I don't propose to use this blog entry as a bully pulpit for bashing the intolerant religious...Rather, I'd just like to note that the past decade or so seems to have been marked by a worldwide upwelling of bigotry and intolerance. And it's not only the extremist fringes of every religious creed that are to blame here, although they're part of the picture (and no religion seems to be free of turbulent loons around the edges). We have extremist, eliminationist rhetoric in American political discourse, combined with a hair-raising outbreak of ethnophobia directed at muslims. We have France and Italy deporting Roma (illegally; they're EU citizens and have an absolute right of residence), in a move fuelled by a wave of xenophobia that bears unpleasant echoes of 1940-45. A wave of petty authoritarianism in the UK has led to the installation of all the well-oiled machinery of a police state — now in disarray due to an epochal political upset, but deeply alarming to anyone concerned for civil liberties in the past decade. Australia had its great firewall debate. Russia's government is increasingly authoritarian, harking back to the Soviet era in methods and goals (now with less revolutionary ideology).Stross continues,
The term Future Shock was coined by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in the 1960s to describe a syndrome brought about by the experience of "too much change in too short a period of time". Per Wikipedia (my copy of Future Shock is buried in a heap of books in the room next door) "Toffler argues that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a 'super-industrial society'. This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving them disconnected and suffering from 'shattering stress and disorientation' — future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of the future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he also popularized the term information overload."I kinda half agree with Stross. There's a lot of truth to what he's saying. What he needs to be more specific about, however, is how different groups are reacting to future shock in different ways, and how that in turns sets off ancillary social stresses; not everyone is reacting to future shock per se.
It's about forty years since "Future Shock" was published, and it seems to have withstood the test of time. More to the point, the Tofflers' predictions for how the symptoms would be manifest appear to be roughly on target. They predicted a growth of cults and religious fundamentalism; rejection of modernism: irrational authoritarianism: and widespread insecurity. They didn't nail the other great source of insecurity today, the hollowing-out of state infrastructure and externally imposed asset-stripping in the name of economic orthodoxy that Naomi Klein highlighted in The Shock Doctrine, but to the extent that Friedmanite disaster capitalism can be seen as a predatory corporate response to massive political and economic change, I'm inclined to put disaster capitalism down as being another facet of the same problem. (And it looks as if the UK and USA are finally on the receiving end of disaster capitalism at home, in the post-2008 banking crisis era.)
My working hypothesis to explain the 21st century is that the Tofflers underestimated how pervasive future shock would be. I think somewhere in the range from 15-30% of our fellow hairless primates are currently in the grip of future shock, to some degree. Symptoms include despair, anxiety, depression, disorientation, paranoia, and a desperate search for certainty in lives that are experiencing unpleasant and uninvited change. It's no surprise that anyone who can offer dogmatic absolute answers is popular, or that the paranoid style is again ascendant in American politics, or that religious certainty is more attractive to many than the nuanced complexities of scientific debate. Climate change is an exceptionally potent trigger for future shock insofar as it promises an unpleasant and unpredictable dose of upcoming instability in the years ahead; denial is an emotionally satisfying response to the threat, if not a sustainable one in the longer term.
For example, Islamic fundamentalists are clearly being set-off by future shock (what others might call cultural globalization, or Westernification, or imperialism, or whatever). The reaction to their reaction, particularly by Americans, is not directly caused by future shock. Instead, it's a kind of backlash to those who are future shocked, leading to a rise in populism and an insidious quasi-fascism. But any way you look at it, there's definitely turmoil in the world, and much of it caused by the rapid rate of technological development and spread—and the sociological changes it brings.
Be sure to read Stross's entire article, it's a good one.