[This review appeared in the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Fall 2000, pp. 369-370.]
Joyride to Infinity: A Scientific Study of the Doomsday Literature
R. A. McConnell
Scott-Townsend Publishers, 2000
It is the main title, and not the subtitle, that best characterizes this book. In effect, Joyride to Infinity is an intellectual feast, encapsulating the thought of R. A. McConnell, now in his mid-eighties, who has for more than half a century been alive mentally to a broad spectrum of issues and ideas. The book is at once readable, stimulating, provocative, rewarding - and given to exploring themes that many readers may perhaps consider extreme but will nevertheless find quite interesting.
The main themes of the book deal with a variety of subjects that have occupied McConnell's attention in recent years. A key sentence that explains his choice of subjects is his statement that "the evasion of reality on every conceivable subject by all of us is the key to the human condition." This leads him to focus on what he sees as threats to civilization, including the disintegration of Western Civilization that was triggered by the two World Wars. (At the same time, it illustrates the eclectic nature of the book that he includes quite an insightful essay about Affirmative Action that he submitted to a court in 1972, and a number of perspicacious comments about university life.) Most of the volume is devoted to critical reviews of books he considers important about the environmental crisis that he sees as impending because of over-population, the controversy over genetics and intelligence, multiculturalism and immigration, and (in line with the work of his main academic career) parapsychology. He provides a synopsis of many of the books, as well as his own commentary.
The reviews provide an intriguing bibliography, and will more than likely lead readers to seek out some of those books for their own reading. One of these, for example, is Lyons, Moore and Smith's recent (1995) Is the End Nigh?, to which McConnell devotes 18 pages. Those authors have much in common with McConnell in their concern over population growth, the environment, immigration, globalization, growing income and wealth polarization, the weakness of economic and free trade theory, and even the international migration of disease. Foreseeing an environmental and resource crisis, they call for a change in the very way of life of the developed societies; as McConnell summarizes their point, "we must abandon the junk lifestyle in which satisfaction is achieved by maximizing material possessions." Globalization and mass immigration are leading to the breakdown of national sovereignties. This in turn renders far less possible the control of population that can "only be achieved at the local level." This relates directly to one of McConnell's principal themes: that the vast growth of world population will, unless reversed, lead to civilizational catastrophe. Many of the books McConnell reviews relate to one or more of these subjects.
He is also intrigued by the question of intelligence, especially in the world as it is becoming - one in which advancing science and technology will render obsolete "the ever-growing millions whose D.N.A. will not allow them to learn enough to earn food and shelter for a family." The science and technology cannot themselves be abandoned, since without them "much of the world's human population [would] soon die of starvation." As McConnell reviews a broad array of books, a panorama of important issues comes into view.
The first part of the book tells how McConnell, a physicist, devoted his research between 1947 and 1982 almost entirely to psychic phenomena, first at the University of Pittsburgh and then at Duke University. From the totality of the evidence he reviewed, including many cases of "spontaneous psi," he is convinced that psychic phenomena do occur, and that there is accordingly a spiritual reality of immense importance separate from the physical, despite the fact that scientifically conducted experiments in the laboratory find the subject-matter frustratingly elusive. We might imagine that many readers may be deflected by his discussion of these things, but what held this reviewer's attention was the fact that I have long been curious to know just what has come out of the decades of psychic research at Duke University. Readers who share that curiosity will want to read that first part, and perhaps most particularly McConnell's more systematic books on the subject, such as Parapsychology in the Context of Science.
Dwight D. Murphey