“Politics is falling apart”: Dazed and Confused talk to Paul Mason about memetics, dissent and a doomed heirarchy
Despite the scale of our current crisis, Paul Mason sees great hope in 2012, as he explains to Dazed and Confused. Talking with the magazine about his new book Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, Paul says that though we may see financial and political systems crashing around us, we're also seeing the end of an
age where you just accept humanity can’t control the economy and the planet it lives on. It can, but we won’t go back to the old way of state control. It’ll be people’s control and that is what's happening now.
The seeming lack of organisational alternatives isn't necessarily a result of disorganisation or a lack of commitment, but the by-product of a powerful streak of internet-induced anti-authoritarianism. Speeded-up communications trigger faster, enhanced information sharing and learning processes, where “the form of a student occupation changes every year” due to the feedback loop inherent in these new networks. Paul understands that the political influence of the internet isn't simply in organisational and communicative forms (the simplistic narrative of the “Facebook Revolution”), but also in its radical content, from the “rough and ready democracy” of memes to the powerful drive for autonomy in digital nativism:
...the more committed someone is to what you might call autonomy and freedom, the more they use the internet. But over time, this is the observation, the more they use the internet, the more committed to autonomous and free lifestyles they become. Now, that is a phenomenal discovery!
The idea of the personal freedom might be a core value of digital natives from the earliest days, finding political expression in everything from open-source technology to internet sovereignty campaigns, but today both online ideologies and technologies are having major offline repercussions:
Why didn’t Mubarak in Egypt implement a fascist style of dictatorship? Because he couldn’t. For two or three years before the Egyptian Revolution, on Facebook 70,000 people were all liking a technically illegal page, putting their real name. That means the dictatorship can’t handle the networked form of protest.
That's not to say we're on the breakout of a better world. Paul's economic forecast is stormy, with a potential domino effect of financial and political collapse in Europe on the horizon, and globalisation leaving the world economically imbalanced and socially unjust. But the spirit of the age is on the side of dissent and revolution, a young and angry drive to pull down the dead systems built for the old world with the technological tools of the new:
There is an unprecedented outbreak of the desire for freedom and the means to achieve it, and the network is beating the hierarchy every time the two go together.
Read the full interview on Dazed Digital. Paul also featured on BBC2's Jeremy Vine Show, talking with the presenter about capitalism and the financial crisis. UK readers can listen again on the BBC iPlayer.