Dooms day for mankind has been one of the most famous themes in science fictions whether in movie or in print. Such themes create interesting scenarios on how society would react when it faces extinction. As depicted in the novel World War Z (WWZ), the threat of human extinction was characterized by an infectious disease that turns normal people into flesh eating zombies. Just like most zombie genres, the infection can only be transmitted through biting and perhaps intravenously. Fear factor is also apparent since zombies can only be terminated when their brain is destroyed. The zombie is a picture of resilience, which as depicted in popular culture, “With his dangling stethoscope, or his policeman’s uniform, or his skateboard, he exhibits the pathos of his ex-personhood. He flaps and sighs. He crookedly advances. He’s taking his time. But he’ll get there”. Any attack on the body is deemed insignificant unless the head is decapitated or severed. In real life situations, chaotic circumstances that tend to threaten the existence of a society elicits several varied reactions among its members. An organized resistance is almost certainly a probability. For humans, to fight or flee is determined by the chances of survival and on how the threat is perceived. During the holocaust, for example, most Jews refuse to believe that their lives are in danger. Yet some that are quick to analyze the upcoming genocide were able to flee in safer countries especially in America. WWZ, however, presents a different doomsday scenario. Unlike the holocaust where the perpetrators are humans that are capable to think and device genocidal measures, WWZ’s threat is perpetrated by zombies that act predictably. In this movie, zombies were depicted as mechanical creatures with no emotions and basically unable to think. Their actions are reflexive and involuntary making them looks like feeding machines instead of predators. Even so, zombie genres always results in disasters, implying possible scenarios that could create panic and chaos in human society. Such novels make us reflect how disasters with such extent as depicted in the novel would affect the social order and human behaviors. The importance of studying human behaviors could not be undermined. As noted by Brett and Scott, “Disasters happen all the time; yet despite this, many organizations are caught unprepared or make unrealistic assumptions. These factors create environments that will fail during a disaster”
‘World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War’ was a novel authored by Max Brooks. The book was published in 2006 as a follow up for the author’s previous book ‘Zombie Survival Guide’. The novel was a great read, a significant addition to the growing literature about zombies. The novel was told as seen through actual experience of observers and the narrator of the story who was also one of the main characters. The outbreak was first recorded in China but due to inaccurate information, smuggling, government cover-ups and corrupt practices especially in the medical community, the viral infection spread rapidly across the world. Though the plot and characters are fictitious, it inspires people to reflect on how individuals and society reacts to such great a calamity. The implication of human behavior in such catastrophic scenario is quite obvious. As stated in the novel, “But isn't the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it”. Through the chaotic events, with the help of several heroic individuals, the government coalition devised the ‘Redeker Plan’, a plan that uses human baits and unconventional military undertakings to reclaim areas infested by the zombies. Though the international community was able to contain the viral infection, the calamity has changed the world and its population in such levels that normality could not be fully attained.
Diversity of Human Behavior during Disasters
Catastrophic events results in varied reactions among affected individuals. Based on studies, several factors were identified that leads to the varied reactions among members of the affected community. First, the initial response is determined by the dissemination or non-dissemination of information about the upcoming catastrophe. Obviously, people who are informed are well-prepared and so the element of surprise is eliminated. On the other hand, people who are not informed goes on with their daily lives until the disaster occurs making them more susceptible to panic and other emergent behaviors. Behaviors also differ depending on an individual’s perception of the threat. People who view the threat as an imminent occurrence would make certain precautionary measures while people who perceive the threat as distant would be less worried and is unlikely to make any precautionary measures. In the novel, Israel was the only nation who perceived the zombie threat as real. This enabled them to make precautionary measures as building a wall.
Crowd Behavior during Disasters
Humans, like most species, exhibits crowd behavior. However, behavioral studies focused on big disasters acknowledge that people could not be expected to conform to a certain behavior. Therefore, understanding how humans would react naturally to catastrophic events has become the main study objective. According to experts in emergency planning and safety, “It is more effective to learn what people tend to do naturally in disasters and plan around that rather than design your plan and then expect people to conform to it” . Great disasters have ravaged human civilizations in history. Just recently, the tsunami in Japan, the hurricane Katrina and the typhoon Haiyan are just a few examples of disasters that are enormous and widespread in extent. During such disasters, certain social behavior has emerged that has taken the interest of behavioral scientists. In the novel, there are instances where the narrator observed scenarios of people trying to get even, using the helplessness of others for their own personal motives. Looting was one observable phenomenon during big disasters. Crowd looting has been prevalent and has been documented throughout history. Just recently, the typhoon Haiyan has instigated a similar incident in the Philippines. Looting was also reported in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In a society wherein people are considered as civilized, this phenomenon is quite puzzling yet it does happen in real life. What’s more puzzling is that, in some societies, disasters of similar extent do not elicit a similar behavior. During the tsunami that happened in Japan, no incidence of looting occurred. In the Philippines, it was reported that the looting only occurred in certain places while in other affected places, no incidence of looting occurred. As observed by one respondent, “Still, Ormoc has been largely peaceful, spared the widespread looting that has afflicted Tacloban”. Another prevalent crowd behavior during disasters is panic. In the novel, it is apparent that social ethics and structures break down as a result of a percieved danger or in an already existing danger. Several conditions are identified by behavioral studies that may lead to panic. One is the threat of entrapment . Under circumstances where there is a threat of being trapped, people tend to deviate from social norms and exhibit panic behavior. When escape routes are rapidly closing, the threat of entrapment becomes enormous that panic is becomes an inevitable reaction. Panic intensifies especially in situations where help is not available. This leads to social order break down where people give little regards to authority. Obviously, in such huge disasters such as what is depicted in WWZ, people would do anything to survive. Without any help available, people gets a notion that they are on their own and would rather flee than organize and fightback.
Lack of Authority
The biggest challenge during huge disasters is keeping society’s order. When destruction and panic is all around, it is difficult to maintain the rule of law. During great disasters, most local officials and authorities are unable to perform their duties most especially when they are also affected directly by the catastrophe. When the hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, some police officers refused to act according to their normal duties. This particular scenario has been recorded: “At a drug store on Canal Street just outside the French Quarter, two police officers with pump shotguns stood guard as workers from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel across the street loaded large laundry bins full of medications, snack foods and bottled water”. The incident implies that during great disasters, duty is a matter of personal opinion rather than what is stipulated by law while other just totally abandon their duties for the sake of survival or humanitarian reasons. During an interview regarding why authorities acts as such, one officer commented, “This is the situation we’re in. We have to make the best of it”. This lack of authority leads to chaos and anarchy and it is quite arguable whether a functional government would still exist. In the novel, the extent of damage done by the zombie problem was so widespread that it is unlikely for some government officials to still perform their duty as they did. It seems that higher ranking officials such as those that reside in the Whitehouse and those military officers were not affected by the disaster when in fact; they should have been worried for their own family’s safety.
Forming of Social Bonds
Despite the destruction and panic brought by great calamities and disasters, humans exhibit social behaviors that tend to follow patterns of heroism and solidarity. According to studies, “emergency and disaster scenarios present a consistent picture of the pro-social behavior of individuals. Frequent examples of people helping others, starting with family and friends and extending to the greater community are seen”. In an event of a catastrophe, the devastation is so widespread that help could not come from local communities but rather may come from those areas which are external and most of the time international help is involved (Quarantelli as cited in Gantt, P., & Gantt, R., 2012). Almost automatically, unaffected countries organize and help affected communities during times of widespread disasters and calamities. In an individual level, families ties tend to get stronger when faced with life threatening scenarios. As observed; “Families often delay emergency evacuation until all family members are accounted for and safe” (Perry & Greene as cited in Gantt, P., & Gantt, R., 2012). It shows that disasters only strengthen the bond between family members where it is often desired that they face the threat as a family rather than get separated from each other and increase an individual’s chance of survival.
Heroism and Self-Sacrifice
It is believed that panic behaviors are just short lived. By the time people have already identified and survived the threat, they go back to their normal behavior. During such time, people who strive for high ideals are motivated to help. A catastrophic incident offers an opportunity for heroism and self-sacrifice and most often, humans does not disappoint to exhibit such behaviors. Several people have risked their lives not only for family members but also to stangers during disasters. Volunteerism is a common occurrence where people help others recover from the effects of disasters without seeking any payment in return. It is interesting to note that during disasters, some affected individuals are often times known to extend help. As noted by scholars, “In the most major disasters, the first search-and-rescue efforts are performed by disaster survivors within the community”. Acts of heroism implies that not all elements of society breaks down when it faces great catastrophy. There is an inate good in human beings that encourage them to help others even at the expense of their lives. According to Franco and Zimbardo, “By conceiving of heroism as a universal attribute of human nature, not as a rare feature of the few “heroic elect,” heroism becomes something that seems in the range of possibilities for every person, perhaps inspiring more of us to answer that call”. Human beings are complex individuals that are capable of doing good and evil. As observed by Jones, “The human race includes Jesus and Gandhi but must also own up to the Holocaust, gulags and the Rwandan genocide”.
‘World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War’ provides a clear depiction of the varied response of individuals and communities during times of great disasters. For some, it presents an opportunity to do good while other use it for their own personal motives. As observed in literature reviews, human behaviors in time of catastrophic events vary according to factors such as information dissemination and perception of threat. Divergent behaviors are also present during disasters which accounts to the complexity of human behavior. Some people exhibit panic behavior while others choose to fight and exhibit virtues of heroism and self-sacrifice. It is also observed that social bonds are not broken even though social order collapse. Family bonds are made even stronger while international communities organize and help each other through volunteerism. This unpredictable responses implies that no particular rules would hold during disasters. On a brighter side, it implies that there is always a ray of hope as long as desirable behaviors become the emergent response of the majority.
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