Rifkin

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Tue Apr 9 13:21:30 MDT 1996


On Rahul's recommendation, I've just read Stephen Jay Gould's 1985 review
of Jeremy Rifkin's book on biotechnology, Algeny. (Originally in the
January 1985 issue of Discover, it was reprinted in Gould's collection, An
Urchin in the Storm.) I was tempted at first to call it a damning
indictment, but it is in fact more than that - a conviction of Rifkin for
intellectual felonies, ranging from sloppiness to outright
misrepresentations.

Gould shows that Gould not only misunderstood Darwin - he shows no evidence
of ever having read him in the original. Similarly, he betrays no knowledge
of critiques of Darwin in the evolutionary literature. He misquotes, quotes
selectively, typically from secondary sources (including the creationist
literature), many of them long discredited. He badly misdescribes the
physical environment of the Galapagos Islands. He misrepresents Gould's own
work on evolution. Gould uses the words "silly," "dishonest," and "nasty
caricature" to describe Rifkin's work, and concludes by calling the book
deplorable and lacking in integrity. Gould, a writer I admire, is not one
to make such charges lightly.

I saw a similar technique in Rifkin's latest product, The End of Work. One
telling example: he describes the invention of the mechanical cotton picker
in the mid-1940s as inspiring the northern urban migration of black
Americans, when in fact the migration began 30 years earlier. But the
misrepresentation is crucial to Rifkin's crude technological determinism,
and his tragic interpretation of technological progress; none of the
optimism and sense of liberation present in the original migration can be
allowed into Rifkin's portrait. He also, as I noted the other day, badly
misrepresents Marx's famous passage on machines in the Grundrisse - again,
tendentiously, in the service of a monomaniacal argument.

So, while there is doubtless and ecological and medical case to be made
against beef, Rifkin isn't the guy to do it. Nothing he says can be
trusted.

Doug

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Doug Henwood
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