About a week or so ago, a friend of Mazurland alerted me to a report on an academic study of a hypothetical attack upon the human population of the Earth by zombies. The paper explores the likely outcomes of various human responses to such an attack. Mazurland has been on the forefront of warning about the increasing likelihood of an outbreak of zombie-ism. But, regardless of what you think of the chances of such an attack, the paper has value as a mathematical study in epidemiology. Beyond that, the study can be a springboard for meditation about likely human responses when faced with the prospect of a dire threat to the very survival, not only of civilization as we know it, but of the entire human race.
First, a little background, the basics on zombies. Zombies are the reanimated dead, and the idea of the zombie has repeatedly surfaced through much of human history. It matters little how the zombies become reanimated. Zombies are invariably hostile to humans, and indeed attack, bite, and consume parts of the humans they encounter. Humans that are bitten by zombies become zombies themselves. Zombies that are killed by humans do not remain dead, but rise again as zombies. Humans have some advantages over zombies: they can think, plan, act well in concert, and move much faster than zombies. But zombies are relentless and can, to some degree, regenerate their ranks.
The paper uses these basic facts about zombies to set up a mathematical model of the time history of human and zombie populations once zombies make their appearance. And the story the analysis tells is dire. According to the authors' model, under most conditions that they think reasonable to assume, the zombies will eventually win out. Even a model assuming a cure for zombie-ism has the human and zombie populations reaching an equilibrium with the zombies outnumbering the humans. This is because zombies would continue to attack humans, including the cured ones, and zombie numbers would still increase via the reanimation of recently deceased humans. Most scenarios play out like this or worse. The only strategy that seems to work is for the humans to become even more relentless than the zombies.
I have a background in the nonlinear mathematics used in the study, and am therefore in a position to evaluate the study from that standpoint. From a mathematical standpoint the study is flawless. And the modeling assumptions seem reasonable, as well. And so if zombies attack, under the assumptions of the study, unless we humans take quick, decisive action, we're pretty much screwed. The paper tackles some of the "policy options" available to humans, including quarantining infected humans (and only killing them when the infections leads to full zombification), and finds that nearly all options succeed only in delaying the inevitable: the complete zombification of the human race.
There is only one policy that will work in the event of a zombie attack: quick, aggressive, and relentless attacks on the zombies. This seems like a logical and prudent course of action. After all, the zombies are out to feast on human flesh, and kill and zombify everyone they encounter.
Humanity has a remarkable self-preservation instinct when overshadowed by an existential threat. But who will undertake the extermination of the zombies? Our armies are large, but deployed in various war zones, and in any case could not possibly cover the vast land area where people live (and hence, where zombies would feed). Even in a police state with a large army, such as China, the armed infrastructure may just not be enough to suppress an outbreak of zombies. North Korea, with its smaller land area and even larger percentage of state police, may fare better, but their government has already turned that country effectively into a land of zombies.
But what about the West? In some precincts, the army and police make up a tiny percentage of the population, which itself is mostly unarmed. And Europe currently has a poor record in dealing with existential threats. In America, the Army is larger and better armed, but is also busy elsewhere dealing with the West's other existential, but less pressing, threats. Yet while some parts of our society seem ready to resign their only means of defense, thankfully there is a large segment of our population that takes the zombie threat seriously, and is ready to take them on.
[HT - Tara]