In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh takes on the question of why climate change, the great challenge of our time, is entirely absent from the modern novel. One of the novel’s many tasks is to take on the human stories of social change, and if you only read modern novels for information, you’d think the greatest crisis modern humans are facing is that husbands and wives seem to hate one another.
One reason for this erasure, Ghosh posits, is the manner in which globalized capitalism has propagated the bourgeois idea that the world is reliable. He looks for instance, at the way the 2004 tsunami devastated the Nicobars. Traditional peoples were spared, because they had always built up in the mountains, away from the sea, but the new middle class residents for whom an ocean view was a sign of wealth and privilege were devastated. Ghosh was thinking this was just an Indian thing until he flew into JFK, over the Far Rockaways, which have been built up extensively — fancy houses along those waterways, docks, powerboats, the works. And of course, they too were devastated in 2012 in Hurricane Sandy. “It was if,” Ghosh notes, “… the bourgeois belief in the regularity of the world had been carried to the point of derangement.”
Much of the outrage we’ve all experienced these first two weeks of the Trump administration seems to me to be predicated on the violation of our bourgeois belief in the reliability of our Nation. So many people after the election, assuring me as I turned into Daffy Duck with sorrow and outrage, as I fled to Yellowstone to hang out with the bison, that it would be fine. That they system has checks and balances. That our new President didn’t mean all those things he was saying.
And they were wrong. A virulent attack has been unleashed upon the very system we believed in, the one that frustrated us because it didn’t move fast enough, or seemed too dependent on big money, or just didn’t do what we wanted it to do. Which did not mean we wanted it destroyed.
But yet, here we are. Standing amid the cataclysm, trying to figure out what we do next, which fire we rush to put out.
Is this the beginning of the end?
We know for certain that we’re at the tipping point as far as climate change goes, and while we’ve been told for decades that the increasing sea levels and unsustainable heat waves were going to lead to social chaos, and most likely, war — did any of us really believe it?
For the short term political chaos, there seems to be no choice but to take to the streets, to flood the mailboxes and voice mails of our representatives with messages, and to shut out the cynical voices telling us it won’t do any good. We’re all in it now, and we’re in it for one another, as we saw this weekend when people rushed the airports to help stranded people fleeing unimaginable horrors and then, on top of all that, being persecuted by the very government who had agreed to take them in.
We’re in for a long fight on the domestic political front, and as part of that, we need to keep in mind that other big battle we’re engaged in — the battle to rethink capitalism and it’s reliance on fossil fuels that has gotten us in this fix in the first place. We are going to have to radically change our lives. Which means driving hybrids or high-mileage cars, solar panels if we can afford them, not flying recreationally anymore, and eating lower on the food chain.
Which brings me to soup. Soup, as all the fables will tell you, is a magical elixir of comfort, and an infinitely elastic way to avoid food waste and stretch your food dollar. We’re going into hard times again, and so, soup.
As longtime readers of the blog know, I save bones and chicken carcasses and make stock a couple of times a year. All of us out here have freezers, in part because we eat a lot of game and there’s no way you’re going to keep a whole elk, or deer, or combination without a chest or upright freezer. Me, I stash carcasses as I go along, and then usually when it cools off in the fall, I make big stock, clarify it, and pressure can it. These jars are like gold. I can always make dinner — even just broth with frozen tortellini and some spinach in a pinch.
So this particular soup started out as a lovely stewing hen I was given, which made a lovely poule au pot. A few days later, I did a ham steak with white wine and veggies. Then I made soup — sauteed some onion and carrot to begin, then picked the chicken off the carcass, and added it with the leftover stewy juices. Same with the leftover ham steak and it’s nice juices. I added a quart of stock, and some pasta shells, and ate it as is, with a nice piece of toast. A few days later, I was getting bored with that soup, but now I had some leftover mixed brown rice. So into the pot it went, with more water, and about a quarter of a bag of frozen spinach. Who knows what it will morph into next? Some winters, I think I’ve eaten leftover soup that’s contained trace elements of every meal we’ve had.
Our current political fix requires us to fight like hell to save the nation, and if we can manage to do that, we’re still going to be faced with a climate crisis that we have not yet begun to acknowledge. We have a long hard road ahead. The idea that our world was reliable has been shattered, and we may only be at the beginning of it’s destruction.
But we do have soup. We can rely upon soup, if only to see us through this one snowy afternoon.
Also published on Medium.