Friday, May 20, 2005

Rick McGinnis on futurists

Jules Verne brough us what seems like a strange sort of dystopia to some, a simple guess to others, but certainly not a utopia. His assumption was that the individual would be more or less powerless over his destiny and matter less, when the opposite trend is what prosperity has actually brought.

«Nine Years ago, a great bronze safe once belonging to the French fantasist Jules Verne was opened by his great-grandson. Inside, under a pile of linen, he found a manuscript for a novel, written by his great-grandfather 125 years earlier.

«Verne's novel is set in the Paris of 1960, in an age when free-market capitalism governs the world. Everything has been privatized, even education, and institutions are run for profit by share-issuing companies. Because science and technology have been the agents of phenomenal progress and productivity growth, little else interests the vast majority of the population. Wara notoriously unprofitable endeavorhas been eliminated, but so too have the humanities, and while music survives in a utilitarian function, centuries of literature crumble into dust on forgotten bookshelves.»

Verne's world of automated manufacturing and agriculture, overcrowded cities, and poorly paid service-sector employees is a crushing dystopia for his protagonist, Michel Dufrenoy, a young man ill-suited for anything other than the useless trade of poet. As he falls into the margins of his society, and beyond, Michel's friends desperately wonder what kind of employment he might find for himself in a society that values only capital and expediency. As a writer, they suggest, he might find a position as a "stock reporter...getting caught out every day in inevitable errors, prophesying events with great aplomb, on the principle that if the prediction doesn't come true, the prophet will be forgotten, and if it does, he will pride himself on his perspicacity, overcoming rival companies for some banker's greater profit...Will Michel ever consent to that?" As the story is a tragedy, he will not, and so his fate is sealed.»

Was this the confused beginning of a very confused modern neo-luddite movement? It's hard to tell.

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