I'm so used to dismissing Ross Douthat that saying a sincere "thank you" to the guy is kind of weird. But thank you, Ross, for the reminder about Robert Nisbet -- Bob Nisbet, UC social scientist, conservative, and someone who (nonetheless) should be listened to now.
In his classic 1953 work, “The Quest for Community,” the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued that in eras of intense individualism and weak communal ties, the human need for belonging tends to empower central governments as never before. An atomized, rootless population is more likely to embrace authoritarian ideologies, and more likely to seek the protection of an omnicompetent state. ...Douthat, NYT
Echoes of Erich Fromm there. The two men were often on the same lecture circuit in the '50's and knew each other in that era of McCarthy (an earlier form of Wisconsin throwback).
Douthat is beginning to notice that electronic communications and information sources -- those iPads and Google links giving what he calls "the Man in the Google Glasses" a sense of power -- are broadening in some sense but ultimately limiting. They have become inhibiting, powerful weapons in the hands of a powerful few, even though "the kind of totalitarianism, fascist and Marxist, that shadowed Nisbet’s writing isn’t likely to come back."
I don't agree with Douthat that the character of totalitarianism shadowing our world is much different. It's the same old, same old -- just wearing a different lipstick and driving a new model car and seeming more amenable to our personal interests. It's "what the blogger James Poulos has dubbed 'the pink police state,' which is officially tolerant while scrutinizing your every move," as Douthat writes.
That's no theory; that's our world.
Today, social media are hailed for empowering dissidents and undercutting tyrannies around the world. Yet it’s hard not to watch the Google video and agree with Forbes’s Kashmir Hill when she suggests that such a technology could ultimately “accelerate the arrival of the persistent and pervasive citizen surveillance state,” in which everything you see and do can be recorded, reported, subpoenaed ... you name it.
In this kind of world, the Man in the Google Glasses might feel like a king of infinite space. But he’d actually be inhabiting a comfortable, full-service cage. ...Douthat, NYT