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August 14, 1987 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-08-14

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Jeremy Rifkin: Gadfly to the men in white jackets.

recombinant DNA research," Fletcher said.
"Rifkin's assessment of risk is wrong. It's
bad science."
Fletcher also suggested that Rifkin's
arguments about the devaluation of life are
specious. "That would be a very good argu-
ment for never doing anything for the first
time," he said. "In other words, if interven-
ing in natural processes reduced life to a
commodity, we'd have become nothing but
commodities a long time ago. Intervention
is a very human thing. What keeps us
human is not avoiding intervention, but
awareness of the consequences of interven-
tion. What matters is keeping our souls
alive and our humanness refreshed."
Fletcher, an Episcopal priest with a PhD
in ethics, did suggest that Rifkin has
positively affected government agencies,
including NIH, by forcing them to pay
closer attention to their own rules about
laboratory safety. "But he's also scared a
lot of people," said Fletcher. "A recent
survey shows that people believe that im-
portant ground in research has been lost

because of this movement. Part of the pro-
blem is that everything is filtered through
his apocalyptic vision."
In his new book, Time Wars: The
Primary Conflict In Human History,
Rifkin carries the argument one step fur-
ther. Our whole concept of time, shaped in
large measure by science's world-view and
its emphasis on efficiency and speed, has
removed us still further from the natural
world of which we are part.
Time, Rifkin argues, has been separated
from its biological and environmental
foundation. No longer paying attention to
natural cycles, we are increasingly de
tached from our own history.
Rifkin used his wristwatch as an
metaphor. "It's an old fashioned analog
watch, with a dial," he said. "It shows me
where I've been, in terms of time, and
where I'm going. It places me in a temporal
context. The modern digital watch, on the
other hand, shows just the everpresent
now. The past and the future aren't impor-
tant, just the flashing numbers."

A battle is shaping up, he said, between
those who favor a more natural, human-
oriented view of time and those who sup-
port the "new clock culture" in which time,
like living cells, becomes just one more
"What I'm really suggesting in my
books is that we could approach science
with different values," he said. "Instead of
control over the environment, we could
develop a science based on empathy with
the environment. Instead of developing
technologies that exert more and more
power, we could develop technologies based
on a relationship between our needs and
the ecosystem's realities. Instead of time-
values based on efficiency, we could have
time-values based on permanence. The
question is whether we want subjugation
or stewardship."
Rifkin's emphasis on stewardship should
have a familiar ring to the religious com-
munity, while his talk about "empathy
with the environment" has earned him
points with New Agers and environmen-



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