Anton Jäger On Bowling Alone

  • Bowling Alone (2000) by Robert Putnam should be seen in context with the “civic crisis literature” of the 1990’s.
  • What Putnam predicted about the internet has held up well.
  • Social capital is a measure/concept responding to “the demands of quantification”. Social capital is a purely individualistic and instrumental view of social ties.
  • There is no mention of the Volcker shock or union density in Bowling Alone.
  • Party political life in the mid-20th century (example of french communists) was not merely instrumental but wholly social, sacrificial. Church and party had an active stake in personal life.
  • The internet should be considered as a social form itself. Online has neutralized and sanitized risk.
  • The British Tories were the first mass party.
  • Assumption: right-wing associations have survived so that’s why they are stronger. Actually it’s even worse, the right has the advantage of operating in capitalism and increases in asset prices sustain homeowners associations.
  • The decline in social capital drives social inequality. Middle class associational life has weathered the storm as simple economic power floats middle class ties.
  • Police unions are very strong. All this said, some right-wingers perceive that the crisis is even worse on the right.
  • Neo-feudal notion that “we’ve all become peasants” is false. Peasants were self-sufficient and Marx said that they don’t have the experience of social labour. Now the work we do on a laptop is extremely social.

Martin Gurri on Generation Z, Elites & Institutional Change

Young men in an internet cafe, December 2022.

20th Century institutions have no idea how to deal with 21st Century virtual-world young people. The elites in the 20th Century had it good but the “digital tsunami” has blown everything up. The elites want to talk about “matters of control” and regulation (global warming etc.) whereas the public is concerned with the economy. We have to think about what we want left after the digital revolution. Online, you are decontextualized, ahistorical, flattened, your digital self is “mutilated”, everything is fluid and open to any behaviour (you have no more “imperative”). This is how Generation Z has grown up. The Pentagon leaker testifies to this view: he got top secret documents and showed them to his friends online “look what I just saw”. For this generation, “history is where bad things happened” and you can’t learn from it, only repudiate it. On the internet “you’re just you”, the old broadcast/institutional ways of communicating are dead. What’s the solution? We need a better elite class rather than the current reactionary/defensive elite class.