The founders of the United States designed a system in which voters elected smart people and those smart people ran the country. They called it a republic.
Over time, money corrupted the system. Rich people became the real power. The rich controlled the media, and that was enough to control the minds of voters. Let’s call that system a type of “economic fascism.” By that I mean the real power is the top 1% (as opposed to one dictator) and the rest of the country has no real power.
Society has improved a great deal under economic fascism. Slavery ended, women gained equal rights, and gays are getting married. We also have lots of social nets and whatnot. But that stuff only happens because the top 1% is okay with it. As long as the rich get richer, the people at the top are fine with any other change. The rich don’t want the poor to riot, so some policies have to favor the masses. Drug cartels operate the same way. They provide social services to put the locals on their side.
In 2016, our form of government took a new turn. Thanks to social media, the most persuasive ideas can always find an audience. The top 1% are no longer the gate keepers of truth with their control of the media. Now any good persuader can rise to the top of the influence pile. All he or she needs is a smartphone.
In our new form of government, a trained persuader such as Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders gains popularity on social media and forces the traditional media to fall in line. That form of government looks more like populism. The majority has more control than it did under a republic or under economic fascism.
But what about the tyranny of the majority problem? Will social media lead to mob rule because the majority has too much power?
I think the Internet and social media solve for that problem. Consider what is happening at Trump rallies. The entire public is watching every skirmish and dust-up at those rallies. The fear is that the small scuffles will escalate to something terrible. But social media solves for that. Every person at a Trump rally knows the world is watching. And it isn’t just big media that is watching. Every phone in every pocket is a direct link to the world. And Trump supporters know their candidate would be done if a big riot broke out. Social media has already taken control of Trump rallies. We should expect to see more scuffles and punches from individual idiots, but no widespread rioting. The crowd knows that violence works against them. But only because social media is watching so closely.
As a general rule, evil grows where no one is looking. If it grows too big before anyone notices, then it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. But social media is the ultimate eye on evil. It spots evil fast and shines the light of public scrutiny on it. Is that enough to say our new system is better than the last?
I don’t know. But the bar was low. Economic fascism doesn’t seem too hard to beat.
Inspiration for this topic from Naval Ravikant’s article American Spring.