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The Permanence Issue
Permanence is a contradictory idea. The moment of “now” is as fiercely urgent as it has ever been. Now is the only time we will ever live in, and the only time we can do anything about. But as with every generation, most of the things that concern us in this moment will be lost to the remorseless sweep of time. When the lone and level sands stretch far away, and the Anthropocene draws to a close, our dreams of reconfiguring our bodies through gene editing, or colonizing Mars rather than fixing things at home, will seem, well, Ozymandian. When that desertful of dust finally settles, what will be left?
It’s not apocalyptic thinking and it’s not doomsaying to explore the implications of this moment—a moment in which all the moments that have ever been and might ever be are at stake—a moment, in short, like any other. As Barry Lopez urges in our feature interview, it’s a time not for fight or flight, but for a third alternative: to gather. In this issue, we are excavating the past and harvesting the present to trace the dim outline of the future. From alchemy and witchcraft to the post-human dream of science, just over the mountain range. We travel from the spiffed-up streets of Moscow, where the echoes of revolution continue, however strangely, to reverberate, to the salty shores of Orkney, where stone-age carvings still ring with teenage drama, and park along the far-flung roads of northern Alaska, teetering between the noise of the human world and the mysterious silent wild. Finally, we meet people who want to spin out still further, to Mars, and ask what this means for the home they dream of leaving behind, where we still haven’t quite solved the problem of toilets.