John Wesley famously described his theology as a three-legged stool, and I suppose that my understanding of the world also started with such a tripod. Later I have adopted a sort of quadralateral, like the Anglicans, which would include the writings of Ray Kurzweil. But I should probably discuss one leg at a time.
The first two legs I have mentioned before: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Marshall McLuhan. The third leg is Alvin Toffler, to whom I nodded briefly earlier and whose writings have come back to haunt and reassure me often during the past few tumultuous years.
I think I was living in Memphis when I first saw and bought a copy of his Future Shock, in 1970 when Volkswagens and paperbacks all came in day-glo colours. If I remember correctly, my copy was electric koolaid orange. His thesis was fairly simple: we live in a time of very rapid change, and it’s hard to keep up. We may therefore expect to act and think somewhat erratically, and notice that others think and act erratically as well. The haunting part of his predictions is that we may react ourselves into another dark ages. The reassuring part is that if we can learn to live with the flow, the future ahead is brighter than the colours of his book covers.
For me the most helpful part of Toffler’s analysis is that it has encouraged me to cut everyone some slack. When the tea partiers started up their shenanigans, or folks talked about occupying Wall Street after they had believed something too good to be true but forgotten to notice that it was too good to be true, I would realize that these were just the sorts of behaviours that Toffler had said we might expect.
In 2006 Toffler brought his ideas into the 21st. century with Revolutionary Wealth, a book I have recommended to more people than I can remember. In it he pretty well describes the current situation in which world wealth is greatly increasing, with world poverty at an all-time low but with a new class of super wealthy , a 2% for the 98%to hate. Equally importantly, he describes the role religious reactionaries may have in preventing the advances we are making scientifically to bring about real wealth, in a much more profound sense than having a huge bank balance, to many more people throughout the world.
It has been the 2016 US presidential circus that has prompted me to write this little blog piece, after sitting happily in my little cell in the first without a care in the world for several months. At a time when huge opportunities exist for actually solving many of the problems that have inflicted suffering on most of the people most of the time, both major parties are consumed by candidates who are feeding our fears of change. I find the most ironic part of the situation that Mr. Sanders talks about wanting change. (Mr. Trump at least is pretty honest about wanting to return to some imagined golden age.) I am living without a care in the world in a little town that is firmly in the Sanders camp, and I am surrounded by art exhibits and posters in public restrooms saying we need a change.
I would suggest that Alvin Toffler is right, that we have had more change than we can process already, and that our real need is to understand what is happening before we throw cliche fixes at it. The rate of change that even I was able to notice in 1966 when I arrived in Chicago is exponential. But that is a feature of the fourth leg of my understanding of the world, the writings of Ray Kurzweil.