Martin Gurri and the ungovernable public
Awesome, thought-provoking read. My only quibble is his characterization of ISIS.
"[T]here will be, at some point, new stories that take into account the new environment and ensure a return of trust in rulers and institutions."
It's useful to notice what we moderns mean when we consider "rulers and institutions." Our functional model - the things we think of as the essential attributes of rulers and institutions - is itself a fairly recent artifact, and is probably less necessary to the continuance of an orderly world (liberal democracy or not) than we assume. We think of the organizational style and industrial scale of the world we live in now as natural, the arc of history. We look at powerful companies like Amazon or Google and imagine that if they didn't exist someone would have to invent them. We consider the 40 to 60 percent of GDP that governments control in every major industrialized country as barely negotiable minimums. The agrarian republic of our past seems as remote and quaint as spinning wheels.
Well, all of that is probably closer to right than wrong. I'm not betting against Amazon. I'm not buying a spinning wheel. And like Mr. Gurri, I'm not making predictions. But... the sense that operable belief systems arise at the top of hierarchies and flow down to the masses strikes me as a blind spot peculiar to humans who have only lived in an age when power, wealth and control have become persistently more concentrated.
The "story-tellers" look like "public officials, the media, scientists: the elites" in an age of expansive government, media concentration and capital- and resource- intensive science. As Mr. Gurri observes, "information is [no longer] their monopoly [to] dispense as they see fit." The thing about belief systems, or systems of meaning, is that they are everywhere and always an emergent phenomenon. No one really owns them. They can only be forced or controlled at great expense, and only then for short periods of time (exhibit: every totalizing secular political ideology of the last 100 years).
It is not that authority has no say in the matter. It's that authority itself depends for its legitimacy on the severe, ancient and rather unforgiving mythical structures with which belief itself must conform. Put otherwise: authority isn't something that elites own, it's something they borrow.
New belief systems - new conceptions of meaning - are being born now. They aren't arbitrary, and they won't all work. They will express themselves in the world in novel ways, with "rulers and institutions" that will appear both old and new, predictable and sometimes surprising. Most, probably, will fail or soon be forgotten. Some will wreck havoc. Some will build enduring forms. I hope that the ones which endure will honor the proposition that all persons are created equal. That one really works. In any case whatever does come will account for elite opinion, but will never be wholly or even mostly given by it. That's something we should celebrate.