Yesterday we went wandering in the candy shop, remember? Everything is at our disposal but now the real hard question comes: what do we want? One person might mindlessly indulge in whatever comes first, fearful of the possibility that it will be taken away, another would scrupulously try her best to pick the best one. Some will be abstaining from the candy altogether, suppressing the internal urge to indulge. But are these real desires? Why do we desire what we desire? Are we actually after that candy or the desire itself is the object of our craving? If the latter, we are doomed as we will never be able to satisfy the craving, no matter how many candies are eaten, we always will experience the lack therefore hunt for new sources of pleasure to fill the gap.
The contemporary machinery of western civilization is powered by our desire to desire. It is not interested in what we desire but merely in the process itself turning us into consumers rather than makers. The zombie metaphor comes in handy to illustrate what is happening. It will help us see how alarming and absurd our existential condition is and perhaps even inspire to reconsider our relationship with desire.
Cognitive scientist John Vervaeke beautifully wiggled zombies into contemporary discourse around meaning crisis. He looks at “the essential features of the zombie, including mindlessness, ugliness and homelessness and argues that these reflect the outlook of the contemporary west and its attendant zeitgeists of anxiety, alienation, disconnection and disenfranchisement”. The zombie represents loss of meaning. They can’t speak, hear or feel, they have the most capacity of meaning-making. The only thing they can do is to eat and consume, and even more so they feed on brains, an essential tool for meaning-making, which they lack by definition. Zombies drift around, without purpose or meaning, without home and place of belonging. Nobody waits for them, nobody needs them. They have no superpowers, they don't even represent any divine force. Zombies are complete failures without dreams or aspirations, drifting around self-unaware and disconnected from themselves or others. Important detail that adds to the parallel we are drawing is that zombies are communal monsters, they drift in groups, longing to belong to each other, next to each other but are not able to connect as they lack all the tools to do so. There is no future in zombie narratives, it never takes us anywhere, it just unfolds into nothingness, nobody can escape the curse.
I think what we are facing today is a gradual transition into a zombie-like state caused by a complex set of issues. We are feeding on desire but freezing when someone asks “What do you want?”. When I face a question like this, the inability to find an answer is worrisome. How can I constantly want something, think recognition, validation, escape, comfort, candy etc. and at the same time have no answer to what I actually want. In those moments of stutter, a beam of light shines through, a zombie starts to dream, the vision is still vague and difficult to remember but something starts to appear. And who knows maybe there is a chance that for once a zombie will wake up and break the spell.