Techno-optimism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Nov 4 09:25:04 MST 1999



THE BEST OF ALL  POSSIBLE WORLDS

Dow at 36,000! No more cancer! The new techno-optimists gush about a
picture-perfect future. Should we believe them?

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Mark Gimein

Nov. 4, 1999 | There's a story about Robespierre that has the preeminent
rabble-rouser of the French Revolution leaping up from his chair as soon as
he saw a mob assembling outside.

"I must see which way the crowd is headed," Robespierre is reputed to have
said: "For I am their leader."

The story about Robespierre is certainly apocryphal, but it helps in
understanding the recent proliferation of books that herald the coming of a
new and unprecedented age of prosperity. The Cold War is over, unemployment
is low, inflation is lower, the stock market is booming. It's never been
easier to see which way popular opinion is headed.

The new manuals of prosperity are the 1990s answer to the dark books of the
1970s and '80s that predicted a permanent oil crisis, the fragmentation of
the United States, worldwide starvation and nuclear catastrophe. Just as
the pop futurists of that era thought rising oil prices and double-digit
inflation were the trumpets announcing the coming of the apocalypse,
today's crop of professional and semi-professional seers imagine that the
rising stock market is an escalator to the pearly gates of Heaven. So they
rush to sing the praises of the new economic order, apparently convinced,
like Robespierre, that if they just jump in soon enough they are likely to
get credit for leading the parade.

Three books released in the past month are especially good examples of the
race to give voice to the conventional wisdom. Two of them are resolutely
and uniformly optimistic. "Dow 36,000" explains why the bull market will
continue its trek to new plateaus, while "The Long Boom," heralds a new age
of technological achievement, predicting a rosy end of history, in which
the world will have conquered (in no particular order), cancer, poverty and
global warming. The third, a guide to Internet stocks called "The Internet
Bubble," is less sanguine in its projections -- but its pessimism is so
mild, that it, too, belongs here as a kind of footnote, pointing out the
slight flaws that highlight the overall perfection of the picture.

Of the three, "The Long Boom: A Vision For The Coming Age of Prosperity"
might be the most perfect expression of what one might think of as the New
Optimism. Based on a well-known Wired magazine cover story, "The Long Boom"
purports to be a history of the world's future through 2020. The future it
envisions is one where accelerating scientific progress meets the authors'
preferred vision of social progress to make all the problems of today's
world -- in fact, all problems, period -- obsolete. Like many futurist
books, it is not precisely an argument for how things should be, nor an
investigation into how they are, but more like a drumbeat meant to
accompany the inevitable tide of progress

(complete article at http://www.salon.com)


Louis Proyect

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