Despite the best efforts of the media to persuade you otherwise, our society is so safe that we now get our thrill seeking and risk vicariously from watching TV series like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
I’ve pretty much given up TV but I confess I’ve just re-watched Series 1 -3 of The Walking Dead (free with Amazon Prime and no adverts messing with your head) which I find compelling viewing.
The Walking Dead is apparently the most watched cable show in history. That tells us something. If modern life was dangerous, we’d all seek escapism by watching a modern equivalent of The Little House on the Prairie. But we get more than enough comfortable domesticity these days, so its programmes that show lives with real risk that now capture the imagination.
Now financial independence and the Zombie Apocalypse may seem like unrelated topics but the factor that links them is dealing with fear.
One reason that many people cling to the cubicle / consumer lifestyle is that they are fearful of Something Bad happening. You often see this in discussions of the Safe Withdrawal Rate. These typically start off with actual data on portfolio returns before degenerating into competitive pessimism: who can imagine the grimmest future scenario?
The Escape Artist has a vivid imagination. I have lived through many terrible things…fortunately none of them ever actually happened. As a child not only did I hide behind the sofa during Doctor Who but I also worried about Vampires, Werewolves, Freddy Kruger, Ghosts, Child Abducters, Nuclear Apocalypse, Killer Viruses and Alien Invasion. Looking back, it seems like a miracle that I survived all these dire threats.
The fear of Something Bad happening is deep-seated within us. This is not surprising when you think about our ancestral environment. Back then, Something Bad happened rather too much for our liking. Infant mortality, intermittent starvation, mystery plagues, predators, wars, accidents, storms, locusts…the list goes on and on.
Our environment and living conditions have changed beyond all recognition in the last hundred years but our minds remain essentially identical to those of stone age hunter-gatherers.
The concept at the heart of The Walking Dead is this. What would the world look like if overnight we became surrounded by predators and danger was all around us again? The answer is that within a few weeks of the outbreak, the population has split into two categories. The great majority of people have died and become Zombies. The minority are alive and living off their wits in a world where they are outnumbered.
As others have noted (examples here and here), you can think of Zombies as being like consumer suckers. Firstly, most brain activity has gone. They are activated by noise. They don’t run fast or work particularly hard but they do “work” constantly in that they are always on the lookout for living flesh. They differ from consumer suckers on the surface in that they are not driven by buying shit. But they conduct their quest for living flesh in much the same way….lurching around drooling, lusting and feeding.
For me it wasn’t enough just to stash a life changing amount of money, I still had to change the way I saw the world. I’ve had to learn to embrace rational optimism and stop worrying about things I can’t control. A future Zombie Apocalypse is just one such thing, but there are many others.
Back in 2008/09, as I watched whilst the banking system started to creak like The Titanic, I thought something really bad might happen. I thought about stocking up with tinned food, water and guns but then got busy at work. Preparing for the collapse of civilisation took a back seat to excel spreadsheets and powerpoint slides.
Vestiges of this fear remain. I may have enough based on a 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate…but what if Something Bad happens? What if the Euro collapses? What if food or energy costs spiral up? What if the government introduced a new tax on swearing in blogs?? I’d be fucked!
Many people use these fears as a rationalisation for hanging around in the Prison Camp even when the gates are open and the guards aren’t watching. If you think about it, this is very odd. After all would your job really save you if Something Bad happened?
In order to gather more evidence, I analysed The Walking Dead for learning points. In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, what skills are useful? Are we best served by facing the Living Dead from a position of Financial Independence or from our office jobs?
I’ve made a list of some skills that are useful in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse. Readers can then make an informed decision as to whether these skills are best cultivated at home with lots of free time or whether the office is the best environment to hone them.
1. Firearms handling
The cleanest way to stop a zombie is a head shot. This eliminates the residual activity in the Zombie’s brain stem. What with them already being dead and all, it is no use wounding Zombies with a “spray and pray” approach.
In a zombie infested world, ammunition tends to be in short supply and therefore frugality with ammo is key. This means that accuracy and control are vital. Remember the double tap: a chest shot to stop them followed by a head shot to finish the job.
Unfortunately, most office jobs provide little or no firearms training these days. Indeed, it is often frowned upon to bring guns into an office environment. So if you want to develop firearms handling skills, I think its better to be FI and use some of your time to join a gun club rather than relying upon an office job.
2. Upper body strength
When I worked in finance, none of my employers seemed to take the threat of Zombie Apocalypse seriously.
When I joined one firm, we were given a full health and safety briefing. We were told about photocopying accidents, the risks of incorrectly positioned PC monitors and coffee burns. Shockingly, there was nothing on how to overcome Zombies using upper body strength and the contents of the stationery cupboard. But when the ammo has run out, you are gonna need to deal with the “walkers” that break through your perimeter fences the old fashioned way.
Since leaving my job, I have been working on my upper body strength. I can now do twice the number of press ups that I could before and can see strange lumps in places that there were none before. My doctor says these are something called “muscles” and nothing to worry about. Bring on the Zombies!
3. Cardiovascular fitness
Zombies are similar to most office workers in terms of running ability. Zombies tend to lurch along with their arms out in front and dragging one or both legs. If you have ever been to an office “fun run”, you may have witnessed something similar.
If you are hoping to survive the Zombie Apocalypse, it is helpful to have good cardiovascular fitness. “Biters” may not be fast but they keep on coming. With the demise of capitalism and the collapse of the oil industry and related infrastructure, transportation options become more limited and it may be necessary to do without your SUV.
A lot of FI seekers are strong on cardio-vascular fitness and tend to be good at walking, running and cycling. It turns out that these activities are better for building fitness than doing the office Doughnut run.
4. Food gathering
Lets face it…who these days has the time to grow even a small percentage of their own food? In the current economic paradigm, the agricultural industry is highly efficient and the cost of food is low. This means that the return on investment on growing your own food is currently low.
Following a Zombie Apocalypse, this would change. With the collapse of large scale mechanised farming and the reduction in opportunity cost with fewer high paying jobs, growing your own food would start to look like a smart economic move.
If you are concerned about a Zombie plague, starting to spend less time in the office and starting to grew a few tomatoes in the back yard might not be a bad move. In the absence of a Zombie Apocalypse, it may not make economic sense but it might be fun.
One thing that I have noted whilst watching The Walking Dead is that the survivors seem to enjoy relatively high levels of happiness and good mental health. Surprisingly so, given that the World has just gone to shit all around them and life expectancy is dramatically lower.
Interestingly, the survivors are rather more resilient than anyone might have dreamed possible prior to the Zombie outbreak. They also have plenty of time on their hands to work on themselves and to form strong relationships with others.
The survivors are freed from the need to spend their time as dictated by outdated social norms. Instead they focus on building better relationships, trying to understand the world they live in and maintaining their tools, bodies and minds, ready to deal with whatever might come next.
Having considered the evidence, I think we can draw some conclusions.
Firstly, despite constant fears of a Zombie Apocalypse throughout human history, I have been unable to find any examples where this actually happened.
Secondly, when considering whether we have enough, it therefore seems irrational to base our retirement planning on a vague concern along the lines of “Yeah, but what if Something Bad happened?”
Finally, its possible that The Escape Artist could be wrong and that the dead will rise up and stalk the Earth. But in that unlikely event, it will surely be better to have developed self-reliance, resilience and fitness rather than just having spent your life in the office.