Issue of the Week: Disease, Environment, Population, Hunger, War, Economic Opportunity, Human Rights, Personal Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A glimpse of the apocalypse”, Chernobyl, The New York Times Magazine, March 29, 2020

 

The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, Part Eighteen.

The global pandemic of Covid-19 continues to dominate all other things.

Ten days ago, on March 19, the first seasonal change of the new decade–the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and Fall Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere–arrived.

In both hemispheres, the only day in the year of equal balance in time of light and dark in 24 hours.

It’s safe to say no one noticed.

But a rather irresistible metaphor for this moment in history.

In the north it gets lighter from now until the summer solstice. In the south it gets darker until the winter solstice.

Never, since Part One of this series began on June 21, 2018, have the second and third sentences at the start seemed more relevant:

The great movement and balance of nature goes on.

But will it go on?

Today, the New York Times Magazine’s cover story, Why Would Anyone Want to Visit Chernobyl? Maybe they’re looking for a glimpse of the apocalypse, is a stunning look at past, present and future placed in the context of the current pandemic.

We will get to it in a bit, after further commentary on the state of civilization.

As we noted last week and before, there are other pandemics that have needed addressing for some time, and still do:

Nothing has changed about other pandemics causing exponentially more harm for as far back as we can see.

Half of all children abused.

Millions dying from hunger every year.

Millions dying from other preventable diseases every year.

The scarce resource of water getting scarcer, contributing to the above and horrible suffering.

The environment being destroyed.

Violence causing and caused by the above.

The issue of disease is interconnected with all the above, as all the above are with each other.

We also expressed the hope (last week, before), that this pandemic would be a turning point, albeit knowing the cost will be enormous at best:

But perhaps, just perhaps, a teachable moment of all for one and one for all is upon us.

At moments it seems the lesson is being learned. At moments not at all. But change will come as it has before. The only question, as we’ve observed for decades, is the cost–and at this point in history for all the reasons never present before and noted often–whether we make it at all.

The US government has now spent more money than ever in history addressing the Covid-19 catastrophe and attendant economic catastrophe (as increasingly have the governments, central banks and financial institutions of the world). In 2008, Time magazine famously ran the cover story, We’re all socialists now, when another Republican administration in the US expanded the role of government more than ever at that point in response to the global financial crisis and great recession (followed by a Democratic administration–and the world–that continued it). The Democrats in Congress demanded more accountability this time about the “socialism” not just being for “corporations”, but this is a story unfolding as to who will benefit in the end. It is also another reminder of the intellectual hollowness of terms such as socialism and capitalism by themselves, as we’ve pointed out exhaustively.

Today, Donald Trump reversed course once again by extending emergency measures–all Americans must continue to avoid nonessential travel, going to work, eating at bars and restaurants, or gathering in groups of more than 10–until at least the end of April and possibly until June. More and more Americans, the great majority, are now or soon will be, sheltered in place.

Where this, and social distancing, and testing, and sufficient equipment, including proper protection for courageous health workers, and sufficient hospital facilities are provided–each step acted on timely–the infections and deaths at least appear to be reduced. But not stopped, and not always understood why.

Around the world, the pandemic continues to infect and kill. All the above is needed as a global commitment.

Thirty years ago today, the writers here were in Washington, D.C. addressing two other historic and ongoing pandemics we’ve worked on for many years. We’ll get to that.

And one year ago, our post on April 7 addressed another ongoing pandemic that predicted the current moment. We’ll get to that too.

Before continuing, we need to remind again as to why we are posting both the Issue of the Week and Message of the Day as the same post (and generally leaving them up for ten days, more or less, for some time now.)

The point is important. So we will excerpt a significant portion here (of a far longer piece on August 29, 2018, worth re-reading itself) that addresses the above.

This is a time, for all the wrong reasons, that many will have the time to actually read and ponder the concerns we raise:

We need to remind, before proceeding, why we have been posting one Message of the Day per week—the same as the Issue of the Week—for some time now.  It’s to reinforce the necessity for in-depth cognitive focus on subjects and issues in an age that requires it for survival, from life on earth to the individual human brain. We may change this as we determine, adding an additional Message of the Day. But for now, we continue as we have for some time, for the reasons described above and before.

And were underlined three days ago, in The Guardian, by Maryanne Wolf, who wrote the following in Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound:

“When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age

Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing – a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.

As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.

This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.

We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.

Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.

Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students. In Stavanger, Norway, psychologist Anne Mangen and her colleagues studied how high school students comprehend the same material in different mediums. Mangen’s group asked subjects questions about a short story whose plot had universal student appeal (a lust-filled, love story); half of the students read Jenny, Mon Amour on a Kindle, the other half in paperback. Results indicated that students who read on print were superior in their comprehension to screen-reading peers, particularly in their ability to sequence detail and reconstruct the plot in chronological order.

Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.

Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes, human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages “looking back.”

US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade – with implications not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.

The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.

There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice. The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before they become entrenched. If we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.

We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a good society.”

Okay, did you get that? Even if you think you did, please read again.

At the start of our series of reflections, on the day of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere and the winter in the south, we made the following observations:

“Over the years, in the previous system of the site (still in transition) for the Issue of the Week and Message of the Day, links in the text were not an option. One or two key links were provided at the end of the posts. This became purposeful, as troglodyte as it may have appeared. Activism on the internet, which we were part of pioneering, evolved, or devolved, with the internet itself. That is going to be a subject focused on more itself in the future. But for now, keep in mind that it was purposeful for us to require the reader to read, not jump around with links. It’s understandable that in view of getting an audience, most have used every new gimmick the internet has to offer. But studies have proven the downside of this, and many internet pioneers now decry their own creation.

Twitter, for instance, has now been made infamous. We understand why many use it and see it as needed. Just as we see it as the fact of what it is—the shrinking capacity, reinforced by the very use of it, to focus on more than a few characters—making, as we’ve previously noted, the 30 second TV spot seem like reading volumes. The 30 second TV ad that was the metaphor yesterday for the shrinking capacity and willingness of the species to think longer than that.

One of the things we did in our national and international public service campaigns was to reintroduce what even the corporate advertising world had ditched—the 60 second spot. They are like mini-movies compared to the 30s. And we received the top awards in the world for it. But more importantly, people watched. Feed crap and crap becomes demanded. Feed something better and the heart, mind and soul embrace it, if not immediately, then in time.

We do now provide some links in our commentary. But sometimes we will not, by choice.”

Now, let’s set the stage with a look at the historical moment we were in (just before Covid-19 became the focus of all consciousness) at the point of our first post this year, January 5, just after our post preceding it, December 21–the last winter solstice in the north and summer in the south of the second decade of the new millennium–and our last post of the series on The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, until today.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of a much longer piece:

The second decade of the new millennium has begun. …

The decade has begun just as the last one ended, which we lingered on in our last post, The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, Part Seventeen, on The Decade in Pictures.

Life on earth is in a growing convergence of chaos, conflict and climate catastrophe, underpinned by the brutality of the most recent era in history of unsustainable and inhumane inequality, both cause and effect of the brutality of humans to each other and to all life on earth.

There are many specifics to comment on, some of increasingly momentous importance. That will come. For now, a few over-arching comments.

There is a narrative, which has an aspect of truth to it, that every year for some time now, things have actually gotten better. Extreme poverty, infant deaths and other such measures are referred to. There are some who bring attention to this with the very best of intentions, to preserve hope, while most of the time they devote themselves to ending the horrors on earth that they correctly identify.

We spent our initial years of work in many ways pioneering the message that proven solutions to these and other great crises facing humanity and the planet were demonstrable.

That is still true.

And things did get better in many ways, because of many historical factors, movements, policies, and actions that we, among many others, had the privilege of contributing to.

But things have not been getting better, in the main, for some time now. The measures of progress are on the basis of definitions, in many cases, that reduce humans to a math equation, as if the penny or dollar or more above a definition of extreme poverty changes the basic condition of incomprehensible suffering for billions, putting aside the many questions around the sources of such definitions, or the unsustainable mechanisms at this point that create some gains in some ways. We had an opportunity to move measures of progress rapidly forward at a point when all related issues would have tipped positive on the scale and we could have with relative ease transitioned from an unsustainable model of growth to a sustainable model of plenty for all. Instead, progress devolved into half-measures and back-pedaling at precisely the moment in history when the context of all the issues impacting each other would create a far more challenging set of problems than we have ever faced.

Inequality is not getting better, it’s gotten worse for decades–and it’s not an issue that waits for incremental change rather than systemic change and immediate action (its happened at key points throughout history)–countless screaming babies and a billion abused and deprived children can’t wait.

If you can let them wait, then you’ve just defined the problem.

And the same goes for adults having their lives destroyed without a guarantee of basic needs and rights.

And if you can let them wait, then get ready to answer the increasing throngs demanding equality on the streets of the world and to reap the whirlwind of the conflicts spun out from this–including winds of nuclear, chemical and bioengineered weaponry that no borders can protect you from.

And things are definitely not getting better for the planet, and all life on it, burning up, literally, more and more by the day since our last post.

The list goes on.

Sometimes, hope is not only best preserved, but can only be preserved, by facing the reality of catastrophe in real time and obliteration to come, and focusing fully on action to stop it.

And please, speaking of facing reality, don’t pull out the old, things have always been this way and always will be line.

That’s called a lie. Remember when a lie meant something?

Don’t worry, reality will intrude at some point to make it so again.

Of course, some things are the same, in some ways. And others have changed, beyond measure and beyond what anyone thought possible over and over throughout history.

The lie serves two fundamental purposes, consciously and unconsciously:

To inhibit change by those with power without the enlightened self-interest to change, and by everyone to the degree they wish to avoid the responsibility of what change requires.

Let’s be clear–none of this is a partisan political or ideological stance. We’ve made clear that defining everything by one ideology or another is nonsensical. On the landing page of World Campaign which has been the same since day one, the “Are You?” questions make clear our stance is one of principles achieved through open minds and pragmatic action. Furthermore, all individuals and organizations are responsible for their actions, but public policies are the context that create the rules and provide basic needs, rights and sustainable economic systems.

Nor are we talking about who or what path might best achieve the next needed steps in terms of political presentation as opposed to policies acted on. Franklin Roosevelt did not run on the New Deal in the 1932 campaign. But after being elected, he enacted it, led the US and the world through the great depression, World War Two and in creating the United Nations (brought to fruition with the historic declaration on human rights after his death by his conscience in many ways during his presidency and the most admired woman in the world, Eleanor Roosevelt). His policies vastly increased economic security and equality for most people despite the glaring holes and set the course for increasing equality and prosperity in the future.

These policies were adhered to and substantially increased in the main after his unprecedented four terms by the following seven presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of rhetoric during political campaigns, and by members of Congress of both parties. Even when many of these policies changed, again under both parties, which demonstrably occurred in tandem with the rise in inequality, some of these programs have remained untouchable. Even when regression occurs (which is not to say that changes were all purposefully regressive, or that course correction is never called for, or that no other progress was made), some of the foundations of progress remain, upon which future progress can build–can being the operative word.

The following principle has been elucidated on the World Campaign site from the outset:

People are suffering and dying now. All life is being threatened now. World Campaign advocates the urgency of action.

We cannot be immobilized by not having all the answers or by fear of the inevitable mistakes or unintended consequences inherent in any human endeavor. A preponderance of evidence requires action and trial and error are an integral part of the human experience. Lack of action in the face of suffering destroys the human spirit.

World Campaign just had the twentieth anniversary of its founding as the new millennium was about to start and is now in its 21st year and third decade as well. (The organization behind it, Planet Earth Foundation, will soon start its 44th year, with the work catalyzing it starting years before.)

The Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, followed by the Sustainable Development Goals, were and are meant to address all the inter-related issues we and others have been dedicated to for a lifetime. They have helped, but not succeeded. And they can’t, any more than the United Nations and its declarations, starting with the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, various conventions or international law can, without it being a global proposition, globally enforced with global cooperation.

It’s an appropriate moment, at the start of the third decade of the new millennium, to repeat again the beginning of our closing paragraph from our 2008 post, We Are One: The Force Behind Everything:

“A structure built on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires some kind of basic democracy in the context of rules between nations, while allowing for the evolution of various forms of democracy within nations, in which basic human rights are respected, basic needs for all are met and individual initiative is reasonably rewarded.  It is the balance that nature keeps trying to tell us comprise the rules of the road.”

You of course know that the United Nations is in its 75th anniversary year, right? This is a blink of an eye in human history, the most significant blink yet, regarding whether life continues to exist.

In recent years, from the global to the personal, its been increasingly a know-nothing, self-gratifying, soul-debasing era.

But also, on the hopeful side, with eyes starting to open more and more.

The digital tools of our era, misused and overused, have irrefutably been cognitive wrecking balls. An enormous amount of work needs to be done, technically, socially and politically, to enhance positive applications of these tools and eliminate harmful ones.

At the same time, properly developed and applied, as one example, AI, which has many risks to be sure, could help to build a more equitable world rather than increasingly becoming the usual suspect in destroying jobs and invading privacy. Depending on public policy, with basic needs provided and human rights protected, it could expand opportunities for human endeavors–but that deserves its own exploration.

So, the question World Campaign posed twenty-one years ago remains:

Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Start with giving, not getting, as your fundamental act of living, to always providing and sacrificing and being there for the vulnerable and those in need, to always being willing to give it all up as may be required of any of us as moral beings.

And do whatever you need to do to require the system you are part of to be a system that requires basic needs and rights be provided to all. Which will create the necessary precondition for the necessary global application of these values in a sustainable manner.

Otherwise, from your personal fulfillment (the opposite of self-gratification) and your legacy, all the way to the impact on all life on earth, the following dictum, which we have quoted often, will apply:

The river in flood cuts an oxbow, the overfull dam gives way.

Then, the coronavirus.

Which changed nothing about the urgency of all other issues–except to make them more urgent too.

We covered child abuse and neglect–1 out of 2 on the planet–in the context of Covid-19, in our post on March 5.

As we noted at the start, 30 years ago today, the writers here were in Washington, D.C., dealing with two pandemics, both created by humans and both preventable, that had and have persisted for years, and which had been conjoined in a Faustian bargain: Hunger deaths and tobacco deaths.

We met with leaders the day before in other organizations concerned with hunger, which mainly kills and maims and stunts and hurts the brains and other development of hundreds of millions of children. At the time, many were funded by Big Tobacco, which has addicted and killed hundreds of millions–starting in childhood, mainly with cigarettes, but in all forms.

Countless millions of dollars were donated by Big Tobacco to whitewash the blood off their hands–in appearance. You can’t save children from hunger with blood money that kills them and others with tobacco, we said, loudly and clearly.

There aren’t enough millions to buy us off, we said. And if there was a buyoff target, it was certainly prioritized to shut-up people like us. If that money had been the difference between being on the street or not for us, we made clear, we’d never take it. Been there, done that, more than once. Life is short. Stand for something.

All tobacco does is addict and cause disease and death.

Millions of dollars cause a lot of reaction, but no rational response was given.

In addition to being as wrong as could be, this would come back to haunt, we said. Taking this money was soon going to be seen as being on the wrong side of history.

Four years later, the top executives of the seven largest American tobacco companies testified in Congress that cigarettes were not addictive, but that they would rather their own children did not smoke.

The latter part made clear what was then proven. They were lying.

Two years later, after whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand was finally heard on CBS 60 minutes (after they themselves had tried to quash their own interview under pressure from Big Tobacco), their lies were proven. The movie The Insider tracks the story and is one of the best films ever made.

Two years after this, in 1998, Big Tobacco made the biggest financial settlement in US history with attorney’s general of US states and dissolved the tobacco industry groups.

Tobacco advertising was banned and smoking has dropped in the US over the decades from about 45% to 14% of adults. Most start as teens. Big Tobacco still spends billions on marketing. Hollywood and TV stopped showing tobacco use and then went back to it on steroids. Because, you know, money–oh, we meant art. Because it’s cool to kill kids for art. Tobacco still kills nearly half a million people a year in the US, the number one preventable cause of death.

The World Health Organization has made clear that Big Tobacco will kill a billion people this century around the world–targeting children, the poor, women and others in the most populous nations–unless stopped in a number of ways it could be.

A Billion.

Even if legal per se, tobacco, which if introduced today as a drug that simply can’t be used without addicting virtually everyone, never would be. But effective actions can still be taken.

If enough people have just a tiny, teeny little facsimile of a conscience.

Maternal and child health department leaders around the US joined us early on in the no-tobacco money stance. Eventually, nearly everyone did, as the events above unfolded.

We produced public service campaigns on prenatal substance abuse. One on tobacco showed a preterm baby as a result of a pregnant mother smoking.

It didn’t look much different than a starving baby.

And speaking of pandemics in addition to disease and death caused by tobacco identified by WHO and CDC, (which have become household words more than ever now during the Covid-19 pandemic), what about other substance abuse?

Alcohol abuse forever.

Opioid abuse more recently.

And others.

A former Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington told us that as horrible and unforgiveable as Big Tobacco is, the alcohol industry is worse, causing more harm to more people and more children in society. The numbers back that up when looking at overall toll. Even though the majority of people either never drink or drink only at special occasions or moderately.

The difference with alcohol is that it can be addictive, or abused, but can also be used in moderation, although studies and government agencies have increasingly found the science to show there is no healthy level of use. It’s a powerful drug.

But a far greater likelihood of addiction comes from underage drinking. With the urging of government agencies and congressional leaders, we followed-up an apparent offer by the alcohol industry (under pressure from research showing the damage of underage drinking and conscious marketing from the industry, with a complicit media, sports and entertainment culture) to fund creation of an independent public service campaign to prevent underage drinking. The word apparent above was key. When it got down to signing agreements, control over the content of the ads stayed with the alcohol industry. Like tobacco, the money for the industry apparently depended too much on adults hooked on a product as teens. We walked, of course.

The fight against these public health crises goes on. Imagine if the calls for action by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control on these issues received the attention of Covid-19?

Of course these public health nightmares also contribute to the risk of being infected with and of death from Covid-19, as well as with numerous other diseases.

Then there’s hunger.

Related to the above, many major food companies were owned by Big Tobacco, as one of the bridges over whitewash river. That’s mainly been undone now.

But the tactics of hooking kids on sugary foods and drinks are similar and a major public health concern. One of the growing “hunger” problems is obesity, which is to say a form of malnutrition.

Here’s a primer on malnutrition from, again, the organization of the hour, WHO, which should finally be listend to on everything:

Key facts

  • Malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases.
  • 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, while 462 million are underweight.
  • 49 million children under 5 years of age are wasted, 17 million are severely wasted and 149 million are stunted, while 40 million are overweight or obese.
  • Around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition. These mostly occur in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, in these same countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising.
  • The developmental, economic, social, and medical impacts of the global burden of malnutrition are serious and lasting, for individuals and their families, for communities and for countries.

As commented on often, hunger was the first issue our work was committed to, as the worst killer of children in history and as the issue through which the other related issues that will determine the future of life on earth could be best addressed in public understanding and public policy.

Major progress was made. The tipping point on hunger and related issues was nearly reached. Then the combination of public policy and convergence of increasing pressure from related issues stopped progress and the number of hungry people began to rise again.

Hunger still kills millions, along with related disease, mostly children from one to five, and harms terribly, often for life, hundreds of millions more.

One of the horrors of Covid-19 is that like all who were just making it, much less those who weren’t (together a majority on earth), hungry children are harmed further by all the global dynamics involved. In the US alone, where childhood hunger has stayed within a grotesquely similar range for some time, 30 million children rely on the School Lunch Program and 12 million rely on the School Breakfast Program (if fully funded and without problems such as stigma, the numbers would be higher.) These meals feed hungry kids, positively impact cognitive and behvioral development and the capacity to learn in school. We produced public service campaigns to help create these outcomes in years past.

With schools closed (as they should be), heroic attempts have been made by many to get these meals to hungry kids, but almost certainly, a majority aren’t getting them and are going hungry (See How US schools are (and aren’t) providing meals to children in the Covid-19 crisis by Alex Abad-Santos in Vox). As if the federal government of the richest nation in history (these are Department of Agriculture programs) couldn’t fund ways to get this done with health risks in mind–not partly, but fully and efficiently.

More money than ever in history is being spent related to Covid-19 and attendant economic crises–but as already noted, whether enough will come and fully care for the basic needs of all people as the priority, which by its nature could be an enormous step forward beyond just the crises, remains to be seen.

There are some things we have always been able to do that cost nothing–to save millions of children’s lives and positively effect the health and developmet of hundreds of millions more–and generations of adults.

About a million children die every year from lack of the healthiest nutrition in the world, and the most natural since the dawn of time, which doesn’t cost a dime:

Breastfeeding.

We have created public service campaigns for breastfeeding which ran for many years.

It not only saves millions of lives every year, it makes them healthier lives for life, as well as contributing to the health of breastfeeding women.

Even this, however, has been the victim of the greed of formula companies, which had also been called out and paid a price in the past, then were enabled by the current US administration, to the horror of the World Heath Organization and virtually everyone else. The enabling was mitigated by public outcry, but the attempts to profit at the expense of public health go on.

Here’s an excerpt from our post on the above on July 31, 2018, which incorporates our post from July 8:

Today a new study was released by UNICEF and WHO, the importance of which is impossible to overstate. It provides the most crushing exclamation point imaginable for our post on July 8.

Every year, 78 million babies are put at risk for death and harm by not being breastfed right after birth.

78 million.

Sixty percent of all births.

The risk of dying for these babies is 33% to 50% higher.

Among other things, this makes clear that the already grotesque measurable number of babies who die related to lack of breastfeeding every year—800,000 to a million—is likely considerably worse.

The great majority, who live, are harmed, often enormously.

“Breastfeeding gives children the best possible start in life.”

This quote is from the director general of the World Health Organization.

Welcome to life for the majority of children born.

You can read the report, “Capture The Moment”, here.

You can read the UNICEF press release, “3 in 5 babies not breastfed in the first hour of life”, here.

World Campaign Issue of the Week and Message of the Day, July 8, 2018:

One of the many clear signs of the historical regression of the times hit the news today.

Hit is the right word.

Hit like hitting a newborn infant, or a toddler, literally, until she or he was dead or maimed or hurt or put at-risk in any number of ways for life. …

So, you’re pretty busy taking action.

Because you’ve heard the news today.

The US has opposed the basic policies of the World Health Organization, developed and strengthened over decades, to promote exclusive breastfeeding for babies for the first six months and in conjunction with solid food for two years or more, as the scientifically proven antidote to hunger, disease, death, and enormous harm to hundreds of millions, and as a unique health and developmental benefit for all children, as well as being a health benefit for mothers.

This is being done to promote the profits of the infant formula corporations. They were virtually exiled from earth a few decades ago for trying to replace breastfeeding with formula, with arm-twisting, bribes and lies, costing more for those who could least afford it and helping to cause death and harm to millions.

This grotesque action appears to have been thwarted in the main for now, with an assist—get this—from Russia.

Our involvement with this issue as one of our primary focuses in ending hunger and providing for children goes back over 25 years.

World Campaign co-founder, Lisa Blume, spearheaded the largest public service campaign in history for the Women, Infants and Children Program, on breastfeeding promotion, “Breastfeeding is Best”. The campaign started in 1993, running for many years as part of The Campaign To End Hunger, viewed in the US and globally. The national impact was summed up by the late Lawton Chiles, then governor of Florida:

“Earlier this year, the state of Florida passed landmark legislation supporting mothers who breast feed their children. The ‘breastfeeding bill’ led to national media attention, with prominent coverage in the New York Times, on CNN and elsewhere. 

Breast milk is well recognized as the best food for newborns…Unfortunately, only about half of the mothers in the United States breast feed their babies. Two-thirds of low-income mothers do not, although breastfeeding is even more important in low-income families where babies may already be subject to poor nutrition and health care. 

In support of the nationally acclaimed non-profit public service media program, the Campaign To End Hunger, the state of Florida, HRS and the Florida WIC program have joined forces to launch the enclosed “Breastfeeding Is Best” television and radio public service advertising (PSA) campaign. These PSAs are designed to appeal to different ethnic groups and to all economic groups. 

Effective promotion of breastfeeding and maternal and infant nutrition and health can be accomplished through ongoing TV and radio broadcasts of this top-quality PSA.  Florida has the opportunity to lead the way in breastfeeding promotion in the U.S.”

~ Lawton Chiles, Governor, State of Florida

As always, it was our privilege to have done this.

And it was to our absolute horror, to read today, the cover story broken by the Sunday New York Times, “U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials”.

What could more blatantly exemplify the end of civilization as we knew it? Many other issues are connected. But this dam breaking would be a flood of the blood of babies. You either wake up and act with urgent outrage, or choke on it.

Here’s the article:

“U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials”

Hunger itself could be ended with little cost compared to many things money is spent on in public programs. There’s far more than enough food produced, much less wasted, to provide excellent nutrition for everyone easily.

But these pandemics, and others, starting with abuse and neglect of half the children on earth, as again the World Health Organization has called out, as we’ve covered often, are not ongoing headlines.

Then there’s other disease.

Right now, a million people a year still die every year from the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic.

And worldwide deaths from resistant infections are 700,000 every year.

A year ago on April 7, we posted the following on The New York Times series that began that day, Deadly Germs, Lost Cures:

The front-page headline in today’s Sunday New York Times is a smack in the face reminder that the world is totally connected.

For better or worse. Like it or not. Get used to it.

The article will also be a revelation for most people.

And not the fun kind.

More like the Book of Revelations kind.

Another kind of apocalypse reminder.

Disease has never known boundaries. It’s completely changed the world more than once.

But it’s only been in recent decades that the boundaries, natural and otherwise, that might localize an outbreak or epidemic or even pandemic, have melted away.

We wonder now, looking back, if the Millennial generation and younger even have any real idea of what AIDS looked like to the world when they were toddlers or children, or not yet born.

And how many of the rest of us have put this out of our consciousness?

Remember when suddenly the mystery plague appeared that terrified almost everyone? When the typical response was to what was happening in the rich countries, especially the US, as if it didn’t otherwise exist? When bigoted and moronic homophobes acted as if it was a gay disease and a curse from God for their sins? And when liberals generally were scared to touch anyone who might have the disease in any event?

We remember well when a young woman in one of our extended families came to us for help in the mid-nineties seeing no solace or hope anywhere else.

A straight woman with AIDS.

Whoops–guess it’s not a gay man’s disease after all.

The more intelligent and better angels of our nature eventually took root. Led by at first a few brave and visionary souls–and the horrible sight of the dying–opinion rallied to doing something, and fast (though never fast enough), and we got results.

But never forget that as Frederick Douglas said, power accedes to nothing but a demand.

The group ACT UP, regardless of shortcomings or views about it, exemplified that demand.

Then, as noted above, the fields of reality and perspective and compassion and action got broader.

But then we got to where the real problem was–not only heterosexual–but global, and a pandemic arising from the conditions of, and afflicting, in the main, as usual, the have-nots, mostly people of color, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many public and private efforts–massive ones–did occur in positive response, although the various levels of denial and bigotry in these very places did, and do, get in the way.

We may be on the way to conquering this plague. Or not.

Like most afflictions, hunger, poverty and so on–we make progress (and also call bureaucratic arithmetic that no one could live on “progress’) and then forget. And the accumulating inter-related problems threaten to explode worse than ever.

About 40 million people are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. We may or may not be closer to a cure, but we don’t have one. We do have treatment that if we lived in a humane world of basic decency and equality everyone would get.

About 22 million out of 40 million get that treatment.

About a million die every year.

And there’s about two million new cases of HIV every year.

As we often say–even though the percentages have gotten better over time on the above, which has been crucial–you do the math.

Oh, and really, don’t forget that this turns into some serious multi-dimensional math when you mix in the numbers on hunger, poverty, lack of equality in resources way over an arbitrary poverty line, global population, environment and so on.

There’s no guarantee even the current treatments will continue having efficacy, nor can we know what new strains or other unforseen mechanisms of infection might develop. Its still officially a pandemic. This could still turn into God’s curse–on us all for our inhumanity and stupidity. Noah redux.

Interestingly, one thing most people and experts agree on, no matter how divergent their views may be on other issues, is the increasing threat of disease, of global pandemics more threatening than ever, of unpreparedness for them, and of creation of them by misuse of the very medicines that have prevented them in many instances.

We would submit, as always, that documented facts and simple historical observation make clear that everything is completely inter-related. And we’ve also said often that it may be more likely than not that global cataclysm, which we barely survive as a species, may be the only thing that will wake us up.

You know, to take care of each other.

We remember asking numerous Gen Xs and Millennials what they thought it would take to unite humanity.

Alien invasion.

Not said with even a hint of dry humor.

Seriously.

And point taken.

So what will be the equivalent?

Well, we cover many of them often. But maybe not the one that could turn out to be the most likely enough.

Disease.

Hence, the main headline in today’s Sunday New York Times.

Here’s the story, the first in a critical series, Deadly Germs, Lost Cures:

“A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy”

By Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, April 7, 2019

And now a year later.

Living in the age of coronavirus.

And today, another gobsmacking from the cover of the New York Times Magazine.

Before going on, an aside of what we’ve acknowledged before–there is no question that we reference The New York Times often. This post and its links demonstrate that. The simple fact is that there is no other repository of journalistic information in quantity, quality and scope that comes close to it. There is a terribly tragic side of this, which we and others have also commented on often for some time–the rapid decline of print journalism, especially quality local newspapers. It was hastened even more by the 2008 financial crisis, and is being hastened further now, by the attendant economic crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic. The bigger story about media is just that. We’ve visited this thoroughly and most surely will again. But it is what it is. We don’t agree with everything printed in the Times (or anywhere), but in the main we are grateful for what it provides.

The cover article from the magazine in the Times today is adopted from the book, Notes From The Apocalypse, by Dublin author Mark O’Connel. In the title of the article he asks, Why Would Anyone Want to Visit Chernobyl?

Then he answers in the subheading:

Maybe they’re looking for a glimpse of the apocalypse.

Official estimates of those killed in the initial disaster and in preventing a far worse one, often with enormous courage in the face of certain death, seem to number in the hundreds, with around 4,000 killed indirectly and an unknowable number harmed. But these figures are challenged as far lower than what actually happened. And the real prospect of cities destroyed and millions of casualties with parts of Europe becoming uninhabitable were the assumptions those in the trenches had to deal with. The idea that we now know it was not likely to be that bad at worst is an idea that can never be proven.

But O’Connel isn’t focused on what the numbers might have been–he’s focused on the larger dynamics of Chernobyl as a foreshadowing of the world to come–a visit to a seemingly inevitable future, seen from the vantage point of the future. A future haunting and urgently instructive to fully experience, if there is to be any alternative. O’Connel makes no attempt to portray this as prophecy that might be avoided, but rather as an authentic core experience of where things are going. It’s a future without our species. The only hopeful side at all is a kind of vision of a remainder of nature.

A nature perhaps, from our perspective, we can fully respect and work with, before it’s too late. O’Connel’s piece is an experience of time travel after it is too late. That’s precisely the value of the piece. But one can still take the lessons that might lead to an alternative future. What else is there any use in?

We’ll continue on to this article for the rest of this post momentarily, on a trip to a wasteland we won’t be here to see, after visiting a related brief and powerful quote on the convergence of Chernobyl and Covid-19.

In another of a number of incredible articles in today’s magazine, Jessica Lustig, deputy editor of The New York Times Magazine, shares an intimate essay about her family’s fight against Covid-19, What I learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus.

It’s an amazing piece, one of a kind.

Lustig describes her husband and daughter with initials for privacy.

There’s a point when you read the following as her husband’s sickness is worsening:

CK and I had settled in to watch “Chernobyl,” the HBO series about the 1986 nuclear accident and its aftermath, when T first felt sick and went to lie down in the bedroom. We stopped after three episodes.

When you watch Chernobyl, the deserved winner of many awards, (and if you haven’t, you surely must watch it, one of the finest historical dramatizations you’ll ever see), you’ll understand.

And you’ll understand why Mark O’Connel writes the following in this excerpt from today’s extraordinary, singular piece taken from his new book, Notes From The Apocalypse:

About 40 minutes north of Kyiv, a screen flickered to life in front of us and began to play a documentary about the Chernobyl disaster. We watched in silence as our minibus progressed from the margins of the city to the countryside. The video was intended as a primer, so that by the time we got to the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, everyone would be up to speed on the basic facts: how in the early hours of April 26, 1986, a safety test simulating the effects of a power failure ended in an uncontrolled nuclear reaction; how this caused an inferno in the reactor core that burned for at least nine days; how in the aftermath the Soviet government created a 19-mile-radius exclusion zone around the power plant; how they evacuated about 130,000 people, more than 40,000 of them residents of Pripyat, a “city of the future” built for workers at the nearby plant; how the vast endeavor of decontamination necessitated the bulldozing of entire towns, the felling of entire forests, the burying of them deep in the poisoned earth.

As the documentary played on the screen, Igor demonstrated his familiarity with it by reciting lines along with the film. At one point, Mikhail Gorbachev materialized to deliver a monologue on the terrifying time scale of the accident’s aftereffects. His data entry tasks now complete, Igor spoke along in unison with Gorbachev — “How many years is this going to go on? Eight hundred years?” — before himself proclaiming, “Yes! Until the second Jesus is born!”

I was unsure what to make of the tone of all this. Igor and Vika’s inscrutable jocularity sat oddly with the task they were charged with: to guide us around the site of arguably the worst ecological catastrophe in history, a source of fathomless human suffering in our own lifetimes. And yet some measure of levity seemed to be required of us.

After the documentary, the minibus’s onboard infotainment programming moved on to an episode of the BBC motoring show “Top Gear,” in which three chortling idiots drove around the Exclusion Zone in hatchbacks, gazing at clicking Geiger counters while ominous electronica played on the soundtrack. There were then some low-budget music videos, all of which featured more or less similar scenes of dour young men — a touchingly earnest British rapper, some kind of American Christian metal outfit — lip-syncing against the ruined spectacle of Pripyat.

I wondered what, if anything, the tour company’s intention might have been in showing us all this content. Screening the documentary made sense, in that it was straightforwardly informative — the circumstances of the accident, the staggering magnitude of the cleanup operation, the inconceivable time scale of the aftereffects and so on. But the “Top Gear” scenes and the music videos were much more unsettling to watch, because they laid bare the ease with which the Zone, and in particular the evacuated city of Pripyat, could be used, in fact exploited, as the setting for a kind of anti-tourism, as a deep source of dramatic, and at the same time entirely generic, apocalyptic imagery.

I was being confronted, I realized, with an exaggerated manifestation of my own disquiet about making this trip in the first place; these unseemly, even pornographic, depictions of the Zone were on a continuum with my own reasons for making this trip. My anxieties about the future — the likely disastrous effects of climate change, our vulnerability to all manner of unthinkable catastrophes — had for some time been channeled into an obsession with the idea of “the apocalypse,” with the various ways people envisioned, and prepared for, civilizational collapse.

I was on a kind of perverse pilgrimage: I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like. I wanted to haunt its ruins and be haunted by them. I wanted to see what could not otherwise be seen, to inspect the remains of the human era. The Zone presented this prospect in a manner more clear and stark than any other place I was aware of. It seemed to me that to travel there would be to look upon the end of the world from the vantage point of its aftermath. It was my understanding, my conceit, that I was catching a glimpse of the future. I did not then understand that this future, or something like it, was closer than it appeared at the time. I did not understand that before long the idea of the Zone would advance outward from the realm of abstraction to encompass my experience of everyday life, that cities across the developed world would be locked down in an effort to suppress the spread of a lethal new virus, an enemy as invisible and insidious in its way as radiation and as capable of hollowing out the substance of society overnight. [Our emphasis.]

In wandering the crumbling ruins of the present, you are encountering a world to come.

And this is why the images from my time in Pripyat that cling most insistently to my mind are the fragmented shards of technology, the rotted remnants of our own machine age. In what had once been an electronics store, the soles of our sturdy shoes crunched on the shattered glass of screens, and with our smartphones we captured the disquieting sight of heaped and eviscerated old television sets, of tubes and wires extruded from their gutted shells, and of ancient circuit boards greened with algae. (And surely I cannot have been the only one among us to imagine the smartphone I was holding undergoing its own afterlife of decay and dissolution.) In what had once been a music store, we walked amid a chaos of decomposing pianos, variously wrecked and capsized, and here and there someone fingered the yellowed keys, and the notes sounded strange and damp and discordant. All of this was weighted with the sad intimation of the world’s inevitable decline, the inbuilt obsolescence of our objects, our culture: the realization that what will survive of us is garbage. …

The more adventurous of us clambered up the iron beams of the scaffolding in search of more lofty positions from which to photograph the scene. I was not among them. I sought the lower ground, sitting cross-legged in the dirt, having forgotten for a moment the obvious danger of doing so. I looked up. Hundreds of feet overhead, two birds were gliding in opposing spirals around the inner circumference of the tower, kestrels I thought, drifting upward on unseen currents toward the vast disk of sky, impossibly deep and blue. I sat there watching them a long time, circling and circling inside the great cone of the tower. I laughed, thinking of the Yeatsian resonances of the scene, the millenarian mysticism: the tower, the falcons, the widening gyres. But there was in truth nothing apocalyptic about what I was seeing, no blood-dimmed tide. It was an aftermath, a calm restored.

These birds, I thought, could have known nothing about this place. The Zone did not exist for them. Or rather, they knew it intimately and absolutely, but their understanding had nothing in common with ours. This cooling tower, unthinkable monument that it was to the subjugation of nature, was not distinguished from the trees, the mountains, the other lonely structures on the land. There was no division between human and nonhuman for these spiraling ghosts of the sky. There was only nature. Only the world remained and the things that were in it.

We conclude with the full article and photos:

Veronika from Russia and Yana from Ukraine at the abandoned Pripyat amusement park. Mark Neville for The New York Times

Why Would Anyone Want to Visit Chernobyl?

Maybe they’re looking for a glimpse of the apocalypse.

We were around a hundred miles from the Zone, and already my thoughts had turned toward death. This had nothing to do with radiation and everything to do with road safety. I was in a minibus, on a highway between Kyiv and the 1,160-square-mile Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl power plant. The minibus was being driven at an alarming speed and in such a way that caused me to question the safety standards of the tour company I’d entrusted myself to for the next two days. It had become clear that our driver and tour guide, a man in his early 40s named Igor, was engaged in a suite of tasks that were not merely beyond the normal remit of minibus driving but in fact in direct conflict with it. He was holding a clipboard and spreadsheet on top of the steering wheel with his left hand (that he was also using to steer), while in his other hand he held a smartphone, into which he was diligently transferring data from the spreadsheet. The roughly two-hour journey from Kyiv to the Zone was, clearly, a period of downtime of which he intended to take advantage in order to get some work squared away before the proper commencement of the tour. As such, he appeared to be distributing his attention in a tripartite pattern — clipboard, road, phone; clipboard, road, phone — looking up from his work every few seconds in order to satisfy himself that things were basically in order on the road, before returning his attention to the clipboard.

I happened to be sitting up front with Igor and with his young colleague Vika, who was training to become a fully accredited guide. Vika appeared to be reading the Wikipedia article for “nuclear reactor” on her iPhone. I considered suggesting to Igor that Vika might be in a position to take on the spreadsheet work, which would allow him to commit himself in earnest to the task of driving, but I held my counsel for fear that such a suggestion might seem rude. I craned around in an effort to make subtly appalled eye contact with my friend Dylan, who was sitting a few rows back alongside a couple of guys in their 20s — an Australian and a Canadian who, we later learned, were traveling around the continent together impelled by a desire to have sex with a woman from every European nation — but he didn’t look up, preoccupied as he was with a flurry of incoming emails. Some long-fugitive deal, I understood, was now on the verge of lucrative fruition.

Vika, left, a Chernobyl tour guide and Kim, a visitor from Finland. Mark Neville for The New York Times

Of all my friends, I knew that Dylan was most likely to accept at short notice my request for accompaniment on a trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. He was his own boss, for one thing, and he was not short of money (tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist). He was also in the midst of a divorce, amicable but nonetheless complex in its practicalities. It would, I said, be a kind of anti-stag party: His marriage was ending, and I was dragging him to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for two days. As soon as I made it, I felt some discomfort about this joke, with its laddish overtones, as though I were proposing the trip for the laughs or as an exploit in extreme tourism or, worse still, some kind of stunt journalism enterprise combining elements of both. I was keen to avoid seeing myself in this way.

“Lunch,” Igor said, pointing out the side window of the bus. I followed the upward angle of his index finger and saw a series of telephone poles, each of which had a stork nesting atop it. “Lunch,” he reiterated, this time to a vague ripple of courteous laughter.

About 40 minutes north of Kyiv, a screen flickered to life in front of us and began to play a documentary about the Chernobyl disaster. We watched in silence as our minibus progressed from the margins of the city to the countryside. The video was intended as a primer, so that by the time we got to the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, everyone would be up to speed on the basic facts: how in the early hours of April 26, 1986, a safety test simulating the effects of a power failure ended in an uncontrolled nuclear reaction; how this caused an inferno in the reactor core that burned for at least nine days; how in the aftermath the Soviet government created a 19-mile-radius exclusion zone around the power plant; how they evacuated about 130,000 people, more than 40,000 of them residents of Pripyat, a “city of the future” built for workers at the nearby plant; how the vast endeavor of decontamination necessitated the bulldozing of entire towns, the felling of entire forests, the burying of them deep in the poisoned earth.

As the documentary played on the screen, Igor demonstrated his familiarity with it by reciting lines along with the film. At one point, Mikhail Gorbachev materialized to deliver a monologue on the terrifying time scale of the accident’s aftereffects. His data entry tasks now complete, Igor spoke along in unison with Gorbachev — “How many years is this going to go on? Eight hundred years?” — before himself proclaiming, “Yes! Until the second Jesus is born!”

I was unsure what to make of the tone of all this. Igor and Vika’s inscrutable jocularity sat oddly with the task they were charged with: to guide us around the site of arguably the worst ecological catastrophe in history, a source of fathomless human suffering in our own lifetimes. And yet some measure of levity seemed to be required of us.

After the documentary, the minibus’s onboard infotainment programming moved on to an episode of the BBC motoring show “Top Gear,” in which three chortling idiots drove around the Exclusion Zone in hatchbacks, gazing at clicking Geiger counters while ominous electronica played on the soundtrack. There were then some low-budget music videos, all of which featured more or less similar scenes of dour young men — a touchingly earnest British rapper, some kind of American Christian metal outfit — lip-syncing against the ruined spectacle of Pripyat.

I wondered what, if anything, the tour company’s intention might have been in showing us all this content. Screening the documentary made sense, in that it was straightforwardly informative — the circumstances of the accident, the staggering magnitude of the cleanup operation, the inconceivable time scale of the aftereffects and so on. But the “Top Gear” scenes and the music videos were much more unsettling to watch, because they laid bare the ease with which the Zone, and in particular the evacuated city of Pripyat, could be used, in fact exploited, as the setting for a kind of anti-tourism, as a deep source of dramatic, and at the same time entirely generic, apocalyptic imagery.

I was being confronted, I realized, with an exaggerated manifestation of my own disquiet about making this trip in the first place; these unseemly, even pornographic, depictions of the Zone were on a continuum with my own reasons for making this trip. My anxieties about the future — the likely disastrous effects of climate change, our vulnerability to all manner of unthinkable catastrophes — had for some time been channeled into an obsession with the idea of “the apocalypse,” with the various ways people envisioned, and prepared for, civilizational collapse.

I was on a kind of perverse pilgrimage: I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like. I wanted to haunt its ruins and be haunted by them. I wanted to see what could not otherwise be seen, to inspect the remains of the human era. The Zone presented this prospect in a manner more clear and stark than any other place I was aware of. It seemed to me that to travel there would be to look upon the end of the world from the vantage point of its aftermath. It was my understanding, my conceit, that I was catching a glimpse of the future. I did not then understand that this future, or something like it, was closer than it appeared at the time. I did not understand that before long the idea of the Zone would advance outward from the realm of abstraction to encompass my experience of everyday life, that cities across the developed world would be locked down in an effort to suppress the spread of a lethal new virus, an enemy as invisible and insidious in its way as radiation and as capable of hollowing out the substance of society overnight.

The minibus slowed as we approached the checkpoint marking the outer perimeter of the Zone. Two policemen emerged from a small building, languidly smoking, emanating the peculiar lassitude of armed border guards. Igor reached out and plucked the microphone from its nook in the dashboard.

“Dear comrades,” he said. “We are now approaching the Zone. Please hand over passports for inspection.”

Igor, a Chernobyl tour guide, measuring the ground for radiation. Mark Neville for The New York Times

You feel immediately the force of the contradiction. You feel, contradictorily, both drawn in and repelled by this force. Everything you have learned tells you that this is an afflicted place, a place that is hostile and dangerous to life. And yet the dosimeter, which Igor held up for inspection as we stood by the bus on the far side of the border, displayed a level of radiation lower than the one recorded outside the McDonald’s in Kyiv where we had boarded the bus earlier that morning. Apart from some hot spots, much of the Zone has relatively low levels of contamination. The outer part of the 30 Kilometer Zone — the radius of abandoned land around the reactor itself — is hardly a barren hellscape.

“Possible to use this part of Zone again, humans today,” Igor said.

Someone asked why, in that case, it wasn’t used.

“Ukraine is very big country. Luckily we can spare this land to use as buffer between highly contaminated part of Zone and rest of Ukraine. Belarus not so lucky.”

Immediately you are struck by the strange beauty of the place, the unchecked exuberance of nature finally set free of its crowning achievement, its problem child. And everywhere you look, you are reminded of how artificial the distinction is between the human and the natural world: that everything we do, even our destruction of nature, exists within the context of nature. The road you walk on is fissured with the purposeful pressure of plant stems from below, the heedless insistence of life breaking forth, continuing on. It is midsummer, and the day is hot but with the sibilant whisper of a cool breeze in the leaves and butterflies everywhere, superintending the ruins. It is all quite lovely, in its uncanny way: The world, everywhere, protesting its innocence.

“All the fields are slowly turning into forest,” Igor said. “The condition of nature is returning to what it was before people. Mooses. Wild boar. Wolves. Rare kinds of horses.”

This is the colossal irony of Chernobyl: Because it is the site of an enormous ecological catastrophe, this region has been for decades now basically void of human life; and because it is basically void of human life, it is effectively a vast nature preserve. To enter the Zone, in this sense, is to have one foot in a prelapsarian paradise and the other in a postapocalyptic wasteland.

Not far past the border, we stopped and walked a little way into a wooded area that had once been a village. We paused in a clearing to observe a large skull, a scattered miscellany of bones.

“Moose,” Igor said, prodding the skull gently with the toe of a sneaker. “Skull of moose,” he added, by way of elaboration.

Vika directed our attention toward a low building with a collapsed roof, a fallen tree partly obscuring its entrance. She swept a hand before her in a stagy flourish. “It is a hot day today,” she said. “Who would like to buy an ice cream?” She went on to clarify that this had once been a shop, in which it would have been possible to buy ice cream, among other items. Three decades is a long time, of course, but it was still impressive how comprehensively nature had seized control of the place in that time. In these ruins, it was no easier to imagine people standing around in jeans and sneakers eating ice cream than it would be in the blasted avenues of Pompeii to imagine people in togas eating olives. It was astonishing to behold how quickly we humans became irrelevant to the business of nature.

And this flourishing of the wilderness was at the expense of the decay of man-made things. Strictly speaking, visitors are forbidden to enter any of Pripyat’s buildings, many of which are in variously advanced states of decay and structural peril, some clearly ready to collapse at any moment. Igor and Vika could in theory lose their licenses to enter the Zone if they were caught taking tourists into buildings. It had been known to happen, Igor said, that guides had their permits revoked. This had put them in something of a double bind, he explained, on account of the proliferation in recent years of rival outfits offering trips to the Zone. If they didn’t take customers into the buildings — up the stairways to the rooftops, into the former homes and workplaces and schoolrooms of Pripyat — some other guides would, and what people wanted more than anything in visiting the place was to enter the intimate spaces of an abandoned world.

One of the Swedish men who accounted for about a third of the group’s number asked whether any visitors had been seriously injured or killed while exploring the abandoned buildings.

“Not yet,” Igor said, a reply more ominous than he may have intended.

He went on to clarify that the fate of the small but thriving tourism business hung in the balance and depended, by consensus, on the nationality of the first person to be injured or killed on a tour. If a Ukrainian died while exploring one of the buildings, he said, fine, no problem, business as usual. If a European, then the police would have to immediately clamp down on tour guides bringing people into buildings. But the worst-case scenario was, of course, an American getting killed or seriously injured. That, he quipped, would mean an immediate cessation of the whole enterprise.

“American gets hurt,” he said, “no more tours in Zone. Finished.”

Andrii and his son Yaroslav from Kyiv at the entrance to one of Chernobyl’s main attractions, a huge Soviet-era radar installation. Mark Neville for The New York Times

The tour made its way to the edge of the city and to the abandoned fairground we’d seen on the minibus that morning — on the “Top Gear” segment and the music videos. This was Pripyat’s most recognizable landmark, its most readily legible symbol of decayed utopia. Our little group wandered around the fairground, taking in the cinematic vista of catastrophe: the Ferris wheel, the unused bumper cars overgrown with moss, the swing boats half-decayed by rust.

The park’s grand opening, Vika said, had been scheduled for the International Workers’ Day celebrations on May 1, 1986, the week following the disaster, and the park had therefore never actually been used. Beside her, Igor held aloft the dosimeter, explaining that the radiation levels were by and large quite safe, but that certain small areas within the fairground were high: the moss on the bumper cars, for example, contained a complex cocktail of toxic substances, having absorbed and retained more radiation than surrounding surfaces. Though I can’t say I considered it, moss in general was not to be ingested; the same was true of all kinds of fungi, for their spongelike assimilation of radioactive material. Wild dogs and cats, too, can present a potential risk, because they roamed freely in parts of the Zone that had never been decontaminated effectively, and they carried radioactive particles in their fur.

I leaned against the railings of the bumper car enclosure and then, recalling having read a warning somewhere about the perils of sitting on and leaning against things in the Zone, quickly relocated myself away from the rusting metal. I looked at the others, almost all of whom were engaged in taking photographs of the fairground. The only exception was Dylan, who was on the phone again, apparently talking someone through the game plan for a new investment round. I was struck for the first time by the disproportionate maleness of the group: out of a dozen or so tourists, only one was female, a young German woman who was at present assisting her prodigiously pierced boyfriend in operating a drone for purposes of aerial cinematography.

There seemed to be a general implicit agreement that nobody would appear in anyone else’s shots, because of a mutual interest in the photographic representation of Pripyat as a maximally desolate place, an impression that would inevitably be compromised by the presence of other tourists taking photos in the backgrounds of your own. On a whim, I opened up Instagram on my phone — the 3G coverage in the Zone had, against all expectation, been so far uniformly excellent — and entered “Pripyat” into the search box and then scrolled through a cascading plenitude of aesthetically uniform photos of the Ferris wheel, the bumper cars, the swing boats, along with a great many photos employing these as dramatic backgrounds for selfies. A few of these featured goofy expressions and sexy pouts and bad-ass sneers, but a majority were appropriately solemn or contemplative in attitude. The message, by and large, seemed to be this: I have been here, and I have felt the melancholy weight of this poisoned place.

Pripyat presents the adventurous tourist with a spectacle of abandonment more vivid than anywhere else on Earth, a fever dream of a world gone void. To walk the imposing squares of the planned city, its broad avenues cracked and overgrown with vegetation, is in one sense to wander the ruins of a collapsed utopian project, a vast crumbling monument to an abandoned past. And yet it is also to be thrust forward into an immersive simulation of the future, an image of what will come in our wake. What is most strange about wandering the streets and buildings of this discontinued city is the recognition of the place as an artifact of our own time: It is a vast complex of ruins, like Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat, but the vision is one of modernity in wretched decay. In wandering the crumbling ruins of the present, you are encountering a world to come.

And this is why the images from my time in Pripyat that cling most insistently to my mind are the fragmented shards of technology, the rotted remnants of our own machine age. In what had once been an electronics store, the soles of our sturdy shoes crunched on the shattered glass of screens, and with our smartphones we captured the disquieting sight of heaped and eviscerated old television sets, of tubes and wires extruded from their gutted shells, and of ancient circuit boards greened with algae. (And surely I cannot have been the only one among us to imagine the smartphone I was holding undergoing its own afterlife of decay and dissolution.) In what had once been a music store, we walked amid a chaos of decomposing pianos, variously wrecked and capsized, and here and there someone fingered the yellowed keys, and the notes sounded strange and damp and discordant. All of this was weighted with the sad intimation of the world’s inevitable decline, the inbuilt obsolescence of our objects, our culture: the realization that what will survive of us is garbage.

Vagn, a tourist from Denmark, on a tour of the Zone. Mark Neville for The New York Times

Later, outside the entrance to one of Pripyat’s many schools, a small wild dog approached us with disarming deference. Vika opened her handbag and removed a squat pinkish tube, a snack from the lower reaches of the pork-product market, and presented it to the dog, who received it with patience and good grace.

There was a dark flash of movement on the periphery of my field of vision, a rustle of dry leaves. I turned and saw the business end of a muscular black snake as it emerged from beneath a rusted slide and plunged headlong for the undergrowth.

“Viper,” Igor said, nodding in the direction of the fugitive snake. He pronounced it “wiper.”

The school was a large tile-fronted building, on one side of which was a beautiful mosaic of an anthropomorphic sun gazing down at a little girl. Dylan was rightly dubious as to the wisdom of entering a building in such an advanced state of dilapidation. Turning to Igor, he remarked that they must have been constructed hastily and poorly in the first place.

“No,” Igor replied, briskly brushing an insect off the shoulder of his camouflage jacket. “This is future for all buildings.”

The school’s foyer was carpeted with thousands of textbooks and copybooks, a sprawling detritus of the written word. It felt somehow obscene to walk on these pages, but there was no way to avoid it if you wanted to move forward. Igor bent down to pick up a colorfully illustrated storybook from the ground and flipped through its desiccated pages.

“Propaganda book,” he said, with a moue of mild distaste, and dropped it gently again at his feet. “In Soviet Union, everything was propaganda. All the time, propaganda.”

I asked him what he himself remembered of the disaster, and he answered that there was basically nothing to remember. Though he was five years older than me, he said that I would most likely have a clearer memory of the accident and its aftermath, because in Soviet Ukraine little information was made public about the scale of the catastrophe. “In Europe? Panic. Huge disaster. In Ukraine? No problem.”

Climbing the staircase, whose railings had long since been removed, I trailed a hand against a wall to steady myself and felt the splintering paint work beneath my fingertips. I was 6 when the disaster happened, young enough, I suppose, to have been protected by my parents from the news and its implications. What did I recall of the time? Weird births, human bodies distorted beyond nature, ballooned skulls, clawed and misshapen limbs: images not of the disaster itself but of its long and desolate and uncanny aftermath. I remembered a feeling of fascinated horror, which was bound up in my mind with communism and democracy and the quarrel I only understood as the struggle between good and evil, and with the idea of nuclear war, and with other catastrophes of the time, too, the sense of a miscarried future.

As I continued up the stairs, a memory came to me of a country road late at night, of my mother helping me up onto the hood of our orange Ford Fiesta, directing my attention toward a point of light arcing swiftly across the clear night sky, and of her telling me that it was an American space shuttle called Challenger, orbiting the planet. That memory was linked in my mind with a later memory, of watching television news footage of that same shuttle exploding into pure white vapor over the ocean. The vision of the sudden Y-shaped divergence of the contrails, spiraling again toward each other as the exploded remains of the shuttle fell to the sea, a debris of technology and death, striking against the deep blue sky. That moment was for me what the moon landing was for my parents and their generation: an image in which the future itself was fixed.

We rounded the top of the stairs, and as I set off down a corridor after Igor, I realized that those images of technological disaster, of explosions, mutations, had haunted my childhood and that I had arrived at the source of a catastrophe much larger than Chernobyl itself or any of its vague immensity of effects. I remembered a line from the French philosopher Paul Virilio — “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck” — that seemed to me to encapsulate perfectly the extent to which technological progress embedded within itself the prospect of catastrophe. And it occurred to me that Pripyat was a graveyard of progress, the final resting place of the future.

In a large upstairs classroom, a dozen or so toddler-size chairs were arranged in a circle, and on each was perched a rotting doll or threadbare teddy bear. The visual effect was eerie enough, but what was properly unsettling was the realization that this scene had been carefully arranged by a visitor, probably quite recently, precisely in order for it to be photographed. And this went to the heart of what I found so profoundly creepy about the whole enterprise of catastrophe tourism, an enterprise in which I myself was just as implicated as anyone else who was standing here in this former classroom, feeling the warm breeze stirring the air through the empty window frames.

I wondered whether Igor and Vika held us in contempt, us Western Europeans and Australians and North Americans who had forked over a fee not much lower than Ukraine’s average monthly wage for a two-day tour around this discontinued world, to feel the transgressive thrill of our own daring in coming here. If it were I in their position, I knew that contempt is exactly what I would have felt. The fact was that I didn’t even need to leave my own position in order to hold myself in contempt, or anyone else.

“How often do you come here?” I asked Igor.

“Seven days a week, usually,” he said. He had a strange way of avoiding eye contact, of looking not directly at you but at a slight angle, as though you were in fact beside yourself. “Seven days a week, eight years.”

“How has that affected you?” I asked.

“I have three children. No mutants.”

“I don’t mean the radiation so much as just the place. I mean, all this must have an impact,” I said, gesturing vaguely toward my own head, indicating matters broadly psychological.

“I don’t see my wife. My family. I get up at 6:30 a.m., they are asleep. I get home late night, already they are asleep again. I am a slave, just like in Soviet Union time. But now,” he said, with an air of inscrutable sarcasm, “I am a slave to money.”

I followed Igor and Vika into another classroom, where we were joined by the wild dog Vika had fed earlier. The dog did a quick circuit of the room, sniffed perfunctorily at a papier-mâché doll, an upturned chair, some torn copybook pages, then settled himself down beside Vika. Igor opened a cupboard and removed a stack of paintings, spread them out on a table flaked with aquamarine paint. The pictures were beautifully childish things, heartbreakingly vivid renderings of butterflies, grinning suns, fish, chickens, dinosaurs, a piglet in a little blue dress. They were expressions of love toward the world, toward nature, made with such obvious joy and care that I felt myself getting emotional looking at them. I could all of a sudden see the children at their desks, their tongues protruding in concentration, their teachers bending over to offer encouragement and praise, and I could smell the paper, the paint, the glue.

I picked up a painting of a dinosaur, and I was surprised by sadness not at the unthinkable dimensions of the catastrophe itself but at the thought that the child responsible for this picture was never able to take it home to show his parents; how instead, he had to leave it behind just as he had to leave behind his school, his home, his city, his poisoned world. And I became conscious then of the strangeness of my being here, the wrongness of myself as a figure in this scene: a man from outside, from the postapocalyptic future, holding this simple and beautiful picture in his hand and looking at it as an artifact of a collapsed civilization. This, I now understood, was the deeper contradiction of my presence in the Zone: My discomfort in being here had less to do with the risk of contamination than with the sense of myself as the contaminant.

Sofia, one of a handful of samosely, or “self-settlers,” people who have voluntarily returned to the Zone.Mark Neville for The New York Times

The tour company had put us up in the town of Chernobyl itself, in a place called Hotel 10 — a name so blankly utilitarian that it sounded chic. Hotel 10 was in reality no more chic than you would expect a hotel in Chernobyl to be and arguably even less so. It looked like, and essentially was, a gigantic two-story shipping container. Its exterior walls and roof were corrugated iron. Internally it seemed to be constructed entirely from drywall, and it smelled faintly of creosote throughout, and the long corridor sloped at a nauseating angle on its final descent toward the room Dylan and I were sharing on the ground floor.

The Ukrainian government imposes a strict 8 p.m. curfew in the Zone, and so after a dinner of borscht, bread and unspecified meats, there was nothing to do but drink, and so we drank. We drank an absurdly overpriced local beer called Chernobyl — the hotel had run out of everything else — that the label assured us was brewed outside the Zone, using nonlocal wheat and water, specifically for consumption inside the Zone itself, a business model that Dylan rightly condemned as needlessly self-limiting.

We all turned in early that night. Even if we’d wanted to walk the empty streets of the town after dark, we would have been breaking the law in doing so and possibly jeopardizing the tour company’s license to bring tourists to the Zone. Unable to sleep, I took out the book I brought with me, an oral history of the disaster and its aftermath called “Chernobyl Prayer,” by the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich. As I reached the closing pages, after dozens of monologues about the loss and displacement and terror endured by the people of Chernobyl, I was unsettled to encounter an image of myself. The book’s coda was a composite of 2005 newspaper clippings about the news that a Kyiv travel agency was beginning to offer people the chance to visit the Exclusion Zone.

“You are certainly going to have something to tell your friends about when you get back home,” I read. “Atomic tourism is in great demand, especially among Westerners. People crave strong new sensations, and these are in short supply in a world so much explored and readily accessible. Life gets boring, and people want a frisson of something eternal.”

I lay awake for some time, trying to attend to the silence, hearing now and then the faint howling of wolves in the lonely distance. Had I myself, I wondered, come here in search of strong new sensations? There was, I realized, a sense in which I was encountering the Zone less as the site of a real catastrophe, a barely conceivable tragedy of the very recent past, than as a vast diorama of an imagined future, a world in which humans had ceased entirely to exist.

Among ruins, Pripyat is a special case. It’s Venice in reverse: a fully interactive virtual rendering of a world to come. The place is recognizably of our own time and yet entirely other. It was built as an exemplary creation of Soviet planning and ingenuity, an ideal place for a highly skilled work force. Broad avenues lined with evergreen trees, sprawling city squares, modernist high-rise apartment buildings, hotels, places for exercise and entertainment, cultural centers, playgrounds. And all of it was powered by the alchemy of nuclear energy. The people who designed and built Pripyat believed themselves to be designing and building the future. This was a historical paradox almost too painful to contemplate.

It wasn’t until after I returned home from Ukraine that I began to imagine my own house a ruin, to picture as I walked through its rooms the effect 30 years of dereliction might wreak on my son’s bedroom, imagining his soft toys matted and splayed to the elements, the bare frame of his bed collapsed in a moldering heap, the floorboards stripped and rotted. I would walk out our front door and imagine our street deserted, the empty window frames of the houses and shops, trees sprouting through the cracked sidewalks, the road itself overgrown with grass.

Now I find myself wanting not to think about abandoned streets and shuttered schools and empty playgrounds any more than I have to, which is all the time. One recent evening, a few days into pandemic-mandated social distancing, I went out for a walk around my neighborhood — a densely populated community in Dublin’s inner city — and it was sadder and more uncanny than I was prepared for. It was not the Zone, but neither was it the world I knew. I thought of a line from “Chernobyl Prayer” that haunted me for a time after I read it but had not occurred to me since: “Something from the future is peeking out and it’s just too big for our minds.” I walked for maybe 10 or 15 minutes and hardly encountered another soul.

A couple from the Netherlands, Alissa and Gerjan. Mark Neville for The New York Times

At the heart of the Zone is Reactor No. 4. You don’t see it. Not now that it is enclosed in the immense dome known as the New Safe Confinement. This, they say, is the largest movable object on the planet: roughly 360 feet tall at its apex and 840 feet wide. The dome was the result of a vast engineering project involving 27 countries. The construction had been completed on-site, and in November 2016 the finished dome was slid into position on rails, over the original shelter, which it now entirely contained. That original shelter, known variously as the Sarcophagus and the Shelter Object, had been hastily constructed over the ruins of the reactor building in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

The group stood looking at the dome taking photos of the plant for later Instagram sharing, as Igor talked us dryly through the stats.

“Sarcophagus is an interesting word to have gone with,” Dylan said, trousering his phone.

“It really is,” I said. “They have not shied away from the sinister.”

Zone. Shelter Object. Sarcophagus. There was an archetypal charge to these terms, a resonance of the uncanny on the surfaces of the words themselves. Sarcophagus, from the Greek, sark meaning flesh; phagus meaning to eat.

A couple of hundred yards from us was an accretion of fissile material that had melted through the concrete floor of the reactor building to the basement beneath, cooled and hardened into a monstrous mass they called the Elephant’s Foot. This was the holy of holies, possibly the most toxic object on the planet. This was the center of the Zone. To be in its presence even briefly was extremely dangerous. An hour of close proximity would be lethal. Concealed though it was, its unseen presence emanated a shimmer of the numinous. It was the nightmare consequence of technology itself, the invention of the shipwreck.

In the closing stretch of the Bible, in Revelation, appear these lines: “And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.” Wormwood is a shrub that appears several times in the Bible, invoked in Revelation as a sort of curse, perhaps the wrath of a vengeful God. In fact, Chernobyl is named for the plant, which grows in lavish abundance in the region. This matter of linguistic curiosity is frequently raised in commentaries on the accident and its apocalyptic resonances.

Laborers in construction hats ambled in and out of the plant. It was lunchtime. The cleanup was ongoing. This was a place of work, an ordinary place. But it was a kind of holy place too, a place where all of time had collapsed into a single physical point. The Elephant’s Foot would be here always. It would remain here after the death of everything else, an eternal monument to our civilization. After the collapse of every other structure, after every good and beautiful thing had been lost and forgotten, its silent malice would still be throbbing in the ground like a cancer, spreading its bitterness through the risen waters.

Before returning to Kyiv, we made a final stop at the Reactor No. 5 cooling tower, a lofty abyss of concrete that was nearing completion at the time of the accident and had lain abandoned ever since, both construction site and ruin. We walked through tall grass and across a long footbridge whose wooden slats had rotted away so completely in places that we had to cling to railings and tiptoe along rusted metal sidings.

Once inside, we wandered the interior, mutely assimilating the immensity of the structure. The tower ascended some 500 feet into the air, to a vast opening that encircled the sky. Someone in the group selected a rock from the ground and pitched it with impressive accuracy and force at a large iron pipe that ran across the tower’s interior, and the clang reverberated in what seemed an endless self-perpetuating loop. Somewhere up in the lofty reaches a crow delivered itself of a cracked screech, and this sound echoed lengthily in its turn.

The more adventurous of us clambered up the iron beams of the scaffolding in search of more lofty positions from which to photograph the scene. I was not among them. I sought the lower ground, sitting cross-legged in the dirt, having forgotten for a moment the obvious danger of doing so. I looked up. Hundreds of feet overhead, two birds were gliding in opposing spirals around the inner circumference of the tower, kestrels I thought, drifting upward on unseen currents toward the vast disk of sky, impossibly deep and blue. I sat there watching them a long time, circling and circling inside the great cone of the tower. I laughed, thinking of the Yeatsian resonances of the scene, the millenarian mysticism: the tower, the falcons, the widening gyres. But there was in truth nothing apocalyptic about what I was seeing, no blood-dimmed tide. It was an aftermath, a calm restored.

These birds, I thought, could have known nothing about this place. The Zone did not exist for them. Or rather, they knew it intimately and absolutely, but their understanding had nothing in common with ours. This cooling tower, unthinkable monument that it was to the subjugation of nature, was not distinguished from the trees, the mountains, the other lonely structures on the land. There was no division between human and nonhuman for these spiraling ghosts of the sky. There was only nature. Only the world remained and the things that were in it.

This article is adapted from the book “Notes From an Apocalypse,” to be published by Doubleday in April.

Mark O’Connell is a writer based in Dublin. His first book, “To Be a Machine,” was awarded the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize and the 2019 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

. . .

To be continued.