Post Industrial Society: The Future Has Arrived

In 1973 the Maine Times ran an essay in which the editor argued resource shortages had already pushed the United States into becoming, unwillingly, a post industrial society.

| November/December 1973

  • parched earth - Fotolia
    Post industrial society is here, and the food, water, and fuel that powered industrial society is going, going, gone.

  • parched earth - Fotolia

Events during the past several years ought to have sustained our confidence in our convictions. Our long opposition to the war in Vietnam was a minority view when it was first expressed in print; but, after almost a decade, the same view was fiercely defended by a majority. This publication's effort of five years ago to bring reforms to the juvenile corrections system was labeled "yellow journalism" at first; yet the same sentiments are now safe enough to be shared by almost every politician. Likewise, our efforts to preserve Maine's environmental integrity were often called "radical" five years ago; however, just last week the governor of Maine said, "Those who would turn back the clock and repeal environmental laws . . . have lost the spirit that built this country and made it great . . . "

But in spite of these affirmations—and more—we were always a bit dubious of the timeliness of our ruminations about post-industrialism. Even we wondered if we might not be pushing too far into the future when we talked about revising an entire cultural value system. We advocated an end to the production-consumption-waste cycle, a stabilized, non-growth economic system, and a way of life that requires living in harmony with nature. Instead of plundering the earth's non-renewable resources, we argued that our fundamental life-support systems should be based on renewable resources, less consumption, and an end to waste. There could be, we insisted, no continued depletion of a finite system like the earth's without eventual chaos. The Industrial Age, we claimed, had reached a point of excess—a point at which its costs to the family of man were greater than its benefits.

When we talked about Maine as a prototype post-industrial community—a largely independent, self-sustaining, low-consumption community which would utilize the best of technology to harvest energy from renewable resources—we got a great many raised eyebrows and suggestions from friends that perhaps we shouldn't spend so much time on the topic. We also got some tough questions about what such a system might do to the present economic design. Would it mean an end to capitalism, an end to profits, an end to the exploitation pattern that has been unfolding ever since Eli Whitney invented interchangeable parts? Yes it would, we replied, because capitalism as we know it is based on growth; and we argue for an equilibrium state.

But we could not answer the questions about how the economic systems would change. For us, in transition, the answers were too far in the future.

Now, quite suddenly, the forces of change have accelerated with incredible speed. Within the past several months, post-industrialism has become a fact of the present, rather than a thought for the future. The coming winter may well see the chaotic collapse of most Industrial Age systems.

Consider the following indicators—benchmarks of breakdowns among the most fundamental human needs: food, water, shelter, warmth, and transportation.


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