THE DEATH OF PROGRESS by Bernard James

THE DEATH OF PROGRESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Every organism and every culture. . . is a strategy and its truth-use determines which shall and which shall not survive."" So says Bernard James, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Advanced Study in Organization Science at the University of Wisconsin, in this pessimistic, sour little essay on the disasters which await us if we continue to cling mindlessly to the hollow chrome-plated ""progress culture"" which is maladaptive in terms of our survival. To be sure, many ecologists (Barry Commoner, Garrett Hardin, et al.) have warned that continued extravagant proliferation of material goods is a luxury our ravaged planet can no longer afford. But Professor James is the grimmest Cassandra we have yet encountered. As disenchantment with ""super-science"" and ""hyperrationality"" sets in, James sees signs of social pathology everywhere. The cities rot, crime soars, drug abuse increases, hippies engage in a ""retreat from consciousness"" and learned scholars devote themselves to the accretion of meaningless information: on all sides decay, neurosis and flight from reality. Technological wizardry is failing and he foresees escape into romantic subjectivism -- pop religions, hedonistic ""now"" values, sloganeering, and rabid populist demands for ""citizen participation"" -- all full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The degeneration process he outlines seems to be as ineluctable as Spengler's Decline of the West and one is not surprised to find that James acknowledges that his book can be thought of as ""a footnote to this monumental study."" Among the potential dangers he anticipates is the advent of a ""Great Man"" -- the dictator-messiah who generally comes to the fore in times of social chaos. Nor is he very hopeful that mankind can arrest the drift to entropy in time. His own ""strategy"" is somewhat vague: ""world cultural management"" to replace scientific hubris and ""hyperrational narcissism."" The diagnosis is challenging but James' Doomsday sermon seems too much rooted in his own innate pessimism to be wholly convincing.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Knopf