At Noema, Nathan Gardels speaks with Jonathan Haidt:

The displacement of a public square by the viral spectacle of social media hits at the heart of the sober deliberative quality that protects democracy from the pure wash of public passions:

There’s no more public square. … Everything takes place in the center of the Roman Colosseum. The stands are full of people who are there to see blood. That’s what they came for. They don’t want to see the lion and the Christian making nice; they want the one to kill the other. That’s what Twitter is often like.

It all becomes performative and comes at a superfast pace. Just as television changed the way we are and made us into passive consumers, the central act in social media is posting, judging, criticizing and joining mobs. Donald Trump is the quintessential person who thrives in that environment. If not for Twitter, Trump never could have been president. So, when our politics moved into the Roman Colosseum, I think the Founding Fathers would have said, ‘Let’s just give up. There’s no way we can build a democracy in this environment.’


As Haidt sees it, AI will only compound matters because “With AI coming in, the problem of the loss of authority is going to be magnified tenfold or even a hundredfold when anyone can create a video of anyone saying anything in that person’s voice. It’s going to be almost impossible to know what’s true. We’re in for a wild ride if we’re going to try to run a democratic republic with no real authority. My fear is that we will simply become ungovernable. I hope not, I hope we find a way to adapt to living in our world after the fall of the tower of Babel, the fall of common understandings and common language.”


How will it all turn out as history unfolds? Are authoritarian societies that limit liberal freedoms in order to maintain authority and solidarity any more sustainable than liberal societies so lacking in constraints that the ties which bind can no longer hold?


The answer depends on whether the one can lighten up and the other can tighten up to achieve the right balance between liberty and social cohesion. What is clear is that how nations hang together internally — or not — will be a significant factor in the geopolitical competition ahead.