Summer—our brief respite of full, sunny days and clear-crystal weather for which we endure our nigh-year purgatory of ever-drizzle and afternoon sunsets—is still not officially arrived at time of this writing.
We can hope this season will squeeze in some few nice days precious amid the ash-gray haze of Pacific Northwest forest fires that turns the high-sky sun into a cigarette’s cherry.
We’re told this is the new normal, but it could be worse. And it will be.
If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.
Wallace-Wells details what heating the whole world by degrees really means, the sort of catastrophe a rise of four degrees Celsius causes everywhere and how 10 degrees makes vast portions utterly unlivable from the direct heat—let alone crop failure, flooding, and extreme events that will become common enough just to be called “weather”.
In Gulliver’s Travels, the titular character visits many strange, foreign lands in the service of satirist Jonathan Swift’s desire to poke fun at the flaws of the culture of his time and to talk regularly about human excretions.
Adaptations, especially those aimed at children, tend to only reproduce the book’s evocative imagery of being a giant among the tiny Lilliputians and being doll-sized among the towering Brobdingnagians. They leave out the scenes of defecating enough to fill a miniature church or being forced to watch colossal serving girls urinate. Laputa, the floating island of scientific wonder, sometimes appears in other contexts such as Japanese animated film, but without the associations of trying to turn digested food back into something edible. The humanoid primitives, Yahoos, survived into common parlance better than the rational, equine Houyhnhnms, but without the association of feces-flinging.
One brief, excreta-free section from Gulliver’s Travels is not among those often reproduced whatsoever: Gulliver meeting the immortal struldbrug. These are a special breed of human who are able to live essentially forever but without eternal youth. Their teeth fall out, their eyesight and hearing fail, their memories dull, they aren’t allowed autonomy or property ownership, and eventually can’t communicate even with each other because their dialects grow indistinguishable. The people of the land of Luggnagg are thankful for death because they’re constantly reminded of what the real alternative is.
I’m not the first to point out the similarity of modern medicine in creating cursed immortality as a reality for us, but our appreciation for the inevitability and even relief of death continues to lag behind for most.
Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely not counted among such people, and her latest book Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.