Tilting at windmills can take on a modern twist
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Faculty in Humanities, Austin College
Apr 8, 2019
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On the same day that I first saw the posting of our campus production of  a play about Don Quixote,I witnessed the president of this USA on national news enthusiastically proclaiming that the noise of windmills here  causes cancer. How could I resist thinking of another Don in Spain when Spanish influence in Europe and the “New World” was at its highest! 

In 1605, Miquel de Cervantes authored his famous novel Don Quixote. If all else about this work is forgotten, we remember the scene where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (both on horseback in those days of chivalry) approach several dozen windmills which Don Quixote describes as “huge giants” which must be slayed in a just war which God will support. His squire (esquire, shield-bearer) replies that they are not giants but windmills which empower the mills.  

Quixote’s jousting with windmills at the beginning of seventeenth century Spain has engendered an expression in English that can be interpreted in many ways. “Tilting at windmills” usually suggests confronting competitors without knowing much about them: assuming aspects about them that are false in order to make your goals justifiable. In today’s politics, one could assume that our president was not thinking of Don Quixote, but was attempting to please some of his strongest supporters in the fossil fuel industries at a time when the world is moving toward using more power from non-fossil sources (wind, sun, etc.). 

Another idiom from Cervantes’ novel in today’s English is the word ‘quixotic’ which is defined as one who is not practical, and is lofty and rash in pursuing goals—someone extravagantly chivalrous!

What we need today are more “Sancho Panzas” who can say to modern-day “Don Quixotes”: “All those little windmills expanding across the world are a small part of a giant plan to save our planet from an impending ecological apocalypse!” 

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you can do for this planet earth; and you will be doing what is ultimately best for our country, ourselves, and future generations.

Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Ph.D.