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
Fukuyama lists the bad—crime, divorce,
cynicism, delinquency, single parenting, and stepparenting.
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 others 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, 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
Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 26, 2009.