Living Like Happy Zombies
Yes, it’s painful to realize the truth but its better than living like you’re on the Truman Show and pretending that it’s normal.
By Andrea O’Ferrall
Jessica Wildfire wrote a piece entitled Good Men and Women Are Doing Nothing, And it Shows.
A reader, Brian Austin, highlighted ‘everything from climate to the economy is going down in flames, and most people out there are completely ignoring it, at least over here in suburban America. They can’t be bothered.’
He added, “Perhaps it’s more than just ‘can’t be bothered’. I have a suspicion that (for want of a better term) ‘the American way’ in 2022 puts so many Americans under enormous pressure.
Is it any wonder that ordinary Americans just don’t have the time, energy, or desire to ‘fight’ things that perhaps they feel are beyond their control?
Maybe most ‘good men and women’ in America are just … spent out, exhausted, pacing themselves, just to get up and do it all again tomorrow.”
I’ve heard the ‘spent out and exhausted’ argument before, but aside from exhausted teachers, working with stressed out, anxious, depressed children, I don’t agree that the reason for ignoring the problem is exhaustion.
I responded to his comment with, ‘I talk with people about this all the time. Many people really don’t realize how bad things are. Last week the icebreaker question at a meeting I attended was ‘where would you like to travel if money were no object.’ The discussion went on and on. I finally wrote in the chat that because of the climate and ecological crisis I am not flying any more and instead enjoying staycations gardening and bicycling. You’d have thought I was from another planet.’
So why Happy Zombies? People seem to be going through the motions of a normal life doing a lot of ignoring. I’m sure there’s a psychological term for it, compartmentalization? Know that there are problems, but just ignore them if it makes you feel better.
People ignoring the suffering around us are definitely zombies, but maybe not even happy. They just have the feeling, the belief that they will be if they just buy this thing, make that change or go to that place they will be happy. Capitalism is intrinsically futuristic. The need for growth, accumulation, and investment come with an unspoken assumption — that tomorrow will be different, and probably better, than today.
But today we have heatwaves, fires, floods, droughts, the ‘something we can do about them’ is totally change the way we live. We have to start somewhere. We have to start now.
I write a lot about flying, but it’s not as if I think that flying is the biggest problem, or that not flying will solve the climate crisis. It’s just something we have control over. We can decide NOT to take that vacation. Instead of having your mind focused on drinking cappuccino in Milan, focus on helping to create 15 minute communities, sharing resources, getting to know our neighbors. We can focus on wrapping our minds around creating a future that is much less energy intensive and more fair.
At the next Participatory Budget meeting I’m going to bring this icebreaker sharing up again. I’m going to remind my fellow participants that we are in an ecological and climate crisis. These are people wanting to do good in the community by taking part in participatory budgeting. Yet they don’t seem to understand that our house is on fire. I’m spending my life listening to change makers and sharing what I learn. I’m hoping to get more people to stop being happy zombies.
I see Happy Zombies at Safeway and Starbucks — no thought of what happens to that disposable cup when they throw it in the trash, no thought that EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic.
The other day I thought I’d get a baguette, since all other the bread in the store was wrapped in plastic. To my horror, all the baguettes were wrapped in plastic that was the color of the brown paper bag that it should have been in, with a clear strip on the side to make the bread more visible. I said something to a couple what was shopping near me. They laughed nervously, said ‘yes, everything is wrapped in plastic,’ and continued shopping. I left the store dismayed and disgusted.
Yesterday my son came home from a bakery with a piece of cake in a plastic clamshell. These are not recyclable. They are EVERYWHERE. Happy Zombies don’t seem to notice. My son is, unfortunately, a bit of a Happy Zombie himself.
What do we do, write letters to Safeway, to Target telling them to stop? Do I take out that bread maker I bought at a garage sale 5 years ago and actually bake my own bread? Please watch 2021 documentary The Story of Plastic if you are not a Happy Zombie, are aware of the problem and want to learn more.
I personally am going to fight against cruises. Why cruises? Because they are a luxury that we can do without.
The argument for keeping to business as usual is always about jobs and the economy. One of my favorite lines from the movie Don’t Look Up was, “I’m for the jobs the comet will provide.” That is the number one line of the Port of Seattle and the cruise industry, just substitute cruises for comet. I live near the Salish Sea. Protecting it is the most obvious way to make a stand. Besides, anyone taking a cruise has got to be a Happy Zombie.
We need to figure out a way to live beyond capitalism. We are an intelligent species. We can do this. Kate Raworth, Charles Eisenstein, and Giorgos Kallis are three writers, researchers, economists working on this. Time banks and sharing economies moving forward. Pushing the fringe to the center.
I just finished attending a Bioneers conference. This year it was hybrid with folks participating both from San Francisco and on the web. The organization was started in 1990 to begin working on how to heal the earth and society. Change is brewing. Alternatives to colonial capitalism look more appealing than the dysfunction we are living with now. We just need to awaken the Happy Zombies. (More about the Bioneers later.)
I always hear people in one industry making excuses and pointing to another. Our industry is only ‘this small portion of emissions.’ We need to stop thinking this way. Let’s stop shifting blame and acknowledge we need to do whatever we can.
I watched a project drawdown video in their Climate 101 series. The video highlighted the Worldwide Sources of Greenhouse Gases: Electricity Production 25%, Food, Agriculture and land Use 24%, Industry 14%, Buildings 6% and Other (primarily the energy industry) 10%.
Sometimes one can get lost in the numbers. I don’t need any more numbers to tell me to take care of the insects by planting native plants and supporting pollinators. I don’t need cruise industry statistics to know that floating cities are not sustainable. The Salish Sea is in trouble and it deserves everything we can do to protect it.
What do I need to survive? A roof over my head, love and friendship, a purpose and of course healthy food and clean water. Humans have lost sight of their place in the scheme of things. It’s been this way for a long time. Happy Zombies are the latest form of denial. Let’s hope we can help them snap out of it before it’s too late. We need their help.
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