Zombies Show the Limits of Our Ethics
I’m glad to see Rose Woodhouse giving philosophers a good name by discussing the permissibility of killing zombies. It’s an important question, not because zombies might actually exist, but precisely because they represent what our ethical theories typically frame as non-existent and therefore ignore or exclude. When zombies meander hungrily within our ethical horizons, even if only in our imagination, our ethical thought is faced with its own limitations. I imagine Derrida would have liked zombie narratives for just this reason.
My favorite zombie moment may be from a Halloween episode of The Simpsons. Zombies have overrun the city of Springfield. The Simpson clan, led by a shotgun-armed homer, flee their house. As they approach their car, their neighbor and Homer’s nemesis Flanders appears and, if memory serves, says something about nibbling Homer’s ear. Homer blows him away. “Dad, you killed Zombie Flanders!” Bart says, astonished. “He was a zombie?” Homer asks.
The scene is funny because in the real world of The Simpsons, Homer despises Ned Flanders and is obsessively resentful of Flanders’ success, life, and happiness. He wouldn’t kill Flanders, not in any normal circumstance, but then a zombie apocalypse ain’t normal. It’s a disaster that’s not part of “the plan,” as the Joker in The Dark Knight would say, and so people panic and forsake their morals to an extent they wouldn’t when faced with a horror that at least makes sense in light of history or normalcy. Wars, poverty, Republicans–these evils happen and are expected, and ethics can chart discernible courses in view of them. Zombies don’t happen, except when they do and all hell breaks loose. Then we find out how limited and frail our ethical systems really are.