“Progress will win.” Journalist and author Paul Mason talks to Northern Soul
Paul Mason’s latest book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, comes in at 300 pages followed by 20 pages of notes then a delicious 36-page index (Marx and Marxism fills a page).
Before the reading copy arrived, and armed only with its title, I questioned whether Mason might have lost the plot. That the book might be a chronicle of a cult foretold. I am happy to report it is not. We are still many, and they are still few (arguably even fewer) but we appear to have lost the ability to act collectively. Rather than rise up against our bosses and against fascism, we are enslaved by our credit cards. We need to use the power we have as ‘networked individuals’.
Mason was born in Leigh in 1960. A self-confessed music whizz-kid with a copy of Brecht’s The Mother under his arm, he went to Sheffield to study music. “Everyone was into politics. There was the steel workers strike and we occupied the university building over fees.”
After university, Mason taught musicology at Loughborough University for two years and conducted a choir. But he recognised he wasn’t going to make a living out of it because “nobody really liked the music I was composing”.
And so he moved to London to work for Reed Elsevier, a publishing house whose roster included “titles you’d see as guest publications on Have I Got News for You”. Given his personal interests, why did he move into business journalism rather than music writing?
“I studied musicology and it is actually very mathematical in its form and so economics was actually very related. I worked for Computer Weekly but I was managing teams of reporters. What I found out when I was working there was that I was very good at summing up in 30 seconds what a researcher had written.”
His big break came when, unbeknown to his friends, he secured a three-month trial on Newsnight. His first appearance was reporting on 9/11. One of his friends called him saying not only was it difficult to believe what had happened in NYC, it was impossible to believe his mate was on the telly reporting on it. Mason got the gig and was plunged into a world almost entirely populated by white men who had been to public school and then Oxbridge. He was asked, ‘where do you go skiing?’
While reading the book, a list of things to go into Mason’s room 101 started writing itself in my head. I put it to him: airport book stand science blockbusters?
“If there’s an attack on science, that’s an attack on 400 years of rational study going back to Galileo et al,” says Mason. “This is an attempt to roll back the history of what has put food on your table, that makes the aircraft fly when you get into it, makes the car engines work etc etc. What we have to realise is, what we are up against is this new form of far right thinking that is an attack on women’s ability to have their own sexual freedom, it’s an attack on a multi-ethnic society.
“My thinking is that progress will win because this generation cannot live through being forced back into the behavioural patterns of their grandparents.”
“The reason I’m so down on Ted Talks is not the talks per se – some of them are very entertaining – but if you look at the top 25 Ted Talks ever watched, they are nearly all a version of how to take someone’s wallet and put it on their shoulder and make them look like an idiot without them even knowing, and they all tend to be about how to get individual power. And they are filmed looking up to suggest power.
“But what I would definitely put in Room 101 is digital anonymity. As society has moved online, we have lost the collective discussion. The unregulated nature of big tech allows us to be anonymous in our online society. Of course, there are things you want to do in private and you can join WhatsApp groups for that purpose.”
He continues: “But the anonymity in online chat rooms where people can spout racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, genocidal opinions is very dangerous. We need to think carefully about this digital veil of anonymity. We need to regulate the big tech companies. I’m a big Twitter user and have got 600,000 followers but would gladly lose half of them if I could get rid of all of the anonymous ones.”
Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being is published by Penguin and available to buy from May 2, 2019.
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