Saturday, August 1, 2009

Monstrous Giants Rise Up

As I came upon a ridge near mile marker 45 on Interstate 80, I saw a hundred modern windmills generating electrical power. The sight filled me with dread. A single windmill might be admired for the mathematical precision of its triple vanes; several windmills might remind one of the austere dignity of guards at Buckingham Palace; but these one hundred windmills resembled an army company in battle array. It was a nightmare worthy of the far-seeing imagination of H.G. Wells. The windmills seemed to be idly spinning, marking time until they received their marching orders from some vast and cold intelligence.

I am not the first to have such feelings. Miguel de Cervantes understood a middle-aged man's instinctive antipathy to huge rotating equipment:

At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that are on that plain.

"Fortune," said Don Quixote to his squire, as soon as he had seen them, "is arranging matters for us better than we could have hoped. Look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants rise up, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes. For this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"Those you see there," answered his master, "with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long."

"Look, your worship," said Sancho. "What we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the vanes that turned by the wind make the millstone go."

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that you are not used to this business of adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, away with you out of here and betake yourself to prayer, while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

A windmill is the emblem of a future dominated by technology -- a future overwhelming, complex, and inhuman.