This week ushers in the start of the fourth season of The Walking Dead and it got me thinking about the conflict between the zombie and non-zombie communities. In The Walking Dead a few survivors are struggling to survive in a world infested with flesh-eating zombies and are forced to decide which fellow humans they should help in a world of very limited resources and flesh-eating undead. Thus a dualism is established of zombie = bad, human=good, along with a healthy dose of prisoner’s dilemma between the remaining humans. This kind of binary thought is common in conflict. While sometimes one side is clearly the aggressor most of the time there are factors that lead groups to be active participants in the chaos that violent conflict generates.
The dualism can be traced back to the prophet Mani and the establishment of Manichaeism which saw the universe as a struggle between the forces of dark and light. This dualism has been adopted by many religions and cultures overtime and poses some problematic political questions. Randy Borum a terrorism expert elaborates, ” When individuals identify a problem, blame another for this problem and view the other as evil, it justifies any actions taken against them.” He goes on to suggest that this is a common pathway that an individual takes in order to justify acts of terrorism. How can you negotiate with flesh-eating zombies? Is there an appropriate policy response? Are we guilty of applying Manichaeism thinking to the zombies? Few conflicts have a clear division of good and bad. For instance who is bad in Syria? The Assad government? The opposition groups? The Russians? The U.S.? The larger takeaway is that in most cases there are interests and there is gray, not black and white…or zombie.