Bewildering Stories discusses...
Echoes of Cassandra’s Voices
with Bertrand Cayzac
The essay “Cassandra’s Voices in 2016: Warnings to the Modern Age” observes Bewildering Stories’ policy of taking no positions in partisan politics. On the contrary, the essay is much more relevant to our times for taking the “long view,” and it concludes with a kind of Challenge question of its own: “Is there really a dark age ahead, or has it already begun?”
Bertrand Cazyac answers with a resounding “Yes!” to both questions. And he tells us how Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, the TV cartoon series The Simpsons, Saskia Sassen’s Expulsions and his own stories of Fred Floozman show us from all sides of literature how it’s happening.
The following is a translation from the correspondence in French. The link to the article on the Simpsons episode leads to the website France TV Info.
The four “Cassandra’s voices” resonate especially because I hear them in a world where Donald Trump is President of the foremost world power. And it’s true!
I feel I’m in a dystopia written by someone like Robert Sheckley or John Brunner. And who predicted it more than fifteen years ago? The writers of The Simpsons! No, the most egregious farce can’t top reality, nothing can, but there can no longer be any doubt that satire does better than polls.
Besides, the very serious Karl Marx saw it well when he wrote about Louis Bonaparte’s 18 Brumaire: “Hegel says somewhere that all great historical events and personalities repeat themselves twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy; the second time, as farce.” But what or whom does this Simpsons episode repeat?
Of the four voices, the one that gives me the most to think about today is James J. O’Donnell’s: “Civilization is a thing of the calm, the patient, the pragmatic, and the wise. We are not assured it will triumph.” Alas, we can be assured that these virtues never triumph or never lastingly, methinks.
Some day, I’ll send you a review of the excellent book by Saskia Sassen, Expulsions. If I do well enough, you can add it to the collection Cassandra’s Voices, although the author does not really make any predictions. She chooses to analyze many economic and sociological changes in terms of expulsions:
- the expulsion of impoverished social classes from economies that are both globalized and shrunken — from the viewpoint of those who participate in them even a little, of course;
- expulsion from systems of redistribution, especially the social safety net;
- expulsion from the financial system especially by excess debt; witness the record expropriations in the Global Financial Crisis;
- and, finally, massive expulsions from lands that are ecologically threatened or simply sold to corporations and foreign countries for exploitation by industrialized agriculture.
Saskia Sassen makes no predictions but, in her conclusions, she wonders if she isn’t outlining a basic trend of our times. I will tell you, Ms. Sassen, the poor, the “migrants” and deviants of all kinds will go to space colonies with no return ticket.
That will give breathing room to the braves gens — the “good people” — who can finally feel at home and buy fine, fresh produce at the village market as they used to. You’ll surely have recognized here a chapter from Floozman in Space. The poor will leave in waves, as in the chapter “Way in the Middle of the Air” in an early edition of The Martian Chronicles and in the “First Martian Eclogue,” which echoes it — in another form, of course — with the expulsion of Mélibée.
They will go there in economy class or steerage, thanks to low-cost flights begun in the Trump era. And perhaps they will believe they are emigrating to a better world, if the advertising is persuasive. And maybe it won’t be so simple. But what will that mean, then? That the new worlds have a good life in store for them or that life in the old world is not a life anymore?
I’ll ask the writers of The Simpsons or the ones at Futurama to create an episode on the theme “They know better.”
Grand merci, Bertrand ! “They know better.” Indeed, will the “deportables” be going to a better world if they’re shipped off to Mars? I don’t see how they could go quietly.
There is talk these days about sending people to Mars. The question of the day is: How? I ask a question that no one else does: Why? Can anyone persuade me to send people rather than robots?
The best answer to date comes from an old and little-known novel of Robert A. Heinlein’s, Beyond This Horizon. His answer: tourism. But even he doesn’t see how bad a joke it is:
Gamblers who come back from a casino on the Moon can lord it no end over those who’ve been content to stay on Earth and go to Las Vegas. But wait... Take a crap on Mars or crap out on the Moon? Is either one a reason to establish a colony on another planet? — in Space Colonies: the Dark Side
My “50th-century historian” in 1177 B.C.: The Year Civiization Collapsed foresees a much darker future.
Warnings to the Modern Age
Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God|
Eric H. Cline, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead
James J. O’Donnell, The Ruin of the Roman Empire
Don Webb, Cassandra’s Voices in 2016