To this point, most of the discussions in this book have focused on the big issues--knowledge, philosophy, technique, and large institutions. One of the four areas of life involved in the radical integration of people is the relational, about which little has been said in detail thus far.
Personal relationships can be thought of as taking place on a variety of levels--from those with the whole society and culture to those with other individuals. It is the latter that give relationships their most direct sense of meaning, generating both experience and knowledge of those other persons. However philosophical and general one may become about relationships, they are actually conducted one at a time and in small groups. Specifically, they consist of a number of one-on-one pairs of personal and individual interactions that collectively form a group gestalt of an ever widening, more dilute, and less personal nature. Thus, it is appropriate now to give brief consideration to some of the more personal relational issues that grow out of the new paradigms and techniques and that themselves form aspects of the new civilization.
In some hunter-gatherer societies women were little more than possessions. Survival depended on the strength of one's arm or on those of one's allies or mate. In many cases, a strong man could take as many women as he could provide food and security for. Those physically less able--including women--had nothing to say about the matter--they could often be forced into submission, or simply killed. Relationships could be harsh, hard, and even brutal--but so was much of life.
Agrarian societies have generally had a more substantial role for women because they depend on animal power and some machines to enhance strength and rely less on personal brute force--at least on the part of farmers themselves. However, such societies have shortages and trade disputes, and therefore armies and wars. With these there often came an organized exploitation of those considered weak. Slaveries of whole nations or "races" became possible or even economically advantageous. In such an atmosphere the ability of women to become economic and political partners with men was severely limited. Along with all others who could be overcome by force, they were often still regarded as little more than chattels, and had few opportunities to break out of such a pattern. Matriarchies, or even the occasional woman monarch, were rare exceptions to the universal rule and authority of men, and this was in large part because such societies still depended on physical strength, even though for different things. All but the most rudimentary of training and education were unavailable to women in most manifestations of the second civilization, and they had few economic or other influences to use in order to change their lot.
In the industrial society, the picture changed dramatically. As more of the labour was transferred to machines, there was less need for physical strength to provide for daily sustenance. It gradually became evident that women could run machines as efficiently and effectively as men, and during times of war they did just that. Since the machines required a more educated work force, it also became obvious that women were as intellectually capable as men, so the educational and economic barriers to their full participation in society began to crumble, though centuries of tradition ensured that this process was slow.
Moreover, in the West, where the industrial and scientific revolutions took place, Christianity was the dominant religious force. After a long self-struggle, it found it already had a paradigm for the essential equality of the sexes--at least before God ("There is neither Jew nor Greek slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galations 3:28). This idea eventually broke through into the broader society, where it ultimately became a political and social equality that went even further than many church groups desired, or thought doctrinally correct. Passages in the New Testament about the leadership role of men were cited by some as reason not to have equality in the broader society. But most Christians argued that, whether the original intent of these was doctrinal or cultural, they applied at most to Church and family, and had nothing to do with the workplace or politics.
These discussions became moot, however, for women joined the workplace in force starting as early as World War II, and this accelerated to record numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, so that the tradition of their staying at home became a cultural fragment, even among the conservatively religious. This change was not brought about solely by a different view of work. Much of it was economic--it became nearly impossible to support a family on a single income. Some reversal of this trend in the 1990s has not made much of an impact on the way most people think about work. Another reason why women gained economic power in this period is that widows rather than first-born sons came to be the inheritors, and since most women survived their mates, family monies passed into their hands at peak size.
The great economic story of the late industrial age years was the way that thriving Western economies absorbed both the post-war baby boom and the simultaneous sharp increase in female participation in the work force. In North America, the majority of women came to take working for granted.
In the late industrial age, men for the first time had no advantages due to their greater physical strength. In the information age, what counts in most occupations is intellectual and integrative ability. In this context, newcomers to the work force have great advantages, for they are not set in traditional ways of doing things--something often seen with new immigrants, for instance. Thus, even though women may be concentrated in areas such as secretarial, service, and middle management that are vulnerable to automation, they are also more mobile and flexible--not because of their gender, but because many are relatively new to the market. Those who are already working may therefore be somewhat less subject to long-term unemployment, more aggressive to retrain and displace themselves, and more able to survive radical change. They may also overtrain and overcompensate if they believe themselves to be making up for what they perceive to be past injustices.
Enrollment trends in medical, dental, and law schools by the late nineties indicate that the equality of numbers that was already reached among teachers would ultimately exist in these professions as well. Also, as Western women continued to reduce both their number of children and the amount of time they devote to raising them, salary inequities caused by childbearing dropout diminish. It is not difficult to predict that as these relative newcomers work their way to the top of their professions, there will continue to be many more women chief executive officers, judges, hospital administrators, and politicians. It seems possible that within a few decades it will be as likely to have a woman president, prime minister, premier, or governor in most Western nations as it will be to have a man in such roles.
On the other hand, many women who were not inclined or educated to make their own way received a harsh introduction to the realities of sexual "equality." For a substantial percentage, this has meant abandonment of them and their children by men who developed other interests. Increasingly, it meant leaving men who drank too much, assaulted them, abused their children, promiscuously pursued other women, or did all four. Indeed, this became one of the major social problems of the 1980s and 1990s, for such women suffer a sharp decline in living standards, while their former partners often enjoy an increase in disposable income. Because women in the twenty-five to forty-five-year age bracket were at that point the product of families and schools that operated on industrial age assumptions, they often had little education, less work experience, and no marketable skills, or if they had any of these, it was long out of date. As a result, they had to live either on social assistance or on the income from very low-paying jobs in which they were the most vulnerable to unemployment. They usually had young children to care for, and could not both work and do this themselves, nor could they afford to pay someone else to do it for them.
They were the victims both of the "sexual revolution" and of the trends to fragmentation and individualization that conspired together to cause many to throw off the former constraints of religion and custom and instead regard sexual liaisons as a passing thing rather than as part of a permanent commitment. In such an atmosphere, there was no underlying motivation to hold marriage together once passion had cooled, and many people became uninterested in trying. Too many women became like their men's used cars--traded back into the marketplace as soon as models perceived to be more glamorous became available. The culture did not help, for it had exploited women as decorations in the service of selling a variety of consumer goods, and the disillusionment that resulted when marriage stripped away the veneer and revealed a real person was too much for many to take.
If anything, the idea of autonomy and independence for all women promoted by the radical feminist movement has exacerbated the problem. Such independence may be a worthwhile goal for some, but there were many women who neither wanted nor were prepared for such independence in the industrial age, and instead found it thrust upon them at an awkward stage of life. Moreover, hyper-aggressive anti-male feminism has probably generated some costly backlash that has made things worse. Indeed, it is not even clear that the gains women made in the marketplace had anything to do with such political movements, or whether both were independent results of more fundamental economic and cultural forces. In any event, newly and involuntarily created women heads of households have few opportunities to retrain and enter the job market on the same terms as the less constrained and more highly educated younger woman can do.
The overall result of these gender shifts has been a re-definition of the entire workplace, with some women aggressively moving into the middle and higher end of the labour market to claim equal pay and status with men while others were forced into the lower end because their traditional male bread winners left them to fend for themselves. In this new milieu, a young woman of high school age can no longer expect to be able to find a lifelong male provider; she has to assume the responsibility of carving out her own niche in the marketplace. She therefore has to make personal learning and career choices as an individual in the same way that men have always done in the past, and quite independent of any considerations of marriage--even if she does not immediately enter the work force on graduation from school or university. Schooling becomes a necessity, as does the choice of the "right" courses. For example, women can not afford to give in to social or other pressures and avoid the hard subjects such as mathematics, physics, and computing science if they expect to play the economic game in the future on an equal basis with men.
On a more personal level, the days when one or the other partner could dominate a marriage relationship, make all the money and the decisions, and determine the entire family agenda, had passed in most Western families by the time the information age was underway. In the future, women might afford so little time from their careers for childbearing, and not much more for child raising, that the impact of their sex on their careers will be very much reduced. It may, however, take an entire generation to rescue the victims of this transition from the ghettos into which they have been forced by making what turned out to be the wrong learning choices and mating assumptions. Much of a generation has been caught off guard by a sudden change in course, unprepared for independence and equality; their daughters are unlikely to rely on the same assumptions.
These changes have severely strained men as well, for they have been shaken out of their traditional roles in order to accommodate women moving in. Some men may feel threatened by the prospect of reporting to a woman, or of being married to one who commands a higher salary--perhaps high enough to relegate the man to the housekeeping role, or at least to the follower when his wife is transferred to another city. At the close of the industrial age, there was an increasing fragmentation of male/female relationships, fewer men and women were selecting long-term commitment or faithfulness as a way of life, with more of them either dropping out of marriage or never entering it. In this casualization of relationships, they were supported by various pop philosophy versions of relativism and hedonism, by the sexual revolution's inversion of morality, by an increasingly accommodating and largely irrelevant religious climate, and by the corresponding fragmentation of the once monolithic society around them. Much less support existed for the old-time and long-term stability of commitment, so it was no longer being followed as much as in the past. At the same time, the wide gap between male and female life expectancies, coupled with the tendency of past decades of men to marry younger women, would have ensured that most women would spend many years alone, as widows if not as divorcees.
What is more, there are early information age factors that have tended to exacerbate male/female tensions. In its early days, the computer was largely a male preserve, a toy for the men who were already dominating mathematics, science and engineering, and who once would have had model trains, collected stamps, or built furniture for a hobby--none of which many women did. Now they bought home computers, and isolated themselves from their families even more with their new pastime than with their old. There was also initially a perceived appeal in programming work to a certain kind of pioneering male who once might have been seen as a misfit and dropped out of school or even society altogether, but who could now legitimately fall in love with a predictable, safe, and impersonal machine. At the same time, he could master it, dictate to it, and make it perform extraordinary feats--all without any concern for its potential to damage his ego when something went wrong. It would never question his manhood, care about his faithfulness, criticize, complain, use sarcasm as a weapon, or fight at all, much less fight dirty.
It was some of these very social misfits who were the most successful early programmers, and who eventually had sufficient money from their efforts that everyone listened to them, so that they could define for others how they would fit in. For a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this was a path to success that attracted few women, and almost none took it. The result was that men dominated the computing and information sciences at first even more than they had some of the traditional ones.
However, programming is now a sufficiently complex and mature technique to be studied as an academic discipline rather than learned entirely on one's own, so there is a path into the heart of the industry that is more conventional, and at least some women are taking it. They are also entering high-technology realms as users, trainers, managers, editors, executives, sellers, designers, and manual writers--all areas in which a highly skilled and specialized programmer is often severely lacking. Thus, as the industry matures, women are finding excellent positions, and often ending up in management--more than making up for being latecomers. There can be little doubt that there are far greater opportunities for educated women in the new industries than in the old, because in the new it may be more possible for them to compete on equal terms without having to be concerned with stereotypes or with an entrenched male-dominated establishment. Moreover, they are in a job-seeker's seller's market, because sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled people for the information industry are in ever-increasing demand, and will be for some time. There are even opportunities for women to work at home and manage their families without a man, although telecommuting is not yet as important a factor in the job market as it may become.
Thus, there continue to be strong forces acting to promote equal participation of women in the new marketplaces, despite the setbacks many of them have had due to the dissolution of large numbers of marriages, and despite lingering reluctance to study mathematics. The new civilization will be the age of non-specialized ideas and information, and physical strength without intellectual ability and education will be a severe disadvantage. It is even possible that women may come to dominate men, rather than be their subjects as in the past. While this suggestion may seem far-fetched, history would seem to suggest that when a large group of people who have had to survive on their wits is suddenly freed from bondage, an extreme swing of the power pendulum may well take place. If it did, it would counter other trends toward egalitarianism, but it is in the fourth civilization that just such startling and unpredictable exceptions are taking place during transitional periods. After all, cultural fragments can be assembled in a variety of ways; the "best" is not necessarily discovered first. Indeed, it is those who first successfully assemble the fragments into a cohesive cultural whole who thereby acquire the power to define their way as having been best all along.
Many men, especially younger ones who have grown up in a more egalitarian society, will adapt well to the changes in sexual roles. Others will react very negatively, and one also cannot rule out the possibility of a substantial backlash against successful women. Some men, finding their physical skills no longer in demand, and facing a new culture ill-equipped, could retreat into defeatism, random violence, and alcoholism. Indeed, if the "macho-male" culture suffers a substantial defeat in the face of new cultural patterns, the result for many could be similar to a military defeat by a superior civilization--total despair. Judging by certain historical parallels, it could take at least several generations to effect either a recovery from the cultural shock or assimilation by the new one.
It is interesting to note in this context that social institutions such as schools, and parental and peer pressure still promote an effective gender segregation. Most boys and girls still grow up in two non-intersecting worlds, with their own friends, toys, activities, and values. They live it side by side in the elementary school but do not really meet until their teenage years, when a different set of the same kind of pressures rushes them into sexual intimacy before they even know who they are. That is, the forces favouring sexual equality are economic, not yet educational, and certainly not yet very culturally rooted. They are therefore fragile, and are vulnerable to being diverted to a variety of possible extremes.
It is also worthwhile to cite the despecializing and integrative themes of the fourth civilization in connection with the trend to establish local and personal relationships. Thus, whereas university students in the sixties had their causes, and in the seventies their self-fulfillment, those of the late eighties and nineties opted either for financial security or for friendship as the highest value and most important goal. Because men and women often still grow up in sexual solitudes, such friendships are mainly of the same-sex type, but the openness of the fourth civilization and its new stress on personal relationships may well lead to the breaking down of some of the cultural barriers to opposite-sex friendships. Broad networks of friends will gradually become more important in both business and politics, and will be the principal basis for personal and loyalties and professional partnerships, much more so than obedience to hierarchical command structures.
Similar points might be cited, to become contrarian, predicting an increase in the number of permanent, monogamous marriages, and there is some indication that this may be taking place. However, such commitments in the future will be partnerships of essential equals as the old gender solitudes give way to more open and less private but deeper relationships. On the other hand, the advent of any substantial increase in life spans will be a severe test for marriage, perhaps more so than was the so-called sexual revolution, for under such circumstances a lifetime commitment is a far more serious matter, because it must be maintained over a much longer time. In such a context, and from a little distance, it might almost be as tempting to predict the virtual demise of such marriages, but the suggestion here is that commitments, because they are integrative, will become more important, and that they will overwhelm the other factors.
Thus, there are social and economic factors that may promote sexual equality over the long term. There are also factors that are exacerbating some of the old tensions, some that are creating new ones, and some promoting new harmonies. It may be a couple of generations at least before things settle down, and a new kind of male/female relationship is established. There is also the possibility that some new extreme may become the norm for a time.
It is also important to realize that not all women find the social trends described here to be to their liking. Some want to work as home managers and feel uncomfortable with, or even antagonistic to the messages that seek to persuade them otherwise. They wonder if there is a place in the new world for wives and mothers, or whether they will be forced into a marketplace they have no desire to enter, and they feel that the apostles of feminism are too busy advancing their own careers to hear dissenting voices. Their voices too will shape the new society, and in some ways may prove more powerful than some of the economic factors.
Much of what has been said so far might be construed as suggesting that children are endangered and that the traditional family may turn out to be a thing of the past. To a great extent, this may well be true, and there are a variety of reasons for it. While families were the centre and mainstay of community life in both hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies--because of the need for cooperative action to survive--they were only one component of industrial society, which took its shape on the basis of other organizations and from work, rather than on the basis of personal relationships. The industrial society has ended in a highly specialized and fragmented state, with the traditional family seeming to play a much reduced role, and many observers claiming that it no longer need constitute the basic societal framework. The extent to which this perception is true is somewhat doubtful; although there are certainly far more single-parent and otherwise non-traditional family units, the family still exercises an important influence on society. There can be little doubt, however, that this influence has been in a period of perceived decline.
Moreover, economic and population pressures in an information society cause extreme downward pressure on the birthrate, and so does the fact that a mother can no longer assume that there will be a father on the scene for very much of her potential children's lives. These factors, coupled with what in effect is free abortion on demand in many Western countries, are causing a dramatic reduction in the relative number of children, especially in the cities. Prolongation of life much beyond the present seventy to eighty years is likely to increase this pressure, even though it could extend the number of possible childbearing years. Even the post-war "baby boom" was only a temporary wavering above the trend line of births, which has been falling steadily throughout the entire industrial age. There is no reason to suppose that in the fourth civilization there will be anything but cyclical variations in this trend, despite the continuing high birthrates in agrarian societies elsewhere. Indeed, even those reflect a lag behind a declining death rate, which can confidently be expected to be followed by a corresponding decline in births, judging from the Western experience.
One could argue that growing up has itself become more difficult, for far fewer children in North America can now count on the presence or the attention of even one parent for any substantial portion of their developmental years. In such families, children are frequently left to fend for themselves at baby-sitters', at school, soccer clubs and other activities--out of the sight and hearing of their parent(s). Starting at a very early age, they make their own decisions, pick their own friends and activities, buy their own clothes and music, and live their own independent lives without much traditional parental oversight. The one parent, or both where applicable, works all day and there is much less energy left for children than there once would have been. These children have little guidance, and lack much opportunity to learn by example or teaching about traditional familial, cultural, and religious values--for in all these things too they are left on their own to make individual decisions. While some claim this produces better decision makers, this practice also contributes to an increased fragmentation of culture and society, and helps to ensure that the only value passed on by example is that of a ceaseless striving for self-satisfaction and economic success.
The building of a social fabric begins with young children; if this is simply abandoned there ought not to be any surprise when they reach adulthood and have no commitment to the values and laws of the society they find. Even if parents could transmit 75% of their ideas to the next generation, and it has 25% new ones of its own, it would be only six generations before the original transmission constituted less than the new ideas of the current generation. But, if the value transmittal is less than 50 percent, the world view of parents is potentially overturned with every new generation.
On the other hand, if each decade or so changes a very small percentage of the population because of low birth and mortality rates, the progression of change through society could be slow. Moreover, low birth rates could mean a high value for children and more attention paid to them, and this might increase the rate of culture transmission. Thus, despite recent fragmentation of the family, it may yet turn out to be an important institution of the fourth civilization. After all, there are not many other candidates for the role of basic societal building block.
As observed in Chapter 3, it is not certain how much of the "sexual revolution" was real and how much was simply more publicity for activities that had always been undertaken. It can scarcely be doubted, however, that public perceptions have an effect on behaviour. The encouragement of the media, peers, and social leaders to throw off old norms and experiment with sex has brought about a substantial change in the way the most intimate of relationships is viewed and practised. Rather than being seen as a way to express commitment in a permanent, monogamous and heterosexual marriage, sexual relations have come to be as fragmented as other ones. In at least their public and media image, they became temporary, promiscuous, casual, and indiscriminate as to gender. Except to suggest a possible partial reversal of this trend, fourth civilization paradigms have little to say about such matters, and they would be best considered as moral issues.
However, there are social and medical consequences to the casualization of sexuality that cannot be ignored. Apart from the obvious connection--not necessarily cause and effect--to the decline of the family, society's most pressing concern is now with the spread of disease by such means. There have always been STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), but old nemeses such as gonorrhea and syphilis had been thought to have been relegated by drugs to the role of mere inconveniences. Genital herpes could have in time changed that view of the situation, but it, though as yet incurable, was at least not life-threatening. Even the very widespread chlamydia trachomatis bacteria caused only a few cases of blindness, and its more common effect--infertility--was much less publicized.
The arrival of AIDS changed the situation permanently, however, because casual sexual behaviour can now result in death. Not only is no cure in sight, there is little to hold back the grisly symptoms of a wasting, painful, and inevitable demise. Although health authorities were at first confident that only injecting blood or having male homosexual sex would cause transmission, blood transfusions, and even routine dental work are all likely to continue as factors in the global spread of AIDS for some time, for even proper syringe sterilization, much less routine blood detection tests have not yet come to many countries. Moreover, it is now apparent that heterosexual sex also spreads AIDS, though less rapidly.
Moreover, the early recommendations that condoms were sufficient preventatives are now being hedged in the light of their well-known poor performance even as birth control devices, for they break or leak in up to ten percent of uses. An individual who engages in sex on a casual basis in a population with, say, a 5% infection rate will be exposed to infection after an average of 13.5 sexual encounters. The same individual who consistently employs condoms--which break or leak 10% of the time--will be exposed to infection after an average of 138 encounters. Indeed, virus particles can go right through the pores in latex rubber, and few doctors feel safe from infection even when double gloved. This analysis of course does not apply to non-random encounters, for if one's sole sexual partner is not and does not become infected, no number of encounters will expose one. Thus, although the use of condoms may slow down the spread of the disease, it does not stop it, and the higher the percentage of the population infected and the greater the degree of sexual adventurism, the faster the disease will proliferate even in places where needles and drugs are clean and condoms are used. In other places, it spreads unhindered, threatening to sharply reduce the population in some regions of the world. The "safe sex" campaigns are not just misleadingly named; they have tended to encourage casual sexuality and minimize consciousness of risk, while increasing actual risk.
Thus, there is a potent pragmatic reason to change actual sexual behaviour--the fear of death. Society as a whole also has a powerful incentive to stop the spread of AIDS and to find a treatment, for even the number of individuals infected by the late 1990s had the potential to bankrupt the entire Western medical system within another decade. These considerations could trigger a dramatic change in the practice of sexual relations--possibly a swing of the pendulum far to a conservative or even repressive extreme. Among church groups there are already large groups of young men and women who have made public vows of chastity until marriage.
At the very least, relationships are likely to be more cautious than in the recent past and the trend toward the integrating of relational fragments may reinforce a behavioural change. The economic result of such a change could be bad news for the operators of brothels, and owners of sex boutiques, but any move to greater sexual equality and less relational fragmentation would put additional pressures on these industries anyway, sharply reducing their presence and influence even without the AIDS scare. Countering this suggestion, however, is that the marketers of pornography have made their business a major world industry, especially on the Internet, and show every indication of gaining ground.
Nothing is certain about any of the trends in personal relationships discussed in this section, and other factors could intervene to render some of the points made here entirely moot. However, when viewed on a historical basis, the casual and fragmented state of relationships of recent years appears as somewhat of an anomaly; one could be on relatively safe ground in forecasting radical changes for this reason alone. The two greatest relational challenges will be to re-invent the lost art of friendships and to break out of the gender solitudes. A society that fails on both counts may still form the fourth civilization, but it will be nonetheless impoverished for remaining fragmented.