The Iguana Tree is empty tonight. We stand under it, searching the monochromatic foliage for bursts of radioactivity – neon oranges and greens signaling the presence of Earth’s once and future overlords. We’ve already been food-poisoned, but as with radiation sickness, we won’t know it until it’s too late to do anything about it. New Year’s Eve 2017. Woo-fucking-hoo.
Walking back to our castle-esque casita at the foot of Gringo Hill, I think how this utter lack of lizards seems one of the few aspects of my trip – and recent political developments – that hasn’t echoed J.G. Ballard’s prophetic novel “The Drowned World.” The visionary depiction of our planet beset by rising temperatures and waters following a catastrophic environmental shift was written back in 1962. From what this layman understands, scientists first noticed the rise in global temperatures in the ’50s. Like any great science-fiction writer, Ballard was projecting recent data into the future as a means to lure in readers looking for escapism and perhaps not quite ready for the frighteningly fantastical truth of the Earth’s eventuality.
What better setting to take a journey into this future, and past, than among the warm waters and tropical foliage of Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico? What safer psychic space to dream the strange dream than on vacation? What better time for dark diversions than when the world around you seems bleaker than a coal miner’s nightmares? Like grinding your teeth together to relieve the pain of freshly tightened braces, immersing yourself in the cynical worldview dreamed by a like-minded soul half a century before somehow cancels out the pain of being conscious – with its own mirror image.
In the book, a research scientist named Dr. Kerans camps in the upper floors of the London Ritz-Carlton. He sets out to his labors each day, when not overcome by heat-induced stupors, from a dock directly outside his doors. What he sees of the city is lagoons connected by canals. Iguanas of increasingly alarming sizes lounge on the roofs of our rotting civilization. Soon, his fellow scientists retreat to the remnants of human society in the Arctic Circle. For reasons they are initially unable to articulate, Kerans and two like-minded folks decide to stay behind. They begin having a dream that feels more real than the waking world. In it, lizards slither and crawl toward an embryonic ocean or a primordial soup. Men follow them, backward through the chambers of their minds, into their lizard brains. Everything falls apart.
Oh yeah, spoiler alert!
“The Drowned World” weaves a subtle spell on its readers, slowly submerging them beneath their own consciousness and altering their very concepts of reality. Soon, you find yourself relating to decisions that would seem obscene in the “real world,” wherever and whenever that might be. When the green journey – or “Die Grune Reise” as guitarist Achim Reichel once named it – is through, it can be difficult to recall how you ended up so completely transported. Still, there’s a vaguely reassuring certainty that the vicarious decisions you made while under that spell must have made sense in the situation!
If only we could feel that same nebulous comfort upon returning: From vacation, from a good movie or book, from our own dreams and their thwarting by collective apathy and distrust in our own government, from a mass hysteria that somehow saw us elect a fucking lizard king to the highest seat in the land.
After Kerans and his cabal have succeeded at staging their self-imposed exiles, each sinks into isolation, dreaming his or her own separate version of the collective devolutionary vision. I briefly surfaced at this point, suddenly reminded of all the goddamn space movies Hollywood’s launching at us right now: “Star Wars: Rogue One,” “Passengers,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” “Arrival.” So many worlds to explore. On TV, “The Walking Dead,” “Fear The Walking Dead,” “Westworld,” “Stranger Things,” “OA,” “Humans,” “The Colony,” and “The Strain,” all offer us escape in the form of visions of our own demise. One escape at a time is no longer enough. We now require constant immersion in alien worlds to soothe our starving souls.
Then, ripping into their lagoon like an unholy albino apocalypse rider comes Strangman, a vicious, opportunistic slave-driver. Before him he whips a crew of non-white slaves. Behind him follows a tide of vicious crocodiles, foaming the water with their madness and rage. Aside from Ballard getting the color wrong – our own Strangman is nuclear orange, even if his disposition is shockingly Caucasian – the villain of “The Drowned World” is so perfectly Tronald Dump that it’s eerie. He’s an egomaniacal madman bent on looting the lagoon for all it’s worth. He erects walls all around it and sets out to “drain the swamp,” so as to better clear his own path to riches. He’s seemingly bipolar, alternating between self-aggrandizing statements and sullen fits of temper aroused by the rare occasions when he doesn’t get his way.
No shit. It’s all in the book.
The only thing that wasn’t in the book was certainty. For all its speculation as to our demise or rebirth, I like to imagine that Ballard wrote it with a sense of hope. In painting his own fears so vividly, he “got rid of the pain of being a man.” Maybe, in his most optimistic moments, he even dared to imagine that it could be that tiny little tweak to human consciousness that alters the alignment of our collective vertebra, leading to a total change in posture.
Alas, for the moment, we appear quite stooped. Stumped, too, and stymied and straggling and bedraggled. We’ve squandled a chance at a Sanders presidency and instead shit the bed. What came out of us should be a road-cone-colored sign that all is not well in our figurative intestines.
The moment our new Oompa-Loompa-in-Chief took office, all mention of climate change was removed from WhiteHouse.gov. It was quickly replaced with propaganda in support of his “America First Energy Plan,” aka “Doughs Up, Potable H2Os Down.” Frack yeah, bruh!
Scott Pruitt is about to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s like putting Amanda Bynes in charge of the DEA. I hate to stab Orwell’s corpse with another plunger of adrenaline, but it doesn’t get any more “1984” than appointing a staunch advocate of business over environmental protection czar of the agency that is supposed to serve the exact opposite purpose. How long until a name change is proposed to The Ministry of the Environment?
I’ve always assumed the phrase “Mother Earth” existed to sympathetically anthropomorphize our ecosystem. It’s incapable of speaking for itself in the most literal sense, and so planet-aware people throughout the modern era have reclaimed a phrase originated in countless ancient cultures for the purpose of turning “it” to “she.” Unfortunately, Dump wishes to turn “she” and “it” into “she-it!” and has discovered a negative connotation to the idea of Mother Nature that I couldn’t previously have fathomed.
Dump, his fundamentalist zealot VP, and the rest of the gators from the swamp he promised to drain have been thrashing about wildly, already working to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Dump has bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” and has had numerous allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him, not to mention the medieval drivel he intentionally posts publicly to Twitter.
Dump is almost as contemptuous of women as Pence is of gay people (and of women, for that matter). The fact that Mother Earth is a woman? Shit, that just makes it open season on her!
The election of Dump haunts all of our dreams, and cheapens the “American Dream.” He might only have been elected by a quarter of registered voters, but he won using a system all of us have endorsed. In the world’s eyes, we have elected a man who is racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-Earth, anti-Muslim, anti-science, and homophobic. But lest you think he’s only a hater, he’s definitely pro-torture and pro-nuclear escalation.
He’s recently been comparing Schwartz size with Iran, while simultaneously alienating allies such as Australia and France. He even squeezed in an assault on black history in honor of Black History Month. Dump’s every lurch takes him, and us, one step closer to the monkey illustration at what’s supposed to be the beginning of “The March of Progress.”
Motherfucker even beefs with the pope, yo. Not even that last wack pope – the new dope pope!
In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock a half hour closer to midnight. This is the closest that we’ve been to midnight, or the projected end of human civilization, since the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was in 1962, the same year “The Drowned World” was published.
What’s the opposite of serendipity? Yeah, that.
Lest this come off as just another stereotypical “pessimist environmentalist” whining and doom-saying, as we’re so often painted, let me add one thing. If I didn’t believe there still was hope, I wouldn’t waste my time. If I didn’t think there were enough of you out there like me, I’d just scribble these ravings on the wall in dookie or audibly recite them to myself super creepily in a packed subway car.
Maybe every second of every day is a tipping point. I’m absolutely certain that the days in which we live or sleep or dream are each of them an opportunity to devolve further into our selfish lizard brains, making choices that benefit only us and sealing our eventual fate. They’re also each an opportunity to think of someone else, to try on a different dream, and to live like there are other survivors still on this Earth fighting to live. If we don’t all wake up right now and start fighting, too, not for our own survival, but for the survival of our planet and the progress we’ve somehow achieved, all the good books in the world won’t be enough to save us.