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How Capitalism Has Collapsed In My Sri Lanka

Vistas of prosperity, always in the distance. Photo by Abdul Halik Azeez

Capitalism has entirely collapsed in Sri Lanka, and the country is out of petrodollars and ergo out of petroleum. Cars snake round the city in giant petrol queues, like dinosaurs lining up at a vaporized watering hole after the asteroid. They don’t know it yet, but they’re extinct. I ride by on a bicycle, a formerly pathetic mammal now moving faster than these fossils.

I borrow an electric car to take the kids somewhere and we drive through Slave Island. It’s called that because the white people used to encircle slaves with crocodiles here. Now it feels like the state of the whole country, surrounded by international bankers and their leg-breakers, the IMF.

Slave Island used to be the home to a beautiful community, but they kicked them out to build luxury condos for no one and elevated highways to nowhere. Now the condos are uncompleted and the highways are just dumped in the street. Huge pillars stand there, like Ozymandias’s feet. Their size cries “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” But, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay, Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Since this photo was taken in 2015, even more temples to capitalism have come up, and the god worshiped there has completely come down. day dreamer you are 02 by Abdul Halik Azeez

I say this is a collapse of capitalism because, I mean, look around. Investment properties are the temples of capitalism, houses kept as empty and well-appointed as shrines, to house not humans but the absent gods of greed. Cars are the avatars of capitalism, lethal pieces of capital that travel at superhuman speeds through human bodies and streets.

For decades we have built this pyramid scheme ever higher, for the promise of a ride in a car, a 30-year mortgage on a home. But now it’s all coming down, leaving blocks of dead stone in the road, just getting in the way. I drive around them now, in a borrowed car on borrowed time. It’s over now. Capitalism has run out of gas at the edges of empire, and it’s running on fumes everywhere else. It’s a timing difference really. As William Gibson said, ‘the future is already here. It’s just unevenly distributed.’

In an age of extinction, of course, the fossils are the lucky ones. Someone at least remembers them. What you don’t see are all the lives—all the ways of life—completely obliterated by the fall. All the bodies simply devoured by scavengers, their bones bleaching and eventually disintegrating in the sun. I’m not one of them, but I can see. All the ghosts of the apocalypse come knocking at my door.

There’s a food shortage while food rots, because lorries can’t move. Abdul Halik Azeez, day dreamer you are

The people that deserve it the least get it the worst. The tuk-tuk driver, ferrying goods and people to provide for his family. They have to wait for their few liters of fuel behind a jeep that consumes dozens more. The tractor driver, growing food, the lorry moving goods, the family piled onto one motorcycle, the factory trying to get diesel for their generator. The collapse of capitalism is not an inconvenience to these people, the fodder for an article. They are the workers that held the whole thing up, and it falls on them first.

The rich will somehow survive with their electric cars, their now expensive bicycles and helmets, their ability to go abroad. The poor will just die here, not even covered with silt, their bones left uncovered. During the last oil crisis in the 1970s, we had a socialist government that introduced rationing to keep people alive. Now we get fancy economists telling us to liberalize (re: raise) prices even more, while people actually starve. This is what collapse under capitalism is like. The carnivores that ate us alive now simply eat us dead. It’s feeding time for carrion economists.

I know the hunger because people knock at my door, asking for food. I can see it in the eyes of my people. And yet we still feed each other in the endless queues, we still give what little we have to each other. The older culture, before we tried to be like the colonizers, it still persists. Like prayers to the old gods of the island, generosity still persists, even in the shadows of the temples to white greed. We desperately feed each other what little we have, as all we were promised by capitalism turns to ashes in our mouths.

The country can longer refuel planes here. Photo from Sub Urban Poetry by Abdul Halik Azeez

Colombo is a city without fossil fuels and full of fossils. The cars snake round the dry watering holes, the highways lie dead in the roads, the condos peer at us with dead eyes, like Brontosauri that just haven’t fallen over. Colombo is a city increasingly devoid of energy beyond the push of a push-bike, the fire of a wood fire, or the kindness of the human soul. It’s not a lot, it’s not nearly enough, but it’s not nothing either. I think about this as I ride past the end on my bicycle, or toss my children into the bus, though mostly I just feel terrible.

Slave Island, from a photo series by Abdul Halik Azeez

The sad fact about capitalism is that as much as it obviously sucked, most of us never wanted to end it, we just wanted to move up within it. This was the promise of international ‘development’, that if we slaved away long enough we could live like the masters. This was of course impossible and commies told us so, but we didn’t listen. We didn’t want to. And now we’re living proof. The end of capitalism is nigh and the wages of sin is death.

Obey The Lion, sticker art installation across Colombo, by Abdul Halik Azeez

The truth is that the asteroid hit the moment the white man hit black gold. They rode a shock wave of destruction around the globe and called it growth, but it was cancerous. It has taken about 400 years, but the debris is finally choking up the atmosphere and the extinction-level event is coming on strong. Plants, animals, and entire countries are starting to keel over. The poorest first.

I can see it where I live, as deadly assets turn to dead assets, as petrodollars and petroleum products dry up. This has happened to us for unique reasons, but the underlying causes are global. Capitalism has collapsed in Sri Lanka and it’s collapsing everywhere. You can ignore it now, but it’ll eventually collapse the whole ecosystem, and then what? We don’t have another planet. Instead we’ll get a changed planet here, like the one I’ve taken you on a tour of. Welcome to the future I guess. It’s wildly uneven now but give it a geological second, it’ll get distributed.


More of my writing on Sri Lanka