I am thoroughly enjoying reading John Gray's False Dawn in which he questions the assumptions of global capitalism and the American dream of a global civilization based on the ideas of The Enlightenment. In his other book Straw Dogs Gray questions the very idea of progress and believes it is simply a post Enlightenment version of the religious success myth of a progression from fallen state to heaven by way of doing the right things.
In False Dawn in the chapter entitled "The United States and the Utopia of Global Capitalism" he quotes Edmund Stillman and William Pfaff, writing in The Politics Of Hysteria: The Sources of Twentieth Century Conflict as follows:
The United States is peculiarly ill-equipped for the world role it has assigned to itself. The doctrinaire optimism of American popular belief, eloquent at all official levels of American society, is an optimism which the nation developed and has been able to maintain since 1865 because of general prosperity and national isolation. The United States has, in these fortuitous conditions, become a society which today by a powerful optimistic alchemy transforms the prophetic pessimism of Judaism, and the injunctions of asceticism, humility and self-sacrificing charity of Christianity, into the sentimental and vulgar consolations of a bourgeoisie .... Such phenomena .... are integrally related to an American international politics that assumes the possibility - indeed, the proximate possibility - of a fundamental reform of the institutions and behaviour of mankind at large. They are evidences of the continuing, and (as yet) invincible, isolation of American civilization from the major experiences of Western history and modern politics. They evidence the American national isolation from, or, more deeply, the American suppression of, the preception of human tragedy and desolation, or irrationality and perversity.
What fascinates me, and why I am reading such intellectually challenging economist thinking, is to try to work out where the stuff that excites me about the web and social computing is really taking us. Is it enabling people to connect and understand each other in ways that we never have before and thereby share a common understanding of the preciousness of life or is it speeding up the fragmentation of the world into ever smaller, more factional groups competing for ever more scarce resources and making the world a more dangerous place by weakening the institutions such as nation states that we have invented to protect us.
I'll let you all know when I have worked out the answer!