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"What Could Be" by Mike Strong

What was; what is; what will be?
Ammodramus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
What was; what is; what will be?

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “Running Out” by Lucas Bessire.

I’ve been working for months tearing apart the New York Times’ 1619 Project, started in 2019, not to be confused with, or ever mentioned by the New York Times, Calvin Pearson’s Project 1619, Incorporated, started in 1994.

It is frustrating in many ways. I had expected to be a supporter of Nikole Hannah-Jones from criticisms I had read. But the New York Times consistent and aggressive historical claims which are not only weak and misleading but are so often the inverse of actual history went from puzzling to frustrating to angering.

The narrow focus on blame and grievance that racism and slavery is behind every missed opportunity in life, if you are black, I finally let myself realize (I was reluctant to so conclude), is the reason the New York Times’ project errs so badly.

Would that the New York Times had read Lucas Bessire’s concluding paragraphs. Would that Nikole Hannah-Jones be so introspective as Lucas Bessire in “Running Out.”

In one of the concluding sections of “Running Out,” Lucas Bessire writes,

“… blame and self-grievance get us only so far, politically and personally. The overly assured sense that I could parse the guilty from the innocent was part of the problem.”

“Either everyone is in this together, or no one is.”

I was taken by Bessire’s clear-eyed ability to see the complex mix of interests, both helpful and destructive, as well as his ability to see the possibilities of working together in his ultimate faith in the people of the plains.

Let me repeat one of these sentences because it struck me so strongly after months of pouring over the New York Times 1619 project: Bessire writes, “The overly assured sense that I could parse the guilty from the innocent was part of the problem.”

This understanding opens up so much area.

It also makes it possible for Bessire to return to his homelands, after running out in his 20’s for a life in New York and Paraguay in anthropology, and his position with the University of Oklahoma and to the book, “Running Out” referring both to leaving home at a young age and to the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer.

Now he returned to southwest Kansas as both a returning son and as an anthropologist.

He tells us: “I did not pump any water or shoot any buffalo or spray any toxins. But I am responsible to some degree for all of that, just as I am for climate change and racial inequity and the widening of acceptable disregard. … Rather than absolve me of responsibility, … what we are undeniably responsible for is the future world we are creating, right now, all of us together.”

There is wisdom in that. It is all too easy, especially on social media or just regular comment threads to throw out trendy accusations. The real job is coming together before the issue is forced.

If we do nothing the aquifer will simply run out. Already some communities are running long-distance water lines in anticipation of losing their local underground supplies. But we don’t really know that well where the water is or whether it can be replenished.

Part of that problem is that the aquifer is patchy with wide variations between areas, but the GMDs treat the areas as if they were uniform.

And, doing nothing now means that we will lose our own human habitat in the future. Ghost towns already exist for various reasons, not always because of water depletion, but of depletion of other things, such as gold or silver veins giving out.

We can do better, says Lucas Bessire, and he notes, the high plains have the kind of people who can.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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