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Barry York: The Future and its Enemies

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(21/03/04) Barry York's review of Postrel's book 'The Future and its Enemies'

Having just read Virginia Postrel's book, The Future and its enemies, I'd like to offer a comment. Unfortunately, this is a comment of the off-the-top-of-the-head variety but it's all I can manage at the moment.

I found the key concepts of stasism and dynamism very useful and enlightening. They help explain what the real ideological differences are, and go beyond the labels of Left and Right. Mind you, I am not suggesting that these labels ought to be rejected. Indeed, members of the lastsuperpower site have tried, and still try, to differentiate between the pseudo-Left and a real Left position. But, as Postrel points out, there are people who might normally be thought of as on the Right who can be dynamist in their thinking and those on what is commonly regarded as `the Left` who are out and out stasists.

At first I wondered why not just use the concepts reactionary and progressive? But her view is that the new element is the technocratic elite. The technocrats are `progressive` in the sense that they support change but they only want change that is organised and directed in centralised and controlled ways. The dynamists support diversity and local knowledge.

The chapter on the nature of Nature is very good, as is the chapter on the importance of `play` as a creative, boundary-breaking, process. If you want to know why reactionaries (stasists) hate beach volley-ball read this book!

It's refreshing to encounter someone who embraces the processes of change with genuine enthusiasm. In light of the lastsuperpower's discussion of spirituality last year, I think it can be said that the book exudes a progressive spirit. The future is unpredictable - and ain't life great?

There's a movie called "Pleasantville" that also develops this theme. It's about a boy and his sister living in the 1990s who enter a 1950s sit-com, only to find that the idealized `golden fifties` were conformist and, indeed, `stasist`. The movie isn't consistent - I won't do a critique here - but it's conclusion is memorable. The main characters embrace the world of change rather than of conformity and nostalgia. Oh yes, I must mention: the 1950s portion of the film is made in black-and-white, which conveys the idea of the boy and his sister having entered a sit-com of the era. But then something strange happens: as individuals start to question orthodoxy, colour enters their lives. It's a technically mean feat, reinforcing the point that chaos, rebellion, unpredictability are preferable to certainty, dogma and stasism.

Back to Postrel's book, though. I had a couple of qualms. Nowhere is the `M` word mentioned. Yet Marxism must count as a significant dynamist outlook. The Communist Manifesto contains words that are poetic in conveying Marx's enthusiasm for the achievements of industrialisation. He compares them to the Egyptian pyramids and the Roman aquaducts, saying that the C19th industrial revolution surpassed such achievements. Of course, Marx does not stop there.

Which leads to my next point about Postrel's book. Whereas Marx saw the development of capitalism as creating the material preconditions for a better future, and the anatagonism of classes that can only be finally resolved through revolution, Postrel believes implicitly that capitalism will reproduce itself, adapt to the changing circumstances it helps create. This is the opposite of the Marxist view that sees the capitalist class as long redundant and capitalism as creating `its own grave diggers`.

But, to complete the circle: her point is precisely that the dynamist camp is a diverse and varied one.

posted by Barry York (21 March, 2004)

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Created by keza
Last modified 2004-03-20 04:59 PM

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