E. coli illustrated by the great David Goodsell. Life is built, at the cellular level, to move

When things start going screwy, most animals just leave. Ever since some single-cell figured out flagellum, this has been the strategy. Since we were flotsam and jetsam we have moved towards the light and away from danger and, fundamentally, that’s still who we be.

Life On Earth

Early humans—as animals—migrated with the seasons, with other animals, and certainly when the gods were angry. When the seas were low we walked to the Americas, when the seas were high we didn’t walk back. It’s only today when the seas are rising that we’re like ‘no, you move’. To the fucking ocean. This attachment is the source of much suffering.

Ever since we planted seeds, since we laid stones, since we built cities, since we became from somewhere, we have bound ourselves to where we be. We don’t want to leave our homes and we don’t want other people leaving their homes and coming here.

We want everything in its place, on this rock that’s literally melting and reforming its thin crust constantly, all while spinning violently through space, around a sun that’s on fucking fire, all of it spinning around a black hole. According to the theory of relativity, we’re never in the same place twice, but in our experience of relativity, we get mad if someone moves our chair. I’m not saying our experience is wrong, but we’re bound to be disappointed.

At some level, we know this. Our cells are constantly moving, relative to where they are. Mitochondria is actually another species within each of our cells (it has its own DNA) and they know what’s up. The human placenta is derived from viral DNA and that alien code keeps the mother from rejecting the alien baby, among other things. The placenta certainly knows that—at some point—you’ve got to get the fuck out.

Life On This Island

My people have been here for thousands of years, and we’re still not indigenous. Those are even older people, the Veddahs, while Sri Lankans are an admixture of ‘Indians’ that has formed into what white people call races. Neither ‘Indians’ nor ‘races’ coherently exist, but nothing really exists so I guess it’s a difference of degree.

And yet at various points, my people have had to leave. In waves, receding from the shoreline of this island, sometimes forever. First, we actively pushed (many) Indian Tamils out, the people brought here as indentured labor by the British, made them stateless, refugees. Second, the Burghers left, the colonial admixtures of Dutch, Portuguese, and whatever else. Third the Tamils, forced out violently. Fourth the Muslims, by organized political violence as well. Finally, like the Martin Niemoller poem, they came for me.

Now Sinhala people, the majority community here, are finding it impossible to stay, along with everyone else. Our never decolonized economy has simply imploded. We have neither energy nor food nor medicine independence and so we lack all three. All we have is nominal political independence, but we are still effectively a colony. And no one wants our plantation products anymore. The only arbitrage open we have is moving, and selling, our bodies.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a fifth wave of migration which I guess includes me. It’s a coincidence—my wife was planning to do her (second) Masters for years—but the result is that we leave along with many other people. I’d rather die than die abroad, but for at least a few years, we’ll join the mass migration out of this island and overseas. I want to be a wave that comes back. I have to come back. But right now I also have to leave.


It’s not just me. And I’m lucky. I went to the passport office to get my Sri Lankan renewed and it was impossible. People were camped out there, lines around the block. Someone told me to go back and book an appointment and I did. The next available one was in a month. This used to be a one-day service. I’m lucky because I have another, white passport. This isn’t even the one I’m leaving on. Sri Lanka has a pariah passport and even harder using one that getting one.

And yet the government is even telling government servants to go abroad. Doctors and nurses are leaving, as well as the poor to anyplace that will take them (and usually their passports, leaving them at their employer's mercy). We have nothing to sell from our country but our people, and many are falling prey to scammers and essential slavery, especially in the Middle East. We had dreams, you know, just years ago. Now this is our reality. And it’s not just Sri Lanka, we’re just early.

This is happening all over. Economic collapse is like COVID, it’s contagious and it spreads from country to country. Relatively comfortable people are watching other countries collapse like ‘sucks to be them’ but there’s a big black hole at the center of the global economy. The suck comes for everyone, eventually.

Countries that had no monetary, manufacturing, or agricultural sovereignty are getting sucked in first. As Warren Buffet said, when the tide is out, you see who’s swimming naked. But—as Sri Lankans know—the ocean also pulls back right before a tsunami. And the coming financial crash will sweep away everybody. Even the comfortable who aren’t really used to it. Of course the very rich will profiteer, but who knows, there’s always guillotines.

Like one of the many crashes life has gone through, a great extinction is coming, quite literally. We’re losing a huge percentage of species already, and it was only hubris that made humans think we were immune from this planetary blood-letting. I’m sure humanity as a species will survive—we’re like cockroaches with guns—but survival means a lot of fleeing. Just ask the roaches when you flip on the light. Everybody knows what we have studiously forgotten, in the hubris of humanity.

Ever since flagellum furiously flagellated their way out of trouble, or animals migrated away from bad weather, life has always been on the move, life always finds a way. We have been moving commodities and bit and bytes, but now bodies will have to move like in the old days. Life as we know it has been about not moving for centuries and, I’m sorry to tell you, that’s going away. For me soon, and perhaps for you soon enough.

When things get screwy, animals leave. Well, things have gotten screwy, and we’re just most animals. Hence I’m leaving and my people are leaving and lots of people will be leaving shortly. Hell, even the destination is leaving, coastlines, borders, populations, none of that will be remotely the same in a century.

We’re discovering the true meaning of relativity, which is not having all your stuff within arms reach, and finding it there the next day. It’s being a speck hurtled through time and space, holding onto whatever you can with the pathetic gravity of a human being.