May 22, 2013

Of _Five Weeks in a Balloon_ [AND]: A Future Not Even Jules Verne Could Have Imagined

Along with Hugo Gernsback and H.G. Wells, Jules Verne is considered one of the fathers of the science fiction genre.  Best known for the novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), Verne wrote during my favorite period of Western literature.  Characteristic of much literature from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century was an optimistic view of mankind’s potential.  The characters in Verne’s stories are daring Indiana Jones like adventures who overcome impossible odds and thrive in the face of the most harrowing dangers. Difficulties are surmounted as the protagonists demonstrate perseverance, brilliance, learned creativity, fortitude, and principled exceptionalism. This is the stuff characteristic of the best of which Western Civilization has contributed to the world, culture, and history.  It’s also the stuff that is largely part of a bygone era.

Verne is noted for writing about technologies that no one else had thought of, some of which were generations ahead of his time, including: sky scrapers, glass structures, calculators, cell phones, etc.  These were so futuristic, but so realistic, that the pioneering submarine designer, Simon Lake, credited Verne as his life’s inspiration, calling him, “the director-general of my life.”
The ability to imagine what no one else has imagined is one of the truest indicators of genius, and by this standard, Verne was certainly that.  Not surprisingly, he is the second most translated author in the World, following only Agatha Christie.  

Verne's creations are so dramatic and relevant, that some of his books have been made into live-action and animated films and television shows.  In one of his lesser known works, Five Weeks in a Balloon, Verne constructed a novel around three adventurers—a scholar who had invented a new type of hydrogen, “hot air” balloon and his two companions, a servant and a professional hunter.  The three experience harrowing adventures as they sail across Africa in an effort to discover and document much about the then unknown continent, including the source of the Nile, general topography, and previously recorded explorations.  Their adventures include numerous treacherous encounters with savage African tribes, extreme climatic conditions, a near-death experience with dehydration, attacks by wild animals, an attack against their balloon by a flock of condors who destroy the outer layer, and ultimately the final demise of their balloon during the most serious threat and climax of the story—an encounter with Arab Muslim banditos. 

This last encounter is particularly interesting from a worldview standpoint.  In it we have an ironic picture that dramatically illustrates the contrast in worldviews between the protagonists and antagonists. Verne develops the threat in the concluding sequence of the book.  Here the balloon is facing its final demise, but the aeronauts are unable to land because of the danger from the hostile Islamists.  Here is how Verne develops the narrative:

"Let us alight," suggested Kennedy, "and see what can be done with the covering of the balloon." "I tell you, again, Dick, that we have no means of repairing it." "Then what shall we do?" "We'll have to sacrifice every thing not absolutely indispensable; I am anxious, at all hazards, to avoid a detention in these regions. The forests over the tops of which we are skimming are any thing but safe." "What! are there lions in them, or hyenas?" asked Joe, with an expression of sovereign contempt. "Worse than that, my boy! There are men, and some of the most cruel, too, in all Africa."
"How is that known?" "By the statements of travellers who have been here before us….They have explored these countries formed by the elbow of the Senegal in places where war and pillage have left nothing but ruins." "What, then, took place?" "I will tell you. In 1854 a Marabout of the Senegalese Fouta, Al-Hadji by name, declaring himself to be inspired like Mohammed, stirred up all the tribes to war against the infidels—that is to say, against the Europeans. He carried destruction and desolation over the regions between the Senegal River and its tributary, the Fateme. Three hordes of fanatics led on by him scoured the country, sparing neither a village nor a hut in their pillaging, massacring career. He advanced in person on the town of Sego, which was a long time threatened. In 1857 he worked up farther to the northward, and invested the fortification of Medina, built by the French on the bank of the river. This stronghold was defended by Paul Holl, who, for several months, without provisions or ammunition, held out until Colonel Faidherbe came to his relief. Al-Hadji and his bands then repassed the Senegal, and reappeared in the Kaarta, continuing their rapine and murder.—Well, here below us is the very country in which he has found refuge with his hordes of banditti; and I assure you that it would not be a good thing to fall into his hands."
…They had just passed the borders of the forest, and the three friends could see some thirty mounted men clad in broad pantaloons and the floating bournouses. They were armed, some with lances, and others with long muskets, and they were following, on their quick, fiery little steeds, the direction of the balloon, which was moving at only moderate speed…." It is, indeed, they!" said the doctor; "the cruel Talabas! the ferocious marabouts of Al-Hadji! I would rather find myself in the middle of the forest encircled by wild beasts than fall into the hands of these banditti…."
"See," said Ferguson, "those villages in ruins, those huts burned down—that is their work! Where vast stretches of cultivated land were once seen, they have brought barrenness and devastation."
Ironically, the greatest threat to the aeronauts were not the cannibals whom they had seen devouring one another alive in the midst of battle.  Neither was the greatest threat the climate, wild animals, or even their failing balloon.  It was the villainous Arab-Muslim raiders who followed the orders of a mad-man in the role and persona of a Muhammadan style leader.  These individuals, in the words of the Dr., engaged in “rapine and murder” and a “pillaging, massacring career” leaving villages in ruin, with burned huts, and “vast stretches of cultivated land…barren…and devesta[ed].” 

Here is the irony.  The aeronauts are the quintessential representatives of Judeo-Christianity in contrast to the representatives of savage barbarism and destructive Islam.  They are daring, principled; they sacrifice for one another and strangers.  They are virtuous, they respect life—human and animal, accomplishment, productivity, etc.  As they soar in the sky and prevail over the elements, they represent the best of Western culture.  Like the protagonists in most of Verne’s works, they trust in God while fully engaging themselves in their endeavors.  They take initiative in rescuing a missionary from savages, and proclaim him to be the greatest among the men in the balloon.  While they engage in fulfilling the creation mandate—the subduing of the elements, they are as far above the savages and destructive Islamists in principle as they are in altitude. [Note: Both Verne and his heroes were likely deists, a worldview that developed out of Christian-theism and for a time perpetuated its values].    

Yet there is another, more striking irony.  As brilliant and noble minded as Verne was, there was a future that he would not, dare not imagine, a future that we are on the cusp of seeing realized.  As the West has become post-Christian, other ideologies have become dominant, ideologies that neither contribute to the thriving of the species, nor are even sustainable on their own terms.  Christian-theism was replaced as the dominant worldview in the West by deism.  Deism was short lived and gave way to naturalism.  Naturalism, which leads to nihilism as its logical consequence is too negative to be embraced by secularists, except for those who are philosophically honest.  So, as it presently stands, naturalism has morphed into something aggressive, yet unsustainable—secular progressivism.  Though on the rise statistically and in terms of influence, secularism cannot thrive, neither can it remain dominant for long—it is inherently devoid of transcendental values.  No worldview devoid of transcendental values can compete with an opposing worldview/religion/philosophy propelled by transcendental values, at least over the long run.    

To illustrate, consider Verne’s own caricature of a naturalist’s evaluation of a pearl from his famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Here, Professor Aronnax is asked by his two co-prisoners aboard the Nautilus the following question. “Sir, what is a pearl?” His response is as follows: “My worthy Ned…to the poet, a pearl is a tear of the sea; to the Orientals, it is a drop of dew solidified; to the ladies, it is a jewel of an oblong shape, of a brilliancy of mother-of-pearl substance, which they wear on their fingers, their necks, or their ears; for the chemist it is a mixture of phosphate and carbonate of lime, with a little gelatin; and lastly, for naturalists, it is simply a morbid secretion of the organ that produces the mother-of-pearl amongst certain bivalves.” 

Notice the vacuous, hollow definition of the naturalist.  There is no real value, aesthetically, or teleologically speaking, to the pearl.  Naturalism has no transcendental values. Of course, naturalists assign value that is not merely survival value to things all the time, but when they do so, they abandon their espoused philosophical viewpoint in preference for a worldview with transcendental values, until it becomes inconvenient, and so back and forth they go.
The result—secularist Europe, which has followed the above path much more quickly than America, is on the path to becoming philosophically, religiously Islamic due to immigration and biological growth of Islamic practitioners.  The latest reports show this transition occurring in the next few decades in England.  Soon, secularism in several European countries, including Verne’s own France, will be overcome by this even more dangerous, destructive worldview and the day will arrive when thoughtful secularists will long for the time when their biggest philosophical worry was an evangelical sharing the Gospel with them, or protesting at their abortion clinics, or playing Christmas music at the Mall, or hanging the Ten Commandments in courthouses, or arguing that families naturally consists of opposite sex couples, or suggesting that having men sexually attracted to other men as leaders in a man boy relationship, e.g. the Boy Scouts is not an ideal situation.  The future that we are on the cusp of realizing is one that not even Jules Verne could have imagined, and one which will only be recognized by secularists after it is too late.  

How relevant is all of this? Click here (note the date): 
Statement: ITV News obtained footage of a man with bloodied hands and knives speaking to a camera

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