During the presidential debate last night, John McCain came out, to the surprise of absolutely no one (but to the chagrin of many), in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court desicion which gave women the right to abort a fetus, up until the point when the fetus becomes “viable” (insert your own value for “viable”, and, er, have fun with that one around the water cooler). In the course of defending his position, he uttered the phrase “I support the rights of the unborn.”
Fair enough, Senator, but this begs the question: what about the rights of the undead?
This is a complex issue, my friends, and one that no amount of eye-winking, eye-blinking, eye-rolling, or even eye-gouging will sweep under the rug. One would think that John McCain, particularly, would be attuned to this hot-button issue in the geek community.
As always, we must start at the beginning, and consider some fundamental, if perhaps ultimately unanswerable, questions: When, percisely, does un-death begin? Is it at the point of infection? That is, as soon as an individual is bitten? Does the undead come into its own only after the infection has started to take its course, and the skin turns an ashen gray? Or does one have to wait until the zombie in question is actually attacking a living being in order to spring into action, chainsaw (or axe, or lawnmower, or blender, or—my favorite—machete) in hand?
Cases have been recorded, for example, of people taking matters into their own hands as soon as they are infected, and instead of waiting to become that which they hate and fear, have decided to end their own life (often quite violently, sometimes with great fanfare and always with unbelievable gore) before becoming a danger to their loved ones. This clearly denotes some capacity for rational thought post-bite, if only for a limited time. Alternately, there have been instances of so-called “domesticated zombies”: undead beings that have been either drugged, chained, electronically controlled, or otherwise subjugated into being lab rats, servants, or even life companions (which makes for another sticky values issue in and of itself, albeit one outside the scope of this post).
Even after initial infection, and well after the onset of undeath, the moral quandaries persist. Are the undead considered persons under the U.S. Constitution, or should the law of the land simply consider the strictest definition of the term “re-animated corpse”? If they are to be considered persons, what—if any—rights are the undead entitled to? Life? Certainly they’ve no use for that, by virtue of their very condition. But liberty and the pursuit of happiness are still on the table. Liberty to roam the countryside in search of sustenance? To the undead, happiness is a warm brain (to ham-fistedly paraphrase a much more gifted wordsmith than I), so: At what point does the incessant hunger for brains infringe upon living beings’ right to not have their own brains munched on?
There are no easy answers to the moral and legislative dilemmas posed by a zombie outbreak. But the lack of attention that this subject has received throughout the presidential campaign is alarming, indeed. These questions should not be left to the last minute, once the hordes are upon us, and we’re all in dire need of a quick and easy bailout. It’s late in the election cycle, and the moment of truth approaches. Even so, I call upon the presidential candidates to address this issue at a venue of their choosing (perhaps a town hall-style meeting, where the candidates can field questions from experts?). If we’re prepared beforehand, armed with a comprehensive plan for how to contain and handle a zombie outbreak, there is no reason that being overrun by hordes of the undead should become yet another national crisis. The living dead can be perfectly manageable, if you’ve got a plan.
For a little while, at least. Let’s not kid ourselves here: nothing can stop the inexorable march of the living dead, really. While we wait for the nation’s politicians to come up with some answers, we, the alpha geeks of Tor.com can help with our expert advice! What are your thoughts on the zombie controversy? Comment away. In the meantime, I’m going to the hardware store to stock up on machetes.
[Zombie illustration is actually a four foot by eight foot woodblock print, carved and printed by the author of this post. There’s your undead cred, right there.]