How did it begin?
It started as a few ideas, the fragmented images became visions, they multiplied and took on a life of their own. I raced to keep up with the characters, writing furiously, possessed, stopping only to imbibe -
Apparently that’s what you are supposed to say. It was in fact the interplay between that kind of spontaneity and something else. The emergent story connected with a deeper yearning that had been brewing for a while.
The questions, concerns, ideas and outright rage that arise at the nexus of capitalist excesses, the environment and law are profound and deserve to be considered in high resolution by a wide range of people.
Taking a cue from works like Blood Diamond, The Pelican Brief and The Constant Gardener, Tyranny of the Masses weaves its way through some of today’s most pressing issues and presents their jagged complexity in scenes that intertwine ideas, images, songs, surfing and salty-sweet love.
So what’s it about?
You can look at it from a few perspectives.
At one level, it is a race against time that begins hung-over in Indonesia’s frontier forests, slams though UN headquarters and the Lower East Side, climaxing in the racially charged streets of Cape Town. We love Jackson for his verve but laugh mercilessly at his attempts to confront his emotional intelligence - a Naked Ape that drags its knuckles though kaleidoscopic confusion, jarring juxtapositions and perplexing paradoxes.
At another, it’s about Jackson’s internal struggle to make sense of his role in the world, especially in the context of mass consumption, corruption, deforestation, and species extinction.
And at its core, it is a genuine attempt to describe our times, simultaneously exploring the twenty-first century zeitgeist and the associated political, social and environmental conditions that we both create and suffer.
Why 'Tyranny of the Masses'?
Having broken through a few pain barriers, Jackson notes the following:
Our lives are ever more connected, disconnected, local, global, and consumptive. We are eco-friendly, green-washed, non-ideological, capitalist, apolitical, and confused.
Every day we come face-to-face with a constant barrage of human and environmental tragedies. We have more information at our fingertips than at any time in human history. You’d think this would make us more empathetic towards victims, the vulnerable, the dispossessed and the dislocated.
But it seems the opposite is happening.
Therein lies the paradox: we are ever more connected to what’s happening around the world, but end up feeling desensitised and apathetic. We find ourselves unsure about what it means, what it means for us and, perhaps most importantly, what it says about us - you and me as individuals - living life in the twenty-first century.
We ask: what is our involvement and what have we done or not done to contribute to the newsfeed?
The Tyranny of the Masses presents a theory about our current predicament. It’s an attempt to make sense of a world in which we are increasingly aware of the fragility of life on earth and evermore disregarding of its sanctity.
Jackson’s journey is a metaphor for the moral ambiguity of our times that explores our own complicity and agency in the leaderless Tyranny.
And it’s linked to Catch-22?
It is. In Catch-22, Joseph Heller puts his finger on a universal social situation. There are various definitions of a Catch-22 but this is my favourite:
A paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of dependent situations. For example, you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get a job without experience (Catch-22).
The Tyranny of the Masses is a twenty-first century Catch-22. Many of us enjoy more personal agency than anyone has ever had, and every single day, humans make billions of individual choices. Yet those singular choices - when multiplied - create forces against which we, as individuals, have no power: financial crises, climate change, deforestation, water shortages, sea level rise, collapsing fish stocks, resource wars, and so on.
So I suggest we are experiencing a Tyranny of the Masses, being:
A paradoxical situation whereby individuals’ choices multiply to create powerful global forces against which individuals appear powerless. (Tyranny of the Masses).
Or maybe we do have more power than we imagine. That question lies at the core of the book.
So you want people to read your book and go save the world?
I would like people to use it to further consider who I, You and We are in the context of larger global trends and to take a hard look at our apparent apathy and actual agency. It is not a blueprint for revolution. It’s more like a map.
People are inclined to compare new authors to others. Who do you aspire to emulate?
I’ve tried to make this book as accessible as The Beach, as fast-paced as The Firm, as gritty and outlandish as Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson, as discursive as Bruce Chatwin, and as focused on today’s environmental crises as Margaret Atwood and Naomi Klein. I’ve also released a flock of comedy chickens into the text inspired by Eddie Izzard’s surrealism, Jon Stewart’s insight and John Oliver’s apoplexy.
Who helped you out?
Everyone who laughed in my face and stirred the contrarian in me, and those who shot me a smile and said that if I was mad enough to take it on, I might just pull it off. I’m very grateful to a number of early readers and Brother Cohen for teaching me to fish (aka - build websites). Particular thanks goes to Todd Gitlin for the gift of The Sixties and for demonstrating that the only soaring intellects worth their salt are those deeply grounded in humanity.
What is the book’s first line?
It begins with this:
I fell asleep to dogs barking and awoke to birdsong.
[Laughing] It’s all downhill from there for young Jackson.
And the last line?
Less is more. Too much is never enough.