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Powershift review 3

our take on the book review in Library Journal by David Gordon

(our site's take on a book review)

This short review of the Tofflers’ Powershift contains a few, quick, nonjudgmental, descriptive comments on the Tofflers’ thesis about power, but also the opinion that this thesis suffers from an unclear concept of power, failing to distinguish clearly between influence and the use or threat of force. David Gordon also considers some of the Tofflers’ claims about knowledge to be exaggerated. Regarding the latter opinion, it is easy to see why, in a world in which so much is known and yet so little is constructively applied, a writer might think of high claims about knowledge as overrated. Indeed, if we continue as a culture to collect it but then fail to act wisely upon it, knowledge will surely not live up to its expectations. Which way this goes remains to be seen.

Regarding the first opinion, clarity is sometimes in the mind of the beholder. The ability to love, inspire, inform or influence, as Philip Slater has asserted, is positive power. The ability to kill, hurt, threaten or instill fear is negative power. Knowledge is neither negative nor positive, but is neutral, and it is in its application that it takes on positive and negative context. Knowledge, as the Tofflers say, is higher quality power than wealth or coercion. Influence is what a statesman or author does, while coerce is what a tyrant or bully does, although either influence or coercion can be used for good or ill—even love, itself, can be used to bribe or exploit.

We believe the above clarifies power, influence and coercion by associating it with a simple yet vital frame of reference. The Tofflers’ book attempts to identify how power is used to control our behavior from cradle to grave, and to use this knowledge to help us “identify and transform the obsolete power structures that threaten our future.” He also says that knowledge will multiply one’s ability to influence, threaten or coerce, and that the relationship between knowledge, force and wealth has changed with the incoming Third Wave.

One could look at power from many other perspectives, as did Carl Sagan in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Riane Eisler in Sacred Pleasure, Philip Slater in A Dream Deferred, or John Naisbitt in Global Paradox. But the Tofflers present it in this new transformed context in their book because it is one of the key ingredients for understanding the realities of the great civilizational transformation they’ve dubbed the Third Wave.