Thursday, June 30, 2016

RIP Alvin Toffler



Although he became something of an apologist for neoliberalism towards his later life, Alvin Toffler wrote pivotal works of futurism in Future Shock and The Third Wave, books which had huge lasting impacts on the world culture in many ways good (Cyberpunk, Juan Atkins' use of "techno rebels" to invent a genre, other music/scifi/gaming/web/tech) and ill (Newt Gingrich). He can probably never be forgiven for his fealty to adaptive corporatism's inevitability as a central power player in the structuring of the future, but by introducing broader culture to the ideas of post-industrial automation, future shock, computer intelligence, et al., it at least gave those of us opposed to the centrality of control ample guidance to diagnose and resist the attempts to shape culture as they happened in real time and IRL.

In a sense, Toffler's idealism (about the democratization of knowledge, for instance) became the raw fuel of hi-tech industry, selling its own resilience in the face of adverse change as a hallmark of progress. Of course, it wasn't exactly progress, and the cooperation between markets, state, and mass culture left a bloody global mess in the shadows of its gleaming gadgetry. The fundamental shifts Toffler saw taking place within established units like nuclear families and nationalities were quietly challenged in the "neutrality" of business (which became multinational agents with little to no allegiance to world powers and which displaced mothers, fathers, corporatized the education of youngsters, incubated ideology through the distribution of mass media, et al.), while becoming fodder for a host of reactionary political subsets to both offer scapegoating antidotes to those reeling from future shock and insist on said future shock's continuation by enacting an ever-increasing mandate of privatization and deregulation.   In short, politicians work with corporations to product massive accelerated change and comfort those who feel swept up in the dust by promising to make America great again, or at least to make it as shitty for others as it is for you.

Fast forward to our present-day where ISIS is using Twitter and YouTube and lifestyle magazines as recruitment tools and the consensus view is that they are driven by forces that reject the fundamentally benevolent compromise between state and capital we've come to define as post-industrial progress. This is not to excuse ISIS (or American-style capitalism) of their more barbaric acts, but Toffler's "adapt or die" model failed to consider whether resistance to the more toxic elements of futurism (particularly those laid bare by persisting systems of control) was actually a futurism in itself, that not adapting to a future wherein we're headed towards potential mass extinction may actually benefit the species more than vying to hold onto some unsustainable and disastrous conception of a society modeled on Third Wave dynamics.



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