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In the previous chapter, we examined the positive scenario of the knowledge society in detail. We also showed that there are important indices indicating that this scenario is silently emerging in the present-day world. But, there is yet another column in Table 1, above. The rightmost column of that table represents a negative scenario. In this chapter, I will show how the scenario is already developing and is present worldwide.
This negative scenario is really very easy to understand. It starts from the idea that there is no paradigm change—that everything continues as before… “business as usual” in the world… that the world maintains, in businesses and in society, the vision and the behaviour of the industrial society and economy.
In short, the negative scenario arises from the case in which there is no transition toward the knowledge society. The industrial society simply continues with new, more-powerful tools, many of them electronic tools, called Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Thus, industrial strategies hold their places as the most common strategies employed in the world. More capital and more technology, protected by patents, continue to be needed. The competitive nature of business is strongly reaffirmed as a necessity and no “futurists” talking about networks and collaboration are listened to. New concepts, such as that of the knowledge society, are considered hazy, even dangerous, because they might endanger the structures of competition and industrial competitiveness. (And it is true that some network collaboration practices endanger the industrial strategies.)
In the world as described above, it is neither necessary nor urgent to occupy oneself with concerns for the environment. First, since one’s competitors don’t worry about such concerns, doing so will result in a loss of advantage in comparison with them. Second, to care for sustainability is considered by “industrial” economists as a cost to be subtracted from profit. Thus, there is competition between the demands of competitiveness and those of environmental respect. The environment loses out in terms of investment. (In technical terms, this is called a “trade- off,” and no one thinks in terms of a win-win scenario—only a win-lose scenario).
In brief, one is content merely with great statements about the environment—rather than action—because one does not want to do much more. All this is perfectly logical to those in the modern, patriarchal society and in the industrial society.
This way of thinking, which is comprehensible, has already influenced the revision of the Lisbon strategy on the knowledge society (2000–2010). It was also the way of thinking embodied in the U.S.’s rejection (in June 2001) of the Kyoto Protocol, which the new president, George W. Bush declared to be “fatally flawed.”
The scenario described above is not that far from us. On the contrary, it is all around us in our everyday life. A concrete example could be the revision of the Lisbon strategy. Indeed, one may ask whether the strategy of Lisbon II, the revision of the Lisbon strategy, which took place in the European Commission after the report of the Dutch politician Wim Kok, is not a return to the industrial strategy. And it is understandable that this might be the case. The Lisbon strategy was a very audacious choice. It inferred a paradigm change, a real jump into a new way of thinking, like Finland was obliged to do in 1989 and did with great success.
But leadership failed on the Lisbon strategy plan. It was never made clear—not within the European administration, nor in the member States, except perhaps in Finland and in Sweden—that we were changing society and economy. There are no books and no explanations on this topic. It is, therefore, understandable that this return to the industrial-society model occurred.
But it is a pity, especially, when one sees the disappearance of all the Units, which, in the Commission (Dg Infoso), really were at the front edge of research and creation of knowledge networks. It is disheartening.
The major problem that one faces in this new type of “industrial” scenario is probably the manner by which human beings will be considered and treated. As I showed above, humans are crucial for the creation of new knowledge, which is the new heart of the creation of value. The classical “industrial” approach will tend to prioritise machine over man as it has done for centuries. In this final phase of the industrial society, man is not so much an asset as a cost to be minimized and, if and when possible, to be replaced by robots. Thus, in this new context, the industrial society and modern mentality will continue prioritizing the machine. It also will try to do without humans. This is deeply ingrained in its logic, and it seems that there are two ways in which it will manifest.
The first way is to replace humans with machines.
Since a computer beat the world chess champion Gary Kasparov, many scientists believe that the computer will, one day, be able to replace the human brain in all its functions, even the most intimate ones. And they massively invest in more and more powerful and performing computers to be able, some day, to get rid of man. Thus, one could some day progressively reach a society without a human dimension. Like it or not, this seems to these scientists rational, unavoidable, and perhaps most disturbingly, ethically acceptable. This is the result of a “modern” vision in which the scientific and rational approach is, by itself, above ethics, since the use of reason and the scientific method is a direct and warranted way toward objective truth. From this point of view, it is perfectly logical and acceptable to replace humans with machines.
The second way, in my opinion, is even more dangerous—that is, to manipulate the human brain.
Indeed, by remaining in the industrial and rational paradigm, and as much as the human brain cannot be replaced by computers, the most “rational” way to employ it is to manipulate the human brain to produce the knowledge that we want as much, when and how, we want it.
In September 2005, I was invited to an interesting meeting at the European Commission in Brussels. It was organised by the Scientific and Technology Foresight Unit of European Commission. The subject was “converging technologies.”
What is it about? With the spectacular advances of nanotechnologies56 and also of the cognitive, biological, and informational sciences, one witnesses in the U.S., the European Union and the rest of the world a phenomenon of convergence of technologies and scientific approaches. In fact, when the scientist is working at the level of the very small—that is, at the cellular level, it is difficult to distinguish if one works with chemistry, biology, physics, informational sciences… or nanosciences. In fact, they might well be working with all disciplines at once. Indeed, the traditional distinctions between the scientific disciplines, as we once knew them, are dissolving at the cellular size.
Science is rapidly changing, and some speak of a new scientific paradigm. At the technological and research level, a similar junction/fusion is occurring between biology, cognitive, and informational technologies and the nanotechnologies.
This convergence between sciences and technologies at the “nano“ level implies a different approach of all the educational systems, and of student preparation. From the first day, students will need to be educated in a transdisciplinary way and to be able to switch from one discipline to another, or even to navigate in a new one which may be a synthesis of a few traditionally separated disciplines.
All this also means that the nanosciences now have access to the building blocks that are the essence of life itself. As Dorothee Benoit Browaeys, journalist in Paris, and founder of the project “Living” observed57, ”If one can observe, manipulate, simulate the bricks of the living, one also can invent new structures. This is the field which has been opened namely by the nanotechnologies.” We are emerging on possibilities that were unsuspected a few years ago, but which pose formidable questions.
At the beginning of the Conference, the European Commission mentioned the existence of an important report presented to the president of the U.S., George W. Bush in 2002. The Commission pointed out that the vision of the U.S. “raises questions” and suggested another approach to the “converging technologies.” Let us review the U.S. report58 and make clear the implicit concept of the science and the technology which are at the basis of this report. This will be later very useful.
It is worthwhile at least to read the summary of the U.S. report. There is a quiet and serene description of the two scenarios we just mentioned—the progressive replacement of man by more and more intelligent machines, which reproduce themselves on their own and, on the other hand, the manipulation of the human brain modestly called “improvement of human performance.“ Science is also mentioned in totally “modern” terms. I would even say in much more purely modern terms than European modernity. Following is this eloquent text59:
“Science must offer society new visions of what is possible to achieve. The society depends upon scientists for authoritative knowledge and professional judgment to maintain and gradually improve the well being of citizens, but scientists must also become visionaries who can imagine possibilities beyond anything currently experienced in the world. In science the intrinsic human need for intellectual advancement finds its most powerful expression. At times, scientists should take great intellectual risks, exploring unusual and even unreasonable ideas, because the scientific method for testing theories empirically can ultimately distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones. Across all of the sciences, individual scientists and teams should be supported in their quest for knowledge. Then interdisciplinary efforts can harvest discoveries across the boundaries of many fields, and engineers will harness them to accomplish technological progress.”
Thus, in this report, the scientific approach becomes the altar of objectivity and truth. It is almost revered as divine since its method distinguishes the true from the false (the “good” from the “bad”), and, thus, leads humankind toward the truth. The public can only “depend” on scientists and must be educated, because if it opposes the progress of science, it means that it is in the darkness of ignorance. In brief, it is a marvellous homage to science, corresponding to the “modern” vision of the 1800s in Europe.
As Jeremy Rifkin60 admirably says, the U.S. for historic reasons has imported a “modern” vision of science which became frozen in 1800. This vision of science did not change, because it was cemented in the American dream together with the protestant Puritanism. In addition, this gave birth to the powerful American dream that strongly believes in progress generated by science and technology but, at the same time, by the divine blessing which can manifest itself by the economic success of each citizen having the courage and the will to work hard and be honest.
According to Rifkin, the vision of science has not changed in the U.S. precisely because it was sacralised in the American dream that no one dares to touch or decry. It has remained “deep frozen” since 1800.
This “modern/1800” vision of the U.S. Report about the convergent technologies brings up frightful questions. This “practically infallible” vision of science permits to totally short-change the ethical debate. So that the report clearly shows that the political and scientific leadership of the U.S. gave the green light, without inner thought, on the one hand, for the development of intelligent robots, capable to replace man, and, on the other hand, they do not hesitate to contemplate calmly the manipulation of the human brain to increase its potential.
I encourage the reader to go to the Internet to read at least the summary of the report, because I cannot go further in depth here. But I shall here present two reactions of well-known scientists who sound the alarm.
The first is the very famous article by Bill Joy, the creator of the Java and other programs at Sun Microsystems61. Bill Joy wrote in 2000, in the fashionable technology magazine, Wired, an article that sounds the alarm and tries to launch a debate on the future of technology in the U.S. Here are significant extracts:
“First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.
If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can't make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would wilfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite—just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless it may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, it may decide to play the role of good shepherd to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone's physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes "treatment" to cure his "problem." Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them "sublimate" their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.”
Following is another extract leading in the same direction.
“In a completely free marketplace, superior robots would surely affect humans as North American placentals affected South American marsupials (and as humans have affected countless species). Robotic industries would compete vigorously among themselves for matter, energy, and space, incidentally driving their price beyond human reach. Unable to afford the necessities of life, biological humans would be squeezed out of existence.” There is probably some breathing room, because we do not live in a completely free marketplace. Government coerces nonmarket behaviour, especially by collecting taxes. Judiciously applied, governmental coercion could support human populations in high style on the fruits of robot labour, perhaps for a long while.” 62
It is most interesting to observe that the report of the U.S. National Science Foundation63 replies to Bill Joy on page 95, thus.
“Bill Joy has raised such issues with the public, presenting scenarios that imply that nanoscale science and engineering may bring a new form of life, and that their confluence with biotechnology and the information revolution could even place in danger the human species. In our opinion, raising this general issue is very important. But several of Joy’s scenarios are speculative and contain unproven assumptions (see comments from Smalley 2000) and extrapolations. However, one has to treat these concerns responsibly. For this reason we have done studies and tasked coordinating offices at the national level to track and respond to unexpected developments, including public health and legal aspects. So far, we all agree that while all possible risks should be considered, the need for economic and technological progress must be counted in the balance. We underscore that the main aim of our national research initiatives is to develop the knowledge base and to create an institutional infrastructure to bring about broader benefits for society in the long term. To this end, it is essential to involve the entire community from the start, including social scientists, to maintain a broad and balanced vision.”
We see that all the importance is given to “the need of economic and technological progress“. We still are in the “modern/1800” paradigm, built and based on the concept of quantitative scientific economic and technological progress which is not questioned. It is given a priority over ethical preoccupations (humankind’s future) which must be “handled in a responsible way,” but without giving them a decisive priority.
Let us now consider the second way to treat humans in this new technological “industrial” vision. Either machines replace humans, or humans are manipulated to continue to adapt themselves to the logic of the machines which remain preponderant. Here one talks of “engineering of the human brain.“
The National Science Foundation mentioned above suggests that this is only a matter of increasing the human potential, nothing more. Let us take an example that was called upon during the Brussels public meeting of 2004:
“We are in 2035. The school principal summons the parents and tells them, ‘Your child is having difficulties in our school. You are totally free; however, I suggest that you give him a small injection, at school expenses of course, of a mix of nanocomputers the size of a cell. We have observed that often the children increase their performance and become quieter. But, if you do not accept, and I repeat that you are totally free, I regret that the school no longer can assume the responsibility of your child’s education.”
This is a possible scenario. Moreover, it indicates the second danger of the negative scenario—manipulation of human mind, beginning with the weak and defenceless.
Is this the direction in which we want to take our world civilization? Are we ready to subject our children or grandchildren to these types of “experimentations”? This certainly merits discussion. The public must be informed as best as possible to be able to fully participate in the debate.
After Bill Joy, let us go to one of the highest world authority in astronomy—Sir Martin Rees64, professor at the University of Cambridge. In 2003, he published a book that is a serious warning about the actual evolution of science and technology. He is much referred to by Jeremy Rifkin in the “European Dream“ (p. 315). According to him, “the odds are no better than fifty-fifty that our present civilization on Earth will survive until the end of the present century.” Rees warns against the construction of small nanorobots that replicate like viruses and that race out of control, devouring matter and turning the Earth’ surface to a “gray goo”65. Rees worries also about similar threats posed by genetic engineering and computer technology—especially as technology in the high-tech field spreads rapidly.
According to Rees, it is urgent to organise a global discussion on scientific research. Many scientists reply that if the same warnings existed when man discovered the fire, we would have remained primitives. But Rees replies that the major difference is that the prior discoveries only had a limited and local impact, whereas the progress of the converging technologies may have a global and lasting impact.
There also is, in Washington D.C., the International Center for Technology Assessment http://www.icta.org/nanotech/index.cfm which is again very critical about some nanotechnology development. Here is a quote from Andrew Kimbrell66, founder of this Center:
“Corporations, academics, and researchers came to realize, albeit slowly, that current technology is not compatible with life… To deal with this historic dilemma, the techno-utopians and their corporate sponsors outline a breathtaking initiative. This initiative was not to change technology so that it better fits the needs of the living things, as we were so eagerly advocating. No, they had and have a very different and stunningly self-serving approach. They decided to engineer life, indeed reality itself, so that it better fit the technological system. It is in this chilling context that the enormous significance of the current revolutions in technology can be fully appreciated. Here we have the key to the otherwise bewildering high-tech headlines and to much of our social malaise.”
As I will show below, the difficulty is precisely the paradigm, the underlying vision. According to the vision of part of the North American establishment and its present government, they consider themselves “in the truth and objectivity” and are not ready to change, because there are no reasons to change if you are in The Truth. This is, fortunately, not the position of millions of U.S. intellectuals, who are totally conscious of the dangers of not shifting paradigm with this new tool of production.
So that Rifkin concludes (p.320):
“The divergence in views on science and technology between Americans and Europeans is growing and is now coming to the fore in a myriad of public policy debates, threatening a schism as significant as the divide over our different sense of how best to pursue foreign policy and domestic security.”
It is time now to go to the European position represented by the European Commission. This leads us into another atmosphere, another vision of the world, another scientific and technologic paradigm. We make a bound from 1800 to 2004.
One must acknowledge the European Commission and specifically Mr. Paraskevas Caracostas and his think tank on Scientific and Technological Foresight in the General Direction of Sciences, who initiated a high quality reflection on these crucial questions. They asked a group of experts to provide a report on the converging technologies. This intelligent and in-depth report67 was published in September 2004 in Brussels. It includes the following items.
It clearly warns against any danger of manipulation of the human brain.
“Some proponents of Converging Technologies advocate engineering of the mind and of the body. (The text has probably the U.S. National Science Foundation in mind, without to say it explicitly). Electronic implants and physical modifications are to enhance our current human capacities. The expert group proposes that Converging Technology research should focus on engineering for the mind and for the body. Changes to the cognitive environment or medical self-monitoring can improve decision-making and health. And the Commission warns against a real danger of surrendering our freedom to the machines: “Either way, humans may end up surrendering more and more of their freedom and responsibility to a mechanical world that acts for them."
As we can see, the report proposes a strategy which is very different from that of the U.S. Instead of engineering of human brain, they advocate engineering for the brain and for the body. We are in a completely different vision, in which, the human person is in the centre now and not the machine. We Europeans, feel much more at ease in this new vision and new paradigm.
Involvement of citizens since the first day as a new strategy.
The report details different aspects and challenges of these converging technologies, and it strongly advises to involve the European citizens by organizing centres of discussion, which they call “widening circles of convergence”. It insists in the idea that, "Converging technologies (CT) converge toward a common goal. CTs always involve an element of agenda-setting. Because of this, converging technologies are particularly open to the deliberate inclusion of public and policy concerns. Deliberate agenda-setting for CTs can therefore be used to advance strategic objectives such as the Lisbon Agenda."
Moreover, the report advises that the political goal should be that of the Lisbon strategy which recommends that the Union become competitive in the knowledge economy, but in a sustainable and socially inclusive manner.
Ethics is completely integrated inside the creative development process, and scientists shall be educated in ethics.
The report indeed insists on ethics, philosophical reflection and human science’s contribution68 “CTEKS agenda-setting is not top-down but integrated into the creative technology development process.”
In everyday language, this means that usually everything is prepared and the decisions taken before “consulting the public” and politely asking it to accept a well prepared package. But the report says: No: the public must decide with the scientists, and from the beginning what these technologies will be used for. Toward which society are we going together? What is the real agenda? We are in a completely different vision of the role of science and scientists in society. And the text continues, ”Beginning with scientific interest and technological expertise it works from the inside out in close collaboration with the social and human sciences and multiple stakeholders through the proposed WiCC initiative (“Widening the Circles of Convergence”). For the same reason, ethical and social considerations are not external and purely reactive but through the proposed EuroSpecs process, bring awareness to CT research and development.” Thus, ethics is not an appendix that is added a posteriori without prior consultations. No, ethics is at the heart of the process of the agenda creation. It is at the heart of the reflection. And one also foresees a continued education of scientists in the field of ethics.
A new contract between society and science.
The end of the report mentions “the new contract between society and science.” The public is no longer an obstacle to the development of science, but it is an indispensable resource allowing society to choose between the scientific applications which are positive for the future of humankind and those which are not.
We no longer are in the modern paradigm. The vision of science and society is transmodern. The paradigm is different.
Without entering into the technological details of these interesting North American and European reports, I have described a negative scenario for the future and the objective evidence of its existence. I conclude with the most important messages here.
The negative scenario exists.
It is powerful and alive. Indeed, there are huge political, economic, and financial forces which have firmly decided to activate it. For instance, the National Science Foundation of the U.S. and all the important forces gravitating around it. In addition, this is going on since 2002. Let us have no illusions.
The main danger is the implicit vision, the paradigm.
The simple ideas that I would like to present here are that:
The danger exists to lose human freedom.
This danger is not linked to such or such a person or group of persons that might be bad or ill-disposed. Indeed, there are always mafias, but I am not here concerned with that sector for the moment. The danger is not linked with persons.
The danger is not linked to a particular technology. This debate is NOT a technological debate!
The danger lies in the VISION, the way of seeing and unconsciously acting which I call the modern-rational vision of science. The danger is to keep the obsolete paradigm with the new tools. The value scale is no longer appropriate for the new era that we entering. We are, in part, reproducing the same errors as at the end of the Middle Ages, when we tried to manage the first industrial tools with medieval agrarian tools and concepts.
Our working hypothesis is that some leading elites in the U.S., but also elsewhere in the world, still are totally in the modern paradigm, and even in a modernity frozen around 1800, for many reasons.
The danger lies in this obsolete vision or paradigm that pretends to solve the problems of tomorrow with the mentality of yesterday. This U.S. report of 2002 on the converging technologies is an excellent example of a modern concept of science. And in that vision, science is:
Objective and capable of reaching and achieving the Truth by itself, thanks to its “objective experimental methodology.”
Independent from the public. It is unnecessary to consult public opinion, which is considered as an obstacle to go around or to educate.
Oriented toward “supply economy.” The vision is that anything that science produces (supplies) is excellent for Humanity, and must thus be put on the market. Public opinion will have to be “convinced” to buy all that science and technology produces.
In the actual context, what seems to us particularly dangerous is to maintain this “modern” concept and vision of an independent science, deified on an altar and separated from the human and from the historical context.
Prigogine and Stengers wrote splendid and enlightening pages on this unconscious deification of science during the centuries: “Science, laicised, remains the prophetic announcement of a world described as it is contemplated from a divine or demonic perspective: the science of Newton, this new Moses to whom the world truth came into sight, is a science revealed, definitive, foreign to the social and historic context which identifies it as a human activity. This type of prophetic and inspired discourse can be found all along the history of physics…”69
As Ilya Prigogine, Nobel price of physics (1977), remarks very well, the problem of the scientific “modern” paradigm is that “modern “science is foreign to the social and historic context which gives it its human character. Since it sees itself as “divine,” inspired, and objective, it is really in danger of becoming demonic.
The serious danger on the horizon is that science and technology are indefinitely allowed to blindly progress and dehumanise our civilization, without even realizing it. In the end, we are in a logic of death, unable to be stopped. Indeed, in the “modern” context dominated by the almighty reason, there are no possible protective railings. The impression is that an unavoidable development is heading us toward a catastrophe that we prefer not to see. This is the warning of Professor Dupuy70 who teaches in Paris and at Stanford University, California.
The European vision is more transmodern.
One can feel that the tone of the European document is in a different paradigm and vision. This is because the underlying vision is transmodern, without saying it. The vision of science and its relation to truth and society is very different.
Science is more critical toward itself. It does not consider that any scientific discovery by itself is useful to the citizens. The position is more critical and warns against real dangers.
Science is functioning as a new “Demand economy.” In a turnaround, one moves from a supply economy where techno-science continues to produce and to “supply” new products that people are supposed to buy, to a “demand economy” where science tries to answer to implicit or explicit demands from society, notably on sustainability and social cohesion.
Science is linked with its historical and social context. The EU report situates itself differently with regards to science. Science is here inserted in a historical and societal context. It is not above society; therefore, it dialogues with the other human sciences and with the citizens.
Science proposes a new pact with society. A “new science pact” with the citizens is proposed and put in place.
I will end this chapter with an important quote of Jeremy Rifkin from his well-known book, The European Dream71.
“It is too early to say for sure whether Europe is leading the world into a second Enlightenment. Certainly its multilateral agreements, its internal treaties and directives, and its bold cutting-edge initiatives suggest a radical re-evaluation in the way science and technology are approached and executed. The increased reliance on the precautionary principle and systems thinking put Europe out in front of the United States and other countries in re-envisioning science and technology issues in a globally connected world. Still a word of caution is in order. The old power-driven Enlightenment science remains the dominant approach in the research, development, and market introduction of most new technologies, products, and services in Europe, America, and elsewhere in the world. Whether the EU government can effectively apply new-science thinking in its regulatory regime to old-science commercial applications in the marketplace remains to be seen. In the long run, a successful transition to a new scientific era will depend on whether industry itself can begin to internalise the precautionary principle and systems thinking into its R&D plans, creating new technologies, products, and services that are, from the get-go, ecologically sensitive and sustainable.”
However, this leads us naturally to the following chapter, which analyses the relationship between the knowledge society and the transmodern and planetary paradigm.
Ces messieurs ont appelé dame Bess, dit-il; mais dame Bess n’est pas au cottage