All semester I have been returning to Dr. McCoy’s word of caution about the seduction of scorn and by extension, returning to the scorn many communities receive in the wake of natural disasters for not leaving before disaster strikes. To start, I want to go all the way back to the “Dear Facebook Nation” post that Dr. McCoy shared early in the semester, a sort of “listicle” rant to those who pass harsh judgement on individuals who didn’t evacuate the effected areas of Hurricane Irma. These “rules” remind readers of the intricacies surrounding evacuation to remind fellow Facebookers from making scornful, snap judgments about the individuals who decided to stay (and I use the word decided very loosely).
I like balancing this Facebook post with Timothy Brezina’s “What Went Wrong in New Orleans? An Examination of the Welfare Dependency Explanation”. Brezina’s study outlines the “facts” that the Facebook post presumes would qualify someone to pass judgement on people who don’t evacuate. With disaster threats like Hurricane Irma, Brezina asserts that “few events do more to highlight such dependencies” on “family, the economy, civil society, and collective protection.” Zone One becomes an effigy for these events, evoking the language of natural disasters by calling swarms of skels “bad weather” or “water” (155, 227). The text is a blown up image of the familiar and very real disaster accounts we’ve been talking about all semester, allowing us to see the finer, more nitty gritty details surrounding these dependencies that Brezina discusses.
As much as Zone One can be see as an apparent allegory for natural disasters, it can also be seen as a metaphor for generational poverty in the United States. The flippant responses to hurricane victims is often very similar to individuals living in poverty: “If you don’t like it why don’t you just leave?” This response often ignores the pervasive, far reaching nature of poverty, and is often made “without facts” to back it up, as the Facebook post addresses. Poverty tends to touch and affect the very relationships that Brezina brings to the surface about emergency evacuation, like the dependence on the state to provide adequate highway plans that allow laypeople the autonomy to enter and exit their communities at will. Often times, these flippant statements are made by individuals who perceive their autonomy to be autochthonous which disregards the origin of their autonomy, thus making it easy to view impoverished people as “more dependent,” and by extension, more reliant on and burdensome to the state. Zone One draws attention to this fallacy; just as a zombie apocalypse permeates every corner of the world and blurs the lines between state and layperson dependencies, so can generational poverty. The narrator of Zone One reiterates the popular but damaging question by asking, “Why do these yokels build a house there when they know it’s a flood zone, why do they keep building?” as a surviving home gets flooded with skels. Textually, I think this question is directed towards both Mark Spitz and the troop of survivors he hooks up with as well as governmental efforts to resurrect something that resembles the world before First Night. The narrator responds to his own question by stating, “Because this disaster is our home. I was born here” (228). The narrator’s response gets to one root of a multifaceted question: as earthbound survivors in an apocalyptic world where the traditional governmental dependencies have been stripped to their very bare essentials, what else are they supposed to do? Where are they supposed to go? This planet is all they know and all they can access, making any kind of lateral movement away from the ghost of the former society extremely difficult — almost impossible.
I think this interpretation of the quote allows for Whitehead’s metaphor to really flourish in addressing general poverty. When a community is in a perpetual state of dependence where the origins of autonomy are visibly more allochthonous than not (similar to the stripped governmental/layperson relationships in Zone One), upward and outward movement towards what is seen by more “independent” communities as a more virtuous lifestyle can be as difficult as resurrecting an entirely new system of governance for the survivors in Zone One.