Vor ein paar Monaten bloggte ich über den Vortrag von Martin Gurri, der darin die sadistische Online-Lust („almost happiness“) an der Erniedrigung des politischen Gegners formulierte und dessen 2014er Buch Revolt of the Public viel davon vorweggenommen hatte. The Intercept hat nun ein Interview mit Gurri über Information-Overload und die Auswirkungen auf Eliten, staatliche Strukturen und die Bürger.
Gurri ist die Wut des Bürgers besonders suspekt und ich gebe ihm Recht und damit meine ich nicht nur den rechten Wutbürger (den aber vor allem). Grade die Masse der Menschen hat sich durch eine emotionsgetriebene Informationsumgebung und das Wegbrechen medial institutionalisierter Gatekeeper in einen wütenden Mob formen lassen, der nur durch eine grundsätzliche Ablehnung „des Systems“ zusammenfindet.
The institutions that sustain modern society were established in the industrial age. They are steep, top-down pyramids, with the industrial elites occupying the top of the pyramid, at a great distance from the public. Elites succeeded or failed in part by impressing the public with their expertise but mostly by impressing other elites. Today, due to the new information dispensation, these elites have been brought into close proximity to the public and are exposed to the public’s constant scrutiny. They are all too aware of the public’s anger, aware that they have lost control of the information sphere. The result has been a sort of elite panic and a bleeding away of their authority and legitimacy.
To function properly, industrial institutions, including government, need to have some proprietary control over the information in their own domains — the stories that get told about them. Once this control is lost, and a host of competing narratives about them arise, public trust inevitably starts to evaporate. This is what we see happening all around us. The effect has been a massive crisis of authority.
We have a picture of how this flood of new information has impacted elites, but how has it impacted the public?
Fifty years ago, society was organized according to the industrial model. People were passive recipients of information. It was a top-down system with limited choices or diversity. You could buy two or three different types of cars and get your information from two or three different television channels and newspapers. This system produced a relatively uniform “mass audience” that was suitable for the needs of industrial society.
What we have seen since is a complete breakdown of that system. The loss of control over information has resulted in the breakdown of the mass audience and many of the old ideologies. In its place has emerged a more ideologically diverse and fractious public. The public, which is not necessarily synonymous with “the people” or “the masses,” can come from any corner of the political environment today. It is not a fixed body of individuals and lacks an organization, leaders, shared programs, policies, or a coherent ideology. The public is characterized by negation: It is united in being ferociously against the established order.
What is the response of elites to their loss of trust and legitimacy?
The elite class can respond to their crisis of authority by heading in two opposite directions. And if I were to guess, I would say that they are now heading for the least productive option. They could identify the causes of the public’s anger and work to reconcile the public to the system. This would entail flattening the political pyramid and reducing as much as possible their distance from the public. Unfortunately, this is not happening.
Elites currently seem to be more concerned with re-establishing their distance from the public than with reforming the system or restoring their own authority. They equate legitimacy with clinging to the top of the pyramid. They find proximity to the public frightening and distasteful: No elite figure wants to come near the “deplorables.” They prefer to hide behind bodyguards and metal-detecting machines. Somewhat reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that authority will not be restored to our democratic institutions until the current elite class — what I have called the “industrial elites” — is replaced. As I explain in the book, this can happen quite peacefully.
What I found interesting about your book is that in addition to criticizing the elite, you’re also quite skeptical of this newly vocal public.
When this new wave of information began to rise, I initially thought that I was on the side of the public. But on analyzing the statements and pronouncements of many of the new popular movements, I began to see that they had a distinctly nihilist streak. They were mired in negation towards the status quo, but rarely proposed clear alternatives to the order that they were bashing away at. The Arab Spring, as well as the Occupy movements and the Spanish “indignados,” among others in the West, were movements united on the basis of what they were against. They were far less clear about what they were in favor of or how they were going to build that future. The 2016 Brexit referendum and election of Donald Trump — both of which were based primarily on the angry repudiation of the status quo — provided further compelling evidence of this public sentiment.