12.7 Missing the Mark--Some Potential Difficulties

There are many things that could go wrong with any or all of the integrative scenarios presented in this chapter. Indeed, one reason for suggesting the leading nations in this civilization may be different is the very momentum built up over the last century by the most successful exploiters of machine age paradigms. Clinging to these now and resisting change would result in stagnation, but there is a heavy investment in the old ways, and many good reasons why people may not want to change. This is often seen in computing technologies, where people will stick with inferior software and hardware and ignore better operating systems and computer designs because of familiarity with and investment in the installed base.

Thus, this section examines a few problems, all of which have the potential to derail features of the information age and divert attention away from the integrating themes discussed here.

The Infrastructure Problem

In economic terms, investments in infrastructure take the form of large corporate structures, buildings, ships, roads, aeroplanes, factories, and other machinery. The short-sighted view of infrastructure is that it is built once and used forever. A realistic view recognizes that nothing lasts indefinitely and envisions a specific plan for infrastructure replacement and modernization. It is for this reason that every modern accounting system considers the depreciation of capital goods.

However, this system works well only in a relatively unregulated private sector where market forces directly affect decision making. The provision of public infrastructure is entirely different, because it can be built without regard to either financial or future considerations, and the concept of depreciation is not used in the public sector. The massive expansion of water, sewer, and roads over a relatively short period of time in North America means, for example, that much of this infrastructure will have to be replaced over an equally short period of time. Indeed, some of the more recent techniques sometimes proved less durable, and this foreshortens the overall replacement period. For example, steel-reinforced concrete, if not properly treated, will deteriorate rapidly due to reaction of the steel with salts in road water. As a result, the majority of bridges and buildings constructed with this method in the 1950s and 1960s will need to be replaced much sooner than expected. Meanwhile, governments have placed social spending at the top of their agendas, and much of the infrastructure has simply been left to decay. Similar remarks could be made of the health and education infrastructures.

This may not be as great a problem as it seems, for the new civilization will surely require much new infrastructure in any case. However, those nations that build one from scratch may have the advantage of the lack of attachment to obsolete structures and ways of doing things. As post-war West Germany and Japan have shown, building from scratch, or even out of chaos, may be easier and more economically beneficial than attempting to change the momentum of an existing nation; this may prove to be the case in the next civilization as well.

The same problem exists in heavily regulated industries such as shipping, agriculture, and public utilities. Though not necessarily owned by the state, these tend to be so closely supervised by it as to become its close associates; they then take on an economic aspect similar to that of enterprises directly constructed by the state. It is not surprising, therefore, that these sectors have similar infrastructure problems, and that change comes only very slowly. Yet all are important to the fourth civilization, and its success in any given nation will depend heavily on the ability of these sectors to solve their infrastructure problems, even if it means casting them loose from the protective and smothering embrace of government.

Vested Interests

Organizational infrastructure can also be an impediment to change. New techniques demand new methods of structuring businesses, educational institutions and governments. The case for such change has been made at length in this book, and so has the assumption that it will take place. Hierarchies, for example, seem inimical to the new ways of doing things. However, some of these will be very much attached to their current arrangements and will resist change. Those that do may not survive; if enough could, the fourth civilization may in many quarters be only a pale extension of the third, with little new to commend it.

The present communications media may be among those institutions with the greatest interest in maintaining their current status. Never have they been more powerful than at the close of the machine age. They serve as official oppositions to all governments, expose the sordid side of public figures, filter the news and shape public opinion to their standards, and confer widespread recognition on the causes and leaders of their choice, regardless of how few followers they may initially have. As more people have direct access to information, the role of traditional media may be threatened, and they could use their influence to block such changes in order to retain power. Censorship, heavy taxes, or technology restrictions on the Internet could, for example, slow its growth in favour of the traditional media.

Politicians too may be more interested in extending the last age than in ushering in a new one in which their scope of influence narrows, especially if participatory democracy does become important. The fragmentation generated by political polarization or jingoistic nationalism can work well for them in the short term, for they can keep their own answers vague and meaningless and still appeal to enough of the electorate to remain in office, especially when many lose interest and do not vote.

Ethics Problems (reprise)

One could also wonder where the kind of integrity envisioned for the fourth civilization professional will be found. After all, as the fragmented machine age draws to a close, integrity appears to be sick, even to the point of death. The future is nothing but an undefined nightmare if its peoples have no interest in the making and keeping of promises to their spouses, to employers, and to society as a whole. But, the very publicity that integrity problems are generating can be taken as a sign that they have at least been diagnosed, and that may be a positive sign for the future. Certainly, lack of integrity is one aspect of the machine age that fourth civilization openness paradigms would appear to be hostile to, but it may be some time before integrity becomes the norm. If a marriage between a religious-based moral philosophy and the technological and scientific mindset cannot be achieved, it may never happen.

The Scapegoat Problem

Sometimes, change is resisted more actively, and those who feel themselves to be powerless can find themselves in very dangerous straits indeed. If only a few are perceived to desire the change, and they achieve a high profile, the majority could begin to blame them for all the ills it believes society to be afflicted with. If only a few resist the changes, they could find themselves culturally isolated, and ready targets for scapegoating when things do not go quite as the majority had expected (They seldom do). Although the open information paradigm says this should not happen as much in the future, the possibility of some charismatic demagogue stirring up one nation against another (or even against one of its minorities) can never be completely discounted.

Thus, blacks and orientals are still vulnerable in North America and Europe; Christians are hounded to their deaths in many parts of the world; and the spectre of anti-Semitism continues to haunt modern civilization. Muslims and Hindus stare each other down over Kashmir, and Israelis and Palestinians do the same in their partitioned land. It is also easy to blame the peoples of another nation for the ills at home, for this shifts the responsibility for not solving them to someplace else. Western governments often ignore such problems if a politically unpopular group such as Christians, Jews, or Muslims are the targets, or if there is money to be made by trading with the oppressors. Better not to offend the voters back home or damage fragile trade prospects by taking up the cause of ethnic or religious minorities for the sake of justice.

One could express the optimistic hope that greater openness and willingness to take responsibility ought to reduce the risk of scapegoating, but caution from historical experience knows it will not be eliminated. There will always be people for whom the pace of technical and social change is either too slow or too fast, and who would rather fix blame than work on solutions for the problems they perceive. Such people will always be a threat to civilization as a whole; the challenge will be to eliminate the threat without destroying the freedom to dissent.

More Problems of Race and Discrimination

This leads once again to a dilemma. Every society and every nation, if it is to continue to believe in the things that make it distinct, must promote itself and find ways to demonstrate its own cultural superiority, while resisting encroachments from others. However, such healthy vitality and the defense of values, customs, religion, and a way of life can easily be taken to extremes, and become racial or religious discrimination. These problems are compounded by historical leftovers:

o The uninhibited racism of the past, inflamed by doctrines that one's own "race" is a product of higher evolution, religious hatreds, or the cultural remnants of black slavery.

o The legacy of white European colonization of large areas that were already inhabited by peoples of less advanced technology who were pushed aside and treated as inferiors, fit only to be ruled.

o The continuing, deep-seated problems posed by religio-cultural hatreds in various parts of the world (former Yugoslavia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East).

o The misuse of the Bible to justify racial discrimination and white superiority.

All of these are fragmenting, rather than unifying. Integration paradigms apply in this area as well, so that it is easy to hope that these attitudes may change in the future. Indeed there is evidence in some parts of the world that they are changing already, though hatreds with their roots in religious controversies seem intractable . Some of these attitudes may only be cured by the passage of time and the education of successive generations in a more forbearing attitude. Others may never be.

Only a fringe minority now attempts to make an evolutionary case for the superiority of a particular race, and slavery by race, while not forgotten, no longer has such a profound effect on Western society as it once did. It is too soon, however, to determine whether the aftermath of the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States will make a lasting difference to race relations there--only time can judge this.

In most of the regions colonized by Europeans, the aboriginal population is now so greatly outnumbered that problems of race seem invisible. However, they still do exist, and nowhere is this more evident than in South Africa, where blacks outnumber whites by a wide margin. Like North American whites, those of South Africa are natives; they are generations removed from knowing any other homeland, and have no desire to leave. Because of the relative numbers involved, their repression of blacks was more severe than any discrimination against native Indians in North America, yet it is of the same kind and origin. However it is much easier and more realistic to foresee the elimination of paternalistic, government-controlled Indian reservations, and a reduction of discrimination against aboriginals, than it is to predict the soon coming of a stable or an integrated society in South Africa, despite disbandment of the old white supremacist government there. One might note, however, that the general drift of some land claims settlements in Canada seems to be in the opposite direction, more towards segregation then integration.

Apart from the history of discrimination itself, there is no external support for the notion that one type of human is inherently superior to another. There is no scientific evidence for such claims, and there is no more reason to cite differences on the basis of skin color than there is on the basis of height or eye colour. Moreover, the Biblical passages often cited in support of racism are not only obscure and used in isolation from their context, but provide no mandate to pursue a policy of discrimination by race. Indeed, the modern idea of "race" was not known to the writers of the Bible at all, and such discrimination that the Israelites were commanded to practice was intended to maintain the purity of their religion, not so much that of their physical ancestry. This much is made obvious by the inclusion of foreigners in the genealogy of David, for instance.

Thus, from every rational point of view, it is safe to assert without fear of objective contradiction that there is only one race--the human race, and that the interests of all humanity are nearer the top of an ethical hierarchy than are the interests of any one nation. Will the men and women of the fourth civilization act on this self-evident truth? For the sake of their collective survival, they have to, but history tends to suggest that they might not. Racism is an old problem, a leftover from a dark and evil age, but it is not one that will go away easily. We will know that it has when people think no more of skin colour than arm length, number of freckles, or toenail shape--not only for decisions about business, but also those for church membership, choosing a neighborhood, and for marriage. We can suppose racism has passed when a Baptist Pakistani can move in next door to Muslim Japanese and Liberian families, and across the street from a northern Ireland Catholic, and all join the same clubs, their children all play together without eliciting comments from anyone, and their religious differences provoke no more than vigorous discussions. We will know that it has passed when the peculiarities of some religious group can be satirized without that groups' leaders sentencing the offender to death or complaining of discrimination. We will know when all ideas (including unpopular ones like creationism) have equal chance to compete for space in the newspapers, magazines and airwaves without being censored by advocates of the currently fashionable version of scientific or political correctness.

The possibility that racism and other forms of discrimination will "overshoot" into the next civilization and mar its ability to work and communicate in universal fashion cannot be discounted. Neither can the possibility that religious groups rather than national ones could become the focus of a new and fatal form of intolerance--there are indications of such attitudes today.

However, it must be appreciated that solving such a deeply entrenched problem will not be easy--even in the most "enlightened" of societies. Care must be taken that attempts to redress old inequities do not become a reverse discrimination and create a backlash of new racism, or to simply redefine "tolerance" to mean the same as an old intolerance. Care must also be taken in applying sanctions to countries engaged in racial or cultural wars or internal discrimination that they do not simply make things worse, by strengthening the resolve of the racists to maintain power at any cost. That such divisive problems will eventually be solved and a new unity of humankind emerge is a premise of this book; that it will come easily or soon is not.


All the institutions of the machine age can react to its demise either by embracing change and re-defining themselves to suit new roles, or by acting to perpetuate themselves and their existing agendas at any cost. Likewise, its peoples can welcome and work with the changes for good, or either resist them or use them to evil ends. However, it is the contention of this book that change will be the course to achieve social stability, and that attempting to continue to live in the industrial age will only result in further fragmentation. The real challenge of the new civilization is not the preservation of old and disintegrating institutions, it is the integration of their fragments into a new and cohesive whole--not change for its own sake, but for the construction of a new and better society.

Finally, and more specifically, and since this book is intended to challenge students of technology not only to consider ideas, but also problems, it is appropriate to put forth some very specific questions for solution. In keeping with the tradition for such things, these are presented in lists, with only minimal comment.

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises