28 Mar 2012 | Paul Mason - Why it's kicking off everywhere
Very interesting, to a large extent because the book gives a very close-to-the-ground retelling of the revolutions, or attempted revolutions, that happened over the past year or so, Mason also attempts to provide plausible reasoning for why, indeed, it's all kicking off now.
Mason claims that the are three reasons for this:
+ The demographics of the revolt.
+ The technology
+ Human behavior.
Though a bit vague at times, Mason does go on to describe a few identifiers that have recently come to a head.
The graduate with no future, implying disproportionately high youth unemployment rates, fosters frustration with the system in the younger generation. To illustrate, Mason eye-openingly quotes the sociologist Richard Sennett, describing a workplace I very much recognize, though I myself refuse to fit in such a world:
For employers, the ideal product of school and university is a person with weak institutional loyalty, low levels of informal trust and high levels of anxiety about their own competence, leading to a constant willingness to reinvent themselves in a changing labour market. To survive in this world of zero tolerance, people need high self-reliance, which comes with a considerable sense of individual entitlement and little aptitude for permanent bonding. Flexibility being more important than knowledge, they are valued for the ability to discard acquired skills and learn new ones.
This highly connected workforce, very much based in the global city, has become collectively disillusioned over their own future not being as good as their parents, resulting in a fertile ground for a youth-led, city-based revolt.
Also, because of globalization, there actually *is* a fairly homogenousyoung, global, social class, each, in whichever country, more easily identifying with the same class in other countries.
Then, because the world has never been as educated as it is now, this disillusion amongst students and graduates spreads more easily to the working classes and working urban poor, simply because these students take their frustration home.
Then there's the network effect of the technologies used to mobilize, organize and communicate. In my opinion, Mason puts a tad too much trust in the infallibility of the networked world, claiming that the truth is faster than the lie. True, the value of technology, and it's wide acceptance is undeniable, but even though, in the long run, truth, in a networked world, probably would prevail, lies and propaganda only need to survive long enough to have enough of a disruptive effect.
These networked technologies spilling over into real life, they've created a networked society, which, by design, was perfectly positioned to disrupt more archaic, hierarchical systems.
However, Mason mostly glosses over something else, even though he does briefly mention it. All these popular uprisings from the last few years fail in not being able to provide an alternative to the world they are rising up against. In Mason's words, they do not seek to smash the system, they are looking for a place within the system.
Then, the networked nature of these revolts and the huge diversity of those involved surely can only contain the seeds of their own demise. The world is simply too diverse, not just from country to country, but within individual communities, first to allow for everyone to thrive well enough within the networked structure so typical of these uprisings, second, for a society to function in such a manner, that is, without an alternative model for how to run the world; a factory can not be run by a collective, the essential structure within these protests, it needs to be run by a hierarchy. If the networked world is willing to give up the fruits of industry's last 200 years, only then can this networked world be an option.
Case in point is Mason's description of the Greek revolt. Citing institutional fraud and tax evasion as a major driver for dissent, within one paragraph he mentions doctors claiming to earn 30000 USD a year, while driving 30000 USD cars and healthcare staff demonstrating against the government's austerity measures. Sorry? What are these people really demonstrating against? Their own historical fraud, perhaps?
So, I suggest, these revolutions from the last few years are, by design, doomed to fail, to the extent they might result in better circumstances for most of those involved, particularly in previously suppressive countries, but they can not provide an ideological alternative to the de-facto post-communism implementation of society, the capitalist democracy. Against which these revolutions in the west are revolting in the first place.
Mason does also provide an economic basis for these revolutions. Besides the somewhat banal monopolization of wealth with the global elite, the driver, Mason claims, was primarily globalization itself. With the introduction of some 1.5 billion laborers on the global marketplace, with the rise of China and the collapse of the soviet bloc unleashing it's people on the world's stage, the amount of available global capital had to be redistributed amongst roughly twice the working population. At first, this was offset, in the developed world, by allowing for higher credit levels, higher credit card expenditures, funded by the extreme overvaluation of the housing market, until house prices peaked with the effective saturation of that market.
Then, when Lehman brothers went bust and the house of cards came tumbling down, it was only the strongest governments or transnational institutions, that is, those that were willing and able to eat the losses, that could withstand the onslaught. However, the majority crippled by their huge exposure, could not.
One symptom, the US's printing of over 2 trillion dollars, quantitative easing, with the aim of reducing the value of the dollar on the international markets, trying to make America a destination for more foreign investment, also had as a direct result higher inflation, most of which was offloaded to developing economies, often tied to the dollar through global exports and not being able to effectively deploy any long term economic policies to avoid this inflation by association.
Then, with the resulting steep price increase of basic foodstuffs, living on a few dollars a day, combined with high youth unemployment and no prospect of a future increase in the quality of life, indeed set the stage for unrest on a global scale.
But it can get worse. The monetary stimulus becoming currency manipulation, the possibility looms of trade wars and, eventually global debt defaults resulting in individualistic economic blocks, the end of globalism and, i suggest, the start of a new dark ages.
Indeed, the only eventual possible cushioning can come from China, emerging as the next global superpower, willing to accept the debt of the rest of the world to, slowly slowly, release the debt over decades to come and, with that, ease the economic collapse of the capitalist democracies that now are losing their economic dominance.
Or not. Mason seems to believe in the emergence of the collective of connected individuals who, from within the capitalist system, destroy the corporate control of society on the basis of free access to information. Interesting, sure, but this connected individual, without a grand plan and only interested in being part of collectives he choses himself can simply not be the basis of any new world order. Unless it is one, I'd say, that is even more unequal than the one that's left behind. One, where not access to money matters, and where the state no longer provides support for the needy, but where authority and status is derived from whether you have enough Twitter followers.
But, with Mason drawing parallels with the European revolutions around the 1850s, the period before 1914 in the US called the Great Unrest and the revolts of the late 1960, it seems to me that a more likely outcome for the near future is a full scale war. With the worlds transnational elitist institutions being more threatened than ever, and having more to lose, no Crimean war, American civil war or first world war will be enough to stem the tide of change. The world needs to burn to save the ultracapitalists' status.
Trying to end on a more positive note, Mason relates his experiences visiting some slums in Manilla. Somewhat interesting, but really only as a sidebar to the core of the book, which makes it feel like his publisher,not he himself, thought it necessary to tag on a few extra pages to warrant the full price.
Here, Mason argues that the worlds slums, a far cry from Charles Dickens or George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, now not only see much more solidarity and, through their connectedness are an integral part of the global community, they are also essential to the global economy. Undercutting the local regular workforce, it's the slum dwellers who keep local economies afloat. And, as a result, Mason argues, one part of the question is not how to eradicate slums, but how to improve the existence of those living in them.
After obtaining an M. Sc in maths, Babak Fakhamzadeh started with an office job at a major blue chip company but soon realised he'd do better on his own. Babak is a traveling web guru with a penchant for doing good and a love for visual and experimental art. Together with Eduardo Cachucho, he won the World Summit Award in the m-Tourism and Culture category in 2012 for Dérive app. With Ismail Farouk, he won the Highway Africa new media award in 2007 for Soweto Uprisings . com. Check out Babak's CV.