Daniel W. Drezner

Dawn of the Theories of International Politics and Zombies

Longtime readers might recall this August post about how international relations theory would cope with a zombie attack, which in turn prompted further blog inquiries from other disciplines.  The trigger for that post was a mathematical simulation by Carelton University researchers that came to a bummer of a conclusion:  An outbreak of zombies infecting humans ...

Longtime readers might recall this August post about how international relations theory would cope with a zombie attack, which in turn prompted further blog inquiries from other disciplines. 

The trigger for that post was a mathematical simulation by Carelton University researchers that came to a bummer of a conclusion: 

An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead…. A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly.

Well, hold everything!  Richard Nielson at the Social Science Statistics Blog alerts us to new research on the matter from Blake Messer: 

The latter problem may be less intuitive so I’ll explain my reasoning: Humans who survive the initial outbreak survive for a reason. Disproportionately, they were faster, smarter, and stronger to begin with than their fallen peers. Even if they weren’t, they were luckier and have probably been able to, at least, find a more defensible location than where they started at round zero of the outbreak, increasing their chances of survival simply by virtue of having survived the early rounds of the outbreak.

So, I constructed a computational agent-based zombie outbreak model to test how my assumptions might alter the solution.

His result seems pretty encouraging:

[T]he [Carelton University] team’s model leaves something more profound out the equation: human capacity for ex-post organization and response. When accounting for these things, I can find scenarios of large initial zombie outbreaks that, when followed by quick adoption of strong anti-zombie defense policies may help pockets, or even large fractions of civilization to ward off the impending doom of mass zombie infection! How exciting!

Phew!!  Sounds like an uprising of the undead won’t be as calamitous as we originally thought. 

Except that then we get to Gabriel Rossman’s sociological take

[If] the Romero movies have taught us anything, it’s that the defensive resources are only effective if they aren’t sabotaged by the internal squabbles of humans. (If you’re not familiar with Romero’s movies, think of what Newman from Seinfeld did in “Jurassic Park”). Thus you’d have to add another parameter, which is the probability in any given period that some jackass sabotages the defensive perimeter, steals the battle bus, etc. If such sabotage eliminates or even appreciably reduces the “safe area” efficacy then human survival in the “safe areas” is contingent on the act of sabotage not occurring….

So a more elaborated model would not only have to add in parameters for spatial heterogeneity, but also human sabotage.

The man has a point.  Indeed, other zombie enthusiasts have made related points: 

[T]he prospect of a zombie apocalypse actually represents a chance to throw off the constrictive fetters of society, shoot your neighbours in the face, steal some guns and a car, and drive off into the sunrise, taking along only those friends and family you trust and care about the most. As such, it represents a simplifying of life.

However, part of what needs to be figured out is whether there is any organizational cohesion in the wake of a zombie attack.  As the Carnegie school of political organizations would suggest, organizations exist in part to compensate for the stupidity bounded rationality of individuals.   Perhaps hierarchy and standard operating procedures in the wake of zombie attacks would help prevent the kind of sabotage discussed by Rossman. 

And yet.  If bureaucratic conflicts and organizational pathologies hamper effective counter-terrorism policies, imagine the effect they would have on anti-zombie policies.  The bureaucratic turf wars would be significant.  Quelling the rise of the undead would require significant interagency coordination.  In the United States, one could easily envisage major roles for the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Health and Human Services.  This does not include autonomous or semi-autonomous agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, and the myriad intelligence agencies.

So the ability of organizations to adapt to an army of the undead is an open question.  Clearly, further research in this area is desperately needed. 

Developing…..

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