Saturday, July 9, 2016

Facing Denial, Illustrated

I recently realized that I don't completely dislike everything in comic book stores. Daughter Number Three-Point-One pointed out that I like long-form graphic formats that explain something, especially ones of a historical nature like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Guy Delisle's Pyongyang, or that explain something, like Sean Michael Wilson and Carl Thompson's Parecomic: The Story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics.

Once I realized that, I picked up several to read. (What do I call these books as a category? They're not graphic novels, and graphic nonfiction sounds completely wrong.)

The first one I've read is As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial. You can tell from the title that it's going to be a depressing slap in the face, and it is. But a really well done slap. The writer and artist weave together a half-dozen different narratives leading to a confrontation that could actually "save" the earth.

The two characters shown on the cover are friends who start out in disagreement about what it will take. The Pink-Haired girl thinks changing our light bulbs and recycling will do it, while the Black-Haired girl knows better.

Their conversations sound painfully familiar, and they finally reach this point:
BH: You seem quiet today.

PH: I'm afraid to say what I'm thinking. If I do, you'll just tell me I'm wrong.

BH: Oh, I'm sorry. I never meant you were wrong. All those suggestions you've made have been really good! It's just that they're not enough. And they put the focus on us, instead of where the real problem is. And they keep us from doing what we all know needs to be done. And they...

PH: You're doing it again.

BH: I'm sorry.

PH: I understand now that me just conserving isn't enough. You don't need to keep pounding that into my head.

BH: I didn't mean to pound.

PH: And I understand that even if every one of us conserved it wouldn't be enough. You don't have to nail me with that one.

BH: I didn't mean to nail.

PH: And I know that things are really bad, and that the problems are systemic and that the whole rotten system needs to go. You don't need to keep lecturing me about that.

BH: I didn't mean to lecture.

PH: But can't we keep things like air conditioning and cars and radios and TVs and computers and just get rid of the bad stuff like pollution and exploitation? Wouldn't solar panels or windmills make it so we can have that stuff?

PH (continues): Oh, I know what you're going to say. You're going to say that in order to have air conditioning and all those other things — even if they're solar powered — you still have to have mining for the copper wires and the silicon and everything else, and you have to have the whole industrial infrastructure, which means you have to have roads and the whole oil economy to move stuff around, which means you have to have this huge military so you can take the oil from wherever it is, and you have to have this whole system which leads to some people being rich and some people being poor, which means you have to have police to make sure the poor don't take back from the rich, and you have to have prisons and everything else that comes with that.

And then the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. And it all keeps killing the planet. I know that's what you'd say.

So then I would say, what about high technology? Can't that work? I really want it to work. I've  heard all these great things about how nanotechnology will make production so much easier. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

But then I know just what you'd say. You'd say that all these technologies follow just the same pattern of being hyped and hyped and hyped, and then they always — always — cause more pollution and they always — always — cause the rich to get richer and the poor to be more exploited, an they always — always — cause the world to be hurt more and more. Every time. I know that's what you'd say.

And then after that you'd ask: Who controls these technologies? Can I make nanotechnology in my basement. And then you'd say, Of course not. Big corporations will control it just like they control everything else.

And then I'd get really sad because it won't work the way it's promised and I want it to work, and I'll know you're right, but I don't want you to be right.

So then I'll ask if we can use biofuels to save us. And you'll say that industrial agriculture is based on natural gas and oil for fertilizers and pesticides, and it's incredibly toxic and it destroys soil and water. And you'll say it's all controlled by big corporations. And you'll say that if every single bit of cropland in the United States was used for biofuels, it would make up only fifteen percent of this country's demand, but even then it's impossible because growing corn for biofuels actually takes more energy than it makes.

You'd tell me that currently it takes ten calories of dino-fuel to grow one calorie of food in the United States. People covered croplands with McMansions because they believe they currently have that fuel to wasted. But then you'd tell me that without the ten calories of fuel, they will need way more laborers and way more cropland to feed the people who currently exist.

And then I'd be really sad again because every part of me wants for it all to be really easy, but you'd be right again, and it wouldn't matter that you are right but what's important is that I understand that the problem really is the whole system but I wouldn't want to believe that and I'd rather believe that all our problems can be solved if we just buy energy-saving light bulbs and if we just recycle.

See, I told you that if I said those things that you'd shoot down all my suggestions. I told you that you'd just make me feel bad.

BH: I didn't mean to.

PH: I know.
So that's my bit of reality, unrelated to guns and policing, for today. Happy Saturday. More thoughts tomorrow.

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