Breakfast with Chad: techno-feudalism (2)
Yesterday I had to cut short my conversation with Chad about Yanis Varoufakis’s claim that we”re now living under a regime of techno-feudalism. Our conversation, which had momentarily taken a dire turn, ended on a positive, optimistic note when Chad cheered on the idea that various actors in society might “work together to increase public awareness, mobilize public support, and create the political pressure needed to push for the implementation of necessary reforms.”
I had no argument against this and indeed was pleased to hear it. But I couldn’t help thinking it sounded suspiciously Utopian, even hyperreal. So I decided to ask another question based on my observations comparing social and political behavior in the past and the present.
“That sounds great, Chad. But it makes me think of the days when unjust wars and other examples of tyrannical behavior provoked protests in the street and serious mobilization that brought together people of all walks of life. Such protests could last for weeks, months and years. They created a kind of cultural pressure that left a real mark on society, even when it didn’t manage to change policy. But, with the possible exception of the George Floyd protests in 2020, we see nothing like that today in reaction to the much more pervasive reality of techno-feudalism. Why?”
“It is true that in the past, large-scale protests and social movements have been effective in driving social and political change. However, the lack of a similar reaction today in response to techno-feudalism may be due to several factors.
Firstly, the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few large technology companies can make it difficult to mobilize people against them. Unlike traditional power structures, such as governments or corporations, technology companies may not be as visible or tangible to people’s daily lives, making it harder to galvanize public opinion.
Secondly, the impact of techno-feudalism may be more diffuse and difficult to grasp than the impact of a specific war or policy. The erosion of democracy and the concentration of power in the hands of a few companies can feel abstract and difficult to define, making it harder to mobilize people around a common cause.
Thirdly, the ways in which people engage with technology companies can make it difficult to build solidarity among different groups. For example, a person who relies on a particular social media platform for their livelihood may be less likely to criticize that platform, even if they are aware of the broader negative impact of technology on society.
Fourthly, the pandemic has made large-scale protests and mobilizations more challenging. The need for social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings have limited the ability of people to come together physically and amplify their voices.
Finally, the methods of control in techno-feudalism are much more subtle and efficient than those in traditional power structures. This makes it harder to mobilize the public against them as they are not as visible as traditional forms of oppression.
All these factors make it challenging to mobilize the public against techno-feudalism. However, it is not impossible, and there are signs that public opinion is beginning to shift as people become more aware of the impact of technology on democracy and individual rights. As more people become aware of the problem, they can begin to organize and take action to create meaningful change.”
So there’s the answer we’ll have to be content with: “it is not impossible.” Instead of arguing, I simply said to myself that Chad’s “conviction” – if that’s what it is – that people are becoming “more aware” is little more than an unfounded belief, not worth debating. The rest sounds like vapid campaign promises by venal politicians. Chad says “they can begin to organize.” It reminds me of a famous organizer from Chicago, who got elected on the slogan “Yes, we can,” but demonstrated that even though “we can” and quite literally, he, as President of the US “could,” it’s equally true that we may not, just as he “did not” on so many issues, from stopping wars to passing universal health care, protecting rather than prosecuting whistle blowers and codifying Roe v Wade. And so the status quo reigns and the beat goes on. Even when a former community activist is president.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.