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Three Words

Via GeekPress, author Dan Simmons provides about as bleak an outline of the future as can be imagined, in short-story form.

I don't think this future will happen, primarily because I believe that there are other forces at work in the world besides political forces. But could it happen? As scenarios go, this one certainly passes any initial sniff-tests that one might wish to apply.

It could happen.

The answer to a scenario is another scenario. Simmons wants to warn us about dangers he sees as imminent. On this site, we have dedicated a good deal of time and verbiage to spinning out scenarios that speak to a very different kind of future, mapped against what we see as a relentless spiral of improvement. However, we have to concede that there are risks and choices to be made even if these scenarios turn out to be correct.

Ultimately, the future comes down to what choices lay before us, all of us -- the items that occupy our possibility space -- and the actions that we take to bring them about. Simmons' nightmare future is out there. A series of bad choices might just land us there. (Simmons asserts that most of the choices have already been made.) But that future is one of many, and I don't believe -- as the time-traveler from Simmons' story asserts -- that time is a river whose course can't be changed.

We are the river; the choices that we make and don't make. I'm pretty sure Dan Simmons must believe that, too, or why bother writing about any future?

Comments

At first, I thought Sims was actually parodying that future. After all, islamophobia does seem the fad of the day and April Fool's Day had just happened. But alas he seems serious.

The history lesson about Syracuse seems clever till you realize that Melos got sacked shortly before the Syracuse invasion (ie, the same year that the expedition set forth). Athens hadn't had time to become "soft". It truly was hubris not lack of ruthlessness.

And relating the tale from the omniscient viewpoint of a future time traveler is a typical Sims copout. He can't be wrong because he's from the future. Reminds me of his Endymion books a little. Not bad sci fi, but key parts get spoiled by the deux ex machina.

Having said that, Sims can be a powerful writer. But he takes the easy road too often for my tastes.

Karl --

Extremist Islam is a very nasty thing. I don't see how being repelled by it or taking seriously its stated desire to be a major global threat can be rightly described as a "phobia."

I'm skeptical about Simmons' scenario in part because I believe that eventually mainstream Islam will actively work to eliminate its more extreme elements. But it has not done so to date in an effective (or particularly convincing) way.

nah, it's paranoia rather than phobia. where do you detect a "major global threat" here? iran may be troublesome, but there is no islamic nation even remotely capable of invading the entirety of europe, enslaving everyone. i've just deleted some 100 more words i had written, because i realize this boils down to the seemingly endless gulf between left and right wing, europe and usa and so forth. if simmons intended this story to be a serious warning, i find it hilarious. i agree it feels more like a parody than anything else. i've had so enough of that islam-takes-over-the-world babbling i can't tell. song recommendation: we didn't start the fire, billy joel. go ahead an listen.

Rivers do change course. Sometimes because they are dammed, sometimes because of an earthquake, and sometimes simplyy by the process of erosion.

Eisendorn --

I couldn't be in stronger disagreement with your analysis. Clearly, the appropriate Billy Joel song here is "It's just a Fantasy." :-)

I would agree that Simmons approach tends more towards paranoia. (Paranoia can make for highly entertaining fiction. See the first five or so seasons of The X Files.) As exemplified by the incessant anti-US raving that can be found in certain circles, paranoid fantasies are fueled by the idea of a malevolent and omnipotent agent dedicated to evil seemingly for its own sake. Real life has provided few such agents, although the mid-20th century gave us a couple that came pretty close. Neither the US nor extremist Islam are dedicated to evil for its own sake. The former lacks the malevolence generally attributed to it; the latter is lacking, as you pointed out, in the omnipotence department.

Please re-read what I wrote in the previous comment and note that I never said that I believe that extremist Islam is a major global threat, but rather that it has a stated desire to become one. Taking that desire seriously doesn't mean buying into the notion that the threat exists -- only that it could.

Scenarios such as those of Simmons are based on, among other things, linear extrapolations of demographic trends in Europe. That kind of extrapolation is bound to be misleading. On the other hand, I find it worrying that increasing numbers of women in Europe are forced to live as second-class citizens, or that otherwise stridently secularist media in both Europe and the US have backed down from publishing certain cartoons either out of fear of giving offense or fear of being killed.

Both of the above should be matters of major interest to "the left," but I have heard little on either subject from those quarters. I don't really think there is much left ideologically of the left or right. That dichotomy is a model from a couple of centuries ago that had its heyday over the past century.

Time for new models, I say.

"iran may be troublesome, but there is no islamic nation even remotely capable of invading the entirety of europe, enslaving everyone."

Eisendown,

I was going say what Phil did, but without the erudite prose.

The Time Traveler never said Europe was invaded by armies protected by massive fleets. Clearly this is improbable.

You need only look to what is happening in Europe now, extrapolate (If This Goes On) and voila - Simmons' future. Not fleets but an army of immigres.

Couldn't happen? Maybe. But do realize that thousands - a low number - live under de facto Sharia law in Europe. An entire culture pays lip service to a minority religion upon pain of riot, murder and mayhem.

Ask the chain restaurant who withdrew a confection because the flavor swirl on the top looked like the Prophet. Ask the people who can't (for the love of Jesus and A.A. Milne) have mugs with "Piglet' on them because the image of a pig offends. Ask that guy who was murdered in the streets for an 'offensive' film that showed less explicit sex than your average episode of 'The Sopranos'.

Ask 'Cartoon Network' about self-censorship.

Can't happen here? Probably not. But we're blind if we don't see the hazards 'If This Goes On ..'

we've been over this stuff before. i will create a template post for the following.

1. i have my problems with islam, but they are barely stronger than those i have with _any_ dogmatic, non-falsifyable system.

2. the problem with muslims in europe clearly lies within a lack of integration policy. there is, however, very active and ongoing debate about this, and if i linearily extrapolate into the future, i much rather see a success in these debates, along with the implementation of according measures and laws, than the introduction of sharia across europe.

3. from my perspective at least equally troublesome is the shocking resurgance of (trying to be non-bashing and diplomatic) less empirical views upon, say, the origin of our noble species, at where you live. skimming through the net, i notice that those developments are commented upon in a rather humoristic manner, while everyone finds the handful of fundamentalist muslims in europe deeply troublesome. if i were to word it in a radical manner, i would say that the threat to your secular integrity is much more severe, because it grows out of your own people, your own culture, who have been immersed in the benefits of a modern, scientific age since their births, whereas the immigrants in europe were not - they are, so to say, an external "threat". yeah right, there are no honor killings because some university nerd called that redneck's daughter as being descendant from a monkey. but: if this goes on ...

Thanks, Phil, Simmons is excellent and right on target. Catching a threat early enough to do something about it is tricky. Most people are heavily into denial up until the very last moment, when it is too late. You see that in some comments above.

There is something about the incredible affluence and leisure of the modern western world that tends toward somnanbulatory thinking. Simmons realizes that just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. In fact, being paranoid about this particular issue is a sign of more penetrating thought than the majority is capable of.

A lot of people are going to die, wondering what happened.

phil,

i recommend a survey on how many speculist readers actually think that the world is in *some* way becomming a better place. or does ACO pertain only technology? not for me at least.

legion,

good job in further comfirming my thoughts about your type of people. in fact, the term "paranoia" does no longer encompass your line of reasoning. replacing some nouns, those words could come exactly out of the mouth of someone believing jews and the fbi steered those planes into wtc. they're out to get you.

Now, let's not have this slide off into one of these "your type of people" sniping sessions. There are plenty of blogs that thrive on that sort of thing; this is not one of them.

On the question of paranoia, well...

There was this guy who lived across the street from my family when I was a kid. He was a John Bircher. He believed, among many other interesting things, that adding flouride to drinking water was a Soviet plot.

My Dad said that guy was crazy. Paranoid. I'd say my Dad was correct.

Contrast that guy with the few people in Britain in the 1930's who warned that Hitler's rise to power was a threat. They were also accused of being paranoid. I'd say the people who accused them were wrong.

Hard as it might be for sophisticated people like us to accept, sometimes they really are out to get you. It's hard to be sure when, but if they say they want to, you know, kill you, take down your civilization, that sort of thing...well that's more credible than the whole flouride thing.

In answer to your other questions, eisendorn, I've written an entire blog entry. Lucky you!

Contrast that guy with the few people in Britain in the 1930's who warned that Hitler's rise to power was a threat. They were also accused of being paranoid. I'd say the people who accused them were wrong.

My biggest beef is that radical Islam is routinely characterized as the threat to the developed world. The Sims story propagates that mistaken view. Back in the 30's, Hitler wasn't the only threat. The Bolsheviks were considered by most of the elite to be the bigger threat. After all, they even claimed they were going to take over the world.

I think a better analogy is that the jihadists were similar to the Bolsheviks. You knew they were plotting to overthrow your country. Hitler used this to help deflect criticism. After all, he was helped to thwart Communism.

Nazi Germany was effectively remilitarized in six years. Looking through the history of the buildup, it's amazing how rapidly they developed and built new tanks, airplanes, military strategies, etc. My personal suspicion is that the planning for the military buildup may actually predate Hitler.

As it turned out, the USSR also turned out to be a terrible threat as well. But here's the difference that I think people aren't getting. While some people just stuck their heads in the sand and ignored everything, a lot of people focused on one danger and ignored another.

My concern is that we'll focus on radical Islam, which frankly doesn't move that fast, and ignore the threats which build up rapidly. I think steady pressure for decades will do the job on radical Islam. And frankly, I think that's been going on for a while and is working.

For example, the "Singularity" would be a great time for someone or something to try to grab all the marbles. I doubt the jihadists would be much threat under such circumstances.

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