In the first quarter of the 21st century, during which information flow grew exponentially and access to services and opportunity also increased, not all members of society have had equal access to the new opportunities. Factors for this asymmetrical access to opportunity include past and on-going discrimination against groups identified by one or more features, income inequality and unequal access higher education, which although over-inflated in relevance, became a tool for de facto discrimination as well.
In this climate of a growing divide between those who benefit from the new opportunities (tech, finance, services, education which reflects in employment, income and ultimately status) and those who were either left behind or actively downgraded in their status (for instance, due to the waves of unemployment brought by tech), several separatist groups drifted away from the norms of society so as to protest, “to make themselves heard” with their message of “we don’t get/no longer get what we’ve come to expect/what we naturally deserve”. While the quality of life in all its aspects is a positive-sum game, privilege is a zero-sum game; thus if a group gets more privileges (urban young people who graduated) then another group (rural young people who stayed home to work) will invariable get less, even if both groups, in their respective average income or sum of opportunity, are better off than before.
The growing divide planted the seeds of the generalised anti-establishment mentality, which follow the following pattern
“The establishment is preventing the individuals of our group X, which is characterised by trait Y, access to a class of privilege Z, which was previously accessible/which is accessible to other groups. Therefore, we revolt against this unfair establishment and will refuse to follow its rules regarding T, because fuck you, that’s why” The even more unfortunate side-effect (or maybe, the catalysing cause) is the post-truth liberty of allowing everything to mean anything, but not quite exactly, as it’s a matter of opinion and it all depends on things. While previously, a set of common societal values (eg. the peer pressure exerted by a small community on an individual to be employed and in a stable relationship) or intellectual standards (eg. 2+2=4 always, without it being a matter of debate) forced the individual to adhere to a process or workflow or relatively stable class of the community, such rules have been dissolved by the post-modernist impression that anything, anywhere, anytime and for whatever purpose is up for debate, without any regard for usefulness or side-effects of such debate, without any coherence or expected result.
Several effects should be considered as leading up to society losing its cohesion:
- The Self-Lock-In Syndrome. The individual, faced with the growing complexity of the world that offers more opportunity, but also more pressure to seize that opportunity and less privilege for those who fail to do so, tends to retreat to the familiar, to that which is alike either in gender, skin colour, geographic region, religious belief or some other aggregate or behavioural feature. Scared by the growingly unpredictable world, the individual’s aggression is increased by the feeling on being trapped, without adequate controls overs one’s destiny.
- Virtual Communities Over Physical Communities. The dissolution of physical communities and of practices centred around a physical community (the dinner table, the office, the church), brought forth by decreasing travelling costs and ubiquity of international instant communication. Physical communities have been replaced by virtual communities, which often fail to transmit the consideration, empathy, human emotion and human contact. Therefore, while losing the support and stability of the physical community the individual was lured towards virtual communities, which provided more means of self-identification and self-expression, but also provided less incentives for long-term, continual, human contact. As a marginal example, Netflix ushered in the era on-demand convenience for home entertainment, but it also made us lose the sync point we had with family and peers in the era when everyone had to watch the same movie at the same time. In other words we lost the binding factor of “Have you seen the movie last night?” for the convenience of “Wanna (binge on) Netflix and chill?”
- Moral hazard over time. Short-term interactions lead to short-term incentives. People are more likely to be aggressive, extreme, inconsiderate or violent when in a context which they expect will dissolve before any meaningful consequence will back-fire. For instance, it is more likely for someone to be rude or violent when sheltered by the anonymity of an online forum, as they imagine the assumed identity won’t/can’t be tracked back to them in the foreseeable future.
- Moral hazard over other individuals. Short-term interactions lead to lack of empathy (no identifying with the other person). Short-term interactions prevent the establishment of any feelings of community (tribe, team), leaving individuals to look at peers as temporary, replaceable.
- The vicious circle of income inequality and access to education.
- Discardable proxy digital identities which shield one from accountability of one’s speech, opinion or action, much like an SPV shields a company from liabilities and risk. If instead of myself I can always choose to be “madmax669” or “ladyBlackDeath” at a whim, I am no longer incentivised to be accountable, considerate or caring for the implications or consequences of my speech or actions.
- No Accountability, No Ownership – Hear No Evil, See No Evil. Free speech is being abused as a tool for disinformation, mass-confusion, dissolving any values of society into a unstructured conversation of junk non-arguments and misused rhetorical devices. The argument for change and freedom and equality is being used, abused and consequently disfigured into fitting any agenda, with any PR spin, at any cost. Faceless masses of virtual identities continually scream and wallow that something should be done, that things must be changed, but few take ownership for an initiative and accountability for its execution and outcome. The few who do take ownership of anti-establishment movements often do so for personal and financial gain, not for a intrinsic cause centred around the community or some greater good or sense of fairness.
While I hardly believe there is any known effective countermeasure to these effects other than education (which produces any effect in 15-20 years), I do believe that it helps to see the common root causes between many of the conflicts tearing up today’s society. We can help improving that general state of affairs by no longer looking at conflicts that we are involved in as “us” vs. “them”, but rather as “we, on both sides, need to make efforts to establish diplomatic relations and really commit to fixing our end of the problem”. In this storm of exponential information and misinformation, our lighthouse can be realising that more an more we win on the long-term only if we don’t make the others lose too much.