The Virtual Community

I think there’s a kernel of truth in David Brooks’s observation:

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

There’s another revolution that goes unmentioned but which I believe is central to the developments about which Mr. Brooks writes in his column: the technological revolution, in particular the World Wide Web. It has created a situation in which like-minded individuals from the corners of the world whether they be violent Islamist fundamentalists or people who just love My Little Kitty can find each other.

That in addition to the other “revolutions”, the attack on local standards and the attack on local markets, has created a challenge that our societies and institutions have barely begun facing let alone adapting to.

3 comments… add one
  • Ahhh the golden years of the 1950’s if we could just go back.

    Is there something about being an op-ed writer that when you reach a certain age you wish to return and earlier era?

  • Michael Reynolds Link

    This goes to what we were discussing in another thread: rationality. Which I think is almost universally subverted by unexamined assumptions (presuppositions) and emotions.

    In this case we begin with Mr. Brooks’ presupposition of a more ideal time. It reflects his emotions as well. He wants there to have been an ideal time. He needs there to have been a better time, not coincidentally coinciding with his own childhood.

    So Jim Crow, the jailing and violent repression of gays, mistreatment of the mentally ill, ignored spousal abuse, widespread discrimination against Asians and Jews, the de jure not merely de facto second class status of a majority of our population (women and minorities), the cold war, McCarthyism, all goes down the memory hole so that Mr. Brooks can feel the emotional reassurance of his unexamined assumption.

    This is in no way different than how most people approach issues, including those in their private lives. People are not rational. They aren’t doing math, they are doing drama.

  • My own view is that genuine progress proceeds extremely slowly, times change, and changes present challenges to existing institutions. Some of the institutions will need to change, some will need to go. I don’t believe in an ideal past, an ideal present, or even an ideal future. What I see is change.

    Clearly, the great changes of my lifetime in the United States have to do with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and the women’s rights movement of the 1970’s. I think that most of our institutions are mired in the 1950’s and haven’t really adapted to those great social changes, both largely for the better.

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