When I was a kid, I had a different understanding of the phrase "carrot and stick". I was influenced by cartoons, of course, as all kids were and still are today, and in cartoons a dumb animal (or person) can be induced to move forward by a combination of a carrot and stick. You tie the carrot (or occasionally a sausage) to a piece of string and have it dangle from the end of the stick; you then hold the stick in front of the animal (or stupid person, usually a stupid fat person if you're using a sausage) and it walks forward, thinking it's going to get the carrot. Of course, you're sitting on its back, or on the cart it's pulling, and it never gets closer to the carrot - the stick always keeps the carrot out of reach. I suppose that eventually the animal needs to eat, and you'll give it a feed bag of grain or corn or something, but it'll never get that carrot, will it?
Today I understand that most people mean the carrot as a reward and the stick as a punishment; "if you clean your room you can have a carrot, but if you don't, I'll beat your ass with this stick."
I can see how that might be effective, but sooner or later you'll get used to the carrots and sick of the stick - or the other way around, which might be worse. And two hands can wield the same stick, if you get my meaning; I don't see it as a long term solution. My way, the carrot is the only carrot around; you might be able to rationally see that you won't be getting it any time soon, but lacking another option, what else can you do but follow it? I'm not saying that I'm right and you're wrong, but look how hard all these people today are working toward "retirement" and paying off their "mortgage". Watch people on treadmills facing a mural of an open road.
What, if anything, does this have to do with the Zombie Apocalypse?
What carrot have you been following all this time? A nice, cushy job? The approval of a parent? The love and affection of another person? And maybe this isn't the first time you've tried to catch this kind of carrot. Don't feel bad about it; it's human nature to seek such things. That's what makes it so easy for us to be manipulated by them.
Well, I've got what might be good news: all of those things are gone once the world ends. All the ones you're after right now, anyway. Some people won't be able to handle that loss - and I agree, it's going to be terrible. You've spent what seems like your whole life following these goals, and in the end they're all destroyed with the world, leaving you alone. I can say that with some certainty since if the zombies took you too, you wouldn't be so concerned by all the rest anymore. So you're going to be seriously depressed, possibly suicidal.
Well, good news! The world's carrot-and-stick system is using this event to do some, eh, renovations. Bigger carrot, longer stick. Somewhere out there, you know there are survivors - someone, somewhere, is going to rebuild the world. Maybe someone you already know will be there - hey, who knows? And I bet they've been carrying a torch for you all this time, and you'll reunite as lovers! Unless you're related, but that'll be good too, right? And think how nice it'll be to see live people again, how nice it'll be to have a safe place to live, how nice it'll be to have a role in society! The only catch is that you have to live long enough to get there.
Having said that, I especially hate to tell you that survivalism is nothing like what life was before. You're never going to make it by pushing yourself toward a goal you can't yet see - you have to survive each day and hour separately, because the dangers are fresh and new with each passing moment. Zombies are everywhere - not "could be anywhere," they are everywhere. Your only chance is to pass by them undetected, choose paths they do not overpopulate, and generally outsmart them all.Your only real advantage is that your higher brain functions all work - you can think and plan strategically.
The strategies that might let you survive might never lead toward your chosen goal - certainly, the goal is also survival, but you can't skip the steps between where you are and where you think you're going. You can only move forward from where you actually are. If you ever prioritize a goal over your own survival, you can kiss your survival goodbye.
So eat the carrot. Sharpen the stick. Until you get wherever you're going, you have to survive on your own. Live for yourself, or you'll die for nothing. Use any tool you can. Surrender nothing you value. Kill any zombie you can, try to maim them if you can't, but escape every single one without taking injury. Your goal, your only goal, is yourself. Preserve yourself and you can never fail.
If you place a goal outside yourself, you can die for it - but once you're dead, you can no longer serve that goal. If you're trying to protect someone else, you can die doing so but they'll live on without your protection, at least for a while. If that possibility is worth your life, then that's a decision you're entitled to make.
Success in our new reality simply means living to struggle on. Failure, in any degree, is completely fatal. So long as you can keep breathing, you can fight for survival, for yourself or for others. Even in your last moments of humanity before the zombie infection takes control, you can still find one thing to do to help the people near you - even if it's nothing more than running two extra yards away from them to give them that much of a head start.
Never surrender. You are a survivor. To die at a zombie's hand is to invalidate everything you've ever done; every piece of food you've eaten is food a real survivor should have had instead. If you give up, say it's too hard, not worth it, that you'd just rather die - all this will prove is that you never should have survived in the first place. So prove that you weren't wrong to survive, that your life has value. Give something back to the world. Living your life is one thing you can do; helping someone else live theirs is another. Life, life is the thing that matters. You can leave behind food, tools, rules and sanity, but life is the only thing that you can't give up.
It's possible, however unlikely, that if you keep surviving you'll live to see someone other than yourself. You may actually find that society you've hoped for, or even found one yourself. Or you may not - but sooner or later, you'll have a chance to do something to help someone else. If your life was worth living, you'll do that thing.
Next week we'll talk a little about last-minute gift ideas for people you want to help survive the horrors in our future. But then, every minute might be our last - that's why we're doing it a little early.