Thursday, April 14, 2011


The following is from Alvin Toffler's 1970 book, Future Shock:

"There is something morally repellent about one group seeking to gratify itself psychologically, pursuing novel and rarified pleasures, while the majority of mankind lives in wretchedness or starvation. The techno-societies could defer the arrival of experientialism [Toffler's guess at the type of job economy that will follow the service-heavy industry, which followed manufacturing; and which exists today not as Toffler would have envisioned it but in our TV, gaming, vacation, dining, drug, and other experiences], could maintain a more conventional economy for a time by maximizing traditional production, shifting resources to environmental quality control, and then launching absolutely massive anti-poverty and foreign aid programs.

"By creaming off 'excess' productivity and, in effect, giving it away, the factories can be kept running, the agricultural surpluses used up, and the society can continue to focus on the satisfaction of material wants. A fifty-year campaign to erase hunger from the world, for example, would not only make excellent moral sense, but would buy the techno-socieites badly needed time for an easier transition to the economy of the future.

"Such a pause might give us time to contemplate the philosophical and psychological impact of experiential production. If consumers can no longer distinguish clearly between the real and the simulated, if whole stretches of one's life may be comercially programmed, we enter into a set of psycho-economic problems of breathtaking complexity. These problems challenge our most fundamental beliefs, not merely about democracy or economics, but about the very nature of rationality and sanity" (208).

I'm not so sure about ramping up production for its own sake at the expense of doing things sustainably, but I can see Toffler's larger point. Change happens. Faster and faster all the time. Toffler and others would argue that growth happens, or should happen. I'm just not so sure we're growing in the right direction. Economic growth, for example, is an unsustainable machine that feeds on itself, on the backs of the poor, and on the coffers of our limited and quickly dwindling resources. I don't see how any of that can be disputed at this point.

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