Necropolis Now: Review of As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial

A Graphic Novel by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan

Poor Bannanabelle. She wants so badly to save the environment — painlessly. But her best friends, the more politically savvy Kranti and Bunnista, the one-eyed lapin fugitive from a vivisection lab, keep shooting down her politically correct ideas. No, recycling and changing light bulbs won’t be enough, not like “that movie” suggested (whose producer won a Nobel Prize perhaps?). Solar energy requires copper mining, the burning of fossil fuel energy to create panels etc., and ethanol requires fossil fuels and poisonous fertilizer and pesticides for the growth and processing of corn. Planting a tree (for every thousand Big Lumber cuts down) won’t do it, nor will taking shorter showers, particularly since, according to Jensen and McMillan, 90 percent of all “fresh” water goes to industry, agriculture, and to water golf courses. Anyway, these are all “individual” solutions, as if only individuals, not a planet united against the corporate forces that caused these problems, could “solve” the immense complexity of the problem threatening all life on earth, Kranti points out. Certainly “new technology” — nano, nuclear, or otherwise — won’t “save us,” merely create, as all “new technologies” have, more filth, waste and misery for the benefit of whatever corporations control it.

So what are these two spirited, but politically powerless, young women to do?

Go down! Down the rabbit-hole — the empty socket where Bunnista’s pre-vivisection right eye had been? — for a non-human, all-too-non-human glimpse of “our” current reality.

Down to a world in which invading alien robots, machines from outer-space, whose diet consists of animals, vegetables and minerals, that is, the LIVING Earth, are able to bribe their way through the Corporocracy by offering the President of the United States unlimited supplies of the gold they expel from their mechanical anuses (they’re machines, after all; what would we expect them to shit?).

A world in which multi-national corporations become concerned that the alien robots are eating the planet — because that’s the corporations’ job. Those darn machines are eating into corporate profits. Big no-no. The Corporocracy demands that the President rescind the permits he granted the aliens, which allow them to eat the planet, or they’ll kill him, just as they would any other corporate slave who threatened the bottom-line. Nothing personal.

A world in which Bunnista is labeled a “terrorist” by the corporate media for liberating abused animals from the torture chambers of a vivisection lab then blowing up the empty building. Moreover, the “terrorist” rabbit blew up a dam in order to save the lives of fish. No one was hurt, but corporate property was damaged. Furthermore, there was a school some miles away from the vivisection lab; hence, the “news-casters” announce, cute little “innocent, innocent” children “might have been harmed” had they somehow managed to be near the lab Bunnista destroyed in the middle of the night.

A world in which Kranti and Bannanabelle, refusing to snitch on Bunnista, are thrown into a concentration camp built to contain rabbits, all of whom are now “potential terrorists,” simply because they’d been labeled “bunnies” due to a “bureaucratic error.” Even a flesh-and-blood prison guard, observing them at close quarters, believes, in spite of her own eyes, that they are bunnies because their ID tags list them as such. An apt metaphor for the Power Elites’ ability to make us see what they want us to see, even if we don’t actually see it.

But despite all this, despite the Life against Death circumstances of our “current situation,” As the World Burns is not a book for doomsday pacifists or nihilists.

Jensen and McMillan, like their characters — animal, vegetable and mineral — are warriors for LIFE.

So what’s the solution? What are Kranti and Bannanabelle going to do to stop the machines — alien, societal and corporate — from devouring the planet?

A little bird tells them. A little bird, and other “earthlings” — animal, vegetable and mineral. The “solution” is something wild, far wilder than most of us domesticated human machines, ensconced in our machine-like social orders, can comprehend. Most of us, but not all. Nevertheless, it is not until a substantial number of us — animal, vegetable and mineral – unite to destroy ALL machines — mechanical, societal and corporate — that the Living Earth can continue to live. Otherwise, sooner rather than later, she’ll become just another blank planet, a cold, dead rock, or a very, very hot one.

“All plots end in death,” Don Dellilo wrote. Not necessarily so, according to the authors of As the World Burns. The plot of Jensen and McMillan’s graphic novel is open; the “end” (or the new beginning) is ours to decide.

The proverbial “writing on the wall” has long since become illegible, scrawled over by layers of agit-prop graffiti screams. We are among children, terrified children longing to be dead. Unix/Network programmers and systems administrators — keepers and maintainers of yet another machine — have a term for broken bits of code, cut loose by a faulty “killing” of a particular program: orphans. Orphans, these fragments of once “living” applications, wander the System, until they become “zombies,” dead code cluttering the System. They must be located and neutralized lest they jam the System, cause it to crash and become inoperable. We are such “zombies.” The question posed by Jensen and McMillan is whether we submit to neutralization, allowing the System to continue, or can we somehow “patch” ourselves together into a new program (not a machine, a living system) — one that will destroy the Machine in order to save its victims: the living?

True, we’re in a terrifying situation, despite the soothing words of the nice, pretty people on the TeeVee “news,” but Jensen and McMillan’s message is simple enough for even WE MODERN CITIZENS to understand: we’re being suckered, had, taken, fooled, bamboozled. “Yeah, yeah,” we shrug. “Everything is a crock.” But there’s the rub. We don’t know “everything.” We don’t know anything. We don’t even know what “is” is.

The problem is not that animals, trees, mountains can’t “speak,” but that we can’t or won’t hear. The problem is, we’re in a world of six billion head-trips and most of us keep tripping over the same fat heads. The problem is our much vaunted “way of life.” For who or what in the world is more dangerous (within the Greater Machine itself) than the “productive citizen?” Even the “destructive consumer” converts some of the junk to energy before it becomes waste. We “productive citizens” produce and produce and produce only waste. Too much junk to be consumed. Too much junk for the planet — even to the depths of her polluted oceans — to absorb.

I always thought the line, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” from Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is hard to Find, was the ultimate “reality-check,” the ultimate wake-up call. Not so. The majority of Productive Citizens/Consumers would plod on through their “American Way of Life,” more or less unaffected by a bullet to the head. As the World Burns is just such a bullet: absolutely necessary for the rude awakening of humanity; unfortunately, there’s little humanity left, and at this point, it seems, even a high-velocity depleted uranium round would arrive too late — for most of us.

Derrick Jensen is an activist, philosopher, and the author of Endgame, A Language Older than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and other books.

Stephanie McMillan’s comic strip, Minimum Security, appears five times a week at United Media’s, and has run in dozens of publications worldwide since 1999. The strip was published as a book in 2005.

Adam Engel lived for your sins -- and he lived well! -- in Fear-and-Trembling, Brooklyn, one of the last gangrenous toes of NYC not yet severed and replaced with a prosthetic gentrification device. Engel has traveled the farthest regions of cyberspace, where Dark-matter meets Doesn't-matter; and Anti-matter, despite its negative connotation and dour point-of-view, excercises rights of expression protected by Richard Stallman's GNU/Free Software Foundation and CopyLeft agreement, if nobody and nothing else. Having spent many years studying Boobus Americanus (Summum Ignoramus), allegedly the most intelligent mammal on earth -- after its distant relative, Homo Sapiens -- in various natural habitats (couch, cubicle, bar-stool, ball-game -- televised or 'real-time') -- Engel has thus far related his observations of and experiences with this most dangerous of predators in three books -- Topiary, Cella Fantastik, and I Hope My Corpse Gives You the Plague (the combined international sales of which have reached literally dozens, perhaps as many as seventy, with projected revenue to top three digits by decade's end! Truly a publishing phenomenon). Engel is Associate Editor of Time Capsule Books, a division of Oliver Arts & Open Press, published in limited editions for a tiny, highly specified, though eclectic, target-audience: people who actually read books. He can be reached at Read other articles by Adam, or visit Adam's website.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 7:15am #

    Maybe DV needs a “graphic novel book reviews” section. My favorite Flannery O’Connor line is from You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead: “Nobody gonna bother you,” the Negro muttered, pushing through the wall of honeysuckle without looking back, “That going to be your trouble.”

    It’s all luck, a giant probability distribution. Some of us are lucky enough to get the personal involvements they need to function well in groups, others of us are lucky in other ways. I’d say Jensen and McMillan are going to have to be damn lucky to have written a novel, graphic or not — treating this subject, and which is more compelling and graphic with just words — than The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich by Philip K Dick.

    Each of us the end point of a concatenation of incredibly unlikely events. Some call that a miracle. I just say-call it “good luck.” But there are advantages to believing it’s just luck: really believing that makes it very difficult to be an elitist.

  2. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 7:19am #

    I omitted the “is” between “Each of us” and “the end point”.

    GL Rowsey

  3. hp said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:25am #

    “When you believe in things you don’t understand, then you suffer.”

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:31am #

    Are you stikin to the article in question, hp? Or do you not understand what I understand?

  5. Arch Stanton said on February 27th, 2008 at 2:22pm #

    Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.

    Ecclesiastes 4

  6. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 4:51pm #

    I also penned an incomprehensible sentence.

    And to think of all the threads at DV I’ve STOPPED with simple, clear and (needless to say) astounding insights!!

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 28th, 2008 at 3:46am #

    The ‘War on Terror’ makes sense in a multi-faceted number of senses. There’s the drive to steal Arab oil. There’s the impulse to establish Eretz Yisrael as regional hegemon and global partner of choice. And there’s the desire to institute a ‘ strategy of tension’, to keep the masses frightened and too concerned with dead boogey-men like bin-Laden to consider other, more pressing, problems.
    That our Masters are utterly unconcerned by the planet becoming uninhabitable for our species is now beyond question. One must ask why they are like that, as they have families and the younger ones will actually live through the unfolding of the initial stages of collapse. I’ve thought for a while that the real driving personalities, the uber-elect of the ruling global parasite class know exactly what is happening, and wish it to occur. I believe they imagine they can hunker down in some redoubt and sit out the chaos and mass death. Later they, and their descendants will enjoy a re-vitalised planet sans say 90% of the ‘useless eaters’. I think this is a deranged plan, as it is wicked and won’t work, but I cannot see any other explanation, unless they really are cosmic lizards in disguise.
    In the face of this reality it is obvious that the global parasite class have to be removed from power. As they kill at the drop of a hat, this cannot be achieved peacefully. Indeed I’m surprised that a global movement of violent resistance to ecological destruction has not yet emerged, although the earliest manifestations will certainly easily be liquidated. Waiting for the parasites to undergo a conversion to an ethos of human survival for the great bulk of the earth’s population, would be like waiting patiently for the Second Coming. It ain’t going to happen. Unless we all just go quietly into that eternal night of extinction, resistance must appear somewhere, sometime. Naturally a population indoctrinated over decades in fear and hatred of ‘terror’ will support the authorities as they ruthlessly suppress resistance. It’s not as if environmentalists and unionists in the poor world are not already hunted down by death-squads when they rear their heads. Passive resistance is useless, as it will be crushed as ruthlessly as violent resistance. And then we face the problem of abjuring violence in the unlikely event it rescues us from our daemonic Masters. All in all I tremble at the prospects for the next fifty years, fearful we have entered an inescapable cul-de-sac.

  8. hp said on February 28th, 2008 at 9:42am #

    Lloyd, perhaps I understand what you do not.

  9. Gary Corseri said on February 28th, 2008 at 11:18am #

    Maybe the best way to reach masses of Americans about the earth-shattering, ecocidal activities of our Corpocracy is through a comic book–at least where the print medium is concerned. Lots of pictures/illustrations. Keep it simple.

    No doubt a clever and masterful work in the hands of Jensen and McMillan.

    Those who are not brain-dead know that we are at the tipping-point– or beyond the tipping-point–for saving our planet, our home. That dexterity with tools that defined our species’ development and trajectory now threatens our survival. What kind of collective or individual actions are most moral–and what is moral, given the nature of the cataclysm we are facing? These are the profound questions Jensen and McMillan have packaged in a simple, colorful format, to which Adam Engel has now averted our needful attention.

  10. hp said on February 28th, 2008 at 12:07pm #

    And if we are beyond the tipping point? What then?

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 28th, 2008 at 7:17pm #

    Enjoy the ride, hp. Like a Nantucket Slieghride, just hope old Moby doesn’t sound too deep. The remnants will pick themselves up, and if we’ve learned anything, drown all entrepreneurs at birth. Realistically, as James Lovelock has postulated, perhaps a few bands of doughty survivors, tramping the far north (or perhaps newly verdant Antarctica?)will be all that remain. Not quite the Olduvai collapse, but perhaps the Hyperborean retreat. It’ll be a long way back from there, I suspect.

  12. Barbara said on February 29th, 2008 at 12:41am #

    The commentators, thus far, remind me of an early 60s incident: When John Kennedy occupied the White House, intellectuals used to find themselves invited to dinner there, and one of these, Edmund Wilson, having accepted the invitation, found himself seated next to Kennedy, who enquired, “I have always been intrigued by the title Patriotic Gore; what’s it about?”

    Edmund Wilson replied, “Read the book.”

  13. hp said on February 29th, 2008 at 10:56am #

    Mulga, one thing I, you and everyone else knows for 100% certain is we all got it coming. Whether by a nuclear blast, heart attack in the middle of an orgasm, run over by a dump truck or pushed out the window. Now is that fair, or what?

  14. M Pyre said on February 29th, 2008 at 5:05pm #

    Mulga Mumblebrain:

    “I’ve thought for a while that the real driving personalities, the uber-elect of the ruling global parasite class know exactly what is happening, and wish it to occur. I believe they imagine they can hunker down in some redoubt and sit out the chaos and mass death.”


    I have thought the same, only here’s what I think explains their cavalier attitude.

    1) They think that the forecast for ecological mayhem is just a “liberal” plot to steal power and money.

    2) They think that if there’s any truth to the forecast, it is overstated and will be limited solely to places where the planet currently is heavily “developed” with industry, infrastructure, dwellings, buildings, roads. Hence they buy land and build houses in remote locations in various countries around the world.

    3) They believe that some form of post-collapse economy must be created, and who better to create it than they? One should notice that many have started moving their assets into vehicles that are not based on the American dollar. This is accidental? I don’t think so.

    I think it’s plain that they wish to destroy our current economy and simply are milking the last billions of taxpayer dollars that the taxpayers are willing to contribute. Thanks for your wage slavery, “consumers.” Thanks for paying your taxes, we find that method so much easier than the old fees that we kings used to have to levy on our subjects. You know we had to hire collectors for that and it was messy business, blood and corpses and missing limbs all for a bit of tribute. This IRS thing, it’s way easier. So thank you, taxpayers.

  15. hp said on March 1st, 2008 at 7:32am #

    The real irony is most people think they got a pretty good deal..