BLOCK THAT PARADIGM!
11:00 PM, Nov 12, 1995 • By ALAN EHRENHALT
On the day that James P. Pinkerton decided to become a futurist and political thinker, Madison Avenue missed its opportunity to recruit a copywriter of awesome potential. Ever since the day in 1990 when he emerged from the recesses of the Bush White House to proclaim the "New Paradigm" to a meeting of the World Future Society, Pinkerton has been coining slogans, phrases, and trends with a facility that rivals the output of the Ted Bates Agency during its heyday in the 1950s.
What Comes Next, his new book about the culture and politics of the approaching millennium, is his phrase-making masterpiece. Pinkerton mints literally dozens of shiny new verbal constructions, from "hypercrime" (the combination of rising fear and declining actual crime rates) to "vealocracy" ( a bureaucratic system run by the clients, rather than the bureaucrats).
He doesn't just introduce his inventions one by one: He combines them into equations. "Current politics are still mired in the precepts of the Old Paradigm," Pinkerton reminds us at one point. "It is the persistence of these old ways that brings the divided cybereconomy and the paralyzing fear of hypercrime. Together, they bring the Cyber Future." Or listen to this one: " It might be argued that the two subjects of this chapter, the "Vealification" of the bureaucracy and the launching of "Orbital Bureaucrats," should together be viewed as the sixth Bug in the BOS." When he is going at full speed, Pinkerton appears to challenge the accepted notion that there is no such thing as a private language.
He has as much fun with ordinary words as he does with his Capitalized Concepts. Every few pages, he puts on a dazzling display of alliterative acrobatics. He warns of a "demoralizing dollar-falling downdraft," in which the "simultancity of suffering and surfeit are unmistakable." He worries that the future holds a "byte-driven bobsled to the bottom line" or, even more ominously, "the bladerunner runoff of a rusting paradigm." He declares that the old bureaucratic ways "cannot cope with the cyberflood, the gushing gigabyte magma of cognition."
Pinkerton isn't just a phrasemaker; he is the Dr. Seuss of contemporary political thought.
For all the compulsive wordplay, there is something undeniably appealing about Pinkerton and his curiosity. He is determined to examine every crevice of 1990s American culture and take all the evidence seriously. He is interested in health care and budget reform, horror movies and grunge music.
He is capable of quoting Alan Greenspan in one paragraph and Douglas Coupland in the next. And he does it all with an enthusiasm and sense of adventure that excuse a multitude of rhetorical excesses.
In his passion for words, names, and slogans, moreover, Pinkerton is hardly alone among thinkers who 5 choose the future as their field of study.
Somehow it seems as though all futurists have an irresistible passion for naming things. Newt Gingrich certainly does; he had scarcely set foot in Congress before he began proclaiming the existence of the "Conservative Opportunity Society" and setting off on a long quest to figure out what, if anything, it might be. Alvin Toffier, Gingrich's intellectual mentor and the man who all but inaugurated present-day futurism, has some of the naming passion as well. Future Shock, the 1970 book that made Toffler's reputation, gave us "adhocracy, anticipatory democracy," and a whole collection of other coinages.
The old-fashioned way to think is to have ideas and then come up with names for them. Futurists prefer, when possible, to reverse the process; they like to coin phrases and ask the hard questions later.
Perhaps that is the intellectual style of the future.
It is the style that Pinkerton, for better or worse, frequently chooses to apply. The "New Paradigm," though it has been part of the language of American public policy for the past five years, has never had a very distinct meaning even for most of those who use it, whether they are refugees from the Bush administration, enthusiasts in the Gingrich Congress, or reinventers of government in the Clinton White House. The "New Paradigm" has always been a slogan in search of a definition.
What it d oes have is a pedigree. Pinkerton has never been obscure about where he got it -- he got it from Thomas S. Kuhn's 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which Kuhn describes the intellectual convulsion of Nicholas feel as if you were watching a horror movie with Don Knotts cast as Satan.