The author of this Harper's article^1 doesn't get the landscape.
I can only think of Arthur Jensen's messianic business ecumenicism from the 1976 film Network.^2
But that's to be expected from Harper's: the high watermark of urbane
industrial civilization now in its twilight. Because something is happening
here, but you don’t know what it is.
There's a reason why, in the last ten years, there's been a massive resurgence
in the adoption of jettisoned militant mass ideologies of the twentieth century
across the board, not just within the alt-right.
The death of industrial society has arrived on time, just as people like Alvin
Toffler and the Technorealists^3 predicted twenty-five years ago. Toffler's Third
Wave^4 has landed, with all the implications that they predicted occurring.
And accordingly, that final cohort of Second Wave industrial society left
behind is rising up in a futile attempt to stem the inevitable tide of history
that is, in fact, coming to replace them, something predicted often in the
And the members of that cohort aren't just the bitter white working class in
the rust belt that voted for Trump, larping as Nazis. It includes the liberal
arts graduates that are now trapped in the service industry ranting about
Capitalism, larping as Party members.
It also includes the career politicians and old-style party organs.
It includes the brick-and-mortar retail economy. It includes paper and cable
journalism. These are all industrial paradigms catered towards the generation
of mass culture.
And it's like Wily E Coyote, tunnel-visioned, racing off a cliff and only
falling when he looks down.^6
It's what Alvin Toffler termed demassification:
1. A process in which a relatively homogeneous social collectivity (or one
conceptualized as such) is broken down into (or reconceptualized in terms of)
smaller, more diverse elements.
2. The decline of mass culture and mass society (also associated with audience
fragmentation) as consumers have gained more choice of media content since the
advent of satellite broadcasting and the web: see also mass consumption;
narrowcasting; target audience.
3. (advertising) A basic format, appeal, or discourse since the mid 1980s, cast in
terms of self-distinction and uniqueness in a massified world (see also
advertising formats). Its themes include authenticity, creativity, play,
reflexivity, and diversity. Products are offered as a way of standing out from
the crowd or as props for self-construction.
Alvin Toffler in an interview with Wired^7 in 1993:
"We call it a civilization because it's not just the technology that's
changing. The entire culture is in upheaval. All the social institutions
designed for the second wave - for a mass production, mass media, mass society
- are in crisis. The health system, the family system, the education system,
the transportation system, various ecological systems - along with our value
and epistemological systems. All of them.
"And the emerging third-wave civilization is going to collide head-on with the
old first and second civilizations. One of the things we ought to learn from
history is that when waves of change collide they create countercurrents. When
the first and the second wave collided we had civil wars, upheavals, political
revolutions, forced migrations. The master conflict of the 21st century will
not between cultures but between the three supercivilizations - between
agrarianism and industrialism and post- industrialism.
"The place we need really imaginative new ideas is in conflict theory. That's
true with respect to war and peace, but also it's true domestically. The real
weakness throughout the country is the lack of conflict resolution methods
other than litigation and guns. As you increase social diversity, you do two
things simultaneously: You increase potential trade-offs, and also potential
conflicts. The trade-off possibilities are so complex that the institutions
that we rely on to make those, to broker the deals, are overwhelmed. One of the
functions of a legislature is to negotiate compromises among various
constituencies. Well, the constituencies today are so numerous, their demands
are so complex, and the rate of change in their demands and in the
constituencies is so high that nobody in Congress represents anybody anymore.
They represent themselves. Because their constituency changes from day to day.
And as a consequence, their ability to broker out differences to arrive at
compromise is more limited than it was.
"Why are all of our institutions and systems suddenly in simultaneous crisis?
Because they were all designed for the mass industrial society that treats
people in large numbers rather than in smaller, more defined and more
changeable groupings. Constitutional constraints make it impossible for them to
adapt in order to serve small grouplets and to provide niche services. The real
big crisis that faces this country is a constitutional crisis. For the United
States to make a swift, smart, and smooth transition into the wealth creation
of the knowledge-based third wave there has to be a third-wave constituency in
America. And the place that has to come from is the knowledge workers and from
the third-wave corporations and industries. They've got money, they've got
brains. But the core of the "brain-force economy" is politically retarded - it
has a low political IQ and has not achieved political self-consciousness. The
old smokestack barons and trade union leaders who dominated during the second
wave are still running rings around you guys in Washington."
Hyperdemocracy - Robert Wright^8, 1995:
"The oft-expressed hope for cyberspace is that any tendency toward
fragmentation into contending groups will be offset by a capacity for edifying
deliberation. And decorous dialogue has indeed been seen there. But cyberspace
is also notorious for bursts of hostility that face-to-face contact would have
suppressed. And a perusal of the Internet's newsgroups suggests that any
tendencies toward convergence will have some real gaps to bridge. There's
alt.politics.greens, alt.politics.libertarian, alt.politics.radical-left,
alt.fan.dan-quayle, alt.politics.nationalism.white, alt.fan.g-gordon-liddy,
alt.rush-limbaugh.die.a .flaming.death. In a nation that has trouble fixing its
attention on the public good and is facing increasingly bitter cultural wars,
this is not a wholly encouraging glimpse of the future. There's no
alt.transcendent.public.interest in sight.
Not to worry. In the Gingrich camp, optimism runs rampant. Alvin Toffler and a
few other seers prepared a "Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age"^9 for the Progress
and Freedom Foundation, which supports Gingrich. The authors dismiss in
Tofflerian language those who fret about social balkanization in cyberspace as
"Second Wave ideologues" (that is, Industrial Revolution dinosaurs, not clued
in to the "Third Wave," the knowledge revolution). "Rather than being a
centrifugal force helping to tear society apart, cyberspace can be one of the
main forms of glue holding together an increasingly free and diverse society."
The key to a "secure and stable civilization" is to make "appropriate social
arrangements." Unfortunately, they never get around to specifying the social
R. U. Sirius^10 in 1996:
"[A]nybody who doesn't believe that we're trapped hasn't taken a good look
around. We're trapped in a sort of mutating multinational corporate oligarchy
that's not about to go away. We're trapped by the limitations of our species.
We're trapped in time. At the same time identity, politics, and ethics have
long turned liquid. [...] Cyberculture (a meme that I'm at least partly
responsible for generating, incidentally) has emerged as a gleeful apologist
for this kill-the-poor trajectory of the Republican revolution. You find it all
over Wired [an online magazine] - this mix of chaos theory and biological
modeling that is somehow interpreted as scientific proof of the need to devolve
and decentralize the social welfare state while also deregulating and
empowering the powerful, autocratic, multinational corporations. You've
basically got the breakdown of nation states into global economies
simultaneously with the atomization of individuals or their balkanization into
disconnected sub-groups, because digital technology conflates space while
decentralizing communication and attention. The result is a clear playing field
for a mutating corporate oligarchy, which is what we have. I mean, people think
it's really liberating because the old industrial ruling class has been
liquefied and it's possible for young players to amass extraordinary instant
dynasties. But it's savage and inhuman. Maybe the wired elite think that's hip.
But then don't go around crying about crime in the streets or pretending to be
concerned with ethics."
Reasonable people on both sides of the aisle (the cyberdelics and the
technorealists) knew or at least strongly suspected the implications of what a
connected society would do to our life and civilization. They knew that this
day would come and that it would be just as traumatic as it is and will be.
The 180-degree about-face against Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook in the
last year has been a collective recognition by the powers of the 20th century
that the landscape has changed beyond recognition.
One can almost trace the palpable reaction of this Ancien Régime to two
realizations in 2017:
It was Facebook, not Russia, that caused catalyzed the election of Donald
And Mark Zuckerberg was preparing a presidential run in 2020 with the power of
Facebook and Big Tech behind him.^11
It's pretty apparent that the reason Trump won wasn't Russian intervention
(note the extremely Second Wave nature of the explanation: nations playing at
geopolitics). It was the intervention of Facebook.
It was the intervention of Twitter and 4chan.
Russia assisted the technological giants in overthrowing traditional
bureaucratic government in exactly the same way that the Divine King Louis XVI
assisted the Continental Army in overthrowing Constitutional Monarchy in
America a decade before the revolutionary wave came to France.
The election of 2016 was the absolute subversion of the idea and practice of
legitimate bureaucracy and traditional media and all the Second Wave political
Hillary Clinton, by all metrics of traditional Second Wave culture, should have
had the presidency locked down pat. She put in the time. She had all the
qualifications. She said and did all the Right Things to win. She was backed by
all the right interests.
Yet she lost to an unqualified demagogue that understood the potential of
But make no mistake: Donald Trump isn't the apotheosis of a new form of
He's exactly what he seems: a geriatric boomer playing with "the cyber".
Donald Trump isn't the 21st century Hitler. If anything, he's the Franz Von
Papen^12 of the 21st century. He's not in control. He's a naive puppeteer that
believes he can control the zeitgeist that will soon envelop him.
He's not alone in this delusion: the Democratic Party isn't the controlling
party in the alliance with Silicon Valley, as they're rapidly finding out as
The titular origin of Wag the Dog^13 sums it all up:
Why does a dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail was smarter, it would wag