I liked to visit second-hand book shops when I was a teenager. There were lots of them in Penang along Jalan Macalister. There were plenty of books of diverse interests and they were cheap. You may also rent them. (Come to think of it, probably people read more books or more quality books back then!) When I was in Form Four, I chanced upon a book titled “Future Shock”. It was a book of about 512 pages thick. I skimmed though the book and recall being both mesmerized and shocked. I had to have the book but I just brought enough money to rent it. I had to buy it and lucky for me the mamak seller knew me and trusted me to pay him the balance the following week.
I started reading the book at the bus stand while waiting for the bus. I was reading it while standing in the bus and was reading it while walking back to my house. It was for me a book that I cannot put down. It was full of shocking information for the future. I was simply amazed how the author, Alvin Toffler was able to predict it so logically. Many of the things that he forecasted were of course unforeseeable then in Malaysia. Malaysia did not even have the clues present but I seemed to be taken in by his logic and force of arguments.
I still remember his argument that the most undeveloped aspect of human civilization is communication skills. In his view, this is a very young skill that human beings have acquired. I am afraid, even to this day, he is right. We have yet to develop and let alone understand the mechanics, art, and importance of communication between human beings. Probably, I am inclined to believe that that the other species have relatively better communicative skills and ethics than human beings do.
In 1976, about the time I bought the book, there was only A&W in Penang and I do not think there was a KFC or a McDonalds then, even in Kuala Lumpur. Hence, Alvin Toffler’s explanation of the “impending society or culture of impermanence” was quite difficult to understand (not impossible for those who do not mind thinking). He proposed the thesis that society is moving towards a society of transience ie that everything in our life is going to be deliberately temporary. Everything here includes not only consumables like houses, disposable items like spoon, cups, etc but also relationships. Friendships will be deliberately short he argued and all this due to the economic philosophy that we will come to embrace (which we now breathe it like it is normal!). It is amazing how a serious and passionate social scientist can draw accurate conclusions from disposal items.
He also introduced for the first time in the world (I believe) the concept he called “death of permanence” and that this “shelf life” attitude will become an accepted culture. This is so true today – youth today define two months as a long period to be in a relationship! Relationships or so-called “friendships” are defined in terms of need rather than attraction due to “chemistry” or sharing of values. Today, you hear everyone who has been in a business relationship or politics introducing the other as a “good friend” so much so the entire basis of friendship has altered under our very noses.
Due to its need based relationships, the relationship itself becomes superficial and hence communication itself becomes superficial and confined to economic needs. This phenomenon is further accelerated by the pressures of living in the current economic and political model which is largely capitalistic – leaves very little time for substantial development of relationships.
Slowly but surely, each and everyone one of us became an economic tool serving an economic function in the capitalist economy. Hence, we want to “share” business opportunities, want to build a “network of friends” for economic purposes, and so on. Words and concepts that were once reserved for genuine human relationships have now mutated to play prominent roles in the marketplace. Since, business and commerce does not allow for deep reflections on human nature, our communication opportunities are largely confined to the role of surviving in the capitalistic economy. We lose a large part of our communicative potential and in the long run, we lose our sense of human being.
The primitive man is seen as being loyal to his tribe and fearful of other tribes. He lacks the knowledge of science, in particular the biology of the human being. Thus, he may be forgiven if he is tribalistic in his world view. However, in this so-called technologically advanced society with so-called opportunities for education, information and knowledge, we have greater tribalistic culture and attitudes. Like the primitive cavemen, we have no compunctions being cruel to anyone else who does not look like or behave like the members of our tribe. Unlike the cavemen, we use the modern technology to advance primitive ideas and behaviours. Is I opined earlier, while the physical world may have developed technologically, we as human beings are regressing for many reasons including the fact that we have never focused on developing the "inner" human being. Even our education system is geared towards primarily turning us into income producing tools and loyal servants of the system. In other words, most of us have become technologically advanced primitive human beings. We still have a herd mentality because of our system that discourages thinking.
It is important for the primitive man to have a leader who can lead the rest of his tribe. The leader is usually one who has most brawn than brain. In a complete primitive tribe, apart from the medicine man, you also have the witch doctor who can spurn 'godly' stories and "protect" the tribe from the "supernatural forces". Such powerful witch doctors are revered because of the ignorance of the tribe members and the superstitions that the tribe as a whole have come to accept. Any one thinking member of the tribe who dares to invite any other member to evaluate or rethink the superstition is quickly dealt with and sometimes with the death penalty. How much of such primitive behaviour has our technologically advanced and "educated" society shed? I see that the technologies are actually being used to further enhance primitiveness.
The physical world around us may have advanced technologically for example, the Ipad, the “latest” technologically advanced phone, the “latest” computer processor, the “latest” car and so on….the human nature however has regressed towards primitiveness. Why do I say so?
Taking from what Alvin Toffler wrote way back in 1976, this deliberate attitude of the capitalists to make sure that all products have a pre-determined shelf life, it seems to have affected our world view without us realizing it. While we allow ourselves to be trapped by the capitalists’ game of being subsumed with things “latest”, we never pause to think that we are being hypnotised to buy things which are not the best. This is because, the very idea of an engineered shelf life will not allow the best to be produced and marketed! In other words, what is produced is always something of sub-standard so that it can, within a few months, be replaced by something else called the “latest”!
Commercially of course it makes good profit sense since you literally compel the consumer to forever keep up with the “new products or technology” that has been engineered to be “obsolete” later. The entire motivation is capitalistic – to continue making profits by forcing consumers to keep replacing their products. How does this affect the human psyche anyway you may ask? This and many other factors spurned by our capitalistic fish tank that we live in makes us increasingly superficial human beings. This ingrains in us the idea of never being satisfied with the physical things that we have. This also develops our ego to be bigger than our brains and makes our self-esteem incumbent upon the “latest thing that we possess”. We start defining ourselves by the things we have OUTSIDE ourselves instead of WITHIN. Superficial appearances become important such that superficiality (in various “new” words) becomes a dominant culture in our lives. Superficiality necessarily means that we tend to regress as human beings back to primitiveness.
Our world view seems to be largely and subtlety shaped by dangerous capitalistic values and demands. Take the “latest” craze in the corporate world called “branding”. Our political leaders get into the game very quickly welcoming it as the “latest” and sophisticated thinking that can “sell” ideas. Knowing the shelf life solution mentality of our political leaders, this is not surprising. They have always been unable to think beyond the short term if they can think at all. Coming back to branding, what is it fundamentally?
Granted that branding allows people to identify and recognize a product. Granted that it has its advantages. Granted that branding does help to sell an idea or a product quickly sometimes. However, there is a major danger with branding that those few who know are not telling. IN the context of human development, branding simplifies things to an extent that thinking is dispensed with. The very idea of branding is to excite the emotions, the sentiments rather that to provoke the intellect. Branding encourages the notion of generalizations to the point that relevant details become irrelevant. Branding has the capacity and is intended to hide the faults and highlight the merits. IN short, with the kind of excitement people have with this new tool called “branding”, more and more people get dragged into the culture of superficiality. Superficiality sells. However, it is these kinds of superficial developments that make us regress to primitiveness.
The cumulative effect of our capitalistic living has actually made us regress into a state of primitiveness. With the so-called technological advances around us, most of us have actually begun to lose the ability to think and think wholesomely. With the so-called advancements, we have also allowed ourselves to be duped into primitiveness by “new” buzz words that camouflage primitive behaviours.
TO be continued …Part 2