Paul Roberts’s The Impulse Society is the latest entry in a now familiar subtype of polemic: that of the society in decline, the symptoms of which run the gamut of Western post-industrialist ills from childhood obesity to the meltdown of global economic markets, and the syndrome of which is, at root, advanced capitalism. The lineage can be traced back through, among many others, Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) and Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967).
Like those similarly waspish and wide-ranging treatises, The Impulse Society emerges from its author’s deep unease with the deleterious effects of capitalism on Western social relations. Roberts’s catch-all hypothesis (all books of this kind need one for their polemical force) is that an all-pervasive, technology-driven myopia is fuelling an excess of self-interest and short-term thinking that is corroding society at virtually every level. Accordingly, governments can’t lift their heads above three-year electoral cycles, corporations above immediate (and inflated) rewards for executives and shareholders, or individuals above the hyper-efficient fulfilment of their own material and spiritual aspirations. ‘If the Impulse Society were a country,’ Roberts muses, ‘its flag would bear the picture of someone looking through the wrong end of a telescope.’