Anthony Giddens, excerpt from "the consequences of Modernity"
V: Riding the JuggernautHow far can we--where "we" means humanity as a Whole--harness the juggernaut, or at least direct it in such a way as to minimise the dangers and maximise the opportunities which modernity offers to us? Why, in any case, do we currently live in such a runaway world, so different from that which the Enlightenment thinkers anticipated? Why has the generalising of "sweet reason" not produced a world subject to our prediction and control?
Several factors suggest themselves, none of which, however, have anything to do with the idea that we no longer have any viable methods of sustaining knowledge claims in the sense of Lyotard and others. The first might be termed design faults. Modernity is inseparable from the abstract systems that provide for the disembedding of social relations across space and time and span both socialised nature and the social universe. Perhaps too many of these suffer from design faults which, when they lead systems to go wrong, send us spinning away from our projected paths of development? Now plainly we can apply a notion of design faults to social as well as natural
A second factor is what we might call operator failure. Any abstract system, no matter how well designed it is, can fail to work as it is supposed to do because those who operate it make mistakes. This also applies both to social and natural systems. Unlike design faults, operator failure appears to be ineradicable. Good design can make the possibility of operator failure very low, and so can rigorous training and discipline; but so long as human beings are involved, the risk must be there. In the case of the Chernobyl incident, the root cause of the disaster was a mistake made in the operating of the emergency shutdown systems. Mathematical calculations of risk, such as the risks of human mortality attaching to competing methods of generating power, can be carried out about the working of physical systems. But the element of operator failure cannot effectively be incorporated into such calculations.
However, neither design faults nor operator failure are the most important elements producing the erratic character of modernity. The two most significant influences are those referred to briefly earlier:unintended consequences
The reason for this is the circularity of social knowledge, which affects in the first instance the social rather than the natural world. In conditions of modernity, the social world can never form a stable environment in terms of the input of new knowledge about its character and functioning. New knowledge (concepts, theories, findings) does not simply render the social world more transparent, but alters its nature, spinning it off in novel directions. The impact of this phenomenon is fundamental to the juggernaut-like quality of modernity and affects socialised nature as well as social institutions themselves. For although knowledge about the natural world does not affect the world in a direct way, the circularity of social knowledge incorporates elements of nature via the technological components of abstract systems.
For all these reasons, we cannot seize "history" and bend it readily to our collective purposes. Even though we ourselves produce and reproduce it in our actions, we cannot control social life completely. Moreover, the factors just mentioned presume homogeneity of interest and
Utopian RealismYet none of this means that we should, or that we can, give up in our attempts to steer the juggernaut. The minimizing of high-consequence risks transcends all values and all exclusionary divisions of power. "History" is not on our side, has no teleology, and supplies us with no guarantees. But the heavily counterfactual nature of future-oriented thought, an essential element of the reflexivity of modernity, has positive as well as negative implications. For we can envisage alternative futures whose very propagation might help them be realised. What is needed is the creation of models of utopian realism.
Simply a contradiction in terms, one might think, but such is not the case, as we can see by comparing this position to that of Marx. In Marx's version of critical theory --a theory which connects interpretation and practice --history has an overall direction and converges upon a revolutionary agent, the proletariat, which is a "universal class." Containing within itself the accumulated residue of historical oppression, the proletariat, in making the revolution, acts in the name of the whole of humanity. But history, as noted, has no teleology, and there are no
We must keep to the Marxian principle that avenues for desired social change will have little practical impact if they are not connected to institutionally immanent possibilities. It was by means of this principle that Marx distanced himself so sharply from utopianism; but those immanent possibilities are themselves influenced by the counterfactual character of modernity, and therefore a rigid division between "realistic" and utopian thought is uncalled for. We must balance utopian ideals with realism in much more stringent fashion than was needed in Marx's day. This is easily demonstrated by reference to high-consequence risks. Utopian thinking is useless, and possibly extremely dangerous, if applied, say, to the politics of deterrence. Moral conviction pursued without reference to the strategic implications of action may provide the psychological comfort which comes from the sense of worth that radical engagement can confer. But it can lead to perverse outcomes if not tempered by the realisation that, with high-consequence risks, the minimising of danger must be the overriding goal.
What should a critical theory without guarantees look
The relation between emancipatory and life politics forms one axis of the schema shown in Figure 3. The other is that of the connections between the local and the global, so often stressed in the preceding parts of this study. Both emancipatory politics and life politics have to be tied into these connections, given the burgeoning influence of globalised relations. It is characteristic of modernity, as I have tried to show, that self-actualisation becomes fundamental to self-identity. An "ethics of the personal"
Theodore Roszak is justified in criticising authors, on opposing sides of the political spectrum, who see the ethos of self-discovery merely as a desperate response to the psychologically or socially inadequate character of the larger institutions of modernity. As he says, "we live in a time when the very private experience of having a personal identity to discover, a personal destiny to fulfil, has become a subversive political force of major proportions." Yet he is wrong to say that "both person and planet are threatened by the same enemy--the bigness of things." 1 What is at issue is the interlacing of distance and proximity, of the personal and the large-scale mechanisms of globalisation. "Bigness" is not in itself either an enemy of the person or a phenomenon to be overcome in life politics. Instead, it is the coordination of individual
This judgment must, in the nature of things, also apply to sectors of the world in which the impact of modernity still remains relatively weak. The transformations of the present time occur in a world riven with disparities between rich and poor states, in which the extension of modern institutions throws up all sorts of countertrends and influences, such as religious fundamentalism or forms of reactive traditionalism. If I do not consider these in detail in this book, it is for purposes of economy of argument, not because I think they can be disregarded in any more concrete interpretation of likely global trends.
Future Orientations: The Role of Social MovementsAs modes of radical engagement having a pervasive importance in modern social life, social movements provide significant guidelines to potential future transformations. For those who have associated modernity above all with either capitalism or industrialism, the labour movement is the social movement par excellence. Authors who have followed Marx see the labour movement as standing in "the vanguard of history"; their critics have concentrated their attention upon showing that the labour movement only has transformative impact in the early phases of the development of an industrial order, subsequently becoming one interest group among others. To be sure, capitalism remains a class system, and the struggles of labour
Figure 4 should be interpreted in conjunction with Figure 1, which shows the four institutional dimensions of modernity, and essentially seen as superimposed on it. Labour movements are contestatory associations whose origins and field of action are bound up with the spread of capitalist enterprise. Whether reformist or revolutionary, they have their roots in the economic order of capitalism, specifically in attempts to achieve defensive control of the workplace through unionism and to influence or seize state power through socialist political organisation.
Yet free speech and democratic movements, which have their origins in the arena of the surveillance operations of the modern state, are analytically, and to a substantial extent historically, separable from labour movements. They include some forms of nationalist movement as well as movements concerned with rights of political participation in general. This category includes the early bourgeois associations, whom Marx regarded with some scorn as essentially class-based groups. While he was correct enough in this diagnosis, he was wrong insofar as he sought to treat "bourgeois rights" in a reductive way, solely an expression of class dominance. Such rights, and struggles to achieve, defend, or extend them, have a generic significance in modern political orders, capitalist and state socialist. Surveillance is a site of struggle in its own right.
Labour and free speech/democratic movements are "old": that is, they were well-established in certain forms prior to the current century. The other types of social movements are newer, in the sense that they have come to increasing prominence in relatively recent years. Their newness, however, can be exaggerated. Peace movements have as their site of struggle the arena of control of the means of violence, including both military and police power. "Peace" here has to be seen, like "democracy," as a contested concept central to the dialogues which such movements enter into in the fields of action they share with organisations such as the military or the state. Pacifist movements of some kinds, normally influenced by religious
The site of struggle of ecological movements--within which category countercultural movements can also be subsumed--is the created environment. Antecedent forms of today's "green" movements can also be discerned in the nineteenth century. The earliest of these tended to be strongly influenced by romanticism and basically sought to counter the impact of modern industry upon traditional modes of production and upon the landscape. Since industrialism was not immediately distinguishable from capitalism, particularly in terms of the destructive effects of both upon traditional modes of life, these groups quite often tended to be aligned with workers' movements. The separation of the two today reflects the heightened awareness of high-consequence risks which industrial development, whether organised under the auspices of capitalism or not, brings in its train. Ecological concerns, however, do not derive solely from high-consequence risks and focus also upon other aspects of the created environment.
Social movements provide glimpses of possible futures and are in some part vehicles for their realisation. 2 3 But
The utopian streak here is obviously quite marked, and it would be shortsighted indeed to be sanguine about how
Post-ModernityWe are currently living in a period of high modernity. What lies beyond? Can we attach any definite meaning to the concept of post-modernity? What sort of utopias can we establish, as future-oriented projects, which are connected to immanent trends of development, and therefore realistic?
I think that we can identify the contours of a post-modern order and that there exist major institutional trends which suggest that such an order could be realised. A post-modern system will be institutionally complex, and we can characterise it as representing a movement "beyond" modernity along each of the four dimensions distinguished earlier, as shown in Figure 5 (note the direct relation to Figures 1 and 4). If transformations of the kind indicated do occur, they will not automatically do so in close conjunction with one another, and a plurality of agencies would be involved were they to be realised.
What, first of all, lies beyond capitalism? If whatever it is is socialism, it is scarcely likely to bear much resemblance
If this holds on the level of national economies, it applies even more strongly on a worldwide level, and (as Figure 6 below indicates) we have to conceive of a post-modern era in global terms. Markets provide the signaling
Simply to claim that capitalist markets must be "regulated" in order to remove their erratic qualities leads us to a dilemma. Subjecting markets to the centralised control of an all-encompassing agency is not economically efficient and leads to political authoritarianism. Leaving markets free to operate more or less without any restriction, on the other hand, produces major disparities between the life chances of different groups and regions. A post-scarcity system, however, takes us beyond this dilemma. For when the major goods of life are no longer scarce, market criteria can function solely as signaling devices, rather than being also the means of sustaining widespread deprivation.
But, we may ask, in a world characterised by massive inequalities between states and regions--especially between the industrialised and less industrialised countries --and where resources are not only finite but already under pressure, can post-scarcity be a meaningful notion? Let us ask instead, what other alternative is therefor a world which does not pursue a self-destructive path? The pursuit of capitalist accumulation could not be carried out indefinitely, since it is not self-sustaining in terms of
A post-scarcity system, even if only developing initially in the more affluent areas of the world, would have to be globally coordinated. Socialised economic organisation
To look at a second institutional dimension of modernity, surveillance and administrative power, certain immanent trends are also fairly clear. Within nation-states the intensifying of surveillance activities leads to increasing pressures for democratic participation (although not without pronounced countertrends). It is hardly accidental that there are virtually no states in the world today which do not call themselves "democratic," although clearly the range of specific governmental systems covered by this term is wide. Nor is this just rhetoric. States which label themselves as democratic always have some procedures for involving the citizenry in procedures of government, however minimal such involvement may be in practice. Why? Because the rulers of modern states discover that effective government demands the active acquiescence of subject populations in ways that were neither possible nor necessary in pre-modern states. 6Trends towards polyarchy, defined as "the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens
So far as the relations between states are concerned it seems evident that a more coordinated global political order is likely to emerge. Trends towards increasing globalization more or less force states to collaborate over issues which previously they might have sought to deal with separately. Many of the first generation of authors to discuss globalisation, towards the end of the nineteenth century, believed that a movement to world government would naturally follow on from the development of global interconnections. Such authors underestimated the degree of sovereign autonomy of nation-states, and it does not seem likely that any form of world government resembling a nation-state "writ large" will emerge in the foreseeable future. Or, rather, "world government" might involve the cooperative formation of global policies by states, and cooperative strategies to resolve conflicts instead of the formation of a super-state. Nevertheless, the trends on this level seem strong and clear.
When we turn to the question of military power, it might appear that there is little chance of a transition to a world in which the instruments of war decline in significance.
A similar observation applies in the case of the created environment. The constant revolutionising of technology gains some of its impetus from the imperatives of capitalist accumulation and from military considerations, but once under way has a dynamism of its own. The drive to expand scientific knowledge and to demonstrate the effectiveness of such advances in technological change is one influential factor. As Jacques Ellul points out, technological innovation, once routinely established, has a strong inertial quality:
Technology never advances towards anything becauseit is pushed from behind. The technician does not know why he is working, and generally he does not much care.... There is no call towards a goal; there is constraint by an engine placed in the back and not tolerating any halt for the machine.... TheProcesses of technological innovation, and of industrial development more generally, for the moment are still accelerating rather than slowing down. In the shape of biotechnology, technical advances affect our very physical makeup as human beings, as well as the natural environment in which we live. Will these powerful sources of innovation continue on unchecked for the indefinite future? No one can say with confidence, but there are some clear countertrends, partly expressed through ecological movements, but also in other spheres. Concern over environmental damage is now widespread, and a focus of attention by governments worldwide. Not just the external impact, but also the logic of unfettered scientific and technological development will have to be confronted if serious and irreversible harm is to be avoided. The humanising of technology is likely to involve the increasing introduction of moral issues into the now largely "instrumental" relation between human beings and the created environment.
Since the most consequential ecological issues are so obviously global, forms of intervention to minimise environmental risks will necessarily have a planetary basis. An overall system of planetary care might be created, which would have as its aim the preservation of the ecological well-being of the world as a whole. A possible way of conceiving of the objectives of planetary care is offered by the so-called "Gaia hypothesis" put forward by James Lovelock. According to this idea, the planet "exhibits the behaviour of a single organism, even a living creature."
Why should we assume that world events will move in the direction outlined by these various utopian considerations? Clearly we can make no such assumption--although all discussions which propose such possible futures, including this one, can by their very nature make some impact. Immanent trends of development are no more than that, and the interim period, should things even proceed in these various ways at all, is large and filled with high-consequence risks. Moreover, what happens along one institutional dimension can adversely affect others. Each could have life-threatening consequences for many millions of human beings.
Figure 7 sketches in the array of high-consequence
In respect of administrative resources, tendencies towards increasing democratic involvement have as their dark side possibilities for the creation of totalitarian power. 11 The intensifying of surveillance operations provides many avenues of democratic involvement, but also makes possible the sectional control of political power, bolstered by monopolistic access to the means of violence, as an instrument of terror. Totalitarianism and modernity are not just contingently, but inherently, connected, as Zygmunt Bauman in particular has made clear. 12 There are various other forms of oppressive rule which, if falling short of full totalitarian power, display some of its characteristics.
The other types of danger have been sufficiently covered in the preceding pages. The possibility of nuclear conflict is not the only high-consequence risk humanity faces in the medium-term future in respect of industrialised warfare. A large-scale military confrontation using purely conventional weaponry would be devastating in its consequences, and the continued fusion of science and
On the other side of modernity, as virtually no one on earth can any longer fail to be conscious, there could be nothing but a "republic of insects and grass," or a cluster of damaged and traumatised human social communities. No providential forces will inevitably intervene to save us, and no historical teleology guarantees that this second version of post-modernity will not oust the first. Apocalypse has become trite, so familiar is it as a counterfactual of day-to-day life; yet like all parameters of risk, it can become real.
V: Riding the Juggernaut
Note: 88. Theodore Roszak, Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society (London: Gollancz, 1979), pp. xxviii, 33.
Note: 89. Alberto Melucci, Nomads of the Present (London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989).
Note: * There is a conspicuous absence from Figure 4: feminist movements. How should we situate feminism in relation to the dimensions of modernity distinguished here and in relation to the broader discussion in the book as a whole? First, one should emphasise, feminism participates in the reflexivity of modernity just as all social movements do. Beginning from a situation in which the prime objectives were to secure rights of political and economic equality, feminist movements have come to place in question constitutive elements of gender relations. Reflection about what gender is and how it structures basic features of personal identity are today geared to projects for profound potential transformation. Second, these concerns are closely bound up with the theme of the self as a reflexive project, for all individuals are gendered as part of the learning processes whereby a sense of self develops and is thereafter sustained or modified. Third--by virtue of this second point--some of the more deep-lying phenomena with which feminism is preoccupied are not just called into being by modernity; they are found, in one form or another, in all known forms of social order. The objectives of feminist movements are thus complex and crosscut the institutional dimensions of modernity. Yet feminism may provide sources of counterfactual thinking which contribute in a very basic way to post-modernity in the sense I am about to discuss.
Note: 90. Ian Miles and John Irvine, The Poverty of Progress (Oxford: Pergamon, 1982).
Note: 91. William Ophuls, Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (San Francisco: Freeman, 1977).
Note: 92. The rationale for this argument is given in Giddens, Nation-State and Violence.
Note: 93. Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), pp. 1-2.
Note: 94. See David Held, Models of Democracy (Cambridge, Eng.: Polity, 1987).
Note: 95. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society(London: Cape, 1965), p. 89.
Note: 96. Martin Large, Social Ecology: Exploring Post-Industrial Society (Gloucester: Hawkins, 1981), p. 14.
Note: 97. Giddens, Nation-State and Violence, ch. 11.
Note: 98. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust(Cambridge, Eng.: Polity, 1989).
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