In 2016, Donald Trump stormed Washington promising to “drain the swamp.”
Two and a half years into his presidency, he has one major legislative achievement to his name—a massive tax cut for the ultra-rich—and a cabinet packed with Wall Street insiders and libertarian billionaires.
In his new book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, Paul Mason, the former BBC journalist turned roving political commentator, presents a vision of humanity under siege. He identifies four distinct but related threats: the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, coupled with the vast, unaccountable tech monopolies that administer it; neoliberal economics and the adjoining “cult” of free-market competition; the rise of the authoritarian right, as embodied in the politics of Donald Trump and other populist strongmen; and academic post-modernism, which has steadily undermined public support for scientific inquiry and the legacy of the Enlightenment.
If you think this sounds like a lot to pack into 300 pages, you’d be right: it is. Mason shifts frenetically from one theme to the next, stringing together references from popular culture, political philosophy, tech science, and neurology, as well as drawing on his own experiences as a reporter in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. He has a habit of lunging into distracting tangents: an entire chapter on the worldview of Xi Jin Ping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, could’ve been better summarised in a few short paragraphs. But for the most part, his bracing premise—that human freedom will either thrive as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or be obliterated by it—survives his anarchic writing style.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Western leaders made a series of lofty claims regarding the benefits of globalisation.
“The global economy is giving billions around the world the chance to work and live and raise their families with dignity,” Bill Clinton remarked during the final months of his presidency. “The problem is not [that] there’s too much of it,” Tony Blair told the Labour party conference in 2001. “On the contrary, there’s too little.” “I want globalisation’s children, the coming generation, to enjoy the vastly increased opportunities it brings,” Gordon Brown evangelised a few years later.