‘Desert Notebooks’

In his latest book, author Ben Ehrenreich seeks to imagine an alternative pathway for humanity.

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Ben Ehrenreich sits down with Robert Lovato and Alta Asks Live for a digital discussion on these two authors' new works.

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I remember, when I was a kid, staring at road maps, the kind you bought at gas stations and carried in the glove box, and that were, for me at least, impossible to properly refold. I remember looking at all those intersecting lines representing roads laid over and carved through the earth, dirt tracks and superhighways, the insolent grids of the cities. I wanted to follow them all to the end. I remember thinking that if you could get hold of all the maps for the entire country, or even the hemisphere, and spread them out side by side, it would be obvious that every road leads to every other road, that everything is connected. The dull suburban lane on which I lived would carry me eventually to rocky paths in Patagonia and the rutted logging roads that cross Alaska. There were dead ends, of course, lots of them, but assuming you were free to backtrack, it was impossible, really, to get lost. You could follow any road in any direction and eventually, by however circuitous a path, get where you needed to go. Oceans notwithstanding.

I don’t remember talking to anyone about this. As a child, you learn to guard your thoughts, to hold close to ideas that seemed simple and self-evident and that you knew adults would scoff at. What counted as education seemed to mainly involve learning to walk in single file and otherwise keep quiet. School meant grown-ups telling you that things had to be done in a certain way, and in no other, that however many obvious and inviting paths might lead from one point to another, only one of them was right. The rest might as well not exist at all. To do well, to earn praise, you had to learn not to see them anymore.

I’ve had some time to think it over and I’m convinced I was correct. For decades we have been told that political maturity meant accepting that there were no alternatives to the world in which we lived, that no deviation was possible from the path that we were on. That economic growth was limitless and democracy would advance alongside it, and prosperity, equality, freedom, and endless high-tech toys. That to question this, to strive to imagine any radically different way of going about things, was a childish and even dangerous endeavor. That our society had evolved over the millennia via the straightest route available—the only one, at that—from a pitiable primitive infancy to the heights of rational civilized society, and that our only option was to continue to climb the same path. That was the story, and somewhere along the line most of us began to believe it…. We didn’t see, most of us, that the path we were on would lead us here, into this cul-de-sac. Now the asphalt is melting, and falling away beneath our feet. 

Excerpted from Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, Copyright © 2020 by Ben Ehrenreich, reprinted with permission of Counterpoint Press.

Counterpoint Press
Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time, by Ben Ehrenreich
Counterpoint Press Bookshop.org
$23.92
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