Walking Dead: The World Beyond

AMC, Michael Cudlitz

In the new Walking Dead series, we are teleported into the future of the zombie apocalypse. Taking place 10 years after the initial introduction of zombies into the world, it’s story line has, at first, evolved far from the tribal wanderings of disparate, small groups of ragtag people sewn together on the road out of necessity for survival. We are introduced to The Campus Colony of Omaha, which is home to 9,000 plus people. They have electricity, plumbing, and the basics of a modern, civilized society now used to dealing with constant threat of zombies. Another group is introduced, as well; The Civic Republic is a shadowy society that is very secretive of it’s location and doings and is rumored to have over 200,000 people in it’s home city/cities.

In the very first episode of season 1, the leader of the Campus Colony, Leopold Bennett, has left home to go help the Civic Republic (CR) with their science projects. He has been gone for about a year. Iris, his daughter, begins getting some very strange and disconcerting messages transmitted in secret purportedly by her father, and other unsettling behaviors start happening in regards to their relationship with the CR. The CR also display an impressive show of force by ridding an area of zombies with automatic weapons and extremely precise, group tactical combat by men with shiny black body armor and hidden faces; to me, this was a clear warning shot of their military superiority.

Iris is expected to give a big speech to the Campus society extolling the benefits of their relationship with the CR and the gains it has in store for both of their people’s interests, yet she hesitates halfway through her “teleprompted”, pre-written script and speaks from her heart. She puts her fears into words in front of everyone: she doesn’t trust the CR and thinks they may be up to nefarious acts and have secretive motives. The CR representative is visibly not pleased at this betrayal.

By the end of the episode, Iris and her sister and a few others leave in a clandestine escape by night to set out on a quest to try to locate and help their father, now feared to be kidnapped and held against his will by the CR. The CR then later takes action in retaliation for the earlier speech by launching an all-out assault against the Campus Colony and murdering everyone in cold blood: men, women, and children are slaughtered with little resistance as they are clearly outmatched and outgunned.

Just Another State

The CR is just another modern State in the Walking Dead post-apocalypse world. They act in secrecy, manipulate other colonies with diplomacy and false promises to get what they want, and commit violence and mass murder when it suits them. Their citizenry likely has little knowledge of the extent of their violence or, if they do, it’s portrayed as a just cause because of national security or defense of the society.

In fact, we get a glimpse of their use of false justifications when one of their military commanders comes to the apparent general’s home one day after the raid. The sergeant accuses her of using unnecessary force, to which she replies that somehow the colony was a “threat” and that they needed to “eliminate” it. When this doesn’t convince him, she walks around to all her appliances and turns them all on. She shows him all of the modern conveniences brought forward by their society, as if this was an example of how superior it is.

This is a common conflation: that a society who has the most wealth must be somehow superior to others and is therefore justified in any use of force and violence against others. This is essentially the argument behind American Exceptionalism. We also know from studying economics that the generation of material wealth and prosperity generally has nothing to do with force and military might; the State can only destroy and seize things that already exist. It cannot create new wealth; this can only achieved by private owners of capital and voluntary exchange.

At the end of the day, the fact is that the Campus Colony really did pose a threat to the CR, albeit not in the way the the sergeant thought. The threat they held was in the ideas of that population: the CR can’t control people who don’t trust it or believe it’s lies. It can spread this distrust to other colonies and eventually organize a boycott or even a revolution, unseating those in power. Those who want to retain power must suppress these mass movements, and war and complete annihilation is one means the State has long been in favor of. As Murray Rothbard said:

“What the State fears above all, of course, is any fundamental threat to its own power and its own existence. The death of a State can come about in two major ways: (a) through conquest by another State, or (b) through revolutionary overthrow by its own subjects – in short, by war or revolution. War and revolution, as the two basic threats, invariably arouse in the State rulers their maximum efforts and maximum propaganda among the people.”

History Repeats Itself

One is reminded of a previous times in Walking Dead’s history during season 3 with a character named “the Governor”. Rick Grimes and his group come across a society that seems to be, at first, the perfect picture of life after apocalypse. They are a friendly group of people with plenty of food and weapons who follow a smooth talking leader who defends his people from harm while bringing them truckloads of whatever things he and his crew can scavenge.

Later, we realize the facade of this arrangement and that their leader is actually invading and attacking other survivors to steal their supplies and to ensure his supremacy over the other groups in the area. Rick and his group are also attacked, and he convinces his army and citizens that Rick viciously attacked them in the middle of the night without provocation. In actuality, the governor had kidnapped one of Rick’s group and was torturing him for information. Rick had formed an assault team to try to free him from his captivity.

This lying and manipulation of a society in order to achieve the foreign policy goals of a State is common throughout history. The real goals of the leaders are hidden from view, while the public is sold a story of humanitarianism and good will. The innocent bodies created in the wake of the invasions and wars are swept under the rug while the State carries out it’s real, underlying plan of domination, theft, and political upheaval.

Negan, another megalomaniac political ruler later in the series, exhibits many of these same behaviors, although he is at least much more forthcoming to his citizenry/army. He claims they are the “saviors” of humanity and wage their wars to save people from themselves. Only by accepting Negan as their leader and “contribute” to their group in the way of taxation/extortion will they survive.

The Greater Good

At the core of the arguments given why the CR “needed” to slaughter an entire society (one less numerous than it’s own) and sacrifice other individuals along the way when they deemed necessary is that they are achieving a greater good. This is an extremely common excuse given for almost any government created catastrophe. When they blew up the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was to prevent even more deaths from happening with a full invasion. When Mao implemented agricultural laws that killed millions in starvation, it was to achieve the greater good of the communist society. Evil can be good so long as your sights are held far enough in the future towards ambitious goals. Even when Hitler killed all the people in concentration camps, he envisioned the greater good of creating a “superior race” through eugenics and the coercive selection of who lives/dies.

This is a utilitarian approach to ethics. An example of this would be: if 500 people could be saved from a terrible virus by killing 5 innocent people, doesn’t the end justify the means? The greater number of people saved, it is argued, justifies any extent of violence against a smaller group of people. In a world full of billions of people, this concept will inevitably lead to many individuals and their lives being destroyed in the name of some higher purpose and greater good of the many.

Indeed, in Walking Dead: World Beyond, one of the main characters lies, manipulates, and even murders in order to reach their goals. What goals? Civilization! The Future! Mankind’s Salvation! These lofty, yet extremely ambiguous goals are a perfect fit for this sort of utilitarianism above: anything can be justified in the name of reaching them, whatever they are.

In the libertarian, objective ethics world, nothing is justified in the pursuit of any end which violates individual property rights. Not a single person may be sacrificed on the altar of the so-called “greater good” against their will. Weapons which cause collateral damage such as nuclear bombs are not legitimate as, even if they reach the goal of killing some bad people, they harm innocents in the process.

In an economic model called the “world as a telephone box”, we use the example of a world in which there is no room more than an inch between each person. Picture the streets of Tokyo, only everywhere you go on the entire planet. As difficult as it would be to practically maneuver this world and how all the claustrophobic people probably would be extremely anxious, the ethical implications of this thought experiment are instructive. In this world, starting a campfire or firing a nail gun or even using a knife to cut up your dinner would inevitably violate someone else’s property rights. There is no way to do these kind of things without causing harm to and violating the rights of another person.

Luckily, in our world, we have lots of options of how to solve problems without violating property rights. In our earlier example of viruses and saving 500 people by killing 5, we can ask for volunteers. Some people would want to save 500 people by sacrificing themselves, as people do in our world every day, and we can give them the opportunity to come forward. If no one does, what other options do we have? Investigate more, research more, and build up our capital base. People not willing to sacrifice their lives may contribute wealth and charity towards the cause of saving others. Truly, having more wealth and more intellect and more people to dedicate to solving problems can bring about some truly incredible and innovative solutions without having to force anyone to do anything.

What of solutions to military endeavors? Surely there we must make difficult decisions and kill innocent people. But a truly libertarian society would say that the only legitimate weapons are those which pinpoint particular individuals who have committed crimes or who are in the act of or who are imminently about to harm other people. Sniper rifles and other targeted weapons are certainly options. But the truth is we don’t know what kind of innovations people will come up with when it is ethically unacceptable to harm innocents and that approach is no longer an option. We haven’t spent enough time researching these kinds of solutions and coming up with practical applications solely because innocents may currently be harmed with impunity, and little to no consequences are hoisted on those responsible for the deaths. It is an outrage and a travesty all in the name of the greater good, whatever whimsical, superfluous definition of such is being used at that time.

A Mature Society

One of my favorite things about the Walking Dead series is that it tells us truths about societies and politics and offers criticisms that are avoided or quickly dismissed when referring to our own modern societies. For example, it’s pretty clear that Negan is the bad guy in the show, as he runs around with a bat demanding that people give him half of their resources or else they get their face bashed in. The modern form of taxation sounds eerily similar to Negan’s behavior when described in a more honest way: if you don’t surrender 30% plus of your hard earned income to the government, they will come to your house and drag you away to prison to take years of your life away from you and your family. What’s the difference, when we are honest with ourselves?

I think the Walking Dead: World Beyond series has a lot of promise to continue this trend since it relates the story of a much more mature society in this world as the CR represents a general look at a more modern State that emerges from the rubble of the apocalypse. What other similarities will the CR have to today’s modern, monolithic political entities? Stay tuned!

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