The Apocaloptimists’ Tales #4: A message from Cassandra
I am the closest thing to a prophet you’re going to get and believe me no one here is excited by the prospects.
I know what you’re thinking. Matted hair. Crazy eyes. Looks more like a bum than a sage. Liable to go into a rant at the slightest provocation. And yes, at the moment, that’s a pretty accurate description. But what you don’t know is that none of us started off like that. We are crazy, sure, but because of the rest of you.
That, and the curse, of course. But that’s only part of the story.
You see a madman in front of you, but I wasn’t always like this. I have a history. I looked normal, once. Respectable. Admirable. An up-and-comer. I laughed at the idea of fate. Or evil. Work hard = get ahead. Make your own destiny! And evil? Never ascribe to malice what can more easily be explained by ignorance. Education! That was the key. The future was bright. Just around the corner… just one or two more steps.
Then Life revealed itself to me. Now, I know in my bones that my fate was sealed before my birth. A product of a particular place and time; the inevitable meeting of two genetic signatures. Poof. Me. Born. Assigned. Never asked. The next of Cassandra’s many children.
And evil? I have looked into the eyes of evil itself — the hollow stare of “just following orders” and “gotta pay the rent.” It’s hard to deny evil when you’ve seen its face and know its name.
I am told those early years and that mélange of tragedy and trauma — all those strange accidents of history — were conspiring to make the person you see before you, perfectly suited to this point in time. Perfectly conditioned to play the role I have as your personal prophet. You are reading these words because your destiny and mine are intertwined. I have been sent to you, specifically. In all of space-time and the universe, here we are together.
Never fear, though. You will walk away unscathed by this encounter. I, on the other hand, will be left just a little poorer. A little weaker. Like Tinkerbell when no one believes.
But that is my curse to bear, not yours. I can tell you yours, of course. That’s pretty much the only job requirement I have as prophet. I see your future as vividly as you see your face in the mirror. I can’t not see it, though I have tried. So, I warn you again and again, but to no avail. Somehow, you can’t see the reality that is staring back at you — so overcome by your addiction to comfort and privilege that you can’t fathom it. I call out “Look out! Stop!” but the words evaporate before they reach your ears, dissolving into the ravings of a lunatic. Obviously talking about someone else. Clearly unbalanced. Clearly disturbed.
And there again, you are correct. I am unbalanced and disturbed. Your denial of reality is so complete that it erases part of me. Your crazy is so powerful, it draws me in. It’s all I can do to stay here in reality, desperately resisting the siren song of your collective delusion.
But none of that changes your fate.
Still, sometimes I think I would swap yours for mine if I could. You at least, have the luxury of feigned ignorance. You can still pretend it’s all so confusing. Bad things shouldn’t happen to people like you. You are innocence personified — all the best intentions. (Best not to think about actions, though.) Just hold tight. Of course, the system will figure it out in the end! Hold the company line and maybe you can cash out before the bills come due. Screw the kids! Screw the future! No one ever cared about you; why should you care about them? Just because the world’s on fire? What’s that to do with you? Your too old or fill-in-the-blank to change. All your life, other people have taken the heat for your bad choices. Why should that stop now?
Oh, how I long for that sort of brazen hubris! What it must feel like to be immortal, unimpeachable — the keeper of all that is true and good! God’s literal gift.
Alas, that’s not how fate works. I couldn’t switch even if given the chance. I couldn’t be you for a minute. I don’t have the hutzpah. Or the imagination. How you find the energy to maintain the fantasy is beyond me! Truly, a testament to doing a little work developing that denial muscle every day. It’s quite impressive in a twisted sort of way.
Mind you, the truth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Like Gloria Steinem says “the truth may set you free, but first it will piss you off.” The truth is messy. Untidy. It is definitely not “all good” nor is it “all love.” The real truth doesn’t fit in neat lines of black and white, convenient lists of “always good” and “always bad.” It pulses and moves like a heart beat or a wild animal. Always dynamic and yet also timeless.
But for all that, the truth is simple. We confuse the Truth that can be known with the truth that can be described. It’s all metaphor and all metaphors are true, partly. The tao that can be named is not the true Tao.
But words are still important, so here is the truth: If you don’t pull your weight, someone else has to do more. If you eat more than your share, someone will go hungry at the end of winter. If you take more than can be given, the well will run dry.
These truths do not change because you don’t believe in them, though I know you do not. You cannot see how such simple truths have anything to do with your oh-so-complicated and oh-so-modern and important life. That is what will seal your fate. And, sadly, mine too.
This is why we, all Cassandra’s children, look crazed to you. We have been gifted with perfect prophecy and cursed with an inability to communicate it to the rest of you. We shout, sing, contort, innovate, create, cajole, plead, and pray a truth that is simple and plain to see:
Repent. The end is nigh. The only message of the prophet.
You are in danger and you have the power to save yourself. Why don’t you save yourself?!? You sit there, mesmerized by the flickering screen in the middle of a burning house. But there is nothing we can do to penetrate that thick cone of privilege and denial, wrapped in your warm cloak of comfort and belief.
Luckily, I know it’s not just me. I am legion, though we are all alone. In fact, I suspect if you’ve made it this far, you too are one of Cassandra’s children. Those unable to hear our message have already checked out, clucking their tongue at the tone or turned off by the type of font. But you know my frustration — seeing what seems so clear and plain and yet not being able to get someone you love and care about, someone who’s actions are causing the very pain they complain about, to make the connection.
So, brothers and sisters, let’s be clever, you and I. Let’s avoid the fate our matriarch endured by heeding the message she left us. With her last will, she left a testament for us — a gift to all her many children. We know the truth. Not the hype and Hollywood version. We hear the whimper while all around us, people wait for the bang, transfixed.
There is no magic incantation that will turn the deluded into believers — not that can be chanted alone. We cannot prevent what is to come nor can we alter the grand trajectory, but that doesn’t mean we can’t shape our little corner of it. Our gift is ours to share for the deserving. Cast not your pearls before swine. Conserve your energy for the struggle that is beginning and turn towards your siblings for support.
The time has come to band together, those of us who can see the writing on the wall. Reality always wins and we are on the side of Reality. Let’s stop wasting our precious time trying to connect with the disconnected. Instead, let’s work together to find ways of increasing our resilience in the face of what we all see coming our way. Eventually, I know we can create a space in our hearts and communities to accept those newly disillusioned when eventually reality forces itself on them, too, but first let’s secure our own oxygen masks.
The simple truth is that this culture, the one that led to climate collapse and the authoritarian impulse, can not endure. And the shape of the culture to come is already emerging. We all sense its vague outlines, though I doubt any could describe a single detail in any accuracy. So, this is a call to all my kindred spirits, all the Children of Cassandra, those allies of Reality — let’s come together to manifest — to make real with our hands — the culture that we know comes next.