The Snowden revelations have shown us the power of the individual in the age of social media. Although he is often associated with the idea of social media creating a voice for the individual, he has influence because of those who wish to promote and profit from his acts. For the most part, his acts has been about United States intelligence efforts rather than the social contract between individual and society. What we need to consider is whether the social contract between citizen and state and individual and society has to be rewritten because of the individual’s technologically enhanced voice? In other words, has the citizen been replaced by zombies suffering from the solipsism syndrome?
The social contract is being rewritten by the citizen.
The potential change in the social contract is being challenged by technologically empowered individual who want society to reflect their interests. However, technology, which empowers the individual, comes at a price because the web shapes their life experience. The web changes their perspective and experience to such an extent that they succumb to something called the solipsism syndrome. The solipsism syndrome describes a condition that astronauts, or any isolated individuals, experience when they have been in space or on their own for a long time.
Individuals experiencing solipsism syndrome feel that the world is not ‘real’ in the sense of being external to their own minds. The syndrome is characterized by feelings of loneliness, detachment and indifference to the outside world.
The syndrome is not about technology or the web creating the Matrix. The syndrome affects an individual because the web validates their views without having to challenge it. How the syndrome affects the individual’s perception of the common good and on society is the political problem. Many critics assume that the technological culture is libertarian. This is not the case. The zombies want to change and direct the lives of others and that requires them to infringe the rights and property, intellectual or otherwise, of others. Their behaviour is not guided by an ideology or a political position garnered from long political experience with which they persuade others. Instead, they rely on their personal view of the world. The zombie does not test their views through debate or seek the origins of their thought. They have never known the sting of philosophy because they believe they know the truth. What they know and believe is the truth.
The zombie does not seek out the street or the marketplace where competing ideas and arguments can challenge their opinions. For the zombies their own mind, their conscience, determines what is right or wrong and society must react to them. They assume that politics is corrupt and thus never seek to understand it or what it means. If it does not serve their interests and they cannot get their way, then it must be wrong. The individual decides what is right or wrong for the community. They have no loyalty to the community. If the community is deciding for the individual, this indicates some coercion or injustice. They believe that the technological power to voice their opinion on all matters before the community means an individual’s opinion is superior to the community’s.
Zombies are often directed by experts
The zombies rarely have opinions that are developed by experience. They believe they know enough to reject the politician’s opinion and they are likely to rely on experts. They will listen to internet security “gurus” who advertise themselves as security experts. Such experts invariably talk of fear and security with no reference to Thomas Hobbes his political philosophy which justifies their work. Or they may listen to the social media evangelists. The evangelists fail to realize their vision of digital collective action is Herbert Marcuse mixed with a bit of Ivan Illich. The zombies have lost the power of critical thought and the stamina to become educated about the best way to live.
The state withers away until the nature of politics requires a return
Solipsism syndrome creates the belief that a technologically enabled community caters to the fully autonomous individual. The zombie does not need to participate in the society because it is autonomous. Moreover, society is as benign and inconspicuous as tamed nature. The zombies, nurtured by the web, believe that the state is withering away. What they fail to understand is that nature requires great effort to tame. The harsh nature of politics is why governments exist. The zombies have only been able to protest the society’s constraints because nature and society appear to have been made benign by modern natural science and liberalism. They have only hidden the physical demands that nature and its politics require.
The paradox individual autonomy actually requires more government
Society’s institutional ability to shelter the individual declines as autonomy, digital or otherwise, increases. The more rights an individual wants, the more it needs a government to enforce them. Unless the individual wants to enforce their own right, they need a government. The more the rights proliferate, the more the government has to intervene to arbitrate disputes and punish transgressions. To punish transgressions, the government has to monitor what is happening in the community and peer into an individual’s affairs. The zombie’s unwillingness to accept any constraint they disagree with makes the government unstable and their autonomy untenable. The community descends into anarchy or tyranny because democracy becomes impossible.
The technologically weak must do as the technologically powerful command
The rise of zombies has a political consequence. The technologically vulnerable have a choice of two futures. They can have a democratically accountable society as an agent that represents their will yet constrains them by laws created by their consent. This comes at the cost of limiting the number of zombies that can be tolerated. The alternative is an undemocratic technological community. Such a community will cater to their autonomy and privacy but at the price of their free will and safety.