With so many terrible news stories going on around the world, it is not surprising that a bumper crop of strange and stupid ones this week went almost unnoticed. In Indiana, a truck crashed and spilled 45,000 pounds of butter, whipped cream and other dairy products on an interstate. In the skies, an elderly woman went berserk on an airplane and began beating everyone is sight with her artificial leg. This, however, wins the prize: the annual Comic Con “Zombie Walk” in San Diego went horribly wrong when a group of rogue zombie portrayers, dressed like rotting corpses and moaning, carried their method acting too far and swarmed a car containing a family with young children—a deaf family with deaf children. Ignoring the obvious alarm and terror on the faces of the car’s occupants, the Walking Dead Wannabes pounded on the car, broke its windshield, and one zombie jumped onto the hood. At that point the driver panicked, and tried to pull away from the crowd, running down a 64-year-old woman who was seriously injured as a result.
There are all sorts of arguments going on regarding whether this was really a group that was part of the official Zombie Walk, or free-lance zombies (I’m not kidding); whether the zombie attackers can be prosecuted under the provisions of an anti-terrorism law, since they were obviously trying to terrify the family, and whether the family should be prosecuted for running down the woman. I assume the family will be sued, even though they shouldn’t be.
Ethically, I’m only concerned about the last one. The driver can be prosecuted, but it would be unethical to do so. The police representative made a public statement emphasizing that “the pedestrians that were crossing the street legally have the right of way. For vehicle code and common sense, you cannot use a car to move people out of the way. Never ever can you use a deadly weapon to make a path across a crowd of people. When you are in a busy congested area, you must wait. I do not want to condone people’s impatience in justifying a car to go through a crowd of people.” Sorry, sir, but if a madman with a gun is charging my car, a Mastadon is bearing down on my family, or a zombie horde is staring to break in my car windows, I’m hitting the gas. These are the epitome of exigent circumstances. Law professor-blogger Jonathan Turley, commenting on the case, says,
The family was technically fleeing and will argue that they were engaged in classic self-defense after the man jumped on their hood and broke their window. Injuries caused by emergency situations can be excused. Even mistaken self-defense can be privileged in torts. The family can argue that they were terrified and trying to protect their children in the assault. The defense is a lack of intent and justified fear. Even under a negligence theory, many jurors would likely view their actions as reasonable under the circumstances — assuming that these circumstances are proven.
To those who say, “Oh, come on! Zombies aren’t real! There was no danger!”, I respond thusly: Once the zombie-imitators cross reasonable lines and begin behaving in a menacing fashion, no parent is obligated to see just how far they will go before removing the threat.
“Hey, they’re surrounding us!”
“Don’t worry, Dad, it’s just an act.”
“Hey, they’re pounding on the car!”
“Don’t worry, Dad, it’s just an act…they’re not real zombies. See? They are wearing make-up.”
“Hey, they’ve broken the window!”
“Don’t worry, Dad, it’s just an act….they’re not real zombies. It’s Comic Con.”
“Hey, they’re coming into the car!”
“Don’t worry, Dad, it’s just an act….they’re not real zombies. They are just nerds, like in “Big Bang Theory.” They get carried away.”
“Hey, they’re eating your mother!”
NOW can I hit the gas?
Comic Con has announced that it has cancelled another zombie walk for later this year, as well as next year’s. This is the Barn Door Fallacy (as in “locking the barn door after the horse is gone”), and it always drives me crazy. There should be nothing dangerous about the Zombie Walk, and hasn’t been, until now. Next year’s walk would have been the safest ever, with increased police scrutiny and monitoring. Nevertheless, thanks to the the warped logic of the Barn Door Fallacy, next year’s orderly, fun-loving, law-abiding zombies have to suffer because of this year’s idiotic, undisciplined, unethical zombies. The instinct to do this virtually always kicks in to respond to unfocused public outrage that demands that “something” be done, even if the “something” is misdirected, excessive, penalizes the innocent, and doesn’t address the problem. Agreed: eliminating a zombie walk has to be close to the most insubstantial harm ever inflicted by the Barn Door Fallacy, but this is a classic example of the phenomenon nonetheless.
As for the rogue zombies, they engaged in the epitome of unethical conduct for individuals benefiting from a privilege that others besides themselves enjoy and value. In such a situation, the consideration of action that places such a privilege at risk should immediately trigger an ethics alarm with the message: “It is not just my privilege at risk here, but the privilege of others. I have no right to behave in such a way that may end the privilege for everyone.”
Yet the alarm did not sound. It did not sound because these weren’t merely silly people dressed as zombies, but silly, unethical assholes dressed as zombies.
Now that’s scary.
Pointer and Sources: Res Ipsa
Facts: Deadline Hollywood