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If a time comes when government wishes people to choose one thing over another, then the proper method would be to offer an incentive. The history of the last 25 years is full of situations where the government offered some incentive to people and the officials were amazed at the huge response which resulted from the incentive. My personal opinion on the economic consequences of government incentives is that the government had to learn to more carefully measure the incentive in order to get a carefully measured reaction to each incentive.
In the 1970s, the economy of the United States got horribly out of balance, and we went through a wild period of widely fluctuating economic cycles. Since 1980, the people in charge have been able to largely damp out the wild fluctuations and create an environment of slow but stable growth in the economy as a whole. It would appear to me that people are more comfortable with that economic model, as virtually all of the current crop of politicians in Washington heaps praise upon the official most identified with this state of affairs, Alan Greenspan.
I refuse to believe people would seek more change in their lives than they could digest from a psychological perspective. The sense of disorientation which they would feel in their lives would automatically act as a damper or regulator on such acts. In a free market, there will never be more change than the mass of the people will voluntarily accept. The danger, then, is when government or some other outside force acts to impose change by fiat, such as the forthcoming HDTV conversion. Changes of that sort have the clear potential for disruption to society.47
In conclusion, I would assert that the history of the last 25 years clearly shows me that the trends of that period have been largely in the opposite direction, towards more permanence as opposed to less. Furthermore, it is one of the goals of the new technology now on the horizon to create even MORE of this permanence in the lives of our people. In the "brave new world" of the telecommunications revolution, I can sit in my home permanently, if I desire, and still maintain electronic contact with whomever I please, without regard to where they happen to be in the world. My gut tells me that the citizens of that world will have increased permanence with the "things, places, people, organizations, and ideas" in their lives. They can change jobs without moving, or move without changing jobs. Family and friends are a push of a button away. I can contact any place with which I need to feel some relationship, and do it whenever or wherever I wish.
It is that vision of the electronic age which is unfolding ahead of us which motivates me to assert that Toffler's thesis of the "man of the future" living in a world of increased transience is fundamentally flawed. People do seek permanence in their lives. The challenge, then, is to have a rapidly flowing economy which can still give that sense of permanence to its citizens. The history of the last 25 years shows progress in that general direction, and the most realistic proposals for the future will, on balance, lead to an increased permanence in a technological society.
By increasing the range of choices which an individual has, we do make it more likely that individuals will choose less permanence in their lives. But we also give them the freedom to choose more permanence, thus ameliorating any psychological distress which might otherwise result from "future shock."
We must also deal with our own perceptions of what relationships are. If we view a relationship as only existing during a period of physical presence, then the availability of electronic relationships will seem illusionary or ephemeral. But if electronic contact is viewed as extending a relationship across distances, then electronic means becomes the method of maintaining a relationship which would otherwise dissolve. The relationship does not disappear when I hang up a telephone, or in the future, cause my audio and video link to terminate. Virtually by definition, you cannot have an electronic "relationship" which lasts only during a single contact. Most people do not consider casual contacts to constitute a "relationship," so too we must not consider single electronic contacts to be a "relationship." It is only repetition that makes a relationship. And when a relationship is important, such as with family members or long term friends, the electronic connection of the present or the future allows that relationship to exist where it could not before because it allows repeated contacts at virtually any time from virtually any place.
Thus, the people of the future should tend to move less than before, and thereby keep their relationships with neighbors and things around them, because they will have the freedom to change jobs without moving. Also, electronic contacts in the future will allow people to maintain relationships which would otherwise have dissolved due to the natural centrifugal forces of a rapidly moving economy.
With many more choices available, the people of the future will have exactly as much transience or permanence as they desire, balanced perfectly to the psychological needs of each person by the free choices which each person voluntarily makes. People will choose to maintain or change their relationships as they desire, when they desire them. This is not a prescription for "future shock," but should instead be a prescription for a happier and more fully satisfying life experience.
Finally, I should note that the basis of the investigation of Toffler was a perceived disorder in our society, which Toffler attempted to attribute to "future shock" syndrome. My assertion would be that this disorder actually comes from "The Decline of the West," as noted by Spengler.
It is neither technology nor the future which is the enemy of mankind. It never has been and never will be, because these are things which have no meaning without mankind to give them meaning. Instead, it is mankind itself which is our enemy. We are on a downward sloping hill to oblivion which was plotted out for us the moment when we first put down roots and began to farm. It is the natural consequence of being mankind in the middle phase of our development.
The challenge, then, is to move mankind into a third phase of development before our society disintegrates under our feet. In essence, that is the true subject of this book. My digression with Toffler was mostly to refute the Luddite-like vision which he presents. We must seek the true roots of our problems if we desire to solve them. Our troubles at present are by no means new; we can see the patterns in the end times of most (if not all) Civilizations. It was a clear enough pattern for Spengler to write his brilliant work. It has progressed through the intervening decades in ways which only confirm his pessimistic forecast.
But the thing which Spengler did not consider was the phenomenon which Toffler noted: we are undergoing the second great divide in human history, with the first great divide being the beginnings of agriculture some ten to thirty millennia ago. It is the force from this underlying upward thrust of technological change which gives me hope for a final termination of the cyclical rise and fall of Civilization, which has troubled mankind for the last few millennia. But, as we seek to find our way out of the troubles in which we are now embroiled, we must not forget either Toffler or Spengler, and we must choose our course according to the preferable paths which are at least possible, given the current state of mankind as a whole.


47 But it should be noted that there are many political pressure groups who are poised to scream and protest at any proposed government action which will injure too many people. When the outside forces are about to impose their will, a free society will tolerate protest; and if the protest is substantial, the changes can be prevented. Just ask the people who designed "New Coke."

Copyright 1994-1999 by the Agnostic Church

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