A technological society naturally favors inclusiveness. In such a society:
- Mass media, mass markets, mass education, the welfare state, and other large impersonal arrangements simplify the principles of social relations. The social order comes to seem a straightforward universal structure, like an organizational chart, to be judged and reconfigured by reference to universal standards.
- Easy travel, mass tourism, and global markets dissolve stable local patterns in favor of individual choice within a universal abstract order that treats everything as interchangeable with everything else.
- Mass electronic communications fragment experience, put every fragment on a par, and let everyone reassemble it however he wants. The ability to do so becomes the background of public discussion.
Under such circumstances, every social connection and status seems arbitrary. TV helped bring on the civil rights revolution by putting blacks and whites in the same living room and making social issues seem a matter of adjusting domestic grievances. The Internet, which makes everything in the world equally present to everything else, goes farther, eliminating privacy and separation and dissolving distinctions of sex and nationality.
The changed understanding of social relations has led to the discrediting of old norms. Traditional sexual standards are an obvious example. What were once understood as standards that established who we were and supported stable local patterns that facilitated individual and local self-government are now considered irrational violations of a universal abstract structure that favor some and burden others for no good reason.
The current conception of tolerance illustrates the resulting view of social life. Tolerance originally meant putting up with people who transgress norms. It was a practical virtue, required because the world is not perfect and attempts to force perfection are generally destructive. Now it means celebrating such people, because they champion freedom from norms now viewed as illegitimate. Failure to celebrate them would even be an act of oppression: it would put transgressors at a disadvantage because of residual effects of traditional norms. No well-intentioned person, it is thought, could accept such a result.
The resulting form of society weakens human connections and so isolates people and puts them at the mercy of large impersonal structures. Under such circumstances it is natural for them to want security against abuse, and to look to government to provide it. The guarantee of equal treatment seems to do the job. Any other standard seems unreliable, because it would be at odds with the nature of a society that denies all substantive principles of social cohesion.
The connection between political outlook and personal connectedness indicates the strength of such influences. The political divisions in American society are mostly a matter of differences in outlook between the married and unmarried, churchgoers and the secular, professionals and non-professionals, and big-city (“Blue State”) people and their somewhat more contrified cousins. In each case those who view themselves primarily as part of a universal rational order are on the left, those who define their lives by reference to particular connections on the right.
Although inclusiveness thus assuages worries brought on by the nature of present-day life, it makes the underlying problem worse. By abolishing the relevance of traditional components of identity, it increases the impersonality of institutions, the pervasiveness and inhumanity of bureaucracy, and the isolation of individuals and their total dependence on state and market. The stability of inclusiveness, like that of modern social organization generally, is that it feeds on the problems it creates. It is like a black hole that we have fallen into and cannot escape. Unlike black holes in astronomy, though, it is one that outside thought cannot enter rather than one from which information inside cannot escape.