Zombies on a Runaway Train

If you’re looking for a quick metaphor to encapsulate the current state of western civilization, or what passes for it, I put it to you that this is it. A lot of people particularly in the corporate media and government talk about the ship of state, as if there’s some kind great dignity attached to what James Madison described as defending ‘the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ The idea of a ship of state suggests a captain, someone capable in charge and making sure everything is shipshape.

But how much of what passes for western civilization is shipshape, really? Is it more shipshape than not? And if it’s not more shipshape than less, how can we reasonably assume that anyone is really in charge? The simple fact of the matter is that we can’t. The simple fact of the matter is that no one is in charge, and the ship of state is under the command of a drunken skipper who likes playing slalom with the icebergs, to paraphrase Will Hunting.

What’s the skipper’s poison then? Beer? Unlikely. Whiskey? Vodka? Rum? Maybe. What about money? Too much alcohol is poisonous. Someone was saying the other day that too much sugar is poisonous because excess consumption leads to heart disease. Take anything else that gives you a disease and you’d assume you’d been taking something toxic. Anything in excess can be toxic. Why not money? Why can’t too much money give you heart disease? You get too attached to your money and the next thing you know you’re browbeating the millions who are impoverished so that you can be privileged for being lazy.

What if economic monopolies are inherently toxic? What if they poison whoever comes into contact by virtue of the toxic effects of attachment to privilege and disengagement from the world outside of privilege? What if the power imbalances great wealth imbalances create are toxic? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely after all; doesn’t matter whether said power is public or private. Power is power is power after all.

What if the skipper of the ship of state is drunk on the immense status and power afforded him as Grand Protector of the gold being transported in the hold down below. If he’s playing slalom with the icebergs, surely sooner or later he’s going to hit one? What if Iraq was an iceberg? What if Afghanistan was an iceberg? What if Syria will be another iceberg? Looks to me like maybe that ship of state is taking on a bit of water.

And that may well not be its only problem either. What if the rest of the crew has been poisoned by the gold down in the hold as well? What if the entire crew and the captain who is already drunk anyway go down with the gold fever the same as they might go down with salmonella poisoning? The entire crew is out and nobody’s running the ship. What if the gold fever is a sickness that gives rise to paranoid hallucinations of evil, projected onto anyone perceived to be a threat to the precious cargo? We won’t let anyone do you any harm, my precious.

If the gold fever takes over the crew then they will not only be out for the count – they’ll also be subject to paranoid hallucinations. What if evils want to redistribute precious. If money is power and power corrupts, and the things we own end up owning us — those things including money — then it follows that we become the slaves of our own corruption. If we try somehow to run the ship of state while possessed by the gold fever that makes us slaves of our own corruption then it makes far less sense to talk about a ship of state than it does a ship of fools.

And doesn’t a ship imply too much freedom anyway? If it’s the ship of fools being skippered by a drunk captain and a crew poisoned, corrupted and essentially possessed by the toxic cargo, those who own the precious cargo aren’t going to let a drunk skipper sink the ship with their precious on board. No; what if the ship of state is actually more of a freight train? If the cargo is still the same then the conditions must still be the same. We should assume the engineer, firemen, brakemen and the conductor all have the gold fever, are sick, are possessed by the precious, and are incapacitated.

If that’s the case then that sounds to me like zombies on a runaway train. The thing about that to my mind is that there’s no point trying to replace the crew, because a new crew will just pick up the toxins from the cargo again and the problem will repeat itself. The other problem there is that the train is only designed to go in one direction, and that’s to Protect the Minority of the Opulent Town, with one stop at Fuck The Rest of Youville, except they never even stop there because, well, fuck the rest of you.


You might as well hand your carkeys to a pilot and ask him to fly you home; that’s not going to happen, because the car is only designed to do one thing. And so the train is only designed to do one thing, follow the tracks around to Protect the Minority of the Opulent Town. Except this time things have gotten so bad that it’s not even going to stop there either. It’s going to crash there and a lot of zombies are going to have a really bad time when there’s a big old runaway train careering right at them. So somehow, the train has to be stopped. The zombies running it aren’t to be reasoned with or replaced. What to do?

That’s for all of us to figure out together, but for starters it may not hurt to put on our Big Courage hats and remember with Basil King to be bold, for mighty forces will come to our aid.

Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).