To describe the state of modern society, I use the concept “Future Shock” introduced by the American sociologist Alvin Toffler in 1969 in the same name book. He notes that in that era in the United States, the post-war generation of “baby boomers” felt that changes were happening too quickly; that post-industrial civilization was increasing its pace and leaving many behinds, and some in confusion. He also writes that now you have to study all your life to catch up with the society rushing “at full steam”; that some professions disappear into oblivion, while others appear; that the nuclear family can disappear along with the “paper office” and be replaced by something new or a vacuum instead of “traditional values.”
You may read my article about some aspects of the “future shock” here.
Even with the emergence of a culture of mutual assistance, many societies on the planet continue to go “the wrong way.” Often people are united by the war with “outsiders” and not by any other, more progressive incentive to cooperate. They are united by the ancient instinct of protecting “pride” from the “aliens,” an instinct when a male kills a stronger male with a stick, climbing into his den for a female and food supplies. We have become such a collective male protector of the family den again.
Meanwhile, I am a supporter of a completely different kind of unity.
The only progressive stimulus for unity, I consider only the awareness of the impending environmental catastrophe.
The wars in Georgia, Syria, Afghanistan, etc., are just the aversion of people from the primary problem, the problem of the death of all of us from a non-military crisis. Political conflicts turn us away from the impending death, not each individually (which is natural), but all humankind as a species.
The eco-crisis has already arrived and is getting worse. Meanwhile, for many decades, or even centuries to come, we have had the phenomenon of wars. This is an insoluble social conflict in which hatred and rejection of the other point of view reign on both sides of the front.
Historians of the future will not have time to “judge” us. These historians simply will not be born, as the collective “we” continue to fall into the abyss of eco-catastrophe along with all of humanity.
The time for sustainable development has come
Humanity is much more willing to be distracted by the destruction of each other by ever more perfect means of murder than by the apparent truths of ecological collapse, extinction, and degeneration of humanity, which are already coming and will be aggravated every year. In a warring society saturated with hatred, where every family is threatened by violent death, any talk about progress, space exploration, the point of singularity, transhumanism, or biocentrism, deep ecology, social ecology, bioregionalism – will inevitably be unpopular. They will be brushed aside, called utopian, untimely.
In the game of invaders and defenders and hedonism and consumption, people have played so much that they miss the moment of collapse, the moment when many species of living beings on Earth begin to die out – including humanity.
In this game, people forget about horizontal connections with each other; they forget what unites us, not separates us. And we can only be united by the realization that ecological collapse has already begun.
And against its background, artillery shooting, bombing, and torture are mere toys. Because eco-crisis is a danger, not so dependent on the decisions of politicians as the issues of war and peace, sneaking up on the sly and threatening to kill everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, skin color, and wallet size.
Only the consciousness of pollution and critically dangerous changes in the environment by humanity is not a relative idea in the modern world. And every second, we all take part in this deadly dance of total consumption and discarding, as well as we passive attack wildlife.
Only this fact is not relative; only it is an image of the death of all living things, which is worth worrying about. Not about winning a war. Not about a new technical device advertised by the consumer society. Not about traditional or non-traditional values.
We are all united only by the statement that we will have nothing to breathe, nothing to eat or drink, and nowhere to take energy for motors. The “omnipotent” humanity has not learned to stop natural disasters, and Fukushima is only their herald. And other disasters happen in the present XXI century.
It is possible to stop this danger of universal destruction and death of the biosphere only by changing the existing society. I mean, changing popular culture, industrial infrastructure, redistributing products, canceling all our usual way of life.
American writer Ursula le Guin has a strange and hard-to-understand novel “Always Coming Home.” It is about how people of the future live: they forgot about the linear course of history. They live only by legends and practical knowledge from the high-tech World Wide Web, and as soon as the spots of oil and chemicals in the sea remind them of the past civilization.
Apparently, this is our path to the future. And this is even the best possible scenario.
“Future shock” and futurology
Sociologist Alvin Toffler and his contemporary, psychologist Erich Fromm were united by a common opinion regarding their contemporary society in the second half of the twentieth century. They argued, each in their language, that the “Second Wave” (industrialization) triumphed everywhere on the planet, doesn’t matter what the formal name of the social system of each country is. In the central conflict at that time, the “cold war” of communist and capitalist states, the deeply anthropocentric model of the triumph of industry won out. And it united seemingly irreconcilable opponents from the USSR and Western countries. On both sides of the “iron curtain,” the principle of “submission and conquest” of nature, the principle that humanity is free to destroy or transform everything natural at his whim, triumphed.
Simply speaking, both the so-called capitalists and the so-called communists have destroyed and exploited the environment with the same zeal. They used almost similar arguments (about “conquering nature,” first of all). And, like world trade and “petrodollars,” “conquest of nature” is what, until 1991, had in common between “capitalism” and “communism” (and to this day, the United States and China – seemingly opponents).
Fromm, in the era of the triumph of “industrialization,” was worried about the loss of happiness by the people of the West and the victory of the principle “to have” instead of “to be.” Toffler worried about a chaotic collision of the Second Wave (industrialism) processes and the Third Wave (post-industrialism, information society. Such a society is fully developed only now, in the first 20 years of the 21st century).
Suppose you look back at the realities of 2021, with its remote jobs and lockdowns, online concerts, ubiquitous gadgetisation, and the spreading of social networks, cryptocurrencies, and NFT art. In that case, it will become apparent that precisely the “virtual office” society that Toffler predicted back in the 70s is dominated in developed countries. Moreover, partly the “virtual office” itself, with its style of thinking and management, will wither away, following the most modern tendencies of “decentralization” of some corporations. E.g., the ShapeShift exchange recently became a decentralized autonomous organization, and DAOs are common in Decentralized Finance, DeFi.
The result of these tendencies was the race “who will win”:
* whether people will exhaust their resources and pollute the environment to the utmost;
* either they will have time to develop technologically to the state of “transhumanism” (“brains in jars” is a pretty expected headline from the news feed);
* or “degrowth” will happen. Moreover, it can be violent, a consequence of a pandemic, or climate change.
In any case, all these future scenarios are each in their way, demanding and full of challenges for humanity. Moreover, pandemics and climate change are indisputable facts; they will accompany us in all three scenarios. This means not only that you will wear masks and go into quarantine for the rest of your life. This means that the society of the future will adapt to this lifestyle. And soon, it will adapt to such rapid climate changes when coastal cities are flooded, and former forest regions will become steppes and deserts.
We should place hope in this chaotic process of adaptation to the world of the future only on supranational structures such as the UN and WHO and on the goodwill of politicians who will negotiate.
***What if it rains for two months, and the nuclear bomb explodes? You may read about the “Years and Years” science fiction series here.