Joho the BlogIs Hobbes the inevitable outcome of the Internet? - Joho the Blog

Is Hobbes the inevitable outcome of the Internet?

I heard a speaker recently (he wants to remain anonymous) argue that because the Internet makes public our every regrettable photo and expression, we will see each other at our worst, and thus the Internet — and then the real-world social world — will become a Hobbesian struggle of self-centered individuals in a war of all against all. Nasty, brutish, short, and did I mention nasty?

Since my overall mantra is “The Internet is more of everything,” I want to say, yes, that’s true, but it will also become more Rousseauian: more collaborative and sweet. But I do have hope that the sweetness born will be greater than the nastiness unleashed. And that’s for two reasons.

First, there are reasons to think that the raw exposure of sins and self-embarrassments at Facebook and other such sites won’t have a directly proportional effect on the quotient of nastiness. It will certainly provide a greater trove for those who are intent in wreaking havoc on people, such as political operatives doing opposition research. But, society has a tradition of drawing lines of privacy based not on what we can physically perceive but on what we’re allowed to notice. In polite society, you can’t say “Who cut one?” no matter how bad the smell, and there are actual laws against peering into windows even when the shades are left open. So, we can expect that as we get used to the new opportunities for invading privacy, we’ll develop norms that rope off some areas and some topics so that even if we happen to have looked down the social media blouse of the woman next to us, we’re not allowed to comment on what we saw.

Second, we generally don’t like the Hobbesian world. Neither did Hobbes. The state of nature he describes is so awful that, he says, it motivates humans to form societies and governments. Now, those who think they can win in the war of all against all may insist on acting in a nasty, selfish way, but we hem them in because they are dangerously assaholic. And there are times when it’s fun to be in the tussle, but we hem in those times and places, and try to lower the consequences. The fact we generally and deeply prefer a sweetly collaborative world to one in which everyone is trying to steal everyone else’s bread is a pretty good reason for hope that we will tend towards the sweet, with unfortunate and inevitable outbreaks of the nasty. As ever.

9 Responses to “Is Hobbes the inevitable outcome of the Internet?”

  1. lol, allow me to set this all straight for you

    Ok, #1 I think perhaps Nietzsche said it best when said you need strong demons to make your angels / virtues stronger.. or don’t throw out your demons less you throw out the best thing you have going for you.

    #2 Um.. so apparently identity has something do what reflects back to us as far as like.. the image of normal. You’ve probably noticed.. there’s been a problem since at least the birth of the TV, in terms of unrealistic images being beamed our way. When I was a kid it was not considered socially acceptable to not be homophobic.. a best friend of mine came out to me as a lesbian, thought she was freak.. I had been reading Kinsey and Masters and Johnson at the time so I was like “no, you just have to find you’re people.”

    Normal.. well.. you’re Mr. Miscellaneous right? What defines our inherited categories? Where’s Foucault when you need him? We think the world is maybe going to hell because power relationships are shifting faster then our conceptual frameworks and so we don’t see what could possibly keep things from going to hell.. but it turns out that morality is a self organizing force.. and besides.. a little Dionysus couldn’t hurt, ha?

    I mean isn’t it that, a sorta Apollo Dionysus Dialectic playing out in a part of our collective being? Through death, or creative destruction if we want to be all modern, comes life. Lets kill a few thou shalt dragons to make way for the values! Right now, inherently.. our value systems lag behind what we need to be cultivating anyway.

    Further more, I just do not understand this whole idea that.. seeing that deviancy is a norm is bad for us.. I think it’s part of our growing pains with respect to learning to become something other that a cog that fits into an industrial era machine.. and I frankly think there are more important things to worry about.. so you know.. go look up Frank Zappa debating the PMRC and lets get on with it!

  2. I like the optimism in this post. At the same time, although I think people don’t like the nasty, brutish world, there’s still a group that won’t hesitate to profit from other people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

    Interested in the concept of developing new norms to keep some things off bounds in a hyper-exposed world.

  3. I also like it.

    Internet is our recent revolution. Before we witnessed the “fall of the wall”, and before – birth of democracies and open societies. In all of the revolutions, the amount of nasty things and Hobbesian climate was always present, but as far as we see it never won over collaboration and growth.

    What I don’t see though, is the explosion of grassroot movement on the Web, that could promote, teach, advocate for “Rousseauian: more collaborative and sweet” virutal world. As in real world, we need such bodies. Could we have Web Greenpeace or Web “Anti-Defamation League” ? At least to fight spam?

  4. I really like this: “we will tend towards the sweet, with unfortunate and inevitable outbreaks of the nasty. As ever.”

    What I love about the Internet: you don’t need to disagree with Hobbes’s assessment of human nature to realize that cooperation is possible without giving up our “natural rights.” Networks make it easier for self-interest to align with the greater good.

    Hooray for networks!

  5. Well, I still believe that people are people. There will always be those who are negative, destructive, selfish, jealous….. But there will also be those who uplift, help, serve, love, build up and so on. The key question has always been and always will be. Which one of these are YOU?

  6. I can t agree more
    with both of you
    what is interesting to find out at this point
    is how the shame/blame dynamic will affect the deeper level of our being
    the unconscious body that we were able to hide before
    and that is enlightened from any possible angle in our networks
    that part will also be under the social judgment rules
    it s difficult to preview what kind of balance will result
    but for sure there will be a lot of demons to fight on the way

  7. […] Zeichnen Schongang nicht. Und ein Stilleben wird Erstgeborenenrecht sowieso nicht draus. Erbfolge, Erbsenfollowing. Dann wird mit großem Glockenanhang plötzlich ausgerufen […]

  8. […] Weinberger’s optimistic, Is Hobbes the inevitable outcome of the Internet?: “Society has a tradition of drawing lines of privacy based not on what we can physically […]

  9. […] Zeichnen Schongang nicht. Und ein Stilleben wird Erstgeborenenrecht sowieso nicht draus. Erbfolge, Erbsenfollowing. Dann wird mit großem Glockenanhang plötzlich ausgerufen […]

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