Growth and Its Enemies
ONE of the characteristics of the human race, a look at current bookstore displays would suggest, is that it is the only species of animal which worries obsessively about its own future. What religious prophecy was to the past, social prophecy has become to the present: predicting the future of man in this life as distinct from the next-a sort of communal fortune-telling. Any roll call of contemporary exponents of the art would include Herman Kahn, Herbert Marcuse, John Kenneth Galbraith, Marshall McLuhan, among others. Mostly, there is a thin dividing line between prediction and prescription, prophecy and propaganda; between those who purport to be neutrally observing events and those committed to preaching what ought to be happening.
Although prediction appears to be a growth share on the cultural stock exchange, interest in the future is obviously not a new phenomenon. Leaving religious prophecy aside, even the secular variety can be traced back for some centuries. What appears to be new is the intellectual industrialization of social prophecy which, like some other forms of research, is rapidly entering the mass-production stage. On the one hand, there are the academics in search of as yet unclaimed territories to stake out. On the other, there are the mass media, hungry for new ideas to transmit before they are worn out by overexposure. So futurology becomes a new academic discipline, with its own institutions, and its own products displayed in the windows of the press and television.
About the Author