The Digital City disabuses its citizens of a key myth that structured our shared political space: that modern institutions are neutral, that they enjoy a god’s-eye view of reality. The modern scientific enterprise, the press, the university, the justice system, the free market, the technological systems that ordered the modern world, even reason itself were understood as neutral instruments of the common good. In the Digital City, the neutrality of the common good, and so the very notion of the common good, are called into question. The clearest symptom of this may be the mounting challenges to the traditional liberal order and its key institutions, as well as the sudden and dramatic disrepute of the idea of centrism and political compromise.
In the Digital City, it is increasingly difficult to believe in the neutrality or objectivity of these institutions. This is not because arguments against the liberal order have won the day. Indeed, to believe as much would be to assume that the Analog City still rules. Rather, our trouble believing in neutrality is in part because of the new arrangement of social relations through digital media, which sustains the proliferation of niche identities and brings these into volatile proximity with one another. This new social order is hyper-pluralistic, a place of ceaseless and irresolvable conflict. Our identities take shape as we self-select into ever more narrow subcultures, and we are then drawn together in public forums lacking a sense of a greater whole to which we might all belong.
The effect is a deeper experience of plurality, without any countervailing centripetal forces. Sundered into multiplicity and without recourse to a common narrative thread, we are bereft of a view of the world held in common. Civility, consensus, and compromise take on the character of fantasies entertained by the naïve or foisted on the public by a self-interested elite.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor