February 4, 2006

The Time Traverler's Tale

An excerpt from Dan Simmons' April message:

The Time Traveler shook his head. "You've understood nothing I've said. Nothing. Athens failed in Syracuse -- and doomed their democracy -- not because they fought in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but because they weren't ruthless enough. They had grown soft since their slaughter of every combat-age man and boy on the island of Melos, the enslavement of every woman and girl there. The democratic Athenians, in regards to Syracuse, thought that once engaged they could win without absolute commitment to winning, claim victory without being as ruthless and merciless as their Spartan and Syracusan enemies. The Athenians, once defeat loomed, turned against their own generals and political leaders -- and their official soothsayers. If General Nicias or Demosthenes had survived their captivity and returned home, the people who sent them off with parades and strewn flower petals in their path would have ripped them limb from limb. They blamed their own leaders like a sun-maddened dog ripping and chewing at its own belly."

I thought about this. I had no idea what the hell he was saying or how it related to the future.

"You came back in time to lecture me about Thucydides?" I said. "Athens? Syracuse? Sun-Tzu? No offense, Mr. Time Traveler, but who gives a damn?"

The Time Traveler rose so quickly that I flinched back in my chair, but he only refilled his Scotch. This time he refilled my glass as well. "You probably should give a damn" he said softly. " In 2006, you'll be ripping and tearing at yourselves so fiercely that your nation – the only one on Earth actually fighting against resurgent caliphate Islam in this long struggle over the very future of civilization -- will become so preoccupied with criticizing yourselves and trying to gain short-term political advantage, that you'll all forget that there's actually a war for your survival going on. Twenty-five years from now, every man or woman in America who wishes to vote will be required to read Thucydides on this matter. And others as well. And there are tests. If you don't know some history, you don't vote . . . much less run for office. America's vacation from knowing history ends very soon now . . . for you, I mean. And for those few others left alive in the world who are allowed to vote."

"You're shitting me," I said.

"I am shitting you not," said the Time Traveler.

"Those few others left alive who are allowed to vote?" I said, the words just now striking me like hardthrown stones. "What the hell are you talking about? Has our government taken away all our civil liberties in this awful future of yours?"

He laughed then and this time it was a deep, hearty, truly amused laugh. "Oh, yes," he said when the laughter abated a bit. He actually wiped away tears from his one good eye. "I had almost forgotten about your fears of your, our . . . civil liberties . . . being abridged by our own government back in these last stupidity-allowed years of 2005 and 2006 and 2007 . Where exactly do you see this repression coming from?"

"Well . . ." I said. I hate it when I start a sentence with 'well,' especially in an argument. "Well, the Patriot Act. Bush authorizing spying on Americans . . . international phonecalls and such. Uh . . . I think mosques in the States are under FBI surveillance. I mean, they want to look up what library books we're reading, for God's sake. Big Brother. 1984. You know."

The Time Traveler laughed again, but with more edge this time. "Yes, I know," he said. "We all know . . . up there in the future which some of you will survive to see as free people. Civil liberties. In 2006 you still fear yourselves and your own institutions first, out of old habit. A not unworthy -- if fatally misguided and terminally masochistic -- paranoia. I will tell you right now, and this is not a prediction but a history lesson, some of your grandchildren will live in dhimmitude."

HT:Done With Mirrors

Posted by Vanderleun at February 4, 2006 3:15 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.


It's almost enough for me to doubt the Western grasp of the global economy. I wonder what legal manipulations would be required to keep capital private. How do you co-opt Wall Street if you're the new regime?

Posted by: Cobb at April 4, 2006 4:04 PM

Holy crap. That leaves one speechless.

Posted by: Dan at April 4, 2006 5:47 PM

The story was powerful and the writer was interesting enough to have me reading his site for the last 2 hours. Thank you again.

Pierre Legrand
The Pink Flamingo Bar

Posted by: Pierre Legrand at April 4, 2006 7:16 PM

I echo Pierre's reaction. I'm about to give the one Simmons book I own (and didn't finish) a second shot because of it.

I thought Orson Scott Card was the only sci-fi guy who had such sympathies, and I'm glad to have been shown to be wrong about it.

Posted by: Cameron Wood at April 4, 2006 7:40 PM

Damn, Gerard...

I don't know how you find these things, but I'm sure glad you DO. Chilling, and yet it rings so true. The sad part is I don't think we'll wake up until after it's half-past too late.

Posted by: Buck at April 4, 2006 8:43 PM

PS: Blogger doesn't "do" trackbacks, but I've linked both you and Simmons.

Thank you!

Posted by: Buck at April 4, 2006 9:06 PM

No wonder I never read Simmons stuff. Boring.

Whatever is going to happen, its not going to happen the way any of us thinks its going to happen.

Posted by: Eric Blair at April 5, 2006 6:34 AM

"Whatever is going to happen, it's not going to happen the way any of us thinks..."

True, very true. It could be much, much worse than we may even imagine it to be.

Posted by: Clioman at April 5, 2006 7:50 AM

Or it could be much more benign. Or just middling.

Posted by: Eric Blair at April 5, 2006 9:01 AM

And the three last words?


Posted by: Doug at April 9, 2006 7:41 PM