In his recent story, "The Dystopians" — a nod to Henry James' 1903 novel The Ambassadors? — McGrath focuses on the social critics Dimitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler. Orlov, who maintains the (doomish?) blog ClubOrlov, lives on a houseboat outside Boston and wrote Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects in 1998. Kunstler, whose 2005 book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century sold more than 100,000 copies, recently wrote an apocalyptic novel titled World Made by Hand.
Kunstler, as it turns out, was the subject of a 2005 Seven Days cover story, "Global Warning." He was also the keynote speaker at a November conference of the area secession organization Second Vermont Republic.
McGrath's ironical story oozes with Vermonty stuff. He reports, for example, that Orlov is thinking of ferrying maple syrup and apples from Vermont to New York City. Then he attends the November secession conference and grabs lunch in Montpelier with Rob Williams a Champlain College prof-cum-yak-farmer who publishes the secession-oriented monthly newspaper Vermont Commons.
Speaking with Seven Days by phone yesterday, Williams said he was mostly pleased with "The Dystopians," but that he wised he hadn't been painted, well, so doomily. "It didn't do a great job of providing some of the deeper context," Williams said of McGrath's piece. "Dystopians are typically people who see the worst in everything. I sort of feel like, at least I get excited about the work that we're doing..."
Tuns out Williams isn't the only Vermonter who has mixed feelings about the New Yorker story. In a posting titled "DYSTOPIANS ON ESTROGEN," Carolyn Baker, a member of Vermont Commons' editorial board who was mentioned briefly in "The Dystopians," points out on her blog that McGrath didn't quote any women.
"Although I greatly admire Dmitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler, and while I feel camaraderie in particular with my friends in the Vermont Independence movement, Rob Williams and Thomas Naylor, I found 'The Dystopians' to be an appallingly white male extravaganza," Baker writes, noting that the only other so-called "dystopian" female in the story besides her is the New Mexico-based psychologist Chellis Glendinning.
"My complaint is not about some notion of 'equal time' but rather the consequences of omitting a uniquely female perspective from the discourse about collapse and the construction of a new paradigm of life on the planet," she adds. "Despite my caveat, I know I will be accused of proclaiming the superiority of the female gender, but that is absolutely not my intent. In fact, quite the opposite. The conversation requires the distinct characteristics of both genders, and without it, only half the landscape of collapse can be viewed..."