The False Promise of Enlightenment

Quinn Slobodian in Boston Review:

For Shoshana Zuboff, the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the status quo is nothing short of pre-apocalyptic. Her book may be the most perfect specimen yet of a genre—let’s call it the social-science horror-memoir—fated to expand. She folds subjective experiences of dread into projected scenarios of immiseration, collective disempowerment, and likely violence—an unavoidable conclusion except by treading a narrow path whose coordinates she concedes are hard to discern. David Wallace-Welles’s The Uninhabited Earth (2019) and Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright’s Climate Leviathan (2018) follows this model, as does David Runciman’s How Democracy Ends (2018).

In Zuboff’s case, the story begins literally with her family’s house burning down and her efforts to reconstruct a sense of home in its wake. The death of her husband, to whom the book is dedicated, as well as her German editor, Frank Schirrmacher, also cast an understandably long shadow. Her 688-page book is often less analysis than gut-wrenching scream—a sometimes moving, often exasperating, attempt at mourning what she sees as a passing relationship to our innermost selves.

She implores us to fight the “coup from above” being staged by Google and other tech giants. The book is self-conscious agitprop, designed to “rekindle the sense of outrage and loss over what is being taken from us.” It resonates with the ash-sifting moment around the end of World War II, and there are analogies to the highly personal political interventions of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944), B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two (1948), and Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Indeed, Zuboff likens herself freely to Arendt, plumbing the present to find the origins of a new threat which, like totalitarianism, is all-consuming but which takes the new forms of a “muted, sanitized tyranny.”

More here.