Monsters go through vogues. Their peaking popularity reflects society’s contemporary preoccupations. Frankenstein’s monster spoke to the fear of the march of science. Godzilla emerged from the radioactive ruins of the atomic bomb. Dracula thrived in an atmosphere of concern about sexual permissiveness.
The twenty-first century monster of choice is the zombie. The undead lurch or run through shopping centres and sporting stadia. They stagger towards the local pub – hungry, not for chicken in a basket, but for brains. Zombies provide shotgun-fodder for computer gamers around the world.
Why are zombies so popular? And why now?
The truth is that they reflect our fear of societal breakdown. In zombie films and games, we flirt with the idea that the balloon has gone up, meaning that we have to fend for ourselves in isolation. They give us permission to take out our frustrations on everyone else. All the social bonds have loosened, so we can grab a baseball bat and get busy.
Well, society hasn’t broken down, but any thinking person has to be rattled by what’s happened to us over the last few years. In particular, we seem to have lost faith in the ‘invisible hand’. This was Adam Smith’s concept: by seeking the best returns for ourselves, we benefit the whole of society. This no longer feels true. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Money, it seems, runs uphill. There may be a long tail, but if so, it’s very close to the ground.
We do have a hugely dedicated voluntary sector, of course, and countless individuals are working hard to improve the glue that joins us all together.
But elsewhere the reputations of some of our most important organisations stand in grave danger. How can a business claim Corporate Social Responsibility on the one hand and engage in backhanders or phone hacking or market manipulation or laundering dirty money or unfair employment practices or tax avoidance on the other?
On the face of it, these issues are systemic and overwhelming. But Tim Drake’s book, How to Make a Difference, contains a radical idea. We can each – individually – make a difference at work and through work. This goes way beyond signing up for a CSR programme; it means creating our own programme. The book sets out many examples. Each month, this blog will too.
We can change the world around us, for the better. We are not powerless. And we – absolutely, positively, definitively – don’t have to be zombies.