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The Big Answer


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Future Shock

a book by Alvin and Heidi Toffler

(our site's book review)

Toffler’s first blockbuster, this book represents a cultural alarm from him to the world, one which gets us all to open our eyes, blink, and realize that we’re “not in Kansas anymore.” And since we aren’t about to be able to click our heels and get back there—ever—we may as well go on and see what the future holds. Perhaps we might even find The Emerald City.

The Emerald City
The Emerald City

Those of us who saw the 1998 movie called Pleasantville saw metaphorically how drab, dull and colorless life would be if we successfully resisted the necessary discomfiture of change; we also saw the colorful breath of life that change breathed into humanity in this symbolic town. The parable/allegory paralleled the Eastern wisdom that includes such conceptual metaphors as the alive, ever-changing river versus the stagnant pool, life as process and journey rather than goal and endpoint, and connected oneness rather than drab Cartesian/Newtonian/old mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm/Second Wave/indust-reality with separateness of all things from all other things.

Ever-changing river
Ever-changing river

Toffler’s purpose goes beyond the cover blurb in which it is stated that Future Shock “can help us survive our collision with tomorrow.” Beyond “surviving,” he gives us Toffler-think which can help empower us to actually thrive. And if you’ll think back to the chaos and confusion of 1970, you’ll probably get the idea that his 1970 book came just in time. Because the future that people were colliding with was as strange as the Martians in the War of the Worlds, and it was important that people found ways to cope rather than swan-diving from ledges and bridges (like some did after a certain infamous radio broadcast).

People afraid of the future were so 'shocked' they put their heads in the sand and pretended Toffler's message wasn't real
People afraid of the future were so 'shocked' they put their heads in the sand and pretended Toffler's message wasn't real

By the late 90s it was apparent that America had both coped and failed to cope. Most of the failures related to people’s willingness to put their heads in the sand and pretend the Third Wave (although Future Shock hadn’t discovered this term when it came out in 1970—it was using the super-industrialism term) was not real and we’d be Second Waving it for centuries to come, and most of the successes were about how people were shifting their thinking and lives in Third Wave directions.

The ugly litany of social symptoms, assembly line schools, and the “clueless” politicians and ratings-addicted media attempting to electronically lobotomize us with sound bites and Pablum manifested the non-coping side of America’s collision with the future, while (in the 90s) the stock market, the computer revolution, the productivity, growth, and overall health in the economy, the connectedness of the worldwide computer network and the way it helped bring down the U.S.S.R, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the low inflation and unemployment rates, the wisdom of the Fed and Greenspan—all showed that given a big challenge, our country can cope nicely. (In retrospect, though, in 2016 there is scant evidence of coping nicely economically since the 2008 crash—the recovery is mostly smoke and mirrors and people cannot find work. And our privacy is being egregiously violated by our government, the war on drugs is a joke and the war on terror has only made billions of people very mad at the USA as Halliburton laughed all the way to the bank, etc.)

In 2016 there is scant evidence of coping nicely economically since the 2008 crash—the recovery is mostly smoke and mirrors and people cannot find work
In 2016 there is scant evidence of coping nicely economically since the 2008 crash—the recovery is mostly smoke and mirrors and people cannot find work


The pushmi-pullyu: a perfect symbol of U.S. political gridlock
The pushmi-pullyu: a perfect symbol of U.S. political gridlock

Also, one can’t help but look at the gridlock in Washington, the polarization not just in politics but in the country as well, the domination of special interests, the crime statistics, the drug statistics, the cults, the moral breakdowns and family breakdowns, the litigation explosion, the victim mentality and the abortion clinic bombings (and other terrorist activities since the 70s) and throw up one’s hands in disgust and despair.

Abortion clinic bomber
Abortion clinic bomber

It’s interesting that Buckminster Fuller recommended this book to the world before his passing in 1983, since Fuller’s main message to people was to “go out and find out for yourself” and don’t let the culture “de-genius” you with their concepts and conformity pressures before you’ve had a chance to learn from experience and become a creative being. It underlines the point that one can no longer understand society by looking around and merely experiencing it. Analysis has its limits. One must somehow acquire a larger perspective and broader context. One cannot look at a few of the parts and successfully induce the essence of the whole.

The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm
The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm

One must learn from people like Toffler and Fuller who have studied the whole and the parts, who have talked to thousands of people who represent the various aspects of human experience and knowledge, who have utilized the new, ecological-holistic paradigm and, via a fertile brain and a lot of synthesis, induced a viable and accurate picture of the forces at work in civilizations past and present, clashing in our lives, our media and our world. Fuller, the systems thinking, architecturally and ecologically attuned synthesist, would of course want us to learn from another new paradigm advocate with a demonstrated ability to see the whole picture and give clues to the clueless and a futurist’s perspective to civilization’s evolution.

Toffler examines changes in family situations, noting that nuclear families were the new experiment societies all over the world conducted as they entered the most intense part of the Second Wave. Note: It should be mentioned here that no one had any reason to believe that this new experiment would succeed; they tried this form for its mobility and convenience, certainly not for its demonstrated viability. There’s no reason that such a form cannot work if it is well empowered to work well and succeed; there’s also no reason that such a form will work well if it is not sufficiently supported, empowered, and networked so that it expresses the viability of a social system rather than the disconnected alienation and dysfunctionality of the elements in that system.

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

Unfortunately, John Wayne heroic individualism, even in obviously inappropriate areas such as childcare, have tainted the nuclear family experiment seriously. Isolated nuclear families, who began to believe that extrafamilial human contact was a sign of weakness, combined with the phenomenon of women who somehow couldn’t be brainwashed into staying in a box their whole lives knitting, baking and smiling, all added up to social ills piling up like moldy cordwood. Isolated nuclear families were a hopeless idea from day one.

Heroic cowboy
Heroic cowboy

On the other hand, well-connected nuclear families have been, are being and will be among the best bets for family structure that anyone has come up with. Toffler predicts that in the world of the Third Wave, well-connected and well-networked nuclear families often with expanded or extended configurations and cottage industry roles will play a big part in society.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

(There are those who feel that single-parent, mixed, and stepfamilies will be quite prevalent in the future as well. This is true, but it won’t last that long if enough people start MCs (microcommunities—See Why Register for an MC?). When relationships work really well due to excellent relationship practices, when people communicate really well due to excellent communication practices, and when childcare transforms from such a hassle that many men and some women bail out on the job and feel oppressed and depressed by it, to a cooperative joy that’s a win-win for all due to excellent parenting practices—then there will be little reason for divorce, single-parent families and stepfamilies.

At such a time, MCs and non-MC cottage industries will prevail for a while, but eventually non-MCs will see what they’re missing and become MCs too. MCs will eventually prevail as the main family structure of the Third Wave, because:

  1. The Third Wave is about knowledge being applied to all aspects of life, with the power of knowledge often substituting for Second Wave reliance on force and wealth for power
  2. Applying all the best knowledge humans have accumulated over the years to the areas of lifestyle, relationships, communication, childcare, parenting, community and learning, one finds as one integrates and synthesizes it all into a lifestyle system that it simply adds up to what we call the MC movement which is based upon MC lifestyles
  3. The MC movement will communicate so effectively to the people of the United States (and later other countries) about the opportunity for a vast improvement in life and relationships and parenting and self-esteem and enjoyment of life that the Innovator sector (2.5% of the population—close to 7 million people or 3 million families) will respond quickly and other sectors will follow based upon feedback from working MCs.)

Toffler looks at the “professional parenting” concept. “Raising children, after all, requires skills that are by no means universal. . . . we allow virtually anyone, almost without regard for mental or moral qualification, to try his or her hand at raising young human beings, so long as these humans are biological offspring. Despite the increasing complexity of the task, parenting remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.” Of course, even Toffler admits that “There are far better ways of coping with the problems of youth . . .” (than professional parenting). But the liberal social engineering solution of professionals doing the job helps underscore the point that there is a great social need to somehow respond to the social dysfunctionality generated in dysfunctional homes full of dysfunctional relationships and dysfunctional parenting. The socialistic, liberal, social engineering way, in which we apply Second Wave specialization tactics and create “professionals” to “intervene” would create more problems than it solves. Let European welfare states do it, if they wish. Happily, Toffler is too wise to have proposed such a thing; instead, he predicted that others would propose it.

Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts
Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts

A better Third Wave solution is knowledge and information. With our educational institutions empowering people with good relationship, communication, and parenting knowledge (as grassroots pressures build from the communities that have the most MCs), the basic information needed for raising young will eventually be part of the learning requirements for all young people. All people in our country will have attained a “professional” level of parenting knowledge by the middle of the 21st century.

ONE OVERRIDING FACT PREVAILS: IT MAKES NO SENSE FOR A SOCIETY TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO LIVE HAPPILY AND WISELY BUT THEN TO REMAIN MIRED IN DYSFUNCTIONAL PATTERNS OF RELATIONSHIP AND PARENTING SIMPLY BECAUSE OF BAD HABITS PASSED ON TO THEM BY OTHER PEOPLE WITH SIMILAR BAD HABITS! The Third Wave is about many things, but one general aspect of it that applies nearly universally is the substitution of knowledge-based power (e.g., P.E.T. and democratic, nonpunitive authoritative parenting) for force-based power (e.g., authoritarianism) and money-based power (e.g., permissivism and behaviorism often involve overtly or covertly bribing children to behave well) wherever it is appropriate.

Permissivism and behaviorism often involve overtly or covertly bribing children to behave well
Permissivism and behaviorism often involve overtly or covertly bribing children to behave well

Toffler expects a great diversity of lifestyles and family structures, and he is correct—this is already happening in 2014. But a great variety of relationship, communication and parenting patterns to go along with this is not to be expected in the U.S., unless society self-destructs. (MCs will make it very clear what works and what does not. There will be nothing to be gained and much to lose for people who continue to choose dysfunctionality over what works. So eventually they’ll let go of these obsolete patterns.)

How many people are filling their gas tanks with water because it’s cheaper? How many people are bloodletting to cure high blood pressure? In short, then, modern democratic societies try to do what works, and even if they experiment with errant paths (such as 20th century social engineering, for example) for a while, eventually they go towards what has scientifically and statistically shown itself to be the most viable method. In the 1990s, for example, it was realized that social engineering won’t work but empowerment will work. In areas of parenting, relationships and communication in the U.S., if nothing significant happens, one might predict more of the same errant patterns in the 21st century that were utilized in the 20th century. (But MCs will demonstrate effective lifestyle patterns that create a viable alternative to dysfunctionality, so errant lifestyle patterns can be dropped and replaced with what works.)

Why would anyone continue to put water in a gas tank and continue to see their cars go nowhere, when everywhere they look they see news of and evidence of how wonderfully cars will run if you simply put gas in your tank? The majority of people will get the message, will feel sorry for people who continue to torment themselves, their spouses, their friends and their kids with authoritarian or permissive parenting, inoperable and oppressive communication and relationship patterns, and inoperable neighborhood social patterns of alienated, anti-community, disconnectedness and paranoia.

Guy filling gas tank of car
Guy filling gas tank of car

(MC people will try to reach out to them in close encounters of the second and third kind.) The harder that ugly authoritarian patterns were beaten into a person, the more time it will take for such a person to leave such patterns behind. Some may never change. But most people have enough common sense to do what works once the knowledge is laid out for them clearly enough. How many people would ride horses through city streets rather than cars if it was legal? Most of us would predict that it would be an unworkable mess if people did this, and most people would predict that very few people would do this even if they could. In other words, most people have enough common sense to go towards what is demonstrably and obviously workable and avoid what is demonstrably and obviously unworkable.

Toffler also looks at how family structures can be improved by making them multigenerational, allowing older Americans to remain part of families and to have active lives and roles. Ken Dychtwald agrees—in his book The Age Wave: How The Most Important Trend Of Our Time Can Change Your Future. Toffler also thinks that the post-retirement family could become a recognized social institution as people focus on careers early in life and procreation or at least child-raising later.

Toffler proposes expanded electronic cottages instead of everyone continuing to commute and pollute
Toffler proposes expanded electronic cottages instead of everyone continuing to commute and pollute

He predicts (in 1970!—how did he do that?!) electronic cottages: “Later, when advanced technology and information systems make it possible for much of the work of society to be done at home via telecommunication hookups, communalism will be feasible for larger numbers.” (See the Jobs section of relocation.) Setting communalism aside, since he predicts but doesn’t propose this (he proposes expanded electronic cottages instead), this is one incredible prediction. Apple PCs were invented around 1976 and marketed around 1978, and weren’t really serious cultural factors until 1982, but he was still able to see where things were going way back in 1970.

Apple II
Apple II

He predicts that “Serial marriage . . . will be the mainstream marriage pattern of tomorrow.” It was already fairly common in 1970 when his book was written. He accepts, at least for argument’s sake, the idea that marriage in the U.S. is for love and that “love is a product of shared growth.” He says the “. . . parallel development theory of love carries endorsement from marriage counselors, psychologists, and sociologists. . . . Partners in successful marriages are said to ‘grow together.’”

He says that the odds of people achieving this ideal of parallel growth are small and getting smaller as society changes so fast and people live longer and move so often. He says that most people will continue to adopt normal love and marriage patterns, and this “. . . presupposes that two young people will ‘find’ one another and marry. It presupposes that the two will fulfill certain psychological needs in one another, and that the two personalities will develop over the years, more or less in tandem, so that they continue to fulfill each other’s needs. It further presupposes that this process will last ‘until death do us part.’ These expectations are built deeply into our culture. It is no longer respectable, as it once was, to marry for anything but love.” But he points out that the odds against long-term marriages working out are large. (In the 21st century there is a great increase in couples living together and raising families without getting married. From 1990 to 2006, births to unmarried women rose dramatically, from 1,165,384 (28% of all births) to 1,641,946 (38.5% of all births). )

Divorce rate in the US from 1935 to 2010
Divorce rate in the US from 1935 to 2010

If one extrapolates from known statistical sociological facts (e.g., about divorce and love and marriage and attitudes about same) in these areas and from predicted demographics for the future, one cannot help but arrive at similar conclusions about the unlikelihood of marriages staying together forever or parallel growth occurring for most couples. But this assumes that marriages will continue to contain spouses who will try to force each other to be their only source of need fulfillment—putting all their eggs in one single basket, that society and communities will continue to be made up of disconnected, alienated, and isolated people and families who have little but each other, indulge in the hopeless historical aberration and failed sociological experiment of steep-gradient nurturance in Second Wave-styled, isolated nuclear families.

Spouses who try to force each other to be their only source of need fulfillment, putting all their eggs in one basket, will end up fighting and probably divorced
Spouses who try to force each other to be their only source of need fulfillment, putting all their eggs in one basket, will end up fighting and probably divorced

And it assumes that people will continue hopeless authoritarian and permissive parenting patterns, and continue to act superficial enough in their friendship relationships that they fill few if any emotional needs and function mostly as escapes. It also assumes people will persist into the future with dysfunctional relationship, communication and lifestyle patterns. His predictions are surely correct if these assumptions actualize. But what if they don’t?

People whose environment has been set up wisely from the start will grow in tandem with other people whose environment has been set up the same way. People from enhanced environments who are autonomous, open-minded, self-actualized, and who have good self-esteem and still express their creative side in everything they do will feel very much at home with others like themselves. Such people will not insult their existential status or good fortune by looking negatively upon others who had no such advantages. They will spend no time with elitist sentiments. Quite the reverse. They will have big hearts and amazing minds and, looking around at all the pain and suffering in the world, will want to help others get the message about how good life can be.

And they will do so: it will be the main goal of many such people. Such people will get their needs filled wonderfully in close encounters of the first kind with others like them, but one thing must be noted: Self-actualized, autonomous people, in the Maslow sense (as in Toward a Psychology of Being), do not approach relationships from need but from being. They go towards people with something to give, not something they lack. They are not deficient and do not contact others as potential fillers of this empty spot. They are full and love to love and nurture others. They also like to be alone to think, create, be, commune with nature, or play music, do art, or invent.

Such people won’t likely abandon a community of people where they have deep connections with many people, especially if many other people obviously need the nurturing and guidance they are getting from these people. If such people are married, they’re unlikely to get “tired” of each other, since they have the mature type of love that requires no illusions, projections, struggles to make the partner into a parent figure, or filling of each other’s emptiness with their partner’s being. (See The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society.) They aren’t needfully operating from romantic illusions and eager to run to someone else when the illusions wear thin. They are not with this person seeking to complete the parental nurturing experience that was incomplete for them. They are not in their “struggle” to get their parents to care about them which they lay on many or most of the potential mates in their lives—which is a very normal thing to do. So they do not fall out of love, nor do they quit growing, nor do they lose interest in one another nor any of the other people in their lives they’ve chosen to care about. (Do you think we’re talking about second-generation MC people? You’re right!)

The future he predicts for marriages and relationships depends upon communication, lifestyle, relationship and parenting patterns and practices remaining relatively dysfunctional as they are now. However, he is not hoping that these practices persist. Relationship practices haven’t been his focus in his books as he’s been synthesizing the whole direction of civilization into a coherent, integrated pattern that the non-futurist could understand and be guided by, and that the world could utilize to keep from drowning as it copes with the chaos of the advent of the Third Wave.

Drowning
Drowning

He has left the specifics of relationship and parenting practices to others with the time to focus on Third Wave implications of how these things will evolve. The Big Answer is the website that specifies precisely this evolution, and, like Toffler’s works, gives an optimistic portrayal to the degree the Third Wave is accepted and integrated, but a pessimistic portrayal to the degree people choose to cling desperately to the known practices and attitudes of Second Wave thinking, regardless of how badly they’re functioning. The conservative impulse tries to hold on to the status quo because it wants to protect what’s currently valuable and valued, but it also shrinks in fear and mistrust towards any change because change threatens stability, reliability, predictability, and wealth.

The conservative impulse is to hold on to the status quo because it wants to protect such things as wealth
The conservative impulse is to hold on to the status quo because it wants to protect such things as wealth

We concur with the impulse to protect and preserve everything that is working well, morally worth saving, and valuable. But conservatives/we must prevent degeneration and/or destruction of the good and the valuable, not by standing pat as if Second Wave thinking was still viable, but by empowering the needed Third Wave transformations so that we not only cope with this cultural evolution but thrive as well. Those who will not change when the need is clear will suffer future shock and may never recover until their minds and eyes open. Those who will change when the need is clear will be set to thrive in the 21st century if the fearful, hateful, authoritarian and stagnant don’t spoil it for all of us. What is needed is to not only preserve the best of the past, but to also apply the best knowledge of the present, and the synthesis of these two will give us the best future. (Think MCs.)

Consider the question: Does Toffler hope such obsolete practices persist, just because we’re all so used to them? In his words: “The time has come for a dramatic reassessment of the directions of change, a reassessment made not by the politicians or the sociologists or the clergy or the elitist revolutionaries, not by technicians or college presidents, but by the people themselves.” Later he says that we need to “. . . help create the consciousness needed for man to undertake the control of change, the guidance of his evolution.” He says he hopes his Future Shock book did just that. (It did for us.) Obviously all obsolete practices should be guided to evolve towards viable, knowledge-backed, Third Wave-compatible practices by all of us, especially those who’ve managed to transform successfully to Third Wave consciousness.

Metaphorically speaking, Future Shock is about mankind standing on the shore of history watching the tsunami of civilizational evolution come roaring toward us. Some choose to write wills, others choose to turn around and look inland—pretending that nothing is coming, others choose to kneel and pray, and still others take drugs to numb themselves against the oncoming pain and chaos. But there is still one other group of people on that shore. They include Alvin and Heidi Toffler and people whose thinking dovetails with theirs. It’s easy to pick out these people among the throngs of gawkers. They’re the ones wearing a smile and holding a surfboard!

Tsunami
Tsunami

Note: Heidi Toffler co-authored Future Shock.