A Review of Derrick Jensen’s “As the World Burns” Necropolis Now
by ADAM ENGEL
Poor Bannanabelle. She wants so badly to save the environment–painlessly. But her best friends, the more politically savvy Kranti and Bunnista, the one-eyed lapin fugitive from a vivisection lab, keep shooting down her politically correct ideas. No, recycling and changing light bulbs won’t be enough, not like “that movie” suggested (whose producer won a Nobel Prize perhaps?). Solar energy requires copper mining, the burning of fossil fuel energy to create panels etc., and ethanol requires fossil fuels and poisonous fertilizer and pesticides for the growth and processing of corn. Planting a tree (for every thousand Big Lumber cuts down) won’t do it, nor will taking shorter showers, particularly since, according to Jensen and McMillan, 90 percent of all “fresh” water goes to industry, agriculture, and to water golf courses. Anyway, these are all “individual” solutions, as if only individuals, not a planet united against the corporate forces that caused these problems, could “solve” the immense complexity of the problem threatening all life on earth, Kranti points out. Certainly “new technology”–nano, nuclear, or otherwise–won’t “save us,” merely create, as all “new technologies” have, more filth, waste and misery for the benefit of whatever corporations control it.
So what are these two spirited, but politically powerless, young women to do?
Go down! Down the rabbit-hole — the empty socket where Bunnista’s pre-vivisection right eye had been?–for a non-human, all-too-non-human glimpse of “our” current reality.
Down to a world in which invading alien robots, machines from outer-space, whose diet consists of animals, vegetables and minerals, that is, the LIVING Earth, are able to bribe their way through the Corporocracy by offering the President of the United States unlimited supplies of the gold they expel from their mechanical anuses (they’re machines, after all; what would we expect them to shit?).
A world in which multi-national corporations become concerned that the alien robots are eating the planet–because that’s the corporations’ job. Those darn machines are eating into corporate profits. Big no-no. The Corporocracy demands that the President rescind the permits he granted the aliens, which allow them to eat the planet, or they’ll kill him, just as they would any other corporate slave who threatened the bottom-line. Nothing personal.
A world in which Bunnista is labeled a “terrorist” by the corporate media for liberating abused animals from the torture chambers of a vivisection lab then blowing up the empty building. Moreover, the “terrorist” rabbit blew up a dam in order to save the lives of fish. No one was hurt, but corporate property was damaged. Furthermore, there was a school some miles away from the vivisection lab; hence, the “news-casters” announce, cute little “innocent, innocent” children “might have been harmed” had they somehow managed to be near the lab Bunnista destroyed in the middle of the night.
A world in which Kranti and Bannanabelle, refusing to snitch on Bunnista, are thrown into a concentration camp built to contain rabbits, all of whom are now “potential terrorists,” simply because they’d been labeled “bunnies” due to a “bureaucratic error.” Even a flesh-and-blood prison guard, observing them at close quarters, believes, in spite of her own eyes, that they are bunnies–because their ID tags list them as such. An apt metaphor for the Power Elites’ ability to make us see what they want us to see, even if we don’t actually see it.
But despite all this, despite the Life against Death circumstances of our “current situation,” AS THE WORLD BURNS is not a book for doomsday pacifists or nihilists.
Jensen and McMillan, like their characters–animal, vegetable and mineral–are warriors for LIFE.
So what’s the solution? What are Kranti and Bannanabelle, going to do to stop the machines–alien, societal and corporate–from devouring the planet?
A little bird tells them. A little bird, and other “earthlings”–animal, vegetable and mineral. The “solution” is something wild, far wilder than most of us domesticated human machines, ensconced in our machine-like social orders, can comprehend. Most of us, but not all. Nevertheless, it is not until a substantial number of us–animal, vegetable and mineral–unite to destroy ALL machines–mechanical, societal and corporate–that the Living Earth can continue to live. Otherwise, sooner rather than later, she’ll become just another blank planet, a cold, dead rock, or a very, very hot one.
“All plots end in death,” Don Dellilo wrote. Not necessarily so, according to the authors of AS THE WORLD BURNS. The plot of Jensen and McMillan’s graphic novel is open; the “end” (or the new beginning) is ours to decide.
The proverbial “writing on the wall” has long since become illegible, scrawled over by layers of agit-prop graffiti screams. We are among children, terrified children longing to be dead. Unix/Network programmers and systems administrators–keepers and maintainers of yet another machine — have a term for broken bits of code, cut loose by a faulty “killing” of a particular program: orphans. Orphans, these fragments of once “living” applications, wander the System, until they become “zombies,” dead code cluttering the System. They must be located and neutralized lest they jam the System, cause it to crash and become inoperable. We are such “zombies.” The question posed by Jensen and McMillan is whether we submit to neutralization, allowing the System to continue, or can we somehow “patch” ourselves together into a new program (not a machine, a living system) one that will destroy the Machine in order to save its victims–the living.
True, we’re in a terrifying situation, despite the soothing words of the nice, pretty people on the TeeVee “news,” but Jensen and McMillan’s message is simple enough for even WE MODERN CITIZENS to understand: we’re being suckered, had, taken, fooled, bamboozled. “Yeah, yeah,” we shrug. “Everything is a crock.” But there’s the rub. We don’t know “everything.” We don’t know anything. We don’t even know what “is” is.
The problem is not that animals, trees, mountains can’t “speak,” but that we can’t or won’t hear. The problem is, we’re in a world of six billion head-trips and most of us keep tripping over same fat heads. The problem is our much vaunted “way of life.” For who or what in the world is more dangerous (within the Greater Machine itself) than the “productive citizen?” Even the “destructive consumer” converts some of the junk to energy before it becomes waste. We “productive citizens” produce and produce and produce only waste. Too much junk to be consumed. Too much junk for the planet–even to the depths of her polluted oceans — to absorb.
I always thought the line, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” from Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is hard to Find,” was the ultimate “reality-check,” the ultimate wake-up call. Not so. The majority of Productive Citizen/Consumers would plod on through their “American Way of Life, more or less unaffected by a bullet to the head. AS THE WORLD BURNS is just such a bullet: absolutely necessary for the rude awakening of humanity; unfortunately, there’s little humanity left, and at this point, it seems, even a high-velocity depleted uranium round would arrive too late– for most of us.
Derrick Jensen is an activist, philosopher, and the author of ENGAME, A LANGUAGE OLDER THAN WORDS, THE CULTURE OF MAKE BELIEVE, and other books.
Stephanie McMillan’s comic strip, MINIMUM SECURITY, appears five times a week at United Media’s comics.com, and has run in dozens of publications worldwide since 1999. The strip was published as a book in 2005.
ADAM ENGEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org