Last Call On The Titanic

1st class tea cup from the Titanic

I’m on the upper deck, getting some air. The music is still playing, meal service is proceeding, people are still dressed up and sitting out. The waiter apologizes for sake being unavailable. Meanwhile, a bulkhead explodes downstairs and three hundred people drown.

We’re actually in Colombo, on a rooftop, having sushi. Though sake actually is unavailable. I look out over the bamboo, look back at the people having dinner and everything seems fine. But I know beams are breaking and ice water is flooding underneath. It feels obscene.

I wrote about this in the past tense before, about the collapse during the war. But this is somehow worse. War was hell for the people in the north and the poor sent to fight it out, but for most people in Colombo, the bombs were mainly inconvenient. This wholesale economic collapse affects everyone. Fuel, money, medicine, it affects everything, and it’s all running out.

As I wrote about then:

Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.

Now here I am again.

I say that I’m on the upper deck, and it’s true in a globalized sense. My family has access to white passports, we speak white languages, we can do what prior generations did, flee into the heart of White Empire while the trauma of imperialism hits our homes with another bout of destruction. But it’s different this time.

What I wrote in that article is about how collapse was coming to America and, by extension, its vassal states in Europe. And that seems inexorable. It’s already begun. Unlike the 80s or the 90s, when my parents left the country, there’s no stable place to run to. It’s really just a timing difference. Even rich people on the Titanic drowned.

But for now, it’s just last call like so many nights before, but I’ve got that old sinking feeling again. I feel like Violet Jessop, the ‘Queen of sinking ships’. She survived the sinking of the Titanic, the Brittanic, and the violent collision of the Olympia. She just kept working for the White Star Line, and I keep peddling doom to white people, earning my own petty dollars.

To be honest, I once thought there would be some justice in this coming collapse, that the first might be last and the last might be first, but no dice. The last are where they always are, below the waterline while the rich push off in the lifeboats, before they get uncomfortably crowded. There’s no justice, it’s just us, and human hierarchies die hard. Even as we all go down together, we make sure we go down in order.

So they keep playing the music and arranging the deck chairs. Dinner service continues long after it becomes absurd. Plague, economic collapse, war, those are just appetizers. The main course is climate collapse, and dessert is humans getting eaten by lobsters.

I can still see the people scurrying about with their parasols and families, like nothing is happening. But I, even more than you, can hear the violent wrenching and scraping underneath. I can feel it in my bones, in my country. The ocean is angry and it wants in. Our hubris is heavy and wants to sink.

ca. 1985 — China dishes are part of the debris left from the wreck of the Titanic, as she lies on the Atlantic Ocean floor south of Newfoundland. (TIME)

When a bunch of crazy white people said we could float their idea of civilization all over the oceans, powered by coal and oil, girded by steel and every resource, satisfying every desire for luxury… when they said that it seemed impossible, but dammit it seemed to work. So every country bought tickets for this idea of development, even in steerage.

But now the whole thing is sinking and we’ve been locked in. Of course the poor at the bottom of the world get it first and worst, but make no mistake, the whole planet is sinking. Economic collapse is as contagious as our still-ongoing pandemic, and those are just the first courses of this last meal.

Many of you are in this weird moment where you’re still thinking about what’s going to happen, but for us down here it’s already happening. We hit the iceberg already. The whole thing is going down. Last call.