I spent two years, nine hours a day facing two flickering screens, squirming in a chair in a windowless office in the industrial armpit of Los Angeles. Sometimes on my lunch break, I’d take a few laps around the cul-du-sac, past the other fabrication factories. The neighborhood was an ideal location for a zombie film; boarded up warehouses, weeds cracking through the parking lots. The active factories shaking from the sound of grinding steel, or spewing a mist of fine particle paint fumes. One time a dead dog lay rotting at the side of the road for a month. And yet, I returned to this scene, day after day, feeling at the time that I had no other options. On my way back to the chair where I spent my days, I was often struck by the bumper sticker on one of the fabricator’s muscle trucks: “The hardest part about the zombie apocalypse will be pretending I’m not excited.”
Have we really reached the point where we are so miserable, bored and frustrated in our daily lives that that the zombie apocalypse seems like an entertaining alternative? Are we secretly longing for the end of the world so that we can escape the drudgery of carpal tunnel syndrome and traffic jams? At least if the world ends, we won’t have to pay back our student loans. The end will come and we will never have to confront the fact that we haven’t been able to save enough money for an even remotely livable retirement. We’ll all have gone down in a blaze of glory, fighting brain-eating savages, before we see the last dolphin die or the final cornfield wither in drought. Sadly, the tragic irony of contemporary life is that the zombie apocalypse is already here. It’s happened already. We lost.
When German and British plantation owners first tried to wrangle the Bakweri, the indigenous tribes people of Cameroon, to work the banana trees it was almost impossible for them to find viable labor. According to celebrated anthropologist Michael Taussig1, the Bakweri didn’t see the point in wasting a perfectly lovely day, toiling away for their colonial overlords. The few Bakweri who did work for the masters were called sómbîs, meaning a person who has been pledged or pawned. “They allegedly killed their relatives and even their children by turning them into zombies who were made to work on a distant mountain, driving lorries and so forth, where their witch-masters were said to have a modern town.”
The world over, relentless wage labor is seen as the natural order of things, even though we can see that this ceaseless productivity and endless spewing of products is exhausting us as individuals and destroying the planet. Influential political economist Max Weber, author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, claimed that in order for capitalism to take root, people’s willingness to work, even if the ultimate profit went to someone else, had to be religiously inscribed into minds over and over again, until it came to seem the inevitable order of things. Far from being a natural inclination, the willingness to work for the benefit of another is “the product of a long and arduous process of education. Today, capitalism once in the saddle, can recruit its laboring force in all industrial countries with comparative ease. In the past this was in every case an extremely difficult problem.” [Weber from Taussig, p. 22]. And so, at last, the zombification of the world is complete. Our brains have been eaten by the virus, and even though we may resist, some part of us still believes that our participation in the labor market is unavoidable and inevitable, and the only thing capable of bringing us any kind of relief is the end of life on earth.
But before we all buy handguns, and lock ourselves in a shopping mall (oh wait, too late…) we might stop to consider that assault rifles are not the best medicine for our own minds. As most anyone who has ever experienced a psychedelic or mystical state can attest, these kinds of ecstasies destabilize the “natural” order of reality that we normally take for granted. Objects become strange. Foreign. Frequently, everything appears to be alive and unique. Every encounter is a relationship between subjects, rather than a subject acting upon an object. The usual, and seemingly indisputable, structure of reality wherein everything is assigned a value based on its rank in the market system is destabilized. A pig is a being, an entity, an individual intelligence, not just something you can make bologna out of and sell for $2.65 at Ralphs. Buildings are not defined simply by their use, “Convenience Store”, or their rent, $1200 per month. They have spirits, they pulse with their own histories, and the spirit of the materials that make them, stardust and steel and mud. You as an individual are no longer worth $25 an hour, because you no longer exist as you but as a series of ripples in a field of consciousness. Thus, the imposed organizing principles of reality are overturned and everything one encounters is mysterious and must be taken on its own terms, including other people, plants, and objects. Shifting the way we see the world, even if only for a short time, is enough time to help us see that another way is possible.
Clearly, simply experiencing a mystical state of consciousness, brought about through use of medicinal plants, shamanic drumming, meditation practices or any other consciousness shifting means, is not enough to overthrow the Evil Empire of inequality and oppression currently dominating the earth. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that the use of psychedelics does pose a threat to the status quo, otherwise the use and possession of psychedelics wouldn’t be illegal. Most mystics would probably agree that non-pharmacological means of reaching mystical states are preferable, since they are unmediated, and not influenced by the often very strong “personalities” of plants or chemical compounds. Furthermore, the regular practice required to achieve such states through meditation for example, makes it more likely that the experience can then be integrated into daily life and thus bring about a more powerful transformation. However, meditation, shamanic journeying and so forth take time, focus and discipline to achieve, whereas virtually anyone who ingests a psychedelic substance is likely to experience the shift in consciousness necessary to purge oneself of the zombie virus, or at least begin to create some antibodies.
If it is true that one of the primary methods for implementation of capitalist consumerism is to “settle” the minds people who live within its jurisdiction, that is, in the world, then clearly one of the first steps in overturning this system is the decolonization of the mind. But then what? If all we had to do was tune in, turn on, and drop out, then the environmental devastation and excessive inequality rampant in the world today would have ended in the 1960s. Instead, despite many significant counter cultural achievements, the status quo appears to be just as entrenched as ever. But we can’t give up. Our mental re-wilding is a continuous process that needs to take place anew everyday. Everyday we have to tend to our minds, and pull out the genetically modified weeds that have blown over into our field. Pull out by the root, the doubts that another world is possible for us. The convictions that the way things are now is natural and inevitable, and that we just need to knuckle down and get used to it. Then, beyond tending to our own minds, we need to form networks of similarly liberated folks, and work together for the liberation of all life on earth. We must work towards harmony, balance, and ecological integrity. We must each of us as individuals and as communities labor, not for the owning class of the stock market, but towards the realization of a planet-wide ecosystem of equals.
First we take back our own minds, then, we take back the world. Our work is not work in the capitalist sense of alienated labor sweating for a wage or to become the masters ourselves and lord it over everyone else, instead our work is, as Jodorowsky says, “What we have been given [on earth] to do.”2 Given by Life itself. The work is Life, is celebration of Life and devotion to Life. We have to realize that the process of mental decolonization is itself essential work that must be done if we want to be on the side of life on our planet. We have to approach this process, not as something for hedonistic amusement at a kegger, or as a diversion from our own depression and anxiety; instead we must approach our process of liberation with focus and optimism. We have learned well from the systems of oppression. We have learned to force our bodies and minds to do things against their natural inclination, and to believe that to do so was inevitable, or that we should even think of it as a privilege. We should now turn those tools back on that system, and use our will and our belief to create a new and more beautiful world.
1Taussig, Michael. 1980. The devil and commodity fetishism in South America. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 18-36.
2Jodorowsky, Alejandro. 2004. Psychomagic: The transformative power of shamanic psychotherapy. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. pp. 179
Amanda Yates Garcia is an artist, writer, and professional oracle based in Los Angeles. Connect with her or find out more about her practice at: