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The Big Answer


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Previews and Premises: A Penetrating Conversation About Jobs, Identity, Sex Roles, the New Politics of the Information Age and the Hidden Forces Driving the Economy

a book by Alvin Toffler

(our site's book review)

The book documents an interview between the leftist liberals at South End Press in Boston and Alvin Toffler, world-famous author of Future Shock and The Third Wave, who is neither right leaning nor left leaning. He used to lean left, decades ago, but has since wised up, as the book elucidates. As Toffler evolved as a cultural critic, he realized more and more that the Second Wave thinking of Marx was fatally flawed with smokestack era reductionism, as was the thinking of many other social, political and historical thinkers, past and present.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

The idea that everything about life comes from a basis of economics and social class is wrong—as wrong as Freud's perspective where everything seems to have a sexual basis. Toffler sees Marxist class analysis dogma as unidimensional. Where Marx sees social structures related to economics as deterministic, Toffler sees systems and “patterns which connect,” the Gregory Bateson systems context, and non-equilibrium systems and theories of fluctuation—like Ilya Prigogine sees. He says that Marxist thinking is obsolete and while it partially explained things in the industrial era, it does little for us now. In essence, then, Marxist thought reflects the mass-man errors of the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm so prevalent in the Second Wave, while Tofflerist thought reflects the newer, Third Wave systems revelations of the ecological-holistic paradigm that Fritjof Capra champions.

Sinking ship
Sinking ship

He considers the current squabbles between left and right to be “like a squabble over deck chairs on a sinking cruise liner.” Both are still mired in Second Wave thinking, and the politics they express continues to reflect fighting over “how the wealth and power of the industrial system were divided.” They need to realize that, as Toffler discusses at length in Powershift, the key to the 21st century is high-quality knowledge power, not low quality wealth and force power. They need to look forward, not backward. They need to pave the way for the future, not fight for advantage over industrial age leavings.

The pushmi-pullyu—a metaphor for our farcical U.S. political reality
The pushmi-pullyu—a metaphor for our farcical U.S. political reality

He sees current social institutions as critically inadequate for the requirements of the incoming Third Wave civilization. He also sees that the electronic expanded family cottage is a more appropriate workplace in the 21st century than most, since it requires no mobility of residence, automobile pollution, mind-numbing commutes, use of childcare centers, daily desertion of family and home in suburbs, etc. Will it increase, or decrease social isolation? Toffler says decrease: “I think it could create new, stronger family and community bonds.” Many of the things that don’t work about life—that cause massive social symptomatology, came about when First Wave society changed to Second Wave society and the home lost many of its roles and much of its focus: people focused on the office or the factory, the school or the corporation, and agricultural, home-centered man became industrial, workplace-centered man. Many of the socialization functions of the home that are supposed to be dealt with elsewhere now are dealt with inadequately today.

Young people aren’t forming good values and following good, clear parental examples to emulate, as in the First Wave. There is little neighborhood participation in the character formation of our young, as happened in the First Wave and early in the Second Wave (see Richard Louv’s books.) Parents hope schools and churches do it; schools and churches hope parents do it. But the winner, by default, is our young's peers and their media influences, counting on other-directedness to make their morals all about greed, consumption, possessiveness, status, and indirect self-acceptance. The values vacuum gets filled in the worst way possible—only being pulled into a cult or street gang could have an even worse influence.

The values vacuum gets filled in the worst way possible—only being pulled into a cult or street gang could have an even worse influence
The values vacuum gets filled in the worst way possible—only being pulled into a cult or street gang could have an even worse influence

The Third Wave electronic expanded family cottage, especially as it networks with other nearby “cottages” and adds a few needed personnel in the immediate vicinity, will be the first entity to successfully address such concerns (rather than passing the buck) in many decades. Toffler harbors no illusions about First Wave society, even though regaining a few of its benevolent characteristics will aid the Third Wave. He thinks that nostalgics and reversionists that want us to dump technology (all of which they think is dirty and despoiling) and return to the First Wave are merely barriers to civilization moving to a Third Wave future. The people who lived in pre-technological, agricultural settings were “miserable victims of localist tyrannies, with no democracies, no due process in the courts, no individual rights, no contact with the outside world, no say in determining their own destinies.” It was “mindless slavery for the average person.”

Heroic individualist
Heroic individualist

Toffler discusses the type of workers needed in the Third Wave: resourceful, innovative, educated, team-working individualists. Unfortunately, what schools are producing are people ready to do repetitive, uniform, standardized work—factory workers. We need thinkers. We’re getting bumper bolters. We need people who work well together. We’re getting alienated, disconnected, hyper-competitive, John Wayne heroic individualists who do everything from a ME context. In essence, we’re getting conformists who are win-lose, when what we need is individualists who are win-win.

The Third Wave needs resourceful, innovative, educated, team-working individualists; but we produce the opposite
The Third Wave needs resourceful, innovative, educated, team-working individualists; but we produce the opposite

In Riesman terms (see The Lonely Crowd), we’re getting a few inner-directeds and traditionalists who want to do things “right”—the way they’ve always been done (this doesn’t work so well anymore), and we’re getting a lot of other-directed peer conformists who don’t want to stick out by doing better than those around them by pursuing excellence, but are competitive in that they’re willing to put down fellow workers when they’re not around—a kind of win-lose sibling rivalry. Their “win” strategy—as has been portrayed innumerable times in TV shows and movies (e.g., Working Girl)—isn’t about doing great work; it’s about stopping others from going beyond them. They resent others getting ahead, even when it’s logical and fair, and even when they know that they aren’t doing that well.

And, of course, where all this comes from is the failed Second Wave industrial civilization experiment of steep-gradient nurturance, wherein intrinsically win-lose parenting patterns did and do prevail. The chance that such upbringings will successfully staff the Third Wave is nil. They are based on authoritarian (win-lose) and permissive (lose-win) parenting, coercion power, money power (bribing behavior) and almost no knowledge power—which is of course not only the highest quality power and the most effective power in the long run, but also the type of power that is the key to the success of the Third Wave. (Happily, the solution here is the relatively simple application of knowledge power to lifestyle inadequacies, and it’s contained in MCs, wherein people can easily learn how to raise [and themselves become] highly-productive, win-win people of high esteem who enjoy great relationships, communication and unambivalently successful parenting. MCs and Tofflerian expanded electronic family cottages dovetail with absolute perfection. See Why Register for an MC?.)

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

What ARE the intrinsically win-lose parenting patterns (produced by America's steep-gradient nurturance parenting) good for? They combine with kids' violent video games, win-lose sports obsessions, win-lose school achievement patterns, and win-lose TV dramas to produce emotionally insecure, war-loving soldier mentalities. If that's all we really want to create—if warriors is our main ambition for our young's futures—then steep-gradient nurturance is the way to go. But if we want cooperative, humanistic, compassionate, peace-loving, insightful problem solvers who are emotionally secure rather than neurotically stressed out, then flat-gradient nurturance is the only way to go. Do yourself a huge favor: read our novel The Forest Through The Trees where you will be introduced to people who were raised with flat-gradient nurturance and P.E.T. communication, relationship, and parenting methods. Read with your heart as well as your eyes. Ask yourself if you want to be a warrior and raise kids who are Second Wave, win-lose warriors or if you'd prefer to be humanistic and raise humanistic, Third Wave, win-win kids like the ones in the ebook. And finally, recall Toffler's words: if all we prepare for is war and not peace, then war is what we shall have.

Electronic cottage
Electronic cottage

But back to the book: Toffler wants not a “welfare state” but a training explosion, and he expects training to evolve into a big industry, and to happen soon because our country has little choice. Too many jobs go begging or are not being done well. (Idle people collecting unemployment makes little sense; but if some of these people train others of these people in order to collect unemployment, then the situation becomes Third Wave compatible.) Interestingly enough, he doesn’t advocate training for specific skills like key-punching. Instead, he wants us to train people to transition to wholly new ways of life. He’s talking about Third Wave education, in which the needed characteristics of Third Wave workers are taught. He says that “this type of transition support is necessary if we aren’t going to tear the society apart.”

Idle people collecting unemployment makes little sense; we need skills training, not slackers
Idle people collecting unemployment makes little sense; we need skills training, not slackers

This is totally correct and it will work to impart Third Wave knowledge, but it won’t do much to help us evolve Third-Wave-character-possessing, win-win, cooperative people who are compatible with horizontal power structures in Third Wave institutions rather than vertical power structures run by authoritarian means. People brought up by authoritarians cannot be expected to begin acting like they were brought up with authoritative parents who mold behavior with expectations of responsibility and with natural and logical consequences. They will instead expect obedience to others or by others, and behavior to be molded by punishments, threats, scoldings and negative reinforcement even though it's been demonstrated that this type of discipline is based on erroneous concepts and produces lousy results. (Happily, if MC growth complements Third Wave growth, this problem will disappear faster than a wallet on the sidewalk in Times Square.)

Responsive flexibility is when you feel like scolding a kid who broke a vase, but instead choose to start up a problem-solving dialog
Responsive flexibility is when you feel like scolding a kid who broke a vase, but instead choose to start up a problem-solving dialog

He also advocates recognizing various types of work that contribute to the economy but are not now considered paid work. This is one to be careful about, in our opinion—it’s too easy to slide down a slippery liberal slope when applying such ideals. But before anyone sees him as left leaning, it should be noted that he consistently states that he’s neither left nor right, and he has also stressed that the Third Wave has many elements in it that the traditional “right” would admire: “The emphasis on individualism as against mass collectivism. The re-emergence of the home as a central institution. Opposition to centralized bureaucracy.” Three more we would add: entrepreneurship, innovativeness (good old American ingenuity?) and a stronger work ethic.

Where did Toffler’s exceptional brilliance, intuition, and insight germinate? Surely all this can’t be mere coincidence. A thorough reading of Previews and Premises solves the mystery. Toffler was brought up in a very rare situation resembling an MC. During the part of life that most strongly affects character and personality—early childhood—he actually lived with not only two parents but two grandparents and an aunt and uncle as well! These were good, strong, wise people. And he actually had them all available to him. Compared to most people, this lifestyle can hardly be considered anything short of a miracle. Fritjof Capra, the definer of the new, ecological-holistic paradigm, had a similar extended-family-blessed childhood.

Can this too be coincidence? Not according to all science and research ever done in the areas of: psychology, nurturing, early childhood development, cognitive development, social development, steep-gradient and flat-gradient nurturance, factors in the development of intelligence, and the effects of: allowing early choices, having great examples to emulate, living in successful need-filling environments, having plenty of adults who will listen to you when you’re young, using active listening, offering alternate nurturers, having interested adults show you how to do things, having confident and humanly powerful adults as role models, etc. Fact: A great environment very often produces great kids who grow up to be great people, whether famous or not.

One wonders if those rare few people in the world who get brought up so wonderfully really understand, deeply in their heart of hearts, how different it is for the rest of us. See The Forest Through The Trees.

Tobacco Smoking and Tobacco Smoke Both Kill—in homes where parents smoke, it is normal to totally disregard the feelings and health of their children who cough and choke from smoke
Tobacco Smoking and Tobacco Smoke Both Kill—in homes where parents smoke, it is normal to totally disregard the feelings and health of their children who cough and choke from smoke

Here is a slice of normalcy, based upon a composite of various experiences of various normal people during their actual childhoods:

Normal people often simply don’t believe it that there are people that actually have environments and available adults of the type Toffler describes. They’ve never seen or experienced it and it seems like a fairy tale or a tale from some other planet—Earth simply has no such upbringings. Most people have never known or even heard about anyone who’s actually had such an upbringing. And it would seem that people who have such incredible upbringings, even if they know the statistics about how others around them didn’t have it as good as they did, probably don’t fully comprehend just how different from theirs such an upbringing actually is. Back to the book:

Toffler has an aversion to intellectuals who have never been near a factory and yet write that the work doesn't bore the workers—they're too dumb to know any better
Toffler has an aversion to intellectuals who have never been near a factory and yet write that the work doesn't bore the workers—they're too dumb to know any better

Toffler has an aversion to intellectuals who have never been near a factory and yet “write learned disquisitions [long or elaborate essays or discussions on particular subjects] telling us that workers ‘don’t mind’ boredom because, after all, they don’t know any better.” He has no time for patronizing, elitism or condescension. He learned a lot about life in factories and considers them his “graduate school.”

He wanted to reach the people directly with his vital Third Wave and future shock messages, and from 1970 on—as a result of the publication of Future Shock—he was able to: “The most important impact of Future Shock, for me, was that for the first time I was a writer in direct communication with an audience. . . . Future Shock . . . opened a torrent of communication from readers.”

Readers were very enthusiastic about his book and would call him up at all hours to discuss various aspects with him. He had already been a lecturer, but this really made him an author in demand: “I was no longer confronted with ordinary audiences, but with standing room crowds, and often there was a sense of—how to put it?—a constituency. It was electric. . . . Future Shock had an impact on the entire book industry because it was the first time that an intellectual work had received such a wide audience in the U.S. It showed it could be done.”

The book sold great in the U.S. and many other countries as well. And “. . . it also opened many doors, so that we had opportunities to meet with people in many countries—heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, and so forth, all over the world.” He’s gotten TV specials made about both Future Shock and The Third Wave. They stressed the obsolescence of much of the political apparatus today, change, the coming Third Wave civilization, and the need for fundamental changes in our educational system.

Classroom in school
Classroom in school

One can see that he wants lifestyle wisdom updated in our culture because he says that in cultures that are changing very slowly, kids should imitate what their parents do, but in fast changing cultures: “. . . thinking clearly about future possibilities and creating new ideas to cope with them becomes essential to survival.”

He hopes to strongly influence the future for the better by what he’s saying and writing now. We concur 100 percent. He wants to “. . . communicate with large numbers of people. The purpose of that is to encourage fresh, novel ways of looking at reality and also to smooth the way for social changes that I, as the author, regard as desirable.” He’s more of an empiricist than an academic. He has to read many books and journals to keep up. “But unlike many specialists, who have been taught to ignore their own raw experience in favor of the printed page, I also use real-life encounters, personal impressions, travel and face-to-face interviews with relevant people to help me set the statistics and academic studies into perspective.” Experience is the best teacher—Julius Caesar, in 52 B.C..

He feels that when writers build their models, they have to contend with an “unavoidable mass of unsurfaced assumptions.” He searches for interrelationships between various facts, social events, phenomena and social structures. His wave model is based on process, not structure alone; it epitomizes the new, ecological-holistic paradigm. Keynesian, Freudian, and Marxist theories rely too much on the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm, which makes them Second Wave, while his ideas are Third Wave.