The Facebook founder's recent self-important manifesto reads like comedy, until we see how it pushes us toward a different kind of authoritarianism.
SAO PAULO — I've just finished reading the manifesto Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the future of humanity. I laughed my way through to the end. But by the time I was done reading, a serious question took root in my mind: Is Zuckerberg in fact a humorist, or does he really believe the words he wrote?
If we are in the presence of a humorist, we can include Zuckerberg in the great tradition of satirical utopians. You know the sort, people who are deeply unhappy with the reality and who, in turn, use literature to entertain and moralize. The problem is that I suspect Zuckerberg is serious since there have been no previous signs of a sense of humor in this real-life character.
To sum it up, the manifesto wants to build a perfect future. And what future is that? That's easy: a future without poverty, without war, without angst, without solitude. And how do you achieve such a future? That's easy too: by mobilizing the now two billion human beings who use Facebook.
My laughter started from the very beginning: "are we building the world we all want?" the prophet Mark asks. No, my son, we are not. Each of us builds a world he understands because the idea of a common purpose only exists in the head of a fanatic. Worse, of a fanatic who believes he's talking in the name of "all."
In theory, a world without poverty, war, angst and solitude can have its charms. Especially, and preferably, if it's proposed by a Miss Universe contestant in a bikini. But to imagine Mr. Zuckerberg in such garments, beyond the aesthetics, is politically absurd. What defines the human species is the diversity of interpretations and solutions regarding any social issue.
Yes, poverty is a misfortune. But knowing how to fight it — by redistributing wealth? through free enterprise? under what form? — has been a topic of pluralist discussions for centuries. The same goes for war (are some wars criminal? are others necessary?), angst (what would art be without such inner demons?), or solitude (sometimes, hell is other people, to quote Sartre).
Illustration for Mark Zuckerberg's manifesto
But Zuckerberg's delirium continues. He writes that the future belongs to "meaningful groups," groups of people that share the same fortunes or misfortunes. For instance, if I have a specific disease, I can find my own, specific class. Zuckerberg's future is made of hundreds, of thousands of virtual ghettos. Like the leprosariums of old or the sanatorium for people with tuberculosis.
What more, Zuckerberg believes that artificial intelligence will one day be able to save human beings from themselves. If I'm a large consumer of pictures and videos on the topic of suicide, it will be possible to "identify" my "deviant" behaviors and prevent the gruesome fate. Prevent how? Zuckerberg doesn't say. I imagine the army will intervene: the young sociology student working on his thesis on Émile Durkheim's book Suicide will get his door smashed in by the military and will caringly be put into a straitjacket.
For many thinkers, suicide is actually the ultimate act of freedom — or, as Emil Cioran used to say, it's precisely thanks to the certainty that there always is a way out of the earthly existence that we can engage in our life. In Zuckerberg's world, not even humanity's most intimate choice will be safe.
Finally, the obvious part: Thanks to Facebook, voters and elected leaders will be closer than ever, and will listen to each other. In other words, if the "tyranny of the majority" approves savagery, the politician, in order to be elected, will defend savagery.
The mediation mechanisms that liberal democracies have always defended (courts, parliaments, etc.) will thus need to be defeated in the name of the "general will," this ominous category Rousseau bequeathed to his disciples.
To be fair, nothing Zuckerberg writes is new. He merely repeats the typical fallacies of globalist thought: The world's challenges can only be tackled by a sort of "global community" — a euphemism for a "global government."
Inevitably, it doesn't cross the Facebook founder's mind that it has been precisely this supranational and transnational globalism that has produced the populist (and nationalist) reaction we're currently witnessing.
Mark Zuckerberg's manifesto is a megalomaniacal and authoritarian document written with the illusionary ink of good intentions. If such adolescents have no sense of their own ridiculousness, the world will be a little bit better if adults don't lose theirs.