Mutual Aid

When I was younger the zombie film was my favourite of the horror genre. I particularly liked the George Romero ones which used the medium to convey not so subtle social messages, like consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, or class divides and corporate excess in Land of the Dead.

One message that all zombie films share however is that, in the end, it’s the living that you should be most afraid of. Sure it might be the horde that puts the nail in your coffin so to speak, but it’s more likely that, in the moments leading up to your demise, it was some yet to be undead member of the general public who shuts the door in front of you, pushes you away from the escape hatch, or worse still, throws you overboard in attempt to steal your stuff.

People are evil. Zombies are just on autopilot.

The rationale for this view of humankind is rooted in Social Darwinism. That the zombie world we wake up to find ourselves in is a Hobbesian style state of nature, where it’s a case of “every person for themselves”, and the primordial response that kicks in is one of fear and aggression.

We see this view of people during real world crises too. It’s panic buyers pushing and shoving each other in supermarkets, opportunists increasing prices to take advantage of weakened supply chains, and looters raiding unoccupied shops.

But in reality it’s the exact opposite of these behaviours that are the norm. During a time of crisis people overwhelmingly try to help each other. They engage with their local communities, help vulnerable neighbours, donate to causes and above all, stay calm. In fact, as Rebecca Solnit explains, many people are even able to look back on times of disaster and speak positively about their experience.

In the two years since I moved home I am ashamed to admit I knew only my immediate neighbours. But the coronavirus has changed that. A desire to help people has led myself and others on the street to form a WhatsApp group. We’ve knocked on doors, put up posters, run errands and engaged with local businesses in a way that we didn’t before. At a time of national and international emergency it has been incredibly uplifting.

Despite how it may look, this is not a zombie movie. In actuality the pandemic has brought out some fantastic qualities in regular people across the globe. These behaviours are not unique to a crisis, they are just awoken by one, and would be just as satisfying in our normal lives. And so, when things return to some kind of normality, when we can leave our homes, travel and visit friends again we’ll do well to remember that some great things happened during this time of crisis, things that we would do well to retain, and ideally build upon.

None of us want the world we currently occupy, but that doesn’t mean the qualities in engendered should be left behind too.

Daniel Bower

Blogging about platform regulation: algorithms, interoperability, kill zones as well as other bits and bobs. Read about my research, or read more about me.