Thursday, 30 March 2023

Cnut Songs #21: The Every (3)

King Cnut could not hold back the tide, and I cannot hold back society's full-throttle descent into dystopia. All I can do is watch helplessly from the sidelines, and nod my head sagely when others hold a mirror up to the madness. Which is why I've been using this space over the past few weeks to quote excerpts from Dave Eggers' novel, The Every. Because everyone should read it and face up to the horror...

In this extract, Delaney has to organise a Welcome2Me event in which she invites a random selection of her colleagues (“Everyones”) to participate in a “get to know you”-type social event. She chooses to take them to a local beach where a colony of elephant seals have gathered to mate… but from the moment she announces the event, she’s prepared for resistance.

Delaney wrote a three-paragraph description of the day’s plan, including six links to basic and concise information about the seals, their history on the Pacific coast, their mating cycles, Point Reyes in general and Playa 36 specifically. “If you haven’t seen Pt. Reyes, be prepared,” Delaney wrote. “It will be spectacular.” Not that anyone living in Northern California needed to be told to bring layers, but she mentioned this, and she mentioned sunscreen, and comfortable shoes, and a warm hat if one’s ears were prone to chill. She sent a draft to Kiki, who, in a distracted moment, wrote only “Food”. Delaney took this to mean that the Everyones could not be expected to bring their own lunches, so Delaney arranged with a deli around the corner from The Sea Shed to create eighty sandwiches for the day, for vegans and vegetarians, pescatarians and carnivores, at least two options for every attendee, and a bounty of side salads and drinks – all to be brought on the bus in reusable containers.

A group of forty-two Everyones were selected by algorithm. It was to be a cross-campus smorgasbord, a sampling rich in variety of departments and interests. And because there would be photos and possibly group photos, a representative and perhaps augmented display of the company’s diversity was essential. Once the forty-two attendees had been chosen, a message list was created, and Delaney’s now-three-page description of the event – elucidating what would be available to drink and eat, and enumerating all that need be brought – was sent to the forty-two on the Tuesday before the excursion.

“No info here for the lactose-free…” said the first message, and Delaney cursed herself for this easy oversight. “Ignore that event description!” she wrote, “Better one to come!” She went through the entire three pages again, editing an adding two pages more, this time anticipating every allergy and preference. She covered gluten, eggs, nuts, nightshades and cinnamon – recent but fast-spreading intolerances and de-preferences, respectively – and this time, in a stroke of what she considered brilliance, she mentioned the particular deli she’d engaged, Emil’s on Pacheco, in case anyone wanted to pre-order and get the precise sandwich they wished.

“Emil’s? Have you seen this?” This message linked to a photo of Emil, the young proprietor, posing with an Israeli flag, on what appeared to be a Tel Aviv beach. This was followed by seventy-six messages from a fourth of the forty-two Point Reyes attendees, most with links to bombastic articles and messages about the rightness or wrongness of Israel vis a vis Palestine and what any given Everyone would be saying by eating sandwiches made by a man (and his staff) who were so proud of Israel and its misdeeds that he so jingoistically would pose with its flag on a luxurious beach of oppression.

“Is the bus using plant-based fuel?” one attendee asked. It’s a standard bus, so I assume so, Delaney wrote. “Do I need hiking boots?” No, Delaney wrote, we’ll just be standing on sand, or in the parking lot near the beach. “I don’t see a packing list. Usually there’s a packing list for such an outdoor activity.” I provided a packing list, Delaney answered, though you might have missed it because it’s embedded and short. You really only need yourselves and, like I said, layers, and maybe a hat. I’m even bringing sunscreen, so you can take that off the list! “What kind of sunscreen are you bringing, Delaney?” Delaney had not actually bought the sunscreen yet, so she looked online and found an organic brand, Sensible Dawn. This triggered an avalanche. “Wait, now we’re supporting Scientology?” an Everyone wrote, and Delaney soon found that Dawn Unger, the sunscreen’s founder, had been a Scientologist, though she didn’t appear to be one now, and had posted no content anywhere in support of Scientology. “Delaney, seeing elephant seals shouldn’t involve cult-complicity,” one helpful Everyone wrote, in the most measured of the messages. After four hours of screeds and ululations, totalling 413 messages covering the sins and virtues of every company that had or still did provide sunscreen to the world, the group settled on an organic maker based in the Antilles. That the product had travelled a few thousand miles seemed likely to provoke a reaction of some kind, but at the end of Day Two, had not yet done so.

The Welcome2Me event inevitably proves disastrous, and soon after Delaney is invited to participate in two restorative events in which the “survivors of the Playa 36 Debacle” are invited to vent their emotions on the trauma they have endured.

The solutions to the beach, the bus, and the uncomfortable proximity to wildlife were, again, direct and increasingly extreme. “Don’t visit that beach,” was the first, and was followed by, “Close the beach,” then “Don’t exploit animals for our gawking pleasure,” and finally it was agreed that, “Humans should not be permitted near any animals in any context,” and that, “Large groups of humans travelling together in fifteen-ton fuel-burning vehicles are so obviously environmentally offensive and metaphorically obvious that we cannot, ever, be part of the problem again.”

And that’s just the beginning of the fall-out…

Speaking of the world going to hell in a handbasket, it's a sign of the times when Shakin' Stevens turns into a protest singer...


  1. When you've finished The Every, I can recommend The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first chapter of which affected me more than the opening of any book I can remember in recent years.

    Also, that Shakin' Stevens track is alright, isn't it? Who'd have thought?

  2. I agree with everything you say but - or for that very reason - I just don't think I have the courage to read The may send me off the nearest cliff. Just too close to the truth.
    I sometimes think that this galaxy and planet earth must just be a giant laboratory experiment being conducted by something so much bigger than us that we can't even begin to imagine (I'm not talking god). Somewhere outside the universe it's making notes and having a wry laugh - or cryihng in despair - at our self-destructive idiocy.

    1. And yesl, very pleasantly surprised by Shakey! Good on him.

  3. SHAKEY!!! He's been a protest singer as back as the 1980s. I remember his stinging critique of gentrification and the developers who "seek a new tomorrow through a golden window pane'.


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