Between Darwin and God, bet on God.
The Zombie Apocalypse – during my 2nd Afghanistan tour, my son introduced his mother to AMC’s The Walking Dead. Upon my return, I too received an introduction to the program.
For those who aren’t acquainted with the show, it is based on a series of graphic novels of the same name. The story revolves around the improbable but entertaining premise of a virus infecting the entire human race which re-animates everyone’s corpse after death. Naturally the dead need to feed on the living, thus presenting a hazard to the rest of us.
In short order, the Earth’s population is reduced by 95% with nature aggressively reclaiming the unattended infrastructure of the industrialized and digital world.
Good vs. Good. Evil vs. Evil.
Deer are apparently safe. So are squirrels. And ants. Farm animals don’t need to fear either. The main protagonist is Rick Grimes, the former sheriff of a medium-sized town. He and his ever changing group of companions travel, seek sanctuary, and attempt to establish a safe settlement. They encounter roving bands and fledging settlements running the spectrum between the innocuous and the malevolent.
The Walking Dead addresses the usual philosophical and moral dilemmas, of course. What is the best way to begin re-building? How do we organize ourselves? How do we set legal parameters? What level of justice do we mete out for those who stray too far outside those parameters? My favorite question – “At what level can we sustain ourselves?”
There’s always an elephant.
Before we get into that, let’s address what I think is the elephant in the room: The Zombie Apocalypse is not coming. The most realistic way by which it all crumbles tomorrow is an asteroid punching into the Earth’s crust at 45 miles per second, or a Solar Flair. A Solar Flair would be my bet.
The 1859 Solar Flair knocked out telegraph systems world-wide, throwing up a speed-bump for the fledgling telecommunications industry. Fortunately for the Victorian-era high-tech world, the supporting infrastructure was completely analog. Re-building was comparatively easy.
Not so much today. Not only are the functioning kinetics of the civilized world digital, the supporting infrastructure is also digital, and completely dependent on the transfer of infinite bits of information carried on delicate filaments thiner than a strand of hair.
Rebuilding even a sense of what we depend on today would be monumental, requiring the cooperation and self-sacrifice of millions.
What very few of us think about.
Let’s take a single, obvious example.
This is my vehicle. A 2009 Mercury Mountaineer. You can’t make this. Neither can I.
This is the alternator in my Mountaineer.
This converts mechanical mechanical energy to electrical energy using a rotating magnetic field. We can’t make this either.
Here is a schematic.
This is a Hex Bolt.
Without this, the alternator would fly apart. The Hex Bolt is part of a family of fasteners which include eye-bolts, machine screws, and carriage bolts. Trillions of Hex Bolts, and their various relatives hold our world together. We require hundreds of millions to be manufactured each year to build new machinery or to maintain existing machinery. You, and I do not possess the wherewithal to make a single one. Not a single one. And yet civilization, both East, West, and Third world depends on these to literally hold it together.
There are perhaps a handful of men who could hand forge and thread a Hex Bolt. In a pagan society, such men take their place in the pantheon of the Gods.
Why it’s necessary.
Nature reclaims the Earth pretty quickly. Just ask the residents of Detroit. Or Gary, Indiana. Or any city where Democrats rule. In fact, one of a civilization’s benchmarks is how well it keeps the natural world at bay. Everything from weeding the front walkway to re-painting a suspicion bridge counts.
In the event of a 95% reduction in population, a great deal of industrial cannibalism is inevitable. Those left will use the existing machinery, tools, and supplies immediately of course. It’s the path of least resistance. At the beginning, survivors will look at the seemingly endless inventory with some optimism. That optimism will wane when the first rust spots appear, and then crash when the first vine creeps its way into an abandoned building.
Sure hope Books-A-Million didn’t burn down.
There may still be machine shops around that don’t run on automation, but without electricity, they won’t run period. In order to get us past the point where we are eating dinner by the light of whale oil lamps, and get the machinery running again we are going to have to reach back. Way back. Past the first days of industrialization, past the beginning of interchangeable parts, to right about… here:
Unless of course, the folks who run things already have a contingency and have automated factories under the Rocky Mountains. I’m sure you George Noory types will have plenty to say about that.
The Apocalypse in whatever form it takes, will set humanity back. But the human spirit can overcome significant challenges. I don’t want to be all gloom and doom here. But humanity could recover relatively quickly – decades as compared to the centuries between the Renaissance and the Digital Age. It would be devastating on an individual basis, (that’s kind of why we call it an Apocalypse) and certainly followed by a period of ruthless natural selection. But humanity will survive.
Keep in mind, the period between God giving the go-ahead for hydrogen fusion and the creation of the first microbes was 500 million years. Man’s journey regardless of whether you believe in spontaneous generation, divinely guided evolution, or intelligent design has still been a long slog. With the right leadership, and presuming the smart people survive, setting us back 500 years at this point will be more like setting us back 100 years. Of course Rick and Negan will still have to sort things out.