at their disposal to attempt to achieve any of those goals is threats of their cages and the use of their guns.

The walking dead correctly identified governments and specifically taxation as ethically problematic. When Negan’s taxation is abolished, Rick and his group can go back to spending their time helping each other and building their own society as they choose.

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