Eugene Linden
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Time Warp on Climate Change

 

In yesterday's New York Times, there were two articles on climate change. The first was a front page piece about how President Obama will try to end-run Congressional paralysis on dealing with climate change by seeking to update the existing Kyoto treaty in ways that comm...
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The Ragged Edge of the World
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ And Other Clues to the Coming Instability Eugene Linden With a New Afterword by the Author for the Plume Edition In THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ and Other Clues to the Coming Instability (A Plume Book; On-Sale: February 5, 2002), veteran journalist and social critic Eugene Linden offers a provocative way of thinking about the future. “We will know much,” writes Linden, “...if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now.” Linden argues that the remarkable stability and economic growth since World War II gave baby boomers a false sense of security, and, more importantly, camouflaged deep forces that will likely plunge the world into a protracted period of economic and social upheaval. Since September 11, Linden’s argument has taken on new urgency as some of these forces have been violently thrust before the public. By outlining the nine clues that will play the greatest roles in shaping our future and examining the potential effects each of them will have on society, Linden presents a clear picture of the challenges that need to be addressed, and the pitfalls of not heeding these warnings. In the chapter entitled “The Rise of the ‘True Believers’” Linden describes how radicals and religious fanatics are both a product of instability in the world today and a likely indicator of greater instability to come. As recent events have proven, any of the clues to the coming instability can have momentous effect; taken as a whole, the nine clues outlined in THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT could reshape the known world, and in as little as 50 years. Since the dawn of history, prophets, seers and marketing gurus have sought to answer what the future holds, almost to always find their predictions humbled by the whims of fate. In Linden’s case, however, what was published in 1998 as a look at the future looks more and more like a description of the present. Prescient sections of the book examine the destabilizing aspects of religious fanaticism and infectious disease, and describe as well as how they might transform the way we live. For those people wondering whether the world is at the point of a major transition, Linden offers a clear and useful way of looking at the future by taking a fresh look at the landscape of the present. The book deciphers the larger meanings of the wage gap, recurring currency crises in the developing world, changing climate, migration, shriveling supplies of water and other clues to future instability. Then, in a series of scenarios set in such places as New York (where Linden describes a future that Americans can now more easily imagine), London, Northern California, Mexico and the Congo, the author shows the various and often surprising ways in which people react to instability. Some will welcome stronger family ties and the end of youth culture, but an unstable world also may see less innovation and investment. Finally, Linden describes how the potential for instability lies in the very nature of the consumer society itself, and how the world might side step the pitfalls of instability. In a new afterword Linden updates the book to address events, including the attacks on September 11, 2001, that have occurred since initial publication in 1998. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eugene Linden is an award-winning writer on science, nature, and the environment, whose articles have appeared in many publications, including Time magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. In recent years he has consulted for the U.S. State department and the United Nations Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. Linden is also the author of The Parrot’s Lament (available in a Plume edition), as well as five other books. His newest book, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, will be published by Dutton in August 2002. Linden lives in Nyack, New York. Visit Plume Books on the web at www.penguinputnam.com Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

 

In this op-ed, published in today’s New York Times, I explored an enduring meme in American life. Our consumer society has banished religion and tradtions to the sidelines, leaving only one’s place in the meritocracy as a prop for identity. And since that tends to be defined by material success, most people are left with a gnawing sense that they have failed in life. This anxiety has been exploited by sales pitches for generations.

 

There is limited space in an oped; too limited, for instance, to delve deeply into the issues raised by anxiety about identity in a consumer society.  Dig deeply, however, and we can see that this anxiety provides nothing less than the motive energy of the consumer society.  The genius of a consumer society is that it exploits the very anxieties it produces.

 

Insecurity about identity in a world that worships material success is, of course, a well-trodden meme of American literature and theater, mostly as it plays out in personal terms. Think Willie Loman.  But then there is discontent’s role in the consumer society as a system. What does a purchase accomplish? What do millions of purchases accomplish?  They mobilize capitalism and markets. So, we are encouraged to define ourselves in material terms, creating discontent, which can then be then it mined to spur further purchases, and each purchase further fuels the consumer society. This catalyst for purchases is inexhaustible because material acquisitions cannot satisfy a non-material need.

 

And what are these non-material needs that cannot be satisfied by purchases?  At their core, those needs – the powerful urge to be a part of something noble and larger – are religious. Think about the consumer society in an historical context. From the dawn of Western civilization, reason -- in the form of the hand of enterprise -- has expanded its foothold on behavior. As Arnold Toynbee wrote many decades ago, the ancient Greeks moved the gods out of the trees and up onto Mount Olympus, and then monotheism took that one further and bundled the gods into one supreme being and, in effect, exiled “him” to the heavens. The Reformation made it OK to feel good about doing well, and then, sometime in the middle of the last century, the consumer society brilliantly drove religion to the margins of daily life, while co-opting the needs that drive religious fervor for commercial ends. So here we are, with “Black Friday” recruiting more passionate devotees than any church. Neat trick, and who can argue against the convenience and security the consumer society has delivered. There are some costs, however…  



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