The Cassandra Effect

Cassandra was that unfortunate woman who was cursed with an ability to foretell the future accurately, while at the same time never having her predictions believed. There is a sense in which that particular curse is a type for our times.

Of course, it would not apply to simple predictions about the Kentucky Derby or the World Series. Anybody who was always right about win, place, and show, or the point spreads would be a person much in demand, and we would probably all know his name.

The difficulty is when accurate predictions are made about moral deteriorations. In such cases, vindication is usually no vindication at all. By the time the predicted moral disintegration is complete, nobody is in any moral shape to analyze what happened.

This is true of cultures, and it is true of individuals. Anybody who predicts something like death panels for nationalized health care, as Sarah Palin did, will be greeted with howls of outrage. And that same tribe of people will be howling about something else on the tenth anniversary of the death panels. And technical acknowledgment doesn’t count — I just read a headline from the WaPo this morning that Dan Qualye was right about Murphy Brown and single motherhood twenty years ago. But such technical acknowledgement is not the same thing as repentance, and so we continue to double down in our fatherless ways.

The same thing happens to individuals. When someone starts making stupid and inexplicable choices, you can describe for him where it is all going to end up. Those concerns will just be taken as further proof of your lack of compassion. And the problem is, when it ends up right where you said, and he comes out of the closet (say), the chances are excellent that no one will say, “Whoa, boy, did you call that.” No, the more undeniably right you were, the more insufferable it will be for them, and the more bluntly it will be insulted.

In such cases, the only thing that brings clarity is repentance. Proof (of this fulfilled sort) will not bring clarity at all.

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