If you're like me, and you don't work for the BBC or live in Cairo, you might have missed Paul Mason's important blog posting over a year ago, "Twenty Reasons Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere." The "it" he refers to in the title are the democratic movements that have been sequentially kicking off throughout the Middle East, as well as the "occupy" movements that have popped up around the globe. Mason has recently published a book on the subject that provides the back-stories for the twenty reasons he cites in his blog. The book is called Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions, and it's a necessary narrative of these movements, the personalities that drive them, and the social media that facilitate them. Mason's a wonderful writer; he's a field journalist, and his prose bristles with the pressures of living in the field.
As I was reading the book—which I'd recommend everyone do—I made some notes that ultimately pertain to what's happening in Tibet. Think China, think economic power, think oppression, and how it can be dissipated.
- Free-market capitalism has gone South, and whenever it decides to return, it will do so badly damaged. Few people trust it to solve our problems, even those who have profited most by its excesses. The moment capitalism proves itself an unreliable system for acquiring more profit, the profit-makers will leave it behind.
- The alliance between the emerging social technologies and the push for self-determination is not exaggerated. The alliance is real, it's working, and it's undisciplined, so it has problems of implementation that lead to surprising, or unplanned, results. This is why it seems, at times, chaotic. But for those who are in the midst of the movement, the so-called chaos has a revisionary energy to it. Regimes topple because the created chaos makes for a moving target of revolutionary bodies. Regimes appear orderly in this model, and oppressive. And they lose.
- While self-determination and freedom, at least since Thom Paine's Rights of Man (1791), are regarded as natural human rights, the new social technology extends the dream of freedom and self-determination to populations that might previously have found that dream unattainable, unthinkable, or inconceivable. The technology, in a very real sense, has become for political activists the Liberty-Making Dream Machine.
- Old folks, like me, think it's all about "the internet" because we've never gotten over the fact that we can read Tolstoy online, and because our eyes still sparkle when we think about the days before email. To the young people who are currently challenging these oppressive regimes, the internet is nothing more than a cup of coffee: always useful, almost always around, but always unreliable, because it doesn't do what a macchiato will do—focus, drive, and sustain at a very high bit rate. For political change nowadays, you avoid the firewall by jumping over the firewall with texts, street art, graffiti, memes, music-sharing, and constant movement across the spectrum of expression available to the newly operative, political agents of change. A t-shirt with the right graphic, camera-phoned and messaged across north Africa, does more to promote social change and political reform than any sponsored bill in any deliberative house of duly elected officials. "Due process" is now a mystifying phrase that in the current milieu has been relegated to a big, dusty dictionary that no one reads.
- Knowledge is no longer a vertical proposition (except in universities) where you begin on the ground floor and work your way gradually upward through increasing complexities and an expanding network of relevance. So authority no longer resides at the top, where in the penthouse are gathered those who have survived the trials and tribulations of traditional learning. Authority belongs now to those who most effectively use this text, or that song, or this picture, or that graphic to effect this change. Period. The knowledge base now has been levelled—it's a horizontal affair, and its relevance is judged by the changes it effects. If you decide to make the world a better place, most of what you want to read, hear, or see to bring about that betterment is readily available to you without being examined, tested, or credentialed. Here's the kicker: to a certain degree, this has always been the case (I'm thinking now about how many writers I love that avoided the American educational gauntlet . . . like, all of them?), but social media encourages visionary renovators to bypass the indoctrination of a standardized American university-think education. This is a good thing. And we have the new media to thank for it. So the old road is rapidly aging. And if you're old like me you know the rest of the lyric.