Making Sense of Rifkin's Third Industrial Revolution
* PhD Thesis: Making Sense of Rifkin's Third Industrial Revolution: Towards a Collaborative Age. McAllum, Michael J C
Thesis submitted to The University of the Sunshine Coast. Under the supervision of Dr. Sohail Inayatullah & Dr. Marcus Bussey. Submitted: June 7, 2016
- 1 Description
- 2 Excerpts
- 2.1 Difficulties with critiquing Rifkin
- 2.2 The Theoretical Underpinnings of Rifkin's work
- 2.3 Jeremy Rifkin's Theory of Post Capitalism
- 2.4 The Role of Technology in Civilizational Transformation
- 2.5 Situating the Post Capitalist Proposition
- 2.6 Conditions for success of a Post-Capitalist Transformation
- 2.7 Towards a Theory of Civilisational Revolution
"The published works of the global, social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin are increasingly influencing planetary debates, yet few have explored his central contentions with a critical eye. In essence, Rifkin asserts humanity must either transform or collapse, with the latter being likely unless there is a significant change in trajectory. In Rifkin’s view this scenario has developed as a consequence of unsustainable ‘entropic debt’ and an economic system that cannot continue to sustain itself, given that it has successfully reduced margins (through technology) to almost zero. However, he maintains that transformation is possible if disruptive (paradigm shifting) energy and networking technologies are adopted in a timely fashion, and a post-capitalist economic system emerges as a consequence of lower transaction costs: the privileging of access over ownership; and the development of Commons based markets. The process of transition Rifkin describes as a Third Industrial Revolution and the new civilisation that emerges from it (the transformation) as a Collaborative Age. The transdiciplinary nature and pan-civilisational scope of Rifkin’s contentions extend beyond conventional (historical, sociological, political and economic) thinking and the applied/empirical frameworks that are central to most Western academic enquiry. Thus a broader framework is required; one that examines not just the litany of the proposed changes, but the deeper patterns that underpin both the transition and the transformation. Consistent with this requirement for a more integrated and holistic perspective, it is asserted that ‘macrohistory’ (the study of the patterns in societies and cultures over the long time) provides the means to frame, interrogate and understand propositions such as the Third Industrial Revolution. Drawing on the insights and writings of selected macrohistorians from diverse historical periods, cultures and worldviews, this thesis identifies patterns in the rise and fall of past civilisations/cultures. These are also evident in contemporary society and are central to Rifkin’s theorisation.
It posits that the Third Industrial Revolution represents a decisive technological juncture and cultural evolution that goes beyond a mere artful bundling of a number of smaller shifts, which will at some future time seem mere blips on the radar. Further, it asserts that in this (partially) technologically determined transformation there will be a substantive reframing of both socio-economic relational dynamics, and the notions of time, form and space upon which those relationships depend. However, this thesis argues that in an interconnected world, these different conceptions of reality cannot be constituted inside of those senses of reality currently privileged by modernity and its deconstructed successor, post modernity. It contends that a different kind of (biosphere) consciousness and philosophy (beyond the spectrum of contemporary ‘isms’) is necessary to reconstitute collaborative identities in a networked future. Such a future will be ecological in its relationship models, and complex, chaotic, contradictory and uncertain in its system effects. Consequently, over time, as these different identities interact, a new metanarrative will develop that will define a counter hegemonic ‘beyond the horizon of modernity’ culture. Finally, emerging from this consideration of Rifkin’s work, the work of selected macrohistorians and of those engaged in the contemporary ransformational discourse, this thesis postulates a ‘causally layered’ theory of civilisational revolution, together with descriptors of the emanant ‘relational’ scaffolding and the distinctive social morphology of a Collaborative Age."
Difficulties with critiquing Rifkin
From the summary of chapter 2:
"At the outset of this chapter, it was argued that there were a number of hermeneutical and epistemological challenges when contemplating Rifkin’s work and the central questions of this thesis. Further it has been asserted that the failure to contemplate let alone resolve these challenges has lead to a surprising lack of critical commentary of Rifkin’s work, given its scope, influence and implications. What this chapter has sought to demonstrate is that this has been due in part to a narrative style that places it outside of accepted disciplinary boundaries, in part because of a lack of understanding and acceptance of frameworks through which to explore multidisciplinary and pan civilisational contentions, and in part because of an approach to scholarship that normally privileges ‘applied and empirical’ discourse over other ways of understanding.
It has been posited in this chapter that the academic convenience of discipline-based approaches is rarely contested in the modern discourse, yet this approach has been central to, and largely unquestioned, in both contemporary historical writing and macro-sociological theory. Moreover at a systemic level, this disciplinary influence has created at least the illusion of a hermeneutic objectivity, a scientific reality that simply cannot be sustained under close examination.
The realisation that interpretation is a consequence of what Dilthey describes as a hermeneutic circle has seen, as Arnasson suggests:
- [T]he disappearance of plausible models for radical and programmed social change (variously diagnosed as the end of socialism, the demise of secular religions or the exhaustion of the idea of progress) and left a void which the positivist movements, among others, attempted to fill or to conjure away.
Nowhere is this more so than in most contemporary Western historical scholarship; study that privileges events and critical agency as central to revolutionary theory. Rifkin’s notions of revolution sit outside of, or at least uncomfortably with, such definitions.
Further, his ideas are presented through a content and stylistic approach that Tilly describes as a superior narrative; a way of writing that provides contextualisation and enlightenment, which in turn creates the capacity to see beyond the litany and the system conditions that a discipline bias often takes for granted. Given this difference in starting points, what this chapter has argued is that a different typology or framework is needed. One that is capable of stretching beyond the confines of disciplinary thinking and accepting of alternative narratives and praxis without compromising, in any way, the quest for intellectual rigor required for the examination and acceptance of any particular set of ideas.
This chapter then argued that the frameworks used to explore a body of work known as macrohistory—or, for those with a discipline bias, ‘speculative history’ — provides a way of framing, synthesising and thus understanding Rifkin’s work. It introduces key elements of this framework and points to a number of critical questions that the use of such a framework provides. These will be explored and deconstructed in some detail in Chapter 4 where the work of a select group of marohistorians will be used as reference and counterpoints.
Finally the chapter posited that Rifkin’s Theory of Revolution cannot be proven in any applied or empirical sense, and indeed that the quest for proof, by definition, requires use of the a logic model that privileges those forms of understanding Instead it proposes that the range of insights that emerge from comparative thinking; translations into alternative traditions; multidisciplinary framings; explorations of different phenomenologies; how reality (worldviews) are constructed; and what can be learnt from ‘beyond discourse’ insights help in understanding the inherent discontinuities in the current societal construct, and the kinds of questions and conversations that societal transitions (revolution) and potential transformations (the Collaborative Age) require. These understandings are explored in both Chapter 4 within the macrohistorical framework and Chapter 5 where Rifkin’s work is ‘situated within the contemporary transformational discourse."
The Theoretical Underpinnings of Rifkin's work
"In summary these theories are:
1. A Theory of Limits.
An argument about the entropic effects of current socioeconomic arrangements.
2. A Theory of Discontinuous Change.
Causes of change based on the proposition that significant changes in energy form and use, together with different communication technologies, have disruptive and radical effects on the societies where such changes are realised and expressed.
3. A Theory of History.
The framing of the history of these discontinuities as a series of identifiable and sequential revolutions have culminated in the Third Industrial Revolution and thus might be described as ‘Stages of History’.
4. A Theory of Empathic Consciousness.
Advocacy of the view that humanity’s biophysically determined sense of empathic consciousness frames as our collective sense of time and space and is reframed by our individual metaphysical choices.
5. A Theory of Leadership.
The development of a number of concepts that interwoven create a ‘sinew of leadership’; a social code that enables networks to act appropriately and synergistically in ways that can be widely shared and accessed by many actors in multiple locations. These actors through choice, not positional power, embed this social code through agency in their activities, products and services across the civil and private spectrum. Over time those who understand the need for transformation become widely distributed within and beyond the established order. They include key policy makers required to create the frameworks for future infrastructure, scientists and technologists who are providing the enabling mechanisms, and finally, ‘prosumers’ who are taking advantage of emergent transformational effects.
6. A Theory of Post Capitalism.
This argues that the current system is at its limits. Further that discourses which privilege the Khunian view of mechanistic organisation and the US senses of individualism as the basic unit of society are both incompatible with, and insufficient for, the emerging collaborative society, as well as the perpetuation of the capitalist model, upon which the current system rests. If these discourses and the hegemony they have created (mythology) are prolonged, there is no exit from cumulative entropic effects. On the other hand the development of a new kind of infrastructure (the Internet of Things) together with a post capitalist collaborative economy provides the basis for escape.
7. A Theory of Transformation.
Only two possible future scenarios are available as future options. These are either Transform or Collapse, on the proviso that the former occurs in a timely manner.
However, a sense of coherence needs to go beyond a litany of applied or empirical explanations. It requires an understanding of the systemic changes that are either explicit or implicit in these theories; the worldviews that are privileged in those systems; and identification of the mythologies, metonymies and metaphors that underpin those worldviews. For instance, the central role of mythology and the use of the metonymic ‘hydraulic civilisation’ allusion is better understood if one accepts, as Rifkin believes, significant shifts in the mastery of energy and communication technology reframe our sense of space and time, and that they have been and are, as a consequence, transformative in nature."
"Two of Rifkin’s most important contentions—the effects of entropy on the global environmental system and the effect of energy efficiencies as drivers of growth—are largely neglected in conventional economic theory. While his early work, for the most part, sets out the logic and evidence for these propositions, his later works articulate potential responses to the challenges these contentions raise. The evolution of this ‘challenge and response’ process has lead him to a point where he has declared that the essence of the current economic system (capitalism) “is passing, not quickly but inevitably and that in its place a new economic paradigm, the Collaborative Commons is in the ascendant”.
Substantiation of this declaration requires Rifkin to: theorise about systemic limits and new options as alternatives to the current model; identify worldviews alternative to those that underpin the capitalist ethic; and at least proffer some possibilities for future metaphors and mythologies.
At the outset it should be noted that, while some would regard Rifkin’s views as ‘of the left’, he is not a Marxist economist, in the accepted sense of that term. For the Marxists, the question is not about whether or not to ‘exploit, grown and own,’ rather the issue is about who controls or has the right to ‘exploit, grow and own.’ In contrast, Rifkin questions the concept of production and its entropic effects per se. As such, he might be more accurately characterised as an ‘individualist’ in the European sensibility, where “the emphasis is on inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, sustainability, deep play, universal human rights and the rights of nature”393. It is within this context that, in the Zero Marginal Cost Economy, he notes mixed feelings about the passing of the capitalist era, and is somewhat surprised that an economic system organised around scarcity and profit could almost counter intuitively spawn a system of nearly free goods, services and abundance, that will see its demise. For Rifkin, the emergence of the Collaborative Era that in earlier works he has described as distributed capitalism and lateral power, provides the opportunity to reframe world views that if they were to continue would (and still do) provide the greatest challenge to “the survival of our species in recorded history”.
The strands of Rifkin’s Theory of Post Capitalism litany are several. Firstly, as was explained in an exploration of his Theory of Limits, he argues that Adam Smith’s economic model is flawed in two important ways. These include the Newtonian view on which it is based, and the lack of regard it has for the entropic effects that are consequential to the growth-and-accumulation imperative inherent in the model. Secondly, he argues that this same model has reached the outer limits of how far it can extend growth aspirations, within an economic system deeply dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. He then posits that the emergence of a new energy and communications infrastructure will reinvent the way the world does business. By design, in the manufacturing realm, it will shift the way of life from highly capitalised, giant, centralised factories, equipped with heavy machines, to economic models that are distributed, modular and personalised in their relationships between buyer and seller398. Most importantly, through the way it is designed and constructed, this process must occur with fewer entropic effects.
This realignment of how economic activity occurs also alters the dynamics of relationships and the exercise of power. It favours lateral ventures both in the social commons and in the market place on the assumption that mutual interest pursued jointly is the best route to sustainable economic development. This is a different kind of capitalism; one that is distributed in its nature and which fundamentally reconfigures the temporal and spatial orientation of society. It changes the nature and cost of transactions and offers the possibility of new ways to organise and manage economic activity. As an economic model, it is systemically different in its modality and therefore, it requires a different kind of theorising. Moreover, it must be asked: can an economic system, which is systemically different, be understood through the same lens used to theorise the existing system? If it is to be considered through the lens of the current system, then it differs in three important ways. The first is that the logic of a system, contingent on substantive margins on both the supply and the demand sides—what we call profits or accumulations—cannot be sustained if those margins are almost zero. The consequence in Rifkin’s view will be that:
...capitalist markets will continue to shrink into narrow niches where profit-making enterprises survive only at the edges of the economy...relying on very specialized products and services.
The second is that the nature of the market function, however that is expressed, changes from an opportunity for accumulation to an opportunity for exchange. In this model, capitalism is ‘distributed’, premised on the idea that everybody can trade and exchange, without the controls that exist in the current proprietary models. In this reformulated future, and given that markets are, at least in part, an extension of socio-economic identity, we can assume that an understanding of economic identity for both individuals and communities is reframed as well. In a real-time, near-term, future world existing market mechanisms are too slow and “a new economic system will be as different from market capitalism as the latter was from the feudal economy of an earlier era”.
Thirdly, with less opportunity for capital accumulation, the ability to ‘own’ property is less available; ‘mine versus thine’ becomes harder to sustain and the focus shifts to an interest in access to shareable goods and services.
In Rifkin’s later works, the shift from ‘property ownership’ to ‘access’ to goods and services is a tangible expression of the challenge the Third Industrial Revolution poses to a highly embedded pattern of economic thought: a worldview integral to the concepts of capitalism. Nothing, he argues, is more sacrosanct to an economist than property relations, for these are an explicit representation of a commitment to economic growth.
If the possibility is considered that the idea of property accumulation will be gradually set aside, this new Age will “bring with it very different conceptions of human drives and the assumptions that govern human economic activity”. These contemplations of what will constitute economy are deeply problematic in the current order, yet to limit their characterisation to being simply components of an economic revolution is too narrow a lens through which to understand what is, or what might, occur. This is because their impact is and will be a reflection of different motivations and constitutions of identity.
While having traced the rise and establishment of the private property rights, and the consequences of those rights, in some detail, in all his works since The European Dream (for it was not always that way), he contends that, in a collaborative future, social capital plays an increasingly important role. This is because the accumulation of social capital enables increased access, rather than ownership, to networks where the cost of participation is plummeting as communications technologies become cheaper. The consequence of this rebalancing of capital is “a shift in emphasis from the quantity and worth of one’s possessions to the quality of one’s relationships [and] requires both a change in spatial and temporal orientation”406. As such, it is likely to play a far more significant role in economic life that will increasingly take place in a Collaborative Commons.
From the systemic shift, and a worldview that reconstitutes property rights as a process of access not ownership, what emerges is a new series of case studies and metaphors about collaboration and commonality that reflect the swing from a scarcity to an abundance mentality. This new mentality is not the kind of abundance that, as Gandhi observed, provides for every human’s [sic] greed, rather it is an abundance that, anchored in our ecological footprint, provides enough to satisfy every human’s [sic] need.408 Therefore, it is a step away from a materialist ethos to one of sustainability and stewardship, where nature becomes a community to preserve, rather than a resource to exploit409. Rifkin contends that the absence of the fear of scarcity mitigates against the desire to over consume, hoard and over indulge, and while not quickly removing the dark side of human nature, encourages the development of a new cultural social code. This he sees emerging in at least a portion of younger generations who have “grown up in a new world mediated by distributed, collaborative, peer-to-peer networks”.
Rifkin therefore argues his Theory of Post Capitalism from three premises.
The first is that the system conditions that already exist in the present growth-focused construct make its continuation impossible. In this sense, these conditions are a reflection of Sorokin’s principle of immanent change. He also posits that the attributes and ubiquity of the new infrastructure, known as the Internet of Things (IoT), by design and structure undermines core principles on which the present capitalist model is based. Secondly, he asserts that these networked, lateral and distributed arrangements privilege relationships over ownership, thereby creating conditions for economic activity and social arrangements that are systemically incompatible with the culture and ethos of the contemporary economy. In this way, the forces that have been unleashed are “both disruptive and liberating and are unlikely to be curtailed and reversed”411. Thirdly he submits that economic systems are situated within larger human systems and therefore, when an economic system changes, so do philosophies, institutions that exist within those systems, and ultimately social and cultural conventions. In this way Rifkin’s Theory of Post Capitalism steps beyond the disciplinary boundaries in which economic theory is normally considered and it links to the other transdiciplinary (and perhaps uni-disciplinary) theorising critical to the Third Industrial Revolution contention.
The unsustainability of economic systems and their role in civilisational change have preoccupied all macrohistorians and many contemporary transformational theorists. Unlike Marx and Gramsci, who theorised over the ownership arrangements of the capitalist system, perhaps only Sarkar, among the macrohistorians, comes closest to offering an alternative economic model that is ‘distributed by design’. For Sarkar, like Rifkin, unabated accumulation and misuse of wealth is a central problem. The goal, in his narrative, is for a good society to provide all individuals with the basic requirements of life in the way that Ghandi’s ‘Swadeshi’ defines them, and to ensure that in the process, wealth is used for benefit and not hoarded. However, for Sarkar, economy and economic growth has a subordinated role as it only exists “to provide physical security such that women and men can pursue intellectual and spiritual development”. Spengler also rails against ‘money thought’: “the grand legacy of the Faustian Soul”. He maintains that little attention has been paid to the presumptions that underpin the thinking of Hume and Adam Smith: that its privileging of materialism ignores the soul that is at the heart of culture.
The consequence is that “the heroic and the saintly withdraw into narrower and narrower circles and the cool bourgeois take their place. [Thus] in the frictions of the city, the stream of being loses its rich form” and the culture inevitably declines. The only way out of this crisis is for “power to be overthrown by another power”416. The question this assertion poses is: is a change in system conditions, as described by Rifkin, sufficiently powerful to effect the revolution Spengler prescribes, or will some other more explicit agency be required? The linkage or otherwise of economy to ‘soul’ also preoccupied Toynbee.
- Western humanity [sic] has bought themselves [sic] into danger of losing their souls through their concentration on a sensationally successful endeavor to increase material well being. If they [sic] were to find salvation they [sic] would only find it only in sharing the results of material achievement with the less materially successful majority of the Human Race.
This was not an argument by Toynbee for some kind of socialism; indeed to the contrary. Rather it is questioning ‘where to next?’ for the ‘psychic energy’ that has been capitalism’s driving force and which fashioned the industrial revolution, for as Schumpeter suggests “stabilized capitalism is a contradiction in terms”.
Similar themes to those expressed in Rifkin’s Theory of Post Capitalism are emerging among some modern transformational theorists. They have, of course, the advantage of contemplating the contemporary condition in ways that earlier macrohistorians could not. While their views, in relation to understanding Rifkin, will be explored in some detail later in this thesis, a number do contemplate the end of capitalism, the emergence of the distributed or collaborative economy and a future of access, not ownership. This suggests that Rifkin’s Theory of Post Capitalism has both intellectual precedent and contemporary support."
The Role of Technology in Civilizational Transformation
Disruptive and Revolutionary Technology
"This apparent inconsistency, though, in no way denies that technologies can engender revolutionary effects. Technology that is disruptive at a civilisational scale, occurs when particular technologies (in the contemporary situation networking, robotic and energy technologies) reorder, replace and integrate, certain dimensions of human life, while excluding others previously used to establish ‘meaning’; how we connect, organise, express culture or enable power. Consistent with this disruptive characterisation Castells postulates, what these networks are doing is redefining cultural and social meaning, in ways that hitherto have been defined by ‘place’ on the one hand and the ‘functionality of wealth and power flows’ on the other. Others like Katz extend exploration of these technology effects. They assert that just as the ethos of mechanical progress influenced the 2nd Industrial Age, so too the design and the use of the technology has assigned a number of new meanings to network technology devices, an Apparatgeist, that was never intended when the technology was created. In a sense, the machines have become us—and for that matter, more than us—to a point where one of the defining characteristics of individuality and our age—what we call ‘work’—“will soon come under threat from forged labourers and synthetic intellects”. So pervasive will be their impact “the future will be a struggle of assets against people, as the resources accumulated by our creations serve no constructive purpose or are put to no productive use”629. As the technologies evolve or are replaced by newer and smarter versions, the revolutionary effects of the never ending redefinition of meaning permeate ever deeper into the existing fabric, eroding what is and providing opportunity to establish what might be (a process previously described as pseudomorphosis).
Disruptive Technology enables Discontinuous Form
If technologies enable ‘meaning’ to be redefined, and if such reconstitutions are widely shared, then the entire social and economic fabric is also rearranged to an extent that it can only be described as revolutionary. For example, with almost ubiquitous technological connectedness (a central tenet of Rifkin’s sense of revolution) Perez argues what distinguishes a technological (network) revolution from the emergence of interesting but random technologies is the strong interconnectedness and interdependence of the participating technologies in how they influence markets and societies, together with their capacity to profoundly transform economies, institutions and society itself. Figure 5.4 suggests that it is at deeper levels of reality that redefinition, due to the introduction of a particular technology, becomes important. This importance might be measured by the capacities any particular technology creates, to enable transformation; to redefine society at a structural level—thereby reframing worldviews and creating new myths and metaphors—that defines revolution at a scale that is material.
Why Network Technologies Undermine Continuity
Almost paradoxically, an understanding that it is the reconstitution of meaning that matters in transition and transformation assists in understanding the dialectic tension that exists between the widespread dissemination of network technologies and at the same time the evident capacity of some of those technologies to undermine the existing system (particularly capitalist economic systems). While the implications of this tension and the possibility that it will usher in a post model, will be explored later in this chapter, there are a number of more generalised effects that might be considered.
Firstly, they enable a radical redefinition and rearrangement of transaction costs631. This has profound implications, for both margins (on both the supply and demand side) and on the formshape-size of organisations. Secondly, as was alluded to earlier, advances in robotics and cognitive technologies will see the end of work, as we understand it. If this is as rapid, as some argue632, then how wealth is socially distributed to allow any kind of economy (be it for accumulation or exchange) will require a different alternative to work as a wealth distribution mechanism. The third reframing reflects the tension engendered by technologies that allow for significant global, and therefore non-state based, economic activity. This allows particular classes of actors to avoid or go beyond the frameworks of any particular nation whose policy settings they perceive are not in their best interests, thereby challenging the close connection that the nation state has with economy. While each of these contentions is important and are worthy of further exploration within the context of this study, what they demonstrate both separately and together is that networking technologies create significant disruption to current arrangements, and the potential for the reconstitution of an economic system or systems635 that is different from these arrangements."
The Civilisation Transformists, including Rifkin, can be distinguished from both the Descent School and Technological Optimists in three important ways.
The first is their shared perspective that environmental issues confronting contemporary society are so severe they not only cannot be resolved inside the current system. Indeed if left in situ, they will ensure ‘civilisation collapse’ sooner rather than later. Thus, Transformists argue descent contemplates particular change trajectories that are insufficient, Further that technological advancement, without concomitant socio-economic shift, merely amplifies the problems humanity now faces. For the Transformists therefore the societal arrangements must be constituted in a way that extends beyond the accepted conventions and assumptions that dominate the contemporary condition. Theirs is an eschatological proposition, the present or near future a time of profound global discontinuity. Secondly, they contend this ‘beyond state’ requires fundamental and systemic change. It is the only hope for a viable future. In other words, to avoid Collapse, a transformation or revolution is required. Thirdly, they maintain that this revolution will reframe socially accepted constitutions of reality at multiple levels. As the futurist Polak asserts, this means that the dynamics of continuous interaction, in all parts of the social and cultural fabric, will result in the form and shape of most of what we now understand being altered637, thus ushering in a new civilisational model. The contemporary civilisation transformist discourse therefore argues for a reframing of reality at multiple levels, in both systems and mentalities and can thus be defined as revolutionary.
In this definition transformation is both additive (in considering technologies and limits) and discontinuous and the revolutionary effects it contemplates are deeply embedded in transformist literature. One of the earliest contemporary revolutionary theorists, Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, contends humanity is on the brink of a Third Wave, a postindustrial shift driven by technology and enhanced communications that would be so distinctly different it would “alter the chemistry in our brains”. The sociologist Wagner is equally dramatic in asserting that modernity (civilisational shift) is “a distinct rupture of historical consciousness”. Eisler also argues for a transformation, one that is not just ‘civilisational’ but also ‘relational’ in nature. By this she means that any transformation that continues to be andocratic merely perpetuates the mythology of domination. To effect Eisler’s revolution, a future networked society would at a systemic level require partnership systems where gylany is normative. This argument for philosophical shift is extended by Henderson, who suggests that moving beyond the competitive model that characterises what she terms as global economic warfare, is fundamental to the social architecture of the 21st century. What these descriptors of revolution suggest is that the transformation being contemplated here is non-event based, multidimensional, philosophical and multifaceted. It is a revolution whereby understandings of form and shape reach far beyond the explicit to include the implicit of cultural and behavioural orientation.
Above all, the Civilisation Transformists can be distinguished by their alternative narratives, or proposed escapes from the existing condition. In analysing their thinking,
Figure 5.5 has been reordered from previous tables to align common questions/issues in both Rifkin’s and other Transformist theorising and discourse with (already explored) various macrohistorical understandings. The intent is to establish where there are shared and common understandings or extensions to Rifkin’s work.
This sense of revolution frames the comprehension of the real at multiple levels. It provides a scaffold for a contemporary discourse—one on which Rifkin’s work might be ‘arranged’—and, through which different understandings that have been made visible through macrohistorical investigation might be explored in the contemporary condition. A critical outcome of this exploration will be to inform and extend perspectives about a number of questions central to this thesis.
Within this ‘situational’ context these are as follows:
o Firstly, are Rifkin’s propositions consistent with other contemporary theorists in describing the challenges of transforming society, beyond the limits?
o Secondly, does the proposed revolution resolve critical issues in a way that enables collective humanity to live within the constraints of the planet?
o Thirdly, can either of the above occur without the emergence of a new philosophical construct? If so, then this discourse must always be contextualised as ‘contemporary’ rather than ‘modern’, for to consider it otherwise frames senses of reality that privilege the centrality of modernity, and thus retention of the system conditions that have created the point of ‘historical rupture’ in the first place.
Furthermore, it is posited that the macrohistorical and transformation wisdom available to all of us has an important place in contemporary dialogue. It argues that the Transformists, however, complete their narrative, and are a ‘creative minority’ whose role is vital in the rise of a new civilisational idea.
Toynbee, writing about such roles in either the growth or dissolution of a civilisations, described them as theorists who:
...have learnt the tricks of the intrusive civilisation’s trade in so far as it may be necessary to enable their own community, through their agency, just to hold its own in a social environment in which life is ceasing to be lived in accordance with local tradition and...more and more in the style imposed by the intrusive civilisation.
Thus Transformists, including Rifkin, have a critical role in creating an ‘intrusive pseudomorphosis’ enabled by superior narratives. In the contemporary situation these narratives enable those who subscribe to transformation to visualise alternatives to the litany of modernity; a new context “where new kinds of stories arise and [where] tracing the consequences of adopting those stories rather than others [makes these] in principle available”644. The question in all circumstances is: do such narratives create the systemic conditions that will either enable or defeat the possibility of the narrative they visualise?"
Situating the Post Capitalist Proposition
Rifkin, in his latest work The Zero Cost Marginal Society, extends his earlier argument that capitalism will move from a vertical to lateral orientation to assert:
[T]he Capitalist era is passing and although the indicators are still soft and largely anecdotal, the Collaborative Commons is ascendant and by 2050 it will most likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life.
He contends there are essentially three reasons for this.
Firstly, with the use of network technologies the capitalist system is increasingly able to produce constructs of simplification and efficiency (competitive advantage) that enable near zero marginal cost and “if that were to happen the lifeblood of capitalism [margins] would dry up”6. This proposition suggests that this drive for competitive advantage is inherent in the system and, as each new advantage is obtained, the margins available reduce. Logically, this will reach a point when there is no margin left and the system is at its limits. When that occurs, then the only option is to expand the market into areas of what were considered societal responsibilities (e.g. prisons, health, security) 700 until the same point in the process occurs again. Secondly, the entropic bill for industrial capitalism has arrived, because the economic model and its related energy system see environmental effects as unaccountable externalities. Consequently, the energy systems on which capitalism depends must rapidly change if Collapse is to be averted, thus “throwing the whole economic model into question”.
Thirdly, Rifkin proposes the emerging Collaborative economy is developing as a viable, perhaps even preferred, alternative to a capitalist model that is, by design, systemically inequitable.
While some of Rifkin’s propositions are still evolving, a prime concern of this thesis (as has been stated) is to determine if there is also a contemporary body of literature that supports his fundamental proposition that the system is at is limits. An exploration of Rifkin and Transformist contentions is important because an understanding of the outcomes (not proof!) to these propositions has implications for mentality, philosophy and narratives of engagement with a global community who currently do not see any viable alternative to a mythology that argues (in a rephrasing of a Churchillian quote on democracy) “as a system, capitalism is not perfect but it is far better than the alternatives”. However, it should be noted that, to date, the use of ‘alternative’ has always been contained within the boundaries of the contemporary discourse (capitalism v socialism). ‘Alternative’ as it is used here describes a transformational imperative, one that stands outside of contemporariness because either the system is at immanent limits, or a better option is in prospect.
Capitalism as a system
While both civilisations and cultures are seen within macrohistory as systems, the question is: can capitalism also be considered as a system in the contemporary context? If so, then it is possible to hypothesise that, not only will it have a beginning and an end, but it will also be subject to forces that affect the system’s condition. The heuristics of capitalism are complex because the term is frequently conflated with the concept of industrial society or Enlightenment philosophy. There is further confusion when one understands that the practice and structures of capitalism are different in various societies. Most often it is known as ‘free market capitalism’ (USA), but it is sometimes oligarchical (Russia), and sometimes state-sponsored (China). However, what these capitalist systems have in common is that they privilege ‘markets for accumulation. ’ It is through this common definition that this thesis (and Rifkin) explores Capitalism as a System.
Conceptualising capitalism as a system, and existential threats to system integrity, are a consistent theme in contemporary transformation discourse. Wallerstein, whose World Systems Theory704 might be considered an interpretative history of the evolution of the system, is very explicit. In his view (capitalist) systems have laws, which produce “particular historical configurations of markets and state structures, where private gain by almost any measure is the paramount goal and measure of success. However, this system has now “moved too far from equilibrium and no longer permits capitalists to accumulate capital endlessly”706. As a result, there is a civilisational crisis that, if it is to be resolved, will require a successor system. This successor will require “the rejection of the basic objective of economic growth [and the] search for rational balances of social objectives”. Others, including Kaletsky, support this need for radical systemic adaptation; to survive there is a requirement for both institutional adaptation and ideological flexibility to create a mixed economy with governments and business in partnership, together with a balance of both competitive and controlled markets.
In a similar vein the Yale economist Thurow asks:
… how does a system that believes it takes competition to make firms within the capitalist system efficient, adapt to a changing environment and maintain its efficiency if the system of capitalism itself has no competition?
Still other Transformists locate the system in environmental terms. Taylor argues that the system problem is its location “in a belief system that does not recognise the need for limits. It is like a car that has an accelerator but no brakes”. Based on the examples above, it is suggested all Transformists explore their concerns about capitalism in systemic terms, and all express the same as evidence of an unsustainable system logic (immanent change), or irreparable damage from its continuation. In a further distinction, Transformists, having articulated the position on system (un)sustainability, advance an alternative system or ‘post capitalist’ propositions.
Entropic Debt makes Capitalism Unsustainable
The origins of Rifkin’s imperative to ‘Rethink Adam Smith’ relates to his concern about unsustainable entropic debt. Other Transformists have similar concerns, and while only Christian explicitly echoes Rifkin’s thermodynamic thesis, all are concerned about the effect of capitalism on environmental sustainability. Slaughter goes as far as suggesting that “the industrial worldview can in fact be seen as an experiment to discuss how far the (capitalist) constellation of values, ideas and beliefs can go, before they hit their human, cultural and environmental limits”. Similarly, Ehrlich contends the foremost challenge facing humanity is our inability to “face the problems that lie at the heart of two gigantic, complex, adaptive systems; the biosphere and the human socio-economic system”. Tainter, who has explored the effects of Collapse in complex societies, notes that, while complex societies are historically vulnerable—and this fact alone is disturbing to many—the difference between us and ancient societies is that our world is full and “nothing can ever happen again without the whole world taking a hand [my emphasis]”. But perhaps it is Klein, whose assertion is that the economic system is at war with the planet, and that nature will only play by its own rules715, who almost irrefutably makes the case that it is almost impossible to continue with an economic system that, by design, asserts its primacy over the biosphere.
The second argument in Rifkin’s theorising is one of immanency. It relates to the overreach of success in the system. Among the theorists there are several issues responsible for the system acting against itself. The first is the radical decline in options for growth, and as a result, the ability to accumulate. The second is the destruction of the structures and frameworks that support the system because the system, by commodifying everything, corrupts that on which its existence relies. The final concern relates to the consequences of connectedness, because this makes evident the inequalities inherent in the system to those who have been exploited or marginalised through the activities of the system. In recent times each of these issues is exacerbated by a dominant worldview, inside the capitalist system, known as neoliberalism (in reality very conservative economics and philosophy). Neoliberalism, as the Harvard philosopher Sandel notes, now freed from the constraints of liberal philosophy, privileges markets of accumulation and the value of money over everything.
As Rifkin notes, while margins are necessary for both growth and accumulation in Capitalism, the current system has a margin’s crisis. This is because the opportunity for returns is diminishing, partly because of “declining returns based on our reliance on fossil fuels”717, and partly because of the emergence of unprecedented levels of sovereign debt. Both effects reduce the levels of financial circulation, thus slowing the nature of the market and limiting, once again, the opportunity to profit from exchange. The effect of this is that “the next generation will be poorer than this one; the old economic model is broken and cannot revive growth [as we have traditionally understood it], without reviving financial fragility” . This ‘returns on capital’ crisis is exacerbated by the effect of emerging network technologies. They enable techno-economic paradigm shifts that disrupt not just particular competitive modalities, institutional contexts and cultures, but also they introduce opportunities to access almost zero-cost structures, disruptive innovation (e.g. crowd funding) at the expense of existing players, and new organisational dynamics (lateral v. vertical power). As Perez opines, this time of ‘shift’ represents the exhaustion of the current mode of wealth creation, whose actors, in the face of revolution will use “embedded habits and institutions [to] act as a powerful inertia force, [one that] must be transformed to enable the next surge”. This, however, is a short-term and limited strategy that only obscures the profound change that a low margins environment engenders.
The third dynamic is the assumption that growth will continue. However, as the economic historian Fischer points out, every previous economic growth model has come to an end, and there is no reason to suggest that this one will be any different. He argues there is no historical basis for suggesting that the laws of supply and demand have ever worked, and that the record of using short-term thinking to fix long-term problems is a dreary run.
Moreover, the sovereign debts that developed as a result of the 2008 ‘Great Recession’ have permanently curtailed the ability of governments to invest in growth, when the market can or will not do so. Thus the concept of margins and accumulation face a triple threat: the exhaustion of opportunities within the dynamics that created the Second Industrial Revolution; the emergence of networking technologies that create a techno-economic paradigm shift; and the need for a low-growth environment to counteract undesirable levels of entropic shift.
Faced with these unfavourable dynamics, the literature suggests the neoliberal mindset has refocused on the monetarisation and commodification of what were previously considered public goods. The contention is that as this neoliberalism intrudes and acquires what were previously seen as public goods (e.g. education, security, health, social welfare, independent arbitration), the stable social fabric on which markets depends (these same public goods) is progressively destroyed, through “the corruption of the [non monetary] ideas the [public] practices properly express and advance”.
This corruption also undermines the idea of civil society on which the institutional and economic arrangements were developed. Sandel contends that corruption of the public sphere creates an unsustainable social inequity where
… people are not truly free to choose and pursue their own values and ends,” [thus encouraging] “the rich to act only in their own interest and unwilling to obey… while the poor shackled by necessity and prone to envy are ill-suited to rule.
From a systemic perspective the development of economic practices by the rich to avoid the obligations of civic society dismantles parts of the social scaffold on which capitalist modernism has traditionally relied. As the system loses its distinguishing characteristics (this is Sorokin’s point) there are only three (non exclusive) possible scenarios: the creation of an even more oppressive, globalised non egalitarian hegemony; the development of unsustainable conditions for human existence on the planet in the near future (circa 2050)726; or a rapid evolution into a different civilisational construct.
If this inequity continues and is taken to its extreme conclusion, and has already occurred in many developing countries, then as the British economist Picketty asserts: “there are no rational spontaneous processes to prevent destabilising non egalitarian forces from prevailing permanently”. This literature suggests that the privileging of wealth over need in civil society creates further inequity and suffering.
Perhaps the greatest tension confronting modern capitalism is that, now those that are on the wrong side of the inequity ledger are not only acutely aware of their situation (through access to mobile technologies728), they are not prepared to accept its continuance. The Indian essayist Roy indicates not only don’t ‘they’ (the elite 1%) know our anger could be enough to destroy them, but “we want to put a lid on the system that manufactures inequality” and a “cap on unfettered wealth”. This will mean, among other things: an end to cross-ownership; an inability to privatise key natural resources and infrastructures; an allocation of resources so everyone has shelter, education and health care; and perhaps, most controversially, that “the children of the rich cannot inherit their parent[’]s wealth”729. Dussel, at a systemic level, posits that this rebalancing requires the discontinuance of systems that deprive people of their dignity, ‘those who are not’ either within the system or outside of it. The problem is that, by design, Capitalism argues that inequality is good as “this is the natural state of humanity, a bunch of individuals competing ruthlessly with each other”. This is the very antithesis of the Roy/Dussel contention. The difficulty with this ‘human as competitor’ position is that it is premised on an earlier Western Enlightenment cosmology that presupposed effort and labour (either one’s own or others) is semantically interchangeable with ‘competition.’ However, given the inequality, with respect to capital—which is always more concentrated—is always greater than that with respect to income from labour, this proposition is rapidly becoming untenable.
This realisation is likely to be further exacerbated as what we now term ‘work’ is progressively dismantled through an explosion of technologies, both robotic and algorithmic. These are rapidly replacing human labour, thus creating “superfluous or displaced humanity”.
So severe is this emerging disruption, the contention is increasingly being made that:
- [A] guaranteed income would be a legitimate government policy designed to provide income against adversity and that the need for this type of safety net is the direct result of the transition to a more open and mobile society where individuals can no longer rely on traditional support mechanisms.
Consistent with Rifkin’s theorisation, inequity is therefore amplifying inequity, and in global dialogues there seems little interest by both those who benefit from the system, and those who are fixated on benchmarks of national growth, to explore such concerns at a systemic level. In order for a global inclusion in this emerging dialogue, it needs to exist outside of frameworks that privilege modernity, where most global power resides.
The scale and scope of systemic issues is therefore of such magnitude that “if Capitalism is to survive, it needs to do what its own internal logic (and this is precisely Rifkin’s point) says it does not have to do”735. It needs to: find a way to limit the system to a scale that the planet can accommodate; set aside rapidly increasing sovereign and private debt; focus on the development of processes that reduce rather than create inequity (which means a transfer of wealth from the very wealthy and limits to the process of accumulation); and accept that little or no growth is a likely future condition. While this is treated as unlikely and utopian, the system will continue to perpetuate itself unless there is a viable alternative; one that not only addresses these system issues, but offers something more. This alternative is generally known as post capitalism.
The Post Capitalist Option
As Rifkin’s articulation of his current (evolutionary) understanding of post capitalism architecture has been detailed earlier in this thesis, what remains unresolved is the support that it has. Two issues in particular serve as useful points of reference for considering this support: changes in the dynamics of economic and power relationships, and a repurposing of markets from accumulation to exchange.
Rifkin contends that a reconstitution of the relationships between the actors is central to the post capitalist proposition of how value is created and captured. In post capitalist literature there is explicit support for the proposition that in the current market accumulation model the emphasis is hierarchical, one of control of labour and capital, whereas in the post capitalist system the emphasis is on participation and sharing. This is what Rifkin terms privileging of collaboration over competition. Kostakis and Bauwens describe it as “a model where the relations of production will not be in contradiction with the evolution of the mode of production”. This is now possible because network technologies enable socio-technological arrangements that are not only able to compete (and often outperform), in terms of transaction costs with hierarchical entities, but by design they create a framework for social as well as personal benefit.
The explicit rejection of the mechanistic model permits the development of relationship webs that are unconstrained by previous modes of control as “there is a structural connection between the key defining properties of commons-based peer production and the possibility of engagement in creative, autonomous, benevolent and public spirited undertakings”. The viability of such networks also provides for the development of alternatives for those Dussel describes as they who are not.
...an internal exodus by which the autonomous production of social life is made increasingly possible (with non cooperation with the dominant capitalist model) and an outer movement that can muster resistance and strike at the heart of power.
This different arrangement also reconfigures the investor-producer-consumer relationship; what Rifkin terms prosumers. These are either citizens or consumers who have an active role in more than one aspect of the value creation process (hence prosumer) whereas typically, involvement has been only at the point of purchase. Depending on the nature of the value creation process this relationship may focus on how work is done (as exemplified in 3D printing), where and how consumers can give as well as receive (evident in smart grid power production), or in decision making (e.g. by investing and then buying particular types of music they like). It is also encouraging a radical rethink in how services like health are delivered. “The consequence is a new decentralisation of organisation whose base will, in chosen and spontaneous groups, fulfil certain functions and whose membership will be overlapping and not exclusive”. The attractiveness of the ‘prosumer’ archetype is near-zero information sharing costs; little fixed cost prior to production; the ability to customise rather than prototype; no waste, ‘just in time’ production; and the development of relationships that encourage innovation. In essence it is a disruptive logic that redefines value creation in ways that privilege economies of one over scale744; can be conceptualised as a ‘space of flows’ across a multitude of public good and private interactions; and distributes control among the actors in a manner that encourages collaboration rather than advantage. Finally, the significance of this technology-relationship congruence in a post capitalist model is that it provides a platform, consistent with Rifkin’s theorising, through which critical environmental, social and economic issues might be addressed.
One of the dearly held mythologies of the capitalist model is that the market is a neutral, non-value driven ‘invisible hand.’ Proponents of markets for exchange, not accumulation, differ. They argue current markets are capricious, ownership-centric and exhibit all the system tensions described above. Instead they propose new models of cooperation (microfinance, co-operative infrastructure, decentralised energy) that operate in pseudomorphic-like arrangements within the existing system as prototypes of market commons. These Commons, manifestations of lateral power, are potentially spaces that “provide opportunities for virtuous behaviour, ones that are more relevant to virtuous individuals and (therefore) the practice of effective virtuous behaviour may lead to more people adopting these virtues as their own”746. These are, as Wallenstein suggests, one of the alternatives for a world in a period of structural chaos747. They point to a future where the rights of the group, as well as those of the individual, are a permanent feature of society. This evolution of post capitalism is not simply the adaptive evolution of capitalism as propounded by Kaletsky748, Picketty749 and Bryjolfsson750, and one that Rifkin in earlier works termed distributed capitalism. Rather, it represents a systemic break, an acceptance that the model has little adaptive capacity left. It makes available through access models what previously could only be owned, be that physical property or knowledge. What emerges, Mason describes as “new forms of society that (through networks) prefigure what comes next”, and Rifkin characterises as ‘ zero marginal cost society’ that can take the human race from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance over the course of the first half of the twenty-first century”.
Conditions for success of a Post-Capitalist Transformation
Conditions for Success
However, using a macrohistorical framing, this thesis has deconstructed Rifkin’s narratives into seven theories using CLA as a framework for that deconstruction. It asserts that each of these theories, acting in ways that reinforce the others, provides a logical and coherent, but linear, narrative. It also suggests that these theories (of limits, discontinuous change, stages of history, empathic consciousness, leadership, post capitalism and transformation) explore layers of reality that, while concentrating the gaze on the near future, require consideration of reality that is ‘beyond the litany’ of that gaze. It is postulated that these considerations reveal a range of challenges and tensions that significantly impact both the transition and transformation Rifkin is proposing.
These include the following:
o The entropic effects (the environmental crisis) of the industrial economy cannot be resolved inside an economic system that privileges ‘growth’ and ‘quantity of life’ as prime drivers of society.
o New energy and communication technologies, acting as ‘infrastructure’, are nomothetic in their nature and influence. As such, they challenge the continuation of mechanism and vertical power, and they privilege post-carbon futures, ecological thinking and collaboration.
o At the core of the (theory of) revolution is a reconception of time, form and space that will have three effects. The first is a contest between competing senses of reality in the short term (mechanism v collaboration). The second is to actualise the design of transformed social, economic and institutional fabric so that it does not recreate the issues that created the ‘crisis of limits’ in the first place. The third will include in that design an accommodation and acceptance of multiple senses of time in a way that no one sense of time is more important than any other, but also in a way that any given sense of time does not imperialise itself at the expense of these others.
o If a shift in the nature of empathic consciousness is fundamental to the success of both transition and transformation—that is, from a psychological (individualistic) sense to a planetary level—then it needs to be complemented by philosophical approaches that are ‘beyond the horizon’ of modernity: a way of thinking that does not put the Western episteme, nor the role of humans as masters-of-nature, at the center of the discourse. This reconstitution of identity requires a rethinking of ‘presence’ or being-ness.
Given these challenges, the success of any transition and transformation will consequently be conditional on three dynamics: new kinds of leadership; a different economic model; and the speed of transition.
o As a result of the shift from vertical to lateral power, leadership will necessarily become distributed in scope, and both networked and collaborative in nature (a new cosmopolitanism that can be localised). By definition it will privilege partnership over dominator models835, and because of the nature of partnership, it will have many forms.
o The future will require the development of ‘post-capitalist’ economic models that replace a contemporary system that cannot either confront the (unsustainable) limits it has created, nor the consequences of zero margins that many technologies now enable. This will see markets of accumulation replaced with ‘post-growth’ markets of exchange; self-reliant models developing in a revitalised civic sector; and ownership models giving way to ‘access and use’ models.
o The success, though, of this transition will be conditional on its speed. If it fails to occur in a timely fashion, the entropic effects will rapidly overwhelm whatever progress has been made towards a new Collaborative Age.
Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution is therefore conditional. It is an argument that, whilst focused on the near-term future, is binary in its options (Transform or Collapse). Consequently, one of the benefits of placing this narrative within the wider macrohistorical discourse has been to identify other possibilities that might be between, or even outside of, the spectrum Rifkin describes.
Patterns in the revolution
Critical to an understanding of possibilities that lie beyond the “in-between period, where very few things seem to make sense” is to search for patterns that frame transformation of the kind Rifkin is proposing. This is what Inayatullah describes as “contouring the parameters of the future possible”. In doing so, there are options to start multiple dialogues in different spaces, and perhaps make heard options that are as yet unseen or overlooked. Of all the (nomothetic) patterns considered through macrohistorical exploration, three in particular help in understanding how modernism constitutes its sense of reality and how alternative (nomothetic) patterns will drive the dynamics of transition and transformation. These relate to systemic limits; how time, form and shape is conceptualised; and the symbiosis between how we think (mentality) and how the ethics informed by that mentality are actualised in economy, infrastructure and other social arrangements integral to human communities.
Macrohistorians through this thesis have considered that social systems are finite, durable and limited. Consistent with this view, Rifkin has maintained that issues of entropic debt, the emergence of almost zero margins as a result of the successful application of technologies in the economic system, and the inability of the system to support neverending growth all are examples of systemic limits in the contemporary experiment. There is therefore a choice in considering Rifkin’s contentions. Either the discourse can begin through interrogating the litany of his postulations, or it can start at a deeper level of analysis, one that explores the nature of social systems as finite entities. If the former is preferred, then there is always the possibility that what is being contended will be managed or adapted within the existing system, or that the focus is only partial, rather than holistic. If that were to occur, ‘the present eats the future’ in ways that privilege those whose interests are served from apparent resolution of those issues, within the present system.
If, on the other hand, the latter is preferred, then there is at least the possibility of a supervalence effect: something that can be viewed at a distance. This ability to contemplate at a distance the idea that the system we live in is finite839, affords an escape from the overwhelming present where the limits are often obscured and in some instances not recognised at all. It provides the opportunity for sense making and alternative system design where both the interests of the present and the process of transition from one system to another are second order questions.
In the capitalist culture of the Second Industrial Revolution, power and privilege is often determined by the value of a person’s (or institution’s) time: “the time poor are made to wait, while the temporally privileged are waited upon”840. In the Third Industrial Revolution, the technologies that will enable it allow the possibility of emancipating chronological time from the power relationship and in the process creating time relationships, forms and shapes (morphologies) that reflect that emancipation. Indeed, it is posited that it is almost systemically impossible to conceptualise a networked and collaborative society unless this reconstitution of time, form and shape occurs. Its actualisation will sharply delineate the difference between modernity and the future.
Therefore, given that we define our infrastructure, yet over time it defines us (homo urbanus), a future networked and collaborative society needs to ensure the next infrastructure design is premised on the idea that everyone’s time is equally valuable. This is not to assert that time is reduced to the lowest common denominator, nor that years of investment in the development of skills and knowledge should not be reflected in how society values a particular task. Rather, it is to suggest that the exercise of power or wealth to exploit the time of others should be rejected as a conceptual model for infrastructure and also as a determinant of priority in accessing those parts of the civic we all require. In other words the intent should be to balance the power of amplification enjoyed by the privileged. Conceptually, this has profound implications for the dynamics of how a society or culture works: the nature of settlement, work and institutional patterns. It would almost certainly be necessary as a foundational idea for a philosophical view that is not modernism-centric. Further, describing successive revolutions through the way they [re]constitute time, form and space helps distinguish the nature of the Third Industrial (civilisational) Revolution from event, scientific, political or technology revolutions.
However, Rifkin contends humanity cannot step beyond the limits of modernity and its accepted senses of time, form and space unless there is also a shift in the mentality (consciousness and philosophy) that privileges those senses. Thus, an alternative future cannot be realised if it is “constrained by hierarchies, boundaries of exclusion, and a concept of human nature that places acquisitiveness, self interest and utility at the center of the human experience”843. A future post capitalist (at its limits) economy, the capacity to live within the constraints planetary existence imposes, and the nature of a networked collaborative future must necessarily privilege relationships over contracts, the right for nature to coexist without exploitation or an assertion of mastery, and a rebalancing and distribution of acquisition (ownership and growth) within the global family. This is not socialism as the 20th. Century has constituted it; for that is merely a different method of controlling the processes of acquisition and time. Rather, it is a new cosmopolitan sociality that manifests itself as a complete rethinking of what it means to be human (identity). So different are the ethics of this new sociality that it becomes immediately evident why it cannot be constituted inside late stage modernity. What remains uncertain is whether the vested interests in the present system, acting in partial concert (agency), will delay the inevitable incoming tide of nomothetic effects, perhaps to a point where environmental collapse becomes the inevitable future for us all. Regardless of how these external and immanent system threats are understood, they place the global community at a time when what we have been, what we are and what we need to be “are seen to be correlated in the process, whereby memorization and an anticipatory narrative of the future relate to the interpretation of the present and to the semantics of action”.
Towards a Theory of Civilisational Revolution
In Rifkin’s normative narrative of the near future, energy and communication technologies, acting as an indivisible technology infrastructure, will drive a Third Industrial Revolution, providing there is an extension of empathic consciousness to a biosphere level. Although this contention is broadly supported within both macrohistorical and contemporary transformational discourse, exploration of the layers of reality that inform this contention suggest a more nuanced and extended understanding of the social (civilisational) revolution he postulates.
This elaboration of the theory of civilisational or cultural revolution might develop in this way:
If significant discontinuity in both energy and communication is the litany of social revolution, then changing conceptions of time, form and shape are the structural edifice (scaffold) on which the actualisation of those discontinuous technologies rest. For example, the use of steam in the 19th century revolutionised not just Braudel’s ‘floating through the landscape’ of intercity rail connection, but with dedicated passenger ships, it redefined intercontinental connection and migration as well. This shift had profound impacts, particularly in the Americas, where migration before this time was almost exclusively focused on slavery and indentured labour, mainly in the center and south of the Americas. For some though, these same changes in time, form and shape represented a whole range of opportunities (e.g. the development of print media) that were just beginning to be understood. Almost always they were outside of purview (or perhaps interest) of the dominant power structures of that time.
If this theorisation is accepted it is possible to reconstitute the narrative of the Third Industrial Revolution in the following manner:
The development of an Internet of Things, based on a renewable energy infrastructure, a networked communications infrastructure and a new logistics infrastructure, will reframe, in a discontinuous fashion, the senses of time, form and shape upon which contemporary infrastructure depends. It will shift the control of energy creation and management from point source supply models to close-to-the-source-of-consumption prosumer networks. It facilitates a variety of arrangements of ‘flow’ not ‘place’ that encourage the development of cosmo-localised social ecologies, in which the time of every person is more equally valued, and the control over an individual’s labour remains with them in a collaborative commons, where knowledge is widely shared. Inherent in their design and the technologies these ecologies privilege are extremely low transaction costs (when compared to conventional organisations), and so they often produce more value for less effort in all those processes which are transaction dependent. As these disruptive business models emerge in almost every sphere of economy and social service, their value increases as their network grows. The creation of a radically open identity, based on transparency, cocreation, sharing and abundance thinking (rather than scarcity) is therefore core to this process857. While to date some of these new enterprises have in their (transparent) aspirations capitalist acquisition, the technological, economic and knowledge feasibility spaces (Commons) that these new ecologies facilitate privilege social products (access not ownership) and non-exclusivity.
Furthermore, the development of these Commons and the worldviews that underpin them, in a globally interconnected world, dissolve many of the boundaries that modernity has erected to protect itself. They provide a platform for a new kind of philosophical dialogue, and are framing an alternative, sustainable civilisation narrative that is not just different from the industrial model; it is almost diametrically opposed to it, without creating in that opposition an exclusion of those who have yet to understand its benefits. What has yet to emerge is the widespread adoption of a Collaborative Age ‘counter hegemonic, escape from the planetary abyss,’ narrative that will require those from the Second Industrial Age to do to themselves what now confronts us all: Transform or Collapse. When this occurs a new mythology will be created."