Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere
SOAS, London University, 10th January, 2013
The digital communications revolution is having a profound impact on the world.
[NB Clay Shirky - Here Comes Everybody]
In the four years since 2008 the iPhone and its Android equivalents have conquered the world. And in every student's garret there is now a wireless laptop.
There is now a sense of empowerment through connections based on trust. The trust comes from various signifiers embedded in various forms of communications and "cultural signals".
Governments and political establishments are no longer invulnerable. We all have the ability to attack their spin, lies and propaganda.
"The Counterculture of Protest" - Manuel Castells - Networks of Outrage and Hope.
Whole populations are now "tasting freedom", enjoying the safety of cyberspace and also occupying urban spaces.
A combination of technology and economic literacy is creating a new zeitgeist. The spirit of the age is scornful of hierarchy, "discipline", "targets" and other management-speak terminology.
There is a sense of solidarity towards a kinder, more human system.
However - we can see the danger of failing to go beyond political gestures, and failing to deal with repression. There is a feeling of disorientation, and not knowing what will happen next.
It seems "indignatos" are more motivated by the need to fight fascism than they are by the need to fight poverty.
Hierarchical working class organisations have had their heyday and are in steep decline. Modern work forces us to live multiple lives, adopting multiple personalities.
Social networking skills are extremely valuable. See: Richard Sennett - The Culture of the New Capitalism.
There is collective disillusionment. These new movements are not trying to take power, as such. They have learned that power, when monopolised, is 'evil'.
There's a quest for an alternative, more civilised, more self-controlled space within capitalism. "The Way" is everything.
There is no such thing any more as "normal life". "Non-market" alternative lifestyles - previously adopted by deliberate drop-outs - are being forced on "workers".
Another factor driving change is a psychological shift towards a quest for personal liberation - in order to become "a new kind of human being". People now want freedom, informality, beauty, lack of inhibition, etc. The Internet has become a kind of "social laboratory of the self" and a "collective mental arena". This gives rise to the formation of diverse communities. There are many attempts to create utopian communities.
The political parties can't accept that the hierarchical era is over. They are completely out of touch.
These new citizens see themselves as Autonomists, not Anarchists.
By a bizarre coincidence yesterday's blog post was published an hour before I noticed a tweet from Paul Mason giving a link to the cover article in today's Guardian G2. The above notes were also written up during the day yesterday, just before the G2 piece was about to go online.
Please take some time to read the G2 article:
From Arab Spring to global revolution
In an excerpt from his book Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere, Paul Mason argues that a global protest movement, based on social networks, is here to stay
Something real and important was unleashed in 2011, and it has not yet gone away. I am confident enough now to call it a revolution.
There is a change in consciousness, the intuition that something big is possible; that a great change in the world's priorities is within people's grasp. The impervious nature of official politics – its inability to swerve even slightly towards the critique of capitalism intuitively felt by millions of people – has deepened the sense of alienation and mistrust.
Social media have grown more complex. Slowly, quietly, the mainstream media have become, for many involved in activism, politics and journalism itself, a secondary source of information, while social networks have become the primary source. This, in turn, speaks to the emergence of an undeclared dual power between the world of ideas and the world of official politics.
If I could list only one and not 20 reasons why it is still kicking off, it would be the rise of the networked individual colliding with the economic crisis. Something fundamental has happened – a shift in human consciousness and behaviour as momentous as that triggered by the arrival of mass consumption and mass culture in the 1900s.
The change, as sociologist Manuel Castells argues, is one-off and irreversible, like electrification, and it will condition all politics going forward. So the challenge for traditional politics, right and left, religious and secular, is, as Castells argues, that the networked social movements actually reflect the reality of "everyday" or "normal" life better than the old hierarchical forms.