Modern Day Cassandra


Poor Cassandra. Bequeathed the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo, she was cursed with not being able to do anything about knowing the future when she refused his advances. What torment that must have been for her, but the real losers are, of course, the people of the world, who refused to listen to her warnings, and ended up suffering needlessly.

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard drew from the Cassandra myth in 1949 to develop the “Cassandra Complex,” referring “to a belief that things could be known in advance,” according to Wikipedia. Since then, the term has been used in many different contexts, and indeed, today, there are plenty of examples of Cassandra, foreseeing what will be, to no avail since no one listens.

Of course, there’s no way to know for sure when future-sayers are accurate and when they aren’t. Is the world really going to end at the end of this year, according to the Mayan calendar? Should we listen to every doomsayer on the street corner prophesying the end of the world tomorrow, and we had better repent our sins if we want to be exalted? No, of course not. 

Some people that have more believability, at least in terms of a scientific, secular viewpoint in the modern world, but even then we tend not to listen to them.

I have to admit my mind was blown last week listening to Tom Stinson and Tom Gillaspy, the state economist and the just-retired state demographer, who gave a talk about the future of Minnesota. It’s not that I haven’t heard some of the concepts before — about how much things are going to change as the baby boomers retire and begin to need unprecedented medical care and how the global economy will affect our very way of life, especially if we don’t invest in education — but these warnings seem to be absent in the current education debates. 

Sometimes, we get lost in the specifics and lose sight of the big picture. We divide in factions and fight over the insignificant instead of the huge steps that need to be taken so that we are not all drowned in the flood.

To me Gillaspy and Stinson are examples of modern Cassandras. (You can find their power point here, and my article summarizing it here.) And if we don’t want to end up the next lost civilization, maybe we should listen to them.

And while we are at it, maybe we can listen to other scientists- the ones who tell us about global warming and other preventable environmental disasters? Why can’t we all just shut up for a second and do what we need to do to survive?