Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 02/10/10



Artist's Statement

Lately I’ve been crept out by the increasingly admiring tone the national media has taken toward China. Around Christmas I saw a TIME Magazine whose cover feature was “Five Things The U.S. Can Learn from the Chinese.” (I could pretty much picture the Pain cartoon in my head without even looking at the article.) In an editorial about environmental and energy policy Thomas Friedman contrasted the U.S.’s helpless greedlock to China’s “more enlightened” government. I was struck by his use of the term “enlightened,” which I still associate with the Renaissance, scientific skepticism, progressive politics and spiritual awakening, to refer to a government that routinely responds to political and religious dissent with a bullet to the back of the skull. Roger Cohen writes: "I believe the rise of China is unstoppable.” (In a recent column contrasting China’s growing confidence on the global arena with American’s confused and antiquated foreign policy, Cohen related an exchange he had over the issue of Iran with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, praising the “clearly written” response he received. I’m sure it’s very cool to have inside contacts among such high-ranking fascists, but it seems never to have occurred to Cohen that the ministry of a totalitarian state might be anything other than 100% forthright in communiqués with a foreign journalist.) It all reminds me of the dire, fatalistic rhetoric we heard twenty years ago about the equally inevitable ascendancy of Japan, which by the way whatever happened to that? What it really sounds like is nothing so much as Springfield anchorman Kent Brockman’s premature reaction to what he believed was an alien invasion: “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.”

It’s certainly true that a dictatorship is more efficient in reacting to a crisis than a democracy, which is why the Romans used to appoint a temporary dictator in times of war. I read an article recently about China taking the lead in renewable energy technologies, while the American government seems not yet to have fully grasped that things like climate change or the depletion of fossil fuels are crises. The Chinese are already cranking out wind turbines and investing in photovoltaics, while the U.S.'s last brilliant idea on this front was to mire our armies in a war in the Middle East and bankrupt ourselves for the next half-century to secure access to the last big resevoir of the polluting, nonrenewable energy source of the 20th century.

Except aren't we forgetting one crucial difference: that the Chinese are assholes? To quote war profiteer Darryl Worley, Have you forgotten? Have we forgotten about Tiananmen Square? You know, the guy in front of the tank? The arrest and disappearance of dissidents? The forcible annexation of Tibet? The persecution and torture of Falun Gong practitioners? The heavy-handed censorship? The totalitarian management of people's personal lives? The fake-o lip-syncing little robot girl at the Olympics? It's a police state. I’m finding it weirdly easy to imagine these same columnists writing with envy of the impressive swiftness and efficiency and with which Hitler and Mussolini were rebuilding their economies while the U.S. was still floundering in the Great Depression, arguing over its wonky, trial-end-error New Deal programs, going through all the lumbering, wasteful motions of democracy.

China is like someone so wealthy that he's been allowed to become a narcissistic sociopath; everyone's so afraid of or indebted to him that they let him get away with it. The U.S. government is in such deep financial debt to the Chinese, and our business leaders are slavering so thirstily over the mirage of their billion-plus consumer market, that we’re all starry-eyed and fawming over a nation no better than the tinpot thugocracies of North Korea or Iran. Should we all maybe just admit that the only value anyone in this country gives a shit about anymore is money?

What we really need to do is get out from under our gargantuan debt to China, which, if we all work very hard, eliminate weekends and don't take any sick days, should only take us until 2314 A.D., by which time the Chinese will be living in floating pleasure-domes in the clouds of Neptune and we'll be selling old Captain and Tenille albums out of cardboard boxes for a Euro apiece. Or we could just declare bankruptcy. Default. We could say: Guess what, China? We’re never paying you back. That money’s gone, Jim. Truth is, we done blew it all on Iraq! We spent it on imaginary shit on the stock market! We just plain don’t got it no more and we’re never gonna! So put that in your fancy opium pipe and smoke it! What--you want it? Well come and get it, pussies. That's right. Yeah, we got your 800 billion dollars for ya riiight here.

I personally am not worried about China. I don't believe that the Chinese government can continue for much longer to have it both ways, getting all of the capitalism with none of the democracy. (Once the Chinese people find out about internet porn it'll all be over, like the Three Gorges Dam busting.) Nor, to be honest, do I much care who's currently winning the world geopolitical pissing contest. The main difference between our two politico-economic systems these days, as far as I can tell, seems to be that the Chinese government owns its corporations while American corporations own our government. (Also hey what's with the same people who are protesting the U.S. turning into a socialist country demanding that the government do something about unemployment? Can you both believe that Obama is a closet Bolshevik and also insist that he owes you a living? Isn't this sort of like telling your Dad to fuck off and stay out of your life while hitting him up for a couple hundred bucks?)

Let's admit it: being a superpower was a big drag, mostly a lot of thankless foreign aid, nuclear-war nightmares and kids coming home in body bags. And I suspect that a lot of what appears to be defeatism among American commentators is veiled relief that we might finally get to foist the mantle of world leadership off on someone else, like Atlas trying to stick Hercules with the shit job of holding the entire Earth on his shoulders. All I care about is the survival of the human race and the advance of enlightenment civilization--the word enlightenment being used here advisedly, unironically and without postmodern quotes. I don't care who gets to think they're running things a thousand years from now as long as someone, somewhere, is still watching Akira Kurosawa films.





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