Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Second Opinion on Rifkin's The Emerging Order
Richard Perkins
Department of Sociology
Houghton College
Houghton, New York 14744

From: JASA 33 (December 1981): 256.

Rev. Ray Joseph's thoughtful review of Rifkin's The Emerging Order (June, 1981) has roused me enough to respond as follows.

Rev. Joseph's major complaint is that the book is badly flawed, yet it touches on very important issues regarding "Christian futurology." Due to the importance of the issues, the flaws reach tragic dimensions. I agree that the book is flawed (then again, which book isn't?) but I don't always agree with Rev. Joseph's appraisal of them.

First, he takes issue with Rifkin over Rifkin's interpretation of Calvin's Institutes regarding the issue of work. The criticism may be correct but it still misses the point; Rifkin is appraising American (indeed Western) culture-not Calvin's theology. It is not so important what Calvin wrote but what people thought he wrote (or, more importantly, how early Calvinists led their lives as a result). Whether one is a Marxist or a Weberian enthusiast, I think all would agree that the inheritors of the "Puritan Ethic" were the kind of folks Rifkin describes them as . . . for whatever reason. A proper recognition of the central analytical role of unintended consequences (or "latent effects") should relieve a minister of the reformed church from having to defend the founder on this point.

Secondly, later on in his review, Joseph writes ". . A is a high priority with industrial engineers to deal with the productive worker as a human being, attempting to learn what it is that motivates him, satisfies him, and keeps him happy." As a blanket statement covering all of American industry, this one leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps companies like Polaroid and Ralston Purina have enlightened policies toward the work place, but it is safe to say that most major industries (auto, steel, textiles) do not. Research consistently shows very high rates of worker alienation in low and semi-skilled jobs-a category which comprises 40% of the work force. Nor is alienation (i.e., the perception of work as being irrelevant to one's life interests) limited only to these "careers." In all but the most technologically sophisticated industries, the major motivation is profit at the expense of worker alienation-even though this policy is extremely short sighted. The attention that Rev. Joseph, says is given the Hawthorne studies is unfortunately a good deal less than he suggests. William Faunce, author of the classic Problems of An Industrial Society concludes that the main reason why a more enlightened work policy is not adopted in the U.S. is because management still believes that "a committed (i.e., non-alienated work force is not a condition for success of bureaucratically ordered organizations" (p. 153, emphasis in original). Maybe the Japanese have caught on to what sociologists have been saying for years, but American management has not. Rifkin is right-what we need is a revolution in consciousness around here.

In short, I agree with Rev. Joseph that Rifkin's book is important, and I agree that it is flawed, but I don't agree with all the flaws Rev. Joseph points out in his review.

Let me add this unrelated point: if we can agree that an indication of the degree of intellectual vitality present in a scholastic society is the degree of controversy demonstrated in the letters to the editor section of their journal, then the ASA is in desperate need of resuscitation. If judged by this standard, the membership of ASA can be evaluated as placid - which in this case, is not a compliment. My request: read the articles, reviews, etc.- and respond. As a representative example, I have written a number of articles for this journal, often expressing views which are controversial (I'm not sure I even agree with me), yet never has there been any personal or public response. Responsible debate isn't an act of unkindness; it shows that we are alive and that we take our jobs seriously.