From The Editors: Foolish Predictions

The human predilection for prophecy appears to be irresistible. As the ancient Greeks crouched in the Sibyl’s cave at Cumae to hear her tell what wonders the Fates would weave, so modern pilgrims wend their way to the ancient citadel of Omaha to glean from its oracle’s orations arcane insights into the prospects for Coca-Cola or the dark destiny of McDonald’s. They listen, rapt, to the mystic ramblings of Alan Greenspan, endlessly interpreting his intent in an effort to divine their own fortunes. And they embrace the magazine editors—those tireless seers of next year’s trends who divulge to their readers myriad visions of things to come, soon to be, or never to be at all.

Thus true to type, we, the editorial staff of Robb Report, have dedicated the bulk of this issue to the products, places, and experiences we will be covering in greater detail throughout 2005. Though we strive in this regard toward the highest standards of inaccuracy, we trust that—should some of our predictions actually come to pass—our readers will think no less of us for it, despite a long-standing precedent asserting that a prediction (and its author) will be valued in inverse proportion to its validity.

Consider the example of Michel de Nostredame (known as Nostradamus), the 16th-century French physician who took up prophesying in his 40s. Though he has since been accused of accurately foretelling in Centuries every major human event from the American Revolution to Hitler’s rise to power, Nostradamus’ notoriety rests largely on his clumsy prognostications regarding the French royal house. After an unluckily correct premonition of the death of France’s Henry II in a jousting accident, Nostradamus redeemed himself by informing the widowed queen, Catherine de Médicis, that three of her sons would succeed to thrones. What he did not say was that these thrones would all be the French one—a fact that worked in Nostradamus’ favor. When young Francis II died suddenly, his brother Charles IX was so pleased that he appointed Nostradamus physician-in-ordinary. Nostradamus then announced to Catherine that Charles would live as long as his constable, Montmorency, and that the latter would last into his 90s. Montmorency perished a few years later, in his 70s, and Charles, who outlived him by seven years, died at the age of 23, leaving the throne to his younger brother, the incompetent Henry III. Catherine, for her part, remained deeply impressed with the authenticity of Nostradamus’ powers, ascribing his errors to human frailty rather than to any deficiency of divine inspiration.

Edgar Cayce, a modern Nostradamus, also profited from sympathy on the part of his patrons. Believers continue to celebrate the Kentucky-born psychic’s preternatural accomplishments, which date to his childhood, when at the age of 7, he first entered one of his famed trances. In addition to the usual visions of golden-haired, winged creatures of light, Cayce is credited with having premonitions of the two World Wars, the stock market crash of 1929, and the establishment of the nation of Israel. His still-growing reputation was made, however, with his highly prescient revelation that, by 1998, the Earth’s rotational axis would shift, emptying the Great Lakes into the Gulf of Mexico, sinking the islands of Japan, and sending California crumbling into the Pacific.

Cayce’s apocalypse follows a venerable tradition among prophets that dates to 2800 B.C., when an unknown Assyrian proclaimed on his clay tablet that the corrupt world was coming quickly to an end, and efforts on the part of prophets and sages alike to kill off mankind persist. The Mayan Calendar established the end of the world to be in 2012, while Greenpeace contends that massive starvation and global warming will effect our final demise no later than 2038. Naturally, magazine editors also want in on the game: An April 2000 interview in Wired magazine with Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy foretells the extinction of humanity through rapid development of nanotechnology, and several tabloids have predicted that the devil will be discovered in a homeless shelter reading to the blind and delivering Meals On Wheels, thereby signaling the End Time.

Of course, our own preview of the future suffers by comparison to such enticing epiphanies. Still, there is always the chance that at least a few of ours will not come true.

Photo by Oli Tennent
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