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The Information Revolution and the Pacification of the World

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journal contribution
posted on 01.09.2016, 21:21 by Justin Murphy
Paper given at the 2016 meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Philadephia. A previous version was given at the 2016 meeting of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) in Brussels.

Despite relatively widespread revolutionary opposition to capitalism around the world in the 1960s, by the early 1990s this opposition will be remarkably pacified. Given the conventional wisdom from political science that patterns of ideology and behavior are relatively durable, these dynamics are a surprisingly under-discussed puzzle. I argue that a long-standing tradition of critical theory points to a novel and empirically tractable explanation of this puzzle. I first show that a line of thinkers ranging from Weber, to Heidegger, to the Frankfurt School theorists shared an implicit causal model in which modern technological advancements increase the prevalence of instrumental rationality, which in turn increases the tendency of human beings to think and behave as if human beings are objects. After extracting this implicit causal model from primary texts, I theorize that the information revolution functioned as an ethically-biased technological change that tended to increase instrumentally rational attitudes and cooperative within-system behaviors, relative to substantively rational attitudes and militant, anti-systemic behaviors. To operationalize and test the theory, I hypothesize that the spread of information-communication technology within a country will be associated with decreased anti-systemic protest behavior (e.g., rioting and guerrilla warfare) relative to within-system protest behavior (such as peaceful demonstrations and strikes). Using data for all available country-years between 1945 and 2013, I find support for the theory using a combination of statistical methods and a quantitatively optimized, qualitative comparison (Haiti and Bolivia in the 1980s). The findings provide novel empirical support for a long-standing but neglected hypothesis from critical theory, with important implications for empirical social scientists and critical theorists alike.