In class on Monday, we entered a debate about how social media might shape our world into either a more egalitarian utopia or will continue to exacerbate the problems of our modern society. Reading through Chapters 3 and 4 of Howard Zinn’s history, I believe that American colonial society offers us an idea as to how we will shape the internet in the future. Like the internet, many Europeans viewed the “new” world as a chance to create a new society, free from the constraints of European norms. Indeed, the vastness of the continents lended itself nicely to this idea given the frequent fighting over land in Europe. For some, the new world offered a chance to create a society free of the extreme classism of Europe. Indeed, the new world originally did not have serfs or feudal lords; however, the system of indentured servitude, and eventually slavery, ended any hopes of a new, utopian society. The system did not offer servants any real, statistical chance of joining the land owning upper class. Instead, indentured servitude was designed to increase the wealth of already wealthy Europeans who had been sold land in America before others were given a chance. When these wealthy landowners mistreated their servants, justice was rarely served. Instead, the British government set up the House of Burgesses to arbitrate contract disputes between servants and landowners. Since the House was designed in Europe, many European qualities stained the institution. Likewise, when internet algorithms were designed to police the internet, many real, human stains were left in the programming. Thus, as it is impossible for an algorithm to go against its code, it became impossible for the House of Burgesses to promote equality in the new world. Instead, the first democratically elected body in America was designed to encourage class division.
Another interesting point from the reading was how the founding fathers, all of which were landowning elite, were able to divert the anger of the white lower class away from themselves and towards the English, dodging a cross-racial, class revolution in the process. For many poor white workers in colonial America, it was difficult to associate with the rich landowners like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. In fact, many despised the founding fathers more than the English. Thus, a logical step towards overthrowing the system of oppression in the new world would have been to join forces with enslaved African Americans and overthrow the elite. However, through unfair legal treatment and impassioned speeches (ie Patrick Henry), the founding fathers were able to unite white Americans against the British at the expense of African American slaves and indigenous communities. When reflecting on this today, we cannot ignore the fact that racism was a tactic used to garner support for the American revolution, deeply embedding it into our country’s political philosophy, in addition to our economics.