Paul Mason's book, Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, ought to be required reading for anyone interested in the recent social movements that have been agitating for democracy around the globe. I made this clear in an earlier post. The book has had a generally favorable reception, and unless you're in the middle of one of these movements, I think Mason will give you a lot to think about as we face our rapidly unfolding future, or futures—if you buy the technological multi-faceted horizon that our exploding social media are busily preparing for us.
The book has been gently chastised, however, for dropping the names of serious people—Jameson, Zizek—whose high purpose doesn't quite make it into Mason's prose. Maybe.
But I don't really care what Jameson might think about Mohamed Bouazizi, for example, the Tunisian who set himself on fire and ignited the Arab Spring. There are, I realize, explainable economic reasons why Bouazizi was making $140 a month, and why he was trying to support his sister's college career with those minimal wages. The ideological analysis, however, amounts to an asbestos shield against the man's flaming sacrifice, and while our economic and political theorists will weigh in with their abstractions, these abstractions have none of the power that social media brought to Bouazizi's action. In fact, it turns out that there are segments of the human psyche on display in Tunisia that theory can't touch, and the attempt to understand it theoretically always arrives too late, often devours the event within its own conceptual apparatus, and most likely disgraces the essential and informing spirit that might otherwise define a compassionate citizenry. Mason has resisted the theorizing that will inevitably arrive later, after things settle down, when theory is once again possible. He ought to be congratulated for that.
After all, theory can't exist in the moment, particularly the social-media moment, because theory requires stable phenomena that support extended analysis. As Mason points out, many of the occupiers and protesters resist ideology of any sort and move in a kind of serendipitous way from commitment to retreat to apathy to employment to attack, and all of these forms manifest over a matter of weeks. A moving target.
Does this signal a lack of commitment? Naivete? Immaturity? Ignorance? Who cares? Theoretical analysis is a form of intellectual targeting, and in this case, to get out of the line of fire, the protestors, either driven by the roulette wheel of Tweeted realities or by a loose concern for managing and publicizing social chaos, have withdrawn themselves from the theoretician's view.
Good for them. Mason's book captures this perspective accurately, and for that alone, ought to be praised.