Usually, grand geopolitical scares are a little overblown. The fact is that America's powerful economic, cultural, and political advantages have proven to be more than enough to prevent darkness from sweeping over the globe.

Until, maybe, now.

Simply put, we are in danger of "losing" the internet to a hostile vision of security and control. The problem goes way beyond our comparatively petty squabbles over matters like Hillary Clinton's email scandal, the scope of so-called Net Neutrality, or even the omnivorous omnipotence of the NSA. Even at our alleged worst, even when some of us flout the Constitution in creepy or bloody ways, we are not fighting against freedom, a point often lost in the shuffle of political accusations and recriminations.

Yet, meanwhile, governments opposed to liberty as a matter of principle are tightening their grip on billions of people by twisting the internet into an arm of the state.

It's not as if we don't know this. We're well aware, in a superficial sense, of just how unfree the internet can be around the world, from Pyongyang to St. Petersburg. And we know that China treats online activity the way it treats market commerce — as a kind of fire that can be wielded to make advancements, but that holds inherent dangers one must always control from above.

But with an all-too-American combination of arrogance and innocence, we just refuse to take seriously the concerted efforts of a rainbow coalition of despots to tyrannize the internet. Together with the so-called 'Stans of Central Asia, China and Russia recently submitted to the U.N. General Assembly a detailed update to the world's "international code of conduct for information security." Despite using language calibrated to flatter the feelings of Western multilateralists, the document makes its aims clear: "All states must play the same role in, and carry equal responsibility for, international governance of the internet." Translation: persecution, censorship, surveillance, and media dependency, all under the aegis of international law.

As we know too well, it's not as if there aren't "good reasons" for cracking down on this or that efflorescence of internet scum. As we too rarely understand, around the world, the scum is increasingly seen to include people like us.

Worse, autocratic plans for the internet don't stop at the autocracies' edge. Two of the world's biggest democracies — Pakistan and India — are both in the midst of advancing extraordinarily oppressive internet regulations.

In an ostensible effort to curb terrorism and the illegal trade in SIM cards, Pakistan announced the astonishing measure of shutting off cell service for any user who refused or failed to submit biometric information that could verify their identity. However well-intentioned in the minds of some, this level of wholesale and permanent identity-harvesting amounts to the crossing of a historical Rubicon. It will not stop with anti-terror or anti-piracy measures; it will not stop with Pakistan; it will not stop with Asia.

Meanwhile, in India, as CNN reported, cyberlaw imposes years of jail time for posting content online that's "grossly offensive," "menacing," or even creates an "annoyance or inconvenience." Through "intermediary guidelines" targeting platforms from Google to Facebook, India bans the existence of not only "defamatory" but "blasphemous" or merely "disparaging" information.

The spread of the illiberal internet into the democratic world dramatically underscores that online freedom is under global attack from two directions. Not only is security of the body used as a rationale to foreclose liberty; security of the psyche, the heart, and the soul are as well. The measures used to enforce such total security are not at all restricted to the logic of speech restrictions that the West developed in such close contiguity with the rule of law. They are not only divorced completely from the West's secular conceptual framework of reasonableness; they are also unhinged from the West's religious conceptual framework of forbearance.

As such, they present Americans, and all humans, with a true catastrophe. It is not the end of the world, of course, if some people wind up doomed to live more narrowed, confined lives than others. But the global undoing of freedom online actually constitutes a geostrategic challenge to the U.S. that Americans almost certainly lack the will and the resources to combat, reverse, and defeat. Not only is there no popular movement to use federal power to "take back the internet" across the planet. There is no popular capability to crowd-source that level of undertaking. Instead, there is a vague, stupid, nervous sense that we are somehow inured to the transformation of digital life into an environment deeply alien and inimical to the civilization that produced our own.

Humanity faces the daunting prospect of a colossal, epochal break — the ideological severance of the cyberworld from the physical world, the better to use the former to reshape the latter in a universal image of servility or worse.

Americans complain about their tech titans, whose proudly flaunted wealth seems so unfairly unearned. The reality is, they are becoming the only people who can save us from an internet worse than no internet at all.