Venkatesh is not exactly advocating a storming of the Bastille, or even of AIG headquarters. He is, however, suggesting that society would benefit from more engagement on the part of its members. If "American anger remains corralled on the internet," he writes, "into e-mail messages to Congress and in sporadic small-group protests, it is unlikely that the Obama administration will do much to assuage the anger of taxpayers." He may have a point. Certainly, there is a pervasive sense of malaise, one that works against the idea of taking to the streets. And maybe we are at an end of empire stage, where bread and circuses (e.g., hi-def on-demand television and celebrity dance competitions) are temporarily pacifying the masses.
This particular blogger, though--this part of Venkatesh's problem--thinks the problem lies in the arcane and confusing nature of the current crisis. How do you rise up when you don't even know what you're mad at? The world economy seems to have collapsed, but what is that economy based on? For years, now, most people's "wealth" has rested in investments that they didn't understand (or, in the case of your average 401K investor, even think much about). We reside in an economic system where the average person lives day-to-day without even needing to see actual money. Our "paychecks" are directly deposited: One organization tells another organization to change the numbers on our bank accounts, and then this number is swiftly or gradually portioned out to accounts held by other agencies. The wealth that has been wiped out is not even "paper profits"--its digital profits.
Of course, there is real suffering in the real world, real people losing real jobs and real houses. The masses may yet rise up. Indeed, when the time comes for such action, it will more than likely be these selfsame bloggers and internet activists who help coordinate the protests. The malaise we feel is not because of our separation into virtual communities of one; if anything, that confuses cause and effect. Indeed, so far from being some new opiate of the people, it is probably the vast hive-mind of the virtual world that can, bit by bit, help people make sense of this confusing time and ultimately inspire a more informed revolution.