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Debate on zombie rights sheds light on discrimination

By KBell
Dec. 3, 2011 at 6:03 a.m.

John Sears, left, and Justin Bell debate the validity of zombie rights on Tuesday at the University of Houston-Victoria. Sears represented the Zombie Rights Coalition, while Bell, a professor of philosophy at the university, countered Sears.

It started with a man in Madison, Wis., slamming what he called the University of Houston-Victoria's "outrageous misuse and abuse of developing young minds looking for an education."

John Sears, president and co-founder of the Zombie Rights Campaign, was talking about UHV's decision to study the book "World War Z" as part of its freshman seminar class and Community of Readers program.

"Do not allow the narrow minded bigotry that drips from the pages of 'World War Z' to go unanswered," Sears wrote on his blog about the book that chronicles the world in the wake of a zombie war.

So, UHV called his bluff, and invited him to the university to debate the merits of zombie rights Tuesday night.

The debate was the last event in a semester of zombie-themed activities aimed at engaging UHV faculty, staff and students, particularly freshmen.

Throughout the semester, the university has heard zombie monologues, how to preFpare for a zombie uprising or other emergency situations and from an eco-feminist zombie who focused on gender roles and the environment.

On Tuesday, philosophy professor Justin Bell took the stand for one last zombie hurrah, arguing against extending rights to the unliving.

"The zombie is not animated as we are - as we good, living people are," he said.

Bell continued his arguments by refusing to acknowledge zombies as sentient beings, calling them a danger to our polite society.

"The very peace we have in our society is based upon controlling and maintaining order so that influences like zombies, who could hurt us, are kept at bay," he said. "Giving them rights will upset the balance we have now and lead to disorder."

Sears shot back, defending the rights of what he called the "differently animated."

"Should we deny rights to any group of people based on any potential threat they might pose?" he countered. "The role of the state isn't to protect us from any potential danger. It's to create a ... place where we can work toward common goals and human benefit."

The heated debate continued for 30 minutes, with plenty of laughs that rang from a seemingly silly scenario that each debater defended with wit and rousing conviction.

By the closing arguments, though, Bell folded.

"What I've been doing is a character. I didn't make up a single new argument when I argued against zombies," he said.

In fact, Bell said he simply borrowed arguments people have extended to ethnic minorities, homosexuals, women or immigrants - and replaced them with the word "zombie."

"We're denying people rights simply because they're different," he said.

One of Bell's students, Bere Aguilera, 19, said she recognized in the debate some of what she'd learned in philosophy class.

"He used a lot of those tactics in the whole debate. It was easy to get what he was doing," she said.

Aguilera, of Houston, is a freshman at UHV, and she said she attended all of the zombie activities, which have been interesting, if not helpful in transitioning to a higher level of thinking and living on her own in college.

Her friend, 18-year-old Michelle Reyes, agreed.

"It was a different experience for sure, but we got to talk to a lot of people and learn a lot of different stuff, so it was really cool," Reyes said.

Sears said the Zombie Rights Campaign is all about talking to people, doing a little bit of good, and getting people to think differently.

"We're just trying to expand tolerance," he said. After a short pause, he added, "especially toward zombies."



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