The Squandering Earth
IF YOU’RE FEELING FRACKED, maybe it’s time to make the Great Resignation work for you. In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.3 million people left their jobs, the highest quit rate they’ve yet recorded. A March 2021 survey indicated that 41 percent of employees worldwide have considered resigning this year already; another survey, also published in March, reported that more than half of American workers are realizing they’re burned out on the job. Whether the “pandemic epiphanies” of newly existentialist workers will last is debated on television, but we know for sure one of those surveys was published by Microsoft, and the other by the job platform Indeed. At last the cycle of being tired all the time reveals its shape: the exhaustion we feel because of our jobs is being monitored and extracted, as data, by the transnational corporations that monitor and extract our work, which exhausts us.
In “The Squandering Earth,” issue no. 60 of The Baffler, we cast aspersions on the accumulation-crazed multinationals ransacking the planet for profit, making us all feel like used-up bottles of stuff while they amass exponentially more indestructible bottles of stuff. This waste-producing apparatus is vast, Ajay Singh Chaudhary writes in “The Extractive Circuit,” “the leaden reality of a global human ecological niche organized for maximal profitability—no matter how difficult or costly to maintain.” This circuit, he stresses, “is not a metaphor,” but an accelerating systems-crash that steals time and resources from zones of least resistance, like fragile habitats. One such zone, Zachariah Webb writes in “Dead Pools,” is the state of Arizona, which has achieved almost total dehydration in a global scheme with no prospects for reform. Another is Sudan, where drought, famine, and civil war project a future of stark nomadism, Jérôme Tubiana reports. And as Bryce Covert explains in her survey of the United States’ frayed infrastructure for distributing pandemic relief, stopping this systems-crash will require a jolt to our political imagination.
At other nodes along the circuit: Dave Denison follows the trail of his own recycling to the overwhelming realization that single-use plastic production will soon swamp the habitable world; Allyson Paty documents her waste stream against the “environmental ouroboros” of liberal individualist ethics; and Samuel Stein surveys the ultra-skinny high-rises and other towers of waste that now sprawl upward in our cities like accusing fingers pointed at god.
In conditions of total extraction, culture is mined like anything else. Rich Woodall writes accordingly about copyright in a music industry dominated by three major labels, and other investment groups, that strip catalogs and even songs themselves for sellable parts. In “Beckett on the Richter Scale,” Marco Roth looks at the work of Evan Dara, an anonymous novelist whose intensifying fantasies of disaster seem to draw mysteriously from disparate communities. And, mercifully, J.W. McCormack’s “Mr. Garbage” finds hope in the fiction of Donald Barthelme, whose “junkman aesthetic allowed him to regulate the temperature in his model worlds and reframe their parameters accordingly.” Node, zone, worker, consumer, or resource: we’ll have to do some regulating to overcome this fatigue and ask, as Chaudhary does, “How has this level of degradation become so acceptable?”