Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
I’ve been carrying this title around in the “Works-in-Progress” folder for months now, and finally drew it this week out of what I guess you’d have to call desperation. It’s been getting harder and harder for me to start work on the cartoon every week, not helped by the fact that I procrastinate until the weekend, with the result that it always feels like having to do your math homework on Sunday night when you know Battlestar Galactica’s on. This week, on a warm spring Saturday night in Manhattan’s East Village, I sat in my tiny apartment wretchedly drawing and scanning and photoshopping, tormented by the pointless screams of the young and the wasted from the street below.
Our first three panels are all more or less obvious parodies of various science-fiction movie dystopias: Waterworld, Mad Max, and a combination of 12 Monkeys and 28 Days Later. My friend and webmaster Dave once wrote a song about how science-fiction films have prepared us well for every conceivable dystopian and/or apocalyptic contingency, if only we have paid attention to their lessons. We all now know, for example, that any worldwide pandemic carries with it the risk of widespread zombieism. For some reason I invariably seem to associate Jim Fisher with post-apocalyptic scenarios (see him as “James the Large,” ruler of the lands between Cool Branch Road and 543, in the cartoons “The Next Terrorist Attack” and “Who Wouldn’t You Vote for Over George W. Bush?”). I suspect Jim will thrive in the post-apocalyptic environment, if for no other reason than because of his oft-stated readiness to resort to cannibalism. The last panel is a combination of The Jetsons and the even more inept fantasies of Christian fundamentalists about the Rapture and Heaven.
It does seem like sort of a horse race between the four horsemen of the Apocalypse these days: global warming, peak oil, pandemic, and let’s don’t forget nuclear holocaust. What, you think they took apart all the nuclear warheads and buried all that uranium back in the ground? No. They are still out there, in their silos, many of them in what’s left of the Soviet Union, in the hands of badly disillusioned men with dramatically decreased life expectancies who haven’t gotten a paycheck in a decade, blind drunk on cheap vodka. Think about that sometime when you’re trying to fall back asleep at three A.M.
The flunkies of the Bush administration are the very last people on the planet still in denial about global warming, just as they are about Iraq. Even USA Today and Time, the big color picturebooks of news for stupid people, have finally come out and announced to their readers, several decades belatedly, that the debate about global warming is over, it’s real and happening right now. But of course George famously doesn’t read the papers, he gets his information directly from the well-informed former CEOs of oil companies. There are days when I think that the official refusal to acknowledge or do anything about global warming—the callous willingness to forfeit the future of our species for the sake of short-term profits—may be not only the most evil thing happening on the planet right now, worse than Iraq or Dafur, but the most evil thing that’s ever been done in human history. It depends on whether or not it eventually causes the extinction of humanity. We will have to wait and see. If it does, boy, both the Bushes, father and son, are going to have some explaining to do.
A friend of mine has offered to pay for me to attend a conference on Peak Oil in New York later this month. A Google search of the term “peak oil” will instantly tell you far more than you ever wanted to know about this subject and immerse you in a subculture of somewhat tediously well-informed people who believe with alarming certainty and unanimity that modern society is going to go to all to hell in the near future. Suffice it to say that “peak oil” refers to that historical moment at which the depletion of the resource will exceed production, a point we may pass in the next few years, or may indeed already have passed. Exacerbating the crisis is the fact that the Indians and the Chinese have just learned that cars are fun to have. (The most readily comprehensible and alarming analogy I’ve read is that, in party terms, we have one six-pack, of which we’ve drunk four cans [!], a bunch of new people have just shown up with no beer, and it’s after two.) After this happens, energy prices will continue to rise and never come back down, massive shortages and crises will become common, and eventually the infrastructure of industrial civilization will collapse, after which we will descend into Mad Maxian squalor and savagery and terrible warlords such as Lord Humungus will assume control of what’s left of society.* Estimates on when this will begin happening range from fifteen or twenty years (according to most petroleum geologists in public speeches) to one or two (according to the same scientists later on at the hotel bar). The scariest part is, western civilization has no Plan B. Anyone in a position of wealth and power in this society has a lot personally invested in the oil economy and no incentive to risk any capital on exploring other options. Our current contingency for what to do when the oil runs out is: we’re fucked. My friend Rob is preparing for this eventuality by buying gold and moving to New Zealand (a questionable choice, as it is within eventual striking distance of Lord Humungus’s fearsome punk hordes). He is also proselytizing about the danger to his friends, trying to convince them all too keep their assets liquid and head for places that have less distance too fall when the lights go out, which is why he’s offered to pay my way to this conference. I keep trying to gently explain to Rob that in the event of a global collapse my plan is: to die. I am a frivolous person and will go the way of all extravagances when the shit hits the fan. However Jim, philosopher-king of the post-apocalyptic world, assures me that Rob has always been a crackpot and a pussy and good riddance to him, not to worry, there’s plenty of oil, we’ll figure something out before it runs out, so just relax and take another half a Xanax and why not get myself a beer from the fridge. I would like to feel comforted by this advice but the fact that it is roughly identical to the official position of the Bush adminstration RE: oil and alternative energy sources (except for the Xanax and beer) disquiets me.
As for a pandemic, I am less worried about this only because I know less about the facts. I am sure if I did even the most cursory research into the possibilities I would immediately barricade myself at my undisclosed location on the Chesapeake Bay with a face mask and gloves on, a decade’s supply of canned Italian wedding soup and Juicy Juice, and a Thompson gun to mow down the inevitable waves of zombies.
Me, of the alternatives depicted in this cartoon, my money’s on global warming. Even if industrial civilization does collapse and millions like me die because they never learned how to catch a rabbit or build a lean-to, there are still hundreds of millions more who never had a toaster oven or central heat who’ll get by living in what we would consider squalor as comfortably as they always have. Humans lived as hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. We’ll be fine. And in every epidemic, even horrifically virulent ones like the Black Death that wiped out two-thirds the population of Europe, or the Flu pandemic that killed millions of people at the turn of the century, there are always people whose immune systems are mysteriously resistant. The race will survive. But if the global average temperature rises by even a few degrees, we are all going to die. Anyone taken a look at Venus lately? Real estate values there are the lowest in the solar system. Of course inevitably the end of the world will instead be brought about by some freakish dark-horse disaster, like the double-whammy of a meteor shower that blinds everyone and walking killer plants in Day of the Triffids. Of only one thing can we be absolutely sure: whichever calamity brings an end to humanity, no matter how long, how often, how urgently, and how publicly scientists have been warning us about it, if George Bush is still in charge, he will say: “No one could have predicted that [global warming, oil depletion, a pandemic] could have posed such an immediate and serious threat.”
Meanwhile George, who is not only ignorant and indifferent but actively hostile to science, since its findings are so ungodly and unpatriotic, keeps his fingers jammed firmly in his ears singing an hysterical “la la la” hymn of denial while rolling his eyes Heavenward, believing that in the very near future he and his Righteous God-fearing cronies will all be lifted bodily into the clouds, there to dwell with Jesus forever and ever while us sinners and liberals back on Earth get smitten hard by flaming hail and locusts and lepers. The President of the United States believes this, literally. Louis the XIV believed that he was the Sun King, with a divine right to rule. Moctezuma believed that Cortez was the return of Quetzalcoatl. Caligula believed he was a god. They were all executed, and their empires are gone now.