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              The Great Disruption

 by Francis Fukuyama

 

Francis Fukuyama argues some matters worsened in

the past generation, and some improved; the

bad will get better, allegedly, because of bio-cultural

destiny.

 

Fukuyama lists the bad—crime, divorce,

cynicism, delinquency, single parenting, and evil stepparents.

Much of this is better documented in other books and magazines.

 

Fukuyama attributes the disruption to “the general heading of

increasing individualism [italics his].” He must mean individualism

for bad individuals, the individualism that treats good people as

 merely a means to be milked. Unfortunately, his vacuous,

communitarian, bio-cultural determinism is an atrocious

solution. Making sure ethical individualism helps good individuals

and hinders evil individuals is a better solution. Of course, figuring

 out who is getting screwed and who is doing the screwing is

 beyond the coverage of this book, perhaps because those subjects

would be boring or norm threatening.

 

“People question the authority not just of tyrants and high priests,

but of democratically elected officials, scientists, and teachers.”

Well, duh. Kleptocratic, er democratic, elections

 and college degrees are no guarantee of wisdom.

 

A large number of factors, he argues, affected

families—economics, technology, norms, consumerism,

media, birth control. Unfortunately, his analysis of these

 factors is not thorough. These factors have been better

analyzed elsewhere. If you do not know much about economics,

 sociology, sociobiology, moral psychology, and related fields,

Disruption might be of interest.

 

Fukuyama espouses a set of semi-nurture assumptions, but does

acknowledge the role of local groups—peers, neighborhoods.

 He also traces the shift from membership in large groups to

 smaller ones such as support groups and aerobics classes.

 

The wealthy can afford to shelter themselves from their own

 vices—doctors, gates, guards, rural homes, health food,

private schools, personal trainers, personal assistants. Others

 often can not. And they often can not protect themselves

from the vices of others. “In societies where individuals enjoy

more freedom of choice than at any other time in history, people

 resent all the more the few remaining ligatures that bind them.

 The danger for such societies is that people suddenly find

 themselves socially isolated, free to associate with everyone

 but unable to make the moral commitments that will connect

 them to other people in true communities.”

 

The most intriguing thing about this book is the author’s claims

 about the role of birth control pills in changing norms, especially

 how it changed the norms of both men and women, though

 Japan has a similar change in normsand the Japanese only

recently legalized the pill.

 

He intriguingly notes that individuals having damaged prefrontal

cortexes can analyze situations, but they lack initiative and can

 not choose. They lack empathy and other important emotions.

 

Social trust is important to Fukayama, but trust is a symptom

 more than a cause. Trust increases when citizens have bravely

 created a more just society, not the other way around. There

 is a word for people who blindly trust, hoping that trusting

 will make things better: Naive.

 

Fukuyama stands above the fray and says things will work out

okay. He uses correlations to concoct quarter-baked theories

of biocultural renewal. He claims that “social order, once

 disrupted, tends to get remade once again[.]” That “tends”

 leaves out loads of tragic and horrific not tending. This evolutionary

 view may be popular, especially among those who prefer short-term

comfort to truth, but it does nothing to solve injustices. The rhetoric

 of inevitability is ever a comfort to the lazy and to those intolerant

 of uncertainty. Not many things manipulate as well as the word

 inevitable. His “self-organization,” “spontaneous order,” and

 “natural state” phrases are inaccurate and dehumanizing. When

 everything is said and done, and individuals have made heroic

 sacrifices to produce uncertain achievements, glib pundits sit

back and say it was inevitable. For the billions of people in the

 world who live in dictatorships, shallow punditry would be an

 acceptable side effect of goodness and freedom.

 

 

There is an implication here that since anomie stinks we should

 simply adopt shallow, optimistic, ultra-conservative,

 bio-techno-deterministic norms and save ourselves some

 psychic pains, at least as long as we keep ourselves from

noticing that those norms put others on a bad trip through

a meat grinder. So much for moral commitments. Not

 recommended.

 

Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009.

 

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