Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Great Disruption

Cover image for The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order by Francis Fukuyama, 282 pages

Beginning in the late '50s, a massive shift occurred across the western world.  Crime soared, the family disintegrated, and fertility plummeted.  These changes were not localized in a single nation, and so cannot be explained by local events or movements, but they did not take place in East Asia and were less potent in Latin America and Southern Europe, and so cannot be explained by purely technological or economic developments.  In the first half of The Great Disruption famed social theorist Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man) conducts a statistical investigation into the nature and causes - cultural, technological, economic and demographic - of these changes.  Central to his account is the dwindling supply of social capital, the faith people have in their neighbors and fellow citizens.

The second half of the book is more interesting.  Fukuyama sides with the sociologists over the economists to support a theory of social development that sees human beings as innately predisposed towards cooperation, rather than rational sociopaths.  Human nature's fundamentally social and political orientation encourages the emergence of cooperative structures to fill needs.  Technological and social change, Fukuyama suggests, now favor these emergent networks over less flexible hierarchies.

Ultimately, Fukuyama asserts that society will regenerate because it must.  Writing in the late '90s, he discerned a turn towards renewal - the fall of communism, the triumph of moderate liberalism with Clinton and Blair, an increasing recognition of the superiority of stable two parent families for child rearing, the upstart dotcoms challenging the old corporate giants.  The twenty-first century has thus far not continued those trends, from increasing political and economic centralization to a further decline of the family to growing tribalization.  There is an alternative to renewal Fukuyama does not consider: collapse.

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