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These were the kinds of one-to-many, top-down mass media that Orwell’s Big Brother had used to stay in power.
Members of the Committee joined many American intellectuals in subscribing to the views of the anthropologist Franz Boas, who believed that cultures shape the personalities of their members in predictable ways.
Germans, they thought, tended toward rigidity and an affection for authority, hence Hitler’s famously bureaucratic Nazi regime was a natural extension of the German character.
Even as they grant us the power to communicate with others around the globe, our social-media networks have spawned a new form of authoritarianism.
he political vision that brought us to this point emerged in the 1930s, as a response to fascism.
In the years before the Second World War, Americans were mystified as to how Germany, one of the most sophisticated nations in Europe, had tumbled down the dark hole of National Socialism.
Today we’d likely blame Hitler’s rise on the economic chaos and political infighting of the Weimar era. When Hitler spoke to row upon row of Nazi soldiers at torch-lit rallies, the radio broadcast his voice into every German home. They are living in a Nazi dream and not in the reality of the world.They believed that it would do what earlier media could not: it would allow people to speak for themselves, directly to one another, around the world.“True personalization is now upon us,” wrote MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 bestseller Corporations, industries, and even whole nations would soon be transformed as centralized authorities were demolished.“I believe,” he said, “that more than armies, more than diplomacy, more than the best intentions of democratic nations, the communications revolution will be the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.” At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right.The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television.Roosevelt’s cabinet sought advice from a group of intellectuals calling themselves the Committee for National Morale.The Committee had been founded in the summer of 1940 by a historian of Persian art named Arthur Upham Pope, who brought together a number of America’s leading thinkers, including the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, psychologists Gordon Allport and Kurt Lewin, and journalists Edmond Taylor and Ladislas Farago.Thousands of American fascists banded together in groups with names like the Silver Legion of America and the Crusader White Shirts.The Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, a 25,000-member pro-Nazi organization commonly known as the Bund, ran a summer camp on Long Island called Camp Siegfried, where young men marched in Nazi-style uniforms as their friends and families cheered.Reagan proclaimed that the world was on the precipice of “a new era in human history,” one that would bring “peace and freedom for all.” Communism was crumbling, just as fascism had before it.Liberal democracies would soon encircle the globe, thanks to the innovations of Silicon Valley.