Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726
SOURCE: Weeks, Edward. Review of Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. Atlantic Monthly 226 (August 1970): 112.
[In the following review, Weeks describes Future Shock as “ the most prophetic, disturbing, and stimulating social study of this year,” commenting that Toffler's argument throughout the book is cohesive and conclusive.]
(The entire section contains 49398 words.)
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SOURCE: Weeks, Edward. Review of Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. Atlantic Monthly 226 (August 1970): 112.
[In the following review, Weeks describes Future Shock as “ the most prophetic, disturbing, and stimulating social study of this year,” commenting that Toffler's argument throughout the book is cohesive and conclusive.]
“Rising calm through change and through storm” are the last words of “Fair Harvard,” and as they sang the words reverently at the last Commencement, some few of the alumni must have wondered what new and portentous changes would descend on this, the most staid of our universities in the year ahead. Some part of the answer will be found in what is surely the most prophetic, disturbing, and stimulating social study of this year, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler.
In his introduction, which is as clear as a bell and in which the author explains why he feels free to make so many prophecies without hedging or qualification, Mr. Toffler defines the term “future shock” as that stress and disorientation which all individuals suffer when they are subjected to too much change in too short a time. Future shock, he says, can make us ill, physically and mentally; it robs us of the power to decide, deprives our children of the roots we took for granted, and it has ruptured marriage.
The changes which have assailed those of us who are older than this century have come with dizzying speed and diversity, and as Kenneth Boulding, the economist, says, “The world of today … is as different from the world in which I was born as that world was from Julius Caesar's. I was born in the middle of human history, to date, roughly. Almost as much has happened since I was born as happened before.” Mr. Toffler is an omnivorous collector of startling statements, and he begins with this Olympian view: “… if the last 50,000 years of man's existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.” But it is the eight hundredth with which Mr. Toffler is chiefly concerned, and as he describes the bruising perplexity with which we have survived, he keeps cheerfully reminding us of the changes which are impending and of how we shall probably respond.
He and his wife have read and interviewed an amazing number of technical experts, and the quotations of each are pithy and, as I have said, disturbing and penetrating. “Yes,” we say as the arrow goes in, “that is right, only I didn't have the sense to think of it.”
The argument is more cohesive and cumulative than can be suggested in a brief review, and it is not without hope. “The super-industrial Revolution” (in which we of the West are involved), says Mr. Toffler, “can now be seen for what, in large measure, it is—the advance of human society to its next higher stage of differentiation.” But individually we pay a price for the acceleration. The family cycle, “one of the sanity-preserving constants in human existence,” is in jeopardy. As the cycle speeds up, we grow up sooner, leave home sooner, marry sooner (trial marriage while in college?), have children sooner, and change partners sooner—all of which leads to what the author calls “serial marriage,” which he recognizes as a pattern for today and increasingly so for tomorrow.
He is equally astute in his study of education. The rigid curriculum of yesterday has gone by the board, and in fighting to update education Mr. Toffler argues that instead of imposing “a single all-purpose, permanent new curriculum,” the review groups “must invent sets of temporary curricula—along with procedures for evaluation and renovation as time goes by. There must be a systematic way to make curricular changes without necessarily triggering bloody intramural conflict each time.”
Employment, like education, will be subject to constant revision. Mr. Toffler foresees a society in which the ability to learn a variety of new work methods quickly will be of far more importance than learning through training, or long experience, in a single job.
It is the final convergence of three factors—the factors of transience, novelty, and diversity—which will produce the future shock. But we have it in our power to shape change; we may choose one future over another; the thing we cannot do is maintain the past.
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SOURCE: Millar, Neil. “On Meeting Tomorrow.” Christian Science Monitor (6 August 1970): 11.
[In the following review of Future Shock, Millar asserts that Toffler's predictions about the future signal the increasing importance of religion with helping people face the challenges of the future.]
“Given a clearer grasp of the problems and more intelligent control of certain key processes, we can turn crisis into opportunity, helping people not merely to survive, but to crest the waves of change, to grow, and to gain a new sense of mastery over their own destinies.”
A bright light in a world too often considered twilit.
Is there really a crisis? Alvin Toffler notes [in Future Shock]: “… the United States is a nation in which tens of thousands of young people flee reality by opting for drug-induced lassitude … millions of their parents retreat into video-induced stupor or alcoholic haze … legions of elderly folk vegetate and die in loneliness … the flight from family and occupational responsibility has become an exodus … masses tame their raging anxieties with … tranquilizers and psychic pacifiers. Such a nation, whether it knows it or not, is suffering from future shock.”
“Future shock?” It's “the human response to overstimulation”; and “the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.”
The future's impact on the present, says Mr. Toffler, is increasing with the increasing pace of technological innovation; unless we learn how to cope with it, it may defeat us.
More and more we are encouraged to think everything disposable, even our friendships. So continuity shrivels in our lives. Battered by sound, color, novelty—by the knowledge explosion, by new things to love, loathe, buy, hire, watch, avoid, think, dream, decide, decide, decide—increasing numbers of unprepared people opt out, or surrender to apathy or frustration. Or perhaps, like portions of the New Left, they take refuge in old-fashioned and discredited panaceas—Marxism, anarchy, and the rest.
This is not America's problem alone. All highly industrialized nations manifest the symptoms in some degree.
Can the schools help? Yes, we are told, if they stop preparing their pupils for the past—specifically, for the Industrial Revolution. (Aren't schools still structured like factories?) They must begin fitting children for the future, by actually teaching the future. Impossible? In some fields prediction is often remarkably accurate; in many it can help to ease us into a challenging tomorrow.
Our author dismisses forecasts of dreary repressive uniformity imposed on mankind; he foresees a revolution which will be “vividly colorful and amazingly open to individuality. The problem is not whether man can survive regimentation and standardization. The problem … is whether he can survive freedom.” Can democracy be made to work in conditions of increasing social fragmentation? Mr. Toffler thinks it can—and far better than it is working now—by the use of mass communication techniques, including television and computers.
This is a big book packed with ideas, explanations, constructive suggestions. If it oversimplifies some issues (and it does) it also opens bright vistas of hope. There is hardly a dull paragraph.
Not every reader will agree with the author's conclusions, because little weight is given to factors which many consider vital. One such factor is the movement to conserve natural resources; this is bound to take some of the transience out of living. Other readers may reject Mr. Toffler's premise that man is merely “a biosystem with a limited capacity for change.” Still others may challenge his views on the sexual revolution (if any—aberration is not necessarily revolution).
Future Shock suggests that, as new problems swirl faster and faster about us, increasing multitudes have nowhere to turn for help, no rock on which to stand and confront the onrushing future.
Although the book does not say so, this is religion's opportunity. Churches and synagogues which still believe in their God must stand tall and tranquil in the world. They are going to be needed more than ever before, not as social services but as living centers of a lived and welcoming faith. If their faith has a foundation, they must prove it by their peace.
And perhaps by their wisdom.
Mr. Toffler has given us a revealing, exciting, encouraging, brilliant work which may satisfy many who consider man simply a biological machine, his life a brief glimmer in a dark eternity. Readers who reject that melancholy and unprovable hypothesis may nevertheless find great profit and instruction in this quite remarkable book.
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SOURCE: Hope, Francis. “Whatever Next.” New Statesman 80, no. 2063 (2 October 1970): 419-20.
[In the following review, Hope asserts that Future Shock fails to present original ideas and neglects to examine topics in a broader historical or sociological context.]
Change is today's great constant. Nothing grates so stalely on the ear as the rhetoric of novelty: ‘dynamic new techniques will totally alter our ways of thinking about the exciting challenge of the future …’ Nothing amazes less than the Amazing World of Tomorrow. Even in 1904, when Chesterton wrote The Napoleon of Notting Hill, he saw that the interesting paradox was a guess that the future would be much like the present, only a little less so. We have advanced since then from an arithmetical to a geometrical rate of change, taking for granted not only perpetual motion but perpetual acceleration too. It's a poor graph that doesn't curve up off the page: and it would be a bold man (though in my opinion a truthful one) that called the world of today strikingly similar to that of 50 years ago.
Mr Toffler's boldness [in Future Shock] is of a different sort. Nor is he untruthful: merely an honourable recruit to the mentally second-best army of American best-sellerdom. Like Vance Packard, he has chosen a good subject. Like David Riesman, he radiates social concern. Like William H. Whyte, he never tells one illustrative anecdote where five will do. Like Daniel Boorstin, he will do better than he deserves. There is a great future for Future Shock.
On the other hand to compare Mr Toffler with J. K. Galbraith (as Raymond Fletcher does on the dust-jacket) is an injustice to the elegant sage of Massachusetts. Mr Galbraith was an intellectual being funny; Mr Toffler is an ex-journalist being deadly serious. He is really very concerned that we may not be able to adapt to the pace of change in our century. ‘Future shock’—a term coined by analogy with ‘culture shock’, the extreme disorientation felt by a peasant pitchforked into industrialism or an Eskimo working on a US airbase—really is a threat. The banality of expressions like ‘everything changes so fast these days’ is a proof of their validity. Can we really cope with disposable marriages, vocational retraining every five years, brain transplants, underwater cities, computer judges and the rest? Or will the whole society, as some critics warn, have a collective nervous breakdown? (And if so, one might add, what would a collective nervous breakdown look like? Never mind about overcrowded rats: as with certain individuals, the line between normality and collapse might be hard to draw.)
Though concerned, Mr Toffler is generally cheerful. As befits an ex-editor of Fortune, he has little time for ‘hidebound Marxism’, which means the idea that modern society is bureaucratically regimented or culturally thin. Every such work of pop-sociology contains one good idea, wrapped in a catchy phrase. Boorstin's was the ‘pseudo-event’, Riesman's the distinction between ‘inner-oriented’ and ‘outward-oriented’ individuals. Mr Toffler's contribution is ‘The Adhocracy’. Instead of a rigid class of rulers and decision-makers, he argues, modern industry and politics rely more and more on the task force or the special commission, a group of experts in related fields who are convened to solve a particular problem, and then go their separate ways. Their only loyalty is to their own and each other's professionalism (as judged, to borrow the author's style, by their track-record in problem-solving), not to any formal hierarchy, corporation or even career. This is more interesting than conventional diatribes about computer-men.
So is his notion of ‘modular’ change, which is really a smart way of describing flexibility: houses with movable walls or machines with adaptable extensions and parts, where the overall framework has a longer life because each component has a shorter one. But his attempt to carry this through into the field of human relations leads him into shallow optimism: a quick turnover of friends and marriage partners is not so easily absorbed as a preference for renting cars rather than owning them, or using a throwaway ballpoint instead of a durable goose-quill. ‘Men, in short, seem to be more skilled at breaking off relationships than women,’ is Mr Toffler's summing-up of social mobility: not entirely a value-free statement, and one of doubtful value. Suppose we said that women, in short, seem to be more skilled at maintaining relationships than men—would we be condemned to hopeless nostalgia or a double dose of shock?
In the same way, much of Mr Toffler's empirical research contradicts his breezy optimism. Biological work is always good for a chill. In Philadelphia:
Embryos are taken from each of two pregnant mice. These embryos are placed in a laboratory dish and nurtured until they form a single growing mass. This is then implanted in the womb of a third female mouse. A baby is born that clearly shares the genetic characteristics of both sets of donors. Thus a typical multi-mouse, born of two pairs of parents, has white fur and whiskers on one side of its face, dark fur and whiskers on the other, with alternating bands of white and dark hair covering the rest of the body … If multi-mouse is here, can ‘multi-man’ be far behind?
Can sociology lag behind biology, either? In the University of Washington, ingenious researchers have devised a ‘Life-Change Units Scale’, granting 100 points to ‘death of spouse’, 20 to a new house, and 13 to a holiday. (Some changes are as good as some rests.) They then applied this scale to a group of 3,000 sailors in the US Navy, about to put to sea for six changeless months. They hypothesised a correlation between high scores on recent life-changes and bad medical records on the voyage; and when the boys came home, found the correlation significantly established. Methodologically, this may be good news. But it hardly reinforces Mr Toffler's hopeful prognosis for a gayer, richer, more varied future—except for doctors. Where else but in America could the analysis of a new problem be carried on in such a consistently joyous tone?
But it is in his proposed remedies that Mr Toffler falls most obviously short of his own grandiose plan. To avoid future shock, children should read science-fiction at school; they should also acquire, not dull old data, but the three basic skills of Learning, Relating and Choosing. (A more pompous and less original definition of the aims of humanistic education would be hard to find.) We need contemporary rituals. ‘Certainly, July 20, the day Astronaut Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, ought to be made into an annual global celebration of the unity of man.’ We need a technology ombudsman. We need ‘living museums’ where people can take a holiday from change: ‘children from the outside world might spend a few months in a simulated feudal village, living and actually working as children did centuries ago.’ We need ‘halfway houses’ to slow the pace of change: gradual confinement and gradual parole, for example, instead of the old in-out prison. (This is again a sensible but not an original idea.) Finally, of course, we need much more and better-paid research in the field of futurology, and governments must pay more attention to it. Mr Toffler conducts such research himself.
It would be difficult to quarrel with the book's main thrust: that rapid change causes psychological problems, that it is also inevitable (though not uncontrollable) and that we shall therefore have to change our ideas, not only about this and that particular problem but about all perceptions, habits and values. (Our idea of an idea, for example, may not survive third-generation computers.) What is disappointing is the mass of energy that goes into specifying these platitudes, without ever questioning their universal truth. For example, the striking inequalities in rates of change worry Mr Toffler not at all. A growing world population is not just one more ‘plus’ in the list of changes: it cancels out several others, leaving the bigger population no better fed, no more richly provided with commodities, than before. Again, if people move faster, the places to which they move become less strange; an hour's journey is an hour's journey, and Birmingham now is as psychologically ‘far’ from London as Paddington once was. Man is still, obstinately, the measure of all things, clothing old impulses of lust, affection and curiosity in the latest available gear. This counter-platitude never figures in Mr Toffler's work, any more than the historical sense which would show him how many innovations are in fact reactions to an earlier pattern. It may yet be the subject of another best-seller—to be called, perhaps, The Constant Matrix—which will demonstrate, with many examples and in racy prose, how little has changed on this planet of ours. The nub of such a book might be the ‘expectation gap’: a boy reads in the papers that everything is changing, and then finds himself doing the same job as his father did, marrying the same kind of girl, eating the same food, travelling equal (psychological) distances for work and pleasure, and bored out of his mind just as the old man was. In a curious way, such a book could coexist happily with Future Shock. Like ecumenical faiths, best-sellers never contradict each other; perhaps because they are not saying enough.
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SOURCE: Hayes, E. Nelson. “Anticipatory Democracy.” New Leader 53, no. 19 (19 October 1970): 19-20.
[In the following review, Hayes compares Future Shock to two other books about the impact of technology on the future—Technopolis by Nigel Calder and Between Two Ages by Zbigniew Brzezinski.]
Ours has been variously called the age of protest, the postindustrial society, the electric age, the technetronic society, technopolis, the global village, the superindustrial society, postcivilization. These and other such terms suggest that we should perhaps prefer Auden's phrase, the age of anxiety. For in scores of books now appearing that attempt to define, describe and interpret our times, there is a terrifying sense that we are undergoing a profound revolution whose nature we do not understand and whose future we fear.
Three of the above terms are from the books at hand. British science-writer Nigel Calder [author of Technopolis] believes technopolis is already upon us: “a society not only shaped but continuously modified in drastic ways by scientific and technical novelty.” The major problem with technopolis, as he sees it, is a lack of control over its novelty—primarily a result of the belief that “the uses of science are politically boring” and the nationalistic misuse of science.
Most of Calder's book is concerned with how governments establish—or fail to establish—science policy, and with the effect on mankind of current and foreseeable technological developments. He is not only thoroughly familiar with his subject but presents his ideas in an often memorable if sometimes oversimplified fashion. For example, he offers a chart outlining the differences between “Mugs” (the tender-minded and the scientific conservationists) and “Zealots” (the tough-minded and the technological opportunists). Mugs like Gandhi, Robert Kennedy and Charlie Brown are skeptical, prudent, iconoclastic; they believe in internationalism, liberalism and democracy, and are “concerned and wooly minded.” Zealots like Lenin, Dayan and Superman are bold, authoritative; they are advocates of economic conservatism, revolution, patriotism, even war.
What is crucial is their different attitudes toward various technologies: Mugs think any use of the H-bomb indefensible, while Zealots can conceive of circumstances in which it might be justifiable; the first group believes that computers will enslave us, the second that computers make us smarter; that humans are good, or that they should be better; that wild-life conservation is desperately important, or that it is reasonable within limits; and so on. Calder admits this is “primitive binary logic,” but declares it necessary in order to establish a new basis for controversy and democratic process in place of the worn concepts of liberalism and conservatism.
Zbigniew Brzezinski [in Between Two Ages] sees the present as a period of transition between the industrial age and a time when technologies, especially electronics—hence the neologism “technetronic”—will be “the principal determinants of social change, altering the mores, the social structure, the values, and the global outlook of society.” He observes that the traditional distinction between national and international affairs is becoming blurred, quoting John F. Kennedy's description of himself as “the first American President for whom the whole world was, in a sense, domestic politics.”
It is impossible to summarize here the richness and complexity of Brzezinski's study, for it ranges from the failure of Communism to fuse humanism and internationalism to the expectations of the Third World to the intellectual and political sins of the New Left. Let it be sufficient to say that the intricacies of “America's role in the technetronic era,” to borrow his subtitle, are richly illuminated by his work.
The technetronic rate of change Brzezinski discusses is the most important characteristic of Alvin Toffler's superindustrial world, [in Future Shock] a “complex, fast-paced society dependent upon extremely advanced technology and a postmaterialist value system.” Toffler sets out to diagnose the disease resulting from change, “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” This he calls “future shock.”
Once stated, the thesis becomes self-evident, and Toffler indulges himself in an orgy of examples: the couple who moved 28 times in 26 years—inspiring the not wholly humorous proposal of some executive that only the husband be moved to a new post in another area, where a modular family would be provided to meet his needs and desires; or the boy who committed suicide because “without a license, I don't have my car, job, or social life.” Toffler further demonstrates that people of the future who live in the present “consume life styles the way people of an earlier, less choice-choked time consumed ordinary products” he points to the establishment of temporary marriages, communes and homosexual families with children as proof that the rate of social change is making the shared growth of love hopeless.
Toffler's analysis is extremely one-dimensional; there are too many other forces at work in society for us to focus so exclusively on the nature and effects of change. That having been said, however, it must be added that his is a brilliant book, offering more understanding of present and anticipated psycho-social phenomena than any I have read in recent years.
Clearly, all three authors are fundamentally optimistic about the future, since each offers ways in which society can learn to control and direct the uses of technology. Calder suggests the employment of electronic techniques that will decentralize political power and permit democratic participation not only in governing but also in defining “exploratory” and “normative” futures. He wants the Mugs to win out over the Zealots, and believes they will because “it is scarcely credible that the well-informed, research-trained interconnected communities of the foreseeable future should tolerate men in power who want power for its own sake, who have simple-minded theories of society, or who seek to profit from the differences among men.”
Brzezinski is less naïve, and therefore possibly more hopeful. He proposes a synthesis of the “irrational personalism of the ‘humanists’ and the impersonal rationality of the ‘modernizers’” (one can, with reservations, substitute Mugs and Zealots). He calls for a new perspective on this current dichotomy, one involving a growing recognition that “man's propensity for scientific innovation cannot be restrained … and a heightened awareness that as long as man conceives himself as a distinctive being, idealism will be the central mode of expressing his spirit.” Brzezinski goes on to explore the implications of this “national humanism” both for the future of America and for the development of cultural and economic diversity on a world-wide scale.
Toffler hopes for a “massive, global exercise in anticipatory democracy … with new social services, a future-facing education system, new ways to regulate technology, and a strategy for capturing control of change.” Yet his proposals are admittedly rather vague because the purpose of his book is to diagnose rather than cure.
It is exemplary of Toffler's thesis that C. P. Snow's phrase “the two cultures” is already a cliché, though his book on the subject was published only a decade ago. Nevertheless, the concept remains meaningful; the future Calder, Brzezinski and Toffler foresee demands the fusion of those two cultures. Yet I despair that those whom Brzezinski terms “irrational humanists” will learn what is needed for the fulfillment of that goal. They continue to attack technology as the chief source of their woes and the world's—while pounding out the manuscript on an electric typewriter, having the kids inoculated against polio, picking up the wife's birth-control pills at the local pharmacy, and otherwise indulging in the many benefits technology has brought them.
The “irrational humanists” display an ignorance of science that is truly shocking; for example, Wylie Sypher seriously proposes in Literature and Technology that if the humanist should know something about the second law of thermodynamics, the scientist ought to be familiar with Verner's law of philology. If society is to control the application of technology, as indeed it should, then first it will be necessary to drag the academicians screaming into the 20th century. Only then will there be a sufficiently broad intellectual base for anticipatory democracy.
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SOURCE: Maddox, John. “The Doomsday Men.” Encounter 36 (January 1971): 64-5.
[In the following excerpt, Maddox categorizes Future Shock as a work of “Doomsday literature,” which, he observes, fails to address several serious questions about the future.]
The men who used to parade in Oxford Street with sandwich boards announcing that The End of the World is at Hand! have long since been snatched away by the demands of full or relatively full employment. There are times when their place seems to have been taken by a group of writers and talkers who proclaim that the cataclysm round the corner will be brought about by the consequences of modern technology. Some think that DDT and other chemicals now widely used will bring about disaster. Some put their money on the paradoxical way in which the fertilisers which help to grow more food may also accelerate the natural processes by means of which lakes grow old. Others say that the Population Explosion as it is called will bring the most severe threats. The United States has in the past few years been especially afflicted with this talk of Technological Doom, and there are many members of Congress who are prepared to fight in the environmental crisis with all the methods at their disposal except those likely to involve substantial increases of taxes or other costs. Even the British Government has bowed to the way the wind is blowing by calling the old Ministry of Housing and its associates the Ministry of the Environment.
Why should there be this fashion? And should it keep us awake at night? These are serious questions, but the Doomsday literature is unfortunately not much help, even if some of it is so riddled with inconsistency that it does provide something of an assurance that only the most superficial readers will permanently take fright.
Mr Alvin Toffler's Future Shock is in the best traditions of this lightweight vein on the Doomsday literature. Its announced function is to describe the “shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in people by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” Future shock—the “disease of change”—is already rife. Mr Toffler says that his book is intended not merely as a pathology of the disease but an aetiology and a method of cure or at least of prophylaxis as well, which is another way of saying that he first sets out in the best Puritan tradition to scare people out of their wits and then to tell them that disaster may be avoided first of all by halting “the runaway acceleration that is subjecting multitudes to the threat of future shock” and then, at greater deliberation, by setting up a variety of social institutions that make the cure seem even more dreadful than the disease.
The diagnosis may be mistaken, but its method is now so widely used that it should be recognised for what it is—over-writing. Thus “technology feeds on itself”—“unless wielded with extreme care … the gift of weather control can prove man's undoing”—“man will be able, within a reasonably short period, to redesign not merely individual bodies but the entire human race”—and “millions sense the pathology which pervades the air but fail to grasp its roots.” The evidence for all this consists of anecdotal material about New York taxi-drivers who spend their energy (and money) on rodeo competitions, tales of Californian cults and communes, and quotations from other prophets—C. P. Snow, Professor Barry Commoner, and Dr René Dubos. Mr Toffler seems as frightened as Spiro T. Agnew would be at the more liberal or at least more open attitude towards homosexuality and the way in which “the United States is a nation in which tens of thousands of young people flee reality by opting for drug-induced lassitude.” He has some horror stories to tell about the way in which it may soon be possible for a woman to produce children by buying a frozen embryo from a shop and popping it in the uterus, and of the way in which molecular biology has made it possible to control human brains with chemicals; but luckily there is no foundation for these assertions. There are trite generalisations about the nature of society such as “as the number of social components grows and change makes the whole system less stable, it becomes less and less possible to ignore the demands of political minorities—hippies, blacks, lower middle class Wallacites, teachers or the proverbial little old ladies in tennis shoes” and empty prescriptions such as “we need to initiate … a continuing plebiscite on the future.” It is a great pity that such a massive work of scholarship as this—five years of research for the Russell Sage Foundation and fifty pages of bibliography to show for it—should have been so misspent.
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SOURCE: Kelly, James R. “What's the World Coming To?” America 124, no. 1 (9 January 1971): 24-5.
[In the following review, Kelly offers a positive assessment of Future Shock, praising the work for its reflection on “the human condition of change.”]
Do you generally feel harassed, confused, irritable? Do you often have that panicky sense that things are slipping out of control? And despite your most valiant efforts to be up-to-date, do you find your left eye nervously twitching when your parish priest announces his engagement?
Well, relax a bit. On the assumption that misery suffered alone is plain awful, but that shared misery approaches the salvific, you will be encouraged to learn that your affliction is no longer mysterious nor do you suffer alone. In Alvin Toffler's words [in Future Shock], you and I, and anyone else retaining a smidgen of consciousness, suffer from “future shock,” the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.” Future shock includes the feeling that most of what we have learned is obsolete, and the realization that many of our values are poor, if not damaging, guides to the awesome number of new choices demanded in the superindustrial era.
Toffler claims that the roots of future shock lie in the oncoming convergence of three increasingly evident factors of modern life—transience, novelty and diversity. Everything, he remarks, gets used up more quickly in our postindustrial society. Friends, careers, residences and the world-images that sustain men seem to have lost the durability that most expect them to have. Besides the tone of transience, modern man uneasily senses a loss of the delicate balance prevailing in any healthy society between the familiar and unfamiliar elements of daily life, between the routine and the non-routine, the predictable and the unpredictable. To be human men must have some sense of mastery over their lives. Toffler suggests that with the acceleration of novelty in modern society there is a growing weariness and wariness, a pall of pessimism, a decline in our sense of mastery.
The third mind-blowing component of future shock is diversity. America has the greatest variety of unstandardized goods and services any society has ever seen. In addition to material goods, there is a surfeit of subcults and, as people shift from subcult to subcult, from style to style, they are conditioned to guard themselves against the strain of parting. Toffler remarks that belongingness is not the same as it once was, and many appear ready to defect from any group at a moment's notice. When this diversity converges with transience and novelty, society is rocketed toward an historical crisis of adaptation. “We create an environment so ephemeral, unfamiliar and complex as to threaten millions with adaptive breakdown. This breakdown is future shock.”
Future Shock is a successful book. After reading it you feel that, if you don't suffer from the disease, you ought to. If you buy the book you can throw away all your back copies of Look and Life. It is an encyclopedia of the new, ranging from talking dolphins to the future purchasing of tiny frozen embryos from your local baby-torium.
Despite the occasional appearance of being a farrago of fads, Future Shock is an important book. Toffler is seriously concerned with the possible limits to the amount of undirected change the human organism can absorb and the need for mechanisms to control the management of change in ways more humane, more far-sighted and more democratic than any so far in use. Many of Toffler's practical suggestions seem naive and superficial, but the major point of the book—the collapse of technocratic planning and the need to reflect on the human control of change—is so vigorously presented that Future Shock becomes essential reading. And that deliciously apt title. The author ought to be financially rewarded by our purchase on that score alone.
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SOURCE: McCracken, Samuel. “Apocalyptic Thinking.” Commentary 52, no. 4 (October 1971): 61-70.
[In the following essay, McCracken describes Future Shock as a work of “pop futurism” and points out a variety of weaknesses in Toffler's arguments.]
For an observer with a moderately developed sense of history, and the most moderate standard of excellence, it can be an unbearable suspicion that his time and space may turn out to have been absolutely undistinguished. Dr. Pangloss and G. F. Babbitt warded off the dread thought by assuring themselves that it was the best of all possible worlds; Victorian optimists warded it off with the more modest notion of progress. The second of these views—with an obligatory codicil about how much there is to be done—lives on, but not among intellectuals, who are more likely to claim a sort of anti-distinction for the age and to take authentic delight in living in the worst of all possible worlds.
Of course, anyone who can neither see Lyndon Johnson as more wicked than Hitler or Stalin, nor Richard Nixon as the Antichrist, has not even the consolation of excelling in the lack of excellence. Such a person might, however, find another consolation—hitherto available only to religious fundamentalists—in the reflection that an access of degeneracy has traditionally been thought to signal the advent of the Last Days. Two thousand years ago, almost to the minute, the air was throbbing with apocalypse, and so it did a thousand years ago, and so it does today with another millennium soon to end and the year 2000 in sight. The Christian fundamentalists are at it as usual, greatly encouraged by an ancient prophecy according to which the Last Days will be immediately preceded by the restoration of Jewish rule over Jerusalem; and fundamentalism's newest and grooviest sect, the Jesus Freaks, are especially attracted to chiliastic thought.
There are other mind-sets among us apparently apocalyptic, but only apparently: the agenda of the Revolution and its prophecies. For though the revolutionary impulse does indeed have a certain topographical relationship to the apocalyptic, seeking—in our time, at least—to hurry along the millennium, revolution and apocalypse are nevertheless ultimately antithetical, as can be seen in the reception serious revolutionaries gave The Greening of America. Charles A. Reich no less than St. John the Divine, so the response ran, is in the opiate-for-the-people racket. Indeed so. Reich is the most profoundly counterrevolutionary author of our day, for nothing could be calculated more effectively to dampen revolutionary ardor than the argument that the Bastille will crumble if we will just sit outside it and groove for a while.
But I have been talking of the apocalypse without defining it. I suppose the etymological pedant would limit the term to its original meaning, that of taking away the veil, while the etymological slob would expand it to include the whole realm of the sensational and mind-blowing. I steer a middle course: an apocalypse is a revelation about the future—understood as possibly 3:45 this afternoon—sometimes clairvoyant in provenance, sometimes extrapolatory. Although the apocalyptic impulse springs from a concern with the future, that concern, in its search for pre-apocalyptic symptoms, frequently deals with the present and past. An apocalyptic revelation might in theory be a crashing bore (“Behold, I say unto you, an age of no particular interest is upon you”) but all apocalypses worth attention rival the original one of St. John in scope and surprise value. Today, however, apocalypse is in a process of at least partial secularization, and it generally appears before us not in the language of divine revelation but in the profane dress of journalism and history.
One of the best-known recent examples of apocalypse disguised as journalism is Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. Toffler's thesis has just enough simple grandeur to provoke skepticism: change dizzily accelerates (this proven by an endless succession of statistics and other examples); such acceleration in turn makes people physically and psychically sick (this demonstrated by summaries of some recent research correlating change and illness); and to avoid an apocalyptic crisis, the earliest stages of which are upon us (demonstrated by attributing practically anything objectionable in the culture to incipient future shock), we must raise up a breed of futurist cicerones who will peer into the abyss and lead us into it. All this is set forth in a highly Lucid style (the author is a former Fortune editor) in which the words “incredible” and “fantastic” appear often enough to last this reader a twelve-month, sandwiched in between repeated dark statements to the effect that “it is no accident that” or “it is not by chance that” this or that is the case, to the effect, if not with the intent, that once one has said what a relationship is not, one is absolved from saying what it is.
An author who writes on so many topics ought, doubtless, to be reviewed by a committee, but even the narrowly educated reader will note some difficulties. Thus, surveying the history of speed, from camel to rocket, Toffler observes an impressive and accelerating rate of acceleration, from 8 to 18,000 mph, the increment having been 12 mph the first 4[frac12] centuries, 80 mph in the next 3[frac12], 300 mph in the next six decades, 400 mph in the next two, and 17,200 mph in the next two or three years. Gee-whiz! one is tempted to chorus in harmony with Toffler's characteristic tone, until one recalls that only a handful of people on earth have experienced 18,000 mph, which (so I am told) is in free-fall much like any other speed you'd care to mention; of lay Americans only a minority have experienced 600 mph; of the world at large, only a tiny minority.
Moreover, the onset of acceleration, once one begins to worry about the nervous systems of real people rather than that nerveless abstraction called technology, is a function of the 19th century, not the 20th. Between 1820 and 1848 the available land speed rose by a factor of 6, a rate of increase not duplicated or exceeded since. Even more traumatic than such increases in personal speed ought to have been those attained by information, the telegraph, like the railway, having become available by mid-century. The telegraph annihilated of a sudden the geographical imperative with which man had lived from the rise of the camel until its minor amelioration by the railway. If change be in principle traumatic, the sudden increase in the range over which there might be knowledge of nearly simultaneous action—from the distance to the horizon to thousands of miles—and in the speed of transmission—from 8 mph to 186,000 mph—ought to have been a real shocker. Why then did the Victorians not suffer from future shock?
In the here-and-now, Toffler tells us, one of the symptoms of future shock is premature senility. Who are the prematurely senile among us? Why, people of thirty-five who don't like the “new,” a euphemism for, among other things, student riots. It used to be, so it seems from Toffler's account, that no one got to the stage of objecting to such novelties until all he could do was to pound his cane feebly on the floor next to his wheelchair and mumble toothless imprecations. Now most of us get there in the full vigor of early middle age. But neither are the young spared: they understand what is up no more than their prematurely senile parents, because they are ignorant of any past with which to compare the present. (Well, from my experience, not quite of any past. Many of them routinely compare the present with a mythical past which flourished in the Deuteropaleolithic Age, from 1950 to 1960.)
Toffler presents a great deal of evidence for the assertion that we live in a wildly transient age: the rise of the disposable, the mobile, and the rentable; the increasing evanescence of the family; and the like. Some of this material is quite striking, although Toffler is often very naive in his handling of it, as is the case with the linguistic argument he advances: from the unwarranted assumption that the English lexicon was as large in the 16th century as now, and the undoubted fact that a great many words have been coined since then, he draws the ludicrous conclusion that at least 200,000 words, perhaps several times that many, have dropped out of the language since Shakespeare. The most obvious test of this theory, one would think, would be reading Shakespeare to see whether he is intelligible. Apparently the expedient was not resorted to. Further, slang terms out of immediate fashion are presumed by Toffler to have become unintelligible. Here, as elsewhere, he fails to array, let alone confront, any contrary evidence. A good deal of the slang of the 1920's notoriously remains with us, in a sort of museum permanent-collection, as well as such syntactic medievalisms as “willy-nilly.” Consider also the extraordinary durability of comic strips: how many now running were created before World War II? Before World War I?
Since Toffler admits—or is it claims?—that any of his observations may have become outdated by press time, it is perhaps unfair to tax him with what is happening to disposable bottles and cans. It does seem odd that a population allegedly addicted to the impermanent bottle, with which it need have no enduring relationship, should be happily contemplating the return of the returnable. But one of the nifty features of Toffler's thesis is the ease with which it can dispose of such an objection. Is there evidence of permanence, claims for transience notwithstanding? Such evidence is no more than symptom of a culture shot through with transience, longing for stability. Can't find some of the conditions cited as evidence for runaway change? Just goes to show you how fast things are changing. Now you see it, now you don't. Plus ça change. …
While Toffler is aware that technology has its problems, his cheery assurance that it will all work out if one takes the long view is enough to make some schools of Neo-Luddite pessimism look tolerable. It is, he says, slanderous to accuse technology of wanting to standardize everything, for standardization is an artifact of primitive mass production, whereas the super-industry now benevolently cradling us has learned to produce the unique as cheaply as the uniform. Our only problem is going to be resisting a paralysis of the will in the face of a stultifying embarras de richesses.
Perhaps so, but not on the basis of the evidence adduced. The bellwether of the coming diversity, sprung on us by Toffler with all the earnestness of a Ford ad, is the Mustang, available, so it is pointed out, in x bodies times y engines times z transmissions, not to mention variations in color and trim. One can, of course, prove that there are no duplicates whatever of anything if one wants to tune one's perceptions fine enough; but to bellyfeel the diversity of the Mustang herd would require fine perception indeed, perhaps the order of perception which Reich attributes to the Stoning of Consciousness III. Rapt in his 10n combinations of interiors and exteriors, Toffler forgets that all those steeds look like each other, and like the competition. (Or the competition like them. One must be fair to Ford.) The time is long past—as a consequence of the aesthetically pernicious process of slapping two patterns of bright metal trim on the same body shell and calling the result two makes—when any car had the distinctive personality of, say, Buick 1938-1949. If one no longer identifies the make and year of passing cars, the reason may just be that they all look alike now. Technology's idea of diversity, as explicated by Toffler, is to give you tulips with the widest choice possible of streak-color. He attains self-parody in another example of the New Diversity: cigarettes. Well, maybe if someone came out with a square cigarette, or a safe one. But as things are, he sounds just like Sinclair Lewis's Lowell Schmaltz (The Man Who Knew Coolidge) epitomizing diversity in Zenith:
There's a lot of sorehead critics of America that claim we're standardized but … this fellow and me—we're as different as Moses and Gene Tunney. Where these poor devils of Europeans are crushed down and prevented from having their characters developed by the wide and free initiative so characteristic of American life, George and me can be friendly, and yet as different. … Well, like this, for instance. I drive a Chrysler, and Babbitt doesn't. I'm a Congregationalist, and Babbitt has no use whatsoever for anything but his old Presbyterian church. He wears these big spectacles and you couldn't hire me to wear anything but eyeglasses. … He's got so he likes golf for its own sake, and I'd rather go fishing, any day. … Yes sir, it's a wonderful thing how American civilization, as represented, you might say, by modern advertising, has encouraged … the free play of individualism.
But when technology in Toffler's world is not producing Babbitt's Delights, it is getting out of hand, and Toffler devotes the last part of his book to getting it under control. Here he proposes some home remedies for the disease of future shock, among which is the curious advice that one learn to forget information for which one is not going to have any further use. Both future shock and runaway technology, however, will best be treated, Toffler thinks, by public-health programs, primarily the establishment of Councils of the Future, which will operate in a variety of organizational contexts and provide advice on probable futures. Under the aegis of such institutions, man's regrettable preoccupation with the past will be turned round to the future, which will become the subject of courses and games, providing him with a sort of Mothersill's Remedy against the mal de temps threatened by each new dawn.
Of any serious thought about the social and governmental structures which will apply the wisdom thus generated, the book is innocent. Society even now does a certain amount of futurizing, and there is not yet any consensus as to what is to come and what is to be done about it. That historians sometimes experience a certain difficulty in agreeing about the past—which, after all, did happen—suggests that future futurists and their clients may find consensus about the future—which, after all, has not—nearly as elusive.
Finally, Toffler's work is charged with a fatal contradiction inherent in pop futurism. In order to show that disaster is staring us in the eyeball, or that the future is going to be very different, or whatever, it becomes necessary to rely on the notion of accelerating change so heavily that prescription becomes increasingly risky. If the present is to be altered all out of recognition, then there is no guarantee as to the rate of change which will be characteristic of the remote future. Even the celebrated but not terribly helpful remark of Heraclitus, to the effect that nothing endures but change, leaves the futurist with the difficulty of treating a patient whose sole symptom is that his symptoms are in flux. Long-term planning becomes difficult, if not indeed impossible, for those committed to the notion of apocalyptic change.
The other best-selling apocalyptician, Charles A. Reich, totters inconclusively between scientific and religious chiliasm. Andrew Greeley has recently provided a remarkable exposition of The Greening of America as apocalypse,1 and so I can content myself here with some desultory remarks. Reich is nearly post-apocalyptic, arguing as he does that Consciousness III has already landed and is on the way to inevitable triumph, as believers in the old dispensation die or convert. The causes of the late apocalypse, like so much in the book, are obscure; it would seem that the contradictions of Con I led to Con II, and those of Con II, with the midwifely assistance of a kindly old crone named Mary Jane, gave birth to Con III, which, like socialist society in the Marxian vision, has no contradictions worth worrying about. But while the era of socialist man is always just over the horizon, the era of Consciousness III can begin in earnest just as soon as all those tiresome people over eighteen become III- or un-persons. The event thus posited makes even the Christian apocalypse seem a little tame, since what has been changed in the twinkling of an eye is nothing so limited as the universe, but human nature itself. By comparison with this Panglossian annihilation of all problems without pain or expense, Love Story—that other product of Yale's Ezra Stiles College—is a hard-hatted grapple with reality.
More interesting than Reich, though far less well-known, is William Irwin Thompson,2 an author apparently determined to play a belated Darwin to Reich's Huxley. As befits a brilliant and learned young man of thirty-two, Thompson proclaims his apocalypse with wry, almost mocking detachment. Less ironically cool is the prose on the jacket of his book, where he is said to end up “demolishing the identity of history itself.” It is a little book for such a big feat, but crammed within the 163 pages of the text proper is learning so diverse that no reader is likely to feel cheated for quantity.
Of this astonishing quest after the hide of the historical dragon which has so long ravaged the fields of consciousness, there are two heroes: the author and William Butler Yeats. The former, constantly alluding to the latter, takes us on an expedition to the dragon's lair via Los Angeles, Esalen, M.I.T., Canada, Yucatan, and points outward.
The encounter with Los Angeles and environs is straightforward enough, even predictable. With regard to L.A., I myself plan to emulate Dudley Fitts, who refused to read Silas Marner lest he spoil the appreciation and understanding of that novel gained from countless College Board papers. I cannot therefore speak to the accuracy of Thompson's account, but he seems in accord with my own Virgils (Nathanael West and S. J. Perelman). The whole city is a movie set where people therapeutically act out their fantasies; they are always ten years ahead of the wicked East, and the future consequently keeps outcropping, just now showing as a Prevue of Coming Attractions the colossal epic of man's transformation from homo faber into homo ludens.
The distance between the ridiculous and the sublime is easily compassed in the trip from Los Angeles to Esalen, where Thompson appears to have made some sort of transcendental discovery under the influence of Zen-baked bread. (The importance of bread to the counter-culturists is excessive, even for a staff of life.)
The seminar which drew Thompson Esalenward seems pretty dreary in the telling, perhaps as much to the writer as to the reader. The high point came late. As Thompson was recounting an epiphany vouchsafed him in the National Library at Dublin, to the effect that he was “the only available writer on Irish literature and politics” who could possibly write his book (the sort of epiphany also occasionally vouchsafed other authors, but perhaps one best thought better of at less inspired moments), in burst Joan Baez, acting, as Thompson told her right to her face, like “Maude Gonne screaming at Yeats to stop writing poems and start shooting Englishmen.” The comparison appears to have silenced her, after which triumph it was back to the baths for a bit and on to a folk-rock concert on the cliffs. Thompson and others danced about a pregnant blonde, and hey presto! “there at the edge of the Pacific you could feel the future blowing in your face and see all the new cultures streaming behind into the wake of history, where they would come to rest in the museums of New York and Europe. … I leaned against the wall and thought: At twenty-nine in the summer of 1967, I danced in the twenty-first century, and in the dark remaining years ahead I will remember this free-for-all3 of Pacific sound and light.” Doubtless all very heady stuff, and doubtless familiar to anyone who has been to a good party with good friends. But this particular gush of emotion recollected in tranquility illustrates a central fallacy of futurism: the self-intoxicated optimism which identifies a portion of the present one likes as a portion of the future.
From the cliffs Thompson descends to M.I.T., where he labored some years, and from which he came away with a dislike of the new industrial state as intense as, but a good deal more coherent than, that of Charles Reich. Neither of the two cultures at M.I.T.—which he sees as radical humanism and liberal science—took his fancy, and he is quite as acidly effective looking at the one as the other, although his critique of the former is perhaps the more pointed:
Freed by his Marxist materialism of the feudal nobility that would suggest that evil is within the revolutionary and his movement as well as outside himself in capitalist society, [the radical humanist] rages with a blindness that prevents him from seeing the vices of his friends and the virtues of his enemies. … in encounters one is subjected to a suspicion of the past which amounts to a wilfully self-imposed ignorance: “I won't teach Autobiography and Identity because the self is a bourgeois personalist fiction.”
Retreating then to a Canadian exile (which now may seem less “The Peaceable Kingdom” than it did a year ago), Thompson constructs an alternative third position—a theory of historical evolution displayed in a series of increasingly complex mandalas tracing the constituents of society at any stage back to four figures: shaman, hunter, headman, and clown. Such schematizations, no less than TV diagrams of the route an antacid takes from gullet to stomach, provide useful employ for deserving draftsmen; but for anyone linear enough to have learned to read, one wonders whether they say any more than simple prose.
In the remainder of the book Thompson goes on to deal with an extraordinary range of fringe-cultural phenomena, down to and including the Edgar Cayce fad, all tending to the conclusion that we are on the edge of history in a quite literal sense. We have erred in interpreting the past, and may well be mistaken in assuming that there is going to be a future, or at least a future which is no more than an extension of past and present. Before settling down to this demolition of history, Thompson undertakes a brief inquest upon the body of official, academic futurism, wherein such persons as Daniel Bell and Herman Kahn are said to “lack the imagination to see the whole wheel of fire and [to be able to view reality only] from the very limited perspective of the routine-operational mentality. They are simply blind to anything that is not supportive of the liberal-industrial world view.” If nothing else is made clear in the intellectual peregrinations to follow, it is that Thompson's Weltanschauung is under no such constraints. He sees whatever wheels of fire may be.
In 1967, he points out, the most widely read authority on the year 2000 was not Daniel Bell, but Edgar Cayce, as represented by his biographer Jess Stearn.4 Desultory researches into the matter tend to confirm Thompson's assertion that the benighted professional classes are comparatively unaware of the Cayce vogue among the lower-middle class and The Kids. Hence the following excursus into Cayce and Caycism, toward a more general appreciation of a book and a figure which provide a great deal of the intellectual impetus, if that is the phrase I want, for the lower reaches of current occult-futuristic thought.
Cayce's life is shortly told: born Hopkinsville, Kentucky, 1877; settled in Virginia Beach, where he pursued the calling of photographer; uneducated, kindly, charming; conservative Presbyterian; about 1900, began to go into a trance twice daily, during which he produced advice and prophecy on a wide variety of subjects, principally medicine, religion, and politics; died Virginia Beach, 1945, survived by a circle of enthusiastically publishing hierophants, whose writings are based on stenographic transcripts of his “readings,” as the sleeping pronouncements were called.
Although Cayce made the Times in 1910, he exists now as a public figure largely through the medium of Stearn's best-seller. The claims therein are of a familiar class, The-Perfectly-Extraordinary-If-They-Are-Literally-True. Cayce is alleged to have predicted the dates of both world wars; but one looks in vain for a text of the prophecy. He could cure any disease, sometimes by prescribing Castoria, sometimes by the application of a flayed rabbit to the sufferer. (The hierophants make much of the eventual development of a line of cancer research in which antibodies are grown in rabbit-blood.) Cayce's medical practice, only occasionally interrupted by an insensitive Law, exploiting patent medicines and principles one can only call hypereclectic, was so successful that there remain to this day practitioners of the healing art—Stearn tactfully calls them “therapists”—who treat with the old original recipes, now accessible in the collections of the Association for Research and Enlightenment at Virginia Beach.
But it is as a prophet for the latter 20th century that Cayce has become a cult-figure. The prophecies, as one might have anticipated, lead up to a grand climax in the year 2000. The start of the final phase, according to Cayce, came in 1936, when the earth's polar axis—as opposed to its non-polar one—shifted sufficiently to have serious seismic consequences. Stearn, in dealing with Cayce the Scientist, did not trust to the untutored instincts of a simple reporter, but pressed into his service an authority known in his pages simply as The Geologist.5 The Geologist meanders through the book, amiably checking out Cayce's scientific expertise, more often than not in the Britannica. He takes it as quite probable that the earth's axis did shift in 1936. Now, we hear a great deal about the pernicious effect of compartmentalization in the sciences, but I had not realized that a Geologist would keep his eyes quite so invariably on the earth beneath him. He seems not to have noticed the relationship of the earth's axis to such trivial phenomena as the seasons and the appearance of the sky. Were Cayce right, no astronomer would be able to use his atlases to find anything in the sky. But if Cayce missed this consequence of a shift of the earth's axis, he predicted even more sensational ones: great earthquakes ravaging New York and California, with Atlantis heaving into view off the Bahamas. (Senator Goldwater will no doubt be cheered to hear that New York is finally going to get it: the fault lies along 14th Street, should provident readers wish to make their plans accordingly.) This future, curiously enough, is also in the past, a wonder of science brought to us by reincarnation. For we—some of us, at least—are quondam Atlanteans, who, having mucked up one perfectly good continent by hitting the laser beams too heavily, are now being given a second chance.
But enough, enough. Every popular fantasy is here, all validated by emission from what Stearn is pleased to call the Universal Mind of Edgar Cayce, and all of it swallowed by the hierophants with an intensity which makes one unusually wishful that Mencken were living at this hour. One future shock which does seem to be upon us is the extent to which universal literacy and the paperback allow irresponsible journalists to diffuse the sort of misknowledge compared to which ignorance, if not downright bliss, is damn near intellectually respectable. Not just journalists: one of Cayce's merchandisers is Harmon H. Bro, Ph.D., “the only trained social scientist ever to study Cayce extensively at first hand,” who is eloquent about the majestic prose of the “readings,” many of which to my insensitive ear seem to have been incompetently translated out of the original Extra-galactish: “Just so is there the result in England, just so the conglomerate force in America. Just so are the domination forces in Japan, China. Just so in Russia is there the new birth, out of which will come a new understanding. Italy—selling itself for a mess of pottage. Germany—a smear upon its forces for dominance over its brother, a leech upon the universe for its own sustenance.”
Unlike most prophets, Cayce was rarely shy about specifying exact dates, and thus good sport can be had matching up prophecies and fulfillment. But the prose style of the Universal Mind is so fuzzy, and its scientific knowledge so imperfect, that the force of the predictions, perhaps great for the totally ignorant, becomes feeble for the moderately informed. A proper skepticism about received truth ought to make any claim, no matter how bizarre, subject to testing, but the present state of Cayce studies hardly allows the scholarly mind to operate on the problem. The first qualified researcher to hit up a foundation for a year at the Association for Research and Enlightenment might be able to correct the situation.
Whatever such a study would reveal, Thompson, without exactly joining the AR&E, fudgily suggests that the “readings” might reflect actual history. He himself states neatly the epistemological assumptions which lead him into this position: “… classes can be so interest-bound that they cannot perceive reality outside the terms that sustain their power … it is extremely important that we adopt an alien point of view—if only to open our minds and free ourselves of the ethnocentrism of our former position.” The thesis presented here is no doubt fundamental for your working apocalyptician, permitting as it does any nonsense to attain a certain éclat as long as it is different nonsense. Once one is willing to treat a taste for reason as a quirk of ethnicity—the ethnic group in question here being the intellectuals—one will not long be troubled by the inconvenient constraints of evidence and proof.
Thompson believes that academics cannot free themselves from the dreadful managerial assumptions of liberalism—the product of the military-rational complex—because the academy is so hard on heretics. In support of this charge he cites the case of Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky. I am, of course, quite incompetent to judge the theories of Velikovsky, and must rely on the almost universally negative reaction of the qualified. However, about the quite different question of whether Velikovsky got a fair hearing, I am in considerable doubt. A number of distinguished professional astronomers took part in a textbook boycott of his publisher, leading finally to the transfer of a hot best-seller to a house with no text division. Certainly, in the soft, bellelettristic quarter of the academy I inhabit, such an action would be unthinkable. Some of the reviews of the book by professionals appear to me to have seriously misquoted Velikovsky's position, and some of these in turn appear to have continued in circulation uncorrected.
Velikovsky, in short, was treated like a crank. Cranks, to be sure, abound on the fringes of natural science—a colleague of mine in physics is incessantly favored with the publications of a gentleman who has replaced the theory of gravity with the assumption that the radius of the earth is expanding infinitely, and that thus it was a moving Newton who zoomed up to hit an apple at rest—and one can well understand that professionals develop the sort of impatience that literary historians develop for Baconians. Still, Velikovsky's earlier career was not exactly that of a crank. And some of the assumptions of Velikovsky's hypothesis originally taken as least likely—that Venus is quite hot, and has hydrocarbons in her atmosphere, and that Jupiter ought to be a powerful radio source—have subsequently been confirmed by orthodox science. Whether a massive study of Velikovsky's work would in any particular alter the original negative response I cannot judge; but the cases of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin indicate that the scientific community needs to be very careful about distinguishing cranks from heretics. In an age when such as Thompson—and his followers here are legion—tend to award a handicap to the outré, the need is going if anything to increase, simply to avoid feeding counter-cultural notions of “Establishment” reality vs. the “real” reality.
The history of thought can show any number of minority reports on the state of the universe, nearly all sensational in their implications. Such reports—re-visionings, as Thompson calls them—have generally been tendered with little consequence, but an occasional one has shaken the earth. It is too early definitely to categorize the current crop of apocalyptic re-visionings, but there is certainly enough evidence for an interim verdict. Thompson, for example, for all his brilliant and brittle erudition, manages an occasional howler:
[The idea of Atlantis] is not as absurd as it may seem if one stops to think of the lacunae in historical time. Five hundred years ago Columbus crossed the ocean in a bloated rowboat and now we are walking on the moon. In historical reckoning five hundred years is often the carbon-14 increment of plus or minus 250 years, so there are many places in history where we leap over centuries to the next fact simply because we have nothing to fill up the space. A civilization could have arisen in 10,500 B.C., climaxed in 10,000, and destroyed itself by 9500.
Very neat. As long as one forgets two little problems: a) getting your civilization from -10,000 to 1492, Columbus and his culture having represented a certain advance from that first date; and b) annihilating your civilization without a trace. Occasions such as this, when re-visioning depends on fantasy or sophomoric logic, makes one wonder how often elsewhere, in ways as ludicrous but less obvious, enthusiasm has overmastered good sense.
But let us imagine that all these re-visionings are well-founded. How revelatory are they? Is there any difference between re-vision and revision? If the Atlantis myth (about which Cayce, Thompson, and others make such a great to-do) turns out to be true, the major re-visioning will be of the history of Atlantis, the minor of our new understanding of certain cultures as degenerate rather than primitive. Nothing is revised by the major re-vision, Atlantis having heretofore had no history, and the minor is hardly any more astounding than the insights of orthodox revisionism, as exemplified, say, by A. J. P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War. And more important: barring a Revelation, the historicity of Atlantis will have to be demonstrated by one of the tools of orthodox history, namely archaeology. Should the tool so serve, the discovery will doubtless be a nine-years' wonder: but the methodological development will hardly deserve so pretentious a name as re-vision.
Perhaps the most widespread manifestation of apocalypticism today is to be found not in the taste for the occult and the irrational, but in an area which at first glance seems far removed from the apocalyptic spirit: the formation of educational policy and pedagogic theory. For assuming that an entirely new situation is upon us, a great deal of educational theory now proceeds on the belief that the basic tenets by which the theorists themselves were educated have become totally unsatisfactory for educating their charges. This belief—which permeates grant proposals in their thousands, memoranda in their millions—has recently been set forth with considerable distinction, attention to detail, and an often delicious sense of irony by Judson Jerome in Culture out of Anarchy: The Reconstruction of American Higher Learning.6
Jerome begins by identifying a diverse group of people who are desperate for self-realization: blacks, youth, women, and Judson Jerome. It is not quite clear whether he is the only middle-aged white male with such longings, but there he is, “lying on the glare-bright table of the 70's like a fish whose lungs are pumping insubstantial air,” longing, so it would seem, for the moister 60's. The crisis-laden atmosphere reeks of apocalypse, which is not long in the proclaiming: “A culture is dying. A culture is gasping to be born. These themes permeate this book, which only incidentally uses higher education as its evidence of a larger transformation in which we are all participating.”
The Last Days having been heralded, the book which follows is thoroughly exasperating, shot through with fatuities worthy of its first sentence, but containing also a good deal of insight, good sense, and first-rate educational reportage. Jerome has the unhappily rare habit of leavening his misinterpretations of phenomena with descriptions so clear and honest that the reader is enabled to make an independent assessment.
Both the culture and the anarchy are located in innovative higher education7 before viewing which Jerome surveys the traditional scene with traditional alarm. It is the sort of exercise which marks all apocalypticians, sacred and profane. Indeed, the resemblances between the innovationists and the Protestant fundamentalists are more than superficial: although the former regard their program, often incorrectly, as one of novelty rather than of restoration, it is in fact a fundamentalist stripping away of what are taken to be non-essentials, in the interest of instant salvation. There is also in the innovationist party a certain intolerance and fondness for Philippic reminiscent of the radio evangelist.
The smuggest observer, of course, of the campus today has trouble lighting his face with an infectious grin. But of what culture or when has this not been true? The 13th century was sound on stained glass, the 20th on poliomyelitis. It is in the hyperventilated atmosphere of public relations that crisis is blown up to apocalypse, and what used to be known as the condition of man seen as evidence for his approaching demise. But the burden of demonstrating an apocalypse is still upon the apocalyptician, at least if he is a secular apocalyptician and not consciously speaking as a Seer with a Revelation to bring. The claim being that apocalyptic conditions surround us in the here-and-now, it is susceptible of proof like any other claim about the real world.
What then is Jerome's proof? “I hear students telling me what I never had the guts or imagination to say: the system isn't working. The whole network of departments, fields, areas, credits, requirements, courses, grades, which we have accepted as the design of higher education, does not relate coherently to human learning and experience. Now the network is collapsing of his [sic: its?] Byzantine weight.” Now, I have it on the authority of Magnus Arbuthnot himself that what is Byzantine is complexity, never weight; but there is something else more disturbing here. Note the qualities the lack of which prevented Jerome from seeing reality: guts and imagination. What a diverse set of statements one might append to such a prologue as “I hear students telling me what I never had the guts or imagination to say”: “That I really come from a flying saucer; that the academy is heart and soul part of the Vietnam war; that black is white,” and so on and so on. But make it “guts and intelligence,” and the list gets markedly shorter.
The complaint, at any rate, is familiar a thousand times over to anyone who has been in shouting distance of a campus these past few years. The time scale is significant. Most of the phenomena (on the whole accurately reported) Jerome cites as evidence for his diagnosis of catastrophic failure are recent indeed. With such a short-focus perspective, the nearest objects made large in proportion, it is easy to say that the system is not working. But one must distinguish the not-working from the unworkable. Jerome confuses the two: it is an endemic habit, with its analogues in the marketplace, particularly that of automobiles. It is often assumed that it makes sense to trade in—salvage, in effect—a car on the brink of major repairs, even if the depreciation on the first year of the new car would pay for the repairs twice over. In fact, of course, someone is always waiting to pay for the repairs on one's three-year-old model, and what seems not worth repairing to the first owner seems eminently so to the second.
To pursue this no doubt vulgar analogy a bit: it is easy enough to see whose interest is served when not-working cars are treated as not-workable, and by what devices the confusion is maintained for the new-car trade and straightened out for the used. Less so with the educational analogue. Why does Jerome rush to trade in the system on a new model? The major cause is, I suspect, a deficiency in historical perspective. One of the advantages of historical perspective, something from which the innovationists could profit, is the knowledge that crisis, being a recurring phenomenon, is a survivable one. He who knows this—who does not? one is tempted to ask, and the answer is that his name is Legion—is better prepared to meet the crisis with some hope that he is not going to add to it. At present the academy has no such luck: one component of the crisis is the hysterical reaction of the Jeromes, observers afflicted with time-referents calibrated in months, and by a perverse myth of progress which teaches that the line on the chart is headed inexorably and eternally down if something really big is not immediately done.
If one ignores the extent to which in the past the university has found itself upon evil days, and within itself found renewal, it is easy to see the alarums and excursions of the past few years as symptomatic of moribundity or worse. Such ignorance seems very common among apocalypticians, but the problem is not one simply of naiveté. For a sense of impending doom, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, need not be an entirely unlovely experience. He whose most cherished projects are not likely to be adopted short of the Last Days may well be forgiven if he greets the sound of beating hooves with mixed emotions. And those with a vested interest in educational Armageddon, like any devout fundamentalist, find comfort in the thought of an approaching Dies Irae on which the faithful will at last be recognized when and where it really counts. Apocalypse nourishes apocalypse in a nutritional chain to be broken only when it spawns a generation of prophets proclaiming. “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all change.” The lust for novelty is sufficient that the day of such prophets may not be inconceivably remote.
When he is not chanting Dies Irae, Jerome's eye for educational inanity, although sometimes merely cute, is generally acute. His account of a visit to an “emerging” state university has moments of high hilarity, notably an encounter with the English Department's tame Productive Scholar:
“How do you do,” says Professor Boggle. “Sorry to be late. I was in my office reading proofs. Just a revision of Journey,” he says deprecatingly. (“You probably know The Irish Journey,” my host fills me in. “Standard background for Joyce.”)
His perceptions of folly are, however, colored by an attitude he enunciates at the outset:
… many of us are people of basically conservative disposition, often with teenage children, who could not in conscience live with the options available for young people in our society today. We have come almost reluctantly to the conclusion that if there is to be, willy-nilly, some kind of revolution in this country, we had better do what we can to make the damned thing work.
That is to say, someone has to ride the tiger. It need hardly be pointed out that in two recent revolutions there were parties with similar aspirations, and when the dust settled, the smile was on the face of the tiger. The planted axiom is the apocalyptic one, that there is to be a revolution, some sort of one, willy-nilly, and this idea often leads “people of basically conservative disposition, often with teenage children” like Jerome, into a certain hysteria.
Sometimes the hysteria manifests itself in small lapses of critical surveillance. When the Radical Chic Bartlett's is finally compiled, one sure entry is going to be the following:
The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might. And the Republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order! Yes, without law and order our nation cannot survive. We shall restore law and order.
—Adolf Hitler, Hamburg, 1932
These remarks are always being Quoted Without Comment, and here they are affixed as epigraph to Jerome's Chapter 4, “As American as Apple Pie.” The trouble is that the quotation appears to be bogus. Repeated efforts to trace it to Hitler have failed—as, indeed, anyone with even the most modest grasp of modern German history should have been able to guess they would. For one thing the supposed eulogist of law and order commanded a private army at that very date the raison d'être of which was violence in the streets, and which had itself for a time been suppressed by the Weimar authorities on law-and-order grounds. And for another, Hitler would no more have called the hated “November criminals” of the Weimar government the “Republic” than the Black Panther would call the Oakland Police Department “the police.”
But Jerome is led into greater enormities. He seems quite sure that the tradition of liberal education is safe within the hands of the innovationist party. One might be more inclined to agree with him were it not for the examples he himself gives:
[Within educational communes] it is only the content of liberal education which has changed … nor is intellectuality always scorned. [At an educational commune in Baltimore] what struck me, as we talked about vibrations and energy and levels of consciousness and the discipline of meditation, was the highly complex and learned quality of their study. There was a Rosicrucian intricacy about their range of reference and reasoning. … Astrology, which many students and college students seem obsessed with, is a popularization [!] of studies with deep intellectual roots. [One of the communards]: “We say ‘Aquarian’ because this is the age of intuition, and Aquarius is the sign of intuition, the sign of Christ consciousness. Each age is 2100 years. … The Aquarian age began, some people say 1870, some say as early as 1776, but it is generally agreed that we're well into it now. It's an air sign. Aquarius is the water-bearer, but an air sign means it's the holy spirit, and the spirit of wholeness, completeness and intuition. … We're at that state in the evolution of the racial consciousness.”
Jerome displays more than enough intelligence to allow him to identify this piece of flatulent balderdash for what it is. But no,
I am soon over my head as I try to keep up with the intellectual syntheses these people are trying to put together. Here are some excerpts from a taped conversation: “My main interest is in what I call a politics of incarnation. I'm interested in deriving a real politic from essentially religious and psychological observations. … Systems analysis applies incredibly well to the study of intuition. … Chomsky uses that … he's got a thing called methodological preliminaries, in his Aspects of Syntax, in which he outlines a method that fits very well. … Lévi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, has a thing in structural anthropology in which he comes up with some incredible data using a gestalt approach. … It's kind of freaky, complicated. …”
One is simply disconsolate to find Jerome finding this sort of fragmentary name-dropping impressive enough to quote, let alone to cite as intellectually taxing.
While such naive concessions to the idea that all learning is equally educational vitiate Jerome's pretensions as an educational theorist, his reportage of the current innovationist scene nevertheless remains highly effective, as in his account of Toronto's Rochdale College, surely one of the most depressing experiments in the history of higher education, and his treatment of a clutch of other innovationist institutions. None of these places does he see as paradise, and when they fail to deliver on major and highly ideological promises, he admits it with a candid humor rare in educational theorists of any school. Despite its orientation, Culture out of Anarchy is the book to go to for data on the day-to-day problems, some of them serious, of an innovationist college. You will even learn that such places are often far more hostile and alienating than the uptight schools they are trying to improve on.
But the apocalyptic assumption allows Jerome to absorb what he sees without internalizing it, for anything is better than Armageddon. The vision of the Last Days is with him always, and under its influence he produces numerous passages of fashionable cant which live in uneasy coexistence with the cool reportage:
Willy-nilly, American education is entering a libertarian phase (call it a supermarket if you will) in which it is relinquishing its power to control and prescribe and develop a capacity to respond. It is a pity that those of us involved—parents, professors, politicians—must be scared into change by outbreaks of anarchy. It is a pity we cannot show intellectual initiative rather than panic and rigidity at a time when the need is so great and the possibilities are so abundant.
It is not only by rigidity that men show panic.
Where will the current wave of apocalypticism all end up? Nathan Glazer, writing of Charles Reich,8 has recently warned us to be very skeptical of people who tell us how bad things are, since such doomsaying has often been used to make intolerable programs seem tolerable. Now, while Alvin Toffler's prescriptions for meeting the future may seem benevolent enough, their successful embodiment would require a society totalitarian enough to make the Soviet system seem permissive. William Irwin Thompson has no program, nor is one easily to be inferred from his book; but belief that one is at the edge of history is not calculated to encourage either personal or social providence. While Judson Jerome's prescriptions are on the other side of totalitarian, heaven help the society educated on the principles of that Baltimore commune. And Charles A. Reich's vision of the apocalypse-in-being, quite apart from its substantive unpleasantness, amounts to a prescription for inaction which if followed closely in an industrial society would breed horror upon horror.
But the individual dangers of these thinkers are smaller than the collective one. Apocalyptic thinking, to twist the Italian proverb, is ill-found if it is not true, and to those of us not possessed of a special revelation, the imminence of Armageddon very much remains to be demonstrated. For us the antidote to apocalypticism is not to take no thought of the morrow, but rather to fall back on a habit of life which has always been the best specific against future shock: providence. By this I mean simply the habit of rationally evaluating present action in terms of likely consequence. To point out that a society is suffering from failures of providence—as ours certainly is—does not vitiate the value of providence. It just means that the society must get better at it. Short of an authentic divine revelation, the only way we can project the future is on the basis of the present, which, faute de mieux, we must assume to provide a ground for the rational extrapolation of trend. Perhaps there is some folk-wisdom in the tense system of the English language, which recognizes only past and present. For there can be no future until it appears in the present, and the present disappears into the past just as soon as we can perceive it. The present and the past, then, are all we have, and we must make the most of them.
“The Redeeming of America According to Charles Reich,” America, January 9, 1971.
At the Edge of History: Speculations on the Transformation of Culture, 163 pp.
Note to anyone heading for Big Sur and the 21st century, or whatever is playing now: take money. Esalen is not free for all.
Edgar Cayce—The Sleeping Prophet, Bantam Books, 287 pp.
Thompson discusses the catastrophic paleoentomologist Manson Valentine, who shares with The Geologist not only a discipline but also a strong interest in Atlantis.
Herder and Herder, 330 pp.
I wish there were an accurate and neutral name for the educational party of which Jerome is a member. At one college of my acquaintance, the term “the feelies” has gained some endurance; but even if I wanted to give the word wider currency, Jerome is a very right-wing feelie. I shall fall back on the label “innovationists,” not that I believe everything the party stands for is innovation, nor that innovation is limited to it; but it is the party which has made a god of innovation, and there is some precedent for naming religious parties in terms of their god. The reader must imagine when I say “innovationists” a tone appropriate to a 2nd-century Roman bureaucrat saying “Christians.”
“The Peanut Butter Statement,” The New Leader, December 14, 1970.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497
SOURCE: Blendon, Edith. Review of Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. American Archivist 35, no. 1 (January 1972): 62-3.
[In the following review, Blendon discusses the implications of Toffler's predictions in Future Shock for archivists of the future.]
[In Future Shock,] Toffler theorizes that society's rapidly accelerating change may submit masses of men to demands that they simply cannot tolerate. “Future shock” is the resultant disease—the physical and psychological distress that arises from an overload of the adaptive systems of the human organism.
In some respects Toffler's work simply summarizes much of the conjectural, futurist literature; but it also suggests some important considerations for nearly every individual and his “subcult”—the archivist notwithstanding.
The archivist is charged with preserving the permanently valuable, noncurrent records of an institution. Yet Toffler predicts the “death of permanence.” In a society of ephemeral human relationships and social values, the archivist's task of appraising records for their enduring value becomes a heavy burden. He is in a position to choose the view that our contemporary world will leave to men of the future. But amid a vastly diverse array of options, will he be able to make choices that will satisfy the curiosity of historians of the future? Or, will “overchoice” paralyze his action?
Other pressures on the archivist are also increasingly evident. The progressive expansion of knowledge in recent decades has produced a corresponding increase in the volume of records documenting the development of society. The archivist is fighting a potential inundation by the flood of paper. Sophisticated methods of records control, from computer inventorying and indexing to modular archival architecture, have been discussed, sometimes experimented with, but rarely implemented.
The control of voluminous textual records is only one major problem area. For Toffler, technology is the great “engine of change” in society. Technology has altered traditional methods of communication and has begun to render less valuable the written word, and thus the document, as primary source material for the study of the past. The archivist will have to handle machine-readable and audiovisual records, and, for these, reversion to previously successful archival techniques will be totally ineffective.
As the technical base of society increases in complexity, the society generates more specialization. Will archivists traditionally trained in history and the social sciences be able to cope with the records of a “techno-society”? Without specialized personnel and equipment, should central archives officials consider keeping technical records in the agency of their origin?
In a society compartmentalized by technical specialties, Toffler also foresees the “collapse of bureaucracy” and the rise of “ad-hocracy”—short-term, professional, problem-solving task forces. Without a fixed organizational framework, the job of ferreting out records of such semi-institutions as presidential committees and commissions, will be formidable.
These challenges may be well met. But, if we can believe Toffler, history itself may become irrelevant. In a world moving too fast, there may indeed be nothing permanently valuable from the past. In order to keep pace with the present, people may have to ignore the past.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3148
SOURCE: Donohue, John W. “Education and the Future: Opinions and Expectations.” America 130, no. 3 (26 January 1974): 46-9.
[In the following review, Donohue compares and contrasts Learning for Tomorrow: The Role of the Future in Education with two other books about the future of education—To Understand Is to Invent by Jean Piaget and Toward the 21st Century by Edwin O. Reischauer.]
Like most people of powerful intelligence, Aristotle was not above plainly restating elementary truths. In his treatise on memory, written in the period 335-322 B.C., he remarked that since the future cannot be known, it is necessarily an object only of opinion or expectation. He added, perhaps with a flick of irony, that there might even be “a science of expectation, like that of divination, in which some believe.”
So there might be. In fact, shaping such a science of the future is now a more exhilarating business than ever, because contemporary futurists, as they sometimes call themselves, are able to exploit the resources of research institutes, sophisticated computers, national surveys and statistical predictions to make their divining as accurate as possible. Moreover, this effort to forecast the future and to prescribe for the present in view of that forecast, is not just reasonable. It is also a perennial and distinctively human kind of behavior. As far as we know, there has never been a society so primitive or so sluggish as not to have taken some thought for tomorrow or made some attempt to manage today in light of presumptions about that future.
But investigating the future with the aim of refashioning life and education isn't likely to seem pressing so long as tomorrow promises to be pretty much like today. Human affairs must have looked quite steady to Winston Churchill when he gave this advice to parents, “Don't give your son money. As far as you can afford it, give him horses. No one ever came to grief, except honorable grief through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle.”
Opinions of this sort are useless, though, when the present is overrun, not only with predictable cyclic changes, but also with developments so unexpected that the future appears menacingly problematic and preoccupies everyone. When Frank Sinatra retired in March, 1971, he made a statement that reflected just such a preoccupation. For he complained that his public career as an entertainer, though satisfying, allowed “little room or opportunity for reflection, reading, self-examination and that need which every thinking man has for a fallow period, a long phase in which to seek a better understanding of the vast transforming changes now taking place everywhere in the world.”
Those who can't afford time off for such long phases of leisurely rumination may still have the uneasy feeling that they ought to know more about the probable course of currently evolving changes. In 1970, Alvin Toffler's Future Shock provided these busy citizens with a pocket guide to at least the more spectacular of those changes. Mr. Toffler was convinced that his fellow Americans hadn't been paying enough attention to what was going on and weren't enough aware of the impact that social and technological change was having on themselves. Like the fat boy in Pickwick Papers, he was determined to alert us by making our flesh creep. Consequently, he emphasized the most extreme possibilities, and his readers were apt to be left with the jumbled impression of a future in which genetic engineering is common-place, industrious cyborgs keep house beneath the sea and people scoot about among the planets and divert themselves with radical alternatives to marriage. All these prospects were set out with a razzmatazz that made Future Shock a best seller and its distribution almost a business in itself. The Random House hardcover and Bantam paperback editions were each reprinted so often that “future shock” has become a slogan and Mr. Toffler's argument has practically been converted into a received opinion.
The main line of that argument would be persuasive enough even without an exposition that pops, snaps and crackles all the way. We are said to be suffering from future shock, a disease brought on by too much and too rapid change. Both technology and social conditions are now quite out of control. In every department of life, the rates of novelty and transience have speeded up so explosively that people are losing their psychological clues as to who and where they are. So, unless we reestablish control over the velocity of change, learn how to live better with acceleration and how to look ahead so as to take the future seriously and plan for it effectively, we shall become physically and psychically more sick than ever.
If this has a perfectly familiar ring in 1974, that is partly due to Alvin Toffler's skill as a pamphleteer. Meanwhile, change continues and takes directions not widely guessed at in 1970. In an era of fuel shortage, for example, we are more concerned with getting around town than with getting to Mars. This doesn't mean less need to think about the future, but suggests concentration on the next decade rather than on the next century. In any case, a good many people are trying to think ahead for three commonly noted and interrelated reasons: prediction, correction and education.
At the beginning of last December, for instance, Herman Kahn's legendary Hudson Institute, which is popularly supposed to specialize in thinking the unthinkable, announced that its European office is sponsoring a five-volume Encyclopedia of the Future in which 110 authorities will predict the likely developments of the next 10 or 15 years in such fields as economics, politics, astrophysics and art. A few weeks earlier, on November 17, Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York had an announcement of his own to make. He has established a National Commission on Critical Choices for America, and its overall purpose appears to be that of suggesting course corrections for our national life. For the 38 distinguished men and women so far appointed to the commission are supposed, according to Mr. Rockefeller, to examine contemporary problems and come up with new concepts designed to cope with these forces “and thus help to chart the future for America.”
But interest in any country's future naturally leads to an interest in education. After all, the next century is not going to be in the hands of the older folks presently writing encyclopedias and serving on commissions. In the United States, it will belong to some 40 million children who are now 11 years old or younger and will be 37 or younger in the year 2000. (That estimate comes from a new book that Alvin Toffler has edited, and about which more in a moment.)
To some extent, of course, education has always been concerned with the future precisely because it prepares young people for that larger stretch of their lives that lies before them. Besides, everyone likes to prescribe what education should do, and that automatically makes him a futurist of sorts, especially if he is recommending that education do something different. And now, in light of all those changes Future Shock talked about, a good many people are indeed puzzling over plans for an education that will better respond to what the next few decades seem likely to require. The publications in this area are already plentiful enough to constitute a new genre that has been rather solemnly labeled “Educational Futurism.” But the items that can be rounded up under this heading are strikingly different in tone and content, as three new books show. Two were published last fall: Jean Piaget's To Understand Is to Invent: The Future of Education (Grossman) and Edwin O. Reischauer's Toward the 21st Century: Education for a Changing World (Knopf). The third, scheduled for publication by Random House next month, is that paperback collection of essays edited by Alvin Toffler, Learning for Tomorrow: The Role of the Future in Education.
There is a degree of basic consensus among these three books since they all propose a restructuring of education now in order to guarantee the future or simply to avert catastrophe. But there are also differences even more instructive. The shortest of the three is by the oldest of the authors, Professor Piaget. His book is actually made up of two essays that he prepared for UNESCO, one in 1948 and the other in 1971. Presumably it was the publisher who brought them together under the present title, but it fits well enough, for the essays are indeed concerned with the future of schooling.
Jean Piaget is the Swiss psychologist whose studies of children's intellectual development are landmarks, even though articles about him in England and the United States still begin by saying that he is not yet well enough known. He will be 78 next August, and ever since he was a precocious 15-year-old publishing empirical studies on mollusks, he has had a firm and somewhat one-sided faith in science. This confidence allows him to make a simple diagnosis of education's troubles and to recommend an equally uncomplicated cure. He believes that the welfare of the future depends on educating people to think scientifically and behave altruistically. These virtues would contribute, each in its own way, to international cooperation. And that cooperation, as the current energy crisis demonstrates, is essential in today's world of interdependent nations. But Jean Piaget is troubled because in all those nations too few students choose scientific careers and too few people realize that it is science, not philosophy, that ought to be the unifying discipline providing intellectual and ethical coordination of all facts.
So far this sounds like Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. But Professor Piaget is more his distinctive self when he starts explaining why so many people fear the study of science and mathematics. When you were in school, did you think you couldn't learn these dismaying subjects? If you did, you were neither unusual nor at fault, but you were mistaken. From his studies of how children—including his own three—learned, Jean Piaget became convinced that anyone of average intelligence has enough aptitude for any subject. If he doesn't master science, it is because he was badly taught. Methods aiming just to transmit knowledge are psychologically archaic but still used all too often. Teaching techniques must be reformed so that every new truth learned by a child or adolescent is “rediscovered or at least reconstructed by the student, and not simply imparted to him.” Incidentally, St. Thomas Aquinas would agree with this analysis since it is exactly the one he made seven hundred years ago in his essay, On the Teacher.
But most contemporary classroom teachers would probably find Jean Piaget's essays too general and too impersonal despite their austere clarity. The new book that Alvin Toffler has edited, however, has plenty of energy and excitement and a good many colorful, concrete particulars. Learning for Tomorrow is like a noisy educational convention that brings together all sorts of people (including manufacturers of educational software) and features a variety of papers, some worthwhile and some indifferent. Mr. Toffler rounded up 19 other contributors besides himself, and got them going with funds from the Ellis Phillips Foundation. From this came a book of 16 chapters that explain, with varying dosages of practical detail, how in light of the future the aims, curricula and methods of schooling from elementary level to the university should be reconstructed. An appendix surveys the syllabi of some already existing college and high school courses in what the compilers call educational futuristics.
Collections of this sort naturally lack much of a center and overall shape. In the most sensitively humanistic of all the chapters here, John Wren-Lewis, an English mathematician who is the only non-North American in the group, speaks of the need to develop “the art of thinking systematically about possible futures for human society on various segments of this planet, in such a fashion as to integrate specialized scientific thinking with psychological and sociological insight and humane imagination.”
No doubt all the contributors to Learning for Tomorrow aim to think in this style, but, generally speaking, the social scientists and the writers of “how-to-do-it” pieces perform most effectively. Benjamin D. Singer, a Canadian sociologist, analyzes the way in which a worthwhile sense of one's own identity is linked to the perception of long-range goals, and Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, shows how hard it still is for urban black children to acquire this sort of satisfactory self-image. A Yale sociologist, Wendell Bell, argues that anthropology, economics, political science, psychology and sociology need better orientation toward the future, and his own essay is a nice model of the reform he urges. Priscilla P. Griffith has a spirited account of a course on the 21st century that she and Mr. Toffler developed for a Florida high school near Cape Kennedy. Billy Rojas provides a general survey of the experimental programs of this type that are currently offered in some 400 schools in the United States, and Dennis Livingston has a useful rundown of ways in which science fiction can be employed in such courses.
In short, there is something here for almost everyone. There is also something missing and the omission is as puzzling as it is serious. For the first requirement in thinking about the future of education is to place the whole reflection within a global context. The Atlantic community of nations has long been morally obliged to take thought for what Edwin O. Reischauer calls the world's under-privileged majority. But now duty and interest coincide. For as Mr. Reischauer argues, mankind is unlikely to survive in the future unless an effective degree of world community is achieved, and that presupposes an education cultivating in all the national populations the mutual understanding and respect that generate international cooperation. Mr. Toffler's symposium, unfortunately, has nothing substantial to say about nourishing practical appreciation of the ideal of world citizenship. Consequently, even granting its chosen focus on reorganization of American schools, Learning for Tomorrow is like a tourist's guide to Switzerland that ignores the Alps.
For Professors Piaget and Reischauer, however, awareness of education's worldwide dimension is an organizing principle. But it is Mr. Reischauer who powerfully develops this principle in a book that almost no one else could have written with equal authority. For Ambassador Reischauer is at home in the cultures of both East and West and has been highly successful both as scholar and diplomat. He was born in Tokyo and lived in Japan till he came to the States in 1927 for college at Oberlin. Before he took his Harvard Ph.D. in 1939, he spent two years at the University of Paris. His own Harvard career as teacher of Far Eastern history was twice interrupted for national service—in military intelligence during World War II and as United States Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. All this means that he brings to contemplation of the future a historian's knowledge of the past and a statesman's familiarity with current international affairs.
Moreover, as the son of an American Presbyterian minister who taught philosophy for 25 years in Tokyo's Meiji Gakuin University, Mr. Reischauer at least acknowledges that philosophical and religious ideas can be forces unifying peoples. A Time story quoted him as having once said, when asked why he didn't become a missionary himself, “Ah, but I am!” Yet his moral concern encourages no unrealistic optimism about the future. He thinks that human history is moving steadily toward a world community in which the nations, without discarding their individual sovereignties, will escape global breakdown by cooperating more than they do now and sharing the earth's resources more evenly. There are already encouraging models of this cooperation in what Mr. Reischauer calls the triangular community of industrialized trading nations—the United States and Canada, Western Europe and Japan. There are, for examples, the European Economic Community, the Organization for Economic Development that includes Japan and the International Monetary Fund. It is at least conceivable that a similar meshwork of constructive relationships might link this triangle with the other two major groupings: the industrialized Communist nations and the less developed nations.
But enormous obstacles must first be overcome. The threat of nuclear war is not the worst of these dangers, in Ambassador Reischauer's view, because he believes it is now generally understood that war is no longer a useful tool of diplomacy or national aspirations. The really formidable barriers to world unity are psychological. There cannot be this sort of union until a majority of people develop some sense of identification with the international community. That would supplement, not cancel, their present identifications with neighborhood and nation. But it won't be achieved until men and women everywhere manage to bridge what Mr. Reischauer calls “the great human fault lines of race and culture.”
He has no illusions of ease here either. He knows how hard it is, for instance, for Americans and Japanese to learn one another's languages, to say nothing of entering into each other's universes of thought and emotion. But he is convinced, and convinces the reader, that education must get populations across these linguistic and cultural gaps and must do so as soon as possible. Moreover, if it is to be done, then the industrialized trading nations, and particularly the United States, must take the lead. That means, in turn, a general educational reform, because democracies will acquire a sense of world community only when their whole peoples acquire it. It won't be enough to educate a handful of diplomats, military men and inter-continental business entrepreneurs.
Ambassador Reischauer, therefore, concludes his short but richly concentrated book with some practical school recommendations. These are designed particularly, but not exclusively, for those young people who will be in charge of the next century and will need the knowledge and understanding that are, as he says, the prerequisite for one world, not its result. No doubt these specific proposals for comparative studies of cultures and languages will strike more yeasty futurists as earthbound. It is much greater fun to read Ray Bradbury than to study French irregular verbs—to say nothing of the characters of written Japanese. But if the future is to be secured, Mr. Reischauer's outlook is essential.
His book is ultimately persuasive because its arguments from history and common sense support an intuition that almost everyone has today. It is the intuition that the Skylab astronauts, who are still spinning around the earth, voiced in their televised Christmas Eve message. Their rhetoric may have been somewhat conventional, but its setting gave it matchless symbolic force. “One of men's principal goals for the future should be to learn to live in peace and harmony with one another,” said the mission commander, Lieut. Gerald P. Carr. And in what amounted to an echo of Edwin O. Reischauer's book, the civilian member of the crew, Dr. Edward G. Gibson, added: “We must look back and understand each other and cooperate.”
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SOURCE: Kirp, David L. “How Johnny Will Learn Tomorrow.” Christian Science Monitor (3 April 1974): F5.
[In the following review, Kirp argues that Learning for Tomorrow: The Role of the Future in Education is primarily a catalogue of complaints about the current education system, commenting that many of the central points in the book are vastly oversimplified.]
Historically, schooling has been treated as a way to hand on the values of the past.
But that role, the contributors to Learning for Tomorrow suggest, is an incomplete one: education must also contain an understanding of the future, and attempt to make sense out of where we are going—not just where we have been.
But no one knows where we are going. Only the seer and the fool can predict with any assurance. The rest of us just muddle along.
“The future” has no single meaning: it is a kind of Rorschach ink blot, something about which we can fantasize, something which we can hope will come true. Incorporating the future into education, according to the writers of this book, means trying to convert some of those hopes into reality.
Put differently, Learning for Tomorrow is best appreciated as a catalog of unhappinesses with the present educational system.
To Pauline Bart, schools confine women to sex-typed roles; to Alvin Puissant, schools deprive blacks of the opportunity to control their own lives; to Wendell Bell, whose essay is doubtless the most ambitious in the volume, schools teach a version of social science which glorifies the status quo. For each of them, as well as for the other contributors, the school of the future would manage things quite differently.
Discussing what those differences could be makes for exciting, if uneven; reading. Toffler's introductory essay—which treats the future not as something impersonal and “out there” but as susceptible to individual manipulation—is particularly intriguing.
Some of the discussion—for example, the curt dismissal of anthropology as wholly past-oriented—oversimplifies, but such over-statement seems an inevitable if unfortunate concomitant of the grand sweep of the book. Much of the treatment of specific curricula—how to teach about the future in your school—is trivial, and strangely out of place.
Learning for Tomorrow has other and more serious shortcomings. It is billed as a strategy for change, but too often presumes that what is new and faddish is also good. Indeed, so little is said in praise of current practice that the reader comes away from the book feeling that only irrationality or pigheadedness keeps schools from radically revamping themselves.
But that extreme view makes little sense. Some changes are extraordinarily costly, others unwise; and a great many are threatening, not only to those who staff the schools, but also to the larger society. Some visions of the future are more plausible, more appealing, or more feasible than others. To exhort wholesale changes without carefully taking their consequences into account is not a particularly useful enterprise.
Learning for Tomorrow would have been far more valuable if it had included critiques of its own visions of the future as forceful as its assault on the present.
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SOURCE: Storr, Anthony. “Future Shlock.” Spectator 245, no. 7935 (9 August 1980): 18.
[In the following review, Storr describes The Third Wave as “hyperbolic” and “sensational,” and questions several of Toffler's central ideas in the book.]
According to [The Third Wave], man, that simple-minded hunter-gatherer, has been hit by three great waves. The First Wave is the invention of agriculture, starting about 8000 BC. From 1750 on, the West was overtaken by the Second Wave, which is, of course, industrialisation. Now, we are in the process of being assailed by the Third Wave, the revolution caused by the computer and the electronics industry. Toffler believes that the revolutionary power of the new technology has been underestimated; and he has written this book in order to convince us that we are, indeed, on the threshold of a new way of life. Toffler is no Cassandra. Although he sees many rocks ahead, he has faith that man will survive, and prophesies styles of living which, if we have the flexibility to adopt, sound more attractive than our present doom-ridden existence.
As any prophet must, Toffler says a good deal about the problem of energy. First Wave societies mostly worked with energy from renewable sources; man-power and animal-power, supplemented by wind and water power. It is only Second Wave societies which depend upon irreplaceable fossil fuels, already becoming exhausted. Toffler thinks that nuclear reactors are not only expensive and dangerous, but already outmoded. He foresees a future in which a vast array of different energy sources will be used, from converting sunlight into electricity to the burning of garbage and coconut waste. He also thinks that electronic communications will diminish our need for energy.
Suppose, for example, that the dreary diurnal procession of commuters making their fume-choked way from home to office was halved. Communications technology—the use of the electronic word-processors, computer consoles, and television screens—has made it possible for most office-work to be done at home. Toffler writes of a return to ‘cottage industry’, but the cottage will be an electronic one. He gives many examples of business firms who already state that between 25 and 50 per cent of their workers could function just as efficiently without leaving their homes at all. Electronic equipment is costly, but the price is constantly falling. Petrol used to be cheap, but its price is constantly rising. At some point, it will be cheaper to provide your secretary with a battery of electronic aids than to pay her enough to commute.
Second Wave societies are not only prodigal or irreplaceable sources of energy, but also commit the grave sin of separating production and consumption. Mass-production demands standardisation and specialisation, which again requires the creation of an international market. According to Toffler, the day of mass-production is nearly over. Computer programming has made it possible and economically viable to move to ‘short-runs’ tailor-made to suit individual customers. In fact, we may be on the threshold of a return to a degree of individualism in manufacturing unmatched since the day of the skilled solo craftsman. Toffler foresees a strong swing away from the centralisation demanded by industrialisation of the old kind towards smaller, locally-based societies in which individual differences will be accentuated. He demands that we re-think our political institutions in such a way that minorities will have a greater voice, and local groups more autonomy.
If Toffler is right in supposing that the electronic revolution will tend to create new and smaller groupings instead of the massive nation-state and the huge international corporation, there is more hope for mankind than one had feared. The factory and the large impersonal institution inevitably impair man's sense of his own worth by dwarfing individuality; and rivalry between local competitors tends to direct aggression into socially useful channels.
Although Toffler is an indefatigable collector of both opinions and facts, he presents them in such sensational, hyperbolic language that it is impossible to know whether his predictions are based upon sober judgment or selected merely to batter the reader into paying attention. I used to think that Erik Erikson held the record for creating dreadful neologisms, but Toffler beats him hollow. The ad-hocratic prosumer must abandon industreality and cease to marketise. The word-quake in the infosphere is pointing the way to practopia so that we can all stay at home doing our own thing with electronic gadgets instead of going out to that boring old factory. Whether we shall really be happier receiving instructions on our individual television screens instead of having chatty tea-breaks is uncertain.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 630
SOURCE: Devine, George. Review of The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler. America 143, no. 9 (4 October 1980): 193.
[In the following review, Devine argues that The Third Wave is a thoughtful and skillfully written work, observing that the book may have more of a social impact than Toffler's Future Shock.]
Once more, the author of Future Shock is signaling and analyzing widespread change in civilization. This time, the work [The Third Wave] is more readable and provides more cogent examples of the author's theses.
Alvin Toffler's basic premise is that the past decades have seen the firm entrenchment of the Second Wave—industrialized, standardized society—take over from a First Wave of fragmented feudal and agrarian social structures. But now the Second Wave is on the wane, and the Third Wave has begun. Although the Second Wave required three centuries to take hold, “it is likely that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few decades,” says Toffler of a time when history is “even more accelerative.”
The kinds of change Toffler envisions can bring violence and destruction. He argues, for instance, that the American Civil War was largely a First Wave (agrarian) vs. Second Wave (industrialist) contest, and that the advent of the Third Wave is already showing itself in the death pangs of the Second Wave from Latin America to the Middle East.
The First Wave economy, in Toffler's view, drew from energy sources that replenished themselves (human and animal muscle power, sun, wind and water), whereas the Second Wave draws from irreplaceable fossil fuels: “for the first time a civilization was eating into nature's capital rather than merely living off the interest it provided.”
But for those who would hope for a simplistic return to a First Wave society, Toffler warns that this is impossible. Instead, the Third Wave will use technology to create a new society that combines some aspects of the Second Wave (not an all-bad arrangement) with some advantages of the First. Electronic communication, for instance, could be utilized to have more people work at home or in their home areas without commuting or having to relocate, thus recapturing the “village” concept of the First Wave but in a new, Third Wave economy and society, at once decentralized and “de-massified,” yet enjoying developments of the Second Wave era of mass production and technology. In addition, the divorce of producer from consumer, a hallmark of the Second Wave, will be counteracted by the rise of the “prosumer” of the Third Wave, thus translating into a new dimension the old concept of a “market.” Applying this concept to the third world of “developing” nations, Toffler says: “Perhaps it is a mistake to emulate the industrial revolution in the West. … Perhaps prosumption [sic] needs to be seen as a positive force, rather than a regrettable holdover from the past … what is needed for most people is part-time employment for wages (possibly with some transfer payment) plus imaginative new policies aimed at making their prosumption more ‘productive.’ Indeed, linking these two economic activities more intelligently to one another may be the missing key to survival for millions.”
All the while, the author admits we cannot be optimistic or smug; the transitions he foresees will bring tensions and social decay (“the compost bed of the new civilization”), and in the process we may destroy ourselves. Lest we do so, “We must be willing to reshape ourselves and our institutions to deal with the new realities.”
Toffler's conclusions and recommendations, as well as the evidence he offers to support his basic theses, make good and thought-provoking reading. It is not hard to see why The Third Wave is on the best-seller lists, and one can imagine it having even more influence on thought in our society than Future Shock.
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SOURCE: Maruyama, Magoroh. Review of The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler. American Anthropologist 83, no. 2 (June 1981): 410-12.
[In the following review, Maruyama criticizes The Third Wave for being ethnocentric in perspective and for inaccurately applying sociological theory, but notes that the work will be of interest to social scientists.]
If his previous book Future Shock was disappointing to many, The Third Wave is a pleasant surprise to some, intriguing to others, and may appear unintelligible or irrational to a few. It brings to the surface the problems of cognitive, perceptual, and cogitative patterns of the readers as well as the author.
The book is based on extensive data gathered from the frontiers of trends in our society, many of which are outside the established categories and are therefore overlooked by most social scientists. But The Third Wave is not a mere compilation of data. Its merit lies in the identification of patterns, the interpretation of which requires an interactionist frame of mind instead of the more usual hierarchical thinking.
The book has a few theoretical flaws, ranging from ethnocentrism to conceptual and technical misinterpretations of the characteristics of pattern-generating interactive processes. But it presents many useful insights and data to be taken seriously. Different types of social scientists will find the book useful for different purposes. Those who study emerging cultural and epistemological patterns may find their theories substantiated or supplemented by Toffler's data. Others may find new angles for research. Some may even notice that Toffler himself is often trapped in the “Second Wave” mentality, and find this fact an intriguing topic of analysis.
The book is rich in concepts: old, new, familiar, novel, provocative, misinterpretable, or debatable. It moves very rapidly from concept to concept. A short summary will not do it full justice. One of the main themes is the contrast between the industrial era (the second wave) and the postindustrial era (the Third Wave). The former was characterized by the conceptual and operational principles of social, educational, and industrial standardization, specialization, synchronization, urbanization, maximization, and hierarchization. Even the educational system, work ethics, and nonextended family (nuclear or communal) were an adaptation to industrialism, both in capitalist and communist countries. On the other hand, in the Third Wave era, the new technology will enable destandardization, not only of products but also of working hours, education, life-styles and almost everything social. Another key concept is our return to “prosumption”—producing and designing for one's own consumption—by means of technology. For example, by linking the consumer directly with the factory by means of computer and measuring devices, dressmaking may become individually tailored, reflecting the consumer's choice in design, style, color, and material. Technology will make such individualization inexpensive. Furthermore, prosumption will eliminate the waste of unsold inventory inevitable in mass production as well as stock out, and the costs of market research to estimate the demand.
Theoretical flawlessness is perhaps too much to expect from a popular book. However, since Toffler addresses episternological problems, some theoretical criticisms will not be out of place.
First, his book is ethnocentric in the sense that he is unfamiliar with cultures in which what he calls the “Third Wave” way of thinking always existed with or without industrialization or postindustrialization. Because of this, he talks about some African, Asian, and Latin American countries “bypassing” the Second Wave industrial patterns and moving directly from the First Wave feudal patterns to the Third Wave patterns. Coupled with this is his insufficient understanding of the fact that many of the white and black Americans who import what they call non-Western philosophies or try to invent new cultural and philosophical movements are trapped in the same fallacies as the hierarchical way of thinking they rebel against: the consciousness movements have fallen into the dichotomy of the mental and the physical and into hierarchical rank-ordering of values; mushrooming new religions advocate universalistic homogenism (which Toffler does recognize); environmentalist and ecology movements have imposed immobility upon an otherwise dynamic nature; “do-your-own-thingism” and “small is beautiful” movements have become isolated and regional instead of heterogeneous in interaction for mutual benefit (which Toffler does not articulate sufficiently). All these and more arise from the Second Wave “hang-ups” of proponents in these movements.
Second, he repeatedly places the Third Wave way of thinking somewhere between the traditional, familiar opposites: hierarchy and individual. Thus, he speaks of the “balance” between the big and the small, centralization and decentralization, self and community, holism and reductionism, freedom and regimentation, inner drives and outer drives, objectivity and subjectivity. He fails to see that the Third Wave principles are based on the concept of pattern-gathering, mutually beneficial interactions between heterogeneous elements. This concept is shared neither by the hierarchical way of thinking nor the individualistic way of thinking. It is important to realize that the interactions are nonhierarchical; patterns are not mere statistical aggregation of independent individuals; on the contrary, individuals are intersupportive, neither subordinated nor independent; it is not necessary for some to lose in order for others to gain; heterogeneity enables mutual benefit, while homogeneity fosters competition; and, interaction between heterogeneous elements makes the patterns grow, change, and raise the level of their sophistication.
Third, he makes several errors in his theoretical chapter (chapter 21) on new causal models which are relevant to anthropological theories of the causes and processes of culture change. Toffler fails to see that it is causal loops, not causal hierarchy or randomness, that systematically generate heterogeneity and mutual benefit, reinforcement, and further amplification among the heterogeneous elements. Often his notion of heterogeneity is nothing more than that of random, independent, and isolated variations.
There are other theoretical errors in this chapter. He seems to consider nonloop causality as deterministic and loop causality as probabilistic. This is wrong. Many nonloop processes are probabilistic, while many loop models are deterministic.
He also seems to attribute sudden changes to causal loops while attributing gradual changes to nonloop causality. On the contrary, many nonloop processes can produce sudden changes. This was in fact the point of René Thom's Catastrophe Theory, which is not at all a causal loop theory. On the other hand, positive feedback loops can produce both gradual and sudden changes. This is the unique strength of the positive feedback models (which are used in archaeology). But the homeostatic, change-counteracting, negative-feedback models (which support functionalist theory in anthropology) and random process theories (in which structures tend to decay, as in the Second Law of Thermodynamics) have to resort to hypotheses of sudden changes to explain the rise of patterns. The undue emphasis by Toffler (and those whom he quotes) on “gaps” and “jumps” is due to the Second Wave mentality of “prime mover.”
He also confuses multipath evolution with gaps and jumps. He does not realize that branching usually occurs from a small change which is subsequently amplified, rather than from gaps and jumps; any point along the line of evolution is a potential branching point if it is in a positive feedback process; and, those who consider branching points to be infrequent “singular points” are trapped in the Second Wave mentality of “prime mover.”
These misinterpretations are not entirely Toffler's fault because the authors he quotes, including Ilya Prigogine, are themselves partially trapped in the Second Wave epistemology. But Toffler has gone, very faithfully, as far as those he quoted have gone. And, overall, the short-comings of the book are very minor compared to its contribution in encouraging readers to revise many of their assumptions and patterns of thinking about cultural processes.
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SOURCE: Ross, Mitchell S. “Alvin's Song.” American Spectator 14, no. 6 (June 1981): 27.
[In the following review, Ross compares the central thesis of Future Shock to the core argument of The Third Wave.]
“In January 1950, just as the second half of the twentieth century opened, a gangling twenty-two-year-old with a newly minted university diploma took a long bus ride through the night into what he regarded as the central reality of our time. With his girlfriend at his side and a pasteboard suitcase filled with books under the seat, he watched a gunmetal dawn come up as the factories of the American Midwest slid endlessly past the rain-swept window.”
That twenty-two-year-old, Alvin Toffler, was destined to become a prophet. His girlfriend, Heidi, was destined to become his wife and associate prophet. The above passage is an autobiographical pearl buried inside Toffler's most recent book of prophecy, The Third Wave. The third-person voice initially disguises the autobiographical nature of the passage but one paragraph later the veil is dropped and the memories pour forth:
I spent five years in those factories, not as a clerk or personnel assistant but as an assembly hand, a millwright, a welder, a forklift driver, a punch press operator—stamping out fans, fixing machines in a foundry, building giant dust control machines for African mines, finishing the metal on light trucks as they sped clattering and screeching past on the assembly line. I learned firsthand how factory workers struggled to earn a living in the industrial age.
I swallowed the dust, the smoke and steam of the foundry. My ears were split by the hiss of steam, the clank of chains, the roar of pug mills. I felt the heat as the white-hot steel poured. Acetylene sparks left burn marks on my legs. I turned out thousands of pieces of shift on a press, repeating identical movements until my mind and muscles shrieked. I watched the managers who kept the workers in their place, white-shirted men themselves endlessly pursued and harried by higher-ups. I helped lift a sixty-five-year-old woman out of the bloody machine that had just torn four fingers off her hand, and I still hear her cries—“Jesus and Mary, I won't be able to work again!”
In brief, young Toffler had seen the present and had decided it didn't work. Moreover, the theoretical sentiments that had sustained him throughout those years in the factory weakened. “When I was a Marxist during my late teens and early twenties—now more than a quarter of a century ago—I, like many young people, thought I had all the answers. I soon learned that my ‘answers’ were partial, one-sided and obsolete.” So he set his muscle relaxant and his copy of Das Kapital aside and ventured into journalism. He became a Washington correspondent. He conducted a Playboy interview with Vladimir Nabokov. He signed on as an associate editor of Fortune magazine. He continued his search for the truth. And one day, perhaps while disrobing and hearing Heidi lament the lost beauty of his legs, he determined to consecrate his life to the future.
While distinguishing himself as a Computer Age Ezekiel, Toffler taught at Cornell University and the New School for Social Research. He contributed “countless” (according to one of his book jackets) articles to newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. But it is his books that have made him famous. He has published four, though I have not read two of them: The Culture Consumers is hard to find and The Eco-Spasm Report has an unpleasant title. No matter: Whoever has read Toffler's two most celebrated tomes has captured the essence and fragrance of the man.
These are, of course, Future Shock and The Third Wave. Like the Oberammergau Passion play, they have appeared at the start of decades: Future Shock in 1970 and The Third Wave in 1980. Millions have read these books and the publishers assure us that lives have been changed by them. Toffler's prophetic gift has been extolled all over the world. Among his most enthusiastic customers are the Japanese, who, I suspect, have secretly craved a replacement for Douglas MacArthur ever since the old soldier faded away.
Recently he traveled to Japan under the sponsorship of NHK, the television network which also has a book publishing division. The Prophet Alvin subsequently briefed the New York Times on the experience.
Before my wife and I arrived in Tokyo, NHK had lined up a series of lectures. For the first one they invited 200 of the top industrialists plus an additional 200 people whose names were drawn at random from a pile of postcards by people who wrote in asking to attend. I spoke for about an hour and a half and a few nights later NHK telecast the entire lecture during prime time as “Alvin Toffler Speaks to the Japanese Nation.”
The boys in the factory agreed that the ex-millwright had gone far.
How did he do it? Well, to start, he found himself a Great Theme. This was change. Make that Change. Toffler saw that the world, having endured the agricultural (First Wave) and industrial (Second Wave) revolutions, was now in the midst of a post-industrial (Third Wave) revolution. Unfortunately, many other prophets saw the same thing, which meant Alvin would have to do something different in order to have his voice heard above the roar. After lengthy communion with Heidi and a digital processor he began to manufacture thunder.
So Future Shock opens in an alarming manner:
In the three short decades between now and the twenty-first century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. Citizens of the world's largest and most technologically advanced nations, many of them will find it increasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change that characterizes our time. For them, the future will have arrived too soon.
Technology has introduced both novelty and transience into the culture to a degree hitherto unknown. As a result the asses are tumbling over the applecarts and average folks are wondering what the hell it all means.
Gazing out at the American landscape the Prophet Alvin saw many strange things come to pass. He was, for example, impressed by “the recent upsurge of rental activity in fields in which it was all but unknown in the past.” To Toffler, the traveling salesman stepping up to the Hertz counter was not merely a man of commerce interested in efficient transportation; he was being swept along by “a spectacular new force [that] has emerged to challenge many of the most deeply engrained patterns of the automotive industry. This is the auto rental business.”
It took a Toffler to see the similarity between running through airports and filing for divorce. “Serial marriage—a pattern of successive temporary marriages … is the natural, the inevitable outgrowth of a social order in which automobiles are rented, dolls traded in, and dresses discarded after one-time use. It is the mainstream marriage pattern of tomorrow.” This statement is corroborated by Professor Jessie Bernard, “a world-prominent family sociologist,” according to Alvin.
In the cities and in the countryside, on the seas and in the air, our prophet saw Change upsetting people's lives. Where folks once simply assumed that nothing lasts forever Alvin confidently intoned “the Death of Permanence.” Corporate and bureaucratic reorganizations portended nothing less than the death of bureaucracy and the coming of “Ad-hocracy.” The demand for novelty had become insatiable. The man of the future would be more interested in collecting experiences than in collecting things. As Alvin put it in one of his most arresting formulations, “What happens to an economy when, as is likely, the entire concept of property is reduced to meaninglessness?” Would happy days be here again?
In the meantime we must be prepared to endure revolutionary tensions. In far off France “an angry outcry … has greeted the recent introduction of American-style drugstores in Paris … at Le Drugstore the thirsty Frenchman gulps a hasty milkshake instead of lingering for an hour or two over an apéritif at an outdoor bistro.” Toffler perceived a European distaste for Time magazine. He suspected that not only culture shock, but future shock, was behind it.
Indeed, it may well be that the widespread European dislike for Time, itself, is not entirely political, but stems unconsciously from the connotation of its title. Time, with its brevity and breathless style, exports more than the American Way of Life. It embodies and exports the American Pace of Life.
One can only regret that this intriguing analysis was not extended to explain the success of Time's French counterpart, L'Express.
Mindful of the hazards inherent in the task, Alvin argued that we must leap joyfully into the future. He pondered an immediate problem. “We have no objects, no friends, no relatives, no works of art, no music or literature, that originate in the future. We have, as it were, no heritage of the future.” But he saw no reason why this should deter us: Proper social planning and education would steady the course of Spaceship Earth. The social planning should preferably be done by committee, and include such innovations as groups of culturati meeting in New York and Paris to organize long-range artistic goals.
“Education must shift into the future tense.” “Future” should be studied as history used to be and “science fiction should be required reading for Future I.” Something of the medieval spirit should be revived, but, where folks used to envision heaven and hell, “We need now to propagate dynamic, nonsupernatural images of what temporal life will be like, what it will sound and smell and taste and feel like in the fast-onrushing future.” “Today as never before we need a multiplicity of visions, dreams and prophecies—images of potential tomorrows.” “We need to construct, ‘utopia factories.’” “For, by making imaginative use of change to channel change, we cannot only spare ourselves the trauma of future shock, we can reach out and humanize distant tomorrows.” With this final vision of humanized tomorrows the first of Alvin's two great books of prophecy comes to a close.
Four million copies of Future Shock were printed and, understandably, Alvin's faith in the future intensified. In the Introduction to The Third Wave he denounced the prophets of doom and proclaimed, “The Third Wave is for those who think the human story, far from ending, has only just begun.” How did the second masterpiece differ from the first? “To begin with, it covers a much wider sweep of time—past as well as future. It is more prescriptive. Its architecture is different. (The perceptive reader will find that its structure mirrors its central metaphor—the clash of waves.)”
Alvin added a new wrinkle to his prophetic technique. He called it “social ‘wavefront’ analysis,” which “looks at history as a succession of rolling waves and asks where the leading edge of each wave is carrying us.” One of the great advantages of social wavefront analysis, it soon becomes evident, is that it enables Alvin to lump things together when lesser prophets might feel inclined to make trivial distinctions. Here is a sample: “While offering the obligatory lip service to democracy and social justice, the Nixons, Carters, Thatchers, Brezhnevs, Giscards, and Ohiras of the industrial world rode into office by promising little more than efficient management.” Recalling the great public debates of 1964 and other Soviet election years, one might wonder how Comrade Brezhnev found his way onto that list. Alvin would have little patience with such small-minded quibbling. The important thing to remember is that the Soviet Union, like the United States and its chief allies, was a Second Wave nation, characterized by industrialism.
Seen in this perspective the real purpose of the electoral process can be detected:
Elections symbolically assured citizens that they were still in command—that they could, in theory at least, dis-elect as well as elect leaders. In both capitalist and socialist countries, these ritual reassurances often proved more important than the actual outcome of many elections. … The fact that Soviet and Eastern European elections routinely produced magical majorities of 99 to 100 percent suggested that the need for reassurance remained at least as strong in the centrally planned societies as in the “free world.”
An Albanian James Reston couldn't have put it any better.
Our social wavefront analyst-prophet's sense of history is as brilliantly original as his sense of the upheaval caused by the appearance of Time magazine in Europe. “By the middle of the nineteenth century,” he writes, “every industrializing nation had its sharply defined left wing and its right, its advocates of individualism and free enterprise, and its advocates of collectivism and socialism.” Great Britain? The United States of America? By the middle of the nineteenth century the Webbs—not to mention Eugene V. Debs—had not yet begun their enlightenment of Second Wave civilization, so to whom is Alvin referring? As so often he grows reticent just when we need him most.
If only great men had the time for small matters of detail! Alvin can be awfully frustrating. Why, for example, does he cite C. P. Snow as the author of the notion that despair is a sin? This is as if I were to say, “My Uncle Norman once told me, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’” My way would be to quote the Lord God directly. Alvin, apparently, is too bashful to quote ancient sources. Perhaps he feels it doesn't sit well with his image as a man of the future.
“A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it.” He means all those Thatchers and Brezhnevs and other Second Wave types. But why does Alvin hate supporters of nuclear energy, too? Does it not after all represent one of the newer technologies? Never mind whether you are for nuclear energy or against it: In the context of social wavefront analysis the thing would seem to be unassailably Third Wave. Yet Alvin says it isn't so. We know that our prophet could not merely be pandering to his audience, and so this is puzzling.
Well, we must not be impudent. We must remember that we are discussing a man who had the moral grandeur to write,
I detest the way industrialism crushed First Wave and primitive peoples. I cannot forget the way it massified war and invented Auschwitz and unleashed the atom to incinerate Hiroshima. I am ashamed of its cultural arrogance and its depredations against the rest of the world. I am sickened by the waste of human energy, imagination and spirit in our ghettos and barrios.
To forgive, or at least ignore, Hitler, and blame industrialism: this is spiritual generosity. To equate Auschwitz and Hiroshima: this is social wavefront analysis at its most heroic.
Yes, I have heard it said that Alvin Toffler is nothing but a claptrap dialectician, a ninth-rate thinker, devoid of moral intelligence and common sense, who managed to retool the Marxism of his youth into highly profitable prophecy in middle age. I refuse to believe it. I am a child of the late twentieth century and I crave answers. I crave meanings. I crave hope. I want to believe in Alvin. I need to believe in him. And so, all ye of little futuristic faith, good night … and have a humanized tomorrow.
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SOURCE: Review of The Third Wave, by Alvin Toffler. Christian Science Monitor (12 February 1982): B5.
[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of The Third Wave, calling the work “an important book.”]
In [The Third Wave,] his first major book since the prize-winning Future Shock, Alvin Toffler says, the future already has begun. Or, put another way, the present has long since begun to grind to a halt. And when was the beginning of the end? Probably Aug. 8, 1960, the day an Exxon executive decided to stop paying some of the taxes his firm had been charged by oil-exporting countries. This was the move that prompted the founding of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and everybody who uses money knows what has happened to civilization since then.
But the inflation, inequities, and inefficiencies of today are also the steppingstones to tomorrow. And a promising tomorrow it should be, Toffler maintains—at least as livable as the present and potentially more decent and democratic. The Third Wave focuses on where change will take us. It is an important book, as much for its synthesis of history as for its optimistic glimpse of the future.
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SOURCE: Janeway, Eliot. “Toward a Cottage in Our Commerce.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (28 June 1983): 2, 10.
[In the following review, Janeway praises aspects of Toffler's arguments in Previews and Premises, but notes that several of his core ideals are oversimplified.]
I confess to never having read Alvin Toffler before. I found him [in Previews and Premises] not only extremely well educated but able to handle his intellectual inventory with virtuosity and aplomb. This is a good deal more than can be said for most fixtures in “pop culture.”
Ready admiration for Toffler's literary agility also presents a problem: It lowers defenses against immersion in the book itself.
Its scenario, like its style, is simplicity itself. All history, according to Toffler, is divided into three stages. The first spanned the 10,000-odd years before the industrial revolution, when survivors somehow managed to get themselves fed and get rid of non-survivors by the alternate expedients of killing or infecting them. The second began about 300 years ago when the industrial revolution molded society into what Toffler described as “a whole factory-based way of life … an industrial mass society.” It inundated us with mass production, mass media, mass education and stereotypes limiting our preferences for consumption, knowledge and politics.
In the terminology classifying his own stereotypes he describes each of these eras as “waves.” The passing of the second wave, he tells us, has now reduced the smokestack to a relic: “Mass production and mass distribution are no longer ‘advanced methods.’ They are backward methods.”
The third wave, he promises, is upon us. The wrench of recessionary dislocations is simultaneously flashing false alarms of cyclical distress and real signals of “a restructuring of the entire techno-economic base of the society.”
“It's like an earthquake that throws up a new terrain,” Toffler tells us in one of his typically striking and imaginative metaphors. Never mind that it doesn't apply to our present transitional travail in any practical way, for the new terrain thrown up by an earthquake does not offer continuity to a traumatized population. Meanwhile, Toffler tells us, “the entire economy is demassifying. … No tinkering with interest rates, taxes, wage and price policies, or trade relations can save us. Nor will strikes and demonstrations.”
In sum, Toffler warns that there is nothing for us to do but give up on doing anything to revive the corpse of industrial society as we have known it, and, instead, to recognize that the mass market is breaking up into “small and continually changing sectors.” If smokestack industries and political action are out, cottage industries (which actually preceded mass production) are back in, bringing home computers and cable along as fellow travelers.
Toffler is hung up on cable. He seems unaware that it has been blotting up the excess of corporate liquidity of highly profitable conglomerates in the communications industries faster than cardboard blotters soak up ink. The only reason these conglomerates have managed to pour so much cash into so much high-powered, high-cost bombardment of small audiences with select tastes is that they make so much taxable profit out of the mass media Toffler is in such a hurry to bury with the smokestacks of Youngstown and the docks of Brooklyn. The losses don't cost them, and the experiments keep them trendy with Toffler-oriented audiences. Toffler's cable infatuation is consistent with the thesis that “small is beautiful” and better to boot. But if he thinks cable comes cheap, or can pay for itself, he is kidding his audience. He is too smart and too well-informed to kid himself.
My own admiration for the shrewdness of his insights, his facility for making connections, and the breadth of his cultural reach is fortified by my empathy for his strictures on at least one of the mass-production, smokestack industries he targets for instant burial: the auto industry. I yield to none in the sharpness of my criticisms of Detroit's wrong turns. It goose-stepped to Jimmy Carter's orders and froze irrecoverable billions in tooling up to overproduce overpriced enclosed motorcycles, just when the myth of the oil shortage was being punctured and the public was reasserting its preference for gas guzzlers.
Yet, in fairness to GM and Ford, they have followed Toffler's formula into their present difficulties. It's a far cry from Henry Ford's standard Tin Lizzy or Bill Knudsen's workhorse Chevy to the bewildering array of models and colors on display in dealers' showrooms today. It's scarcely an exaggeration—and it's certainly not futuristic—to say that Toffler-type thinking has transformed Detroit from a second-wave model of mass-production standardization into a third-wave hybrid of dress-designer economics in hard-goods form.
The cultural revolutionary who foresaw the advent of the industrial revolution—the second-wave society—was Francis Bacon. His dictum, “Knowledge is power,” told it all. Toffler challenges him head-on: This “old idea … is now obsolete,” he declares. “To achieve power today,” he warns, “you need knowledge about knowledge.” Toffler's vision of everyone fantasizing about discovering individual versions of the wheel, tapping out private messages on home computers, is no exercise in make-believe. No sooner was the mass craze on in home computers, and no sooner did it trigger the buying wave in home-computer stocks, dramatized by retail brokerage firms advertising nighttime computerized access to their order rooms, than the great wave of stock-buying enthusiasm began to lose momentum. The participants in this exercise in knowledge-swapping have acted out a model scenario for market weakness. In the process, they have flashed a timely caveat emptor against this latest effort to sell a package of form without substance.
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SOURCE: Mendelsohn, Andrew. “Deng's Big Bang.” New Republic 198, no. 14 (4 April 1988): 15-17.
[In the following essay, Mendelsohn discusses the popularity of The Third Wave in China and assesses its impact on Chinese politics and politicians.]
In 1983 it looked as if China's Politburo would adopt something out of American pop culture as a new ideology. Confucius, Marx, and Mao bowed out. Alvin Toffler moved in. When the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences invited the “future shock” sociologist to lecture on his American best seller The Third Wave, audiences in Beijing and Shanghai listened to him as if he were an oracle. Premier Zhao Ziyang had the book translated for a restricted readership. When some hard-liners attacked and suppressed it as “spiritual pollution,” Zhao called a meeting of 100 prominent scientists and Party leaders to resolve the issue. The book won. The Third Wave soon became the best-selling book in China, after Deng Xiaoping's collected speeches. These days, Mao's Little Red Book is a little read book.
The year before, Zhao had turned an underground political party of student economists into several think tanks directly accountable to the secretariat, the Party's highest administrative unit. Unlike the students who rocked the country with demonstrations last winter, these are dissidents from within. Zhou needs them in order to get around a monstrous bureaucracy and a rigid state doctrine, and he protects them from the periodic anti-reform purges. Some go so far as to say that “China's reform has been carried out not by the official government but by a ‘shadow government.’” These young intellectuals call The Third Wave their bible.
Besides Toffler, this influential group has taken for its gurus sociologist Daniel Bell and Nobel Prize-winning Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine. (The Third Wave popularized Prigogine and Bell.) What these thinkers share, and what makes them peculiarly attractive to China's reformers, is a theory of social change that uses the language of science rather than politics. Thus market-oriented modernization can be justified without invoking Western political ideology. And the message to this still-backward country is that modernization no longer means painful industrialization. The aborted dream of a “great leap forward” now means leaping not to industry, but beyond it.
Prigogine's theory of “dissipative structures” offers a physicist's recipe for an abrupt catch-up through the use of information technology. Bell's idea of the postindustrial society shelves China's old industrial failures in favor of a new start. Toffler assures the reformers that it's OK for Third Wavers to skip the Second Wave (industrialization), and to be making apparently only First Wave (agricultural) progress. The changes involved in the Third Wave, he says, “actually resemble First Wave conditions: dispersion of the population out of the cities; more work in the home; small-scale production; linking rural development to high technology.” The experiment in China's countryside seems tailored to this postindustrial vision.
The current obsession with science has a historical precedent. Today's leaders have reactivated the old debate that started in the 1920s between the Nationalists and the Communists about how best to modernize. Until the Cultural Revolution, the science in Marx was as important as the class struggle. Instead of telling the workers of the world to unite, Mao told them to unite “with the comparatively progressive material monists and natural scientists of the capitalist class.” This early Mao would not be so out of place in today's reform: in the search for a new official philosophy, the main criterion is not that it be communist or capitalist, but that it have the status of science.
When the reformers propose new policies, they challenge the orthodoxy in the name of Western science—not Western political values. Early in the reform, for instance, an infamous ex-radical from the Cultural Revolution, Yang Xiaokai, published a book “on cybernetics.” As he admits, he was no computer scientist: “I said we should guarantee the basic right of private property, but the only way for me to propose my idea was to decorate it with modern science—‘cybernetics’ or some math equations.” One think tank member, He Weiling, suggests that “three theories: cybernetics, systems theory, and information theory” are used to mystify Party elders.
The man most responsible for the new scientism is Su Shaozhi, an enthusiast of Toffler, Bell, and Prigogine, who until 1987 was director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, founded in 1979. The institute is the reformers' answer to the old-fashioned propaganda department. Its job is not to uphold Marxism but to update it—as if, explains Ding Xueliang, an institute member on leave at Harvard, Europeans in the Middle Ages had set up a think tank on the Christian Church. But the actual process of implementing the reformers' vision begins in the Beijing Young Economist Society, which can make radical proposals, such as the opening of a stock market and the selling of stock in state enterprises, precisely because it is not an organ of the state, but an academic body. The group circulates internal documents of the proposals among top Party officials. Only then does its official counterpart, the Institute for Economic System Reform, publish the ideas in its journal, China Reform, and in the newspapers.
The necessary first step in the post-Mao reform was opening China to outside ideas, investment, and technology. As early as 1979 some young reformers lobbied for this new version of the “open door” in the language of modern physics, not of foreign policy. “I didn't mention class struggle,” says Chen Ping, a reform intellectual who subsequently did his Ph.D. in physics under Prigogine. “I argued that if you have a closed system, you only have disorder. But once you open the system, energy and information come in. Then there is the possibility of change.” As James Gleick explains in Chaos: Making a New Science (1987), the first book to chronicle the most recent “revolution” in physics, scientists have begun to abandon idealized closed models for such complex systems as the weather, epidemics, turbulence, the heart—and even economics. Though the reformers have latched on to Prigogine's newfangled terminology, the open/closed distinction is an old idea in physics—with obvious political connotations, useful for justifying economic liberalization.
This new “ideology” can be seen at work in Deng's policy in the countryside. The decollectivization of agriculture was spearheaded by the think tanks' predecessor, the underground group of student economists of the late '70s. Now the Institute for Economic System Reform wants to push change further. In an influential book called roughly Dynamics and Evolution of Economic Systems, chosen to receive a national award, institute member He Weiling makes the case for developing rural enterprises, using Prigogine's theory of dissipative structures.
An example Prigogine uses to illustrate his theory of the emergence of “order out of chaos” is the construction of a termites' nest. Like most phenomena modeled by chaos scientists, the architecture of the nest is enormously complex; the rules for its construction, simple. The termites randomly move lumps of earth around, but tag them with a hormone that attracts other termites. Prigogine calls the inevitable concentration of lumps at various points “fluctuation.” These clumps may become the “pillars” of an emerging nest. “Depending on whether the size of the initial fluctuating region lies below or above some critical value,” he writes, “the fluctuation either regresses or else spreads to the whole system.” Fluctuation, critical point—and a new structure has the chance to emerge.
The termites' nest is a powerful metaphor for remaking the modern Chinese economy. The “critical point” means that a new order emerges suddenly, like the abrupt emergence of an arch of earth in the termites' nest. More important, the system is self-organizing, without a master builder directing the worker insects, or the workers: an “invisible hand” without embarrassing recourse to Adam Smith. The principle is non-equilibrium as a source of order, explains Cui Zhiyuan, who at 24 is the youngest member of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. Rural enterprises survive only if their products find a market in the cities. “Fluctuation” refers to the continual start-up and breakdown of those enterprises. “Critical point” represents the market share necessary for survival. The complexity occurs because in an underdeveloped country the enterprise must create its own demand. The task of the reformers, in their terms, is to exploit far-from-equilibrium conditions (high fluctuation) that could allow the system to jump to a more highly organized (hence “dissipative” or higher-energy) structure.
Thus what Western economists see as a powerful new mathematical tool the reformers consider a potential social paradigm. It avoids the equilibrium preoccupation of neoclassical economics and gives reformers a new language of change they desperately need. It introduces probability—that is, spontaneity in human affairs and history—into the old determinism of state planning.
This is a clue to the meaning of Zhou's keynote announcement at November's 13th Party Congress that China will be in a “primary stage of socialism” until at least the year 2050. This now-ubiquitous formula, the fullest official philosophy offered to justify the post-Mao reform, was coined by Third Waver Su Shaozhi several years ago and included in Zhao's speech by the young reformers. Time called it “a nod to conservatives.” Yet it's better understood as a way to beat the conservatives at their own game. The reformers adopt the tenor of Marxist science—which the conservatives recognize—but they have abandoned its determinism. No more five-year plans. “What final pattern the system will have no one can predict,” says He Weiling. The reformers have dumped dialectical materialism for non-linear dynamics. “The path to the future is not unique,” explains Chen Ping. “Unpredictability does not mean powerlessness, but opportunity.”
None of this means that significant political liberalization is inevitable. Even some reformers have begun to attack The Third Wave. Like Marx, they say, it offers not pluralism but quasi-scientific solutions to social problems. And the Third Wavers, who are “bad in science, good in public relations,” are sometimes called “science worshipers,” an epithet from the '30s. Despite the drama of reform, this scientism in the political culture looks much as it did early in the century. “Three things,” as Ding Xueliang puts it, “have served the same ideological function in the Chinese mind: Confucianism, Marxism-Leninism, and Science.” Until that changes, pluralism in China will remain elusive.
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SOURCE: Raksin, Alex. Review of Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, by Alvin Toffler. Los Angeles Times Book Review (28 October 1990): 6.
[In the following review, Raksin asserts that the central ideas in Powershift are unoriginal, overly simplistic, and sometimes factually inaccurate.]
Alvin Toffler's world [in Powershift] is so rocked by “powershifts,” you'd think he was writing on the San Andreas Fault: “We live at a moment when the entire structure of power that held the world together is now disintegrating. … We stand at the edge of the deepest powershift in human history. … Gone is the proletariat; now welcome the cognitariat.”
None of us “cogs” wants to be stranded on the wrong edge of the Shift, of course, and so it's not difficult to see why this breathless book is being translated into 11 languages while its author lectures in America's top boardrooms, including the White House. Hopefully, though, our fear of being technophobic Luddites won't lead us to forget that writers have been mistaking technological change for social change since the Industrial Revolution.
Toffler proves no exception: Powershift totters on tired theories (the move from societies based on mineral to those based on mind), obvious aphorisms (“Governments controlled or heavily influenced by extremists … do not stay democratic long”) and cryptic observations: “Campuses are stirring from Berkeley to Rome and Taipei, preparing to explode.” Berkeley, preparing to explode?
Most questionable is Toffler's implicit assumption that new technologies usually work in favor of the common man. He argues, for example, that computers are helping “thoroughly smash” the knowledge monopoly of Western managers and specialists, leading to a democratization of power. But in focusing on medicine, the evidence he cites is unconvincing: True, anyone now can access professional databases such as “Index Medicus,” but medical texts have never been inaccessible to lay people, just incomprehensible; true, patients now sue their doctors more often, but this has less to do with their growing knowledge of human physiology than with lawyers' greater zeal; true, nurses are demanding more respect, but this is mostly made possible by a critical nursing shortage.
Powershift continues in this vein, distorting dozens of other trends until they fit one of its simple paradigms. Toffler's canvass is admittedly broad enough to daunt the best of us, but its ultimate lack of coherence ironically disproves one of its main assumptions: that a mere abundance of information will lead us to knowledge and thus power.
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SOURCE: Lee, Earl. “Beyond the Third Wave: Prophets of a New World Order.” Midwest Quarterly 34, no. 3 (spring 1993): 351-62.
[In the following essay, Lee describes Toffler as one of a series of “social prophets” who have made predictions about the future, comparing Toffler's Powershift to The Managerial Revolution by James Burnham. Lee criticizes Toffler for assuming that new technological developments will have a positive impact on society.]
Alvin Toffler in his latest book, Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century, describes the effect on American society of the coming “third wave”—the so-called “information revolution.” Many theorists, including Toffler, believe that we are at the end of the industrial smokestack era and moving into an era of high-technology service-oriented development. Toffler's new book Powershift (1990), the third of his series, which includes Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980), is a propaganda document for this new era, putting forward a vision of our world based on an almost mystical reverence for technology and the “blessings” of technology that are sure to reshape our existing institutions of capitalism and democracy. Toffler is, in fact, simply the latest of a series of social prophets to extrapolate the effects of a specific trend on the future of our society.
The only challenge Toffler sees to this utopian vision is the opposition of left-wing “eco-terrorists” and other reactionary types who will oppose technological progress and who are instead devoted to creating a new Dark Age devoted to an anti-technological, anti-capitalistic, and anti-democratic vision. Toffler's simplistic delineation of “good” technology and “evil” anti-technology is one of the characteristics of this kind of popular apocalyptic writing. For example, Toffler states, “We should expect a historic struggle to remake our political institutions, bringing them into congruence with the revolutionary post-mass-production economy” (245). Toffler believes—rather naively—that our rapidly advancing technology will be used to improve the existing institutions of capitalism and democracy, creating a techno-utopia.
In several ways Toffler resembles an earlier social prophet, James Burnham, who gave us his vision of the future in The Managerial Revolution (1941). Burnham's book was a best-seller in America and England and influenced the way a whole generation of Americans viewed the “progress” of Western Civilization. Like Toffler's book, Burnham's Managerial Revolution is largely a propaganda document that attempts to predict future trends in society. Where Toffler's book focuses on the effects of technology on our society, Burnham's book instead describes the growing “bureaucratization” of society, as exemplified by Stalinism in the Soviet Union, Nazism in Germany, and “New Dealism” in the United States.
Burnham's “theory of the managerial revolution” states that just as feudalism gave way to the advance of bourgeois capitalism, capitalism is now giving way to managerialism. The new elites of society are not the capitalists, but the corporate managers and engineers who run the factories and the bureaucrats who control the government agencies. In Burnham's theory, the main challenge facing the coming managerial society are to reduce the power of existing institutions and ideologies of capitalist society, to control the masses in such a way as to lead them to accept managerial rule, including a class society with managerial elite, and to compete with other societies for control of the world's resources.
The beauty of Burnham's theory is that it accounted quite neatly for the historical incongruities of the so-called “communist” and “capitalist” societies. In the 1930s, many socialists were troubled by Stalinism, some even going so far as to claim that Stalin had “betrayed” the socialist revolution. Burnham shows, however, that the Bolshevik revolution was only nominally a revolution of the masses—a political elite in effect used the masses with promises of “worker control” of industry and the means of production, when in fact the Soviet elite, including Lenin, knew that “worker control” was only a euphemism for state control. Similarly, the political elites who sponsored the “New Deal” in this country often betrayed the concept of representative government in order to further their own ends, as for example, with Roosevelt's effort to “pack” the Supreme Court.
In 1941, when Burnham first wrote The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World, we were on the brink of entering World War II. Burnham saw the world divided between left-wing managerial socialism in Russia, right-wing managerial socialism in Germany, and an undeveloped mix of welfare-state socialism and market capitalism in the United States. Of the three, Burnham felt that Germany had the advantage and would emerge victorious from the war with a politically divided Russia and an isolationist United States. As a number of critics have pointed out, Burnham's book, appearing as it did in 1941, encouraged American isolationism by suggesting that resistance to Hitler was doomed to fail because Nazi Germany epitomized the coming “managerial revolution.”
Burnham's mistakes, for example, include his prediction that Germany would win the war, that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union until after defeating England, and that the New Deal was a “primitive” form of the ongoing “managerial revolution” and could not hope to compete with the more advanced forms of managerial society existing in Germany and the Soviet Union. And yet, despite these mistakes, Burnham put forward a way of viewing trends in society that many people on the Left and the Right could easily recognize. Despite the fact that his predictions on the outcome of World War II were dead wrong, even Burnham's harshest critics—including George Orwell, who based the setting for his novel 1984 on Burnham's predictions—generally agree that Burnham's belief in the increasing bureaucratization of society was essentially correct. Orwell, in his James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (1946), states that “The events of, at any rate, the last fifteen years in the U.S.S.R. can be far more easily explained by this theory than by any other” (6).
Burnham's book provides a cynical contrast to Toffler's Powershift, and to some extent Burnham's theory of the managerial revolution foreshadows Toffler's vision of a coming techno-utopia. Burnham had earlier described “Technocracy” as one of the managerial ideologies prevalent in the 1930s in America. In The Managerial Revolution Burnham states that, “In this country, Technocracy and the much more important New Dealism are embryonic and less-developed types of primitive, native-American managerial ideologies” (192).
Although in 1941 Technocracy was only a minor variant ideology in the coming managerial revolution, today with the collapse of liberal New Dealism, the “Technocracy” ideology has come of age, with Toffler as one of the leading apologists of the new “information society.”
Burnham and Toffler have in common the fact that they are both former socialists who, like modern revival preachers, are used to viewing world politics as embodying larger apocalyptic forces. Burnham dropped his socialism in favor of hero-worship, first of Hitler and later of Stalin, leaders who came to embody for Burnham his idea of the managerial revolution. In recent years, James Burnham has become popular with right-wing political leaders in the United States, primarily because of his attack on Liberalism in his book Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism (1964). Anyone who would like to see a good example of knee-jerk “ideological” thinking should look at the first few pages of this book. In it, Burnham uses the shifting political boundaries in an old historical atlas as “proof” not only of the decline of western civilization, but the responsibility of liberalism for this decline.
Burnham's Suicide of the West resembles one of Pat Robertson's lectures for the 700 Club in its use of “ideological” arguments. Based solidly on post hoc ergo propter hoc and straw-man fallacies, ideological arguments represent a popular form of public discourse. For example, Pat Robertson and many other evangelical Christians have long argued that banning prayer from the public schools is directly responsible for high levels of teen pregnancy, incest, suicides, and a host of other social ills. The effort to ban school prayer was led, of course, by the bogeyman of “secular humanism.”
For Burnham, the bogeyman is communism and communist sympathizers (i.e. liberals). For example, Burnham in Suicide of the West describes a labor-related riot in Peru and how it was covered in the “liberal” press. Burnham attacks the liberal press for naively assuming that the workers were struggling against bad working conditions, while he accepts without hesitation the reports from the conservative press that the riot was “communist-inspired.” Burnham's biases are so strongly fixed that his book becomes little more than a long, extended straw-man fallacy.
People may consider it odd that Burnham could move from the radical left to the radical right with such ease and that his “conversion” to the reactionary cause would be readily accepted. It is important to remember that converts are necessary (and required) for any apocalyptic ideology. Burnham is merely following in the footsteps of reactionary converts like Georges Sorel. Burnham, like Toffler, is primarily concerned with ideology as a justification for raw political and economic power, not with the particular social consequences of a Hitler or a Stalin.
Toffler's conversion is more subtle, as he gave up his socialism in favor of the cult of technology and the prophecy of a new “information society.” Where Burnham idealized Hitler and Stalin, Toffler chooses in Powershift to revere modern corporate raiders and entrepreneurs, including J. P. Morgan and Michael Milken. Toffler and Burnham also have in common that both writers were eminently influential, largely as popularizers of the ideas in circulation in their time. For example, Burnham's idea of a “managerial revolution” was anticipated by Bruno Rizzi, whose The Bureaucratization of the World (1939) is a minor classic on the subject of class exploitation in the Soviet Union.
Although Burnham and Toffler have successfully encapsulated the ideas of their times, as a predictor of the future Burnham has already been proven a dismal failure. And I believe Toffler also will prove to have hopelessly exaggerated the benefits of the new “information society.”
Toffler believes that whether the future will consist of peaceful associations of techno-utopias or the constant conflicts between fascist and communistic states, it will be the consequence of how we deal with the development of the new “third wave” information technologies. These technologies are currently transforming the old smoke-stack era, manufacturing-based economies as we move toward a society dominated by service industries and high-tech manufacturing.
For example, in exploring the current “power shift” going on in Europe and the Soviet Union, Toffler goes so far as to suggest his own theory of why the governments of Eastern Europe collapsed in the fall of 1990. In Toffler's view, the economies of Eastern Europe were based primarily on heavy manufacturing, and they simply could not compete with the Western technologies of flexible manufacturing and other computer and robotics-based technologies. Technology has saved us from communism.
Now that liberal New Dealism has collapsed in exhaustion in the face of Reaganism, it appears that the ideology Burnham identified as “Technocracy” will soon become the dominant managerial ideology of the United States. At least this is the brave new world promised us in Toffler's Powershift. Toffler's Information Society is still, like Burnham's Managerial Revolution, a world committed to continuing on a global scale the economic war of haves and have-nots.
Toffler describes Violence, Wealth, and Knowledge as the three main instruments of power in the modern world. Violence is embodied in “the rule of law”: the vaguely suggested threat of violence used, for the most part, by the State through police, courts, and armies. Wealth is embodied in corporations, in capital, and in the control of natural resources. Knowledge is largely the province of the new information technologies, although educational and cultural capital, like libraries and museums, are also included.
The irony of Toffler's approach is that he begins his book by drawing on critiques of the State that are already a century old (his bibliography cites both Bakunin and Kropotkin) including such statements as:
In sum, the rise of the industrial nation-state brought the systematic monopolization of violence, the sublimation of violence into law, and the growing dependence of the population on money. These three changes made it possible for the elites of industrial societies increasingly to make use of wealth rather than overt force to impose their will on history.
Unwilling to accept the obvious conclusions one would draw from this critique of power, Toffler later shifts position in order to defend state power: “This ever-present and necessary threat of official violence in society helps keep the system operating, making ordinary business contracts enforceable, reducing crime, providing machinery for the peaceful settlement of disputes” (15). After using the critique of state power to establish his credibility as an analyst of social power, Toffler has gone on to abandon his critique of power and instead tries to justify the currently existing economic and political systems.
This switch from an attack on state power to a defense of state power seems a bit odd, but not when you consider that Toffler is writing this book for an audience of bureaucrats and middle-management types who are suspicious of their superiors who have more power than they do and, at the same time, despise their inferiors who have less power. Toffler's Powershift is both a critique of and an apologetic for managerial power. Like Burnham, Toffler believes strongly in the need for bureaucratic ‘elites’ who will usher in the coming “Third Wave” of industrial technology. In fact, according to his bibliography, Toffler drew on ideas from Burnham's book The Machiavellians (1943) in his conception of “the philosophy of power.”
It could be argued that Burnham and Toffler became best-selling authors largely because of their ability to write for an audience of managers, expressing the hope for, respectively, a New Deal or an Information Society. As Toffler well understands, it is the information managers who will control the Information Society.
Although Toffler talks about the need for “workplace democracy” and its importance in the new third wave, he clearly prefers efforts to simulate worker control within the old “second wave” industrial bureaucracies rather than advocating worker ownership and control of business. He also advocates the creation of profit centers in large corporations to simulate the behavior of a group of small businesses. Although he obviously realizes that individual workers and small businesses have proven that they have more insight into what makes a business work than do managers, boards of directors, and stockholders, Toffler is unwilling to suggest that workers be given real power rather than the appearance of power. Even though he criticizes top-down hierarchies and supports the development of worker initiative and “de-massified” distributive technologies, he never doubts the current system of wealth creation or the direction in which our new technologies are developing. He is still very much a reformist who is tied to the bureaucratic thinking characteristic of “second wave” technology.
The idea that a business might be organized on shared authority and responsibility, not delegated authority and responsibility, is alien to Toffler's essentially “second wave” way of thinking. As Robert Presthus points out in The Organizational Society:
We tend moreover to restrict our thinking about individual freedom to government, concluding that freedom is assured when public power is controlled. But somehow the logic of freedom which is so compelling in this public context is often neglected where private power is concerned. There, despite the intimate relationship between conditions of work and self-realization, the implications of the concentrated power now characteristic of our society have usually been ignored.
Toffler's sections on “The De-Colonization of Business” and “The Two-Faced Organization” recognize that individuals and small groups accomplish most of the real work that goes on in corporations, even going so far as to suggest limiting work groups to four members, so that no one person can assert power over the other members of the group. The ability of these small groups to work independently from the larger organization is what makes them so effective. Toffler states, “free workers tend to be more creative than those who work under tightly supervised, totalitarian conditions” (213).
Toffler draws parallels between totalitarian, hierarchical governments and totalitarian, hierarchical corporations. In both cases, he recommends a modest amount of freedom, while attacking governments and businesses that insist on maintaining “surplus order” over and above the necessary “socially necessary order.” In fact, in his final summary of points, Toffler tries over and over again to prove that power is not necessarily bad, when it is used correctly. The collapse of state socialism in Eastern Europe proves, in his view, that these governments and the government-controlled factories were overly obsessed with “control.” This is in contrast to the societies of Western Europe, which are only moderately totalitarian.
As opposed to the “moderate” totalitarianism of the managerial elites that Toffler sees as dominating our futures, other writers predict that automation will lead to a general decentralization of power—especially the power of government bureaucracies and large corporations. These critics include Shoshana Zuboff, whose In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power (1988) suggests that automation will eventually eliminate the need for “managers” as a separate class. This prediction, of course, is based on the assumption that managers turn to automation in order to make their companies work more efficiently.
Many critics, including Toffler, fail to realize that the new information technologies are now more often used by managers to further consolidate and reinforce existing corporate bureaucracy, rather than to improve production or encourage innovation and independent thinking. In most businesses, computers are used to count keystrokes, time coffee breaks, and generally harass and demean workers. Just as the invention of the cotton gin helped revitalize the institution of slavery in 19th century America, computers are being used by managers to revitalize the existing bureaucracies in government and business that would otherwise have collapsed a decade ago under a mountain of paperwork.
A good example of Toffler's misplaced faith in technology is his description of Merrill Lynch's development of the computerized Cash Management Account. The CMA was an effective weapon for Merrill Lynch to use in drawing investment money away from banks, but it was hardly a boon for the individuals working for Merrill Lynch. The CMA software was designed with a built-in bias to maximize profits for Merrill Lynch by directing clients to funds that benefited the company rather than benefiting the brokers who worked for Merrill Lynch. This built-in corporate bias, and many other drawbacks of corporate automation systems, are described in Barbara Garson's The Electronic Sweatshop (1988), which gives a much more perceptive look at how automation affects workers' lives than Toffler's books.
People who work with automation on a daily basis know that one of the main reasons managers support efforts to automate the workplace is that it allows a greater concentration of information and control in the hands of managers. When Toffler talks about the diversification and flexibility of the new information technologies, he is really talking about the invention of the microcomputer. The typical manager, especially the middle-management type, welcomed the development of the microcomputer because it not only freed him from the tyranny of the MIS officer but also it allowed him to use computer software to do his own work without the people he answers to being able to look over his shoulder. Yet, as much as he valued the independence given him by his microcomputer, the middle-management type prefers a microcomputer network or mainframe system for his employees to use in doing their own work. This allows him to log on to an integrated system in order to monitor and control those people who work under him.
I suspect that in preparing to write his book, Toffler spent too much time with Presidents, CEOs, and MIS directors, and not enough time with the people who actually work with automation. Like Burnham, Toffler tends to let hero-worship blind him to the failings of our present corporate culture. Toffler is essentially a reformer whose Powershift does little more than make suggestions for how corporate “Stalinism” can be improved with a capitalist version of perestroika and “corporate glasnost” (184).
Toffler's Powershift is certain to be a best-seller and will no doubt serve as grist for the mill of many an after-dinner speaker for years to come. Toffler has become America's leading apologist for the managerial elites of the coming technocratic “information society.”
Burnham, James. The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. London: Putnam, 1943.
———. The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World. New York: John Day, 1941.
———. The Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. Chicago: Regnery, 1986.
Garson, Barbara. The Electronic Sweatshop: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future into the Factory of the Past. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Michener, James A. “What I Believe.” Parade. (Nov. 24, 1991), 4-7.
Orwell, George. James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution. London: Socialist Book, 1946.
Presthus, Robert. The Organizational Society: An Analysis and a Theory. New York: Knopf, 1962.
Rizzi, Bruno. The Bureaucratization of the World. New York: Free Press, 1985.
Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970.
———. Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century. New York: Bantam Books, 1990.
———. The Third Wave. New York: Morrow, 1980.
Zuboff, Soshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York: Basic Books, 1988.
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SOURCE: Grier, Peter. “Probing the Cultural Roots of War.” Christian Science Monitor (4 January 1994): 13.
[In the following review, Grier compares and contrasts War and Anti-War with A History of Warfare by John Keegan.]
Over the centuries, the battles of different wars have often been fought on the same patch of ground. The most pronounced example of this curious pattern, notes John Keegan in his new book A History of Warfare, is Edirne, in European Turkey. Fully 15 battles or sieges are known to have occurred at this historic crossroads—the first between the Roman Emperor Constantine and his rival Licinius, in AD 323, and the last between the decaying Ottoman Turkish empire and invading Serbs in July 1913.
The constraints of geography are a major reason for this repetition. But so is the dismaying persistence of warfare as an institution. Romans, Goths, Bulgars, Crusaders, and various Byzantine and Balkan factions have all thought Edirne (or Adrianople, as it was once known) a place worth fighting over. No doubt the conflict seemed important at the time. Centuries later, much of it seems like folly.
As the current Balkans conflict shows, however, war is not a rational business. It is a dark aspect of human behavior. Its persistence and varying styles through the ages spring from the very roots of culture, as shown in both A History of Warfare and, differently, in Alvin and Heidi Toffler's War And Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century. You may not be interested in war or books about war. “But war is interested in you,” according to a chilling Tolstoy quote mentioned by the Tofflers.
Keegan's estimable work is ambitious. A British military historian who was long a lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Keegan has produced a number of path-breaking volumes in recent years, most notably a detailed study of what actually occurs in combat named The Face of Battle.
His new book is a complete survey of organized armed conflict, from the beginning of written records to the atomic bomb. He accomplishes this feat with amazing dexterity in only 400 pages, pausing occasionally to throw in small asides such as the fact that margarine was invented for the armies of Napoleon III.
His main theme is that war is not an extension of politics, as the Prussian writer Clausewitz held, but an extension of a people's culture. Primitive war was primarily ritual and had no particular point beyond the occasional avenging of insult. Later cultures added more deadly aspects.
Horse people of the steppe, for instance, pioneered the concept of ruthlessly fighting to win. Romans added the idea of state-controlled standing armies. The leaders of the French Revolution invented universal conscription, ending the idea of soldiering as an activity for the few and preparing the way for the disastrous mass casualties of World Wars I and II.
The sweep of Keegan's book results in a certain high-history denseness that at times makes difficult reading. It is also suffused with a kind of romanticism for the life of soldiers. Physical problems precluded Keegan himself from ever serving in the military, but he has worked with British officers for much of his adult life. His description of “soldierly temperament” is very British: “most soldiers are satisfied merely by the company of others, by a shared contempt for a softer world, by the liberation from narrow materiality brought by the camp. …”
The idea of liberation from materiality is not widespread in the American military, as anyone who has seen the parking lot of a United States Air Force base can attest. Never have so many five-liter Mustang GTs been bought by so few.
By way of contrast with Keegan's book, the Tofflers' War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century is not about war's past, but its future. The futurist couple makes the interesting point that styles of war are rooted in a particular aspect of culture—economic activity. As the manipulation of information is coming to dominate the way the Western world makes wealth, so is it becoming central to the Western way of fighting.
“In both production and destruction knowledge reduces the requirement for other inputs,” the Tofflers write. Consider the input of explosive power: In World War II, thousands of pounds of dumb bombs were often dropped to destroy a single target. In the Gulf war, one smart bomb, “aware” of its location thanks to laser guidance, could sometimes do the same job.
Intelligence provided by radar aircraft gave allied forces an enormous advantage over Iraq in the fight to liberate Kuwait. Likewise, initial allied attacks struck Saddam's means of information dissemination: his communication, command, and control facilities.
Thus, future efforts to keep peace—the “anti-war” of the title—must focus on knowledge. One approach, say the Tofflers, might be an embargo on hate propaganda, similar to an embargo on weapons and enforced by United Nations or Western television jammers and communications facilities.
Like all futurist tomes, War and Anti-War has a tendency to indulge in large amounts of technological fantasy prediction—in this case dwelling on such things as cyber-suit soldier armor and sound-wave weapons. Large sections of the book's analysis of the US military are lifted, with attribution, from articles in the Washington-based trade journal Defense News. Then there are the subtitles, one on almost every page, with many of them alliterative and barely related to the subject at hand. “Diplo-Dither,” “Peace, Inc.,” “Open Skies and Open Minds”—does their editor really think the sort of person that reads this book needs that kind of hype to slog through it?
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SOURCE: Clarke, Michael. Review of War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century, by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. International Affairs 70, no. 3 (July 1994): 538-39.
[In the following review, Clarke questions some of the central ideas put forth in War and Anti-War, but recommends the book as one that raises important questions about the future.]
The Tofflers have appropriated the future in their seemingly endless quest for an understanding of post-modernism. Here [in War and Anti-War] they turn their attention to the problem of war in the twenty-first century and provide a breathless account of ‘third wave’ society getting to grips with future conflicts. They trace the development of new military doctrines in the United States, some of the more televisual experiences of the Gulf War, and knit this into the context of post-modern business organizations coping with the info-tech revolution. They give us an account of the niche wars, the knowledge warriors, the deadly hackers, and the sci-fi weapons of the future. Like so much else in post-modern society, the technical trends are towards fragmentation and individualism and the successful actor will find ways of integrating fragmentary systems without losing general coherence. It is a neat trick if you can do it. But therein lurks the unasked question of this study. Warfare has always reflected the technical and moral ethos of the civil societies from which it springs, and in this analysis, the essential trends of third-wave societies are presented with an implicit determinism which as yet seems not quite justified.
Still, that is what futurologists are for. In truth, the essential arguments of this book could all be expressed in a compact article, but here the Tofflers popularize the well-known insights of specialists, make readable what has previously been frequently obscure, and certainly provide an entertaining naming of parts. In the end, the tone of the book is unsatisfactory since the authors seem too much in awe of the third-wave technologies they study and too willing to swallow whole a number of upbeat briefings from American military analysts. The human being, with all the cussedness, laziness and incompetence that we bring to technical systems, seems to be insufficiently represented in the hyper-connections, flex-techs and info-loops with which the authors are fascinated. Nevertheless, this is a good read and provides an eclectic summary of important trends. It will doubtless make for a good chat show; and there are worse ways to discuss the future.
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SOURCE: Cornish, Edward. “Can We Make Wars Kinder, Gentler?” Futurist (July-August 1994): 43-4.
[In the following review, Cornish praises War and Anti-War as a important work that presents a disturbing look at the future of military warfare.]
You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.
Trotsky's sardonic assessment remains as valid today as in his own time. The Cold War may be over, but hot wars continue, and so does the global arms race. So we need to pay attention to Alvin and Heidi Toffler's new book, War and Anti-War a readable but disturbing discussion on what war may be like in the future.
To begin with the really bad news, nuclear weapons may become so widely dispersed in the future that they may hardly be controllable at all. Even small groups like Asian warlords or Mafia families may have atomic bombs. One of the gloomiest authorities on the subject, report the Tofflers, is Carl Builder, a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation who previously served as the director of nuclear safeguards for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Builder believes that nuclear diffusion may eventually reach down to single individuals. “It will be possible for an individual to make a nuclear device from materials which are in commerce,” Builder says.
An even more likely possibility, at least in the near future, is that a nation may be attacked, yet have no idea who its adversary is. Imagine this scenario:
A nuclear device explodes without warning 20 blocks north of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The blast destroys not only the buildings on Capitol Hill—the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress—but most of the central part of Washington, including the White House, Executive Offices of the President, Treasury, and many government agencies.
Who planted the bomb? No one knows. All that seems clear is that those individuals and groups who claim to be responsible probably were not. So the United States is left with an uncomfortable dilemma. People howl for vengeance, but no one knows where to aim the avenging rockets. Then, the unknown enemy deliberately arranges to throw suspicion on an innocent nation, which is immediately obliterated to assuage the public thirst for blood.
Almost as frightening among future possibilities is the genetically engineered superplague that might wipe out half the population of a city. The Soviets were reported to be seeking such superplagues before the Cold War ended, and it is uncertain what has happened to the pathogens developed. Meanwhile, there is speculation that biogenetic research may eventually lead to agents that can identify certain races by their DNA so that they could be selectively infected with disease. Such a “race bomb” could speed the work of future “ethnic cleansers.”
Happily, the Tofflers' discussion of the ultimate horrors of war is balanced by their interest in “anti-war”—efforts aimed at either preventing war or making it less terrible. One path to anti-war is through technologies that enable one side to defeat the other with minimum bloodshed. Nonlethal weapons—tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.—are already widely used to control civil disturbances. Other possibilities include ultrasound that causes people to become disoriented and nauseated but leaves no permanent after-effect; laser rifles that blind people but only temporarily; and calmative agents that can be sprayed on people to make them groggy. In the future, fierce battles might be fought with such weapons without anyone getting killed.
Even better, future wars might be fought with robot soldiers, who could blow each other to bits without any human life being lost. The Gulf War set an impressive standard for a war with few casualties (at least among the Allies). One way this was accomplished was by using small, pilotless planes under the control of human tele-operators miles away to perform reconnaissance missions, check on bomb damage, search for mines, and perform other dangerous work. One of these RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles) was shot down, but there was no human pilot aboard to suffer.
If humans must fight, casualties could be reduced by turning the combatants from men into supermen so that fewer would become casualties. In one concept, a soldier would be put into a sort of exoskeletal suit that would allow him to “leap tall buildings with a single bound.” Already, a project team is working on such a superman concept at the U.S. Army's Human Engineering Laboratory at Aberdeen, Maryland.
Completely new types of bloodless warfare are also possible. For instance, computer viruses might temporarily wipe out an enemy's military communications and economic system, forcing it to surrender.
War and Anti-War is a useful book, strongly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the strange new wars that we may face in the years ahead. From this book, one may draw several conclusions: First, wars will almost certainly continue to occur, at least through the opening decades of the twenty-first century. Second, they won't necessarily get worse than they have been in the past: There is a possibility, at least, of relatively bloodless wars. Third, true peace will likely depend on the will of the great nations to cooperate with each other in curbing all those nations, groups, and individuals who might endanger peace. Fourth, if we want peace, we must devote more effort to anti-war. If each government had a well-financed Ministry of Anti-War, wars might be greatly gentled, and maybe eliminated, in the century ahead.
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SOURCE: Toffler, Alvin, and Nathan Gardels. “Third Wave Terrorism.” NPQ: New Perspectives Quarterly 12, no. 3 (summer 1995): 4-6.
[In the following interview, Toffler discusses the implications for the future of terrorist warfare and the probability of rogue individuals having access to weapons of mass destruction.]
Just as the Non-Proliferation Treaty was renewed, the Supreme Truth sect raised a new spectre in the Tokyo subway: Mass destruction weapons are no longer controlled by states or diplomats signing pledges at the United Nations. Will democratic societies be able to control rogue groups as easily as rogue states now that lethal knowledge is available across the planet? We sought our futurists, counterterrorist officials and a former director of the FBI and CIA to ponder the question.
Alvin Toffler is author with Heidi Toffler of Future Shock, The Third Wave, Powershift and, most recently, War and Anti-War, a study of the effects of the information age on warfare. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels after the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway.
[Gardels]: The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was renewed this year, yet, as the sarin chemical attack in the Tokyo subway has shown, weapons of mass destruction are no longer just the province of state-vs.-state war or subject to regulation by treaty.
Has a new form of warfare arisen in the information age that eludes control by the state? Soon, any apocalyptic nut or sect with a laboratory will be able to access a lethal formula through the Internet, build a weapon and hold entire societies hostage.
[Toffler]: What we've seen in Japan is the ultimate devolution of power: the demassification of mass-destruction weapons. No longer is it only the state that can possess such weapons on behalf of the “masses” in its territory; now a mere individual or small group can possess the means of mass destruction—if he or she has the information to make them. And that information is increasingly available.
The sarin attack in Japan was qualitatively different from the old forms of terrorism that cause havoc but kill or maim only 30 or 50 people. Remember that this Japanese attack was very crude—a briefcase, bag or box left on the subway train. When a greater sophistication evolves on the part of terrorists in the use of chemical and biological weapons, including remote detonation devices for binary weapons, thousands upon thousands of people can be felled in one blow.
This is a momentous development because it signals, as you suggest, the failure of the state system itself, which was founded on the ability of the governing elite, or the gang in power as the case may be, to enforce its authority with organized violence and to control alternative means of violence, no less mass violence, in its own territory.
This doesn't mean the end of the nation state, as some suggest, but that it will become just one player among many others of relatively comparative power in varying realms. As the power of the state fragments, the number of players is multiplying—all of whom are potentially capable of laying their hands on weaponry.
In addition to commanding the means of violence, historically the state had fiscal command and control over its currency and market. It also controlled knowledge—whether through religion, ideology or mythology.
A state may well have all or some of these attributes today, but there are counterforces that also have these attributes that are outside the control of any state. These stateless counterforces range from the global currency and bond markets to the Internet and CNN or MTV, from the Catholic Church to worldwide religious sects, narco-traffickers, international civilian organizations like Greenpeace and globe-spanning ethnic networks.
If you lose control of violence, wealth and knowledge, you've lost power. That is the power shift that has diminished the state and to which the sarin attack in Japan adds yet another blow.
But the state will still have importance—particularly in providing socially necessary order against the kind of attack we saw in the Tokyo subway.
So, here are the components of “third wave” warfare, or terrorism in the information age: scientific prowess in the form of development of deadly chemical and biological warfare as well as the unlocked secrets of the atom; a broad, global pool of people with graduate-level education in the sciences; access to lethal knowledge—and free societies organized to defend against enemy or rogue states, but not rogue individuals or small groups among their own population.
Yes, and this emergent reality poses a particular problem for democratic societies. If a state can use overwhelming force and repression, it can probably crush any threat within its territory, at least for a certain period of time. But democratic societies limit that kind of use of power by the state.
The rise of stateless violence threatens not just repressive states but the socially necessary order of democratic societies. I have no doubt that there will arise in response to these acts of violence a great deal of sympathy among the average population to monitor anyone considered potentially dangerous.
Will democratic states then begin monitoring cults, or for that matter religions in general, or other organizations like Greenpeace or any ethnic group that hails from a troubled homeland? What will that mean for freedom and pluralism?
Something else you have written about makes us more vulnerable than in the past to terrorist attacks like the one in the Tokyo subway or, with ordinary bombs, at the World Trade Center in New York or the federal building in Oklahoma City: In complex, interdependent systems—with airports, 747s, Eurotunnels, skyscrapers and subway systems—a small intervention can be leveraged into a mass disaster.
As the scientist Ilya Prigogine has noted, when a system becomes what he describes as “far from equilibrium” it loses any linear relationship between cause and effect. In such a condition of disequilibrium, a small input can produce a disproportionately large effect.
This means politically that small groups or grouplets that choose to disrupt a society can do so massively, especially when their power is magnified though possession of lethal knowledge. To the extent that mass politics has seen its day, as I believe it has, there will be a proliferation of small congregations of people all trying to make their mark, some with violence. The Aum Supreme Truth sect in Japan has only something like 5,000 members in all of Japan.
So, in the future, we must all live in the fear of some kook with a beef?
All of us today live with a kind of free-floating fear in the background of our lives. This makes me think of the way that Paleolithic humans lived in ancient times when they knew nothing about the external world. They had no reliable information, no scientific knowledge. Everything was uncertain. People were afraid of trees, stones and the sun.
Today, it seems, we are heading back toward living constantly with that kind of anxiety.
Talk about a deep irony—our anxiety today about an insecure environment comes not from ignorance, but from the wide dispersion of information, including lethal knowledge!
What can be done?
First of all, everything will have its distinct signature and we will have tools that can monitor their use. In the future every product is going to be bar coded and identified. Every canister of chemicals will have an ID number that will be readable, perhaps even detectable from a satellite.
So, levels of surveillance—of goods as well as people—will rise, though you cannot, of course, see what is in the minds of people.
Moreover, as we move toward electronic money, we will be able to track all transactions. Even today your credit card record will reveal where you had dinner, breakfast or lunch. In the future, it will take much more sophistication to hide the flow of money and the use of goods.
On the other hand, I believe, all communications are inevitably going to be encrypted. There is already a race on between the code-makers and the code-breakers.
The encryption issue also involves a re-evaluation of the way we have looked at freedom of information. Reasonable people who believe in freedom of information have recognized that a certain modicum of secrecy by the state, until now, slowed proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The question is: To what degree will it be possible to control information in the future in ways that will stop the spread of these chemical and biological weapons that are more easily manufactured? The answer is that it will be very, very difficult.
Though I lean toward a libertarian view on the free availability of information, I cannot simply brush aside the concerns of the FBI or INTERPOL that the inability to control the spread of certain information can lead to the mass murder of innocent people.
The stakes are larger than they have ever been. It is one thing to say we don't like big government and we don't want Big Brother looking over our shoulder. But do we like the alternative of a world where the most ruthless and most depraved can gain access to the means of mass destruction, apply them, and get way with it?
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SOURCE: Arquilla, John, and David Ronfeldt. Review of War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century, by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Comparative Strategy 14, no. 3 (July-September 1995): 331-41.
[In the following review, Arquilla and Ronfeldt compare War and Anti-War with two other books on the future of the American military—America's Military Revolution by William E. Odom and The Military Revolution by Geoffrey Parker.]
In national security policy circles and increasingly in academia, the notion of a revolution in military affairs (RMA) has caught on dramatically. Even the public has grown aware that a quantum shift is under way, given its repeated viewings of “smart weapons” performance during the Persian Gulf War and the startlingly low allied casualties in that conflict. A host of articles, monographs, military doctrinal publications, and books has emerged over the past few years, all of which tend to concur that “revolutionary change” is taking place, centered principally though not exclusively around the idea of the overarching importance of information across the spectrum of conflict. Continuing assessment of the state of knowledge in this area, of which we hope this essay provides a useful example, helps to guide the next steps for both purely theoretical and more policy relevant research.
With this in mind, we focus in this essay on three major points. First is the definition of the RMA, a task for which Geoffrey Parker's magisterial historical study [The Military Revolution] proves ideally suited, though Alvin and Heidi Toffler have interesting insights of their own to add in [War and Anti-War]. Next, an effort must be made to elucidate a general theory of the origins and development of the current RMA. In this regard the Tofflers come to the fore, advancing the simple theory that a society's style of war making mirrors the manner in which it makes its wealth. Finally, in terms of providing guidance for perplexed policymakers, William Odom delineates his blueprint for dealing with national security concerns in an era of great flux [in America's Military Revolution]. While Parker's work has less policy relevance, the Tofflers devote a fair amount of their energies to drawing out the practical implications of their insights.
The three books that provide the “lenses” through which we view these issues are written by a historian [Parker], two leading futurists [Alvin and Heidi Toffler], and a retired army general [Odom]—works quite different in many ways from what is ordinarily included in a traditional academic literature review. We hope that focusing on their unique approaches will prove both interesting and analytically beneficial. Finally, we note in a concluding section the broad areas of agreement emerging in a number of other insightful additions to the current literature, of which there are many, most often also coming from outside the mainstream academic sources. In particular it is interesting to note just how substantial, in both quantity and quality, are the contributions coming from within the government and the military. Surely these studies provide prima facie evidence for the case that many institutions, far from fostering staid approaches, have an enduring commitment to introspection, self-criticism, and innovation.
DEFINING A MILITARY REVOLUTION
Parker, whose book is dedicated to his fellow historian Michael Roberts, acknowledges the latter as the modern founder of the notion of the RMA. He employs Roberts's definition, which was first advanced in 1955 in his discussion of conflict in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and is composed of four major parts. First, an RMA entails a profound shift in battle tactics. Second, it will have an effect, up or down, on the size of armed forces. These first two changes will then lead to the third and fourth aspects of Roberts's definition, which key respectively on the development of sophisticated new strategies and changes in the impact of warfare on society. For Roberts these aspects of the RMA were reflected in the growth of massed fire volley tactics, a 1,000٪ increase in the size of armies during the period examined, complex large-scale operations, and shattering effects on societies at war1.
Parker adopts Roberts's definition, but also expands the legitimate scope of enquiry. Thus where Roberts was principally fascinated with infantry tactics, particularly those of the Swedes who fielded the best infantry in Europe through the end of the Thirty Years' War, Parker considers a wide range of factors affecting war fighting on land and sea. He notes, for example, the enduring competition between offensive artillery and defensive fortifications, a primarily technological rivalry, though one enlivened by new strategic and organizational insights. In naval warfare, however, Parker acknowledges, with the shift from melee to line-ahead tactics, the crucial importance and often the primacy of doctrinal innovation to any RMA.
In his energetic pursuit of the antecedents of quantum shifts in military affairs, Parker usefully points out that, depending on the context, revolutionary change may flow from organization, technology, or doctrine2.
Parker's broadened approach allows him to introduce two other key themes that should help to inform current efforts to understand the RMA. First, he observes that revolutions play out over significant periods of time, generating myriad evolutionary effects as well. Second, he places analysis of an RMA in the context of global politics, examining in his work the manner in which the Western Europeans parlayed their advances to a position of dominance over the international system. Those who think about the current RMA would do well to consider the disparate strands of strategy, doctrine, and organization likely to evolve in the “information age,” and to analyze the system-wide effects of change. For the era that concerns Parker (1500-1800), this meant the triumph of “the West over the Rest.” Despite the widespread acknowledgment of U.S. primacy in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, it is not clear in theory that an RMA driven primarily by the advancement and diffusion of information will foster the same sort of incomparable advantages enjoyed by the great maritime states of 500 years ago.
In this regard, both the Tofflers and Odom sound cautionary notes. Indeed the former should be viewed as articulating profound skepticism regarding the prospects for enduring primacy, largely due to the rise of external constraints. Odom on the other hand, though less dark in his assessment of U.S. prospects, suggests that a set of internal constraints, not least the “feudal” structure of the Department of Defense, could vitiate U.S. power. Both serve the useful function of pointing out that the RMA will soon be seized upon by “the rest” and that this information-driven revolution may prove particularly easy to export to others. If they are correct, then the current RMA may do more to diffuse power than to concentrate it in a few hands.
One benefit of incorporating Parker's nuanced definition and analytic framework is that it gives greater clarity to the effort to understand the RMA and its effects. For example, as two keen observers of military affairs have noted, “[t]he Gulf War was widely seen as a foretaste of RMA warfare, offering quick victory with low casualties”3. How does this widespread belief hold up to scrutiny using the Parker framework? Not well. First, there is little evidence of radical tactical change, because the campaign was carried out in close accordance with the guidelines set down by the AirLand Battle Doctrine developed in the 1970s and 1980s. On the ground a textbook blitzkrieg campaign unfolded, aided by an aerial bombing plan that, “smart missiles” notwithstanding4, bore striking resemblance to the World War II air attacks designed to “write down” and isolate the German Seventh Army in and around Normandy in spring 1944.
As to other aspects of the Parker definition, the results of analysis are equally negative. With regard to the size of the forces employed, one sees a very standard sort of field army sent to the Persian Gulf, suggesting that at least in this respect the RMA implied no cause for change in size. As to the complexity of the strategy employed (the now famous “left hook” around the immobilized Iraqi forces), though masterful, is highly derivative of the operations of the panzer divisions that won the Battle of France in 1940, the amphibious and far riskier “left hook” at Inchon in 1950, and the Israeli maneuvers in the Six Day War of 1967. As to casualties, each of the foregoing campaigns succeeded at low human cost. There are even several examples of campaigns that have been waged on the scale of and with losses comparably low to the Persian Gulf War: the British reconquest of the Sudan in 1898 and the German invasion of Yugoslavia in spring 1941, both of which saw the victors suffer less than 1,000 fatal casualties.
Finally to round out Parker's criteria, one must ask whether the Persian Gulf War signified a new era for the projection of force in ways that profoundly alter power politics. Here again, the answer is negative. The United States enjoyed a host of allies and the blessings of a 5-month build-up period prior to going on the offensive in the gulf, making this a highly conditioned RMA. Indeed, the mixed results of prolonged confrontations with Serbs and Somalians since Desert Storm suggest that there still remain serious limitations on the exercise of U.S. power on the world stage.
The foregoing discussion serves to highlight the analytic value of employing a clear definition and implies skepticism that the Persian Gulf War ushered in revolutionary change, not a belief in the general disutility of the concept of the RMA. On the contrary we previously have argued at some length, in the pages of this journal, that an RMA of the sort that Parker defines is within reach, enabled by changes in information technology but guided principally by strategic, doctrinal, and organizational insights5. The nature and scope of these kinds of insights form the core of the theoretical issues discussed in the next section.
EXPLAINING A REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS
In terms of simplicity, breadth, and elegance, nothing can compare with the Tofflers' winning formulation that a society's way of war will flow from its “way of wealth.” While developed in detail in War and Anti-War, this theoretical theme is a logical outgrowth of their earlier endeavors, notably The Third Wave. Briefly, the first wave saw wealth generated principally from labor-intensive agriculture. War in this era keyed around control of arable land and was waged in a labor-intensive fashion. In the second wave, apotheosized by the industrial revolution, economic growth came from the products of capital-intensive machines and war tended to focus in this period on control of resources. Success in war fighting came to hinge on the ability to employ capital in sufficient amounts as to field the greatest number of machines (tanks, artillery, and planes). The emerging third wave, the Tofflers note, will see knowledge as the key to achieving wealth and winning wars.
The “anti-war” of the Tofflers includes a range of political, economic, and military activities. They weave throughout the threads of what they call a “knowledge strategy” designed, in the best traditions of Sun Tzu, to win with as little use of force as possible. They theorize that, in the information age, war can sometimes be prevented by manipulating a social group's very image of itself or by attacking financial assets rather than territory or troops. On the other hand, they also note the wide latitude granted by virtue of the RMA for the measured use of force early on to prevent the onset of larger conflicts. For the Tofflers, the bottom line appears to be that the United States enjoys unique advantages that will enable it to mold the world in constructive ways, a notion quite consistent with Parker's view that an RMA must entail an increase in the ability to exert influence on the international system.
The Tofflers devote a great deal of attention to the technological antecedents of the RMA, but like Parker also key on the organizational, doctrinal, and strategic dimensions. Indeed, their call for a “knowledge strategy” gives implicit recognition to the notion that the real gains will come from incorporating technological advances into the appropriate new paradigm for conflict. On this point, a profound cautionary note is sounded by Odom, who keys on the crucial importance of the organizational dimension. Unless a way is found to mitigate the effects of bureaucratic “pulling and hauling,” he feels that prospects for progress are quite limited6.
The Tofflers' vision of future wars and anti-wars makes the compelling case that radical shifts in tactics, strategy, and in the structuring and sizing of armed forces are necessary for the successful exercise of power. Coming as it does on the heels of signal U.S. victories in the Persian Gulf and in the cold war, their admonitions stand out quite starkly, for it is not often that winners are exhorted to adopt immediate and radical change.
Given their richly diverse description of the spectrum of conflict in the information age, how can one begin to knit together a “knowledge strategy”? In our opinion the Tofflers have pointed to an emerging problem, identifying and classifying it with clarity and verve. They have not, however, yet elaborated the requisite response (nor has Odom).
Both the Tofflers and Odom key on the unpredictability of the future security environment, the likelihood that serious threats may emerge unexpectedly from unusual sources. They also clearly capture the sense of the increasing “irregularization” of war and the problems this is likely to pose for militaries7. Perhaps these notions of the diversity of threat and the lack of geographic focus may serve to inform thinking about a “knowledge strategy.” In our view, their thoughts suggest forms of conflict that leave behind older notions of war as sequential or linear and, instead, imply a realm of conflict whose complexity requires a new illustrative paradigm.
Briefly we suggest that traditional warfare looks rather like chess: There are recognizable fronts, massing is important, and aims and movements are clearly linear (promoting pawns or checkmating the opposing king). Warfare in the information age may resemble this less and less, and come more to reflect the oriental game of Go, in which there are no fronts, tightly massed forces tend to be vulnerable to implosive attacks, and movement takes place anywhere on the board at any time in a completely multilinear fashion.
Compared to chess, Go is revolutionary in Parker's sense. Tactics and strategy are radically altered, the size of fighting formations depends entirely on positional features rather than on the need to counterconcentrate against adversary formations, and influence can be exerted to the far reaches of the board with lightning rapidity. This seems well-suited to the current RMA, for it is a paradigm seemingly custom-built to deal with the complexities delineated by the Tofflers and Odom.
In this section, we briefly consider the implications of these three seminal studies of the RMA for five broad issue areas, ranging from political considerations of the role of allies and the future balance of power to military concerns over the use of force and the potential for new forms of arms racing and finally to questions about the need for institutional redesign.
For Odom, there is no question but that the RMA will assist in diffusing power across the regions of the globe, making multilateralism a strategic necessity for U.S. policymakers. In this regard, he counters Parker's notion that RMAs tend to foster the concentration of power that allows one power or a few to dominate the international system8. The Tofflers, on the other hand, depict a world in which the United States will have the capability to act on its own, where traditional considerations of power may have to be jettisoned in favor of a new calculus more sensitive to the capabilities of what they call “soft-edged states.”
With regard to the use of force and the potential for arms racing, Parker convincingly makes the point that RMAs tend to lessen inhibitions about going to war or at least about employing forceful means in pursuit of national aims. The Tofflers exposit a concurring view, in which some forms of their “anti-war” may be quite hard to distinguish from aggressive uses of force. Odom, however, sees that the need to establish multilateral foundations of support for action serves as a profound constraint on political will, a factor which may in his view override even the quite remarkable military capabilities recently demonstrated. Further, he notes that this RMA may spur a new, heavily R&D-oriented qualitative arms race. On this point, the Tofflers counter that encouraging the diffusion of innovations may prevent destabilizing advances. Parker, however, notes that equivalence in capabilities may encourage, instead of amity, a willingness to challenge those who formerly held the leadership position.
As to the last key policy issue, the need for organizational or institutional redesign, Odom puts the matter most starkly, contending that the current defense bureaucracy will fatally inhibit efforts to assimilate the gains implicit in this RMA. Basically he views the secretary of defense as “a weak monarch” and argues for strengthening the position through a process of centralization. This streamlined but still hierarchical approach could extend in his view, even so far as to do away with the various service secretaries themselves, lessening the intrusiveness of executive politics. A differing view is afforded by Parker, who implies that in the key area of naval advances the least centralized national political systems (the British and Dutch) appeared far more adept than their more authoritarian competitors (principally France and Spain) at introducing and benefiting from innovations.
Our own reflections on these policy-relevant concerns have been greatly stimulated by these studies. First, we tend to agree more with the Tofflers' notion that this RMA creates a greater capability for unilateral action than has hitherto existed. To Odom's sensitivity to the political need for allies, we counter that in the future alliances are more and more likely to grow situation-dependent, lessening their intrinsic value. Indeed, the NATO wrangling over the proper course of action in the Balkans during the past few years has pitted allies against each other on such key issues as whether to allow the Bosnian government to arm itself. In a world where friends may lack permanence or even a commonality of interests, it may be prudent to decrease dependence on multilateral support. The side benefit of such a shift is a reduced risk of spreading new, power-enhancing knowledge to those who may actually, depending on the issue, be or become rivals.
A more proprietary attitude about the RMA, growing out of wariness toward even one's allies, may also slow the pace of Odom's qualitative arms race. Here contrary to the Tofflers' injunction to “open the skies,” we urge the strategic management of RMA-related knowledge. It may well serve U.S. interests to make further advances only when it grows clear that others have figured a particular concept out. In this way, the “American advantage” may be stretched out as long as possible. This notion has a precedent in British naval policy in the nineteenth century, during which research was constantly under way but strategic decisions were often made to delay the introduction of innovations until it was clear that others had made breakthroughs9.
Finally with regard to institutional redesign, we concur with Odom about the need for change but prefer a more networked, rather than a hierarchical, solution. This does not mean supplanting all hierarchies with networks. There will be an enduring need for hierarchies at the center of many institutions, but taking advantage of the information revolution will mean entering a period of hybridization in which the forms mix optimally and in which some hierarchies are eventually supplanted by network forms.
AREAS OF EMERGING CONSENSUS
In addition to the books by Odom, Parker, the Tofflers, and other books we cite by Col. Kenneth Allard, Carl H. Builder, and Martin Van Creveld, numerous monographs and articles—notably by Jeffrey Cooper, Martin Libicki, Steven Metz and James Kievit, Tom Rona, John Rothrock, George Stein, and Colonel Richard Szafranski10—contribute in valuable ways to the reading list. In addition thinking about an RMA has been insightfully fostered by several high-ranking military officers, notably General Frederick Franks, Major General Robert Linhard, and Admiral William Owens, of the army, air force, and navy respectively11. Finally the reporting of journalist Peter Grier has helped diffuse awareness of leading ideas and concepts12. A consensus may be emerging around some key points that they variously make, setting the stage for next steps in public dialogue and policy analysis about creating an RMA.
An organizational and technological revolution. All concur that the current RMA is largely a product of the information revolution, its effects and implications. They also concur that the information revolution is not primarily about technology. Whether the information revolution is mainly about technology or about organization and other factors continues to bedevil the debate; it is time to accept, as these writers do, that technology takes second place at best. Moreover in favoring broad definitions of “information warfare” (IW), they properly resist the tendencies still found in some circles to reduce IW to meaning little more than computer warfare and cyberspace security.
Elsewhere, information has been hailed as a force multiplier. But these writers (especially Stein) argue that it is ultimately a force modifier, a force reformer. They agree that Desert Storm, though impressive, is not the paradigm for an information age RMA. Achieving it will require military organizations, doctrines, operational concepts, and strategies to be modified far beyond the Desert Storm model. At this time, there is convergence around the observation that enhanced interagency coordination and jointness are increasingly necessary and feasible, and that traditional bureaucratic designs will prove resistant to such innovation.
Debates about the information revolution continue to engender both optimism and skepticism. Both are natural, useful concomitants to thinking about an RMA13. Optimists have generally dominated the debate, but of late some notes of sensible skepticism have been sounded (e.g., by Cooper, Metz and Kievit, and Rothrock). Among the concerns they raise is that U.S. values are at stake in how an RMA may be designed and implemented. We agree that it has a potential dark side, especially if IW is treated more as an intelligence rather than a military activity and if surveillance is allowed to take precedence over privacy and individual freedom. How to balance this against the concerns Americans should have about facing new types of terrorists and predators remains an open question, however, especially since the latter may not abide by the constraints on human behavior that we feel are valuable.
The evolving spectrum of conflict. These writers concur that the conflict spectrum, from military war through conflict short of war, is being changed from end to end. Questions hang in the air regarding how different parts of the spectrum may change and which end may change the most and why. Yet there is strong consensus that “the Cold War notion of conflict short of war is obsolete” (Metz and Kievit). All writers warn that new threats (such as information terrorism and strategic crime) may arise in small, stealthy, unconventional packages, often involving nonstate actors. Indeed, a potential adversary's awareness of the U.S. success in Desert Storm may motivate it to move in surprisingly innovative directions.
The technological versus organizational dimensions of the RMA resonate in discussions about the spectrum. Metz and Kievit argue that remote sensing systems, stand-off weapons, and related types of “emerging technology will have less impact on conflict short of war than on conventional, combined arms warfare.” But even if true, why should we agree that there is “no imminent RMA in this area”14? Those are not the key technologies at that end of the spectrum, and they see this when they propose that psychological technologies may become more important than strike technologies15.
Besides, it is not technology per se but new forms of organization (networked, decentralized, hydra-headed, and transnational) that may enhance the capabilities of short-of-war actors to exploit U.S. vulnerabilities and harm U.S. interests. The Tofflers sensibly warn about a new generation of conflicts between first, second, and third wave elements both between and within societies that may be short of war. All the writers point out that nonstate actors may prove more troublesome and volatile than state actors. In sum the most important and problematic RMA may occur at the short-of-war end of the spectrum16.
Threats amount to combinations of intentions and capabilities. During the cold war and earlier, the capabilities side of the equation got the most attention, both as an indicator of intentions and as a source of targets. Now information warfare opens up new vistas for targeting enemy capabilities, for example, by feeding a computer virus or logic bomb into its cyberspace systems. More importantly, however, information warfare makes it increasingly feasible to target the intentions side of the equation.
Almost all the writers reviewed here have something to say about this. The Tofflers introduce the concept of a “knowledge strategy” and recommend putting it at the core of U.S. security strategy. Szafranski's tantalizing concept of “neo-cortical warfare” further illuminates the point that information age conflict may be less about fighting to dominate an enemy's “hard” military and economic assets (such as his armed forces and economic infrastructure) than about “soft” targets such as the knowledge and belief systems of leaders and decision makers17. A new generation of information policy instruments, to match our long established political and commercial policy instruments, must be developed to accomplish this for both war and anti-war purposes.
Since planning for information age warfare has “epistemological” dimensions (cf., Stein and Szafranski); concepts of time and space are getting new attention as strategic concerns. Cooper emphasizes the potential for making war terribly high-tempo in order to overwhelm an enemy's capacity for command and control. In contrast, Szafranski notes that neocortical warfare against a society's culture and psychology may be so slow as to be almost undetectable.
Revisiting the meaning of “information.” Writers about the RMA continue to use (and overuse) the term “information” in its conventional senses, as in referring to the nature of a message and/or its medium (i.e., system) of transmission and storage. The writers reviewed here are no exception. Elsewhere radical ideas are emerging that the structure of all things consists not only of matter and energy but also “information,” that it is a fundamentally physical property18.
If “information physics” lives up to its palpably weird promise, it will make sense to think of all military instruments and systems, from individual weapons through C4I architectures, as embodiments of information. Then measurable “information quotients” may be definable for assessing weapon systems. For example, the visually aimed smooth-bore cannon of the age of sail fired a low-mass munition whose effectiveness derived principally from the energy it released on impact. The cannon ball did not embody much information. By comparison, a modern sea-launched cruise missile relies more on information than on energy for its effectiveness.
Past wars have revolved around an ability to hurl mass and energy at an enemy; future wars may depend also on being able to hurl information, be that a message or a munition. This could alter how doctrine and strategy are developed and how targets are selected. It could alter what is meant by “measure of effectiveness,” “order of battle,” and “net assessment.” It will take years for this view of information to take shape, but meanwhile it is a strand of reasoning that bears watching and serious efforts to develop19.
CODA: IN ATHENA'S CAMP
Warfare has been associated with information since at least the time of the Greek gods. One normally thinks of Ares, or the Roman refinement Mars, as the god of war. Where warfare relates to information, however, the superior deity is Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom who sprang fully armed from Zeus's head and went on to become the benevolent, ethical, patriotic protectress and occasional wrathful huntress who exemplified reverence for the state. According to Virgil, Troy could withstand its enemies as long as it honored and retained possession of the Palladium, a sacred statue of Athena. Knowing this, the Greeks arranged its theft. Thus Athena sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War, where she bested Ares on the battlefield and conceived the idea of the wooden “gift horse” secretly loaded with Greek soldiers. In a classic case of failing to respond to warning, the Trojans made the fatal mistake of hauling it inside their fortress walls, despite strong objections from the priest Laocöon and the seer Cassandra.
The rest is history and legend. Today more than ever, it behooves us to see Athena, not Mars, as the paradigm for dealing with a world that is darkening and fractionating around our nation. All the authors we have reviewed here belong in Athena's camp and our understanding is the better for it.
For greater detail, see Michael Roberts, “The Military Revolution, 1560-1660.” It is reprinted in his Essays in Swedish History (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 3-31.
In this regard, Parker establishes a framework that should help to avoid the pitfalls of focusing on technology as the root of all military revolutions, a problem that bedeviled Soviet strategic thought and clearly can be seen in such works as Colonel General N. A. Lomov, ed., Scientific-Technical Progress and the Revolution in Military Affairs (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973), translated under the auspices of the United States Air Force.
Steven Metz and James Kievit, The Revolution in Military Affairs and Conflict Short of War (Carlisle Barracks, Penn.: U.S. Army War College, 1994), p. 1. While Metz and Kievit note the general acceptance of notions of the revolutionary nature of the Persian Gulf War, they also exposit a thoughtful critique of this view.
As to the prevalence of smart aerial munitions, David P. Hallion, Storm Over Iraq: Air Power and the Gulf War (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), p. 188, notes that only “9 percent—7,400 tons—of the total tonnage expended by American forces was precision munitions.”
See John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar is Coming!” Comparative Strategy, vol. 12 (1993): 141-65.
With regard to the importance of organizational constraints on innovation and military effectiveness, see C. Kenneth Allard, Command, Control, and the Common Defense (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990); and Carl H. Builder, The Masks of War (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
For a full development of this theme, see Martin Van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: Free Press, 1991).
On this point, see Jeremy Black, European Warfare, 1660-1815 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994) for a subtle argument that RMAs initially grant enormous advantages to the innovators, which then erode due to imitation and increased leadership competition.
This is a recurrent theme running throughout Bernard Brodie, Sea Power in the Machine Age (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1944).
C. Kenneth Allard, “The Future of Command and Control: Toward a Paradigm of Information Warfare,” in L. Benjamin Ederington and Michale J. Mazarr (eds.), Turning Point: The Gulf War and U.S. Military Strategy (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 161-92; Brian Nichiporuk and Carl H. Builder, Information Technologies and the Future of Land Warfare (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1995), MR-560-A; Jeffrey R. Cooper, Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs, (Carlisle Barracks, Penn.: Strategic Studies Institute, 1994); Matin Libicki, “What Is Information Warfare?” (forthcoming); Thomas Rona, “Information Warfare: A Brief Overview,” draft paper, 1994; John Rothrock, “Information Warfare: Time for Some Constructive Skepticism,” American Intelligence Journal (Spring-Summer 1994): 71-76; George J. Stein, “Information Warfare,” Airpower Journal (Spring 1995): 30-39; Colonel Richard Szafranski, “Neo-Cortical Warfare? The Acme of Skill,” Military Review (November 1994): 41-55, and also his “A Theory of Information Warfare: Preparing for 2020,” Airpower Journal (Spring 1995): 56-65.
General Frederick M. Franks, Jr., “Winning the Information War: Evolution and Revolution,” Speech delivered at the Association of the U.S. Army Symposium, Orlando, Florida, February 8, 1994 (reprinted in Vital Speeches of the Day); Major General Robert E. Linhard, “Getting the Future Right,” Strategic Review (Winter 1995): 56-58; Admiral William Owens, High Seas (Annapolis, Md.: United States Naval Institute Press, 1995).
Peter Grier, “Information Warfare,” Air Force Magazine (March 1995): 34-37.
Paul Strassman sees through the dynamics of optimism versus skepticism when he observes that, “The history of information technology can be characterized as the overestimation of what can be accomplished immediately and the underestimation of long-term consequences.” From Paul Strassman, Information Payoff: The Transformation of Work in the Electronic Age (New York: The Free Press, 1992), p. 199. His new book on Information Terrorism is due for publication soon.
Metz and Kievit, The Revolution, 1994, p. v.
Ibid., p. 31. An example from another author who has been doing some interesting writing about psychological operations and information warfare from a special forces perspective is Colonel Jeffrey B. Jones, “Psychological Operations in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Urban Freedom,” Special Warfare (July 1994): 22-29.
Our own effort to contribute here is the concept of “netwar,” introduced in Arquila and Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar Is Coming!”, pp. 144-46.
See also John Arquilla, “The Strategic Implications of Information Dominance,” Strategic Review (Summer 1994): 24-30.
See Robert Wright, Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).
We will elaborate on the foregoing set of points in a forthcoming article entitled “Information and Power: New Views, New Implications.”
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6730
SOURCE: Judis, John B. “Newt's Not-So-Weird Gurus.” New Republic 213, no. 15 (9 October 1995): 16-25.
[In the following essay, Judis discusses the influence of the ideas of Alvin and Heidi Toffler on American politician Newt Gingrich, arguing that Gingrich seems to have misinterpreted some of the Tofflers's central ideas.]
Before last November, once-bestselling authors Alvin and Heidi Toffler had fallen into relative obscurity. They were interviewed regularly by publications like Information Week and The New Perspectives Quarterly but not by The Washington Post or U.S. News and World Report. Their last book, War and Anti-War, had landed on remainder tables after a year. Like W. Edwards Deming, they were better known in Japan than the United States. But all that changed when Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House. Cast as his mentors—Gingrich has been an acknowledged devotee for over two decades—the Tofflers are being scrutinized for clues about the Speaker's true convictions. The New York Times Magazine ran an adulatory interview with the Tofflers; The Boston Globe profiled the “odd trio” they made with Gingrich. A slim anthology, Creating a New Civilization, with an introduction by Gingrich, became a best-seller. Alvin Toffler, who is 66 but looks at least a decade younger, is delighted by this new surge of attention. “It's like telling a joke and finally being able to deliver the punch line,” he told me during a recent visit to Washington.
But the price of such attention has been willful misunderstanding of their work. Liberals cite Gingrich's admiration of the Tofflers as further proof of his wackiness. In a Los Angeles Times column on Gingrich, Robert Borosage, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, pronounced Alvin Toffler's major book, The Third Wave, a “melange of pulp sociology, pop culture, and hot facts.” Staid conservatives attack the Tofflers to express their disapproval of Gingrich's futurism and libertarianism. “I've never understood [the Tofflers],” former Secretary of Education William Bennett told The New York Times last December. “I've always regarded it as the emperor's new clothes. If futurists are really futurists, why do they bother writing books? Why don't they play the market?” Pat Buchanan is even more dismissive, labeling the Tofflers' work “some kind of nonsense.”
These are predictable reactions, but the Tofflers deserve better. They are not academic social scientists, but that shouldn't necessarily be a drawback at a time when so much of academic social science is dominated by neo-positivism and bad French philosophy. They certainly aren't world-historical geniuses on the order of de Tocqueville or Weber, but they are serious students of economic history whose work is much closer to Daniel Bell and Peter Drucker than to John Naisbitt and George Gilder. During the '60s, they were among the first to understand the dramatic changes in work and society created by computer technology. Alvin Toffler authored studies for IBM, Xerox and AT&T that anticipated by decades the problems of technological unemployment and bureaucratic stasis.
The Tofflers are often described as “popularizers,” but it's usually their own ideas they are condensing into slogans and catchwords. Alvin Toffler was among the first to write about the rise of home offices (the “electronic cottage”), “flextime” and team work, and the growth of a new “infosphere” that melded computers, televisions and telephones. Some of their recent work is seriously flawed, but the first big books that Alvin Toffler wrote—Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980)—still stand up under scrutiny.
While Gingrich's fascination with the Tofflers' ideas does reveal something about how the Speaker thinks, it is also misleading to identify the Tofflers' philosophy with that of conservative Republicans. Alvin and Heidi Toffler began as Marxists and spent five years during the 1950s organizing workers in Ohio factories. They are no longer either Marxists or Socialists, but like Marx they see history as consisting of progressive stages, propelled forward by underlying changes in the way people produce goods, services and ideas. Like Daniel Bell, C. Wright Mills, Christopher Lasch and James Burnham, the Tofflers have tried to go beyond, rather than simply repudiate, Marx and the Enlightenment. In this, they are diametrically opposed to many American conservatives from Russell Kirk and Leo Strauss to Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, who regard the past as paradise lost.
The Tofflers insist that they are neither Republicans nor Democrats. They say—and anyone who reads their work will concur—that they are as close politically to. Al Gore as they are to the Republican leadership. Since the '60s, the Tofflers have argued that American politics and economics were based on obsolete models drawn from the country's industrial past. That has put them roughly equidistant from Democratic traditionalists who see the country's hopes in the revival of the urban factory and Republican conservatives who want to restore the small-town America of the 1950s. As they wrote of Democrats and Republicans last year, “One side still dreams of River Rouge, the other dreams of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Alvin Toffler is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He met Heidi Toffler, now 65, the daughter of Dutch Jewish immigrants, just before his senior year at New York University, in the summer of 1948. (According to Toffler, the books, he has written since have all been collaborative efforts, though only the last two bear both their names.)
After college, where both had worked for Henry Wallace's Progressive Party, the Tofflers set out for a factory in Cleveland that made window fans. In those days, college students didn't just go off by themselves to organize, but Alvin Toffler repeatedly dodged my questions about what political group he was working for, asking finally, “Are you from the FBI?” I concluded from what he said, and from coy hints, that he either belonged to or worked very closely with the Communist Party. When I asked him if he studied at NYU with the socialist—but militantly anti-Communist—philosopher Sidney Hook, he said he thought then of Hook as a “terrible reactionary.” When I asked him if he had been a Trotskyist, he said Trotskyists were the “bad guys.” He also said he would have quit the factory after two years but that during the McCarthy witch-hunts he felt obliged to stick by his organizing friends: “It was one thing to change your ideology; it was another thing to change your friends and rat on them.”
While in Ohio, the Tofflers abandoned the promise of socialist revolution. “It became apparent that the immiseration of the worker wasn't happening,” Toffler said. “We either had to give up the theory or give up on reality.” Equally important, they abandoned the vision of the urban factory as the prototypical social institution—a vision shared in the twentieth century by both Marxists and liberals. What they retained was Marx's systematic approach to history. “The most important thing I learned,” Toffler said, “was that there were ways of looking at history as something that was more than episodic. We came away with the idea that there is such a thing as a model and that you could think of social change in a systematic way.”
By the early '60s, Toffler had become a journalist, writing for publications from the West Virginia Labor's Daily to Fortune magazine. He had also become interested in how new technology was altering everyday assumptions about work, family and government. He got to know Kenneth Boulding, Bertram Gross and a group of thinkers at Rand who saw themselves as “futurists” trying to chart this new reality. In 1965, Toffler wrote an article for Horizon, a glossy monthly, called “The Future as a Way of Life,” in which he introduced the concept of “future shock” (the analogy he drew was to “culture shock.”) The article won him a ＄15,000 book contract from Random House, and Toffler spent the next five years writing Future Shock. It would become a best-seller and along with its successor, The Third Wave, constituted an extended argument for bringing American politics in line with this new reality.
In Future Shock, influenced in its style by the pioneering sociological journalism of William H. Whyte and Vance Packard, Toffler argued that Americans were witnessing an “acceleration of change” that was not only transforming industries and nations but upsetting century-old patterns of social and economic life. As late as the 1950s, Americans could still expect to stay in one job for their entire life, live in one town, perhaps in the same neighborhood and house, and surround themselves with the same family, friends and possessions. Little girls clung to one Raggedy Ann throughout their childhoods. Men kept a favorite Parker pen for decades. Cars were repaired rather than replaced. Not everyone enjoyed this kind of stability, but those who did not, like the recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, could reasonably aspire to it.
As Toffler argued in Future Shock, this pattern of life eroded dramatically after World War II. Workers began to change jobs, homes, friends and even families several times over a lifetime. Products were no longer designed for a lifetime of use but, like Bic pens or disposable diapers or latest-model Barbies, were made to be used briefly and then discarded. Individuals were no longer bound together socially by class and ethnic origin, but sought to transcend these bonds by changing their “lifestyles” and even their personalities. Businesses were no longer structured according to strict vertical hierarchies but by what Toffler called the “adhocracies” of project teams and consultants.
According to Toffler, the principal cause of this accelerated rate of change was “that great, growling engine of change—technology.” Americans were living through what Toffler called a “super-industrial revolution.” By reducing the amount of time necessary to produce goods, new technology had eliminated many agricultural and manufacturing jobs, while creating new demand for specialists in services and information. These new jobs, which put a premium on education and knowledge rather than physical strength and punctuality, had become subject to constant redefinition. The new information industries also required new styles of management and organization alien to the Taylorism of the factory. (For Toffler, 1956 was the breakthrough: the first year when more workers were engaged in producing services than in making goods, when commercial jet travel became widespread and when the birth control pill was introduced.)
Accelerated change had created a new freedom from the kind of standardization and regimentation that social critics associated with the older industrial era: “The people of the future enjoy greater opportunities for self-realization than any previous group in history.” But it also created anxiety. “Future shock is the dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future,” Toffler wrote. “It may be the most important disease of tomorrow.” Toffler identified a variety of future-shock symptoms, including “the spreading use of drugs, the rise of mysticism, the recurrent outbreaks of vandalism and undirected violence, the politics of nihilism and nostalgia, and the sick apathy of millions.”
Much of what Toffler wrote in Future Shock is now accepted common sense, but at the time it defied conventional views of reality. Even during the '60s, most Americans still held an image of their society borrowed from the industrial past. The common image of white-collar work—of humdrum conformity and regimentation—was derived from Whyte's The Organization Man. Americans' deepest fears of the future were expressed by George Orwell's lockstep world of 1984. In the first major new left protest, Berkeley's Mario Savio railed in 1964 against being “standardized, replaceable, and irrelevant.” But Toffler, who had spent five years in a factory understood that Americans' greatest problem was now being consigned to the tedium of the assembly line on the office. As he put it: “The problem is not whether man can survive regimentation and standardization. The problem … is whether he can survive freedom.”
As a veteran of the left, Toffler also understood the superficiality of '60s radicalism. He saw both the new left counterculture and new right of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace as expressions of nostalgia. “The middle-aged right-wing reversionist yearns for the simple, ordered society of the small town—the slow-paced social environment in which his old routines were appropriate. The youthful left-wing reversionist dream of reviving an even older social system. This romanticism fills the posters and poetry of the hippie and post-hippie subcultures.”
For all these strengths, however, Future Shock suffered from the fleeting preoccupations of the era in which it was written. While Toffler's view of underlying change was correct, he read far too much into the social hysteria of the '60s, which was triggered not simply by the transformation of work and family but by the enormous upheaval of the civil rights struggle and the war in Vietnam. When the war ended, much of the outward hysteria that Toffler identified with mental illness passed, but the anxiety remained. It was evidenced, among other things, by the development of doomsday environmentalism and the growth of fundamentalist and Pentecostal Protestantism (Hal Lindsey's apocalyptic The Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970, was the runaway best-seller of the decade).
When he wrote Future Shock, Toffler was also in the grip of a facile futurism. He confused the technologically possible with the historically probable, ignoring the mesh of social relations in which technological change takes place. Some of Toffler's predictions in Future Shock were remarkably prescient, but others reflected a daffy technological determinism—his predictions of widespread genetic cloning and of under sea colonization, for example. But in his next book which took a decade to produce, Toffler offered a subtler, less crankish view of change.
While Future Shock was written in the inductive style of journalism, moving from anecdote to observation to explanation, The Third Wave is written deductively as a theory of world history, beginning with certain structural principles and then proceeding from agricultural through industrial through “super-industrial” society.
The mood of The Third Wave is also different. While Future Shock suffered from the hysteria and hype of the '60s, The Third Wave is much more dispassionate and sunny. The book, Toffler wrote, was based on the “assumption that we are the final generation of an old civilization and the first generation of a new one, and that much of our personal confusion, anguish, and disorientation can be traced directly to the conflict within us, and within our political institutions, between the dying Second Wave civilization and the emergent Third Wave civilization that is thundering to take its place.” At its worst, The Third Wave is Panglossian; at its best, it describes a future that is only now emerging.
In Toffler's conception, First Wave civilization is devoted primarily to agricultural production for immediate use rather than sale. Its center of production is the land and home, and the family itself is the basic unit of production. Time and labor are governed by sunlight and the seasons, and nature is feared and sometimes worshiped. The Second Wave corresponds to industrial capitalism and Soviet socialism, where the factory and city become the centralized centers of production for exchange, regulated by the state. The division between home and work is clearly demarcated; workers become interchangeable components; and nature is seen as an antagonist to be subjugated.
In Third Wave societies, the factory and city recede. Workers, no longer interchangeable, are valued for their skill and knowledge; goods production, no longer bound by centralized systems of energy production or transportation and directed toward specialized markets, becomes decentralized. Just as in the First Wave, work begins to be done at home but this time as part of a global computer network. And within the home, consumers also assemble their own furniture, appliances, clothes and electronic equipment out of the components they buy on the market.
The corporation is also transformed. As knowledge and skill become central to authority, corporate hierarchies become flattened. Workers participate in management decisions, and management itself is more loosely structured around project groups. Family life grows much more idiosyncratic and diverse, encompassing traditional nuclear families, gay marriages, communes and single parents. Schools are more individualized and more closely linked to the home. “Symbiosis or harmony with the earth” emerges as an important goal.
Government changes accordingly. It no longer caters to an undifferentiated mass clientele but to competing minority interests. Many of the central government's functions are either privatized or shifted back to regions and states where they can be more closely tailored to voters' needs. The power of the nation-state also shrinks, as control over trade and matters such as environmental regulation shifts to supranational bodies or simply to the anarchy of global financial markets. “What appears to be emerging is neither a corporation-dominated future nor a global government but a far more complex system similar to the matrix organizations we saw springing up in certain advanced industries,” writes Toffler.
In The Third Wave, Toffler was borrowing and discarding parts of the Marxist legacy in order to create a new historical synthesis. His distinction between industrial and agricultural societies and his characterization of Second Wave production were pure Marx. Toffler also used a loose version of the Marxist distinction between base and superstructure—between the overall sphere of production, on the one hand, and all other areas of social and political life on the other. The “de-massification” of government and the family reflected the “de-massification” of production.
There is also a striking resemblance between Toffler's concept of the Third Wave and Marx's somewhat inchoate view of communism. Just as Marx's communism represented a return to an earlier form of tribal communalism, the Third Wave represents a return to elements of the First Wave. But while Marx's communism was a millennial utopia, based upon the achievement of an overwhelming abundance, Toffler's Third Wave is an attempt to look realistically beyond the factory-dominated stage of industrial capitalism. Toffler also rejects the idea of class struggle as the key to moving from one historical stage to another. The conflict he sees is more likely to be between than within successive waves, and members of different classes are more united than divided by the industries they work in “Representatives of the Third Wave would include everybody from Bill Gates' to a receptionist at Microsoft,” he explained.
“The Second Wave camp still includes a majority of the nominal power-holders in our society—politicians, businessmen, union leaders, educators, the heads of the mass media,” Toffler wrote in The Third Wave. “The advocates of the Third Wave are more difficult to characterize. Some head up major corporations while others are zealous anticorporate consumerists. Some are worried environmentalists; others are more concerned with the issues of sexual roles, family life, or personal growth. Some focus almost exclusively on the development of alternative energy forms; others are mainly excited by the democratic promise of the communications revolution.”
Toffler's politics in The Third Wave defy easy categorization. He's not a fierce opponent of federal government but does want many of its functions contracted out, devolved onto localities or moved upwards into transnational organizations. He places a “high priority on environmental programs” and favors tough regulation and government support for renewable, decentralized energy forms. He favors “legitimate options to the nuclear family.” He thinks the old industrial labor unions have become obsolete and posits new community organizations that would reflect the growing power of the home. He wants electronic networks to lay the basis for a “direct democracy.” His vision is that of an electronic community bound together by the confluence of home and work, but unlike older close-knit communities, committed to free speech and expression, without which the knowledge-based industry of the Third Wave cannot flourish.
In The Third Wave, Toffler was at his most provocative and persuasive describing how the new technology—the forces of production—are altering every facet of economic and social life. Though he finished The Third Wave three years before IBM introduced a ＄5,500 personal computer, Toffler fully anticipated the rise of the PC. “Home computers will soon be selling for little more than a television set,” he wrote. He also anticipated the rise of cable and of a national information highway and the proliferation of computer chips. “The giant centralized computer with its whirring tapes and complex cooling systems … will be supplemented by myriad chips of intelligence, embedded in one form or another in every home, hospital, hotel, every vehicle and appliance, virtually every building brick. The electronic environment will literally converse with us.”
Toffler was at his least persuasive describing how the Third Wave would impinge on larger political-economic structures. He argued, for example, that under the Third Wave the economy was being “radically decentralized.” His observation was right on target when it came to individual firms: operations were being decentralized as divisions were spun off, sometimes shipped overseas, and work at home was accelerating. But within the economy as a whole, control of capital was being further centralized. Even the computer industry—once a myriad of small creative start-ups and the inspiration for the '80s myth of the small entrepreneur—is increasingly dominated by a handful of software and hardware giants.
Similarly, while Toffler was certainly prescient in seeing a trend toward home production, he overreached when he argued that the labor involved in assembling commodities at home would bring the “power of the market … into question.” Toffler was still bewitched by Marx's model of a pure, “market-less” communism. Consumers who put together bicycles bought at Sports Authority or build decks from materials purchased at Home Depot are not exactly bringing the market into question. They are merely making it easier for companies to produce and sell goods on a modular basis that can be adapted to different markets. When a family fills out a will at home using a computer program rather than employing a lawyer, they may be depriving lawyers of market income, but they are also enriching the market for software or CD-ROMs.
Toffler's portrayal of the home worker is also misleading. There is a vast difference between the programmer who works at home and the tele-marketer who answers direct-mail product queries at home for L. L. Bean or Ticket-master, yet both are products of the Third Wave. Put the image of the programmer together with that of the decentralized company and you get Toffler's halcyon view of Third Wave democracy. Put the tele-marketer together with the new breed of highly centralized computer or retail conglomerates and you get a specter of powerlessness that recalls the textile piece worker of the early industrial revolution.
Toffler was equally Pollyannish about the Third Wave's effect on underdeveloped countries. In The Third Wave, he held out the promise of “Gandhi with satellites”—of First Wave countries vaulting over the Second Wave entirely. “Tomorrow's development strategies will come not from Washington or Moscow or Paris or Geneva but from Africa, Asia and Latin America,” he wrote. Toffler's optimism about such a prospect made his book a best-seller in China, but it is surely unfounded. The Asian nations that have made their way into the Third Wave have done so by way of Second Wave industrialization. And the African countries that remain tied to agriculture and extractive industries do not seem good prospects for semiconductor factories or software development. They seem more likely to be left permanently behind or “decoupled”—a possibility that Toffler acknowledged in his later books.
The same problem may affect workers and communities in the United States that are now cut off from super-industrial society. Toffler raised this point briefly in The Third Wave but limited himself to asking questions (“What about cities? What happens to unemployment figures?”) rather than providing answers. He says the “problem remains insoluble within the framework of Second Wave economies,” but it may be even more insoluble under economies that reward only highly skilled labor and make the central city irrelevant as an economic region. The alternative to Toffler's sunny vision in The Third Wave may not be not Orwell's 1984 but William Gibson's 1984 novel, Neuromancer, which portrays a world dominated by a few super-automated, giant transnational electronic firms, in which most citizens live out marginal, semi-criminal existences, playing arcade games, surfing the Net and taking and selling drugs.
In the wake of The Third Wave's enormous success—it was a global best-seller—the Tofflers became international celebrities. Chinese party leader and reformer Zhao Ziyang sought their advice, as did Mikhail Gorbachev. They were, and still are, lionized in Japan. (At the Japanese restaurant where I took Toffler, our star-struck waiter recognized him from Japanese television and asked for his autograph.) Ted Turner claimed he'd gotten the idea for CNN from The Third Wave. Lucrative lecture invitations poured in.
American politicians also paid homage. In the '70s, House Democrats sought Toffler's advice. In 1975, Representatives Charles Rose and John Culver held a conference on anticipatory democracy with Toffler as the featured speaker. Rose then started the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future, which was chaired in the '80s by Al Gore. After The Third Wave, Republicans began to seek Toffler's advice. Republican operative Lee Atwater invited him to the White House to address the Domestic Policy Council. Later, he was invited to meet with Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Gingrich eventually became the most important of all Alvin and Heidi Toffler's boosters. The Tofflers first met him in 1971 when the Georgian, an instructor at West Georgia College and an enthusiastic reader of Future Shock, journeyed to Chicago to hear Alvin Toffler speak. Four years later, when Rose and Culver were looking for a Republican to attend their conference, Alvin Toffler suggested Gingrich. After Gingrich entered the House in 1978, he championed the Tofflers' ideas to Republican House members and to Pentagon generals who were interested in new electronic warfare.
From that time, Gingrich and the Tofflers began a series of regular visits and discussions. According to Jeff Eisenach, the director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation and a close associate of both the Tofflers and Gingrich, Gingrich ended up influencing the Tofflers as much as they influenced him. Said Eisenach, “Newt has learned from them a great deal, and he has provoked them. There is no doubt over the course of that time, Al's views, at least, have gotten more clearly libertarian, increasingly skeptical of the role that government can play and the way government can play it.”
The adulation from abroad and the attention from Washington did not, however, have a particularly salutary effect on Toffler's work. The final book in his trilogy, Powershift, which came out in 1990, is his least impressive. Written in the journalistic style of Future Shock, it is filled with awkward neologisms (“cognitariat”), obscure acronyms (VANs, EDIs) and what read like soundbytes from the lecture circuit. Though ostensibly concerned with knowledge and power, it fails to maintain a single clear argument about either.
Powershift suffered from Toffler's attempt to reflect the political fashions of the '80s. With even less justification than before, Toffler repeated the same fallacious arguments about corporate and financial power that he had made in The Third Wave. “The big corporation or company is no longer necessarily the central institution for the production of material wealth in the capitalist world,” he wrote, just as the global auto industry was shrinking to a handful of companies and electronics firms were taking over entertainment and communications companies.
Perhaps under Gingrich's influence, Toffler tried to come to terms with the anti-government sentiment of the Reagan years. In The Third Wave, he had accurately portrayed the power of the state being sapped from below and above. In Powershift, on the other hand, he portrays the state as the last bastion of Second Wave supremacy and as a force for reaction in its own right. The state, Toffler writes, “is in business to stay in power. Whatever the economic costs to the rest of us, it will seek ways to harness the latest communications revolution to its purpose.”
Sounding like Bakunin or Albert Jay Nock, Toffler warned that “we now face the ultimate political powershift. We can redesign democracy for the twenty-first century—or descend into a new Dark Age. One path moves power from the State toward the individual. The other threatens to shrink the individual to zero. Nothing in the foreseeable future is about to take the gun out of the hands of the state.” Applied to the United States, where the civil service and military have historically wielded little power of their own and where the operation of the state has reflected—sometimes too transparently—competing interests within civil society, this is errant nonsense.
It's also destructive nonsense. Like the family, the national government is in need of redefinition rather than demolition. The question is how the government can help ensure that the development of new Third Wave industries benefits all, or at least most, Americans, and not simply a few. With the decline of unions and the decentralization of work, the national government remains the dispersed public's main bulwark against the centralized power of transnational corporations and international finance. It has to represent the country in new supranational forums like the World Trade Organization. It is also the main instrument through which Americans can warrant that, as more tasks are returned to the states, social policy does not revert to the beggar-thy-neighbor conditions that prevailed in the nineteenth century—that, for instance, states are not driven to compete with each other in driving down services to the poor and disabled or in reducing environment and worker-safety regulations.
Toffler is even less persuasive when he describes who is going to permit this enormous aggrandizement of state power to occur. Resorting to sheer hyperbole, Toffler warns in Powershift against “giant forces now racing toward convergence in a worldwide crusade that could, if we are not careful, sweep us into a new Dark Age.” At the top of Toffler's list are Christian fundamentalists and other religious extremists who “are determined to seize power over the lives and minds of whole nations, continents, the planet itself.” Then there are the “eco-theocrats” who, in contrast to “mainstream environmentalists,” want to “plunge society into pre-technological medievalism and asceticism” and the “new Xenophobes” who oppose Mexican immigration and bash Japan. Granted some of these may be nasty folks, but they are miscast as the defenders of Second Wave bureaucracy and as potential allies in a new totalitarianism.
In Powershift, Toffler became exactly the kind of theorist he'd warned against in his first books. Like the social critics of the '60s who thundered against the dangers of conformity and regimentation in an era when the industrial model of organization was beginning to disintegrate, Toffler warned of bureaucratic excess at a time when state power associated with the Second Wave was already under attack and crumbling. And like those critics, he reinforced his warnings with apocalyptic prophecies of breakdown and tyranny.
Toffler is still well worth reading, however, when he discusses specific policies. At several points in Powershift and in the two new chapters he and Heidi Toffler wrote in 1994 for Creating a New Civilization, he advances his own argument beyond that of The Third Wave. He is particularly effective in responding to conventional liberal programs for the economy. Toffler argues, for example, that the answer to low service-sector wages is “not to bewail the relative decline of manufacturing jobs, but to increase service productivity, and to invent new forms of workforce organization and collective bargaining.” That's basically right.
Similarly, the Tofflers acknowledge that in the short run, competition from low-wage industrial competitors holds down wages in the U.S., but insist that in the long run, low-wage competition will prove irrelevant. “Better technology, faster and better information flows, decreased inventory, or streamlined organization can yield savings far beyond any that can be squeezed out of hourly workers,” Alvin Toffler writes. Toffler, who was a strong supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement, favors training workers to take Third Wave jobs rather than protecting Second Wave jobs from foreign competition. He prefers, he told me, the Clinton administration's plan to grant workers training vouchers over Gingrich's plan to shift responsibility for worker training to the states.
In Powershift, Toffler acknowledges that the transition to a Third Wave economy has deepened the plight of the underclass, but he rejects a program of simply pumping money into inner cities or providing tax breaks to attract industry—the kind of approach favored by Jesse Jackson, on the one hand, and by Jack Kemp on the other. “An effective strategy for reducing joblessness in a super-symbolic economy must depend less on the allocation of wealth and more on the allocation of knowledge,” he writes. Unless there is some way to train inner-city workers to participate in the new economy, the money invested or the tax breaks provided will be wasted. Toffler's economic program in Powershift is to “make sure that all citizens, poor and rich alike, are guaranteed access to the widest possible range of media.”
That has a utopian ring to it, like Gingrich's proposal to provide a laptop to every ghetto-dweller. In Creating a New Civilization the Tofflers argue more realistically for an expansion of lower-level service jobs. They write, “America needs more, not less, service-sector employment to improve the quality of life of its people. That means jobs for everyone from electronics repairmen to recyclers, from healthcare providers and people who help the elderly to police and firefighters, and—yes—it even means jobs for childcare providers and for domestic workers who are desperately needed in millions of two-income homes.” Then the problem becomes the one defined most clearly by Peter Drucker—preventing a growing gap between service workers and knowledge workers.
While the Tofflers sometimes reinforce the most conservative anti-government rhetoric, they recognize that government will have to play a role in easing the strains created by the onset of the Third Wave. “Free-marketism and trickle-downism twisted into rigid theological dogmas are inadequate responses to the Third Wave,” they write. Alvin Toffler recalled for me his discussion before the Reagan administration's Domestic Policy Council: “They said we have to get rid of the welfare system. I said, ‘Yes, but you have to have something in its place.’ We could have the same conversation today.”
Alvin Toffler now rests his hopes for an adequate response to the Third Wave squarely on Newt Gingrich's shoulders. He's been reading Robert Blake's biography of Disraeli and sees some lessons there. “I could Xerox twenty or thirty pages of that book, and you wouldn't be able to tell whether it was about Newt or Disraeli, down to the name of his wife,” Toffler said. Disraeli succeeded in overcoming the torpor and illusions within his own Tory Party to lead England into the twentieth century. Toffler is hoping that Gingrich can overcome what he calls the “fringe element” in his own party, particularly the religious right, so that he can lead this country into the Third Wave.
Twenty-five years ago, Pat Moynihan recommended Blake's biography to Richard Nixon, hoping Nixon would see himself as Disraeli. It didn't work. But Toffler has some reason to hope for a better outcome. Unlike other conservative Republicans, Gingrich has never displayed a rigid faith in eighteenth-century laissez-faire economics. Unlike Bennett or Irving Kristol, he has a respect for science that doesn't permit him to condone Creationism and other forms of religious quackery. He has a lively, if not brilliant, mind and a genuine intellectual curiosity.
Gingrich has also assiduously promoted the Tofflers' ideas. The Tofflers' concept of an information explosion forms the framework for Gingrich's first book, Window of Opportunity, published in 1984. Gingrich devotes a two-hour lecture in his series on “Renewing American Civilization” to “The Third Wave Information Age,” which includes several video excerpts from Alvin Toffler himself. And a chapter of his new book, To Renew America, is about “America and the Third Wave Information Age.”
The Speaker doesn't simply mouth these ideas. As far back as 1971, he was advising the administration of West Georgia College to concentrate on creating a campus-wide computer network rather than a bigger library building. (Gingrich's recommendations were reprinted recently in Wired.) He wants government to speed the transition toward an information-based economy. That accounts for his commendable resistance to censorship on the Internet and for his support in the past for government funding of high technology and smart weaponry.
But Gingrich also differs from the Tofflers—in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. He did not come to an understanding of the Third Wave through Marx and through comparing experience in an auto plant and in IBM, but through the science fiction of Isaac Asimov. Gingrich has a little boy's fascination with space travel—in Window of Opportunity he advocated a new “space populism,” and in To Renew America he predicts that by 2020 honeymoons in space will be in vogue.
More important, he is afflicted by the same facile technological determinism that pervaded Future Shock but that the Tofflers later abandoned. In his lecture on the Third Wave, for instance, Gingrich attributes the change in dress codes around the world to the proliferation of blue jeans. In fact, it's the reverse. Dress codes have changed as nations have adopted the culture of the Third Wave, which is itself a product of changes in work life that began in the U.S. during the 1950s. Technological determinism also shapes Gingrich's thinking about policy. This year, he proposed solving the problem of the ghetto by providing a free laptop to every teenager. It's an idea that assumes that the mere introduction of the technology—like the introduction of gunpowder in Japan in the nineteenth century—will transform deep-seated social patterns. In the face of ridicule (and of demands to know where the money would come from), Gingrich temporarily withdrew his suggestion, but he has returned to it in his latest lectures.
Gingrich has also adopted the Tofflers' rosy view of a decentralized Third Wave capitalism while failing to acknowledge its darker side. In To Renew America, for instance, Gingrich rhapsodizes about a “revolution in goods and services that will empower and enhance most people.”
“Imagine a morning in just a decade or so,” he goes on. “You wake up to a wall-size, high-definition television showing surf off Maui. … You walk or jog or do Stairmaster while catching up on the morning news and beginning to review your day's schedule. Your home office is filled with communications devices, so you can ignore rush-hour traffic.”
Gingrich sees no pitfalls in the growth of new media and information conglomerates, insisting that like IBM they will eventually be curbed by new competitors armed with new ideas. He has advocated complete deregulation of telecommunications and wants to eliminate entirely the Federal Communications Commission. Far more than his gurus the Tofflers, he is willing to rest his faith entirely on the magic of the free market.
Gingrich has quarreled repeatedly with the Tofflers over abortion, school prayer and other points on the religious right's agenda. But the differences actually run deeper. Alongside his technological determinism, Gingrich espouses a secularized version of a religious view of history. He sees large-scale historical change as the direct result of the good or evil deeds of leaders rather than as the product of broader social and economic forces. In To Renew America, he explains American history since 1965—from family breakdown to falling wages—as the result of a “calculated effort by cultural elites to discredit this civilization and replace it with a culture of irresponsibility.”
This view of history is entirely inconsistent with the attempts of the Tofflers, and of Peter Drucker, Daniel Bell and others, to comprehend the new global future. It dwells entirely on the surface of events, letting the ghosted speeches of politicians guide its assessment of underlying causes. It ignores what Hegel called the “cunning of reason” that defies individual wills. In its contemporary version—as articulated by Gingrich, Bennett or Robertson—it abandons the Enlightenment view of history for the religious right's apocalyptic fears of spiritual and moral decline.
Is Gingrich simply currying favor with the Republicans' evangelical base? Or is he really of two minds about the meaning of history? The answer isn't obvious—which ought to make the Tofflers skeptical about whether they have found their voice in the new political era. Toffler may have gotten to tell the punch line of his three-decade-long joke, but it's not yet clear whether Gingrich, let alone the other Republicans and Democrats in Congress, have really gotten it.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1529
SOURCE: Toffler, Alvin, Heidi Toffler, and Scott S. Smith. “Future Speak.” Entrepreneur 27, no. 3 (March 1999): 127-30.
[In the following interview, Alvin and Heidi Toffler discuss their predictions for the twenty-first century, particularly in the realms of business and industry.]
In ancient times, prophets foretold the future. In modern times, management gurus predict trends—in business, that is. But few forecasters have had the influence of husband-and-wife futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler.
In 1970, the pair sent shock waves around the world with their prophetic international megaseller, Future Shock. It foresaw an increasingly consumerist society worldwide in which everything would be disposable, leading to difficult cultural changes including the disintegration of family relationships and the erosion of faith in government and big business, while the masses would be empowered by personal computers. The Tofflers forecasted the end of the hegemony of the three television networks by what was then termed the EVR [electronic video recorder] (now VCR) and cable TV—indeed, Ted Turner credited the Tofflers with giving him the idea for CNN. The duo predicted everything from commercial cloning and the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the breakup of AT&T and the trend toward working from home.
The Tofflers followed their first book with bestsellers The Third Wave and Powershift, and participated in studies on everything from education to war. They've been invited to confer with world leaders, from Presidents Reagan and Bush to Mikhail Gorbachev, Indira Gandhi and China's reform party leader, Zhao Ziyang. In 1995, then House Speaker Newt Gingrich put their latest book, Creating a New Civilization, on the required-reading list for fellow representatives, along with the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist papers.
Although the Tofflers say projecting the future can't be based simply on current trends and that any number of chance elements make a variety of futures possible, for three decades the world has listened to their predictions. We asked them to peer into their crystal ball and give us a reading on the first few decades of the new millennium.
[Smith]: What are the fundamental differences between a Second Wave society, which we're in now, and a Third Wave society, which you say we're moving toward?
[Alvin Toffler]: The Second Wave society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation and entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy.
In the Third Wave civilization we're moving toward, the primary factor of production is knowledge. We're customizing not only products but also services, markets and the media. The entire system becomes more diversified, complex and fast-changing.
[Heidi Toffler]: The industrial model is based on economies of scale: The more units that are produced, the cheaper they cost. With CAD/CAM [computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing], it became possible to produce one-of-a-kind variations at almost zero extra cost. In a way, we're returning to the First Wave, when artisans produced items one at a time, but now we can do it with high tech. Now you can go on the Internet and feed in your measurements and have clothing made just for you. Labor, land and capital are being replaced by information as the basis of the economy.
What is the mindset business owners need to have to succeed during the transition?
[Heidi Toffler]: Expect the unexpected, and look for constant change.
[Alvin Toffler]: Demassification is the best friend of entrepreneurs today. Consultants and writers who tell entrepreneurs what the trends are going to be generally do so by extrapolating from what has already happened. But we're living in a revolutionary moment, so trends are often upset. They discontinue, explode or even reverse themselves. Trend projection is the weakest way to find out what could happen. It doesn't tell you about countertrends or why things are happening. We use sophisticated models of social change that [evaluate] the interaction of political, social environmental and other factors with business—factors most economists and even many entrepreneurs ignore.
What industries will flourish during the next decades?
[Alvin Toffler]: Computers and everything related to them, obviously, since this will be an exploding, if extremely competitive, field for a long time to come.
Biotechnology is another. No one believed us when we talked about cloning animals and possibly humans, and we now know the pharmaceutical companies and a lot of biotechnology [firms] are working furiously in this direction. This will impact our healthcare system.
[Heidi Toffler]: The flaw in straight-line projections for health-care costs is that they don't account for cures developed biogenetically, which could cause costs to decline. I think an area where there will be tremendous growth is home health care and elder care in general, as well as services beyond health needs, from walking dogs to mowing lawns—services which individuals or microcompanies could provide.
[Alvin Toffler]: Education is another field where you can expect a vast number of entrepreneurial opportunities for niche ideas on how to encourage better learning. The current factory system is going to crack, no matter how strong the teachers unions, bureaucracies and some parents resist, because it is so out of sync with what the emerging economy and society will require.
Another sector where there should be many opportunities is in the environmental area. We have real problems and must develop ways to cope. And you don't have to be a big corporation to participate.
[Heidi Toffler]: I would also point to opportunities for local delivery. The Internet will demand alternatives to the current system [of product delivery].
[Alvin Toffler]: I was just in Japan at a multi-billion-dollar company that started out as a small service firm and now has a hundred different small businesses. They're very creative in finding extremely small niches. While I was there, they bought 16,000 small trucks for ＄3,500 each, so you can see that a delivery service using something like that would be very feasible.
What can the government do to encourage the emergence of the new economy?
[Alvin Toffler]: The accounting and tax system needs to be changed from the current one that favors high capital investments—buying big machines that are depreciated over a long period of time—while providing no recognition when you buy brains. The current system doesn't help small businesses or information-intensive businesses. Your computer is obsolete long before it's been depreciated.
How can entrepreneurs help bring about those changes?
[Alvin Toffler]: You need to bring together information-intensive companies to confront the problems faced by small business in the emerging economy. The Net is a great tool. You can get data to support your position and invite others with similar problems to join you.
What do you see happening in Japan and China?
[Alvin Toffler]: Japan is divided between those who want to focus on Asia and those who recognize that their economy is global. This administration made a big mistake by focusing our foreign policy relations with Japan almost exclusively on trade. We ourselves have undermined the pro-American Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). We pressured the Japanese to open their borders to Toys “R” Us and chain stores, threatening the livelihood of the 70 percent of the Japanese economy that is small business and a primary support for the LDP.
Japan has to completely rethink its political system, which is very feudalistic—barons who gather money for their followers.
What about Mexico?
[Heidi Toffler]: We supported NAFTA, and if it works out, the theory is that it will be good for both [the United States and Mexico].
[Alvin Toffler]: We've argued that our biggest national security problem is Mexico. There are tremendous fissures in that society, with near-guerrilla warfare in some areas and a government so corrupt, it's threatened with being taken over by drug lords. If Mexico explodes, the violence is likely to spill over into our Southwest, possibly fomented by other countries for anti-American reasons. We need to be less provincial and help build a decent Mexican economy for our own good.
What is your outlook for energy?
[Heidi Toffler]: At one time, there were strong incentives provided by the government and utilities for using solar power. Now it seems we're back to waiting until a crisis occurs because we have so much coal, oil and gas.
[Alvin Toffler]: We haven't yet seen the benefits of electrical deregulation [or the emergence of] consumers who will push for choice—what I call a more informed electricate.
What are you working on now?
[Alvin Toffler]: We're helping build a multi-media company called FutureNet. We decided not to come out with a book in 2000. We want to let the chaos settle down, so we probably won't [write a book] until the following year.
You're referring to the Y2K crisis?
[Alvin Toffler]: Among other things. As Kevin Kelly [executive editor of Wired magazine] said: “It will be a disaster but not Armageddon.” Probably like a couple of Hurricane Andrews.
[Heidi Toffler]: It's perfect illustration of man's inability to think ahead. But coming out with a book a year later than some might expect doesn't make much difference when you're always 10 or 20 years too early.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1085
SOURCE: Bethell, Tom. “Back to the Future.” American Spectator 33, no. 4 (May 2000): 16-17.
[In the following excerpt, Bethell observes that, contrary to Toffler's thesis in Future Shock, current advances in technology have not profoundly altered human life.]
I remember, around 1970, wondering what the year 2000 would be like and whether I would still be here. When you do that, you imagine the future in a very hazy, unfocused way, but at least it is different out there. Now here we are. And why is everything so much the same? That's what I didn't foresee. There is Ann, walking her dog. Here is the D.C. bus, lumbering up the hill, still belching smoke. This too-solid flesh (and more of it every year!) imposes its own continuity to a greater extent than futurists ever imagine. The small adjustments brought by the new technology seem rather minor by comparison.
As it happens, 1970 was the year of Future Shock, a much hyped book by Alvin Toffler. He argued that “change” was coming too fast for mere humans to absorb. Therefore, “we may submit masses of men to demands they simply cannot tolerate.” He used the phrase “information overload.” The book was a marketing triumph, for it was a dull read—a carload of abstract nouns. Many a sentence went like this: “The speeded up flow-through of situations demands much more work from the complex focusing mechanisms by which we shift our attention from one situation to another.”
Although he was careful to distance himself from the neo-Luddites, Toffler viewed new technology as an intimidating thing that would have to be “tamed.” Almost everyone thought that way at the time. That has now changed (except that nuclear power is feared much more than it was). Today, we take a benign view of the new information technology, computers, and the Internet. And no doubt they will greatly simplify our lives—almost the opposite of what Toffler foresaw. Meanwhile we're harried; perhaps at the stage of maintaining a horse and buggy in the barn, with a still-unreliable Model T in the garage.
Then again, maybe that is misleading. Take e-mail, for example. It's a great invention, but sometimes I think: My God, the telephone became commercially available, when? In 1920? Imagine that we had e-mail all through the twentieth century, and then, in about 1990, there was this amazing new invention, the telephone. People would be marveling. “You can sit at home and actually talk to someone hundreds of miles away!” “You mean you don't have to type it out?” “You can recognize the other person's voice?” “You mean I can throw away my keyboard?”
When you read books like Future Shock thirty years later you are apt to think that “change” has been exaggerated. Nonetheless, the digital revolution surely will upset many a going concern. And it will increase economic efficiency. Ten years ago, when I wrote an article, it practically had to be hand-carried to the editors. Then it would be laboriously retyped into the magazine's computer. Now I double as writer and typesetter. All over the country, the gains must be huge. Why, even as I write, office workers are playing Solitaire and other computer games on the job. Charles Krauthammer is playing chess in cyber-space. So much more work is being done! (Just kidding.) For many, the sheer novelty of the Internet transforms work into play. Or is it all just play, period?
I do worry about libraries. I live within a few hundred yards of the American University library, and for a modest fee I can check out books. University libraries are one of the joys of life, but what will the Internet do to them? The students, I am told, increasingly work from computers in their own rooms. In the library itself, students seem to spend much of their time using terminals for private e-mail. Who would have guessed, in 1970, that students a generation hence would become letter writers? Book circulation must be down, and book budgets will surely plummet before too long. Then again, maybe the torrent of academic rubbish, which has been flowing freely for a generation, will dry up. At the University of Texas at Austin, the New York Times reports, “circulation is down,” and “turnstiles are moving at a slower pace.”
Now comes word that the Wall Street Journal's Ray Sokolov is reading Stephen King's e-novella in bed with a laptop. There I will not follow. I have kept up with technological change to date, and I am happy to find things online. But if real reading is involved, I want it printed out, and bound. By the way, if there's a computer that can scan the front section and turn the pages of the Washington Post at the speed of hand and eye, which takes a couple of minutes, I want to hear about it. As far as I'm concerned, the online paper doesn't come close to the one delivered to your door. The horse and buggy is still way ahead.
Tom Wolfe applied a nice dash of cold water in a recent Investor's Business Daily Q & A. He was commenting not on the value of computers as such, but on the amazing faith that school teachers have placed in them.
I think what schools have learned already and what they don't dare talk about is this: Computer learning is good for one thing—learning how to use a computer! … Anything you could do with a computer pedagogically you could do with a pencil. I have seen my daughter use the word processor to prepare for a test, and she will outline (she is now in college) everything she had coming up for the test. It was fabulous, because it was active. But she could have used a pencil. What does a pencil cost today? Five cents? What does a computer cost? ＄1200? It would be a huge saving, and it would actually be a help because these screens are encouraging the passive use of information.
Which reminds me, I find people admiring the palm-fitting “notebook” that I carry about. Addresses, phone numbers, and general comments can be inscribed on its 60 sheets. Its “spiral back” feature ensures that it lies flat. Cost? 65 cents. As for that pencil, it often comes with a useful feature made of a raw material shipped from Sri Lanka. With a few quick strokes it can delete, or as they say “erase,” entries already made. The notebook fits easily into a jacket pocket. And no one wants to steal it.