Surveillance Capitalism, 2

The industrial stage of capitalism wrecked the climate, Zuboff points out. We are only now realizing what industrialization is costing us. What we aren’t realizing yet is that the new stage of capitalism, the one she calls surveillance capitalism, “will thrive at the expense of human nature and will threaten to cost us our humanity.”

Zuboff works within the framework of two stages of modernity proposed by Zygmunt Bauman and Ulrich Beck. This obviously attracts me a lot because, as we all know, this is my framework, too. But she’s not simply repeating what they said. Instead, Zuboff – whose ancestors are from Ukraine, by the way – puts a very interesting spin on this idea.

The first stage of modernity (or solid capitalism, as Bauman calls it) created the idea of an individual who can and must build his or her own self following the dictates of personal choice. We no longer have to live the destiny handed to us by our group, clan, family, religion, or tradition. This is very liberating but also very lonely, scary, and confusing.

But here is the problem. This sense of individuality brings with it a belief in every person’s dignity and importance and makes people feel entitled to a good life and freedom to be oneself. Somebody needs to protect the dignified individuals from forces larger than their own selves. Somebody needs to cushion them from the harsh blows of fate because how do you preserve that sense of dignity otherwise?

In the first stage of modernity that somebody existed. In the second stage, it started disappearing. And the wanting, desiring, self-aware individuals were left completely alone.

So people get upset. They perceive themselves as being worthy of a good life. They feel entitled to good living conditions simply because they are unique, wonderful individuals. But the social contract within which state institutions looked out for their welfare is falling apart. They no longer have a community to turn to because it was sacrificed to the idea of everybody’s unique individuality.

And so the resentment grew.

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