Eleven: Nerds ruled
Phenomenal technological growth, especially in personal computers and biotech, has improved medical testing, created new industries and conveniences, sped up international communication–and made Mother Jones available online to Web surfers. Computers and robots have also displaced middle-class manufacturing jobs, and threatened a new class gulf between the technological haves and have-nots. A significant challenge for the next century will be how to create a business/government partnership that can spread the benefits of new technologies.
- Number of domestic shipments of PCs in 1976: 53,100
- Estimated number of shipments in 1996: 18,467,000
- Number of in vitro fertilizations in the U.S. in 1976: 0
- Number in the U.S. in 1993: 31,900
- Number of Disney artists, animators, and technicians required to make a feature-length cartoon in 1976: 100
- Number required in 1995: 600
Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog and author of How Buildings Learn, is optimistic.
Intel founder Gordon Moore came forward with a law in 1975 that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months. He was right. Computers became faster, more efficient, cheaper, and smarter every generation, and there’s no end in sight. The hacker’s dream that everyone would be a hacker has made education even more essential.
Is the tool good or bad? In the early ’70s, when word processors were coming, the secretarial and clerk unions were trying to ban them at Stanford. It was ridiculous.
Mother Jones‘ namesake Mary Harris Jones was a union organizer. Would she use a personal computer and consider it right and useful? If she was as bright and bold as we think, then she’d say, “Wow!”
Gary Chapman, of the 21st Century Project at the University of Texas, says new technologies will end work as we know it.
Shoshana Zuboff’s In the Age of the Smart Machine tells of pulp-mill workers who once assessed whether wood pulp was ready to move from one process to another by sticking their fingers in the batch and “tasting” it. Once their plants were automated, they moved to a glass booth filled with computers and instead watched numbers and bar graphs. This seems symbolic of the change–a radical transformation from somatic knowledge to abstract knowledge, from tangible experience to mediation of experience by numbers, data, and images. If you work at a machine you don’t really understand, it takes a toll on your ability to grasp how the world works and how it affects you, including the political system.
Whether you call it “post-scarcity” (the optimistic view) or the “jobless future” (the pessimistic view), we’ll eventually have a world economy in
which most people will not have to work, and work will not be available for them. This will continue to expand over the next 100 years, as profound an alteration of human experience as moving from a superstitious and divine view of the world to a scientific one.
Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and, most recently, The End of Education, believes that information is no substitute for human values.
We already have enough knowledge to feed everyone on the planet. If there is crime rampant on the streets of a big city, that has nothing to do with information. As you go through and look at our most serious problems, you’ll see they have very little to do with information. They are not amenable to technological solutions. There is an audience out there waiting to be organized to make sure that we think a little more clearly on these matters. Parents are wondering about television. They’re wondering whether they should be paying money to have their kids sit in front of computers for hours and never go out on the street and talk to anyone.
Twelve: Schools got scary
Public schools are funded by local property taxes such that schools in poor neighborhoods are scrambling for textbooks and working toilets, while wealthier schools are creating their own Web sites. And while the nation still recognizes schools as the first building block of the American dream, support for public education is declining. The disparity in opportunity grows at the university level. With the disappearance of good-paying, blue-collar jobs, a college degree is now the price of admission to a middle-class life in the Information Age.
- Increase in suicides among 10 to 14 year olds in the u.s. between 1980 and 1992: 120 percent
- High School seniors in the U.S. who reported being threatened with a weapon in 1976: 27.7 percent
- High School seniors who reported being threatened in 1993: 37.3 percent
Henry M. Levin is director of the Accelerated Schools Project at Stanford University. Now in over 800 elementary and middle schools, the project has had remarkable success in turning around poor schools by viewing all students as gifted.
What happens in education is heavily determined by political events. In an age of civil rights and affirmative action in employment, the schools will set priorities that reinforce these areas. In an age of conservatism, budget restraint, coddling the religious right, and economic uncertainty, the schools are pushed toward basic skills rather than critical thinking.
If schools become starved for resources as more at-risk students are deposited on their doorsteps, middle-class parents, worried about the futures of their children, increasingly may look for alternatives to public schools. If, however, a priority is put on defusing conflict through educational systems that work for everyone, transformative schools can build on what we have learned about good teaching and learning, good teacher preparation, appropriate use of technology, and connecting schools with the lives of children and their families. Educators are increasingly well positioned to respond if this happens.
David Osborne is author of Laboratories of Democracy. He makes the case for school choice (Mother Jones Sept/Oct. 1993), arguing that to revive public schools we should give them real incentives to perform.
What would happen under school choice? Kids would leave those awful inner-city schools/ That’s good for those kids. Under a real competitive system, what would a school board do if a school lost 40 percent of its students and 40 percent of its money? They’d give the principal a year to turn the damn place around or get out the door. There would finally be a reason why somebody had to care about these schools. It would work for the kids left behind even more than for the kids who move.
Thirteen: Man beat nature. Not.
As the globe heats up and species die out at a rate not seen since the Jurassic Age, the kind of arrogant science that gave us CFCs and nuclear weapons is beginning to feel as outdated as a Soviet steel plant. But there are also scientists who have been sounding alarms about global warming and bacterial resistance to antibiotics. There is promise in this new science that proceeds out of respect for nature, rather than the expectation of conquering it.
- Total energy generated by wind power in 1980, measured in megawatts: 10
- Estimated Total in 1994: 3,710
- Average worldwide temperature in 1976, measured in degrees fahrenheit: 58.62
- Average worldwide temperature in 1994: 59.57
We can’t keep thinking we can outguess God and nature. That’s the philosophical lesson. I’m not against civilization, technology, or science. I just want us to use them well. We haven’t learned to do that yet.
We’re good at taking things apart. We need to learn how to put them together. If you think you can’t make money in restoration, [just] take your car into the shop or your body to the doctor.
We need a cost-benefit analysis of growth. What’s a tree worth? The marketplace tells us about pulp and two-by-fours, not about locking up carbon and releasing oxygen and moving the flow of water and being part of the ecosystem. We need to make an effort to start finding out.
We’ve been laboring under the Baconian concept of science based on detached power over nature. We could develop a new approach based on connection and community–technology that maintains rather than chains the environment. Take the old approach: Build a Sears Tower–isolated, detached, and expressing power. A new one would want a passive solar building based on the science of connection and community. Is that any less scientific?
We’ve seen the shadow side of science and technology, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, for example. But a realistic diagnosis doesn’t preclude hope for the future. Grim determination to look at the problems is a necessary beginning for restoration.
There’s a broad recognition that our real problems can’t be addressed by top-down social engineering. Trying to master nature through big engineering projects doesn’t work because of environmental and social consequences. TVA was not only a big electricity project, it flattened towns and broke up communities. The consequences were not benign.
My hopeful interpretation is that we’re coming to recognize the principle of subsidiarity, that one ought not handle a problem at a higher level that can be handled at a lower level.
Author Jane Smiley wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Thousand Acres and teaches at Iowa State University.
The last 20 years have seen the end of the family farm with hardly even a yelp from anyone in the media. If a society chooses mechanized, exploitive, giant-scale agriculture, an agriculture based on the ideal of genetic and economic uniformity, then their relationship to nature is systematically lost. If the relationship to nature is lost, then their relationship to the delicacy and complexity of what’s around them, and who they are, is also lost.
Fourteen: Band-Aids got more expensive
Health care costs in the U.S., driven by a number of factors, rose an eye-popping 575 percent between 1975 and 1993. The high-stakes battle, most recently focused on Medicare, led health care lobbies to pour an unprecedented $21 million on legislators between 1979 and 1994. While insurers would prefer to insure the healthiest and wealthiest segments of the population, much of the public would prefer the security of universal coverage and a choice of doctors.
- Increase in U.S. per capita health expenditures between 1975 and 1991: 384 percent
- Average hospital stay in 1978, measured in days: 7.2
- Average stay in 1993: 6.2
Marc Roberts is a professor of political economy at Harvard University and author of Your Money or Your Life: The Health Care Crisis Explained.
Health care costs are so high–even exceeding corporate profits–that corporations engage in every conceivable stunt to get out of paying them. They reduce full-time staff and hire temporary workers. As recently as two years ago, health care costs were the major cause of labor disputes.
One reason costs are going up is the aging population, in part due to the success of the health care system. As we keep people alive, they use health care more–a failure of success. Preventive medicine generally doesn’t save money, either. If people stop smoking, health care costs rise, because smoking tends to kill people with inexpensive diseases at an earlier age. If they live, it costs that much more to care for them.
However, costs have to be viewed not in terms of saving money, but in terms of saving lives. In many cases we ought to provide cost-increasing care.
Part of the problem is Americans have unrealistic expectations. They think death is optional for holders of U.S. passports. Another problem is that hospitals are still building stuff, even though we have excess capacity. It’s an arms race.
The one way to limit health care costs in the long run is to set a budget and say, “This is all we can afford.” Unless–and until–we do that, we’ll never bring costs under control.
In “Restoring Public Trust” (Mother Jones, Nov./Dec. 1995), well-known pollster and political analyst Daniel Yankelovich wrote that, for a health plan to be successful, it must appeal above all to the public’s sense of what is right and practical.
The president’s announcement of the health care plan in September 1993 won acclaim across the land. The idea of providing health insurance to all Americans, including the 41 million uninsured, struck the majority of voters as morally sound, and the idea of controlling costs by cutting waste and greed appealed to them on both moral and practical grounds.
As the debate unfolded, however, the Clinton plan progressively lost credibility. The mechanisms for saving money seemed unrealistic and overly complex, and the addition of costly new entitlements and the massive effort to fix those parts of the system that, in the public mind, were not broken, failed both tests–practical and moral.
Fifteen: Women marched ahead
Modern feminism has transformed our workplaces, homes, and civic life. Susan Faludi’s book Backlash (excerpted in Mother Jones, Sept./Oct. 1991) described the conservative reaction to feminism, but it is clear that most of the movement’s gains are here to stay.
- Number by which men exceeded women in earning a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. in 1976: 84,104
- Estimated number by which women will exceed men in 1996: 71,000
- Increase of women in the workforce since 1976: 59 percent
Betty Friedan helped inaugurate modern feminism with her 1963 classic, The Feminine Mystique.
The last 30 years have transformed the consciousness of women. The majority of women are taking a place in society and are working in every field and profession. Women have reclaimed control over their own reproduction, their own sexuality. We’re not only beginning to make decisions but actually beginning to define the rules as only men had done before.
What I see next is a new vision of community that creates jobs for everyone. We need a shorter workweek and protection of benefits for contract workers, in order to provide more jobs, more time with family, and to allow older people to stay in the productive mainstream.
Patricia Ireland is president of the National Organization for Women.
Twenty years ago we were on a roll. [But] 1975 was also the beginning of the politicizing of the religious conservatives. There’s great frustration now, but our work is a continuum from one generation to another. Our foremothers fought for 72 years to get the vote. We, too, need to learn vigilance and patience. We need to keep the outside-advocacy, community-group pressure campaigns on politics and have more of us on the inside. I think of my mother and my grandmother and what they had, and what I have by contrast, and I feel hope.
Deborah Tannen, author of Talking From Nine to Five.
In the last 20 years we’ve learned men and women can work together as equals and have different relationships on an equal basis. We have a whole new way of being in the world. Similar points could be made about ethnic and culture differences. I’m hopeful about gender, and there’s reason to be hopeful about race, too. We’ve learned that women and men can live together and work together on a somewhat equal footing but that we aren’t the same.
Sixteen: Families took heat
The rates of teen pregnancy and single-parent homes have risen dramatically. While the left has emphasized economic factors and a lack of government support for programs like daycare, the right claims “family values” or moral codes have declined. Regardless of the cause, increasing impoverishment of children and the social problems associated with children of single-parent households have taken on greater urgency.
- Increase in children living below the poverty level from 1976 to 1992: 42 percent
- Increase in children living with one parent from 1970 to 1992: 118 percent
Robert Reich is the U.S. secretary of Labor.
The most significant thing we’ve seen is the steady decline in median wages of male workers when you adjust for inflation. This has had cataclysmic consequences on the family, the economy, politics. It meant women fled into the workforce. I wish I could say women were in the workforce for the wonderful opportunities there are for women today, but actually most women went to work in the 1970s due to declining family incomes. Families also had fewer kids in the 1980s, not because they wanted fewer, but because they couldn’t afford more. Americans went into record levels of debt in the 1980s and, last, a growing number of workers have become disillusioned and detached from the political process.
Four steps can be taken: First, make education and job skills easier to attain throughout people’s lifetimes. Second, ensure that people can join unions without losing their jobs. Third, create incentives for people to keep their workers, upgrade their skills, and share profits with them. Instead of tax breaks for investments in equipment, provide tax breaks for investments in people. Fourth, raise the minimum wage and expand the economy.
Author and commentator William F. Buckley Jr. thinks we must revive a public ethos.
We have to revive an ethos that’s pretty dead and explore a civic penalty for creating a baby which you have no intention to bring up. A man once boasted to Bill Moyers of fathering six children with six different women with the intention of continuing. Shouldn’t he lose the right to vote or his driver’s license, or be required to do 20 hours a week of social work or have his income garnisheed?
Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, thinks we need to stop looking after the poor economically, but I’m not sure stopping dependency is the answer. I’d like more creative thinking on this because it’s the great problem of the future. And so is our problem with the aged, who live too long and exhaust us economically. We need a national corporate commitment to public service to help look after them. We aren’t able to provide the resources unless the young pay something for their patrimony through public service. I sound like a goddamned socialist!
Seventeen: We still have a dream
If the voices of separatists have been raised in the aftermath of the Simpson trial, integration is, as historian Eric Foner recently wrote, “still a very radical idea.” There has been significant progress, especially the growth of the black middle class, and the integration of schools and workplaces. The persistence of problems associated with the large number of poor among minorities, however, has given politicians from Louis Farrakhan to Pete Wilson fuel to stoke ethnic resentments. Moreover, racial solutions are no longer black and white, especially with the recent wave of immigrants from Asia and Central America.
- Increase in number of whites with a high school education since 1976: 17 percent
- Increase in number of blacks: 28 percent
- Increase in number of hispanics: 15 percent
In “Mixed Paint” (Mother Jones, March/April 1995), Louis Menand says the sense that there is more friction between cultures is because we are more, not less, integrated.
The cultural antagonisms that look like a new and dangerous tribalism are simply the epiphenomena, the shaking out, of an irreversible process of integration in American life. Contrary to most assertions, American society has become much less like a mosaic and much more like a can of mixed paint. The life-paths of men and women, and to a lesser extent, of black and white Americans, are much more likely to be congruent than at any time in history.
Anthony Lewis, a New York Times columnist, insists we must not give up on integration.
The optimism I felt about our race problem turned out to be fatuous. Politics in the South has been transformed but the essential enmity between us is ongoing. We ended official segregation but did not, as Ike said, change the hearts of men. We are obligated to keep trying. Our self-interest of living together should be paramount. The notion that we will solve all our problems through individualism is absurd.
Lani Guinier teaches law at the University of Pennsylvania.
There is at least the appearance of increased diversity on college campuses, legislatures, city councils, school boards, and on TV. On the other hand, much of that is cosmetic, and temporary. People may work in a multiracial environment but live in a very homogenous neighborhood.
I am actually optimistic. I heard about a study in Boston asking parents: What do you want for your kids? And the first thing these parents–who crossed ethnic and class lines–said they wanted their kids to do was learn how to swim. Second, they wanted their kids to do better than they had in terms of education. Third, they wanted their kids to learn how to get along with people who are different, because it was a skill the parents did not have.
Eighteen: We arm the children, we arm the world
The American formula of combining ubiquitous guns with ubiquitous imagery of gore and mayhem has yielded the most violent culture in the industrialized world. And we’ve become the largest exporter of the formula–in the form of weapons and movies–to everyone else.
- Percent of americans who favored the death penalty for a convicted murderer in 1976: 66
- Percent in 1995: 77
- Increase in reported violent crime since 1976: 92 percent
Mother Jones interviewed then-Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders (Jan./Feb. 1994) on the subject of gun violence.
Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men and the second-leading cause of death for all people aged 15 to 24. That makes it the leading health issue, particularly when guns are used in combination with drugs and alcohol. Guns kill more teenagers than the other big killers–heart disease, cancer, and AIDS–combined. We can begin to address the issue of guns by teaching our young people how to deal with situations in nonviolent ways. Someone said to me the other day, “What our adolescents need is not so much health care, but healthy caring.”
Nineteen: “Me” battled “Us”
The late ’60s mantra “Do your own thing” blossomed into the “Me Decade” before provoking a counterreaction. American Demographics magazine calls individualism the “master trend of our time,” stronger even in the younger generation than in their baby boomer parents. But the associated loss of a sense of personal responsibility has alarmed everyone from environmentalists–who associate it with rampant consumerism and corporate arrogance–to the religious right’s Promise Keepers, who are nostalgic for traditional forms of authority.
- Odds that an american man attended a religious right “Promise keepers” convention in 1995: 1 in 184
- Number of california cars with vanity plates in 1976: 312,000
- Number in 1994: 1.4 million
Cultural critic Camille Paglia wants a critique of ’60s values.
I would say the great lesson of the last 20 years is the tragic story of the ’60s generation. We had enormous ideals about society but also suffered from overweening arrogance. The progressive ideals of the ’60s were real and we deserve credit for trying. But lived life is less easy and less glamorous than we thought. We rebelled and didn’t realize that our rebellion was predicated on peace and a minimum level of prosperity. There was incredible cant and arrogance, rabid talk against capitalism and the industrial society–from people from comfortable homes in places like Long Island who had stereo systems, televisions, and magazines. Capitalism produced the culture, and it produced feminism.
The Dionysian ’60s went too far against the Apollonian ’50s and so we’ve swung back again. Our ideals were too simplistic for political realities and we got out of touch, which made Republicans become the voice of the people. We need to regroup psychologically and be honest about where we screwed up without renouncing the ideals of the ’60s–toleration of nonconformity (including gay rights), racial, and gender equity.
Bill McKibben, the author of The End of Nature and Hope, Human and Wild, calls for a different pursuit of happiness.
The market forces pushing convenience, individualism, and comfort are still stronger than the attraction of community, fellowship, and connection with the natural world. What we call the environmental crisis is really a crisis of desire. We’re losing the battle to offer people an alternative set of things to desire. It’s Disney and GM who are creating our desires. Our task over the next 20 years is to demonstrate that to live simply is more elegant and pleasurable than consumer society. It’s important not to say that TV will rot your brain, but that it’s satisfying to take a walk in the moonlight instead. If consumer society has one Achilles’ heel, it’s not that it is going to destroy the earth (although it is). The Achilles’ heel is that consumer society doesn’t make us unbelievably happy.
Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder thinks we must re-create an active civic life.
Consumerism shouldn’t dictate to us. If we aren’t allowed in the marketplace of ideas, then where is our freedom? Wal-Mart pulled T-shirts saying a woman could be president because it bothered their “family values.” How could they keep that from consumers? People need to stand up passionately for what we’re for. In other words, where are our Mother Jones people? Where is the give-and-take of democracy and respect for minority views that comes from living in a community? If there are town meetings and forums, almost nobody comes. The challenge of the next 20 years is how to find community and civilized discourse.
Twenty: We looked for each other
Rapid change and the uprooting or discrediting of traditional structures of social support have left a well of insecurity and loneliness at the center of modern life. As a result, many Americans are trying to rebuild forms of community and create stronger relationships to nature or God–from traditional worship to New Age quests, from the Million Man March to support groups on the Web.
- Number of Americans interested in New Age ideas in 1976: 500,000
- Number interested IN 1995: 20 million
- Americans who believed in God or a Univerisal spirit in 1976: 94 percent
- Americans who believed IN 1994: 96 percent
Gary Snyder, a California poet and ecologist, suggests we settle down and discover meaning where we live.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis was that the frontier ended at the end of the 19th century, which was literally true in that homesteading stopped and the remaining unsettled lands of the West became public lands. But, psychologically speaking, the frontier is only ending now. We’re finally getting past–as an immigrant population–that we’re in a new place, that resources are always available and so is mobility.
The old story is over. The new story is discovering your neighbors and getting real about your community. Turn around the lesson of mobility. Kids are returning home because they can’t afford to live on their own. Families have to block up and share resources. This is an age of limits. We can learn to live and work together.
Turn around the lesson of mobility. Kids are returning home because they can’t afford to live on their own. Families have to block up and share resources. This is an age of limits. We can learn to live and work together.
Poet and author Maya Angelou says we must act on our beliefs. Her books include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and A Brave and Startling Truth.
The lesson of the last 20 years is that there are lessons to be learned. Oftimes when a person or persons come up with a great idea – like uniting the nations or the laser beam or starting Mother Jones or civil rights for all – as soon as the idea comes out of the great unknown, many begin to feel it is a fait accompli. Our intellect informs us that we have learned lessons, but we have not.
To know and not to do is in fact not to know. We need to be active instruments against evil. We need to do. Let us, then, be up and doing.