by Jay Wilburn
This is one of the funny things about humans and real life. In many situations we observe, we try to imagine what we would do which leads to us thinking what we would do differently. It is a version of “Monday morning quarterbacking.” We see the consequences of an event and then we backtrack to the moment of decision and try to plot a different, smarter course we would follow. We do this in a comfortable position with time to think, reason, ponder, mull, and reconsider. We do this without the heat of the moment or the pressure of a snap decision. Often, we ignore these facts and still think this calculated plan developed in isolation is the smart thing we would do. Then, we feel far more comfortable criticizing the stupid decisions made by other characters – fictional or otherwise.
Zombie fans get mad when our heroes in stories do stupid things. Entire blogs and articles have been written and rewritten about every episode of the Walking Dead and the stupid things they do. Why aren’t they following basic military protocol and all the best survivalist strategies we have developed over years of thinking about the zombie apocalypse? Why haven’t the preppers survived and these dummies died? You should only go out in pairs. You should set up defenses. You shouldn’t let your enemy bring the fight to where your children sleep. You shouldn’t let certain key people outside the gate. You shouldn’t send out all your best fighters, leaving your home base defenseless. Why are they arguing over stupid stuff when they should be dealing with bigger issues?
Well, there are a few realities to face here. Even if you have a great idea about how to survive, humans have a bad habit of disagreeing with each other. They will not fall into line behind you and sometimes stress on them to the point of life and death decisions does not make otherwise reasonable people more reasonable or more cooperative. Well thought-out rational decisions are probably less realistic most of the time in an apocalyptic scenario. You would likely become the raving lunatic that loses it and points guns at people for not seeing it your way. Peoples’ lives are on the line and this dummy is going to get the people you love killed because he won’t listen. We have seen that Casandra Complex represented in a lot of apocalyptic fiction.
Sometimes you are stupid too and don’t see it because of all the stupid. It’s true. You may have your plans all figured out and then that dummy doing all the dumb things says point 5 of your 7 point plan is a bad idea. How enraging!? You’ve thought this out for years and that guy was pushing a pencil in a cubicle before the zombies came. You might have been in the cubicle next to him, but that is beside the point. People, even ones you hate or think are dumb, have a way of seeing things you miss. If you are convinced you are right, you are more likely to miss the dumb flaw in point 5 and maybe even double down when challenged. They might do the same thing and when you think you see flaws in their points 3, 4, and 6, you are out of your head with frustration at their stupidity. Then, the rest of the group goes along with that pencil pusher’s plan because he has good hair and doesn’t wave his gun in people’s faces like you did that one time you were trying to save everyone’s life. You forget the rule about never going out alone and you storm off to think. Then, a zombie almost eats you. You almost get your ticket punched because you forgot to reload in the heat of that argument, but you barely kill the zombie with a rock before it can bite you. You look around as you catch your breath and are thankful this isn’t a TV show where the audience is judging you on this one moment.
The best prepared sometimes thrive, but other times don’t always make it. Some guy knew you were prepping and tries to break in. There is an exchange of fire. You win, but take one to the knee and your door is compromised. You hold them off as long as you can, but then a zombie is chewing on your good leg while that pencil pusher next door with all the bay windows and no guns and with that frustratingly good hair is strolling up the street with the wrong kind of backpack while the zombies are distracted by all your cussing.
Or maybe you set up a bunker, but catch appendicitis at that moment. One month earlier and you’d have been a hundred percent just in time for the rising. Of all the dumb luck!? Now that guy without a single MRE gets time to figure this stuff out as he goes and changes backpacks while I’m a footnote in episode 4 where the unlikely hero with the good morning hair watches a stranger die delirious with his bunker door open and contemplates the mysteries of life in the apocalypse. Two days later, that girl who sold sunglasses at the Mall and is still walking around in thin strap sandals in the middle of the zombie outbreak strolls into my open bunker and steps over my cleaned bones to find all the weapons, food, and water she could need all set up for her. I even have the survival manuals alphabetized for her. Now she’s sitting in my chair!
Several times in life, I have been in tough spots. Really tough spots. Life was coming apart. Friends and family would give me an ear full of what they would do if it was them. Later, I would witness them in situations I would have considered a fraction of what I went through. Part of me really expected to see them shine. I at least expected some of them to attempt some portion of the bold plan they had laid out for me not long before. Time after time I would see far more of them fold up rather than stand up. The kindest way to say it is that we don’t truly know ourselves until we are tested. And we still don’t fully know ourselves until we are tested again. A less kind way to say it is we are full of crap sometimes especially on the subject of ourselves.
We find the reality different than we expected from the outside. We survive things we never thought we could. We also lose our courage at the very moment we need it most. We may come out the other side more determined to not fail that way again, but the moment of weakness and stupidity sticks with us. We build ourselves up to support ourselves through our mental fears. I would NOT be that stupid, if it was me. But what if we were hungry and cold and our plans fell through? What if it was different than we expected? Or we were overwhelmed and robbed blind. Now we are no better than the dumb guy because we missed that one fatal security flaw. It was right there in front of us the whole time and we missed it. So stupid. What if our children were right there staring at us afraid, cold, and hungry too because we screwed up? I don’t know the next move and they might die because I am so stupid. I might do something desperate, stupid, and dangerous in that moment because I can’t think clearly and can’t let them die because I was stupid. I have to try something. Anything!
That is an interesting story. It is a real story. It is not a story which is solved by the rule of not going out alone or following military protocol with people I have to work together with, but maybe can’t because I don’t trust them around my children. I might misjudge. I might overreact. I might do something else stupid because I am human and flawed.
Think of the three dumbest things you have done in your life. If you can’t think of three good ones, you may be exactly the kind of person to do dumb things in the apocalypse because you are blind to the dumb things you did in the past. If you have your three, think about why you realize they were so stupid looking back now, but didn’t avoid them at the time. Imagine the zombie apocalypse hit during one of those three times when you were blind to where you were going wrong. Your head was in the wrong place and now the zombies rise. Years from now, you might look back on situations at this moment and wish you hadn’t been so stupid. If the apocalypse happens now, you’d be right there in the middle of the stupidity you don’t see and have to figure it all out on the fly with your life on the line. We make dumb choices for love, for fear, for survival, for greed, for all the baggage we carry, for our prejudices, and a hundred other reason which make us human, complex, and interesting. These make great stories of apocalyptic survival too, if we can get past the bias that we would do it better and we would be smarter. During those three dumbest moments of your life, there were people watching from the outside and shaking their heads at you like they were watching an episode of The Walking Dead. If I were him, I would have done it like this …