What Toffler asserts is
dangerous for mankind is an alteration in the rate at which change
asserts itself (i. e., the first derivative). Unfortunately, he
supports that assertion with statistics drawn from the primary curve,
thereby only demonstrating that change has occurred over time. While he
attempts to assert that the rate of change is accelerating, the
statistical methods he uses are grossly flawed. In other words, if you
have a factor which is increasing at the rate of 5 percent a year over
a long period of time, the absolute numerical quantity of increase in
the last year will be way out of proportion to the absolute numerical
quantity of increase the early years. And it is situations such as this
which the statistics he cites do demonstrate. If he took the time to
compute the actual rate of change, and then showed that the rate was
dramatically accelerating, his assertions might have some validity. But
it seems that he left this as an exercise for the student, assuming
that the student is intelligent enough to catch this sloppiness in the
Of course, some of the statistics which he cites merely support the conclusion which was just discussed, above: we are concluding the agricultural age of mankind and are in the process of moving on to the next age, whatever that age may turn out to be. I do not consider that point to be in controversy at all!
However, Toffler asserts that this change is occurring at so rapid a rate that mankind is becoming psychologically unbalanced from change. This point I challenge.
My own "gut reaction" is that mankind has a rate of change which we are able to successfully assimilate, and that the ongoing changes in our society are proceeding at no greater than that rate. As a basis for that, I would note that the parallels between Classical and Western civilizations to not appear to be seriously out of synchronization, in spite of two to three centuries of movement away from agriculture as a primary economic activity. To put it in more concrete terms, in Classical civilization, it was just under three hundred years from Alexander the Great to Julius Cęsar. For Western Civilization, Spengler asserts that Napoleon was the cultural "contemporary" of Alexander. It is now less than two hundred years since the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Thus, we would have about a century left before we should expect to get to someone who would be the "contemporary" of Julius Cęsar.
In point of fact, the time line suggested by Spengler would mean that 2,000 a. d. would be roughly equivalent to the time of the Gracchi, who lived from roughly 163 b. c. to 121 b. c. Here is an abstract of the biography of the Gracchi, quoted from Volume IV, page 659, of the Encyclopędia Britannica (1975):
"An aristocrat, Tiberius began a military career during which he developed plans for distributing public lands to the landless. During his tribunate (133) his impolitic activities for agrarian reform led to public riot and his death by clubbing. Gaius, during his first tribunate (123), instituted reforms which gained him both popular support and aristocratic hatred. Opposition to his agrarian ideas arose during his second tribunate (122), and he failed to secure a third tribunate. He died during an unauthorized demonstration."
That is a biographical sketch which would fit reasonably well within our own culture at our present point in time.32
It demonstrates cultural values which we would find quite familiar,
such as democratic elections, desires for reform, and civil
disobedience in support of a program of reform. We are not yet anywhere
near the point where we choose to follow leaders based more on
personality as opposed to program.33
I would thus assert that we are at least decades away from the point in
time where some Cęsar-equivalent would seize power through a
coup d'état, rule by edict, and establish another hereditary
monarchy-equivalent, as Julius Cęsar did from roughly 49 b. c.
The essential point which I wish to make here is that, just because we have clearly reached a second great dividing point in human history, equivalent to the Agricultural Revolution of ten millennia ago, that does not mean that Spengler's predicted course for the ending of Western Civilization will not proceed apace. So far as I can observe, both of these phenomena are proceeding in parallel, totally independent of one another.
There is absolutely nothing which has occurred at any time in the history of Western Civilization, from the time when mankind first began to experience the end of the Age of Agriculture, which would, in any way at all, indicate that the overall course of Western Civilization has been diverted to any significant degree. If anything, trends which Spengler expected to see arise, such as the so-called "Second Religiousness," have appeared on the scene, more or less as predicted.34 Furthermore, many people continue to assert that Western Civilization is clearly in continued decline.
The one thing which is at odds with Spengler's predictions is the continued rapid advancement of science and technology. Based on an impetus from Western Civilization alone, Spengler predicted that no such advances would be occurring in this century. It now seems clear to me that our technological revolution is being driven from a reservoir which is apart from Western Civilization (or, for that matter, from ANY civilization). The driving force for our technological change is the modern day equivalent to the Agricultural Revolution of ten millennia ago.
Thus, our political trends are still totally on track with Spengler's prediction, because there is little relationship between politics and technology.35 But technology proceeds apace, departing from the predicted trend, because it is being driven from a much deeper force: the long-term drive of mankind to achieve significant progress. I will not question whether progress is good or bad; I only note that mankind has been pursuing progress for at least ten millennia, and we show no sign of slowing down now.
We now skip ahead to the second section of Toffler's Chapter 2:
"TIME AND CHANGE
"How do we know that change is accelerating? There is, after all, no absolute way to measure change. In the awesome complexity of the universe, even within any given society, a virtually infinite number of streams of change occur simultaneously.36 All `things' - from the tiniest virus to the greatest galaxy - are, in reality, not things at all, but processes.37 There is no static point, no nirvana-like unchange, against which to measure change. Change is, therefore, necessarily relative.
"It is also uneven. If all processes occurred at the same speed, or even if they accelerated or decelerated in unison, it would be impossible to observe change.38 The future, however, invades the present at differing speeds. Thus it becomes possible to compare the speed of different processes as they unfold. We know, for example, that compared with the biological evolution of the species, cultural and social evolution is extremely rapid.39 We know that some societies transform themselves technologically or economically more rapidly than others. We also know that different sectors within the same society exhibit different rates of change - the disparity that William Ogburn labeled `cultural lag.' It is precisely the unevenness of change that makes it measurable."
At this point, Toffler's book again degenerates into the same sort of statistical exposition which is equally subject to counter-argument as before. For example, he begins with a quotation from biologist Julian Huxley40 about the pace of inventiveness rising ever so rapidly as mankind becomes more concentrated into cities. As it is stated, the quotation is probably more correct than incorrect, but it fails to assign any cause and effect relationship to the attributes of change. Thus, we end up with no better idea of the source of our alleged troubles than we had at the beginning.
32 In other words, Tiberius agitated a riot that resulted in his own death; Gaius angered "the powers that be," and lost his bid for a third term in office. Gaius then engaged in civil disobedience which resulted in his own death. These are concepts with which we can relate based upon events which have occurred within recent memory, such as the Kent State massacre, the 1968 riots in Chicago at the Democratic convention, and the death of several prominent leaders who advocated reforms.
33 This subject is discussed in more detail in Book IV, Section E, which discusses Spengler's views on Politics.
34 The "Second Religiousness" for Western Civilization was not at all obvious at the time when Spengler wrote "The Decline of the West." Historical trends are best analyzed a few centuries after the facts, in order to get the best perspective on those facts. Nonetheless, I would assert that Spengler's predicted "Second Religiousness" arose in the 1960s with the rise of the "Born Again" Christian movement, which is now sometimes called "Charismatic Christianity." In Book IV, Section F, I discuss the conformance of this movement with the details of Spengler's predictions.
35 There is clearly some relationship, because technology affects the means by which politics is accomplished. In Rome, the people had to attend the Forum. In Spengler's time, the newspaper was the driving force. In our present day, television is the controller of the masses. It is clear that the "information superhighway" will effect yet another change in the means. But whether or not there is any consequential change in the outcome of Western Civilization will depend, in part, on how people respond to the message contained in this book: that we now have the power to change ourselves forever into something which goes way beyond everything which mankind has ever been before!
36 Yes, and at the "here-and-now" of our present time, in Western Civilization, the two most important "streams of change" are the streams of The Decline of the West, as described by Spengler, and the Technological Revolution (or Industrial Revolution, or whatever you choose to call it). These are the "streams of change" which are most dramatically affecting the affairs of mankind.
37 This is a thought which requires some significant amount of perspective on the vastness of Time. (see, e. g., Book IV, Section D.) Even the solidest rock is a process when viewed from the perspective of a vast period of time. A rock begins as a molten mass of liquid silicon, with various impurities, and will most likely end as that same again, when our Sun explodes into a fireball which will probably envelope the Earth. In between, the rock may have lain buried for billions of years, or been thrown up to the surface at an early age; it all depends upon the vagaries of chance as applied to the existence of the rock. But, viewed from such a prospective, the rock is clearly a process, and not a permanence which might serve as an anchor for our concept of reality. Even the entire Planet Earth cannot serve as such an anchor, as the Earth is merely a very large rock, and thus merely an extension in size of all which we have said about the rock itself. In fact, there is no such anchor, and it is the realization of this fact which sends so many pseudo-rationalist humans into a state of shock, where they must contemplate their own realization of a tremendous need for religion.
38 This sentence makes little sense unless our measurements and perceptions of the passage of time are also processes which are subject to such variations in speed. Einstein provided us with the needed benchmark for time: the speed of light in a vacuum. Toffler clearly does not understand Einstein, but I cannot really blame Toffler for that. Even today, 25 years later, there are still only a small few who grasp the essentials of the Einstein Theory of Relativity.
39 I could just as easily argue against this assertion. As Spengler asserts, our cultural and social evolution appears to have been quite cyclical in nature for the last ten millennia. In absolute terms, change in our social and cultural institutions has been virtually non-existent!
40 Julian was one member of a rather prolific family of scientists, engineers, philosophers, and writers. The patriarch, Julian's grandfather, Thomas, was famous for his defense of Darwinism, and is also known for coining the term "agnostic" to describe his own religious beliefs. A brother, Aldous, was a prolific but troubled writer. Numerous other family members were famous for one thing or another, including another brother of Julian, Andrew Fielding Huxley, who won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1963 for research on nerve conduction.
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