DeSantis speaks of “zombie studies” during the election campaign.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis laughs during a news conference in Auburndale, Florida, January 30, 2023.

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During a campaign rally in Iowa in early August, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis made it clear that he was against it Student Loan Forgiveness.

Given the widespread criticism from Republicans on the issue, the Florida governor’s stance is not unusual. However, his example was.

“Why should a truck driver have to pay for someone who has a degree in zombie studies?” asked DeSantis.

The governor’s comment he made several times Over the years, it appears to be a twist on the right’s popular argument that working-class Americans shouldn’t be forced to pay the tax bill to cancel the debts of those who have benefited from higher education.

What is less clear, however, is why DeSantis is on “Zombie studies.”

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“To my knowledge, there are no academic majors in zombie studies,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz.

However, there are several colleges that offer this Courses about zombiesas well as a growing number of Scientific Research, CNBC found. Scientists in the field defend the topic, pointing out that zombies are an important symbol in our culture, with consequences for the US criminal justice system, the history of slaveryneuroscience and more.

“The characters that haunt our popular narratives are the way a society processes shared experiences and problems,” he said Sarah Julia Lauro, associate professor of English at the University of Tampa. Lauro has published a collection of zombie scholarship: “Zombie Theory: A Reader,” in 2017.

The focus of zombie lessons is on free will

Eric Smawa philosophy professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, teaches a course called “Zombies, serial killers and crazy people.” He is well aware of the governor’s dismissal of his job.

“I suspect DeSantis chose zombie studies to suggest that colleges are wasting time and money teaching about fictional creatures instead of teaching practical knowledge that gets students jobs,” Smaw said.

But there is no doubt that the issue has real significance, he said.

Smaw’s studies and research focus on disorders of human consciousness, including infections similar to those caused by the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, also known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis Zombie ant fungus. According to one Article According to The Atlantic: “When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, depriving it of nutrients and hijacking its mind.” Similar diseases and viruses can affect humans, leading to what is known as “murderous automatism.” in which people unknowingly kill others, Smaw said.

If our behavior is completely determined by our neurology, then we are not free.

Eric Smaw

Professor of Philosophy at Rollins College

In a famous legal case that Smaw comes over with his students, a Canadian who murdered his mother-in-law and seriously injured his father-in-law, was later acquitted because the attacks occurred while the man was sleepwalking. He had no memory of the events when he woke up and he had no motive.

“For hundreds of years we have imprisoned and executed people with mental illness because we did not recognize that their mental abilities were limited,” Smaw said. “The more we learn about murderous automatism, the more likely we are to develop more humane ways to respond to it and even prevent it.”

Beyond these extreme cases, Smaw said, studying zombies offers an opportunity to explore ideas around human autonomy and free will.

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“A lot of interesting philosophical and cultural considerations come up in the course,” Smaw said. “One question is: Can people freely act according to their own decisions, or do they only act according to their neurology?”

“If our behavior is completely determined by our neurology, then we are not free.”

He is now at Saint Xavier University in Chicago Tatiana Tatum, a science professor, teaches a course called “Biology of Zombies.” She said the topic helps her explain how the human body works.

“There is an innate fear of death that fascinates people and a strong sense of survival,” Tatum said. “These conflicting feelings find a great home in zombie stories.”

Your course teaching includes chemical zombification, bacterial zombification and fungal zombification. “We also discuss a little bit about neuroscience,” she added.

Eye of the newt, fin of the… puffer fish?

Some researchers claim that pufferfish organs, which contain the powerful poison tetrodotoxin, were used to make “zombie” potions in some parts of the world in the past.

Picture agency online | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Tatum’s lessons are by no means limited to science fiction or hypotheses. She teaches her students about a poison that can actually cause zombie-like symptoms. The preparation consists of Tetrodotoxina highly toxic substance found in pufferfish.

“It blocks the flow of sodium ions but leaves the potassium channels unchanged,” Tatum said. “This leaves the victim conscious but in a paralyzed, coma-like state.”

There is evidence that similar poisons were used.

In 1986 Article Writing in Harvard Magazine, journalist Gino Del Guercio said that in Haiti, traditionally considered the birthplace of the zombie myth, there are poison makers who mix ingredients such as puffer fish, dried toad and human bones and wear nose plugs for protection.

“For Haitians in the countryside, zombification is a punishment even harsher than death because it deprives the subject of his most precious possessions: his free will and his independence,” Del Guercio wrote.

“Who’s Afraid of Zombie Studies?”

Since DeSantis is concerned with Black history, I think we can understand why the idea of ​​“zombie studies” gets under his skin so much.

Sarah Julia Lauro

Associate Professor of English at the University of Tampa

The governor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lauro suspects that the myth of a still-living body separated from its soul arose in Africa, around the time of slavery. From there, stories about the transatlantic slave trade reached the Caribbean.

“The zombie first came to wider attention during the U.S. occupation of Haiti, and from then on the legend arose that ‘dead men’ were forced to work for free in the sugar cane fields in Haiti,” Lauro said.

The first wave of zombie fiction reached the United States in the late 1920s, at the time of the Great Depression. At the start of the country’s worst economic catastrophe, Lauro argues, the government largely abandoned the poor, and the myth of the zombie became a way to criticize capitalism’s oppression of workers. Zombies eventually made their way to Hollywood, first in films about disempowered workers and later in films about contagion and cannibalism.

But Lauro argues in her book “The transatlantic zombie“Given the origin of the myth, the stories are always about slavery and resistance to slavery.

“Since DeSantis is concerned with Black history, I think we can understand why the idea of ​​’zombie studies’ gets under his skin so much,” she said.

At the same time, Lauro said the governor was giving the issue too much airtime during the campaign: “No university or college that I have ever heard of has ever offered a degree in zombie studies.”

But she said, “If any of your readers want to hire me to start a zombie studies program, they can look me up: I’m about ready to leave this state until we have a new governor.” DeSantis speaks of “zombie studies” during the election campaign.

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