Zombies, Golems, and Robots – Oh My!

A truly great metaphor is hard to kill. Despite detractors and naysayers, the zombie has clawed its way into the modern psyche as a denizen of the living death of a world we’ve created for ourselves. Joblessness, environmental disasters, tea parties – just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the dead refuse to stay dead. Elsewhere on this blog I’ve written about the origin of zombies in Voodoo, and I mentioned in passing the connection with the golem. The golem is a mythical Jewish creature that serves the role of protector of the oppressed (one can’t help but think of the Democratic Party). It is strong, dedicated to its task, brainless and soulless (one can’t help but think of the Religious Right). Like the zombie, the golem has no inherent ability to think for itself, and it must be animated by a magical word written on its forehead.

Golem around the corner

One of the most famous golem stories involves the Golem of Prague, defender of the oppressed Jews in that city in the Middle Ages. The Prague connection also forever ties the golem together with robots in Karel Capek’s 1921 play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the very origin of the word “robot.” Like the golem the robot putatively has no soul. It too is controlled by a code written precisely for it. Unfortunately on my one trip to Prague back in 1991, I didn’t know to look for the golem – I did find the statue of Jan Hus, however. Right around the corner the golem lurked, standing guard over the oppressed. It is a powerful image when the world is in such a state.

We need a hero

With the recent release of George Romero’s Survival of the Dead, the zombie has been given renewed life. Watching the Republican Party gearing up for a major thrust at the very soul of America, lining up the local BP station to support big oil, spouting false rhetoric about what the Bible says, I think I’d rather take my chances with the zombies. Does anyone out there happen to have a golem for sale, just in case?

1 thought on “Zombies, Golems, and Robots – Oh My!

  1. I was told that some fellow workers took some umbrage when my co worker and I were playing with a wooden phantom for ionisation chamber modelling.

    Seeing we already had phantoms, I monickered that one “the Golem”. When I returned for further work six months later I was told, “we are not allowed to call it a golem”.

    Thankfully the mark on the wooden object was a simple number.

    You have given me licence to wax on!

    Over the past few weeks the discussion has been very “modern centric” mythology. We have all had the opportunity to deal with topics you raise on behaviour, the supernatural, and of course robots. I hope I am not going to pre-empt your next few posts by pointing out that an author brought up a point that the supernatural is what science hasn’t discovered or it’s what is not allowed by nature. It’s the former I would like to address in the light of this discussion.

    Robots already suffuse our society. From military and industrial robots to exploration and medical robots, robotics in its infancy already is entrenched in our day to day lives. What we do not see are the androids we imagine robots to be and thus dismiss the fact that robots are amongst us.

    The frightening fact is we now have golems. They are free of gravity in their operations and are autonomous in their decision making once addressed in flight. Yes these were made of soil (you cant get a decent yield of metal from anything else) and are our “protectors”. Osama bin Laden doesn’t see things this way and has complained of late that the west is using “unfair” tactics utilising such weapons.

    How brilliant is it then that ancient people could imagine something in their supernature that we have repeated proposed in fiction and now have had in place from the desert storm onwards (at least!). What will we make to cover their unseen force for good, a benevolent background that protects us all from disease? Who knows Steve, air conditioners that generate medical nano robots?
    That’s not that big a leap of faith for us… to be sure, to be sure.


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