A zombie novella I pulled together while musing about some debates I saw raging on a forum recently. So many people these days like to focus on if something is “right”, or “fair” or “good”. I don’t argue politics, but occasionally I ponder philosophy. There’s so much dramatic juice in questions like this.
A recent one that I’ve seen pop up involves self-drive cars; vehicles that are controlled by a computer driver instead of a human. The question goes something like this; the computer’s programmed to drive safely, and to preserve the life of its occupant(s). If the car is put into a situation where it has to change course (swerve, whatever) in order to avoid an accident that’s likely to be fatal to its passengers, how should it be programmed to ‘choose’ its evasive maneuvers? Does it hit another vehicle; putting that one in danger? What if the only available evasion is to run through a sidewalk where people are standing? The popular thought exercise at this point is to postulate a school bus stop of children standing there; because philosophical arguers love to put children in the mix.
One of the many things I love about zombie apocalypses is they offer so many scenarios where this kind of thing becomes an actual relevant debate; not an idealized argument but one that will have actual consequences once decided. How do you share supplies among groups (competing or friendly) of survivors? Do you allow unknown survivors into your group or camp, when doing so might risk internal attacks or one of the newcomers later converting to a hungry undead? How far out on a limb will you go to help someone else; and is it selfish or wrong to refuse assistance?
These are fun questions to play with in stories because, in current day situations, the answers are more or less obvious. Take rendering of aid; just about everyone will agree that Heaven and Earth should be moved to help victims of disasters or plague or whatever. An earthquake or tsunami hits, and donations pour in from around the world. Ice storm wrecks a region’s power grid; neighboring locales dispatch their utility crews to pitch in. A child goes missing; television and radio and digital billboards start interrupting normal broadcasts to alert everyone just on the off chance someone watching or listening knows something about it.
But insert zombies and the end-of-the-world in the mix . . . fun times. Well, not really; but for readers, yes. Drama comes from conflict, and it’s always more involving when the conflict is something you can relate to. Should I split my four days of food with another survivor? Should I leave the safety of my secure hideout to help them search for their missing loved one?
Or, as in Us or Them, do we offer some medical supplies when we only have a limited amount, and there’s no telling if we’ll ever find any more?
What would you do? If you live, were you right? If you die, were you necessarily wrong? Does morality still play a factor when mortality is on the line?
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