CLOSE

How many social media accounts do people actually have? You probably have more than you think.
Buzz60

We don’t know much about the spread of ideas, or what would constitute the equivalent of intellectual indoor plumbing. But civics and skepticism would be a good start.

Society seems to be growing steadily crazier. And maybe it doesn’t just seem to be. Maybe it actually, is growing crazier.

I’ve been reading James C. Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, and one of the interesting aspects to the earliest civilizations is how fragile they were. A bunch of people and their animals would crowd together in a city, and diseases that weren’t much of a threat when everybody was spread out hunting and gathering would suddenly spread like wildfire and depopulate the town almost overnight.

As Scott writes, an early city was more like a refugee resettlement camp than a modern urban area. He observes that “the pioneers who created this historically novel ecology could not possibly have known the disease vectors they were inadvertently unleashing.”

More: Hollywood, ESPN and other debacles: Why can’t our ruling class do its job?

More: ‘Front Row Kids’ and values have taken over our courts: Glenn Reynolds

Then I ran across this observation on Twitter: “The Internet is rewiring brains and social relations. Could it be producing a civilizational nervous breakdown?” And I saw another article noting that depression in teens skyrocketed between 2010 and 2015, as smartphones took over. It made me wonder if we’re in the same boat as the neolithic cities, only for what you might call viruses of the mind: Toxic ideas that spread like wildfire.

Hunters and gatherers were at far less risk for infectious disease because they didn’t encounter very many new people very often. Their exposure was low, and contact among such bands was sporadic enough that diseases couldn’t spread very fast.

It wasn’t until you crowded thousands, or tens of thousands of them, along with their animals, into small dense areas with poor sanitation that disease outbreaks took off.  Instead of meeting dozens of new people per year, an urban dweller probably encountered hundreds per day. Diseases that would have affected only a few people at a time as they…