Blog post

"Business as usual?"—Paul Mason and the graduate without a future

Huw Lemmey21 February 2012

A young generation of digital natives are "revolting against...the processing of information", according to Paul Mason in a recent interview with New Scientist, and it is having global repercussions, shaking both tyrants and the world economy.

The revolts of the Arab Spring, as well as uprisings in Greece and angry protests against austerity across Europe, are different in their make-up from earlier political rebellions and revolutions, says Mason, and this is largely due to the technological developments which are allowing rapid communication and non-centralised organisational opportunities.

Mason recognises that the shift technological development has engendered is more than an organisational issue, however. It is also changing popular demands for the forms of organisation people want, and enabling self-organisation to help, for example, aid charities provide services more effectively, or build sustainable, tech-aware slums. Technology is leveling power and access to information simultaneously:

The reason that this horizontalism is such a prevalent ideology is because the technology and the expanded power of the individual allow you to create something in between: areas of autonomy, either in your personal life, online, or among a smaller community.

Reviewing Mason's new book in the New Statesman, George Eaton suspects that, whilst non-hierarchical decision-making processes may have taken off and launch groups like UK Uncut and Occupy into the lime-light, they are failing to produce any concrete results in terms of policy: 

It was the National Trust that forced the biggest U-turn of the coalition government's first year in office, over the attempted privatisation of forests.

Despite that, Eaton is thrilled by Mason's "compulsively vivid style" and the renewed upsurge in popular social movements it depicts:

After years in which the parameters of political debate narrowed, however, there is something thrilling about the chance to have such discussions again.

It's a position that Dan Hancox, writing in Frieze, picks up, with perhaps a little more enthusiasm:

This can be an optimistic moment. New definitions of democracy, and entire new political economies can be forged from the ashes of Lehman Brothers, and from the ashes of the London riots – shaped from the ground up.

Hancox draws on Paul Mason's conception of a "graduate with no future" being a common trope of protests from the UK to Egypt, arguing that such a generation is having it's political horizons shaped by being bought up in a "post-political" era, where hope for social change was cashed-in, in return for a promise of a gradual improvement in living standards over a lifetime. That promise is gone, Hancox says; "‘Business as usual' has created this proto-Utopian generation: because it will leave them worse off than their parents". Mason

...has argued that the primary catalyst connecting 2011's global crises and uprisings was exactly these people... What he might have gone on to say is that well-educated young people with no future are liable to create one for themselves - and perhaps, for everyone.

Visit the New Scientist to read the interview in full.

Visit the New Statesman to read George Eaton's review in full.

Visit Frieze to read Dan Hancox's article in full.

Filed under: articles, reviews