A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity

John Henry Clippinger’s new book A Crowd of One touches briefly on a series of fascinating new ideas, all leading to a single, old-fashioned premise: The only identity that matters to each of us comes from our reputations with the people around us. Humans are hard-wired to detect liars and freeloaders, he says—and peer pressure is superior to excessive coercion and distrust as the basis for a society. Although Clippinger sometimes over-generalizes from small scientific studies and historical events, his arguments are intriguing and generally convincing. Using examples from the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolutionary War, he suggests that positive change occurs through increased transparency and cooperation. His logical conclusion? Less Patriot Act, more Freedom of Information Act.