The Los Angeles Revolt: Its Lessons
for the World (page 1 of 2)
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler
While several years old, we thought this article by the Tofflers
from the June 1992 issue of World Monitor helped to illuminate
the application of their theories to current events. It places
Newt Gingrich's popularization of a right wing approach to the
Third Wave in a broader perspective.
The flames that swept
America from Los Angeles to Atlanta in the Spring of 1992 hold
unnoticed lessons for Europe, with its rising ethnicism, its
skinheads and ultra-nationalists, and even for Japan and other
currently peaceful societies. The fact that an all-white jury
exonerated a gang of white police who sadistically beat up a
young black man named Rodney King in California may have provided
the trigger, but the explosive charge that powered the Los Angeles
riot is not a local, nor even an American phenomenon. It is
a global event linked to a basic redistribution of economic
and political power. It has its roots not merely in racism,
but in the techno social revolution now sweeping across the
American cities were
torched in racial rioting in the late 1960s, too. Despite the
passage of a generation, the explanations offered for the latest
round of arson and looting were virtually the same. From George
Bush one heard conventional calls for law and order. From his
opponents came a string of clichés about poverty, unemployment,
racism, and urban hopelessness.
All these elements
were and are unquestionably present, but they form only a small
part of a much larger story. For this latest upheaval is more
than a protest against police brutality or a symptom of age-old
ills. It reflects (1) a dangerous new kind of racism and (2)
a new, far more intractable kind of unemployment both with implications
that reach beyond the United States.
The new racism and
the new unemployment spring from a new system of wealth creation
that is spreading swiftly through all the affluent nations,
destroying the "mass society" of the industrial past.
The invention of
agriculture thousands of years ago launched the First Wave of
social transformation in history. The industrial revolution
triggered a Second Wave. Today a Third Wave of techno social
change is sweeping through all the high-tech countries, hitting
the US the hardest, and California even harder.
The industrial revolution
created mass societies. In them, mass distribution, mass consumption,
mass education, mass political parties, mass communications,
mass entertainment, and mass welfare services paralleled mass
production. Homogeneity was their ruling principle.
Today's Third Wave
of change shatters the industrial mass society. The new governing
principle is heterogeneity. Thus today in the US, Japan, and
Europe alike, mass production is increasingly being replaced
by "de-massified" manufacture based on short runs
of heterogeneous and even customized products made in flexible,
computer-driven factories. The mass market is simultaneously
breaking into "niche" markets defined and organized
by computers. Consumption is being de-massified in parallel
The media, too, are
de-massifying. In the US, for example, almost 60% of American
homes now receive video imagery from an average of almost 30
different channels instead of from only three giant TV net works.
And the latest TV sets are designed to provide more than l00
ship for the once dominant networks has been slipping, their
mass audience breaking into parts. Even their news gathering
competence is now challenged. Thus the fact that the Rodney
King beating came to world attention because a private citizen
videotaped the event or that private citizens with hand-held
video cameras documented the subsequent riots is perfectly symbolic
of the decline of the traditional mass media as new media come
on stream and diversify the imagery consumed by the public.
in Family Structure
The standard industrial
family unit of the mass society - into which almost everyone
was supposed to fit - was the "nuclear" family, composed
of a working father, a stay-at-home mom, and two children under
the age of 18. Today only about 5% of American families fit
into this Second Wave model, and perhaps even fewer in California.
Today's society gives
rise to a wide variety of familial relationships, ranging from
single motherhood to serial or successive marriage, and so-called
"sandwich" families in which a middle-aged couple
takes responsibility for both its children and its parents.
In the poorest of American communities, single mothers and out-of-wed
lock children are virtually the norm.
The family has not
"died." Instead, the once homogeneous family system
has de massified along with production, consumption, and the
media as the Third Wave economy and society have developed and
The deep de-massification
process, which is now hitting many countries, has direct impacts
on ethnic or race relations.
During the Second
Wave era, the industrial economy needed a standardized, mass
labor force. During the early period of industrialization, the
US, unlike Europe, suffered from frequent labor shortages as
workers migrated westward. The rising industrial elites solved
this problem by substituting energy and innovative technology
for labor. Politically, they enacted open immigration policies.
Thus, polyglot workers flooded into the US from all over the
To increase labor
efficiency, it was necessary to homogenize or massify the workers.
Hence there arose the "melting pot" ideal, which told
immigrants to slough off their old culture and to reemerge with
new, wholly American identities. But while many different cultures
and religions were assimilated, Americans, including the new
ones, resisted the integration of non-Caucasian races into the
society. African-Americans in particular had to fight every
inch for entry into the economy and society on an equal basis
with others - and, despite some notable exceptions, have not
yet succeeded. For generations they formed the last reserve
of the labor force, given jobs only when all other labor pools
were exhausted, as was the case during World War II.
of all this was continuing conflict between the white majority
and the black minority as each competed for employment and the
income that flowed from it. More >>