The politics of the zombie apocalypse

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo hosted a talk that was topical, but nonetheless of the utmost importance on Oct. 26, as Daniel W. Drezner gave the “signature” lecture on zombies, the G20 and international relations.

The author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, MA. His lecture at CIGI was based off of his book, which explores international relations supposing that the dead have begun to walk the Earth, hungry for human flesh.

“I particularly liked that as we were making the arrangements for this lecture, I was told this was the signature lecture on zombies, the G20 and global governance — because that implied that there had been previous lesser lectures,” Drezner began his talk, which focused on different theories of global politics including realism, liberalism and neo-conservatism would react and fare were the zombie apocalypse to occur tomorrow.

“World politics as we know it is really all about trying to find security in an insecure world,” he continued, noting the wrath of nature that through earthquakes, tsunamis and other phenomena has posed threats to global order. “These are all natural sources of fear, but if you take a look at the cultural zeitgeist, there’s clearly an unnatural fear that’s barely spoken about or just now being spoken about. Of course you know what I’m talking about, I speak of course of zombies.”

The immediate reaction to an outbreak of zombie activity would be crucial if the timeline of a typical zombie movie is to be considered.

“If you take a look at the zombie canon, all the movies out there, they all follow the exact same trope, the undead are introduced in minute one and by minute ten, everyone is living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland,” Drezner explained, through use of clips from a smattering of films. “This is a very serious problem, even if there is only a remote possibility of zombies actually being created, the outcome is so horrific that we need to figure out what to do.”

Throughout the lecture, while using the examples of zombies elicited laughter and applause from the audience of around 200 people, Drezner was careful to include tangible international relations and political theory context for the circumstances attached to this admittedly unlikely situation.

“You might remember that about five years ago former [U.S.] Vice-President Richard Cheney argued that if there was even a one per cent chance of al-Qaida launching a terrorist attack on American soil, the U.S. would be obligated to launch any and all available countermeasures to stop that attack from taking place,” he said. “Even if the odds were only one per cent, the outcome was so precipitously bad that it was worth investing a fair amount of energy to stop it.”

“I’ll acknowledge that the likelihood of an al-Qaida terrorist attack is much larger than the likelihood of zombies actually existing and eating us, but let’s say there’s a 0.001 per cent chance of some freak accident in a government lab triggering something really bad.”

After the lecture, Drezner said that he was not particularly familiar with the zombie genre prior to the book and a blog post he wrote that spawned it, with his attention drawn by an article by a University of Ottawa math professor, Robert Smith?

“I read the article and there was no politics in it. It generated a lot of response and I didn’t think I could do anything with it, but then I realized it actually works as a book, it doesn’t work as an article obviously but it works as a book,” he explained, having noted that the book has shown up on the reading lists for some undergraduate political science courses in the U.S.

“Let’s say your average 18-year-old, if they’re confronted with a traditional [international relations] text their eyes might start to glaze over,” he said. “I kind of think of this as a gateway drug, getting them hooked initially and then really getting them on the crack of quality international relations theory.”

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