July 20, 2006

"Do you really think anything is ever going to get better as long as there are 6.2 billion people?"

"Don’t you see that the wars we are fighting now are for resources? It’s just going to get worse; it’s utterly tragic and I have no solution. I’ve been writing about this for a long time.”

I want to like novelists. Really, I do. For example, T.C. Boyle. I read him sometimes. That is to say: I subordinate my mind to his and let his thoughts become my thoughts. But then I read quotes like this, and it sets me to wondering all over again about this practice of reading novels. They're written by novelists, you know.

ADDED: Roy thinks I'm objecting to Boyle's politics. He specializes in calling me an idiot, in numerous posts, but he never seems to begin to understand my writing. Here, he comes to the defense of writers. But do writers even want to be defended by a man who is such a poor reader?

40 comments:

JP said...

Dude, come on, Boyle. You're like, 208 years behind the times, man.

Maxine Weiss said...

I don't like him.

There are better novelists.

Peace, Maxine

Ed said...

In the 1970s NASA had the Stanford Summer Study group, which designed space colonies. One of these designs, the Stanford Torus, would have held 10000 people at a suburban population density. Most of the material to build it would have been radiation shielding, slag sent up from the moon.

If we were to dismantle the asteroid Ceres, we could build settlements like the Stanford Torus and even bigger structures, so many such structures that the resulting combined inner surface area would equal 500 times the surface area of the earth. That's just one asteroid (admittedly, the largest one, itself comprising 1/4 of the mass of the asteroid belt). That doesn't count the hundreds of moons and millions of comets in the solar system.

The population of the solar system could number 10 trillion before it gets crowded.

Johnny Nucleo said...

The answer of course is space travel. The colonization of space is humanity's destiny. I'm being serious here, I really believe that.

What you said about Boyle reminds me of something you said in a podcast about another writer. Something to the effect of, Is this how a great artist talks or is this how an evil man talks. I don't remember what the guy said that prompted you say that, but that line struck me and I meant to comment on it, then I got distracted and forgot.

I don't think Boyle or the other guy is evil, per se. But I do think artists have a greater capacity for casually monstrous thinking than normal people. But they tend to express it only if the monstrous thinking is acceptable to the cynical smart set.

A good rule of thumb: Never let an artist anywhere near power. (I don't consider Reagan to be an artist.)

Ann Althouse said...

I don't read his comment as evil, just depressive and inaccurate.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Yeah, neither do I really (actually I sort of do, not that Boyle is evil, but such thinking is kinda, well, not good) but it reminded me of what you said in the podcast about the other guy and I wanted to riff off that. In fact, I don't even know your answer to the question about the other guy. I'll listen to the the rest of the podcast sometime and find out. But I had the urge to riff so I tied the two together.

ignacio said...

Boyle's been stupid for a long time. This is not the place to situate him in the literary galaxy, but he's a minor player, a lesser Pynchon (and Thomas Pynchon is burned out).

But keep in mind (gee, this is going to sound like the "good muslims" argument) that any writer who pipes up with anything but leftist cant will make serious enemies for life.

For instance: the New York Times Book Review has a disproportionate weight when it comes to sales here in the USA and to the very valuable foreign rights. I remember hearing an agent say, "All they want to see is the New York Times," when explaining why a certain novel was not having its Japanese, French or German foreign rights purchased.

A good review in the New Yorker or the L.A. Times (as in the case I mention) was as nothing versus a bad one in the NYTBR.

James Ellroy is known to be on the right, but his book-sales are not "review-driven."

If the humanities faculty of most universities are overwhelmingly on the left or far left then the many novelists who have tenure will have the same opinions as though who hired them, their friends.

Ann Althouse said...

Johnny: It's #57. Peter Handke.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Nucleo said...

Ellroy has a pretty depressing view of the world too. And I'll bet Ellroy has done more serious badness in his life than Boyle. Ellroy was a criminal and a racist when he was younger. But the thing is, Ellroy's view of the world - that human beings are dirty rotten scoundrels - is true. And truth is good. But Boyle's view goes one step further: Because human beings are dirty rotten scoundrels, humanity is doomed.

Henry said...

I think the best fiction is still all written by dead guys. Really really dead. Like Homer. And that guy that wrote Beowulf.

Ricardo said...

One word: Malthus. Our planet has a historical habit of getting rid of excess cargo through calamity, disease, and war. And basically, despite our hubris, we're just cargo.

Albatross said...

I know it's rather cliche, but I think Moby Dick is a brilliant novel, one of the best written by an American (and a dead one, at that). I haven't read Boyle, but that quote seems a tad simplistic. What resources are Hezbollah and Hamas fighting for? (I know, land, but it's really about religion, isn't it?) What about the Islamists in Somalia, what resources are they fighting for? And al-Qaeda? Do they really want our resources, or do they just want to see the West defeated for the sake of defeating the West? Seems like it's more about ideologies than resources.

P. Froward said...

Malthus was wrong. He thought affluence drove increase in population rather than the reverse. He also thought wars decrease population. That appears not to be the case.

Anyhow, according to projections, the Earth's population will be shrinking by the end of this century. Unless everybody stops getting richer. But in that case it won't shrink, it'll implode.

ignacio said...

I don't think Ann wants me to take up space here with a list, but there have been plenty of good novels in recent years. It always takes a while for history to sift through the chaff.

Theophile Gautier was a much bigger name in his day than Gustave Flaubert. William Dean Howells was much bigger here in America than Edith Wharton or Henry James.

Critically, popularly -- in every way.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Nucleo said...

"T C Boyle thinks the world is all outtakes from the Road Warrior."

That's a good line.

Dave said...

When did Boyle become Gore?

Palladian said...

"Artists, writers, actors, and so forth are peculiarly unsuited to offering valuable or even plausible opinions about how persons in general should order their affairs, never mind geopolitics."

Geez, you could just skip my comments Cottageman, you needn't insult me!

bearbee said...

He may be a novelist but the thought did not originate in his novelist brain. The wars are being fought right now, currently with money and diplomacy but in the future.....?

THE WAR OVER RESOURCES "Energy Security Will Be one of the Main Challenges of Foreign Policy"

China is growing its economy by more 10% with India hot on its heels representing aggregate populations of roughly 2.5 billion all wanting a better life. China is furiously building out its manufacturing and civil infrastructure and to do so demands not only energy in all its forms (oil, natural gas, coal,nuclear) but base metals (copper, lead, zinc, plutonium, etc) lumber, food, clean water and so on.

China has been visiting various oil exporting nations with satchels of cash incentives. With the US scrambling for oil, Venezuela has reduced by 6% its oil shipment to the US and is sending it to China even though shipping routes are such as to require he absorb an extra $3 per barrel. . It is said Putin is using his natural gas reserves as political tools to coerce neighboring countries. Canada to air concerns about Russian democracy
Another point of contention is Russia's alleged bullying of post-Soviet neighbours by manipulating the price of energy.

As Europe's biggest supplier of natural gas, Russia set off shock waves in January when it briefly shut down gas deliveries to Ukraine. The Kremlin says the blockade was over a pricing dispute but critics allege it was an effort to punish Ukraine for its West-leaning policies.


As oil prices rise many countries have nationalized their oil industries and will begin nationalizing their other resources as those prices rise (gold, silver).It is estimated that the market builds $10-$15 into oil prices because of political risk.

There are many faces to this issue but oh yeah, the war is on. And it may be 'polite for now ......

P. Froward said...

No, Palladian, that's not war, it's international relations. War is when you shoot at people on a large scale.

Governments have been squeezing each others' nuts for a long, long time. They've been nationalizing industries for a long time, too. You can't just sample one point and call it a trend. What are you comparing it to?


Writers have been having dystopian panic attacks for a long time, too.

Sean said...

Is the suggestion that novelists as a class are stupider in their political beliefs and comments than university professors? Because if there is one thing that the blogosphere has brought home to me, it's what morons most university professors are (Prof. Althouse is a rare exception). Now on the one hand, this has been a factor in my decision to stop contributing to my almae matres, but it certainly wouldn't make me recommend that someone not go to college, even though the classes are taught by professors, you know.

Goesh said...

I've heard a couple of times that when China has its 3 gorge dam completed, it will have 9 times the electrical output of the hoover dam - that's alot of power for industry. There must be a good 2.6 billion people in China and India combined and both have growing economies, which means more cars and more oil consumption and more building and more food consumption and better medical technology and resources for longer life spans. I see a future but not quite as rosy as some think.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
knoxgirl said...

A Thousand Acres is one of my favorite books. Needless to say, I was shocked when I read this, by its author, Jane Smiley:

http://www.slate.com/id/2109218/

...here's a quote to give you a taste: Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states.

Little did I know that her depiction of some of the less savory characters grew directly from her intense hatred of all of us living between the "parentheses." I wish I was exaggerating!

knoxgirl said...

Prosperity is not a pizza with a limited amount of slices

This is an important point, and I wish more politicians would make it.... success and wealth are not limited resources; rather, they grow exponentially as more people enjoy them.

Boyle's flippant point about the point of life being "to make purchases" taps into this, ironically. It's the exchange of goods and services which enriches our lives and makes us happy. It's easy to qualify it as shallow, capitalistic materialism. But each purchase we make benefits both buyer and supplier and with each purchase, the "pie" gets a little bigger...

Abraham said...

Yes, because Julian Simon was right: the most important natural resource is people - the directed intelligence of free people is by far our most valuable commodity.

Freeman Hunt said...

This is exactly why I almost never read interviews. So many artists have been entirely ruined for me due to the asinine things they've said in interviews.

Ara said...

Prosperity isn't limited but topsoil and fresh water certainly are. These levels of population density are sustainable because the vast majority of the population do not live like Americans or other developed countries do. I don't see what the problem is of at least *discussing* the issue of limited natural resources, depressing though the issue may be.

PatCA said...

Wars have always been fought, even when "resources" were abundant. I think war follows more demographics than scarcity. I read an article somewhere on the net...but the author's point was, for instance, Europe in the 1400-1500s had a healthy and expanding population, so they conquered far off, less strong areas. When the colonies gained in population and prosperity, they threw off the colonizers. And so it goes.

I guess one could say that oil money was the best/worst thing to happen to radical Islam. Before oil, they were but a persistent but poorly organized and funded, manageable threat. Post-oil? Shudder.

As for Boyle's depression, I attribute that to age more than reality. One of the conversation points in My Dinner with Andre was how depressed they were with the state of the world--a time we look back on with longing! I felt much better after viewing it again.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

It's a big country.

Dad said...

We're going to run out of food in the 1970s due to soil and water depletion. Massive famine everywhere.

We're going to run out of oil in the 1980s.

jult52 said...

Some novelists are idiots outside their books; others make trenchant, original observations; some do both at different times. I wouldn't generalize too much.

knoxgirl: Jane Smiley is a boob but "Moo" is a great comic novel. Highly recommended.

Has anyone read "Drop City", by the way? I've been meaning to but wanted to get input on whether to make the plunge.

jult52 said...

Oh, and "dystopian panic attacks." Anot her great phrase from this thread. Well done, boys and girls.

Editor Theorist said...

AA's observation here is original and just wonderfully phrased - sheer delight! This little piece epitomizes exactly why I read her blog every day.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

Sippican:

I declare my genius!

AirAlan said...

I don't know why anyone thinks the world would be better off with two or three times as many people as we have now. TC Boyle is right. Have you ever tried driving across LA at rush hour? Do you want condos on every foot of ocean front property? Ski resorts in every mountain valley? Most countries don't wait till they're starving till they drum up some excuse to go to war with their neighbors. Things only have to get the slightest bit tight and all of a sudden you see wild-eyed brain-dead teenage boys using machettes to cut people's heads off.