Revolt of the Public: A Reconsideration and George Floyd
Martin Gurri’s book now looks prophetic. It can teach us about the present crisis
In 2014, Martin Gurri published Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millenium. Gurri, a former CIA analyst, argues that the Internet did more than just enable new voices to be heard. He argued that it fractured any common notion of the public and dissipated authority. It was a brilliant book with exquisite timing. In 2014, most people still thought the Internet was primarily a tool for a certain type of protest: progressive and giving a voice to the unheard. Just a year later everything would change, starting with ISIS and barreling into Brexit and the Trumpocalypse.
It’s now 2020, and six years later we have a mountain of evidence, years of discourse with Gurri, and now a wave of protests following the murder of George Floyd. Gurri is now considered prescient and his thoughts have percolated throughout the ecosystem (supposedly, even Mark Zuckerberg has read it). Lots of people are now writing long-belated reviews, but now is time for something different: a retrospective, and a discussion of how we can move forward to make real change.
Uncertainty, institutions, and control
Revolt of the Public’s key argument is that the Internet has caused the public to revolt against elites, and the key lever of this loss of control is uncertainty. The Internet allows anyone to broadcast their thoughts and facts. This destroys the monopoly that the elites have on information, which means that sometimes they’re drowned out and sometimes, inevitably, they are shown to be wrong. The deluge of information provides some morsel of truth to support any possible position, making any side seem at least somewhat credible to someone. This creates uncertainty in what the truth is, which means that the elites can no longer persuade the masses, losing their only real method of control. Ironically, this uncertainty breeds certainty — certainty, among the public, that the elites are conspiring against them, that their mistakes are in fact calculated deceits, that there is a pattern of self-serving bribery. Gurri says that they’re right and that the ruling class never really trusted a public they…