The Cassandra Complex
The prophet Cassandra was blessed with the ability to foretell the future: but cursed that no one would believe her.
Except that this is the way that prophecy works, if people believe a dire prophecy, it generally doesn’t come true. My friend Stirling Newberry calls this a “self-unfullfilling prophecy”.
This relates also to the joke about nobodies, as in “nobody predicted the financial crash.” Because if you predicted it, you’re a nobody. So you have fools saying “it couldn’t have been predicted” when it very clearly was. I even publicly predicted the exact month the stock market would crash, about a year in advance. Every once in a while I get an email from someone who saved a lot of money by listening.
Well, ok, every once in a very long time. Most people read it, shrugged, and didn’t do anything.
There are a lot of organizations you want run by pessimists (for example, nuclear reactors.) The sort of people who have posters proclaiming “Murphy was an optimist” on their walls. The sort of people who told the Japanese how to fix their reactors in the 80s, who had they been listened to, would have avoided an meltdown.
But the problem with such people is that they run themselves out of jobs. They make prophecies, scare people, get the problems fixed, and so their prophecies don’t happen. Absent major disasters for long enough, people become complacent and decide they don’t need to spend money, time and trouble on the warnings of fools whose prophecies never come true. They look at all the money they can save, or make, by getting rid of regulations, gutting inspections and running without precautions, and they realize that that even if something bad happens, the odds of them being held accountable are infinitesimal. After all, when the Japanese financial bubble burst, senior people committed suicide.
Did anyone responsible for the nuclear meltdown in Japan commit suicide?
They should have. And I’m quite serious about that.
When accountability goes away, when the elites no longer believe they have a responsibility to anyone but themselves, and often not even that, your society is in for disaster after disaster.
And so, in the US, you have the Iraq war, Katrina, the great financial collapse, weather disaster after weather disaster without anything being done to protect against the next one. You have the near-absolute certainty of a billion or more incremental deaths from climate change, the near-certainty of drought in large parts of the world, the near-certainty of dust-bowls, and on and on.
And they yawn. They laugh at the Cassandras. Maybe they even know the Cassandras are right
The next age will take its prophets very seriously. And they will produce self-unfulfilling prophecies. And so the cycle will go on.
Unless we learn how to break this, and many other cycles, we are doomed by the sad human fact that the vast majority of people don’t really learn from anyone’s experience but their own. And one day it will catch up to us, and it will push us to extinction, because we now have the means, and more than the means to destroy ourselves utterly. If we do not grow up as a species, if we do not gain wisdom, we may not be long for this world.
Edit: changed wording on suicides to make clear that the people RESPONSIBLE did not commit suicide.