This book is dedicated to Galina V.W., who twice the mother, raised her grandson as lovingly as she raised her son.
How does one begin to care about water? Water being a thing generally only thought about when you’re thirsty or need a wash. How does one begin to care about something that just falls from the sky? Care enough to write a book on it?
Sometimes life’s projects spring out of nowhere. That is until you take the trouble to track ‘em back to their source.
This particular endeavor may have started when Doctor Walter (Pseudonym), my HS Earth Science teacher, mentioned that water might become an issue in coming decades.
That idea sat in the back of my mind for years. Dormant and drowned out by all the usual business and distraction of being a young man. It wasn’t til I stumbled upon Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, nearly a decade later, that I was reminded of the reality of limited resources.
Consilience isn’t an environmental book. It’s more one of those intellectual adventures. The sort that scientists set out on when facing the seductively beckoning sea of life’s mysteries. Consilience is biologist E.O. Wilson’s ‘all-in-one’ foray into the history of philosophy and science. It’s a highlighting of how this history reveals an inherent overlap, or ‘jumping together’ of knowledge from various disciplines. One that occurs in concert with his own insightful musings, on how such consilience may soon more fully occur. Though I disagree with much found in its pages, I’d highly recommend it as a fascinating read.
The work’s pertinent part for this particular project came at the end of the book. Which at one point discusses the vast expenditures of energy and resources necessary to sustain life today. Discovering the sheer amount of water involved is what triggered the memory of old Doctor Walter’s cautioning.
This recall and its attendant realizations are the reason for why I learned to care about water and why I wish to impart that care to readers of this book.
Care is often stigmatized by the twin burdens of trouble and responsibility. Yet care can also be fascinating. It can in fact be a great deal of fun. It can animate certain dormant sensibilities, that nourish and revitalize the spirit, and lead you to myriad adventures and discoveries.
Another natural consequence of care is of course cultivation. Care leads to the cultivation of spiritual, intellectual, and physical powers. Powers that are indispensable in the most precious and precarious sort of cultivation. A cultivation called agriculture and industry. Twin disciplines upon which all of our lives depend and which are in turn wholly dependent on water.
There will be much on this in coming chapters. For now I ask that you be so kind as to humor my penchant for introspection.
I like to introspect. I find it to be an excellent exercise for developing strong creative and critical thinking faculties. These skills have always been essential. Perhaps it is a mistake to say that they are needed now more than ever. But, I’m going to say it.
I’m saying it because although the world is as complicated as it always was, we are more complicated than we have ever been before. The machinery and administration of our societies is vast, labyrinthine, and interdependent. For these reasons, and perhaps ‘just because we can,’ we developed the ability to communicate instantly across oceans and continents. As a result information bombards us at an unprecedented rate.
Lord, how our information increaseth. Indeed.
Our familiar manner of relating to one another, of interacting with the environment, and the ‘qualia’ of our institutions have all undergone drastic changes.
All of these things call for well developed faculties. It will take strength, wit, compassion, and resolve to continuously thrive in a world of 7.6 billion people, large hadron colliders, and dead zones. It will take introspection.
This is why I weave psychological, philosophical, and sociological analysis into a basket, that would already be complete, even if assembled from the barest essentials of science and reporting.
I would not be able to practice such a delicate art. The art called ‘integrative analysis’ without a healthy dose of introspection.
‘Integrative analysis’ is the multifaceted discipline foreshadowed by the catalyst for this work: E.O. Wilson’s Consilience. It is consilience.
Nowhere is it more necessary than today’s interdependent, overlapping, high speed world. A world that produces words like Biogeochemical.
Biogeochemical should have been the watchword of the 20th century. The passage of chemicals between living things and the environment is a cycle that requires rapt attention. Perhaps if such attention was given there would have been yet more geniuses and poets. There is much to unpack in the latter statement. For the purpose of the introduction I will simply say: Preventing illness and death is why we must strive to make Biogeochemical the watchword of the 21st century.
The very nature of the word is multifaceted. It is a testament to the increasing complexity of living in a universe that is inherently, unfathomably intricate. It is why I practice and stress the need for developing a strong capacity for integrative analysis.
I think it worth mentioning that good analysis requires hard work and resolve. Neither hard work nor resolve are possible if you fall into the trendy nihilism that’s still somewhat in vogue. This nihilism has at its core a bizarre sort of overdeveloped minimalism. It is a bastardization of utilitarianism. One that has kept me, and I dare wager a good deal of others; from accessing the energy, resources, and will necessary to fight the good fight.
It is in the interest of providing an example of how this mindset plays out and is resolved that I offer the next passage. I do so in the hopes that it will produce more authors, more cultivators, more passion.
It was recalling Doctor Walter’s words as I was reading Wilson’s work that led to this present volume.
This recall came at a fortuitous time. That is if you consider the creation of a book fortuitous. I was looking for something to do. I knew that I had to do something. I’d spent too much time looking and studying and not enough time doing. I weighed the merits of various enterprises and remembered that I’d always intended to write.
While, you’re welcome to disagree with my self-assessmsent. Writing is something I consider myself good at. Words and ideas come with ease and coherency. Something more the result of having a love of reading instilled in me early than any inherent braininess.
The fact that writing came naturally, the idea that books didn’t have utility in the same way an algorithm does, and the saturation of the writing market; are some of the reasons I viewed a writing career dimly.
I needed to get a ‘real job’ and build ‘real skills.’ Not do something that was ‘easy’ and fun. I bounced about from odd-job to odd-job, attempting to teach myself computer programming, because things have to have ‘utility’ you know.
Rediscovering the water issue was a fortuitous catalyst. It was an issue that my skill could shake a stick at. Even better it was an issue that had utility.
How does writing solve issues? Well, it doesn’t but it may help along the process. (The very fact that I feel the need to say this is testament to the trendy utilitarian nihilism mentioned last section.)
Part of solving a problem is having a good grasp of it and that only comes from thinking. Writing being formalized thinking seems perfect for the job. While I may not solve anything per se, I can serve as a signpost for professionals and laypeople alike.
Many readers pore through the introduction to see if a book is up their alley. They’re always trying to get a taste for the flavor of it. To see if they like it.
I’ll flat out save you the time and give you a taste.
It is true. Every book has a flavor. This book is no different. It will take you on a journey through the fascinating intersections defined by the axis resource known as water. It will be both a lesson and a story.
This is my first non-fiction book. It is narrative journalism. According to thebalance.com narrative journalism is:
“An immersive style of storytelling, narrative journalism is used to captivate readers by drawing them into a story with greater detail than is found in traditional news stories. It is a popular format for magazines such as the New Yorker and can difficult to define and write.”
I love stories, I love finding things out, and I dig a challenge. So this medium seems exactly up my alley.
I don’t think that any of the above traits are special. They’re up everybody’s alley. There’s a lot of joy to be had in reading a hard-won story about the real world. It’s a joy that’s on par with creating the story. One that I was delighted to experience as I did the background research necessary to launch this project.
This book is written in a similar vein.
Since the New Yorker was mentioned, I’d like to suggest that my readers whet their appetite for narrative journalism, by reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann. It is free to access on their website.
The spirit of exploration is one that I’ve always held in high regard. A flame that needs stoking, in a world that believes it’s been mapped and mounted, like some hapless gossamer butterfly in a Victorian collection.
It is in the interest of rekindling such time-honored passions, that I began writing a jungle adventure inspired by all the Doyle, Crichton, and Lovecraft I pored over in my adolescence. (Of course Alan Watts and Terrence McKenna played a role as well.) Researching for The Sketch of Sam Monroe (estimated completion: 1st Quarter, 2019 ) led me to Grann’s article. It is a worthy read.
If you dig jungle books, and aren’t too uncomfortable with salty language, and psychedelic silliness, please check out the intro and first couple of chapters on my website: fractaljournal.com.
I believe that jungles are useful metaphors for getting to grips with things and for kindling the spirit of exploration.
Getting a grip on the water issue is a jungle in its own right.
Time to set up base-camp!