Saturday, June 8, 2024

From a Coming Anarchy and a Clash of Civilizations to the Chaos of Social Media

By Rudy Barnes, Jr. June 8. 2024

The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan and The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington were classics on political and military legitimacy in the 1990s.  They described how religious, political and cultural differences spawned violence in the past.  In The Chaos Machine Max Fisher has described how a volatile social media has become the primary cause of chaos.

In my book Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium (Frank Cass, 1996) I described how public perceptions of legitimacy shaped politics and military operations in the late 20th century.  The difference between public perceptions of legitimacy then and now is that now political standards of legitimacy are shaped by a vastly expanded and volatile social media.

There were differences of opinion on standards of legitimacy in the 1990s, but since then political differences and partisan polarization have created existential issues for American democracy.  Congress can no longer resolve major issues.  Both parties have exacerbated partisan polarization and made compromise a lost art in American democracy.

The altruistic teachings of Jesus provide the moral foundation of legitimacy and promote reconciliation.  They are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves, but they have been corrupted by Christian nationalism through social media, making political reconciliation an impossible dream.

Beyond Donald Trump, examples of dominant personalities in social media include Milo Yiannopoulus, Alex Jones, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.  These individuals have flourished on social media platforms driven by algorithms that promote extremist politics and oppose stable traditional democratic values.

Google has reported the following list of the most popular social media platforms as of June 2024, based on monthly active users (MAUs): Facebook: 3.06 billion MAUs, YouTube: 2.70 billion MAUs, WhatsApp: 2.40 billion MAUs, Instagram: 2.35 billion MAUs, TikTok: 1.67 billion MAUs, WeChat: 1.31 billion MAUs, Messenger: 1.10 billion MAUs, Telegram: 900 million MAUs, Viber: 820 million MAUs and Snapchat: 800 million MAUs.

Social media platforms use slight, imperceptible changes to influence behavior while gathering enormous amounts of data to create sophisticated algorithms that maximize corporate profits at the expense of legitimacy with little accountability.  Those platforms attract millions of users and cause chaos with their distortions of political truth.

The regulation of social media to limit the acquisition and misuse of personal data to prevent distortions of truth and generate obscene corporate profits will be a formidable task, if it’s even possible.  We can expect even more examples of abuse by AI corporate giants, with only fond memories of the traditional media in which we once trusted as sources of legitimacy.


Samuel P. Huntington was cited in Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium on p. 31 to chapter 2.  The violent fragmentation of the former Yugoslavia that gave rise to violence in Eastern Europe in the 1990s was along the medieval cultural and religious fault lines separating Western and Eastern Orthodox Christianity (the Croats and Serbs) and Islam.  It has been described as a clash of civilizations and a paradigm for future conflict.” (see n. 3)  

Robert Kaplan was cited on the same page on issues of legitimacy in Africa.  “Africa has been unable to break a tragic cycle of civil war and natural disaster since freedom from colonial rule.” (see n. 5)

Huntington was later cited on his earlier classic The Soldier and the State on pages 107-114 that contrast his views of the unpolitical soldier in his earlier book with a more political soldier, or diplomat warriorThe Soldier and the State emphasized the need to keep the soldier separated from politics, while Huntington’s later writing on the The Clash of Civilizations acknowledged the need for American military personnel to be knowledgeable about strategic political objectives of conflicts in which they were engaged in order to achieve America’s strategic political objectives.  That led to the need for a new ethical model of the diplomat warrior, or political soldier.  (pp 107-114)

In The Chaos Machine, Max Fisher has likened social media to “dopamine in your brain, providing stimuli that are neurologically meaningless on their own but that hijack a compulsion--a need to connect that can be even more powerful than hunger or greed” (p 26) and that “cause behavior consistent with standard habit formation models like addiction.” (p 28)

Fisher highlighted Milo Yiannopoulos (pp75-80) a college dropout who had little reason to believe he would ever go beyond the furthest edges of the tech world; but after joining the far-right Breitbart, Yiannopouls championed a mainstream movement and was granted a keynote slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the most important event on the political right. “A shameless attention seeker, he absorbed the dominant messages online, exaggerated them and posted them back online.  He was a living, breathing social media algorithm who appeared on cable talk panels.”  Yiannopulos called it “meme magic” when previously obscure web memes become influential.  In 2019 Facebook appointed Breitbart “a trusted news source.”  On Twitter and Facebook Breitbart became the “nexus of conservative media” and the most shared media source among Trump’s supporters.”

Other right-wingers on social media highlighted by Fisher are conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (pp 134, 216-219, 315, 316) and far right members of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene (pp 274, 315, 316) and Matt Gaetz (p 152, 255).

Social media and AI are both vast and related topics.  Sophocles once said, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.”

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