As a writer, I contemplate a shutdown at least monthly, if not weekly or even daily. It would, after all, be so much easier not to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. My characters don’t cooperate and my plots spiral out of control. Things aren’t going my way. Why shouldn’t I shut down?
Here’s what happens if I quit: nothing good. Whether you’re a struggling writer or the government of the United States, a shutdown creates absolutely nothing except bad feelings. We need to put stuff out there. We need to not shut down, because when we shut down, the horror that is nothing happens. When we shut down, we cease to produce but continue to consume.
As living creatures, we are by definition consumers. We have to consume in order to survive, but we’ve reached a consumption/creation imbalance. Tuberculosis used to be called “consumption,” and now consumption of a different sort has again become a disease.
it’s fitting that we’ve become obsessed with zombies. They’re excellent cultural barometers, reflecting what we most fear. The original voodoo zombies hinted at our fear of people who aren’t the color of bandaids. As we discovered how to kill each other more efficiently with bombs, our zombies were created by nuclear waste. Now they’re the product of disease–the global pandemics we’re learning to fear as we become increasingly in contact with each other but not much more connected to each other. All these fears reflect what’s darkest in us–the fear of the other, of our own capacity for self-destruction through our own creations, our fear of being destroyed from within.
In one of the great zombie fallacies, they seem to be capable of infinite consumption without even producing waste. They just eat stuff forever. They are scary because they are people who eat people. They are us, devouring ourselves, attempting to fill a need that’s become so detached from necessity that it’s a need in name only. They are people who have ceased to be human because they don’t create anything but fear. I wonder if the success of zombie movies, shows, and novels is due in part to the fact that we have become zombie-like in our constant, unproductive consumption.
The destructive implications of consumption are everywhere, from our environment to our culture. I see it even in the arena of motherhood, which can get darn near gladiatorial. We mommies are way too quick to hate on the creators among us. We diss the moms who have clean houses or fit bodies or cool hobbies or bake stuff from scratch. We categorize other moms in a million articles that talk about the mommy-wars and how the hippie moms and the cool moms and the artsy moms and athletic moms all need to just get along, as if there was a mom on this planet who was merely any one of those things. When we impose those categories, we destroy rather than creating because, like all stereotypes, they wound. We fling compliments like weapons, suggesting that a mom who’s good at something has all her other priorities out of whack. We hate on the creators, and we distance ourselves from them, insisting we don’t have the time or they’re somehow not subject to the same real problems that we are.
It isn’t just the mommies who are doing this. It’s all of us. Every time we censor art; every time we level at a writer the weak criticism “This book was a waste of my time” (who held a gun to your head and made you read it?); every time we insist that all those Republicans/Democrats/gays/Mexicans/Asians/women/men/little boys/little girls/introverts/extroverts/etc. are all the same/are all wrong/caused the problem/all act alike, our words begin to sound like the ravenous moanings of gaping mouths. Our public discourse becomes, in Macbeth’s words, “a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.”
We move farther into the mindlessness of consumption all the time. We suck down resources we don’t need, demanding more. We disconnect from each other, just trying to fill the unfillable void. It feels hopeless to try to connect; after all, we’ve democratically elected a government that’s shut itself down rather than roll up its sleeves, get its hands dirty, and actually make something work. Yes, it’s our fault for electing them, but what options did we have? By the time the decision comes “to the people,” it’s often been narrowed down to a false dichotomy–two choices, neither of which really represents any of us. It’s confusing. It hurts to think about it, so we don’t. We consume more, trying to make the confusion and hurt go away.
Consumption is easy, mindless. Creation is difficult, and it requires much of us. But the further we slide from creators to consumers, the greater the danger that we will become more mouth than spirit, our humanity shut down.