At an airport, I saw two adjacent ads, “DENVER THANKS OUR MILITARY,” then, “LIVE. EVERY TRACK. ALL SEASON LONG. NASCAR ON SPEED.” No irony was intended by this juxtaposition, but our troops are certainly killing and dying to sustain our car infatuation. On television, coverage of the Gulf of Mexico disaster is frequently interrupted by car commercials. Our oil car habit is destroying this planet, but we cannot wean ourselves from this addiction. We express ourselves through automobiles, after all. Cars are us. In much of America, one rarely sees bodies, only cars. Our land and cityscapes have been deformed for the hurling, private steel box.
A flying car will soon be available for $194,000. Its Italianate name, Terrafugia, translates to Fleeing the Earth, so our Jetsons future is still on, many hope, even as more Americans are sleeping in their cars, and many more are struggling to fuel their lugubrious lemons. The Motor City, Detroit, has been in full collapse mode for decades, to be slowly reincarnated as an urban agrarian zone. Instead of the clanking of heavy machinery, one will soon hear cockcrows among gunshots.
We will not flee this earth. On a finite planet, growth is also finite, and we’ve already reached all limits. There will be no economic recovery, because economic growth is no longer possible. The cheapest labor has been found, and demand for all resources, primarily oil, is outstripping supply. Nearly a billion people are already starving, and a billion lack clean water. The average Mozambican uses a gallon of water a day, less than a third of what you and I flush down the toilet each time. By contrast, the average American consumes 151 gallons of water daily.
We use more of everything. With five percent of the world’s population, we engorge on 24 percent of its resources. Got a problem with that? If we can pay for it, we’re entitled, aren’t we? But there’s the problem. We’re the world’s biggest debtor nation. We haven’t been paying for squat. As a starving planet looks on, we’re like the biggest pig who refuses to leave the all day, all night, all-you-can-eat buffet, with our moment of reckoning willed and deferred to our distant progeny. It’s a farce, really. As we slobber, no one dares to nudge us from the trough because, well, we’re so well-armed. We’ll kick your ass! Got a problem with that?
To maintain our position as the biggest loser, we have troops in 130 countries. With the American attention span reduced to a nano second or less, no real pretext is needed when we invade and occupy a sovereign nation. Why are we still in Afghanistan? It’s not to catch Bin Laden, that’s for sure. His name hasn’t been mentioned with any urgency for years. Though blamed for two bankrupting wars, he was invisible during our last presidential election. The Washington Post did reveal, however, that the CIA had made a video of a fake Bin Laden sitting around the fire, talking about gay sex. Though our spooks couldn’t stop terrorists from boarding four different planes on September 11, 2001, they were certainly creative, in an Animal House sort of way. Even if this video was never released, no one bothered to ask if those tapes that had circulated were real. Who cares? Have you seen Britney’s latest outfit? Likewise, whenever anyone challenges any aspect of the official version of 9/11, he’s labeled as a kook, but why should we trust Washington on anything, when it has proven, over and over again, to be incapable of telling the truths?!
Our leaders are unctuous crooks, and the country seems aimless. That’s why your average American just wants to be left alone, to resume his shopping spree when the economy does revive. Else, anticipating the worst, he stocks up on ammo, beans and tuna. What’s missing is any collective purpose or vision. With each man, woman and child hooked to his own ipod and laptop, we are alienated and alone. Thus, Gary Faulkner, armed with just a Chicom pistol, sword and knife, headed to Pakistan to capture Bin Laden. He took baby Bush’s promise to “smoke him out” at face value, not knowing that this threat was no more real than O.J.’s vow to capture Nicole’s “real killer.”
Though many still don’t know it yet, we are a poor nation. As this Mother of all Depressions becomes more undeniable, Americans will have no choice but to endure, tolerate and, yes, even enjoy and appreciate each other on a much more intimate level. Our towns and cities will become more compact, and each home will have to accommodate more bodies, from returning adult children to close, then distant relatives, to boarders. More Americans will have to share their kitchen and bathrooms with strangers. Bedrooms will be partitioned. Destitution and proximity will breed conflicts, certainly, but they will also force people to cooperate and compromise. We will become dirtier, even bloodier, but at least we will have real lives, and not virtual ones spent in front of a screen, as we stuff our faces with endless poison.
The creators of the Jetsons also brought us the Flintstones, likely a more accurate portrayal of our future, but in that cartoon, there is also the personal automobile. Spoiled by a century of cheap oil, the American mind seems incapable of imagining life without a nice set of wheels at its center. Made of stones and sticks, Fred’s appears to run on nothing. We won’t be so lucky.
As the oil age recedes in the mind’s rear view mirror, science fiction will become a genre about the past. Pondering those who needed machines to do just about everything, from brushing their teeth, to writing, to self pleasure, future readers will be amused, disgusted and only seldomly envious. Imagine a world where music was a nuisance because it had become repetitive and could not be silenced! Imagine people who could barely walk, yet flew!
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, with a novel, Love Like Hate, scheduled for July. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.