Ripping Rifkin

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 08:59:55 +0900

Dorothy Cattle asks,

"Do you think Rifkin has a good understanding of
anthropology?If anyone has read a number of his books could
you comment on whether theyare somewhat formulaic? [he
picks a hot or controversial area or topic andthen pretty much
approaches the issues in the same fashion from one book to
thenext...] Do you think he has delved very deeply into social
change? Does he always propose the "end" of something? as a

To which Bob Graber replies,

I nevergot over my shock at how terrible were the first few
pages of his highlytouted book, *Entropy*. The thesis seemed
to be that we owe it to theUniverse to try to retard the
operation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (The
universe will run down more slowly if we clean up our act.)
I'm sorry, the guy is a zero as an anthropologist or as any kind
of scientist or scholar. I later heard him give a public lecture--
at which he is very good. Not in the scholarly sense, but in
the persuasive-harangue, rhetorical-question, appeal-to-the-
emotions sense. One need not be a high-tech enthusiast to
recognize this snake-oil peddler for what he is. --

As one of those who brought up Rifkin in the first place, let
me state for the record. No, I don't think Rifkin has a good
understanding of anthropology. And, yes, like the good
demagogue he is he plays fast and loose with evidence. But
the argument ad hominem is a fallacy, and the ideas may still
be valuable, whatever we think of the source.

I do think, moreover, that Rifkin's EXAMPLE poses many
important questions for anthropologists, not least of which is
why he has a global audience while we sit kvetching in our

Or again, why should I extend less courtesy to my reading of
Rifkin than I do to the remarks of my Taiwanese informants,
even though I certainly don't share many of their beliefs and
they knew less about anthropology than Rifkin does? Is it
because he dares to pontificate on the state of the world,
human nature, etc.? Lord knows, so did my Taoist master.

Having said that, I would love to hear from someone who
has more solid evidence on the relationship of hours worked
to the introduction of new technologies (steam, oil, electricity,
computers, etc.). Or, perhaps, explain to me a bit more clearly
the relevance of the !Kung/stone-age economics examples,
since Rifkin is writing a political tract and returning to
hunting-and-gathering is not a viable choice for most of the
several billion people who currently inhabit the globe.


John McCreery