The Decline of Consensus

January 27, 2021

America has always prided itself with its protection of free expression and its promotion of individualism, but that has come at a cost.

With the rise of social media, narratives are cheap, and consensus is nonexistent.

We have experienced a decline in consensus across the board, from agreement about good governance all the way to our understanding of the nature of reality.

This increase in narrative has empowered the voices of more people than ever across the globe, but this loss of consensus has destabilized our ability to function.

Society doesn't always need the best ideas to be successful, but it requires agreement to manage complexity. When we drive, it's far safer for everyone to agree on the same suboptimal traffic laws than to have some drivers follow the "best" rules and others follow an entirely different set.

However, too much consensus can be a bad thing. At the extreme, without individuality, we all would all live in The Lego Movie or the dystopia of your choice.

More realistically, consensus around the wrong narratives leads to dehumanization and oppression.

We need to preserve our voices and our narratives, but without some consensus, we risk failing to rise to the challenge of problems that can't be solved with narrative.

To deflect an asteroid headed towards Earth or a global pandemic, we need consensus.

The problem is nobody knows how much.


© 2020 Connor Daly