“Beginning in the 1990s, a democratic revolution of aspiration -of the kind Tocqueville witnessed with many forebodings in early nineteenth-century America- swept across the world, sparking longings for wealth, status and power, in addition to ordinary desires for stability and contentment, in the most unpromising circumstances. Egalitarian ambition broke free of old social hierarchies, caste in India as well as class in Britain. The culture of individualism went universal, in ways barely anticipated by Tocqueville, or Adam Smith, who first theorized about a ‘commercial society’ of self-seeking individuals.
The emphasis on individual rights has heightened awareness of social discrimination and gender inequality; in many countries today, there is a remarkably greater acceptance of different sexual orientations. The larger political implications of this revolutionary individualism, however, are much more ambiguous. The crises of recent years have uncovered an extensive failure to realize the ideals of endless economic expansion and private wealth creation. Most newly created ‘individuals’ toil within poorly imagined social and political communities and/or states with weakening sovereignty. They not only suffer from the fact that old certitudes about their place in the world -including their sense of identity and self-worth- have been lost along with their links to traditional communities and other systems of support and comfort and sources of meaning. Their isolation has also been intensified by the decline or loss of postcolonial nation-building ideologies, and the junking of social democracy by globalized technocratic elites.
Thus, individuals with very different pasts find themselves herded by capitalism and technology into a common present, where grossly unequal distributions of wealth and power have created humiliating new hierarchies. This proximity, or what Hannah Arendt called ‘negative solidarity’, is rendered more claustrophobic by digital communications, the improved capacity for envious and resentful comparison, and the commonplace, and therefore compromised, quest for individual distinction and singularity.”
Bonus: Zygmunt Bauman
“We remain of course as modern as we were before; but these ‘we’ who are modern have considerably grown in numbers in recent years. We may well say that by now all or almost all of us, in every or almost every part of the planet, have become modern. And that means that today, unlike a decade or two ago, every land on the planet, with only a few exceptions, is subject to the obsessive, compulsive, unstoppable change that is nowadays called modernization, and to everything that goes with it, including the continuous production of human redundancy, and the social tensions it is bound to cause.”