cover art by Eric Drooker
This week’s (Nov. 15) New Yorker is pretty depressing reading, but as I read it I realized that all of the analyses in the issue are focused on complex, intractable problems, and, refreshingly, none of them proffers any solutions.
The first and most harrowing article is about the accelerating challenges of wildfires in the US. In it, science journalist and author MR O’Connor, a certified firefighter herself, describes how incompetent forest management practices, and decisions based on politics not science (sound familiar?) have produced the current situation of exorbitant firefighting costs, futile containment efforts, incredible risk to firefighters’ lives and health, and the ever-increasing danger of mega-fires. And that was before the climate emergency weighed in with record storms, heat waves and droughts. With “containment” proving to be an unsuccessful and unsustainable strategy, and leaving wildfires to burn themselves out not a viable solution either, there are no answers left.
The next article, by Brooke Jarvis, describes the quandary of trying to humanely limit the numbers of deer and other creatures, encroaching on and being encroached upon by human settlements, when natural predators and natural habitats have both disappeared. Again, there are no answers.
The lead Talk of the Town article, by Elizabeth Kolbert, describes the fiasco of COP26. Enough said.
In other articles in this edition, Ian Parker explains the impossibility of reliably certifying organic produce (describing the huge Organic Land Management fraud case), and Jon Lee Anderson describes the horrific challenges of corruption and crime in the ecologically and economically desolated nations of Central America.
So it’s only fitting, I suppose, that the magazine’s cover, by Eric Drooker, reproduced above, would depict a dejected Don Quixote facing a modern windmill farm against a blood red background, in a work brilliantly titled The Impossible Dream. We are finally coming to grips, it seems, with the symptoms and consequences of collapse, and the realization that no god, no government, no humanist enlightenment, and most certainly no technology, is going to prevent it.
I don’t read, watch, or recommend mainstream journalism, which has so debased itself over the past two decades (or more) to be essentially worthless, or worse, actively destructive. But like a stopped clock, it gets things right once in a while. The New Yorker issue you cite (pretty effective cover, though how many recognize its point of reference is a good question) appears to be a relatively rare instance of getting it right (for a change).
The evidence that humanity has unwittingly boxed itself in with regard to how we inhabit the planet has grown to be overwhelming. Many doomers have drawn the inevitable conclusions and are now simply getting on with things, expecting it all to fall apart any time now. New cracks in the edifice appear regularly. Still, the impulse to “solve” problems even when no solutions exist is very strong. Thus, industrial civilization is trapped metaphorically in a Chinese finger puzzle, and the only solution that can be grokked is to just keep pulling.
Don Quixote is dejected? Don’t think so. Most characterizations exhibit manic enthusiasm stemming from derangement.
Don Quixote as symbol for humanity’s denial of reality.
I notice that he’s alone. His sidekick has already left him. Maybe Sancho Panza saw the light and realized the futility of his boss’ heroic adventures.
The only sensible thing to do was to abscond and try to enjoy what was left of his life.
Just read aloud to Connie, who said, “Way to go, Dave!!”
Love you, bro!
~ M & C