Borrowed land, borrowed money, borrowed clime. We’re all living on borrowed time. I hear the diesel vehicles outside like the rumble of dinosaurs. I see ads for electric cars and it’s too little, too late. We’re not even changing our path to avoid our fate. We’re just changing vehicles and going the same way.
I look around everything in my life—in your life—and it’s all borrowed. When I order a beard clipper from Amazon, it’s made thanks to repressed cheap labor somewhere, shipped using poisonous fossil fuels, and then driven to me the next day using more poison. We have treated this as just a moral hazard for a while, but now it’s a natural disaster. The debts are coming due.
All the shit that we get in abundance, wrapped in plastic, it’s all borrowed. You can only ship materials from South America to China to Europe and then back to America if there’s a heavy subsidy somewhere. We have taken the solar energy stored by millions of years of plankton and trees and smoked it in a few hundred. By robbing the graves of the past, we have dug a grave for the future.
All of our progress, all of our convenience, all of our material splendor, it is all borrowed from future generations. We are so proud of it, but it’s not ours. This civilization is not some inheritance we leave our children. It is their future, turned into plastic baubles, that we get bored with and throw away.
All of our powers of motion wherever we want, they are all incurring an equal and opposite reaction from the oceans, from the winds, from their wrath. All of our creation of myriad commodities to satisfy every whim, they are mirrored by the destruction of myriad species that maintain the Earth, that are the Earth. We have spurred the evolution of machines and killed our own family. The family that sustains us. We borrowed the labor of all the birds and the bees for centuries. When they collapse, we really don’t get it. That is We.
It’s crazy thinking about this now because I don’t think about it.
It’s like that Damien Hirst shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. A shark, encased in formaldehyde, which started rotting anyways. Then they went and killed another shark, and spent $100,000 re-preserving it. The hedge fund billionaire who bought it called the cost ‘inconsequential’. Not just the art but the sale of this art is our entire attitude towards life. We take life without realizing that it dies.
When I say I don’t think about it, I mean that I go through my life using all the usual, borrowed conveniences, getting quite irritated if they’re not there. It’s actually quite uncanny in the UK because they have deeply integrated climate collapse into their marketing. I honestly find it deeply dystopian. As the late Mark Fisher said, “environmental catastrophe features in late capitalist culture only as a kind of simulacra, its real implications for capitalism too traumatic to be assimilated into the system.”
They’re advertising eco-friendly coffee pods on the Tube, while the free newspaper screams about gas price hikes. Burning natural gas to heat homes is literally burning your great-grandchildren’s houses to warm yours. On a personal level, it’s entirely rational and I hope people stay warm this winter. But on a species level, it’s suicide. But we don’t think as a species, do we? The main way evolution teaches about survival is lots of individuals dying.
As individuals that can sorta think as a species we, however, do know that there’s a problem. We’re lemmings with the curse of consciousness. And so we rationalize the irrational by reducing our coffee pod waste, by switching the engine on the two-ton living rooms we drive around, by using cloth bags to carry stuff that just got transported across the world using copious amounts of fossil fuels. It’s idiotic in every way except for just feeling better, which it does. Like drugs, we even borrow feelings. They’re not real, they lead to ruin even more rapidly, but fuck it. When society fails you, when your own desires betray you, what can a person do?
And it’s not just the planet, though that’s literally everything. I was looking at another ad here from Capital One, about doing good as if your mother is watching. They’re advertising a credit card with a 35% interest rate. How the fuck is that good? They’re certainly doing usury like God isn’t watching, cause he hated that shit. We’re not just living on borrowed land and borrowed climate, we’re literally living on borrowed money, debt that was extracted through fraud.
Banks literally get money from governments, mark it up, and then charge the most to the poorest people. When a crisis hits the governments raise interest rates to protect the rich asset holders, extracting even more rents from poor workers that can afford it the least. People end up in debt for their entire lifetimes, poor countries entirely collapse, and we are bigger fools than the ancients who at least offered periodic debt jubilees.
The whole system obviously cannot go on like this but—like the dichotomy between individual and species— the individual capitalist would rather end the world in 25 years than have a bad quarter. They can’t see beyond their greed for a third yacht anymore than we can see beyond our need for basic heating. It’s the same phenomenon, I guess, attachment. Just taken to absurdity.
And so people still talk about growth, about the stock market going up, as if these are good things. We’re proudly measuring cancer while dying from it.
We have the dim awareness that we have big problems, but all we have are tiny solutions. The rich have gala climate fundraisers to essentially brag about ‘doing something’. The same people should be lining up at guillotines. The western consumer classes just change the branding on dead-end lifestyles, never once imagining that they’d need to live like the global majority. And the global majority tries to scramble aboard this tipping ship, which is already literally on fire and half underwater.
The fucking crazy thing, to me, is that I can fly on a jet, drive in a car, sit in a flat, and consume resources to even observe this. I mean, I’m part of the same hypocrisy. I should be out in the woods like a good and humble mendicant but I can’t. I won’t. I know it’s all borrowed but it’s here, it’s real, and I’m just part of a society, of a species, of a path I have little control over besides maybe the vehicle. We’re all really just sharks in formaldehyde, being shipped willy-nilly, owned by some billionaire, rotting anyways.