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Rax Interview with Thom Yorke

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Thom Yorke is the lead singer in Radiohead, one of the most successful rock bands in the world. The Rax team caught up with him in February 2010.

What kinds of issues do you think are most important for young people to address today?

Oh, I really don’t feel qualified to answer that…
I'd like to think they are extremely concerned about climate change.
I'd like to think they are concerned about the demise of a political establishment that does not represent them and is concerned with itself only.
I'd like to think they are bothered by the influence of large corporates over political decision and the constant PR b******t they throw out.
I'd like to think they are concerned about inheriting an economic system that is being propped up like the leaning tower of Pisa.
I'd like to think they view this generation’s inability to bring about the necessary changes with complete contempt.
I'd like to think they don't really believe facebook and twitter is better than sitting in a forest at dusk listening to the sounds.

How do you go about gathering statistics and informing yourself about the issues that you are most concerned about and what advice would you give to young people to make their own forms of critical thinking and enquiry?

Statistics can be used and abused. I have been in debates where the climate change deniers just reel out statistics that you have never heard and have no time to check thus derailing any constructive debate. How useful! Statistics are the favourite weapon of choice by PR firms and newspapers. Climate change is a particularly hectic one cuz there is so much technical science and it is such an emotive subject with people desperate to be told it ain’t true. This reminds of the countryside alliances claim that 80 percent believe in hunting or whatever was the car sticker. Yeah. Right. And 80 percent believe range rovers have never seen any mud… meaningless.

What tips would you give young advocates about how to use language best to represent their campaigns?

Try to retain a sense of humour.  
Try to retain a belief in the common sense of others and try to respect their views at least enough to find the holes in them.
Don't become the upper middle class English wind farmwoman who believes God is on her side and uses fear anger indignation prejudice and ignorance.
Remember it is the job of MPs to listen to you. They don’t have a choice.
Oh, and get some natty artwork.

What tips can you give young people who want to write lyrics that will make a difference to their world?

That there is nothing more dry and boring in art than politics. It has to be fermented and distilled. It has to be personal. It has to be light of touch. It is much more about how you do stuff, your state of mind and less about the words on the page.

What advice would you give young music makers who want to make a difference with their talent?

This is one for Ed in Radiohead… it is his obsession. When we discuss it he says it’s simply a matter of time – months rather than years – before the music business establishment completely folds. He is involved in trying to build a world where artists would finally get paid. But we are up against the self-protecting interests of that industry. They are currently trying to lobby to take all the cash themselves whilst claiming to protect the interests of its artists. Oh yeah? When the corporate industry dies it will be no great loss to the world. So, I guess I would say don't tie yourself to the sinking ship because believe me it's sinking.

What kinds of informed and responsible actions do you think would be most effective for young people to create or take part in?

Well violence is always a drag. You will always get monkeys at big protests who are angry or just looking for a fight. But it plays into the hands of those against you. And nowadays police tactics don’t exactly help. Events that have wit. That take the piss. That expose and ridicule… without anger and with little judgment. And you are far more likely to get favorable press from that. Face to face contact. That sense of a common thing between people when they get together.

What kind of obstacles do you think young people seeking a change may come up against and how do you think they can overcome them?

That people find it harder and harder as they get further sucked into their lives to see how things could be different. It requires energy. It also requires you to imagine it for them. Nothing can be done if it has not first been imagined. And it’s the job of others to make that hard. Lobbyists installed at Portcullis House and Westminster for example.

Also we have been brought up – since Thatcher I think – to believe our communal voice is dead politically. That we are atomized… selfish animals. The biggest obstacle to change is always the conditioned belief that we are on our own, fearful, powerless like some Kafkaesque* nightmare. Very convenient if you run Tescos or BP right??

In what ways is 21st Century technology making a difference to a young person’s world and how do you think it can be used to bring about change?

It offers the opportunity to share information and circumvent traditional media, but I think that the cloud of information and semi-relations with others over the net can be an illusion, or rather a dangerous distraction. It is not so good for the mind to be constantly elsewhere… or to believe that by posting stuff on the internet that in itself will change anything. I wonder how much of this technology is a total waste of time and energy? That we fill it up because it is there? And that in turn it further feeds our sense of isolation and belief that we can change nothing. To stand with others on a march through a city about something you really care about is more likely to have a profound effect on how you see the world.

What's your main advice to young people today who want to make a difference to their world?

Do it now while you’re young, while it is clear in your mind, while the energy is there ready to be used… before you become enmeshed in the web of responsibilities and the complications of life that creep up on you unawares. For example… it is much easier to risk arrest if you do not have kids?? Ha-ha!

*Kafkaesque – This refers to the work of the German author Franz Kafka (1883-1924). His famous novels – The Trial and The Castle – show a surreal world full of fear, control, confusion and nameless authorities that rule every aspect of people’s lives.

Learn more/get involved: www.radiohead.com/deadairspace

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