Rousseau proposes in the Emile that it would be a good idea to guide young people to think about the Robinson Crusoe scenario. If you were stuck on a deserted island with minimal materials and tools, what would you do? What would you need to know how to do?
We aren’t entirely without that precise story in our day, but it is much less common, much less intriguing to us somehow. Instead, we have zombies.
Zombie apocalypses are a much more common story type today. There’s something about them that captures our imagination.
What if civilization ended overnight? What if we couldn’t buy food and supplies at the store but suddenly had instead to make, steal, or go without the things we wanted? What if our political structures abruptly disappeared and were replaced with lawlessness and the right of the strong? What if we were no longer protected by the police anymore but had to defend ourselves against hostile multitudes? What if the roads and buildings of our cities were to be overgrown, reclaimed by the wilderness?
People want to think about these things. People use fictional scenarios to work through some of the skills and precautions they might want.
I have one friend who says that the reason he buys guns is because you can’t buy zombie apocalypse insurance, and guns are the closest you can get to such a thing. Now, my friend isn’t literally worried about zombies. But he does seem to worry, to a greater or lesser extent, about the end of civilization.
And that’s a somewhat reasonable thing to worry about.
We should enjoy the benefits of the heritage we have received, but perhaps we should take care not to take it for granted. There have been many times when a “civilized” place has become suddenly lawless, right up to the present day. It might be less likely in some places than others, but nowhere is entirely safe from it.
Perhaps, then, as long as we don’t get overexcited about it, allowing our imaginations to play over the possibilities of a zombie apocalypse is not an entirely worthless exercise.