Chapter 2: The Future is Not What it Used to Be
The difference between the world our grandparents knew and the world our grandchildren will live in staggers the imagination. My grandmother was born in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. America was still mostly rural and agricultural. The industrial era was just being born, The rapid growth of cities was barely getting underway. She died in 1950 in a society dominated by manufacturing industries. Huge urban centers were being rapidly surrounded by suburban housing developments and shopping centers. Five years before her death the world entered the atomic age. Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki meant that a new era had begun. In other words, my grandmother’s life began at the end of the rural, agricultural period. She lived through the triumph of the urban, industrial age. By the time she died, still another epoch was getting underway. This new age is being called by many names. I will refer to it as the megapolitan, cybernetic age. These terms require some explanation.
Begin by thinking about how things have changed in your own lifetime. If you are middle-aged or older, take a moment to remember how much in the world today is new since 1945. The list can grow long very rapidly -- atomic energy generating plants, supersonic transport planes (SST),jet aircraft, oral contraceptives, tranquilizers, television, communication satellites, space vehicles that take men to the moon and cameras to Mars and beyond, hundreds of synthetic fabrics, the aerosol can, direct long-distance dialing, heart transplants, advanced computers, and so on and on. We have grown used to the threats of nuclear war, the population explosion, and ecological catastrophe. It is hard for me to remember how different things are today from the world I grew up in before World War II in rural Georgia. In my early childhood we had no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity. We cooked on a wood stove, kept our food in an ice box, and drew water from a well. We washed clothes by hand and boiled the dirtiest of them in a black washpot with a wood fire under it to get them clean. Many middle-aged people today have lived through such changes.
But we must push deeper to understand how this megapolitan, cybernetic society emerged. First of all, what do these words mean? Megapolitan refers to the clustering of large cities together to form huge belts of dense population. Three of these regions are especially important.1 (1) Boswash. This is the string of cities along the Atlantic coast from Boston to Washington. It might better be called Portport. It would include everything between Portland, Maine, and Portsmouth, Virginia. By the year 2000 this area may contain 1/4 of the total population of the country, maybe about 80 million people. (2) Chipitts. This is the region around the Great Lakes from Chicago to Pittsburgh. It might extend north to Toronto, Canada and include Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Buffalo, and Rochester. The United States’ portion of this may contain more than 1/8 of the population of the country by 2000, about 40 million people or more. (3) Sansan. This is the area along the Pacific coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara. In another 25 years this area may contain 1/16 of the population, about twenty million people. In all, half the people in the whole country, or even more, might live in these three megapolitan complexes. In addition to these huge urban strips, there will be smaller megapolitan regions in other parts of the country.
But this only tells us where most of us will be living. A more important question is how we will live. Also, we need to look at how the total life of the society will be organized to meet its needs and reach its goals. At this point I want to explain the other term I have already introduced. What is meant by a cybernetic society? Cybernetics comes from the Greek kybernes. It means steersman. It is related to the Latin gubernator, from which we get the word governor. Cybernetics, then, is the science of steering, of governing. It has to do with the ways we organize something in order to achieve a certain goal under changing circumstances. It deals with self-regulating, self-controlling, and self-correcting processes in machines, biological organisms, and social organizations. Anything that works by cybernetic principles can reach a desired goal or perform an assigned task despite changing conditions. The regulation of body temperature which keeps it at 98.6 degrees is a simple example of what I am talking about. A furnace that is operated automatically by a thermostat to keep a room at 68 degrees is nearly everybody’s favorite instance of a cybernetic machine. I want to describe the society that is coming into being by using clues from cybernetics.
A cybernetic society would be self-guiding. It would have ways of achieving deliberately chosen goals. Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would have a part in choosing the goals. In fact, one of the basic problems facing our society will be to find ways to get all of us into the act. How can we make it possible for all people to have their say about what we should strive for as a nation and how we should go about getting the kind of society we want? I will be using the idea of a cybernetic society as a summing-up term. But not even this idea can suggest all the important features of the new world that is coming into being in our midst.
The cybernetic society will also be post-industrial.2 A pre-industrial society is engaged basically in taking things from the earth. Farming, fishing, mining, and cutting timber are the basic occupations. My grandparents on both sides were farmers. An industrial society continues to have people who till the soil and mine the earth for basic resources. But making products and selling them dominate economic life. My father was engaged in commerce and for a time was foreman in a textile mill that made hosiery. A postindustrial society, of course, must have farmers to raise food. It will also have many factory workers who manufacture products. The new feature, however, is that providing services occupies the work time of most employed people. I am a teacher.
In 1900 most people lived in a rural area and made their living by farming, as my grandparents did.
In 1940 the largest single group was by far the industrial workers who worked in factories, as my mother and father did.
In 1960 the largest single group of workers was called by the census "professional, managerial, and technical people," like me and my wife who are teachers.
By 1980 it is estimated that 2/3 of the work force will be engaged in providing services.
The service industries embrace trading, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, entertainment, and communication, among others. Included are doctors, lawyers, TV repairmen, journalists, teachers, the clergy, sales clerks, barbers, professional athletes, and on and on. Are not most of you who are reading this page engaged in providing some service rather than helping to manufacture some product? We have already become the first service society in history. Over half of those employed are not involved in the production of tangible goods -- food, clothing, housing, automobiles, and other such items. Providing services accounts for more than half of the gross national product of the country.
Another crucial feature of the cybernetic society is its reliance on knowledge.3 In part, this means that more and more jobs require a course of study as preparation rather than training on the job. Some professions such as law and medicine have always required specialized training. But our grandparents lived in an age when the skills necessary to run the farm, work in the steel mill, keep the books in a store, or a thousand other things required little or no book learning. There are, of course, many such jobs today. But the trend is clear. In today’s world more and more of the jobs with good pay and prestige require some technical knowledge and some understanding of theory. To be prepared, you need to go to school, read books, and learn from a teacher. We and our children know this quite well. The new jobs require the ability to apply a body of information to some practical situation. This is different from simply learning to use tools or operate machines, America will need increasing numbers of computer programmers, systems analysts, nurses, dieticians, medical technicians, psychiatric caseworkers, accountants, and soon through a long list. To get a good job today, it is more important than ever to know something as well as to be able to do something. In fact, knowledge has become our basic industry. The largest single occupation today is teaching. Teachers are needed to develop knowledge and to train people in applying it. By 1980 it is expected that every other dollar earned and spent will involve either producing or distributing ideas and information.
But we have still not touched on the most important feature of the emerging society. Every social order rests on knowledge and its transmission. Even the earliest agricultural societies had to teach children when and how to sow and reap. And of course, new ways of doing things, if they are to persist, must be passed along from generation to generation. The invention of the stirrup, the horse collar, the heavy plow, and clockwork -- occurring between 500 and 1500 -- all represented a growth in practical knowledge, and all had powerful effects in transforming medieval society, Yet all these inventions came about as the result of practical experience. Someone facing a particular problem came up with a better way to do something mainly on the basis of trial and error. Beginning with the seventeenth century, science --especially physics -- advanced rapidly; but invention was the result not of advances in science, but of advances in technology, and this was true well into the twentieth century. Henry Ford and the Wright brothers were more like traditional craftsmen than modern scientific researchers.
However, if we look to the future, the situation is different. What is decisive now is scientific ideas and technical theory. Such knowledge can be translated into many forms to produce solutions to practical problems. Some of the fastest growing industries today are electronics, computers, and pharmaceuticals. These, and new industries still to come along, will depend on the scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. The experts tell me that the computer depends on symbolic logic, a very technical subject. The development of computer science would be impossible apart from the mathematical theories of Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, and John von Neumann.
Some of the inventions of previous centuries made it possible to replace human and animal muscles with machines. My grandfathers plowed their crops a row at a time with a mule. Today tractors cultivate large fields in a shorter time. But something different from this is shaping the world to come. We are even now in the age of electronics, the computer, and cybernetics. What is being replaced by machines today is not simply muscle power but brain power.4 The new implements make it possible to process information and control operations that previously required the intervention of human thought. Using these systems it is possible to produce goods that are hardly touched by human hands. Such systems are able to receive information, make decisions, and send out signals that change or control complicated processes. A simple example is, of course, the thermostat. The furnace or air conditioner is turned on and off by a device that keeps the room at a constant temperature, regardless of what the weather is outside. The most spectacular instances are found in the recent space flights. Computers were used to make complicated calculations that guided the spacecraft to near pinpoint landings on the moon, a quarter of a million miles away.5
Computers are getting so smart it is scary. A host of jokes have already appeared reflecting our vague apprehensions that we may be replaced by machines with higher IQs than we have. Nearly everyone has heard the one about the Supercomputer that knows everything. The ultimate question is put to it. "Is there a God?" Supercomputer says, "Now there is!" My favorite story was told by Herman Kahn. A skeptic approaches Supercomputer. "If you know so much, tell me where my father is right now." Supercomputer says, "Your father is fishing off the coast of Cape Cod." The skeptic is elated. "That goes to show you’re nothing but a big phoney. I happen to know that my father, Herman Schnell, is in San Diego." But Super-computer has the last word. "It is true that Herman Schnell is in San Diego, but your father is fishing off the coast of Cape Cod." Some experts believe that sooner or later computers can be made that feel as well as think. Everyone who has seen Stanley Kubrick’s 2OO1: A Space Odyssey will understand what is meant here.
Up to this point, we have been talking about mechanical and electronic technologies. We must move on to speak of "social technologies." By this I mean ideas and theories that can be used to solve problems where people as well as things are involved. The economists who advise President Ford about fighting recession and inflation base their suggestions on very complicated theories. Their models of how the economy works, their statistical charts, and their technical language leave us noneconomists mystified. We now face, and we will face in the future, multitudes of problems that we cannot possibly deal with apart from the help of experts in many fields. Finding alternative energy sources, combating pollution, providing mass transit systems for cities -- to mention just three current issues -- require knowledge that only highly trained scientists and technicians possess. We are not nearly so sure as we were even a decade ago that the "social engineers" with their secret knowledge can successfully manage society and direct it toward desirable goals. Most of us are skeptical of the economic experts surrounding the president these days. There are some problems that are very hard to resolve no matter who is in charge and no matter how much expertise is around. It will be difficult to whip inflation and recession even with the help of the experts, but it is clear that we cannot solve these problems without them. The same holds of many of the other challenges the nation and the world face in the coming decades.
In short, there is a novel and glamorous language today. It speaks of operations research, systems analysis, technological forecasting, information theory, game theory, simulation techniques, decision theory, Delphi method, cross-impact matrix analysis, statistical time-series, stochastic models, linear programming, input-output economics, computer based command and control systems, and so on. All of these terms refer to ways of thinking which are used to understand and control some process that goes on in business, government, or in society generally. Name almost any area of modern life you can think of. It doesn’t matter whether it involves nature or society. Somewhere there is a group of people thinking of ways to figure out what is going on and to improve the situation where possible. This holds whether we are thinking of how to grow more grain in the tropics, reduce the birth rate, control inflation, stimulate economic growth, get rid of tooth decay, provide better health care, find some way to turn garbage into a useful resource, reduce air pollution, win the next election, avoid war with Russia, develop human potential, extend the length of life, or find a cure for cancer. And all of these efforts to solve problems or to control some aspect of our economic, political, social, or educational life require the application of theoretical knowledge.
In business, in government, and in all the large organizations of our society a new form of power has been created. The importance of problem solving everywhere requires technical experts. They know the secret of making things work and we don’t -- and this makes them powerful. Moreover, knowledge-producing institutions of all sorts take on a new significance.6 The universities will be especially important as the place where the problem-solving knowledge of the future will be created. Profit and nonprofit "think tanks," research institutes both public and private, the laboratories of industries, and many other institutions are at work providing the ideas and the inventions that will affect all of us tomorrow. I suspect that most of the people who read this book will have had some training in one or another of these knowledge-producing institutions. Many teach in a school or work in a research laboratory of some corporation. Others make use of ideas coming from these "knowledge factories" to do their work. More and more of us either are experts of some sort or depend on them in some way. Some of us who don’t have any particular expertise may feel left out because our lives are being affected by something we cannot understand or control. It cannot be said too frequently that one of the fundamental challenges facing us lies right here. How can we make use of the knowledge of experts in solving our problems without creating an elite core of "social engineers" who plan our future for us without our advice or consent?
So far have said that the cybernetic society is one that makes use of highly technical knowledge to solve problems and to invent better ways to get things done. It is also a society committed to managing change and guiding itself toward a more desirable future. This calls for intelligent planning which sets up consciously chosen goals and seeks ways of achieving them. All of this requires expertise of a highly technical sort. Solving problems and planning intelligently for the future requires knowledge and know-how that only advanced science and technology can give us. Future-oriented planning and social problem solving based on expert knowledge are key features of the emerging cybernetic society.7
The first thing to keep in mind, then, is the centrality of problem-solving knowledge. Now a second main ingredient of the cybernetic society must be introduced: politics. By politics I mean the decisions we make as a people about how we want the society to be organized and managed. Government is the institution through which we decide what we want as a nation, what policies and rules we shall live by, and what goals we shall try to accomplish for ourselves. I have said that a cybernetic society is committed to managing change as best it can in order to achieve what it wants. As our society grows more complicated and interdependent, there are simply more decisions that we will have to make together. Moreover, in a time of rapid change we have to plan ahead. We have to ask, for example, where we will get our energy in 1980 and in 1990 and in 2000. This means that politics is very important in a cybernetic society. The political arena is where we make our decisions about what we want done here and now and about the goals we want to seek for the future. Government will inevitably be right In the center of our efforts to solve problems and plan for our future. To talk about politics is also to talk about power. We frequently disagree among ourselves about the laws we want passed and the policies we want our government to follow at home and abroad. The result is a struggle for power as competing individuals and groups try to elect officials who will support their interests against their opponents. Conflicts are inevitable as we seek to solve our problems and plan our future.
Three reasons can be given for the view that decision making in the political arena will be a crucial feature of the emerging society.8
1. The growing impact and expense of technology requires governmental intervention. The recent debate over the supersonic transport plane is an illustration of my point. Will the environment be damaged by hundreds of these aircraft flying at high altitudes and throwing their exhausts into the stratosphere? Why should a farmer in Iowa be taxed to build an airplane in which he will never ride? Should the average citizen approve of government support for the SST just so an affluent New York businessman can save a few hours flying to London? Why shouldn’t private enterprise provide the money? Should corporations come running to Washington for help with a big project like this when they usually want the government to leave them alone? Many such issues face us.
The problems become more acute when we take a long-range look. Technology creates an impact for future good or ill. Hence, support of technology cannot be dependent on what the public wants now. Nevertheless, we can only choose among alternatives presently available. Ordinary citizens like ourselves do not know enough about future technological innovation to vote today with ballots or with dollars in the market. A problem arises because of the future planning required. A democratic government responds to the needs and demands of the present electorate, yet the Congress and the president make decisions that will have an impact on a generation of voters in the future.
2. America is becoming a homogeneous society. Increasingly issues in one part of the economy affect all our citizens. And when a problem confronts very large numbers of people, government must act. There are more of us. We live closer together. We are more dependent on each other. If truck drivers strike, the whole economy comes to a halt. If farmers decide to raise fewer cattle, the consequences touch all of us. The result is that more decisions have to be made in the public arena of political debate. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government has been strongly committed to regulating the economy in order to promote prosperity. Congress and the president are playing a larger role than ever in promoting the general social well-being of all citizens. Laws have been passed recently, for example, to protect money that working people have invested in pensions. Action has been taken to protect the civil rights of black people and to guarantee women equal employment opportunities. We will need to cast our votes at the ballot box to help decide how public policy should be formulated on many issues like this. Let me lust list some areas that will require government action and planning: rejuvenating the centers of big cities, providing mass transportation systems, controlling pollution, maintaining open spaces and recreational areas, taking care of future energy needs, making health care available to all.
3. A growing number of organizations and groups demand action to protect their rights. For years the government has listened to big business, labor unions, and farmers. Doctors have exerted political influence through the American Medical Association. Other groups have had their lobbies. But the list is rapidly growing. Recently pressures have been brought to bear on Congress and the president by blacks, the elderly, women, consumers, public employees, welfare mothers, the poor, atheists, militant students, homosexuals, Indians, and minorities of all sorts. Everybody wants to be heard. That is everybody’s right in a democracy.
A third and final dimension of the cybernetic society must be mentioned briefly: the importance of values and goals. What problems shall we try to solve? Shall we invest more billions in ventures into space? Or should we try to make the cities livable? Shall we reduce the defense budget and use more of our national income to meet social needs at home like housing and medical care? We have said that in a time of rapid change, planning for the future is crucial. All institutions, both public and private, are looking ahead and asking what they should do now in order to achieve some desired goal. Planning for the future requires us to make decisions about what we want and how we shall go about getting it. It raises the questions of the ends to be sought and the means to be used in attaining them.
In the nation as a whole, the problem is that the values and goals of one group conflict with those of other groups. Oil companies wanted the Alaskan pipeline built. Environmentalists objected and wanted to find other ways to get the oil transported. The "energy crisis" of 1974 finally persuaded Congress to allow the pipeline. Liberals want more public services and more social welfare legislation. Conservatives want to hold government spending and taxes down. For some, busing is acceptable as a way to achieve racial integration. For others, the neighborhood schools are more important than having whites and blacks educated together. By helping people better understand the costs, the benefits, and the consequences of one choice over another, it may be possible to clarify what is involved for everybody. This will not, of course, eliminate conflicts between the priorities that different groups have. Since more and more issues will be decided by political means, we should be prepared for a continuing series of power struggles and inevitable compromises as the nation seeks to chart its future course. To sum up, the future of our society depends on the interactions among the three factors I have discussed. Diagrammed, it looks something like this:
Values and Goals ______ Politics and Power
Many of our problems will have a technical dimension that requires expert knowledge and advance planning. But first, decisions must be made about which problems we want to tackle and what goals we want to strive for. This takes its into the area of politics where groups struggle for power, attempting to get their priorities high on the list. Already we have introduced the matter of values and preferences. Problem solving, decision making, and goal setting all involve and lead to each other. To put it differently, knowledge, politics, and values are mutually interdependent. A change in any one of these areas leads to changes or at least possible changes in the other two. All three have to be taken into account separately and together if we are to understand how our society works and how it changes.
It is clear why I have suggested that there are similarities between a cybernetic machine and a social organization. The world is made up of many kinds of systems,9 and systems are made tip of parts that work together to carry out some function or achieve some goal. In ordinary conversation we speak of the heating system in a house, the respiratory system in the body, and the family as a social system in a society. "Systems theorists" study every type of system they can to see if there are features that they all have in common. They believe that there are similarities between a mechanical system (an automobile, for example) and a social organization (the government, for example). Moreover, some systems are cybernetic. This means they have the ability to regulate themselves despite changing conditions. They can carry out their job or reach their goal under changing circumstances. A cybernetic torpedo fired from a submarine will change course in order to hit a moving target. No matter which direction the ship turns, the torpedo will correct its aim and go right to its mark. A machine, an animal, a person, and a society are all systems. By identifying the principles common to all of them, it is possible to increase our understanding of complicated systems by comparing them with simpler ones. Obviously there are vast differences between a torpedo, a cat, a human being, and a society. Still, by putting together the similarities and the differences between various kinds of systems or organizations, we can gain better ideas of how a society works and of what must be done to change it in desirable ways.10
Our interest here is in what a cybernetic society is like, so let us look at a social organization rather than at a mechanical system. Imagine a group of people who have been given the task of designing a heating system for a house they will inhabit. How shall they go about the job? What factors must they take into account in order to succeed? My imagination tells me that three different points of view would come to the surface right away. One group would insist that problem-solving knowledge is the basic requirement. Know-how is needed to design the furnace and the other equipment. In addition, expertise is required to organize work teams, to figure out ways the group can make decisions, and to determine where to set the thermostat. Setting the thermostat requires knowledge about what is best for health. Somebody around should be an expert in group dynamics" in order to reach a compromise between those who want the house kept at a cool and ecologically sane 68 degrees and those who insist on a warm, cozy 72 degrees. Finally, the group needs to know which is the best energy source for heating in the face of dwindling fuel supplies and the dangers of pollution. In other words, this segment of the crew would claim that the best hope for success lies in the ability of the group to gain enough knowledge about people and furnace building in order to solve all the problems they will face.
Others would insist that to start with knowledge is to make a fatal move. The fundamental fact about any group, they would say, is that there are different self-interests within it that put people in conflict. Where no agreement can be reached, the strong take over. The values of those who take control of decision making will determine what kind of heating system is built and where the thermostat is to be set. It will not much matter what the so-called disinterested experts work out and tell us is best. The strong can hire their own experts for a price. Scientists, engineers and experts of all sorts will follow the money. The main problem is to deal with the political questions and the problem of power. A way must be found to allow the majority to rule without infringing on the rights of minorities. Until power is fairly distributed and the problems of leadership and decision making are worked out, there will be no peace. And there will be no progress toward getting a heating system built. Meanwhile, the strong, the resourceful, and the rich will get their way. The poor, the weak, and the minorities will be pushed into a cold corner where they cannot even see much less touch the thermostat.
Finally, there is a third point of view. This segment would argue that the basic thing is really "the value question." After all, they would say, knowledge is used to create means to satisfy desires. Decisions are made in the light of what the group goals are. If there were no want or need for a heating system, there would be no project in the first place. If the group were highly committed to a project, they could put aside their differences and work together. But right now there is no clear harmony on a goal: everyone in the group is concerned primarily about getting heat for himself or herself and doesn’t care about the rest. Some prefer to set the thermostat at 60 degrees to conserve natural resources and reduce pollution. Others hate technology and want to go back to an old wood fireplace. Some idealists in the group are bound to say, "We have to decide what kind of world we really want and create life-styles that fully develop ‘human potential.’ What is called for really is a new consciousness. Only when we get our values straight will we be able to create a political system that will treat everybody fairly and put knowledge to work on the important problems."
Which of these groups is right? Each point of view is right in what it includes but wrong to the extent that it leaves out what the other two are saying. I have, of course, contrived the parable to make an obvious point. A well-adjusted cybernetic organization must have harmonious interaction among all three: problem solving (knowledge), decision making (politics), and goal setting (values). The example I have used here is a simple one. Nevertheless, the fact that each one of these elements depends on and involves the other two holds true for society as a whole.
I made up the parable about the group assigned to build a furnace, but the characters are taken from real life. Suppose we ask, "What’s wrong with the world today, and what must we do to make things right?" Three types of answers tend to be forthcoming. One group says our problems are caused by the rapid changes brought about by science and technology. The invention of nuclear weapons puts the world under the threat of "the Bomb." Improved medical care in the poor countries has kept people alive who otherwise would have died in infancy. Now they grow up to reach child-bearing age. The absence of birth control measures is allowing populations to explode with horrifying speed. Cars, airplanes, and industries use up oil at such enormous rates that sooner or later we are bound to run out. So the argument goes. What is the answer? Usually those who give this diagnosis urge that our only hope is more science more technology, more expert knowledge to solve the problems of war, population, hunger, pollution, energy shortages, and so on. John Platt in a famous article11 and Buckminster Fuller in his book Utopia or Oblivion2 represent this point of view. Some of the speeches of President John Kennedy also argued this way. We have gone beyond the debates between the capitalists and the socialists. What we need today, he said, is not passionate commitment to some ideology but cool technical expertise to manage a complicated economy. And, in his administration, faith in the experts to solve our problems at home and abroad was very strong.
A second group will say that the basic problem is not technological but political. The trouble is that some groups have too much money and too much power. Others have too little. The result is that the strong take advantage of the weak. Those who take this line will point out that the concentration of economic power has increased. In 1949 the richest 1% of the population owned 21% of the wealth. Today the richest 1% owns nearly 40% of the wealth. Income distribution has not changed for a generation. Rich people and huge corporations have too much political power and manage to get laws passed that benefit them. Moreover, they are able to influence foreign policy so that our military, economic, and food aid goes to countries where multinational corporations have the most likelihood of making profits. What is the answer? Again the prescription is in keeping with the diagnosis of the illness. A reform movement is needed that will unite the majority of low and middle income people in this country into a political coalition that can elect a Congress and a president who will change the system. The power of the huge corporations would be curbed. Income would be redistributed. Inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity would be overcome. Foreign policies would be formulated to serve the best interests of the whole country an (l of oppressed peoples everywhere. In their book A Populist Manifesto, Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield spell out a detailed program of political reform along these lines.13
A third group would focus on our beliefs, our attitudes, and our values. What is our problem? We are too committed to the pursuit of things, money, success, status, and privilege. We value competition too highly, cooperation too little. We put too high a premium on those things we can buy for ourselves as individuals while resenting the taxes which provide public goods such as mass transit, schools, social security, and welfare but which do not directly benefit us. Little girls are taught to be sweet, passive, and to love having babies and keeping house. Little boys are taught to be tough, aggressive, and to prepare themselves to run the world while their wives stay home to rock the cradle. Whites think they are superior to blacks and try to keep them down. Blacks are resentful and tend to blame all their failures on oppression by whites. We have an obsession with growth. Bigger is better. Our football team, our nation, our whatever must be number one. Winning is all that matters. Nice guys finish last. On and on the arguments go. The claim that our problem lies basically in mistaken beliefs, wrong attitudes, unworthy motivations, and generally mixed-up values takes many forms. So does the prescription. All of them agree, however, that we need more than science and technology, more than political reform; what we need is a conversion of the total self in which we get our heads and hearts straightened out. Charles Reich in The Greening of America offers us a version of the "new consciousness" that he thinks we need. 14 Philip Slater in The Pursuit of Loneliness 15 and Theodore Roszak in The Making of a Counter Culture 16 give us similar prescriptions for the good life.
What I have been suggesting can be put under two headings.
(1) Ideas taken from cybernetics can help us understand how our society actually works at present. (2) They can also help us get some understanding of what must happen in the future if desirable change is to come about. In both cases we have to talk about the way the three factors I have mentioned interact with each other. Change in society can start in any of these three areas. A new invention can set off a chain reaction of changes all through society. The appearance of the automobile, for example, has affected everything from dating customs to the way suburban housing developments are laid out. In the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt a new political activism developed in response to the Depression. Since that time the government has been expected to take decisive action to promote prosperity and social welfare in areas where Congress and the president previously took a hands-off attitude. Finally, we only have to think for a moment to realize how changing values can affect the way we live. Just think of the attitudes relating to sex, marriage, divorce, and the rights and role of women. Many of us remember how shocked we were when Rhett Butler tittered the word damn in the movie Gone with the Wind. Even such innocuous words as virgin and seduce were not introduced into movies until 1953 (in The Moon Is Blue). Today, however, X-rated films, coed dormitories, naked men in Playgirl and naked women in Playboy are so much a part of the scene that we forget how recently it has all come about.
It would not seem profitable, then, to look for some one place where social change always begins. The way a society evolves as it moves into the future is a complicated affair. It seems best to recognize that change can begin with a new invention or the discovery of a better way to solve some problem. It can begin with a political change as new groups with different ideas and goals come into power. And it can begin with a change in what people believe is desirable or right or good. But wherever it begins, change in one area always produces equally great changes in the other two.
One principle, however, can l.e stated about change, regardless of its causes or consequences. Individuals and groups are likely to change only when they feel either a powerful need or a powerful threat. Later on I will develop the idea that life comes with a built-in drive for fulfillment, for satisfaction and enjoyment, for security and happiness. When something blocks the fulfillment of our needs or when there is a chance of somehow improving our situation, then we will be open to people, ideas, ideals, and strategies that promise change. When we are happy with the way things are, then we are likely to resist change. When present arrangements in society enable us to get what we need and want, we will probably try to keep everything as it is.
We are likely to oppose new inventions or ways of solving problems if they upset what we are accustomed to and like. We will vote against or otherwise fight to keep groups from getting political power if what they will do threatens our advantage. We will be tempted to call ideas, attitudes, and values different from ours bad or dangerous or sinful.
This, of course, is too simple; real life is more complex than this. But the general rule does seem to hold. People are open to change when they feel oppressed, frustrated, or threatened. They will resist change if it is likely to oppress, frustrate, or threaten them. The general formula can be put simply: basic changes in individual lives and in society occur when a threat, need, or want is felt and a positive alternative promises relief. Illustrations of this formula abound at every level of life. People responded well to the lowering of speed limits to 55 mph when they thought it might save scarce and expensive gasoline. The result was a 25% reduction in highway fatalities. People had been told for years that slowing down would save lives, but this advice had little effect. The point is that most people did not feel personally threatened by large auto-death statistics and so there was little inducement to slow down; but when people paid drastically higher prices for gas, and were threatened with having no gas, they took the threats to their money and mobility seriously, and slowed down. From this, another element of the general formula is clear. It is important that threats and benefits be felt directly. The more remote the consequences, the more startling they have to be to motivate change.
Something like this formula for change in attitudes and behavior was the assumption underlying the revivalist preaching I heard in my youth. The sinner is under the threat of hellfire and damnation. The good news is that salvation is possible through the saving work of Christ which offers hope and heaven. The message was that people had a choice: they could continue to live in sin and be subject to the wrath of God here and hereafter; or they could accept Christ, live in obedience to his commands, and be rewarded with everlasting life. Much of what the Old Testament prophets and what Jesus and his New Testament apostles taught assumes this pattern. Save yourself from the threat of destruction by meeting the demand that leads to salvation.
Throughout this book I will be talking about the importance of having a vision of future possibilities for which we can hope and work. My assumption is always that such goals are impotent unless they offer relief from bondage and danger and unless they promise freedom and fulfillment. Many of us do feel threatened today. We look for a vision that is liberating and hopeful. We are at a critical point of transition from one era to another. This is true for the world as well as for the nation. There is a general malaise, and a general anxiety about the future. The perils and the promises are equally great. My purpose is to challenge individuals and churches to look upon the perils as a challenge which calls for a hopeful vision of the future. What we need are realistic goals that will inspire us to act. If we are to avoid the perils and realize the promises of the coming decades, vision and a plan of action are essential. What role can the church play? What can individuals do? These are the questions I hope to throw some light on.
At the close of this chapter I want to state clearly a theme that will more and more come into the center of attention in succeeding pages. The church is not equipped to deal with the scientific and technical issues that will be central in the next two or three decades. Neither is its primary function to be found in the arena of political decision making or the struggle for power between competing social groups. Though the witness and work of the church have important implications for each of these areas, its first priority is not there. What the church is equipped to do in the light of its history and faith is to confront the hard facts of the present with the ideal possibilities of the future. To project realistic goals for the society of the future in both its national and global dimensions, to nourish a consciousness embodying the ideas, ideals, and life-styles appropriate to the emerging society -- these define basic tasks to which the public ministry of the church should be directed.
A related function is to provide a laboratory of reflection in which Christian believers can learn to relate the goals and values of a Christian outlook to the secular sphere in which they function in daily life. The church’s task, seen in this light, is twofold: (1) to elaborate a vision of earthly society modeled on the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated, and to describe this model in the common language of today, and (2) to help Christian citizens discover ways of living which will bring their vision to reality.
In order to accomplish these tasks, individuals and churches will need the gift of what I shall call visionary reason. This idea will be developed further in a later chapter. Briefly put, by visionary reason I mean the creative imagination God gave us to guide our lives toward desirable goals in pursuit of the good life. Visionary reason is the gift that the prophet Joel says the Spirit will pour out on us in the latter days.
And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the menservants and maidservants
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)
This gift to dream dreams is needed desperately today. We can have it if we seek it.
The claim of this chapter has been that the forces that are creating the society of tomorrow may be managed for the benefit of all by a cybernetic society democratically planned. The next chapter has to do with the threats and promises posed by our increasing dependence on technological reason. Another chapter will contend that technological reason needs to be under the direction of visionary reason. The final section calls the church to be a nourisher of Christian ideals for the society of tomorrow. Visions of the human future inspired by Biblical hope are a key both to the prophetic critique of false gods and to designing strategies for a good and growing life for all God’s children.
1. Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener, The Year 2000 (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1967).
2. Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973).
3. Peter Drucker, The Age of Discontinuity (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969). See also John Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State, 2d ed., rev., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1971).
4. Victor Ferkiss, Technological Man (New York: George Braziller, 1969).
5. In recognition of the centrality of electronic technologies, Zbigniew Brzezinski has named the coming period "the technetronic era. See his Between Two Ages (New York: The Viking Press, 1970).
6. Daniel Bell, "Notes on the Post-Industrial Society" I, The Public Interest (Winter 1967), pp. 24-35.
7. For examples of current futurology, see Herman Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener, The Year 2000, and Herman Kahn and B. Bruce-Briggs, Things to Come; Thinking About the Seventies and Eighties (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1972).
8. Daniel Bell, "Notes on the Post-Industrial Society" II, The Public Interest (Spring 1967), pp. 102-118.
9. The literature on cybernetics and systems analysis is vast. I will here mention only four works. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1954; New York: Avon Books [paper], 1967); Karl Deutsch et al., The Nerves of Government (New York: The Free Press, 1963); Kenneth Boulding, The Organizational Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953; Chicago: Quadrangle Books [paper], 1968); Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General Systems Theory (New York: George Braziller, 1968).
10. A theoretical framework which could be used to undergird the conception of society and its workings assumed here is found in Warren Breed, The Self-Guiding Society (New York: The Free Press, 1971). This book is a summation of a much larger work of Amitai Etzioni, The Active Society (New York: The Free Press, 1968).
11. John Platt, "What We Must Do," Science (November 28, 1969), pp. 1115-1121.
12. R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion (New York: Bantam Books [paper], 1969; Overlook Press, 1972).
13. Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield, A Populist Manifesto (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972; Warner Paperback Library, 1972).
14. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970; Bantam Books [paper], 1971).
15. Philip Slater, The Pursuit of Loneliness (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970 [Beacon Paperback, 1971]).
16. Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1969 [Anchor paperback, 1969]).