the human factor

Sun Nov-12th-2006 // Filed under: Words

I just finished reading The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead, by Max Brooks. Obviously, this is a tremendously important book. It tells you how to protect yourself and your family from the living dead, starting from the simple and obvious lessons, such as “don’t try to engage them in hand-to-hand combat” all the way to the big questions, like how to survive once civilization has self-destructed in the wake of the inevitable zombie apocalypse. It deals with weapons and tactics and gives excellent advice on all aspects of survival.

Except one — and that is a glaring and shocking omission.

As useful as the book is, it glosses over perhaps the most important survival lesson of all. I don’t know whether this is because Brooks assumes that it’s so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated, or perhaps because he lacks the stomach for covering it. I’m talking about the human factor. Certainly, when surrounded by zombies, the practical issues involve neutralizing the threat and/or escaping from the area. But what about afterwards — what about when someone has been bit, or when you encounter your best friend among the walking dead?

The psychological pressure of encountering a mass of zombies is staggering as it is, and Brooks merely talks about taking leadership classes and studying psychology in passing. This is a grave omission, because what the survivors of a zombie encounter absolutely have to understand, accept and — without hesitation — act on is the simple fact that the enemy is no longer human. Even if the zombie was only an hour ago your lover, your child, your parent or your sibling, you absolutely cannot hesitate. If it’s any consolation, you can rest assured that the zombie feels no pain when you put it down.

In the same vein, the book really should discuss the issues of psychological weaknesses and the impact stress can have on a person’s judgement. In a crisis situation, when people feel that they’ve lost everything, often what they have left takes on a disproportionately important role in their minds. Pets, for example, may become central to their existence, and if that pet is somehow threatened, the owner may become completely irrational and oblivious to the danger that seems obvious to a survivor who is in better control of his faculties. This is an understandable reaction, and in a better world and a less dangerous situation, it could be let run its course… but when you are under attack by the shambling hordes of the undead, that is not a luxury your group can afford.

In many documented cases, survivors have wandered off from a safe area in search of their pets, only to return as one of the enemy. Likewise, many people have recognized a loved one in the group of zombies and allowed them to enter the stronghold, fully believing that they will not be harmed — with entirely predictable results. The wishful urge — which may sometimes go so far as to lead to a survivor imprisoning a former loved one in the insane hope that he or she might somehow turn back into a human being! — is understandable, but it is essential for survival that it be crushed immediately. When someone has been bit, there is no hope. They are essentially dead. Naturally, while they are still capable of rational thought, they should be treated with respect and humanity. Absolutely. But let there be no pretense that they will not turn, or that they might retain any of their humanity afterwards. They will turn, and when they do, they hunger.

It should be accepted that some people are simply not mentally equipped to deal with these situations. Denial is a staggeringly powerful psychological force that can defy any amount of reason and logic. One should never just assume that everyone in a group of survivors understands and accepts the harsh realities.

People who show any symptoms like this should, at the very least, be directly and uncompromisingly explained the realities of the situation. Unless you are absolutely certain that they understand and accept them and are capable of acting in a rational manner, they must be restrained — or, if the circumstances require it, eliminated.

This is harsh, absolutely. It’s also unfair. But it must be done. Not only does it set an example to everyone else, it is also vital for the survival of the group. Don’t kid yourself: you cannot take the chance. My considerable personal experience with zombies has shown time and time again that letting those who compromise the group’s security run loose is simply suicidal. With zombies, you just don’t get any second chances. Do not let some weak or insane fool run rampant and doom you all.

I’m angry and shocked that Brooks doesn’t address this vital issue at all in a book that could otherwise be considered an exemplary guide to surviving the hordes of living dead that may come at any moment. Still, I have to admit that this unfortunate omission notwithstanding, The Zombie Survival Guide is the definitive book on the subject.


  1. It is good news that this kind of information has been put within the reach of the ordinary citizen. For example, Daniel Wilson’s book How to Survive a Robot Uprising also gives us some essential survival information, like:

    “KEEP YOUR HAIR SHORT AND YOUR CLOTHES TIGHT – To consider the alternative, imagine getting your hair caught in the garbage disposal.”


    Comment by lasse — November 13, 2006 @ 1163412312

  2. I welcome you to the group of most likely survivors. I myself got the book a little less than two years ago as probably one of the best presents I’ve ever got, and read it with gusto.

    One question though: Have you, or have you not made the necessary preparations described in the book for the possible event of invasion by the undead?

    Comment by Janne — November 13, 2006 @ 1163419771

  3. Oh, no, I haven’t. So, y’know, uh, once the dead start walking, there’s no reason to try and follow me to my secret ultrasafe hideout where I and my nearest and dearest can survive indefinitely.

    Because, y’know.

    It doesn’t exist.

    Comment by Mikki — November 13, 2006 @ 1163420943

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Copyright © Mikko Rautalahti, All Rights Reserved
WordPress makes with the publishing.