Wednesday 15 February 2023

En L'An 2000 - Life in the Air

En L'An 2000 (English: In the Year 2000) were a series of cigarette cards produced in France at the turn of 1900. The initial series was released between 1899 and 1901, in conjunction with the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, when excitement about the advancements of the coming century were accelerating. A second series was produced in 1910.

For the most part, the series is a fanciful impression of retro-futurism. I don't think many of us have fought off octopi in the last 20 years. There were some astute premeditations of modern technologies that we do take for granted, however, and it is interesting to pick out where the people of the fin de siècle actually did get it right. It's just too bad that we couldn't have kept the elegant fashion they predicted as well!

At least 87 cards were known from the series, produced by a variety of different French artists. At least 78 of those cards are known to exist in digitized form. The following is a sampling of them, visualizing the eternal dream of personal aeronautic travel... The flying car.

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Professor Ezekiel Harkinson's Plan

“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”
- George Orwell

Alas for the best-laid plans of our brightest intellectuals that they should always suffer defeat at the hands of the ignorant. How far humanity might progress if we were not held back by pithy emotional considerations like people marrying who they want to marry!

Enter Professor Ezekiel Harkinson, who has lit upon a general plan for the betterment of humanity. Namely, eugenics. Charles Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton coined the term itself, and became a proponent of the modern, "scientific" eugenics that became a cause célèbre of 19th century progressives. It might seem a strange, even morbid, compulsion to associate doctrines of selective breeding, genetic screening, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, marriage restrictions, miscegenation laws, and ultimately genocide with progressivism, yet it make sense when considering that the dominating feature of progressive thought and politics is the belief that humanity is morally perfectible through external authoritarian control. With enough restrictions, humanity may achieve a state of grace, justice, equality, security, or whatever the goal may be. So academia, politicians, media, suffragettes, temperance activists, progressive churches, and any thinking intellectual of good conscience saw the potential to eliminate poverty and violence through the breeding out of human "degeneracy." Organizations like the American Eugenics Society and the American Birth Control League (now Planned Parenthood) advocated for and implemented the ideas. The result was state-run forced sterilization programs for physical, mental, and moral "defectives" across the Westernized nations, culminating in the Holocaust. It was largely conservatives who opposed eugenics, like G.K. Chesterton with his 1917 book Eugenics and Other Evils and Pope Pius XI's encyclical Casti connubii.    

Lieutenant Henry H. Barkoll, US Navy, offers a more lighthearted and farcical critique of eugenics' shortcomings in his short story Professor Ezekiel Harkinson's Plan. It appears here as it did originally in  the March 1891 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Click on each page for a larger version.