By Colin McGregor
Best-selling author Sarah Ban Breathnach wrote: The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. Here, then, is a book from the pen of one of those active dreamers, in French
The 17th book by journalist and social worker Raymond Viger is probably among the least easy of all his works to categorize. Retrospective, commentary, history, science-fiction… Classifying Regard vers le future (Back to the Future) is like nailing jello to the wall.
The author himself describes it as a “novel – non-fiction futuristic work” so we’ll have to make do with that. He uses his talents as a master simplifier to describe the changes that will have to be made to our cities if we’re going to survive and prosper as a species in 20 years.
Social welfare; self-driving cars; pollution; family life; recycling; climate change; compulsive gambling; these are among the subjects Viger explores in this long essay packed with facts, as well as with projections from his prodigious imagination. To explain his ideas, he traces a path from his grandfather, a typographer at La Presse, to a point 20 years in the future.
A social worker and activist for 35 years, Raymond Viger returns to many themes his readers in the magazine Reflet de Société and its publishing arm Éditions TNT will be well familiar with. The dangers of compulsive gambling, often a target for Viger’s bile, is one of these subjects. But his proposals as to how our cities chould run are new to the Viger canon.
How do we plan out our cities of tomorrow? He suggests that all private car ownership be banned, to be replaced by autonomous electric vehicles. He meticulously explains how his system would work. His electric car utopia seems to make sense.
When he journeys back in time, it is to better understand our future. It is sobering to read his account of how nature, and humanity itself, can cause ravages on humans. And we get to read the moving testimony of Michel B., someone who has suffered greatly at the hands of the Casino de Montréal and elsewhere. Viger was one of the first social workers to understand that there was a big increase in the number of suicides when the Casino opened in 1993. He unsuccessfully pressured the Casino to allow counsellors to be put in place to help desperate compulsive gamblers that had lost everything.
At the end, there is an entreaty for us to accept others’ differences, made through the prism of his own neuro-diversity. It’s a plea to treat those who are different with kindness and acceptance. Human mischief is apparently limitless, but so is our capacity to help and support others. This is primarily what our Jules Verne would like us to understand.