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Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere

Paul Mason | 19:07 UK time, Saturday, 5 February 2011

We've had revolution in Tunisia, Egypt's Mubarak is teetering; in Yemen, Jordan and Syria suddenly protests have appeared. In Ireland young techno-savvy professionals are agitating for a "Second Republic"; in France the youth from banlieues battled police on the streets to defend the retirement rights of 60-year olds; in Greece striking and rioting have become a national pastime. And in Britain we've had riots and student occupations that changed the political mood.

What's going on? What's the wider social dynamic?

My editors yesterday asked me put some bullet points down for a discussion on the programme that then didn't happen but I am throwing them into the mix here, on the basis of various conversations with academics who study this and also the participants themselves.

At the heart of it all are young people, obviously; students; westernised; secularised. They use social media - as the mainstream media has now woken up to - but this obsession with reporting "they use twitter" is missing the point of what they use it for.

In so far as there are common threads to be found in these different situation, here's 20 things I have spotted:

1. At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future

2. ...with access to social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and eg Yfrog so they can express themselves in a variety of situations ranging from parliamentary democracy to tyrrany.

3. Therefore truth moves faster than lies, and propaganda becomes flammable.

4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc... in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected.

5. Women very numerous as the backbone of movements. After twenty years of modernised labour markets and higher-education access the "archetypal" protest leader, organizer, facilitator, spokesperson now is an educated young woman.

6. Horizontalism has become endemic because technology makes it easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas before - and the quintessential experience of the 20th century - was the killing of dissent within movements, the channeling of movements and their bureaucratisaton.

7. Memes: "A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures." (Wikipedia) - so what happens is that ideas arise, are very quickly "market tested" and either take off, bubble under, insinuate themselves or if they are deemed no good they disappear. Ideas self-replicate like genes. Prior to the internet this theory (see Richard Dawkins, 1976) seemed an over-statement but you can now clearly trace the evolution of memes.

8. They all seem to know each other: not only is the network more powerful than the hierarchy - but the ad-hoc network has become easier to form. So if you "follow" somebody from the UCL occupation on Twitter, as I have done, you can easily run into a radical blogger from Egypt, or a lecturer in peaceful resistance in California who mainly does work on Burma so then there are the Burmese tweets to follow. During the early 20th century people would ride hanging on the undersides of train carriages across borders just to make links like these.

9. The specifics of economic failure: the rise of mass access to university-level education is a given. Maybe soon even 50% in higher education will be not enough. In most of the world this is being funded by personal indebtedess - so people are making a rational judgement to go into debt so they will be better paid later. However the prospect of ten years of fiscal retrenchment in some countries means they now know they will be poorer than their parents. And the effect has been like throwing a light switch; the prosperity story is replaced with the doom story, even if for individuals reality will be more complex, and not as bad as they expect.

10.This evaporation of a promise is compounded in the more repressive societies and emerging markets because - even where you get rapid economic growth - it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.

11.To amplify: I can't find the quote but one of the historians of the French Revolution of 1789 wrote that it was not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers. You can have political/economic setups that disappoint the poor for generations - but if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection.

12.The weakness of organised labour means there's a changed relationship between the radicalized middle class, the poor and the organised workforce. The world looks more like 19th century Paris - heavy predomination of the "progressive" intelligentsia, intermixing with the slum-dwellers at numerous social interfaces (cabarets in the 19C, raves now); huge social fear of the excluded poor but also many rags to riches stories celebrated in the media (Fifty Cent etc); meanwhile the solidaristic culture and respectability of organized labour is still there but, as in Egypt, they find themselves a "stage army" to be marched on and off the scene of history.

13.This leads to a loss of fear among the young radicals of any movement: they can pick and choose; there is no confrontation they can't retreat from. They can "have a day off" from protesting, occupying: whereas twith he old working-class based movements, their place in the ranks of battle was determined and they couldn't retreat once things started. You couldn't "have a day off" from the miners' strike if you lived in a pit village.

14.In addition to a day off, you can "mix and match": I have met people who do community organizing one day, and the next are on a flotilla to Gaza; then they pop up working for a think tank on sustainable energy; then they're writing a book about something completely different. I was astonished to find people I had interviewed inside the UCL occupation blogging from Tahrir Square this week.

15. People just know more than they used to. Dictatorships rely not just on the suppression of news but on the suppression of narratives and truth. More or less everything you need to know to make sense of the world is available as freely downloadable content on the internet: and it's not pre-digested for you by your teachers, parents, priests, imams. For example there are huge numbers of facts available to me now about the subjects I studied at university that were not known when I was there in the 1980s. Then whole academic terms would be spent disputing basic facts, or trying to research them. Now that is still true but the plane of reasoning can be more complex because people have an instant reference source for the undisputed premises of arguments. It's as if physics has been replaced by quantum physics, but in every discipline.

16.There is no Cold War, and the War on Terror is not as effective as the Cold War was in solidifying elites against change. Egypt is proving to be a worked example of this: though it is highly likely things will spiral out of control, post Mubarak - as in all the colour revolutons - the dire warnings of the US right that this will lead to Islamism are a "meme" that has not taken off. In fact you could make an interesting study of how the meme starts, blossoms and fades away over the space of 12 days. To be clear: I am not saying they are wrong - only that the fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt has not been strong enough to swing the US presidency or the media behind Mubarak.

17. It is - with international pressure and some powerful NGOs - possible to bring down a repressive government without having to spend years in the jungle as a guerilla, or years in the urban underground: instead the oppositional youth - both in the west in repressive regimes like Tunisia/Egypt, and above all in China - live in a virtual undergrowth online and through digital comms networks. The internet is not key here - it is for example the things people swap by text message, the music they swap with each other etc: the hidden meanings in graffiti, street art etc which those in authority fail to spot.

18. People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various "revolutions" in their own lives as part of an "exodus" from oppression, not - as previous generations did - as a "diversion into the personal". While Foucault could tell Gilles Deleuze: "We had to wait until the nineteenth century before we began to understand the nature of exploitation, and to this day, we have yet to fully comprehend the nature of power",- that's probably changed.

19. As the algebraic sum of all these factors it feels like the protest "meme" that is sweeping the world - if that premise is indeed true - is profoundly less radical on economics than the one that swept the world in the 1910s and 1920s; they don't seek a total overturn: they seek a moderation of excesses. However on politics the common theme is the dissolution of centralized power and the demand for "autonomy" and personal freedom in addition to formal democracy and an end to corrupt, family based power-elites.

20. Technology has - in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera - expanded the space and power of the individual.

Some complications....

a) all of the above are generalisations: and have to be read as such.

b) are these methods replicable by their opponents? Clearly up to a point they are. So the assumption in the global progressive movement that their values are aligned with that of the networked world may be wrong. Also we have yet to see what happens to all this social networking if a state ever seriously pulls the plug on the technology: switches the mobile network off, censors the internet, cyber-attacks the protesters.

c) China is the laboratory here, where the Internet Police are paid to go online and foment pro-government "memes" to counteract the oppositional ones. The Egyptian leftist blogger says on his website that : "in a dictatorship, independent journalism by default becomes a form of activism, and the spread of information is essentially an act of agitation." But independent journalism is suppressed in many parts of the world.

d) what happens to this new, fluffy global zeitgeist when it runs up against the old-style hierarchical dictatorship in a death match, where the latter has about 300 Abrams tanks? We may be about to find out.

e) - and this one is troubling for mainstream politics: are we creating a complete disconnect between the values and language of the state and those of the educated young? Egypt is a classic example - if you hear the NDP officials there is a time-warped aspect to their language compared to that of young doctors and lawyers on the Square. But there are also examples in the UK: much of the political discourse - on both sides of the House of Commons - is treated by many young people as a barely intelligible "noise" - and this goes wider than just the protesters.

(For example: I'm finding it common among non-politicos these days that whenever you mention the "Big Society" there's a shrug and a suppressed laugh - yet if you move into the warren of thinktanks around Westminster, it's treated deadly seriously. Dissing the Big Society has quickly become a "meme" that crosses political tribal boundaries under the Coalition, yet most professional politicians are deaf to "memes" as the youth are to the contents of Hansard.)

That's it - as I say, these are just my thoughts on it all and not researched other than through experience: there are probably whole PhD theses about some of this so feel free to hit the comments.

Likewise if you think it is all balderdash, and if you are over 40 you may, vent your analog-era spleen below.


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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    In answer to your question, I feel that you're spot on with your analysis.

    The only thing that doesn't quite resonate with me is that I am 40-ish, and I feel that I more readily identify with your characterisation of the young - rejecting of hermetic ideologies, and extremely suspicious of entrenched and fraudulent power hierarchies; I also came to your article via Twitter.

  • Comment number 3.

    mostly true. to say "we" have no ideology is a bit harsh. i am 43 years old. i have been a revolutionary all my life. i could see this hapenning a long time ago. the establishment is too slow to adapt."the people are ,to misquote napoleon, three hot meals(or beds , or tweets, or jobs, or endless loans)away from revolution". this is the future. that is why i prescribe to an ideology of conscientious anarchy. it takes a bit of thought, a lot of self discipline, a lot of trust.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think you make some excellent points but as a technically literate and very connected 57 year old I resent your generalisation that I think in pre-internet terms.

  • Comment number 5.

    This is a thought provoking piece. At the heart of this emerging debate (and actions) is a clash of three incompatible forces; 1. The available levers of State Control 2. The lives (informed) people wish to live, whether material, spiritual or societal. 3. New, organic forms of communication and information dissemination. Chinese controllers will be watching with some interest.
    And if you want a UK version google Police Kettling and Sukey.

  • Comment number 6.

    Stimulating stuff - There is something in the Big Society Idea. Maybe Implicit in the words are- we now have to cast off some of our decadence and start to think again meaning, work out the meaning(of the Big Society) ourselves by personal research, reading, effort watching BBC4 (BBC2 BBC1 BBC3) and listen to radio 4 Follow people like Paul Mason Andrew Neil Robert Peston, Michael Crick- its takes alot of effort starting now.
    My take on the big Society is simply as follows - Design yourself as a good useful citizen Parent and do the best you can every day with all the people you interact with. The recent Justice series on BBC4 is a good start Aristotle John Bentham Enamuel Kant also Jesus Ghandi and Benjamin Franklin all have approaches to offer - based Humility. Education is still free we can all read the WWW books (formal education Training) not so free -free if you don't get a well paid job - there is plenty of work around - just not as much work gets a wage or decent wage - there are problems - and I think people are sick of prejudice (extinct political class warfare) and dishonesty (expenses scandal overpaid anybody - without understanding what he/she is pais so much) - and silly sound bites - If its true who is Nick Clegg to say; who can afford what - its a ramble BUT that is what is happening now

  • Comment number 7.

    So we could all be heading for an internet-fuelled, horizontalist uprising against the current power elite, whose attempts at damping down the fires will fail because their memes won't fly?
    It's possible... Look how the current, Conservative-led government's attempted "suppression of narratives and truth" fell on its ass on Question Time last Thursday, when Damian Green's attempt to reiterate the claim that Labour overspending caused the deficit was rubbished beyond redemption by the economist Noreena Hertz. That's one meme that isn't going to fly! And the fact that our, British, government is trying to suppress the truth will count strongly against it during the coming months, I'm sure!
    The question of what happens in the event of cyber-attacks or real attacks with tanks is pressing. I would suggest that the 'revolution' would then go underground as much as possible and attempt to absorb those who are trying to repress it. Look at the Egyptian policeman who was filming attacking his own uniform for an example of this succeeding.
    And the real question, the one lurking behind all this speculation, is: What do we end up with at the end of all this?

  • Comment number 8.

    Paul, I feel in point 11 you nailed it. It's not the downtrodden masses that cause revolutions; it's the educated but unemployed middle classes. The culture of entitlement among the middle classes in Britain today is what will do for this Tory government. Many in this large middle class are in favour of TheCutsTheCuts(tm) - so long as they hit that smelly lot over there. But when it comes home to *them* - and we are seeing some of this already in the threats to the forests and libraries - they get mad as hell.

    The dirty little secret is that the welfare state has always benefited the middle classes far more than the downtrodden poor. The aspirational class that can't afford private education nor health, ie most of them, will not take kindly to having decent public services yanked away from them in order to shore up the wealth of the very richest. Nor will those working several jobs and very long hours heed the cry to volunteer to run these services instead. There is no such thing as the Big Society.

    The Tory government - and please, let's stop calling it anything else - is going to get quite a nasty shock when its own kind turn on it. Perhaps if more of them had been drawn from this vast army of aspirational middle classes instead of a millionaire's elite, it wouldn't be such a shock?

  • Comment number 9.

    ..the graduate with no future..

    .someone else has to provide graduates with futures? if people accept the wage slave/debt model then they are not that smart then?

    ..People just know more than they used to..

    one would hope so. with the best lectures from the best professors online anyone can get an ivy league/top ten uk level education [with no debt] and socialise with others doing the same thing via social media. this will create new power networks outside the old limited self perpetuating cliques.

    people can play their own role games rather than those of their parents and 'power up' with expertise that suits them. like a big game of World of Warcraft or whatever.

    Did the 1960s really result in a world of peace and love? Maybe this is a similar time now when a general movement is happening but in the end things will fall into the usual 'sellouts'? The 1960s produced a lot of hippy materialists?

    There is the power for mass hypnosis as in the climate change scams. A whole generation have been brainwashed into thinking taxation 'changes climate'. If there was no climate change the uk would be still under glaciers.

    money is still power. everyone has a price? Stalin would still ask 'how many tank divisions do the twitterati have'?

  • Comment number 10.

    I should add that, like Scott Lowe, I am also over 40, identify strongly with Mr Mason's characterisation of the young, and I, too, came to the article via Twitter.

  • Comment number 11.

    Not only the younger generation. As a tech savvy 61 year old, who is very disgruntled with the status quo, I have mostly given up on the mainstream media to impart meaningful representation of what's really happening at the coal face. I now collect "Memes" from a plethora of sources on the Internet.

    Really good piece Paul, if only all the BBC's analysis was this good it would once again be useful source of information.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm 40, and most of the above resonates with me. I've studied the French Revolution (among others) at the PhD level, but I'm not going to argue with you despite the invitation. Much of what I see in Egypt at the moment offers parallels to those older revolutionary experiences. What is new is the perfect storm of demographic, socioeconomic and technological factors and the internationally-networked activists driving much faster 'contagion' than was historically the case. (Although we might want to take another look at 1848.)

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with Scott actually. I wouldn't argue with any of your points but I reckon you are well out of order with the 40 comment. I'm 55 and completely in accord with what you describe as largely a youth phenomenon. My guess is that might be a mistake.


  • Comment number 14.

    I am young(ish) well educated and unemployed with little prospects of finding meaningful and decently paid employment and all of this rings true to me. I feel like I've been sold a lie. Bring on the revolution!

  • Comment number 15.

    There's a sixties feel to this - despite the gulf between communication technologies then and now. You describe information/knowledge not 'pre-digested for you by your teachers, parents, priests, imams' - the sixties displayed a similar disconnect with authority.
    In this country the decade drifted into the disappointments of the seventies and the repressive Thatcherism of the eighties and abroad even worse.
    As for government here now, are you saying that the Big Society is a genuine belief in some quarters? That is seriously terrifying - here comes the seventies/eighties and Thatcher again.

  • Comment number 16.

    Reads like a never ending question in a finals paper and at the end we are invited to 'discuss'. It takes some absorbing but my question is what is the magnitude of the force that these movements represent. The ultimate test is Chinese society. In Egypt Mubarak will go but what replaces him when the opposition is far from organised. Protest movements come and go what matters is when they are organised and capable of taking control and in Egypt it has to be the military in the interim/short term. The missing feature in the movements so extensively described and analysed is cohesion.

  • Comment number 17.

    Brilliant general analysis Paul.

    Also worth a look is the specific nature of the organising strategies of campaigns like Optur and the role of horizontal strategising for taking back power. No so much in the academic terms of Holloway et al, which to my mind is closer to poetry that politics ( as it avoids dealing with the what are we to do questions)

    Readers will find this intesting (PDF of From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp)

    also worth looking at
    and interestingly the same symbols are used is Egyptian uprising by the

    We are still working on Irleand :)

  • Comment number 18.

    Every new generation of young people is convinced that they are 'special' because they understand things in a way the 'old guard' can't. I remember feeling the same way getting my ass kicked in 60s demonstrations. Our music was special, our clothes, drugs, relationships etc etc. It's a great feeling. But if you really imagine that there aren't forces at work here in the background, with agendas you may not have imagined, you're delusional. Some of us have been trying to get things done about oppression, freedom and all the rest of it for our whole working lives with precious little to show for it. You want to take over because you have facebook? Cool, I'm tired.

  • Comment number 19.

    Thanks for this, a superb and insightful article.

  • Comment number 20.

    Brilliant analysis Paul but I think point 5 is what will make the real difference this time round ie the role of young educated women BUT not just young women. I came to this site via twitter and am well over the (new)age of retirement. Was working full time and washing nappies by hand in the 60's but am now as free as a to participate!

  • Comment number 21.

    "I'm finding it common among non-politicos these days that whenever you mention the "Big Society" there's a shrug and a suppressed laugh - yet if you move into the warren of thinktanks around Westminster, it's treated deadly seriously."

    Assuming this assertion to be true, then the occupants of the think tanks really ought to get out more. As I posted on another (BBC) blog the other day when David Cameron announced this idea in public I groaned and metaphorically put my head in my hands, and "invoked the name of the Lord".

    The "Big Society" could turn out to be a barrier between government and the governed, because it is too easy derive incompatible interpretations of what it actually means. Does it mean that those who protest about the selling off of woodlands will have their views properly considered? Does it mean that those who protest at the possible closure of libraries will have thier views properly considered? I would like to think yes but suspect no.

    I may be doing him and his cohorts a disservice in saying this but I suspect that DC only wants "Big Society" involvement on subjects of his choosing, not ours. He (they) would do well to remember what the Big Society thought of Margaret Thatcher's Commmunity Charge. He (they) would do well to remember the saying "be careful what you wish for". As someone with basically conservative opinions I think this sort of policy is best described as "naive".

  • Comment number 22.

    Mr Mason:
    Apologies for hijacking this thread, but I can't find another way to contact this question: can one acquire the slides from your LSE talk of 31 Jan 2010?

    I found the audio quite interesting, except for the bits where you say things like, "just look @ these trendlines." Being unfortunately American, I'm unlikely to encounter similar content in our corporate-dominated media until your next appearance on Democracy Now!"

    TIA, [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 23.

    I like this. 3, 6, 18 and e I find particularly resonant. Authoritative positions don't hold the unquestioning respect they used to. We approach the situation as intellectual equals and do not have to believe everything we're told. Information spreads much faster than is possible for state institutions can get propaganda out because as said we're all connected and communicative, so by the time the propaganda machine hits the airwaves it's already broken down, disseminated and the rhetoric has been deconstructed. As soon as it comes out it's laughable, and the more entrenched they become hammering it home the more ridiculous they look. Their inability to connect with the populace and realise this is endemic of their detachment from the citizenry. Especially with regards to Big Society where everyone is sitting about saying "what a thoroughly nonsensical idea" yet they're so surrounded by apparatchiks and their blinkers are so tightly on that they'll never know until it's too late.

  • Comment number 24.

    53. Age is not it Paul. Otherwise good. Though too much jargon. And ahead of itself on future horrors. As you say yourself for individuals: Things may not be as bad as expected.

  • Comment number 25.

    I'm a bit sceptical of the claims made about modern technology - it does enable people to communicate faster, but at the same time, it can be used by the powerful against new "threats" and there is as much danger of the important stuff being drowned in a pile of banal rubbish.

    But there are some important ideas here that are timeless.

    Mainly, when things become impossible, then anything is possible. And part of what I think you're saying is that what unites students in the UK with the Cairo street is the idea of "no future". This was last experienced in the punk era here in the UK.

    Secondly, real movements appear where the downtrodden educated meet the street.

  • Comment number 26.

    Great Article. I might also suggest that the whole notion of cultural hegemony (in its loosest sense) is, to an extent over. The ruling class or ruling ideology could always consume elements of popular culture and popular dissent and somehow dilute them before feeding them back to the masses in a more palatable form. Bill with his Sax and Tony with his guitar no longer washes with the public. Technology dictates that cultural mores and forms move so quickly from emergence to transformation or dissolution that the elite ruling classes cannot catch on to the coat-tails of mass movements without seeming too late or too out of step, thereby further exposing the gaping cracks in establishment.

  • Comment number 27.

    think you and Laura Marcus are dead right ,Paul,and I'm 65 next month. Keep going 'cos I need to discuss all this with my 14 month old grandaughter,and feel that time is accelerating.

  • Comment number 28.

    We now have the technology to govern ourselves. Ordinary people know more about real life than the politicians so why not use the Internet to Vote For Yourself and do away with the elite. I ran a V4Y campaign during the 2010 election and I asked Gordon Brown this very question 2 days before he committed political suicide (referring to Gillian Duffy as a bigoted woman), he allowed that this could happen in 10-20 years.

    We cannot wait that long - the serious issues are always ducked by careerist politicos whose personal interests are in maintaining a status quo that is seriously weighted towards a small minority of very wealthy people.

    We do not have to risk our lives to change things and it would undoubtedly help other countries emerging from years of tyranny (created by the vested interests that run our industries) if we took a lead in introducing REAL democracy.

    That we are ruled by a party that attracted 10.5 million votes is not inspiring, that they are propped up by a party that has sold its soul in exchange for a referendum on a useless form of PR is particularly pathetic. If you looked at our current political system as medieval, PR at best is the steam age. Let's move into the 21st century and allow people to take control of their own lives.

  • Comment number 29.

    Very good article. The only point I take exception to is no. 5. As you say, horizontalism is key. No single group constitutes the backbone. It's precisely because neither sex is in the driving seat that kicking off on this magnitude has been enabled. That aside, this makes for an incredibly stimulating read.

  • Comment number 30.

    'It's as if physics has been replaced by quantum physics, but in every discipline'.

    And about time:

  • Comment number 31.

    It is true that through education a great many people now understand the nature of power. There are also many who instinctively grasp some element of what is true about life and the way of the world. Thus the tried and tested methods of mass influence and control are less effective. People see through them for what they are. Nevertheless there are still plenty of people who cam be easily influenced through mass media and the politics of fear. This is more true in 'comfortable' western societies were people falsely believe that they have a fundamental right to a good life, and a secure one.

    They say that you get the government you deserve. We must snap out of our apathy and take responsibility for our actions. It is not enough simply to understand the nature of power. We must all learn how to acquire it, how to use it responsibly, and more importantly how to give it up when it is no longer needed.

    Oh, and finally that crazy bloke Michael Jackson had it correct, I.e. 'If you wanna make the world better place take a look at yourself and make the change..'

    I'm no Jacko fan, he was just repeating a fundamental truth that has been long known. It is the example that causes lasting change. Whether it be a mass protest or a life well lived. We are born to be inspired by example, both the good and the bad.

  • Comment number 32.

    I am an old bloke and I agree with most of your analysis.
    I also applaud much of the action the students are tacking.
    The serious question is how big is the window of opportunity before we are all defenestrated.?

  • Comment number 33.

    Just loved this analysis - how fabulous to be able to take such a view, which makes so much sense and, interestingly (to me anyway!) goes some way to answer my 'puzzlement' in my blog this morning about how Twitter proves such an extraordinarily effective tool in time of real crisis - but also am completely fascinated at the response you're getting from women who aren't your 'young women' - which includes me! This is the first glimmering I've seen that starts to identify the consequences of the high-education/no employment scenario we have in the UK/West - and a real sense that - again - the world turns and we find ourselves in a new way of living and working for which the 'rules' are only now being devised -

  • Comment number 34.

    Very interesting and some cogent points but hang on are you really attributing the current revolutionary ferver to middle class activism? Is it so unthinkable to you that the working classes couldn't organise themselves without the middle classes? That many mebers of the working classes are and have always self educated... Is it really possible that in any society the middle classes will ever be hungry enough or cold enough to get up and revolt? Yes there is an intelligentsia element to all social unrest but not enough to attribute the whole struggle to their energy.
    it's the same in all revolutions, the working classes rise up and the middle classes take the credit and then take over - what really changes? The workers still end up being told what to do by those more privileged than they! Look at the people on those streets they are not all lawyers and teachers, they are poor working people, the back bone and the vanguard of any revolutionary uprising!

  • Comment number 35.

    Intrigued by your mention of the Chinese 'undergrowth' and it's various forms. Feels arsey to say this but there's an interesting article by Clay Shirky: The Political Power of Social Media: (registration required, but free)

    "Access to information is far less important, politically, than access to conversation," Shirky argues.

    From photocopiers in Soviet Russia to twitter and facebook - samizdat as means of communicating and organising. Written before Egypt, it interestingly looks at the weaknesses too - as the state also has access to the conversation (to bring down networks, track people and propagandize).

    It really is a fascinating field of enquiry.

  • Comment number 36.

    Thank you for this concise analysis, can I add my voice to the several others who have commented and are well beyond youth, I too am in my late 40s, and arrived here via twitter. Social media allow me a connection with society that I've never experienced before, and that I'd be unlikely to find in any other way as a middle aged woman living in a rural area, and working in a very small business.
    I completely agree with your observation that Westminster is disconnected from most people's reality, and probably always has been, but for the first time since I have been old enough to vote I sense that ordinary people may have the means to bring about real change.

    Your article has left me with a feeling of optimism. Thank you.

  • Comment number 37.

    Another 55yr old who arrived here via Twitter on my Blackberry, (then switched to my MacBook), while watching a time-shifted recording of Andrew Neils '`Posh and Posher: Why Public Schoolboys Run Britain'. My head is starting to hurt!

    I didn't benefit from a great education on industrial Tyneside in the sixties and I wonder where all this leaves ordinary working-class folk, from Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, or Londons East End? The non-Twiterati who don't listen to Radio 4 or watch BBC Four or even Newsnight, let alone get the chance to go to University, even if they could afford it. What does the future hold for them?

  • Comment number 38.

    Looks like Mark Twain's aphorism "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes" has been completely made redundant by the current social media. And a good thing too.

  • Comment number 39.


    I have often railed against a decline in parenting skills. I have frequently questioned school as a 'given good' when it needs must INSTITUTIONALISE those schooled. More and more potential parents now work for Mammon, and schooling starts at 2.

    Suddenly it hit me: Parenting EXPERIENCE is being excised from both sides of the contract. The effect is cumulative - a negative feedback 'squared'. Inexorably, ability to raise children is departing, hence 'brought up' adults will cease to exist; indeed, they might already have done so, yielding the lack of competence we now experience everywhere.

    But Dave, and Dave-ilk, seem to have no inkling of this corrosion at the heart of Britain. Indeed, he is trying to sell this rotten culture to aliens – saying that ‘Muscular Liberalism', must bring them to its promise.

    Big Society? You can't grow BIG anything this way.

    Westminster badly needs to swap lawyers and economists for applied philosophers and psychologists.

  • Comment number 40.

    I am 51. I am a young person! Thanks Paul - you've made my day. ;-)

  • Comment number 41.

    Very interesting, and pertinent, but in such discussions there's a tendency - probably because social-media-savvy young people are in our faces all the time - to forget the rural, uneducated poor worldwide who can't, for one reason or another, get anywhere near the twittersphere, and if they could would find what they saw there largely irrelevant to their lives. I don't have the stats but I suspect that they are huge in number, and I worry about who's speaking for their interests. It may be that state apparatus and "hermetic ideologies" still have a role to play there.

    I'm also unimpressed by the over 40s remark.

  • Comment number 42.

    The bankers, the politicians and the elites - i.e. the super rich - are now so completely disconnected from the majority of us that they have no idea how the rise in inflation is causing hardship the World over for millions of people.

    Buy up copper, buy up oil, buy cocoa, buy cotton, buy, buy, buy! Buy and drive the prices up.

    So far they believe they have got away with it - creating the biggest credit bubble in history, profiteering from it and then profiteering again from the crash and the subsequent bail-out of the global financial system.

    From where they are standing it is a win win situation. What a laugh!

    If we are lucky we will see a global revolution against them. Within a year or two the only country on Earth the banksters will be safe in will be in the UK.

    They won't be threatening to leave, they will be paying to come here.

  • Comment number 43.

    So, the revolution will be led by the young radicalized middle classes? I have to disagree. From what I've seen on the recent student protests, it has been radicalized working class students who have led the way. Furthermore, on the back of those protests, some "middle class" groups have sprung up advocating peaceful demonstrations. As a peaceful protester, normally, I'd be in support of those groups. However, in various missives, they have attempted to galvanize their position by denigrating the efforts and behaviour of other protesters. I've felt gutted to read those. If a group wishes to advocate peaceful demonstration, then they must do so, not only in their deeds, but also in their words. My biggest fear at the moment is that the aims and objectives of some will split this movement. We are all fed up with the government's lies! We are all fed up with the hypocrisy! We are all fed up with the dreadful millionaires' slogan, "We're all in this together!" Solidarity is the only way forward!

  • Comment number 44.

    I think your postings under b) and c) expose the duality of what you have written. As you confirm what you have written un scientific much of it is purely your commentary and contains little empirical evidence.

    To single out the Chinese is to deny that the US has had listening posts in place for years with their programs Guardian and Sentinel. Connection to the internet can be switched of anytime. Women have always participated in and taken a leading role all progressive movements so you analysis of history is wrong.

    A disorganised mass however well intentioned will not win through. It requires discipline and this does not come from the middle classes though part of a revolutions leadership may.

    We see today the same action as in 1968 Paris the difference is that the students seem to fully embracing ordinary working people in the struggle.
    From Australia

  • Comment number 45.

    Posting from Egypt, here.

    First, I would like to say that this is a very interesting and thoughtful analysis. Points 5, 7, 10, 12, 13 and 18 are quite thought-provoking.

    I would, however, like to point out that communications were shut off completely. On Friday, January 28 we had no mobile phones (calls, sms, BBM, etc), internet, or land lines. Today is the first day I was able to send an sms and internet came back fully on February 3. Currently, though not proven, accounts (on both Fb and Twitter) have cropped up in record numbers supporting the Mubarak regime and harassing those that post against them. Further, the "cyber-protesters," i.e. bloggers against the regime, have been singled out and arrested throughout the protests. Case in point, Wael Abbas. Finally, much of what is going on here was not fueled by the youth (as sad as I am to admit it), or at least not the educated youth that you speak of. Many of the protesters, starting on January 25, found out about the protests through their mosque or word of mouth. This revolution is not just propagated by the youth of Egypt. This revolution is truly one of the people and people of all ages, classes, religions, beliefs and education level are participating.

    In light of this information, which I'm not sure if you're aware of or not, we are still in Tahrir and still fighting against the regime. I might even say that the communications blackout made people fight harder.

  • Comment number 46.

    "are these methods replicable by their opponents? Clearly up to a point they are."

    I would argue that the anti Islam movement is a good example of "Everybody seems to know everybody." Some of the Luton bloggers who went on to form the EDL were being interviewed by their (more intellectual) US counterparts even before the Royal Anglian demo which kicked everything off. I'm sure that accounts for some of their organisational ability.

  • Comment number 47.

    I think that you're pretty spot on and I'll be 41 soon. I think the analog age has moved north.

    There is a factor that I think is missing, perhaps more of a trigger than a factor. In terms of actual currency people may be becoming more wealthy but the purchasing power is in decline.

    People have been talking about peak oil for years, but we appear to have arrived at peak food. 7 billion people on the planet plus environmental degradation and climate change means that we have arrived at a point where demand for food has exceeded supply, even where the supply is at a maximum.

    The availability of all resources is dwindling while the demand, created in part by education and economic prosperity continue to rise. As people globally begin to realize that even if they manage to achieve a greater income their buying power will continue to decline there will be great political upheaval.

  • Comment number 48.

    It's already happening in the West.

    Think of all those communities still struggling with the poverty brought by Thatcher.

    Think of all those communities still struggling with the poverty broght by Reagan.

    Think of all those who made it rich, very rich.

    Many of the kids from those communities grew up, tried to make something of their lives, desperately trying to have better lives than their parents. I remember at the end of the '80s, early '90s there were problems with new graduates finding jobs.

    Now we are in another wave of economic destruction. Graduates are now up to their eyeballs in debt and will be offered what amounts to slavery - work unpaid as an intern (though the slave owner won't house, feed and clothe you, your parents will, so that is an even better deal for the boss).

    We have the graduates. We don't have the jos. Remember all those BBC presenters a few years ago scoffing at the almost 30 somethings who were still living with their parents? That was the slope of the very same problem. Britain, in it's great wisdom, ignored it, laughed at those who were struggling, labelled them as somehow deficient. They weren't failures. They were the first signs of a failing economy and a failing society.

    And there are still a few people making massive amounts of money.

    When I look at Tunisia, I see similarities here.
    When I look at Egypt, I see similarities here.

    And when I look at the US (a Western version of our UK future), I see nothing but trouble coming from it. Their students have been protesting fee hikes for a lot longer than ours. They have shanty towns appearing as the banks repossess homes on a massive scale. If you look at the statistics of the number of poor US citizens in jail, the amount of money that is spent on the prison system, rather than the education system, you will see something very revealing. On and on it goes.

    Today, I was astonished to see Hilary clinton smile as she said: 'Some leaders may honestly beleive that their country is an exception, that their people will not demand greater or political oppoertunities, or that they can be placated with half-measures. Again, in the short term that may be true, but in the long term, it is untenable.'

    Either the woman is as deluded as our own political leaders or she is planning on retiring before the very same thing kicks off in the US.

    It's a matter of time. This year? Next year? Ten years? But it will. And it will here too, sooner or later.

    It's happened in Latin America, and it will happen here.

    People sooner or later are going to decide that they do, after all, matter far more than some rich guys wallet, than corporate profits, that they do in fact have more power collectively than the few rich guys in their posh Mansions.

    Killing the unions was an attempt to kill an idea. It just stays there, lingering ready to re-emerge. That was no smarter than the Pope placing Galileo under house arrest to keep the earth as the centre of the universe. It doesn't work.

    If we're smart, we'll sort ourselves out, before the kids make us.

    Good luck Tunisia. Good luck Egypt. And good luck to those here in the UK fighting the cuts.

  • Comment number 49.

    Escalator over the hill says: "A disorganised mass however well intentioned will not win through. It requires discipline and this does not come from the middle classes though part of a revolutions leadership may."
    This presupposes that the masses behind the current Twitter-led dissent are unable (or unwilling) to organise their affairs to include political protest, which runs against the factual evidence so far. It seems - to me - that these people are perfectly able to accommodate the odd protest in their lives, and quite willing to do whatever is necessary to get their point across.
    The discipline IS there, and I don't think anyone here should denigrate these people's abilities without strong evidence.

  • Comment number 50.

    Surely, the economic crash has contributed to youth disrespect for establishment authority allowing for protest confidence - with the collapse of the free-market fundamentalist idea comes the collapse of everything that it was central to (and it is/was a narrow idea applied widely). Political and economic dominance undermined.

    Maybe also simply reached a point of disconnect with the power of authority, with too big a distance between rich, powerful few and the rest of us? Sort of big enough distance to panoptican guard to feel like it can be got away with?

    Love the blog

  • Comment number 51.

    You have tweeted that you want input, not just re-tweets.

    I have to add my voice to others. Terrific article/notes/thoughts. But also, I think you need to re-think the demographic of the people to whom this resonates. As far as I can see, educated, middle class, financially stable, over 40's (include me) also feel that the system has become "dirty" in some sense. The political and big business class simply don't connect with society as a whole, not just students.

    We are all Egyptians now (ok, tacky, but indicative of the emotion)

  • Comment number 52.

    Excellent article. Your line, ‘truth moves faster than lies’ is so pertinent that I’d add one more point to the list.

    It's the inclusion of 'non-activists.' Instead of watching news bulletins at one remove and feeling sympathetic but powerless to intervene, new technology affords J. Sofa Bloggs the chance to feel they can contribute to events in real time.

    It might only amount to aiding the spread of un-spun information, but even we slow-witted over-forties know that that in itself can be enough to embarrass a government into a particular course of action.

    p.s. re the 'Big Society' shrug... when our Tsar in charge of promoting voluntary involvement by civil society for the public good said he was cutting his hours for something more lucrative, I think half the country went deaf due to violent shoulder elevation.

  • Comment number 53.

    Along with the 'the graduate with no future' you also need to include 'young people with no future' and 'parents whose children have no future'. At some point these three groups may coalesce into something that can act as a counter-weight to the baby boomers and the rather nasty inter-generational conflicts they have created in the UK.

  • Comment number 54.

    To Louise Gallagher,

    I think that the full line "Therefore truth moves faster than lies, and propaganda becomes flammable." relates directly to what you've said.

    a) The truth moves ahead of the lies
    b) J. Sofa Bloggs (and a half million of his friends) re-post the truth via various channels
    c) The news media is forced to change its approach. A government spokesperson or embassy representative can no longer simply "explain what's going on" and lay out the official position because the truth is all over the airwaves - that's the point where propaganda becomes flammable.

    If the official position is in direct contradiction to what millions already know is fact (in part because it is supported with photographic and video evidence) then the official position must move closer to truth.

    And so J. Sofa Bloggs has had a direct or indirect impact on both media coverage and official political reaction.

  • Comment number 55.

    That's the delicate balance of societies. In order for a peoples to have a society there must be a hierarchy to keep balance. Everyone can't be wealthy or poor so there must be a satisfied middle ground. There must be however a wealthy and poor factor. The delicate balance is how keep a certain amount of peoples in each category. Big problem is access to information as you mentioned. Information educates, ergo, leads to questions, questions want answers and solutions. And what happens is the world gets turned upside down again and again Ad infinitum. And by the way I'm a 60 year old Yank

  • Comment number 56.

    That's not what Glenn Beck said. :/


  • Comment number 57.

    I am a 50 yr old American and I desperately want Egypt to happen here in Central park. What youth fails to remember is 1) the boom generation are children of revolution and 2) youth have both time and freedom from responsibility to create new memes.

    The economics of time is now as crucial as money. As a middle aged man I work 12 hours a day just to survive and I don't have as much time to create new memes as my children, even if I do pass existing ones forward. I raise my kids to master technology and to hide their tracks online in case they find themselves in a social action. I am not radical or a revolutionary.

    I am simply cognizant of the hamster wheel of inequity and feel it crucial to disrupt it.
    Still those in the US that think as I do are despirited by the overwhelming power of supporters of inequity. Supporters that include the powerful, of course, but more the ignorant powerless of the red states. We have to not only protest the owners of 85% of our country but also the 50% of our population that are their "Christian goons."

  • Comment number 58.

    I'm not sure I really buy this analysis. A couple of thoughts:

    1) the web2.0 stuff feels a bit woolly. It seems clear that it changes things somehow, but I think that it's much more to do with relations with the global media than it is organisational, and probably less of a fundamental change than you're suggesting. Under Three Flags (Benedict Anderson, about C19 revolutionary networks might be of interest - there's a lot of similarity, and they didn't have twitter!

    2) It seems to me that if there is to be a generational element to conflict, it is going to be a split between the well pensioned and the not so well pensioned, which is partially age related, but also socio-economic. At the root of the graduates w/o a future and the 10 years of grind is a mode and standard of living that was built on money we didn't have. Some people are placed to continue this lifestyle, the rest of us, not so much. Retiring at 60 and free university education will, i fear, seem like laughably out of date things to be marching for in 10 years time.

    3) You've presented the acceptable face of a radical reaction to the powers that be, but where does radical Islam fit into this? Because they are a function of the same forces, and the same technology (and potential beneficiaries of regime change in the middle east).

  • Comment number 59.

    Great set up and analysis, and worthy of Auntie Beeb dedicating a series which assesses the Whys, Whers, Who, What, and critically where next. Your analysis, and input of others needs mapping to assess the connects, outputs, caused implications, but I agree with other respondents, the issues you raise concern peole at every level, every age group.
    My sense is that all of this means there is a lack of structure, no stability, all institutions are vulnerable, pen to be questioned or their very existence challenged. This causes huge phychological problems in individuals, and we need professionals to tell us the implications for this.
    Here in the UK the necessary financial measures being introduced could well cause significant social unrest, and Gov't needs to concern itself with the implications of this.
    In summary people can only take so much and will react at a "tip over" issue.

  • Comment number 60.

    Very good article, but I think the biggest thing that jumps out at me is the issue of mass higher education.

    Many more people now expect to be able to get a degree and get a better paid job. That's fine, but we still need gardeners and refuse collectors and parking attendants and all of the roles that don't actually NEED a degree. You therefore get two situations:
    - people study for three years or more, get a qualification, then find that they don't get that better job;
    - people study for three years or more, get the qualification, then find that it's been a waste of time because they don't actually need the degree(s) for the job that they do get.

    All that happens is that every job now requires a degree and the differentiation has shifted.

  • Comment number 61.

    Excellent and thought provoking read - thanks.

  • Comment number 62.

    A few points

    - Its not the only thing kicking off- where did all these people come from on you blog? If it gets too popular I will have to find somewhere else to vent my 40 plus analogue era spleen :)

    - I hope many of your points DO NOT precipitate a PHD. They are too obvious and simple to require one. There is a certain 'self interest' which permeates some aspects of academia too y'know. Particularly the socio - economic or pseudo science type reliant approaches (e.g. climate change, economics, politics).

    Those disciplines need an experience based 'holistic' approach to treat sensibly. There will always be too many variables and assumptions to make any meaningful 'scientifically rigorous assessment' of it. All you get are unsatisfactory attempts clamouring for attension based on the particular authors pejudice or leverage (unconscious or otherwise). This helps feed the situation where those apparentl;y 'most qualified' in the eyes of the BBC to comment on these things officially are, sadly, probably the least qualified to offer a useful holistic objective view.

    Your laboratory and your qualification to comment come from your life choices and experience. I think the choices you have made, your background and your journalistic approach (mixing with the elite and the downtrodden with equal comfort) make you quite uniquely (in the BBC) able to make sense of it.

    Trouble is, you are a journalist, you are not supposed to have an opinion, you are supposed to report the opinion of others, but if you can continue to walk the line between being a journalist and a columnist as you are that would be very useful.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 63.

    The protests do have marked differences though. You could characterise them as sharing an experience of oppression, but the oppression of not knowing what you're being educated for and the oppression of no freedoms and poor human rights are quite different in nature. The protests in the developed world are largely to do with people being furnished with a supply of equal status and personal wealth, the What Do I Get? protest which is quite different from I Want To Be Free From kind of protest. So I'm wary of characterising these social upheavals merely due to the fact that new forms of communication allow us to discover them more easily. The new technology has merely commodified the experience of protest and allows us to vicariously take part in it, we organise Facebook groups, hash tags to share our passionate concern, but these all share a characteristic that that have no substantial mechanism to exert power. In this way, I think that much of the shared rancour around a protest is largely performative and the echoes of '68 were reenacted in student protests in the UK. We may be asking the wrong questions. We have global interaction but no system for global power; I think in this way Western protest has become a kind of subsumed component of more traditional power structures. What if the real pressure wasn't to unite to share in large scale ideologies of equality but to secede in to tiny global neighbourhoods? The developed world seems to yearn more towards fragmentation and denials of power where much of rest of the world is still uniting under singular ideologies which may be dressed in religious aspirations for unity of purpose. That leads the protests in completely different directions and in to new conflicts of interest between the individual and the nation state or religious utopia.

  • Comment number 64.

    Why is it kicking off?

    Point number 9 - Economic failure - is the key point.

    The oil boom of the second half of the 20th century has finished.
    Many people are realising that they are worse off than their parents/grandparents; & for some, despite all the time & effort they have put into getting a good education.

    Just as workers have been forced to work harder at work, so kids have had to work harder at school & university.

    There is also I very pleased to see a total lack of respect for hierachy.
    People can see that these business leaders & politicans get to where they are no based upon their ability to improve the world for humanity, but out of self promotion, greed & corruption.

    Chomsky & Negri are good at explaining the political superstructure but neglect the underlying economic base.

    An understanding of capitalism & its inherent crises shows that the future is a choice between barbarism or socialism, reform of revolution.

  • Comment number 65.

    I am greatly enjoying this debate. A few thoughts have occurred to me this morning:

    1. I think we can mostly agree that the generational aspect of this issue suggested by Mr Mason is misleading. This goes wider than youth v privilege. I think part of the reason for that in the UK is that this isn't the first time we've had an educated middle class with nowhere to go. When I came out of university in 1990 there were no jobs for me. I eventually had to go back to college (a different one) to do a postgrad course in journalism in order to get work as a newspaper reporter - and only managed that because people in my local DSS office bent the rules a little to help me get certain benefits that would allow me to live while I was on the course (much to the disgust of the local council at the time). Now I'm seeing the same thing happening to the next generation, without the same (scant) possibilities of escaping the trap that I had, and that has triggered a huge amount of sympathy because I remember my own experience and difficulties.

    2. I think people do remain keen on being part of a cohesive nation state, rather than fragmenting into smaller neighbourhoods, and they are still willing, up to a point, to listen to the advice of people who are (notionally) in positions where their knowledge of a situation should be better-informed. We are still awaiting reform of the banking system (and I think it will be a cold day in hell before the current Conservative-led government enshrines in law the kind of reforms that are needed) but there has been no mass movement to change the system from the bottom up - I haven't heard of anyone going into their bank, asking if it or any of its subsidiaries deal in derivatives or similarly dodgy and arcane financial instruments, and taking all their money out when the answer is yes. But that is the logical thing to do, in the circumstances: Take the money from the disreputable organisation and invest it with an ethical one, like a credit union, a building society or possibly the Co-op Bank, to name a few possibilities off the top of my head (and I stand prepared to be corrected if any of my estimations are off).
    If many people did it, this would destabilise the banking system more than it has been already, but people here aren't yet willing to do so because they understand the implications. That's why they're waiting for change to be instituted from above, by the government. They're not going to wait forever, though.

    3. Connected to my second point is the fact that we have increasingly fewer reasons to believe the messages sent to us by our political leaders through the national (and indeed local) media. Too many of the messages they are sending us are provably misleading. I have already quoted Damian Green's failure on Question Time last week. The continuing dialogue over the forestry sell-off is another example - we know the government will lose money on it in the long run, so we know that selling off our nationally-owned forests is an ideologically-motivated move by the Conservatives, that the majority of the people do not support. So we don't believe anything they have to say about it. Then there's the matter of the student fee increase. I commented elsewhere on the web, a few weeks ago, after a member of the government said the student benefits most from his or her education, so the student should pay for it, even if this payment comes at a later point in life, when that person can (notionally) afford to do so. My comment asked why the increase in fees did not come alongside a drop in Income Tax, to take the burden of paying for student education away from the taxpayer, as suggested in this politician's speech. Otherwise we are left with a situation where the student - who will become a taxpayer in the future - pays twice for the same thing.

    4. If we have fewer reasons to believe the messages coming down to us, we have fewer reasons to go along with them and more reasons to protest or actively oppose what's going on. The current British government has been woefully ignorant of this, choosing to rely on the well-used Tory tool, the police force, to put down dissent in the case of the student protests. In so doing, all they have done is fan the flames of protest - or did any members of the public enjoy watching our children, some as young as 13, being beaten by big men in uniforms? Furthermore, the police themselves are being affected by the current series of cuts, so the question arises as to how long they will continue allowing themselves to be used as tools by a political elite that is shafting them alongside the people they are putting down. How long before we see a British policeman abusing his uniform in a protest, as we did in Egypt?

    In this country, there is time to change the situation before it deteriorates altogether - but will our political leaders have the sense to work out the way society is moving and react accordingly?

    On recent evidence, I doubt it. And that could be disastrous for the UK.

  • Comment number 66.

    There has of course been much action of recent in the Tunisias/Egypts/Jordans etc - which is more a factor of economic crisis impacting already poor nations with unsympathetic govts. These movements seem to me to be as much working/under-class led as anything else.

    At a more local level - what I think has been really interesting is that in the Western world the protests have on the whole been quite mooted given economic events - and restricted to specific groupings (eg students re tuition fees) taking action on issues of self-interest rather than for any altruistic reasons.

    There has been no widespread reaction even from the wider intellegentsia base - so not sure of that dynamic!

    After years of our society living on a 'self-interest' agenda I think it will take some extremely significant events before any sort of impetus towards a widespread common cause will emerge. Previously it has taken a world war or two to create that impetus and in both cases the revolution was more or less of the velvet variety.

  • Comment number 67.

    "Much of the political discourse - on both sides of the House of Commons - is treated by many young people as a barely intelligible "noise""
    I think this is partly true, yes, things like the big society are treated (rightly) as a joke, but a lot of disenfranchisement at the moment particularly is because many young people who are politically engaged and active feel completely condescended by the majority of politicians. When 50000 students marched against increased tuition fees Nick Cleggs continued reaction was that they needed to 'explain it better' so people would 'understand'. This had apparently been very 'frustrating' for him. Of course, the people who were protesting, the people occupying, the people blogging and writing articles about the issues, the majority of students, certainly did not need anything explaining. They were engaging in an opposing political discourse but were being completely ignored (Cameron) and condescended (Clegg). You can see a lot of the (little) trouble that went on as a consequence of the refusal of politicians to engage with and take seriously the people who were trying to have a political discussion. While at the same time as the student protests were going on, Cameron was re-thinking his policy on school sports (rightly of course) because of a 'significant grass-roots' movement against his policy in this area! When the moaning of mums outside school (or perhaps on Mumsnet, that seems to have all the power these days) is considered a grass roots movement which requires immediate action and 50000 people marching on Parliament and continually trying to engage in political debate is not, it is unsurprising that a whole generation is feeling completely disenchanted with the political system. And the funny thing is that many of the disenchanted who have been the most active were very much not disenchanted before. They were campaigning for political parties and aspiring to work for think-tanks. They were not the people sitting around moaning about expenses, they were actually engaged. The attitude of the government and parliament in general to young people over the last 6 months has single-handedly changed this and set a whole generation of people against the political system. Which is inexcusable.

  • Comment number 68.

    @ camembert thong - thank you!

    Great to see so many well thought-out comments here. And no abuse or nastiness. What a lovely change from so many comment sites. I realise it's because this board is pre rather than post moderated but perhaps that's the way to go with opening up pieces for comment? Otherwise you just get noise instead of some truly excellent contributions here. Thanks.

    The middle classes will not revolt because they're starving or destitute. No, what they are suffering from, or very soon will be, is the loss of what they thought was rightfully theirs and their children's and grandchildren. It's the last decade's culture of entitlement being whipped away from them that will cause this government greatest concern. Good.

    Oh and I'm 54 so yet another poster who doesn't fit the youth demographic. I was directed to this piece, should you care, via a link on Facebook. I don't do Twitter. Already far too addicted to too much net stuff and it has to be limited.

  • Comment number 69.

    I think several of the twenty could be shortened into something akin to this :

    We have a populace continually sold futures, but who also, thanks to other options demand a more rapid democracy.

    Or shortening this :

    Cause and effect

    Technology has rapidly reduced the time we expect things to happen in. Our concept of future is much shorter. A graduate does have a future, but differing interpretations of future mean individual futures become increasingly immediate.

    The speed with which an ideological movement can now be formed is much quicker than ever previously possible, but for government, works at a speed that it's infrastructures cannot deal with. These protests aren't so much protests as Denial of Service attacks. The forest sell off has mobilised and gained traction before it's even been debated in the house of commons. The public is now ahead of policy, and those who represent us. Do they know represent us if we have already decided.

    The oft-quoted comment about political engagement and reality tv show voting seems to appear here. People see problems and want them fixed. Now. People want to live their lives. Now. Government in this form is too slow an institution to deal with it.

    Cameron and Mubarak are both sailors on a sea built from a swirling mass of currents. To control it would be to seek Canute like failure, but to understand it is almost impossible. A reverse Occam if you will - whereas before divisions solved problems, it is now the rapidity of agglomerations which makes the populace literally ungovernable.

  • Comment number 70.

    'But there are also examples in the UK: much of the political discourse - on both sides of the House of Commons - is treated by many young people as a barely intelligible "noise" - and this goes wider than just the protesters.'

    I think you've hit on an important point there. I was shocked at the 29 January student protest to hear the chant: 'When I say Labour you say scum...', at which point the nearby crowd, including myself, all gladly joined in. The chant then cycled through Lib Dems, and the Conservatives, with a few particularly hated individuals given their own mention for good measure. From my experience the students attending these demonstrations have very strong political opinions, but no political party representing them, and I think that is a big factor in making them so angry.

  • Comment number 71.

    Generally a good, thought-provoking article; although I have to take exception with this:

    "4. They are not prone to traditional and endemic ideologies: Labourism, Islamism, Fianna Fail Catholicism etc... in fact hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected."

    I'm not sure I agree with that. Certainly in the UK, the same old groups and same old ideologies seem to be behind the protests. I do think there's more ideological diversity amongst the protesters than there would have been in, say, the late '60s or mid '80s but to say "hermetic ideologies of all forms are rejected" isn't true.

    @Laura Marcus

    "The dirty little secret is that the welfare state has always benefited the middle classes far more than the downtrodden poor. The aspirational class that can't afford private education nor health, ie most of them, will not take kindly to having decent public services yanked away from them in order to shore up the wealth of the very richest. Nor will those working several jobs and very long hours heed the cry to volunteer to run these services instead. There is no such thing as the Big Society."

    I think that's very true. There's a myth amongst the left that the Mail-reading conservative middle-class are all John Redwood-style market ideologues whereas, in fact, their primary ideology is self-interest. If capitalism fails them and harms their interests (as it absolutely has with the banking collapse) they will turn against it viciously. The Mail-reading class, like everyone else who isn't part of the UK's economic elite, expect the state to tend to their needs - hospitals, libraries, bobbies on the beat etc etc. The coalition are threatening all that because the coalition are made-up of people who are dissociated from this class and their needs almost as much as they are dissociated from the working class.

    Part of the reason for all the current upheavel is that the world is in flux. At the end of the Cold War there was a general tendency to think that the Left had won the socio-political arguments and the Right had won the economic ones - this theory even came wrapped up in a neat little phrase "the end of history": the idea that liberal democracy and market capitalism were the "natural" end point of human social and economic development. Part of the problem with this idea, apart from its misunderstanding of the nature of history (if anything it was merely the "end" of about 300 years of European and American political experimentation) is that it failed to take into account that socio-political and even economic change is driven by technology and that the world as it was at the end of the Cold War would only remain stable as long as we entered a technological stasis. Whilst the modern globalised world of communication is merely a part of the current "Arab Spring" it is an important one. Things like the de facto worthlessness of copyright in an age when everything can be digitally reproduced easily and quickly, the impossibility of effective censorship online, the way the internet and political blogs can disseminate opinion - both truthful and decietful, balanced and extreme - quicker and to more people than is possible with traditional media. All of these things are changing our world and possibly threaten the entrenched elites - political and economic, left and rightwing - that have been dominant the last fifty years.

  • Comment number 72.

    Cameron in a way caught the zeitgeist with "The Big Society" idea - individualistic, taking personal responsibility, autonomy, self-help - all these currents can be found in pressure group politics or the local sunday football league, whilst they are also the essence of rural communities - antagonistic to the "big battalion" mindset of organised labour and class war. He has reforged libertarian politics on the right to create a populist, anti-authority, free market model that finds a groundswell of support in western consumer societies and those that aspire to be the same.

    What of the left? Where are we with class, organised labour and "progressive politics"?

    The left is still fixated on class politics and Marx's idea of the working class becoming concious of themselves as a class and acting in class solidarity to seize control of the means of production through "the dictatorship of the proletariat" has been the credo of the Left ever since there was one.

    But history has shown one form of dictatorship is much like another regardless of the left/right/religious justification for it, so we value our freedom and are not prepared to surrender it, so we flit from one cause to the next without any intention or desire to coalesce around a single political centre of gravity, whilst consuming the fruits of a free market system - "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."

    Marx did however have some positive things to say about capitalism and some negative things about socialism. Firstly he saw capitalism as essential to develop the means of production and the rise of the new economies of China, India etc brings mankind pretty close to a developed world - globalisation isn't a term Marx used, but it's in many ways the logical conclusion to his analysis.

    Marx also said it wasn't possible to have socialism in one country and that fundamental change would only be possible through a global movement that came to reject capitalism as a system.

    Marx had no inkling of the worldwide web, but clearly the knowledge economy and the ability to share information and political views at the speed of light anywhere on the planet would leave him spellbound by its potential to develop progressive politics.

    Paul's analysis above does suggest that Marx's assertion that people's experience of their own daily lives would lead them to demand change and that the process of political activity in the digital media age will find more and more groups making common cause, whilst rejecting the established political and governmental structures appears to be still valid.

    Where Marx IMHO still holds the high ground is in his analysis of the internal contradictions of the free market in racking up huge piles of money and huge levels of debt that in the end can no longer be sustained and the system's inability to rectify the situation.

    Marx was no environmentalist and like the entire body politic of his era, Marx castigated the living and working conditions of industrial workers, but did not connect this at the planetary level.

    Now that there is both an questionmark over the world economic system and the future of the ecology of the planet, the validity of free market economics is under threat in a way that it hasn't been before.

    The Washington Concensus is no more - the balance of public opinion is behind the environmentalists and the backlash against the bankers is IMHO never going to see them rehabilitated and lionised in the way there were in the 1980s.

    Paul's view about graduate unemployment points to me towards a well educated generation being consigned to the scrapheap representing a potentially explosive source of resentment and disillusionment that might well the the catalyst for major change, provided they get off their butts!

    But I'm of the view that revolutionary politics has had its day because no one will support dictatorship of the sort Marx pedalled and Stalin/Mao gave flesh - and lots of it. What seems more likely is the collapse of economies and environmental factors that stop the existing system from functioning, so forcing change by failure rather than by the class overthrowing their masters.

    There's also a strong trend towards centrist politics that we saw at the last election with the "Clegg Factor" driving up the LibDem support, but as the reality of the coalition has shown, there is no "third way" of the sort New Labour espoused anymore because the financial system is so fragile now, so activists are instinctively adopting the Trotskyist strategy of seeking to politicise grassroots protest movements, but now there are a lot more flashpoints and as the distance between them in the zero dimension space of the Internet is zero, this makes igniting one from another happen almost spontaneously.

    Left, Right or Centre - we all agree that knowledge is power and for those in power, the spread of knowledge makes it ever harder to justify policies that repress or damage large swashes of society or give unreasonable priviledges to others.

    I leave you with the old Chinese Curse that was the worst thing you could say politely to someone - "may you live in interesting times".

    We do.

  • Comment number 73.

    Really interesting piece. Slightly ironic that I (aa a 50 year old) can't find an easy Facebook share facility on this BBC page for my teenage sons and their friends to read it!

  • Comment number 74.

    @richard bunning

    "The left is still fixated on class politics and Marx's idea of the working class becoming concious of themselves as a class and acting in class solidarity to seize control of the means of production through "the dictatorship of the proletariat" has been the credo of the Left ever since there was one."

    There was a left before Marxism, though, one pre-occupied with popular sovereignty, republicanism and opposition to what were then the entrenched elites (aristocracy and the establishment churches). When Marxism came along it first identified as part of the left and then, later, effectively tried to claim ownership of it; something that continues to this day.

    And even post-Marxism I wouldn't say that the left has been exclusively about class politics. Apart from the re-discovery of liberalism in the 1960s (especially in the social sphere) there's also been the emergence of "green" politics as well as the recent appearance of neo-enlightenment ideas (typified by the rationalist and sceptic movements). Additionally, in the 20th century, class politics has had its part to play in rightwing politics too, notably amongst the populist right. It's rarely talked about in these terms, of course, but everything from the "Joe Six-Pack" characterisation in the United States to the attacks on the "metropolitan elite" over here has strong class undercurrents.

  • Comment number 75.

    Paul excellent post and can agree with many of your points.

    Wonder if Eldrege/Gould concept of Punctuated Equilibrium is a useful way of framing the current situation. A long period of relative stasis in a number of different and previously less interconnected or loosely connected areas/environments suddenly comes to an end as these environments are linked together.

    As Mcluhan said the medium is the message

    Now we have a variety of media that shift information, labour and Capital all, essentially the same thing, quickly / widely from one area to another radically changing the environment. Like green plants releasing oxygen, poison or opportunity.

    Consciouness , the idea of memes has some major problems, is shifting and fluctuating just like the rapidly evolving medias and technology
    Virtual worlds where virtual Capital,debt,commodities are traded by computers

    Capital is unchained from states and regulation and can move at the speed of light but this leads to meltdown.
    Labour is weakened, but numbers doubled in 20 years, Socialists look like the Islamists did in 1970, Muggletonians.

    Labour has been ideologically disarmed by a campaign over many years that suceeded more than Capital could dream, some contingency here.

    But this means both danger, ie weakness and opportunity eg the old stabilisers of State Union bureacracy are weakened, a young working class,massively powerful in Asia a South with a revoloutionary tradition.

    The system has shifted phase, a new dimension of exploitaion and accumulation but with Global Warming, Enviromental Degradation,Peak Oil and other important commodities peaking the phrase Socialism or Barbarism has anew urgency

    "The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It ... has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “payment in cash” ... for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation ... Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones ... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind"

  • Comment number 76.

    The comments bring real life to this article the contributions are fantastic. Two things strike me.

    AGE - such a knee jerk reaction by so many to Pauls comment yet it demonstrates the readership age and the need for many to be seen as informed and connected! Myself 35 working mum of two only engaged with the likes of newsnight, BBC Radio 4 in the last two years. The same for Twitter and Blogs. I find all the blogs I follow and Twitter are from people of similar ages or older and I am not connected effectively or listening to the generation below me. Nor are they listening to me. I think for many we are active observers and not active participators of the real issues, debates and challenges. The comment from ZouEG in Egypt was the only one that struck me as being someone truly connected to the likes of those who are discussed here. I want to here more from them!

    RESPONSIBILITY - This need for so many to point fingers "for why it is kicking off" is deeply frustraing, blaming BANKS, POLITIONS, SUPER RICH, PARENTING, SOCIAL CLASSES. The majority of us, how ever comparitavely wealthy, have all fuelled the curent global economic and political situations through our own greed. Wanting to have bigger, better, faster, easier etc when what we have already is too much! I am as guilty as the rest. It starts with personal reform and responsibility, set an example through this, others will follow. It almost sounds like organised religion! And we wonder why so many are looking towards this!
    All leaders, political, society, business etc need to stop pointing fingers and need to accept and demonstrate personal responsibility for the situation - (Torys blaming Labour for the economic situation needs to stop)- and encourage others to do the same. From here we can all grow as a society and community together if they want a "BIG SOCIETY" thats the only way.

  • Comment number 77.

    "Marx was no environmentalist and like the entire body politic of his era, Marx castigated the living and working conditions of industrial workers, but did not connect this at the planetary level"

    @richard bunning

    Try reading John Bellamy Foster on Marx and Environmentalism
    Materialism and Nature
    by John Bellamy Foster

  • Comment number 78.

    Lot of good thoughts but - hang on a bit - I'm in my mid-fifties and I'm a bit hacked off with things too.

  • Comment number 79.

    Tried to extract a few gems from historic posts on here to simplyfy the global dynamic underpinning much of this.

    Sasha Clarkson (on the current global economic model)

    why should I have to buy c**p in order that other people can afford the necessities of life? It is wasteful of scarce resources and bad for the environment.

    Hawkeye Pearce (on the financial crash aftermath and corporate / banking leverage)

    ''The frankensteins monster of privatised profits (for the elite) and socialed losses (for everyone else if it goes wrong for the elite...).


    ''We do not live in a democracy, we live in the illusion of a democracy''

    Like paul says... we are all Egyptians now.

    Non of the current imbalance in the world needs to exist, we have both the undertanding to grasp it and the technology to implement a world which is both sustainable and fair yet remains dynamic and exciting for everyone.

    That is a brand new situation in our collective history facilitated by technology which will be grasped, one way or another, as it is the only thing that can work long term. The existing model is hopelessly out of step with reality and will only lead to unecesary conflict and suffering as we are already seeing.

    The more people who become aware of this and do something about via existing democratic structures the less that suffering and conflict is likely to be globally.

    If that does not happen, sooner or later there will be some kind of self made humanitarian disaster that would make the Iraq conflict look like a storm in a tea cup.

  • Comment number 80.

    Your eloquent words strike a chord of affirmation in my soul. But, let an older generation speak!

    I am 64, a retired USAF warrior, as is my fantastic mate. She got 30% disability upon retirement from the USAF, due to gender discrimination, PTSD, when she was prevented in the proper performance of her duties by powerful superiors who also blocked her reporting their abuses in the workplace, on the battlefield, during bivouac, travel and deployment.

    We both have fought the tyranny of restrictions against our Rights to speak out, since we fought to get the vote at 18 years, under restricted Speech Rights while on active duty, when we could fight and die, but could not drink a brew, vote, publish or speak publicly, and were prohibited to perform many functions of an adult in our society.

    The story of tyranny remains the same, but, the cross generational communications were lacking, until Twitter, et al. It is always a story of a power conflict, between the greedy incompetent tyrannical political elites in power, and the educated, dis-enfranchised, masses.

  • Comment number 81.

    Excelllent thought-provoking article with some really well argued comments. As a tech-savvy 50 plus person who arrived here via Flipboard on the iPad(!) I would just like to add my voice to the growing number of not quite so young people as I really do believe that this zeitgeist transcends age just as much as it does class, upbringing and background.

    Oh and could we please have like and share facilities for Facebook and Twitter on this blog?

  • Comment number 82.

    Paul Masson’s points were great. I wondered when someone was going to cit the French Revolution. And in this revolving world I wonder where American stands. I think the last elected officials in the United States are the unemployed post graduate student class. Most definitely the election of our present president was one indication the start of or culmination of a United States revolution. Other signs of US revolution may be reform in the student loan program which lets a lot of borrowers off the hook. Very quietly many benefits which were exclusive to persons 65 are now being offered to persons 60 years old. One of the things about this country that makes it interesting is the ability of our elected official to be proactive . Too we have a government sanctioned revolution every 4 years. Since the election will be next year I expect a lot of “happenings” that will be favorable for the voting public in this country. Or at least favorable to public opinion.

  • Comment number 83.

    I think that you make some excellent points. As for those who feel excluded by your comments regarding age, I agree that this is a generalisation. The difference is fundamental to the digital native and digital immigrant argument. I am 53 but having spent my life in IT since the seventies I think I am unusual in being a late entrant to this new meme, but by no means unique. More and more people of my generation are becoming interested and knowledgeable in the uses of social media, blogging and may yet grasp that the myth of a 'Big Society' is principally that it already exists, albeit not in a controllable form that those in power seek to impose.
    Only today a good friend in his early sixties enquired about semiology. The Egyptian Government, dinosaurs that they are, do not seem to employ anyone capable of a semiotic awareness to the signs that have been moving across the internet or even the very walls of their capital.
    A wiser man would have read the writing on that wall long ago. Our own leaders may think it possible to impose their own memes in high profile speeches, newspaper front pages and tv interviews, but these are all pre-constructed monologues. They seldom see, read, hear and steadfastly refuse to listen to competing discourses and this is the reason that they fail to respond appropriately to dissent.
    When and if they do catch up who will want to hear a word they have to say? There is no way, with the dependence of financial, government and commercial interests on the world-wide-web, that they can afford to even contemplate reducing us all back to a pre-internet existence and restricted flow of information.
    Freedom of information can no longer corral the minds of millions and the old guard are finished, sooner or later the democracy of the internet and mobile technology will assert itself.

  • Comment number 84.

    Reasons why it's kicking off everywhere.
    First, you have to define "it", and that's not an easy job; but my definition is "it" is full Human Rights - dignity, human respect, equality, the right to freedom and as much happiness as this world can present to you.
    Everywhere people look, they see the opposite; they see an elite that has as much as 98% of the resourses, and the rest who struggle on less than a dollar a day. They see mothers who cannot feed their babies; they see Indians committing suicide because Mansanto crops ruined their livilhoods; they see people used as fodder in the illegal wars of the elite: They see Hell.
    The social dynamic is bigger than what I've written thus far because I believe the social dynamic is a slow about-face from religion towards spirituality where we are all one, and no one has the inborn right to have so much while others have so little. Religion is full of rules: thou shalt not.
    Where does religion say thou shalt be equal, thou shalt be respected, thou shalt share and be happy, thou shalt not keep more than is sufficient onto you?
    Religion says is that you must love God with all your mind heart and strength. What kind of God needs all this love. This type of God seems pretty egocentric, insecure, paranoid and unloveable to me.
    The only way that I can buy into "you must love God with all your mind heart and strength" is to believe that we are All God; we carry the flame of God inside our hearts. Therefore, you cannot hurt me without hurting the God within me, and I cannot hurt you without hurting the God within you. And there are a lot of people going around spitting in God's face with polution, deforestration, cheating, lying, and grabbing far more than their share. (They usually say prayers and belong to a Church.)
    Technology makes hierarchies: there are those who own the technology and make great profit; and there are those who work the technology and make - maybe a dollar a day.
    As for "memes" - memes carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices are transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. The problem is that most modern "memes" are wrong; they are bad memes e.g. some people are "untouchable".
    Our generation will create its own "memes" on the principle that we are all one, all part of the collective consciousness, and therefore all part of God. The God in me will recognize the God in you.
    As for the social networking, in order to use it intelligently and a socially-responsible way, people must be aware; they must be able to resist media propaganda. They must think for themselves. At this time in our history, social net working has the Achilles heals of "boredom" and brain-washing. People want to be involved and often times act without thought; they can be impulsive, and create more damage than good.
    Intelligence is not measured in the number of years schooling completed; it is often better measured in a thoughtful perspective - the thinking human. Too often persons graduate from higher education without the ability to think independently; perhaps this is why the status quo has remained the status quo for so very long. We desperately need schools that do not teach by rote (often incorrect rote, like Christopher Columbus discovered American in 1492; in fact his real name wasn't even Christopher Columbus!). We need schools that teach individuals how to think, debate, come to personal comclusions. Who benefits from "rote" schools? Who would benefit from "thinking" schools where students are tuaght to question everything.
    In short, I believe we are experiencing a change of consciousness, an awareness that things are not right, and the desire to be part of the solution - even if need be, at the cost of our own lives.

  • Comment number 85.

    Very stimulating thought starters, however ....
    1. Maybe check out the theory of relative deprivation and 'anomie' as to why there was a revolution in France in 1789 and not in Russia - economics (as you partially acknowledge !) is still a strong trigger and very relevant to today.
    2. This is not generational (as it was in 1968) baby-boomers now feel a strong sense of guilt for their failure to provide sustainability for their grandchildren (and we are as techno literate !) - their alliance with the young poor may be critical.
    3. The plethora of datapoints is a threat now we are moving into Web 3.0 - there is increasing dissatisfaction with the paucity of reliable, comparable and meaningful information. It is this weakness that the counter-revolutionaries exploit (and always have - compare French provincial newspapers with Parisian sources in 1789).

  • Comment number 86.

    richard bunning

    I think you misunderstand Marx's term 'dictatorship of the proletariat'.
    This is quite understandable due to the Stalinist/Maoist one-party dictatorships of the last century.

    Marx was very much a democrat - you could even call him a democratic extremist.
    The term dictatorship of the proletariat was a description of society where the workers (the proletariat) had taken power but the means of production were still to be fully taken into public ownership.
    Passing a law that all capital & productive land & raw materials are the property of the people doesn't actually give the people collective control over them.
    It takes time for the people through direct democracy to actual take control.

    This is in contrast to so-called representative democracy where the people are sold the illusion of having power whilst control of the means of production (which is the basis of society & how it reproduces itself) remains with the ruling class.

    That's why it's all about class & all about understanding economic relationships.

  • Comment number 87.

    As a middle-class, female, futureless graduate who has been involved in direct action and student protest movements for the last few years, I though this was very perceptive.
    However, I disagree that these movements are about power and not economics. I think the two go together and any activist well read in Chomsky must surely agree.
    I also think many of these movements are focussed around one very successful meme; radical democracy.

  • Comment number 88.

    Missing the big picture:

    - internet access is only for a few with discretionary income in many countries so the 'tech' aspect is overplayed,

    - Large population segments are recipients of govt. subsidies/dole which helps maintain business as usual, this is certainly true in Iran, Egypt and Saudia; anywhere there is secret police and the need for paid informants

    - Establishment has many options. If dictators are overthrown, the next stage is 'Jihadi regime' and after that is the failed state, roamed by mercenaries, bandits and energy companies. The object is resources, not markets.

    The underlying problem is resource/fuel constraints which makes fuel- bound goods such as food increasingly expensive. The choice for the 21st century is not to Twitter a revolution or not but to drive a car or eat.

  • Comment number 89.

    Toby/Richard Bunning et al...

    ...all the major parties offered was deficit cutting ideology, gold-standard fixed currency era political-economics that has more in common with theology than science.

    In a floating fiat currency system where the government is the monopoly supplier of money-unlike in the Euro lunacy-there is NO SHORTAGE OF MONEY.

    The limit on money's creation is the mass un/der-employed and idle capital.

    When 20-25% of the young in Australia here and the US are unemployed, similar to Egypt and the Arab world, let alone South Africa, who are the failed dysfunctional states now?

    Norway and the UK Green party are the nearest to the relatively straightforward solution of a Job Education Training (JET) Guarantee to invest in the young up to 24 and those out of work for over 26 weeks, ideally lowered to 2-4 weeks, at Decent Living Minimum Wage, around £7 an hour for starters.

    When the private sector's massively in debt or firms sitting on cash mountains but too scared to spend because demand/spending has dropped off to pay off the debts, the government as spender of last resort is the only game left in town to keep all output bought and balance the National Income/Demand Accounts to keep the economy warm enough to have full Employment.

    The irony is that most people are happy with current spending levels, bar a couple of per cent to fund the JET Guarantee, so what's needed is cuts in VAT and Job Taxes on earned Income and National Insurance to get the economy going forward again.

    The following blog and explanation of Modern Monetary/Soft Currency Economics are strongly recommended to revolutionise and destroy current neo-classical political economic ideology.

  • Comment number 90.

    @Zagrebo thanks.

    @workingmum35, no we haven't ALL caused this by our greed. Millions of people don't earn enough to splurge, much as many might wish to. The so-called boom years left many behind. As did the babyboomer years.

    We aren't all middle class and we never have been. But it's those who "had it all" and are now having it all taken away from them who will make up the most interesting block of resistance to this extreme right-wing slash'n'burn government.

  • Comment number 91.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article and with the remarks by Laura (No 11). I do feel, however that a lot of the dissatisfaction felt is not only centred on the young. I am 58 and have become increasingly worried about the way that the world is leaning. I have protested about things myself but my husband is one of the "I'm all right Jack brigade" and so are my children...I have become more concerned as I get older but not so my family. Technology is a boon and does enable people in different countries to know more about each other and the difficulties they face. I hope that it will continue to promote freedom of thought and promotion of true democracy and, I hope, before I die, to see a fairer distribution of wealth, knowledge and good health around the world. Long live the internet and all who use it!

  • Comment number 92.

    Some very valid points made here. There is one I would add, and, I think, one which is going to make this different from other periods of protest.
    I believe, in the past, the people involved may have disagreed with the policies of the older generation, but they also believed that they had the best interests of their children at heart.
    However, in this period, I believe the 'children' see through the motivations of the elder generation, see that they are just trying to keep their OWN benefits whether by keeping jobs until later in life/using (and not even trying to use non-wastefully) the Earth's raw materials/not caring about leaving an environmental mess/catastrophe behind.
    In short, I think they have seen the utter selfishness with which most of the Western baby-boomer's have lived their lives and do not believe they will act in any way different towards their children. The poor have never enough to make this a problem, it is now the children of the middle classes who are rebelling against the attitudes of their parents.

  • Comment number 93.

    So after all this fascinating feedback, how do we all arrive at our "Rightful" place in life?
    Rule:- don't put up with Foolishness, think and work hard, understand the ancients.(and understand the real mechanics of the credit crunch)
    BUT if families, companies and countries have to cover their respective costs. "They" becomes "us" and its What we can do for our country which prevails. We must understand how finance works and accept how far our abilities can take us and just be happy to contribute. We must all learn to care alot about everything. Every day try to understand the other persons point of view and provoke reflection so he can understand yours - tirades ramming thoughts down peoples throats never worked for long - social cohesion and mobility is not a right it has to be worked for and earned
    Paul you have thrown a very large stone into a very large pool. well done

    Incidentally on Andrew Marr Lord Levy said he didn't understand the big society well has he traced its root apparently not otherwise he would have told us his take - I still think its up us to learn how to become "good citizen" - of course that requires a definition - sod it I don't don't feel "educated" enough BUT i'll keep trying -

  • Comment number 94.

    "Middle Class" who are they? is it just an economic category now with no social element - counter pointing with "middle Class Values" some labels are so screwed they cease to be useful as they mean different things to different people much the same as "The Rich" "The Bankers" "The working Class" an interesting group worthy of investigation are the apparently huge number of NINA(no income no assets) self certifiers who asked for 100% plushome loans and were given them by double glazing salesmen(sarcasm)egged on by Lehman brothers some say to satisfy Chinese investors wanting some triple A security - where were our elders (house of lords commons when this was going on? Everyone now has to take a personal interest in everything (A tall order - now that's a gross understatement - but what is the alternative - the welfare state isn't an abdicagtion of responsibility - its supposed to be a safety net (define that!)

  • Comment number 95.

    The police in the UK has also been active online. They have been trying to gain more credibility for their position by going 'real time' with Twitter, for example. They are also trying to shift the discussions that are being held on blogs/forums/etc. Here's an example of this:

  • Comment number 96.

    I'd add the growing disparity between the "haves and have nots"--in every country--with minimal economic growth ahead. Which all ties to the lack of jobs. Great list and insight--thanks.

  • Comment number 97.

    #28 David von Geyer

    "We now have the technology to govern ourselves. Ordinary people know more about real life than the politicians so why not use the Internet to Vote For Yourself and do away with the elite."

    More than ever direct democracy is possible.
    It's about time we surpassed Ancient Athenian democracy.

    But again remember, it's not about whose got the best idea & convincing everyone.
    The political structure is a reflection of the underlying economic relations.
    Only when the capital & land are commonly controlled can we have direct democracy; indeed, the common control requires direct democracy.

  • Comment number 98.


    this is not my beautiful house, how did I get here ? :)
    (I suggest moving to the kitchen where the hot knives keep the tourists at bay :)

    It's all numbers with you isn't it Paul, 10 things, 50 books, 2 down, first law (#7)
    (although this extraordinarily good one must bump you up to #6 :) and now 20 reasons.

    All this new tech stuff (tweeting, facebooking, blogging etc.) isn't for our personal benefit, it is a broadcast medium.

    We are all in this individually and every voice matters.

  • Comment number 99.

    #65 Mike Sivier

    "How long before we see a British policeman abusing his uniform in a protest, as we did in Egypt?"

    It's happened many, many times.
    The Miners' Strike of 1984.
    In Parliament Square at the recent Students demo.

    Perhaps now people can see more clearly why the left are so hostile to the police.
    Some may be very public spirited, but when it comes to any challenge to the ruling elite they very quickly become fascist thugs.

  • Comment number 100.

    I agree with all of your points, Mr. Mason, and I suggest another:

    - The significant age disparity between the "bulging" younger demographic, and their "elected" representatives.

    Even in Canada, this age gap is ridiculous. The politicians that have been guiding the economies, industries, educations systems and work forces for decades now have no experience with the technology or problems that today's young adults face. As a result, our governments are ill-prepared for the speed at which today's society can change direction.

    In poorer nations, it is rare to see a politician who isn't considered upper-class. In the more developed nations, the stereotypical politician is almost ubiquitously middle-aged, perhaps even elderly, and as they progress through the ranks, their interpersonal connection to their electorate diminishes proportionately. According to this article, the stereotypical leader of these protests is a youthful, inspired, and an amazing public speaker. The former may represent a "larger" vote, but the latter is tenacious and inexperienced compared to the other, but is committed to reform and outspoken. I feel that today's politicians are too lethargic, too encumbered by the system, unmotivated and complacent to the status quo.

    Most of these politicians are "grandfathered" in (for lack of a better term), and the status quo makes it difficult for young(-er) representatives to break in to the key positions required to institute reform. Furthermore, I'm sure the the ever-roiling disgust that today's youth harbors for politicians, lobbyists, and policy-makers would steer many away from a career in politics, which further exasperates the problem.

    I feel that the solution is both complicated and laborious. Since the birth of the Internet age, politics seems to benefit more and more from transparency. Since the "internet bubble" collapsed, there has been a steadily-growing gap between the technologies used by the public and the technologies used by the people. Today's youth can't even begin to comprehend how a politician doesn't know how to podcast, or blog, or even run a forum. Remember when Obama wanted to do a daily blog? Remember how unique and exciting that was?

    My belief is that the youth, the technology, and the politics need to merged. Somehow. I'm tired of going to a government office and seeing a DOS interface on someone's screen. I'm tired of new curriculum taking years to propagate throughout the system. I'm tired of money being dumped into useless, eye-catching projects while our infrastructure collapses into disrepair. We need energy plans. We need better foreign policy (ie keeping our nose out of other people's business) and more focus in intra-national issues like homelessness and poverty.

    Perhaps, similar to the "equal opportunity" laws that promoted diversity (racially, sexually, and physically), should also be in place in our government. From Wikipedia's "Affirmative Action" post:

    "The Canadian Employment Equity Act requires employers in federally-regulated industries to give preferential treatment to four designated groups: Women, people with disabilities, aboriginal people, and visible minorities."

    The "preferential" treatment only goes so far as to say you must have a minimum (I think it's like 10%) of your board of directors must fall into one of those categories. Still, this law exists for a reason, and what's good for the goose should be good for the gander. Perhaps the same requirement could be applied to the House of Commons and Senate, and even individual parties, and most importantly, should be adjusted to oppose ageism as well. Normally, I'm a fence-sitter on affirmative action, sometimes it does more bad than good. However, a good government should always represent its people proportionately, and I feel that any policy that improves demographic comparison between a nation and it's government is always a good idea. With the corresponding youth and broad range of educated talent, technology will hopefully follow. Then, maybe, just maybe, with the right representation and the appropriate tools, truly beneficial change can begin.

    TL;DR: The old farts have to go. At least in Canada, anyways.

    Now, in the hopes of promoting further discussion, what would the ramifications be for this policy? What would happen if Canada, for example, took a census and then forcefully adjusted the demographics of Parliament to be rigidly representative of the results? Sure, you'd have some inexperienced and maybe less-than-ideally-educated people in higher positions than they might normally be, but isn't the system more prone to groupthink without them? Isn't diversity and communication absolutely essential to the creative process?

    Mr. Mason, I was hoping to hear your thoughts on this idea, since I claim no expertise in this field.


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