What I’ve been talking about for the last few posts, in case that’s not obvious to everyone else (sometimes things stay in my head) isn’t precisely future shock.
In fact, it’s rather weird that Alvin Toffler concentrated on the psychological effects of rapid change, as it were in a vacuum. He makes mention of adopting and discarding identities, but honestly, that isn’t the issue at all.
I think the reason for his walking around the elephant, carefully, describing everything he sees without ever realizing the thing is living and breathing has to do with his training, the axioms of his training and the weird counter-factual train wreck of the 20th century’s beliefs about humans, culture and society.
To simplify things to a brutal level, and say what they most of the time didn’t explicitly say, but what they acted like, was as though humans were infinitely pliable, tabula rasas to have poured into them whatever the state or philosophers or whatever happened to believe. In the same way they believed that society/culture was merely what you were told by the state/institutions, and that you could replace a culture with another merely by indoctrinating children, and that the indoctrination, whatever it was would hold exactly as poured into their heads.
The resulting horrors filled up all the 20th century, but it wasn’t enough to discredit them.
Partly it was because of the American revolution, which, no, didn’t do any of that, but which was viewed from Europe as a bizarre and complete sundering of culture, an introduction of something completely new. And, to their eyes, we did it, survived, thrived and went on to create most of the underpinnings of modern life. Of course, also to their eyes, we still had the evils of greed and individualism, but they’d create better cultures after their own sunderings.
This is of course nonsense on stilts. America is, if not the continuation of English culture, what happened to English culture when it was given a lot of room and the king was far away. The individualism and all that were a strong strain of English culture, which culminated in the American revolution, rather than being negated by it.
And further, after World War II we “remade” the defeated nations, from Germany to Japan, right? And it worked, right? … uh… no? I mean, it turns out Germany is after all pretty much Germany and managing by money and stealth what the war didn’t give them. And as for Japan, yeah, they took in a lot of our culture, very fast, and are suffering all the side effects of a “defeated culture” a syndrome known throughout history and which includes “and they stop having children.”
But it gave the sociologists and psychologists of the 20th century the idea that both man and culture were infinitely pliable.
Now, humans are not genetically coded to be thieves or wastrels or for that matter saints and scholars. To the extent that IQ is genetically coded, (maybe. D*mn difficult thing to code, IQ, partly because above a certain range it almost always presents with pathologies that impair how well you can use it and how well you express it) but it is influentiable by environment. We know that from various studies on adoptive children. Nutrition, early stimulus, etc, make a huge difference.
The thing is that every child born comes with a load of propensities and …. uh… inclinations. When it comes to who we are and what we do the answer to “nature or nurture” is “uh.” Because we don’t know. We know they both go in there, in some amount, but we don’t know the amount and for all we know it might vary from person to person.
For instance, you expect your kids to resemble you, right? But often they don’t. And if you’ve been in the same area very long — as a family — you might suddenly realize “Dear Lord, he’s just like Uncle John come again.”
In younger son’s case, I joke that he’s my clone, but he’s actually my dad’s clone, down to his professional interests, his effortless artistic ability and his taste in women (!) and his taste in food (which is not always mine.) This without having spent more than maybe three cumulative months near my dad. And no, I didn’t tell him stories, because a lot of things I didn’t even know (mostly food) until I was bitching to mom and she said “Your dad does that.”
We know — each of us — that the inner person has things he or she likes or dislikes, and sure they can be defeated, but they have to be defeated, it’s not like they aren’t there.
What malleability there is in human beings comes from the fact that virtues and faults are usually a double-sided coin. As in, you can be a very cunning thief, or a very cunning artificer; a liar or an inspiring story teller. That’s where upbringing and culture come in.
But with all that there is something to humans you can’t remake and redo. You cannot make humans other than what they are: social apes, and in evolutionary terms not very far from the Savannah.
As for culture, they do change. Usually they change by being conquered or conquering, expanding or contracting their area. That is, they change slowly, and in response to changed ways of living. But they retain stuff, too. One of the things that always strikes me when reading science fiction written by people born and raised in America is the casual way in which they assume the aims, the goals, the internal “story” of other cultures is exactly the same as ours. It’s a blindness I have trouble understanding, until I realize that culture is like water. When you’re in it, you don’t see it.
Anyway, the point of this digression — it’s early. I haven’t had coffee — is that Tofler thought the cause of anomie was change being “too fast” — as most of what he described, not wrong — but he also thought we would assume and discard identities at will to cope with it.
So. we are dealing with anomie. For various reasons, but possibly the most important one being “We no longer have a story.” Humans have brief lives, compared to anything we need to accomplish. To accomplish what we wish, over multiple life times, we need to see ourselves as part of a story, of something worthwhile moving into the future.
For much of history that was religion. For many of us, it still is (but not to the same degree, partly because, honestly, for the same degree you need the reinforcement of the whole culture.) When that failed it was the nation state. But the internationalist Marxists have been hammering on that for a century. Many people if asked “What are you here for?” have no answer, beyond maybe their profession, what they do every day, their hobby, their family. And all of those can get dramatically changed and yanked around by the rate of technological change which is changing the way we live everyday, and the way people interact. And yes, some of those changes will break up families too.
So, the (flaming) tech rollercoaster is heading towards most of our jobs, our hobbies, the way we live, over the next ten, twenty, thirty years — what will probably be the remainder of my life — and how do we cope with it?
In the immediate aftermath, we cope with it by being prepared, by being flexible. Being water is something more than a good motto for protesters (though it is that too.)
KNOW that your job, your hobby might vanish. (If you’re prepared, it’s less likely to happen to your family.) Have other skills, other interests, things you might do/sell, work at. A fall back position. And a fall back position to that. If you’re aware it might happen, and you’re ready for it, you’re less likely to feel like the world has ended.
And think through what’s happening. Do not accept any assumptions about what’s happening too. Don’t assume that because what happens resembles what happened in one or two decades things are going to come back the same way. Look at how things have changed. For instance, traditional publishers keep coming up with “this is just like what happened in–” But it’s not. Not when the business has changed from selling paper bricks to selling electrons with stories.
And this is why you need to think about what might change before it does. And think through what’s happening in the larger world that’s affecting your job. And don’t be afraid. If you’re flexible and capable of learning, you’ll always find something to do, some way to support yourself. Yes, it gets harder the older we get because we’re so tired of starting again. But think about it. You can do it because you’re living longer. In historical terms, you aren’t that old. You don’t feel as old, and you aren’t as infirm as someone your age even 100 years ago. You’ve got this. Analyze, study, learn to be flexible, and assume you’re always going to have keeping learning. There is no such thing as a settled position, a lifetime job. (Those might have been an effect of the post WWII environment, in the modern age.)
Learn, build, be good at what you do, and be ready to change it.
Meanwhile (back at the ranch) what should our narrative be? Well, not one of guilt and defeat. It will never get you anywhere except crouching on the floor, in the fetal position.
Not one of decrease and death. The civilization isn’t dying. It’s not collapsing. It’s changing. It’s in many ways becoming more friendly to the individual and freedom.
Believe in the future. Believe that we can, if we work at it — nothing is given — make the world a better place, more friendly to freedom. Believe that the future will be better than the past. If we work at it.
Go forth. Be flexible, build, and be not afraid.