Research Notes · 08/28/2020

Anthropica

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, David Hollander writes about Anthropica from Animal Riot Press.

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Another Kind of Myth-Making

My favorite of the logical fallacies is the “argument from incredulity.”

I cannot imagine that ‘x’ can be true. Therefore ‘x’ must be false.

I cannot imagine my child stealing. Therefore my child does not steal.

I cannot imagine the car not starting. Therefore the car will start.

I cannot imagine the earth running out of resources. Therefore the earth will not run out of resources.

Research for Anthropica involved probing incredulity to arrive at a state of almost spiritual bewilderment.

Sometimes when I hear of a political plot, or a strategy to defraud or disenfranchise, I can’t quite believe it. I mean, I know that people are selfish and self-serving. I know that power is kept at the expense of the powerless. I know that corruption is real and that people are lying to me at least as often as they are telling the truth. But knowing it is different from believing it.

It is difficult for me to believe in bad motives, in deception or disingenuousness. When the car salesman seems to be adding in extra fees, or deliberately confusing me with wraparound language re: financing or extended warranties, I know I’m being taken advantage of. But do I believe it?

“One cannot mistrust or doubt one’s own belief.” Wittgenstein. But what about one’s failure to believe?

20 million tons of coal are burned for fuel globally each day. Nearly 100 million barrels of oil are burned for fuel globally each day. Over 10 million mature trees are shredded to pulp globally each day. These are a few of the facts yielded by research on Anthropica.

I know it. But do I believe it?

I love my children. (I cannot mistrust or doubt that.)

But what of the world these children will inherit, if any inheritance remains at all? The oceans are rising. Droughts are commonplace. Diseases are gestating. Dozens of animal species go extinct each day. And of course the asteroids rush through the silent darkness at cosmic speeds, one of them pointed right now straight toward our pale blue dot.

I know it, but do I believe it?

Maybe climate science denial comes from the inability to differentiate between facts and beliefs. I have a feeling that most of us do not believe in the one-way disaster of climate change, not really, not in the place where we love our children.

I was a boy of maybe 10, in the backseat of the family car with my two brothers, headed home after getting ice cream, my father at the wheel as we dipped and rose according to the contours of what we called “the fun road,” my dad flooring it as we crested each hill to accentuate the vertigo. I asked, “Dad, how far do the roads go?” Some of them, he said, go across the entire country.

“But how many are there? How many roads?”

Thousands and thousands. In every nation and on every continent. Roads and more roads, accompanied by billions and billions of miles of electrical cable, routing power everywhere, all the time, this voltage manufactured by a ceaseless inferno of coal-fired powerplants dotting the terrestrial globe.

I remember thinking, No, that can’t be true. Where would all the stuff come from? The earth could only have so much stuff, right?

I cannot imagine that ‘x’ can be true. Therefore ‘x’ must be false.

Even now, I think: this planet isn’t so big. It can be circled in a matter of hours by a swift-flying jet. How is it possible that there are nearly 100 million trees being shredded to pulp every week? How can we consume 12 billion gallons of water every day, and yet still find the tap flowing for our morning coffee.

And coffee? More than two-and-a-half billion cups consumed every day. How can there still be coffee beans? I don’t believe it.

“How strange would be the life lived outside belief in belief.” Aristotle.

Anthropica is a book I poured my heart into. It’s a book that is meant to express the bewilderment I feel every day, in every situation. The book is a postmodern farce that also has a big heart.

That’s because I believe in literature. It’s more like loving my children, this belief, than it is like accepting the insane tallies that anyone discovers via even the most cursory research on human resource-consumption here on planet earth.

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick.

We are awash in information. The world is a conundrum of speed, power, gimmickry and lies. “The fiction already exists. The novelist must invent the truth.” J.G. Ballard.

I began this novel believing in very little. I finished it half-convinced that the crackpot theory at its center — the complete depletion of all global resources every two or three weeks — must be true. I came to believe more closely in the thing I was inventing to capture my non-belief.

I cannot believe that ‘x’ isn’t not true. Therefore ‘x’ must be not true.

Research without belief is just another kind of myth-making.

One day I will die. I know it, but do I believe it? Ahh, now we see: belief comes at a price. And yet without it, we move through our days unmoored and uncertain. Welcome, friends, to the Hollander Complex, as articulated in the Anthropica Matrix.

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David Hollander is the author of the novel L.I.E., which was nominated for the NYPL Young Lions Award back at the turn of the century. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, Fence, Agni, Unsaid, The New York Times Magazine, and Post Road, among other reputable and disreputable publications. It’s also been adapted for film and frequently anthologized, notably in Best American Fantasy. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two children and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College.