By Frank A. Possemato.
One first realised there might be something to the stories leaking out of New Guinea when the rich began to shake. Biologists and activists made dire predictions, which in their search for superlatives ended up sounded to most like hyperbole. Still, an influential article around this time coined the term “spenders” to describe a growing trend by some to cash in assets and life savings and simply “live.” “Spenders” (according to the New Yorker) were characterised as, “a sort of counterculture for the wealthy, well connected and those with only money left to lose.” The crazy spender uncle became a familiar character in movies and on the business end of late night monologues.
Meanwhile, the story off the shores of New Guinea raged, but a story with the word phytoplankton can only make its way so deep, so often into the headlines, and would be featured one day out of every five or six. Familiar, cacophonous voices evoked the Black Plague and argued the situation was of comparable significance to the discovery of life outside of earth, in articles sharing banner space with more arresting news links such as “Is Your Name Sexy?” and “Teacher Asked to Leave Classroom for Revealing Outfit.” Some 18 months of new news was wrung from the disastrous quote, by one of the only figures most everyone would listen to, that: “There is no such thing as irreversible ecological damage.” Countless times third paragraphs and follow up stories reminded the next clause of her report read, “…only ecological damage we don’t deem important enough to reverse.” In the battle over what the quote meant the issue baked.
When it stared to happen elsewhere the voices of opposition reversed and acknowledged New Guinea had a crisis. Aid and feel good sentiments of recovery and relief poured onto the shores of Port Moresby, as did, for the first time in earnest, the world’s cameras. With unity of purpose and nervous optimism, youth news outlets covered the crisis, the subtext being that since all agree there is a problem the solution is only a matter of time away. On the highest levels, those normally unaffected by the rocking of the boat, there were sell offs. And on the level just below that, those with success and ambition to burn but not history’s pedigree, they began buying. An industry bloomed catering to what a few years ago would have been called the now dated term “spenders.” These businesses began extending unlimited lines of credit (with no repayment due) in exchange for property and land – a sort of reverse mortgage for estates, and able-bodied spenders of all ages.
At first, it seemed as though the crisis would obey the model so germandedere about of hitting the most vulnerable populations the hardest, but it soon switched to a more egalitarian path. All wars are fought over resources, it is the very design flaw of the divine plan, and the prospect of wars over hospitable land gave the conscience pause. However, this prediction too proved not wholly accurate. Atrocities occurred and borders shifted but ironically, those wars fought by choice were imbued with more vigor, more ultimate meaning than those fought for mere survival. The effects fell in a fractal that defied widespread organised response and easy vilification. In convergent evolution there emerged in many corners a feeling that war was worse than death and an acknowledgement of the common desperation in your enemies eyes. As often as not the side fighting for existence loses, and modern warfare was an act of luxury few could afford. War is worse than death, and the century before worse wars were fought over less.
Civilisation doesn’t end, it’s rebroadcast. Too much had been preserved in too many formats. The artifice stayed around, where it could, to prevent anarchy. The worst off were helpless, the better off at least weren’t the worst off. And it became a matter of national duty across the world not to ask. The time to put away childish things had come and gone. Survival the great point overlooked was no longer a certainty, and everything was local.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The first generation in his family to attend college, Frank Possemato was born in Boston and currently teaches English at one of the country’s most diverse community colleges while also performing regularly as a comedian. With his brother, Joey, he is co-creator of the cult comedy show Weymouth After Dark. Frank and his wife Jessica go on adventures. His writing has appeared in a variety of journals including The Los Angeles Review, Poetry Quarterly and others.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 20th, 2012.