The forecasters have had a bad year. That uncertainty of acuity that characterizes those who predict the weather has long been obvious; the predictions of their brethren in the field of economics are similarly infamous. President Reagan’s economic policies were supposed to make 1983 a disaster, but the economy is rapidly improving. The only worrisome aspect of the recovery is that economic forecasters are now waxing more and more optimistic. Alvin Toffler and Jeremy Rilkin are forecasters who attempt much more than mere meteorologists or economists, and whose reach is almost certain to exceed their grasp by an equally greater margin.
Mr. Toffler seems an earnest soul who tries to be objective and to call the shots as he sees them. His latest book, however, could just as well have not been written. There are two reasons for this: first, anyone who has read The Third Wave will already know everything Toffer currently believes about the future; second, the format of the book requires a tiresome dialogue with a leftist who asks all the usual Marxist questions. Consequently, Toffler has to recount the well-known failures of Marxist analysis and prediction. This is made all the more wearying by the informed reader’s immediate recognition that if the leftist could really hear the answers he would long since have stopped asking those kinds of questions.
Mr. Toffler makes a constant plea for women’s rights, apparently based on personal prejudices from his childhood and adolescence. This theme, which is minor but emphasized, has little to contribute to the book’s thesis and seems to be Mr. Toffler’s way of assuring his interlocutor that Toffler, too, is a nice fellow, and as such cares about minorities and other worthy causes. Mr. Rifkin is earnest but not open, and is not content with calling the shots as he sees them. Instead, he is facile and slick. Nor does he mind using exactly the same argument to prove both sides of the question. Inconsistent logic is perhaps the gravest fault of Algeny. It is curious that Mr. Rifkin can, in whole sections of the book, follow flawlessly the logical train of a technical argument and then suddenly make statements which are nothing less than leaps of faith. If they are not leaps of faith then they are acts of bad faith: activist propaganda intended to mold the reader’s thought, not persuade him of the logic of Mr. Rifkin’s argument.
For example, the first part of the book is devoted to an attack on Charles Darwin. The tone is hostile, superior, and condescending. Later Mr. Rifkin announces that Darwin was not an evil man and that Darwin’s cosmology was “not the product of intrigue.” This comes after all his implications that the whole idea of evolution was a bourgeois plot led by Darwin to pacify a working class already successfully bribed away from concern for the poor by the fruits of the Industrial Revolution. It was neither necessary nor useful to attack Darwin as Mr. Rifkin does in the first part of his book. He could have made as persuasive an argument there as he later makes about the weakness of the theory of evolution in order to show the contemporary cultural influences on theoretical and cosmological thought in Darwin’s day. In the second section of Algeny an interesting theoretical argument is made, one drawing on some of the most respected scientific and epistemological thinkers. It systematically demolishes the neo-Darwinist position and leaves the reader with no convincing scientific explanation for speciation. This discourse is only slightly marred by Mr. Rifkin’s inability to resist condescending to his betters, as when he talks about Darwin’s “quaint” scientific notions, and the like.
In the very last pages of Algeny Mr. Rifkin finally shares what he considers his crucial insight: trust in ecology. This closes the third section, in which he details the cultural biases and misdirections of current and future biological theory bonded to cybernetics. He carefully depicts the primrose path (which is to be built by genetic engineers) down which humanity will wander while losing its soul, not tragically like Faust but impulsively like Hoffmann. Mr. Rifkin does not attempt to explain what his cosmological positionis, nor does he acknowledge its culturally determined biases and distortions. Instead, he urges his position upon his readers as an expiation for guilt. He claims that our guilt is deep and ancient; it concerns the “debt of our very existence,” meaning that humanity must act so as “to represent the interests of the cosmos.” Mr. Rifkin starts sounding like a mystic imparting transcendental illumination.
Mr. Rifkin, then, emerges explicitly as a believer in ecology, and implicitly as a gnostic. This helps explain his condescension and his moralizing. His leaps of faith make sense, not substantively, but because he is a gnostic enlightened by a transcendental vision. Mr. Rifkin presumably wants people to believe that all cosmologies are false save Mr. Rifkin’s. This is no surprise from an activist who began in the 60’s. Such activists were, and remain, convinced of their moral superiority. They were long ago assured by the likes of Charles Reich (The Greening of America) that they are the Elect. And they moralize endlessly. Sadly, they all lack the one thing that they desperately need: a deity.
Perhaps the great tragedy of the modern age lies in the “death” of religion. This death is certainly true for a substantial portion of the population of the West Several generations have reached adulthood unable to believe in God, or any god. Darwin’s theory, regardless of its correctness, undermined the biblical notion of divine Creation; Freud considered religion an illusion; and Marx damned it as the opiate of the people. None of the major modern discoveries of science, e.g., the Theory of Relativity, required, or even took into account, a Divinity. Raised in such a cosmology, much of the youth of Western culture simply cannot seriously think in supernatural terms. This loss of religion can be seen as an outcome of the Industrial Era (which is now as outmoded as Marxism and capitalism, according to Mr. Toffler). Yet, not only do people need religion but they require it as the central organizing factor in their lives. However, many of the “main line” Protestant churches, having largely lost the concept of evil, are rapidly becoming secularized centers for social progress, rather than sources of divine inspiration. These churches increasingly lose members to the fundamentalist churches, which continue to preach good and evil and to make spiritual experience the cornerstone of their religious faith. Meanwhile, a segment of modern youth turns to cults of every pseudoreligious stripe, in which members live a monastic life, totally controlled by the cult’s rules, and devote their efforts to the economic maintenance of their establishment. Third, another segment of youth turns to psychedelic drugs as the path to mystical experiences of a quasi-religious sort; these experiences also become the central organizing factor in their lives. Fourth, the Catholic Church appears to be going the way of the “main-line” Protestant churches, and, like them, is losing members to the “born-again” churches. The Catholic Church demonstrates an increasing inability to control its clergy and its laity. Fifth, a sizable number of people who choose not to believe at all have become, or lean towards being, social activists, some of whom will drift into the revolutionary gnosis. For these unbelievers the New Left vision of utopia, “the revolution,” will provide a sense of moral integrity, superiority, and enlightenment which is tantamount to a religious experience. Such activists view themselves as members of the Elect, and organize their lives around this belief. This is essentially a religious commitment without a deity. Finally, consider the great numbers of people in any country, in any age, who have found contentment or meaning in living the religious life in its most complete sense, as members of monasteries, convents, ashrams, and the like.
In an increasingly secularized society that is sure to be emulated in this regard by the Third World (whether its model for progress stems from Marxism-Leninism or democracy), what will become of those who need religion? Will there be only the extremist religious cults for believing fanatics and the extreme activist and revolutionary causes for unbelieving fanatics? Neither Toffler nor Rifkin assigns any place in his projections to religious influence; both appear to assume that religion will simply wither away. The state has not withered away for the communists, and history does not offer precedent for the demise of religion, only of particular religions. Every intellectually responsible inquiry indicates that religion will continue to play a major role in the affairs of men. Rifkin, indescribing the theoretical underpinnings of the synthesis he terms Algeny, provides examples of the kinds of thinking that could presumably reconcile religion with the scientific and technological cosmology that has undermined Christianity and will undermine Islam and the others. In discussing ”process philosophy” he notes that Whitehead sees “everyliving thing” as “a small reflection of the total mind that makes up the universe.” Further, Rifkin describes the new theories of biogenesis as leading directly to the idea that the universe is “a mind that oversees, orchestrates, and gives order and structure to all things.” He also states that such thinking resembles current ideas about “fields” in physics. What Rifkin seems unaware of is that these ideas sound very much like a deritualized god. Since the stormy and highly successful advance of science and technology in recent history was largely responsible for the breach between supernatural belief and the prevailing secular cosmology, it probably would require ideas from those same sources to health at breach. Perhaps such ideas will take a form resembling that of a universal mind that arranges all things. In forging a synthesis between religion and scientific thought such concepts could lead to new and powerful theories, beliefs, and modes of perceiving the universe that could possibly satisfy mankind’s spiritualy earnings. The emergence of such a force would alter, probably beyond recognition, projections such as Toffler’s and Rifkin’s, which do not take them into account.