BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

The tyranny of good intentions?

A few months back, I did a review of Jeremy Rifkin's The Zero Marginal Cost Society, which referred frequently to his previous book (or, perhaps the central concept thereof), The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World … and I was interested enough to order a copy. Now, I probably mentioned that I didn't have a particularly positive initial image of Rifkin, although I rather liked his newer book, probably due to his being connected in my mind with the felonious Clinton regime. Well, this book, while quite interesting and thought-provoking, clarified what I was disliking about him – he's an out-right “anti-Libertarian” (which says to me that he's a wipe-your-butt-with-the-Constitution type, like the current POTUS), and a HUGE fan of Big Government, in fact (judging from this book), pretty much “the bigger, the better”, with shifting as much control as possible from individuals to smarmy bureaucrats and cold, faceless, governmental departments. Do. Not. Like.

In the course of this book, he advocates for tyrannical control over pretty much ANYTHING you can think of under governmental organizations, and preferably global government – based on the model of the E.U., not the U.S.A. It's telling that the (relatively few for 124 copies) 4 reviews of this over on are all in languages other than English (3 French, 1 Spanish) … which seems to make sense as most of his actual work has been with foreign governments and institutions.

He also evidently “got deeper into it” as the book went on, as I have a half-dozen bookmarks in the first half of the book, and none in the second half. The book is in three Parts, “The Third Industrial Revolution”, “Lateral Power”, and “The Collaborative Age” all nice catch-phrases with nasty underlying dynamics, from a rejection of the sorts of economics which are the core of American values, to a really frightening re-visioning of education into lowest-common-denominator “webs of shared relationships” where excelling would be seen as degrading for the average, and would (à la Diana Moon Glampers) be driven down to the level of a bland, uninspired, and easily-controlled sheep-like mass.

That being said … let me turn to the parts of this that I didn't hate.

First of all, there's the title concept, that of the “Third Industrial Revolution”, which he shortens to TIR (certainly not to be confused with Týr) though most of the book. I'll admit that there's something to be said for his idea of pairing power sources and communications technologies to define the nature of various “industrial revolutions”. Here's basically how he breaks these out:

          1st Industrial Revolution:
                    19th Century
                    Steam Power
                    Letterpress Printing

          2nd Industrial Revolution:
                    20th Century
                    Combustion Engine
                    Electronic Communications

          3rd Industrial Revolution
                    21st Century
                    Renewable Energies
                    The Internet

He also defines “5 pillars” (religious imagery much?) of the Third Industrial Revolution – these are:
1. shifting to renewable energy;
2. transforming the building stock of every continent into green micro–power plants to collect renewable energies on-site;
3. deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;
4. using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus green electricity back to the grid and share it with their continental neighbors); and
5. transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.
Sounds swell, until you realize that this will require the replacement of nearly every building, and having government control over ALL construction EVERYWHERE. Plus, Rifkin isn't particularly visionary on the energy side of the equation … he's convinced various European cities to slap up low-efficiency solar panels over nearly every surface, but he doesn't even mention GenIV nuclear reactors (being actively pursued by both India and China) that can be powered by consuming spent fuel from old-style reactors, and solve two problems at once … but I guess the idea of having a “neighborhood” reactor is too “individualistic” for Rifkin, whose entire focus appears to be on government control of all aspects of society.

In the early chapters, Rifkin describes himself starting out as “a young activist weaned on the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movement of the 1960s” and describes his growing up in the same parts of Chicago that were the home turf of the vile Saul Alinsky (beloved of both Obama and Hillary Clinton). While he claims to have affinity for Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, and Washington (my favorites among the founding fathers as well), as opposed to his youthful associates' heroes of Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh and the butcher Che Guevara, you'd never guess it in his end-game here. Frankly, much of this book sounds like an echo of the current administration's “you didn't build that” lie.

Now, this book came out in 2011, and it's never really fair to judge projections on “20/20 hindsight”, but he pushes a lot of agendas here which, as far as I know, have completely “fallen off the table” (what happened to the promise by the chairman of auto company Daimler to “mass produce hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars, trucks, and buses in 2015” … I must have missed the articles on those). So much of this book deals with meetings of panels, task forces, and mid-level governmental functionaries (OK, plus some heads of state), all churning through a lot of verbiage. But what's getting done? It's like throwing the future of the race on the mercies of the DMV … take a number and they'll get to you when they feel like it. While I've not delved into these topics in any particular depth, it seems to me that businesses are far more efficient in delivering these new technologies.

However, Rifkin doesn't see it that way, he describes entrepreneurs as “predatory and unsavory, consumed with self-interest and unconcerned with the public welfare” … but I'd sure trust an Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis, or Jeff Bezos over the Dolores Umbridge-style bureaucrats that seem to populate his vision of the future.

I am probably being too hard on The Third Industrial Revolution, but for every “inspiring” bit in here there are 2-3 “aggravating” things that totally triggered me (and I'm not the only reviewer having issues with it, this is a very telling over-view from a German source). The world that Rifkin seems to want sounds like it's to be run with some global version of the IRS, wielding total control on where you live, how you live, what you can do, what you can think, and how you can relate to others. That sounds like a classic dystopia to me … but you might be more aligned to his views and be more “gee wiz” on the programs that he has put in place in various locations around the globe.

This is still in print, in both hardcover and paperback, but the on-line new/used guys have “very good” copies of the hardcover for a penny (plus shipping), and I'd hope you wouldn't pay more than that for it. Again, there's a lot of interesting stuff in here, but what there is lies buried in a matrix of tyrannical big government wet dreams, with a decided Leftist bent, so it's sort of hard to take from where I'm sitting … but, as usual, “your mileage may vary”.

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Tags: book review
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