Democracy was always an experiment. It was always the antidote to authoritarianism. Democracy was always, always, thought of as this angry rabble of a monster. When you examine what the elites thought of democracy back in the 18th century they always were distrustful of it.
We as Americans should be honest about that. we should also be honest about the other forms of government. theocracy doesn’t work in a pluralist society. neither really does authoritarianism. What’s even more instructive is that under close scrutiny everybody knows that. even people that want authoritarianism know that. What they really want, what they crave or at least think they do is a hierarchy with them on top or at least near the top. Ask yourself why?
We Live in a Transitional Time
It took me awhile to figure out what my podcast was about. What this larger project is about. The thing that made me realize what this show, the History Voyager Podcast, was about was a plague. A plague that was originally outside of the scope of the show. If you remember, long time listeners, my show was originally a history deep dive podcast about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. I was completely unaware at the time of the dramatic historically grounded reappraisal of the disease. We live in a time so far from the scientific revolution’s beginnings that many many people have no idea that the scientific revolution even started at all. The scientific revolution did so much more than essentially democratize technology, it opened up the human mind in all sorts of ways. it democratized gadgetry in a way we don’t even consider anymore as anything new or special. but the other thing it did was unleash a wave of changes down through the ages. there’s no better example of this than the Holocaust. the Holocaust happened at a time of mass media and the beginnings of electronic media and the beginning of the heyday of the broadcast media. because of that the Holocaust’s evil could be seen by a much broader audience than the Russian pograms of just a few generations earlier.
Although it’s very important for my listeners to understand that the evils of the Holocaust were not widely known until well after the war. But they were nonetheless being filmed often for posterity sake by the Nazis themselves. Seeing this evil acted upon other humans made people feel an empathy they probably otherwise would not have felt.
When I think about authoritarianism, I think about people that I’ve met who fled other countries. neighbors from Iran and Iraq. school friends from Russia. even people from Vietnam and China. I have always been interested in our form of government. I’ve always been interested in the Civic argument that is democracy. Once I got older and started studying the economy in a serious way I started to see how important democracy really is in our economic success and the success of individual Americans.
Democracy is Why People Come Here
Democracy is why people come here. Democracy is what makes this country special. Democracy makes our leaders accountable. You can be an oppressed minority in any other country in the world and you can come here and be a success if you’re willing to work hard. one of the challenges in our current times is that because of the internet, because of YouTube, because of podcasting, because of audiobooks, because of the information revolution that is happening every single day all around us we are changing what is marketable. we are changing what it means when we say somebody is intelligent. we’re doing this without meaning to do it, but we’re doing it nonetheless.
This is causing our normally placid politics to become very choppy. one of the common themes that I’ve heard both on the air and off the air is how people negotiate that change both in our politics and in our culture as well as our economy.
Americans Don’t Understand Social Media
The longer I’ve done my show I’ve come to see social media as one of the most important, influential, powerful, and in the wrong hands dangerous developments of My Life Time. Social media is no longer a toy. Social Media is used by foreign actors, nation states, and huge corporations to get everything from people to discover new flavors of ice cream, new clothes, new gadgets, but also to sow the seeds of political discontent. It’s how you can have people believing wildly inaccurate things about the world around them from the characteristics of political parties to the very nature of pandemic disease. most Americans simply do not have the will to investigate beyond the first skin of information that they find on either facebook, Twitter or worse, Tiktok. TikTok is especially problematic because it’s run by the Chinese government and it’s sows propaganda to the youth. though you can find me on tiktok, and though I enjoy watching tiktok from time to time especially after I eat dinner, I’m really reticent to publish anything to that platform anymore.
Tying It All Together
So you may ask what does social media, democracy, technology, and a diverse society have to do with each other? Everything. Or at least everything in this country, the United States of America. The United States is a multicultural society. But it is a reluctantly multicultural society. Currently in the first quarter of the 21st century we are relearning the lessons of earlier generations. I recently told a friend that I feel like America constantly relearns that it is not the old world. it is not somewhere that has an ambient culture. There are a lot of people that find that very problematic. There are a lot of people that look at modern society and see only reasons to fear or mostly reasons to fear. There’s hardly an adult who can’t remember even 5 or 10 years ago when things were very different indeed in this country. And this goes even to simple things. We live in a Time of massive economic change. I said in a recent podcast when you study the changes around the Protestant Reformation you never hear about that story from the perspective of the monks and nuns who were thrown out of work by people who simply wanted to read the Bible in their native tongue. You almost never hear about it from the perspective of people who had a thriving intellectual life that was made possible by the understanding of a common tongue and a common heritage forged in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman empire. The fact is that change brings about winners and losers. Or maybe winners and people who didn’t win.
There’s a person whom I’ve interviewed a few times. The time on this page is the time that we’ve chosen to share with you. She chose to be anonymous. She is from the outer Soviet republics. She was kind enough to tell me about what it was like to live there and give some of her impressions of America in this present moment. I thought it was very critical for people to hear from somebody what living under an authoritarian regime would be like. the thing I think all Americans need to understand is that nobody wins under authoritarianism. It always ends in the gulag. It always ends in the concentration camp. In the end of the Holocaust the Nazis were killing Lutherans, the dominant Christian denomination in Germany. that’s instructive.
How did we get here? I think a lot of the reason we got here had to do with the erosion of the education system available for the public. I think a lot of the reason we got here was because people in business applied the law of supply and demand incorrectly to college degrees. I also think a lot of the reason we got here because so many people are content to live in enclaves. which really isn’t possible anymore in the year 2022. I think historically we should make clear that all this technology stitching people together started out as essentially toys. It’s only been in the last few years that the products themselves as well as the underlying principles have been used by adults for productive means. I think a lot of people were still under the impression that the internet at least in the home wasn’t really something to be used productively.
I the prevalence of alternative information sources, I hesitate to even call it media, was vastly under considered by really anybody up until probably 2020. hopefully the electorate will understand that we can’t really go back to the old world. It’s like the saying says: You can never really go home again.