FROM THE DESK OF THE INDELICATES MARKETING CONCERN OPINION WING
I should say first of all that I find little to sneer at in Russell Brand. Until recently I might have even called myself a fan (except I wouldn’t call myself a fan of anyone, because I am a grown up). There’s a tendency to react to people who dabble outside the thing they first became known for with nothing but sneeriness and - while this is enjoyable to the converted - I don’t know that it ever does anything to convince anyone else. I think it’s fine for a comedian to do some political philosophising or for a musician to have a go back. Ad hominem is a fallacy old enough to have a name in Latin; and its fallaciousness is only more obvious when you recognise the almost random manner in which people become famous or successful for one thing or another.
(The sneery columnisty takedown is such a genre these days that it’s almost crippling. How do I even refer to him? ‘Brand’ sounds arch and patrician, ‘Russell Brand’ sounds precious, ‘Mr. Brand’ sounds like I’m at the Oxford fucking Union. I’m going to go with ‘Brand’ because it’s the quickest to type, but please try not to read it in Quentin Letts’ voice.)
I find little to sneer at in Brand. I don’t think that his career leaves him unqualified to delve where he delves. I don’t think his mode of expression invalidates the content of his views. I even think that this bit, from his essay in the New Statesman, echoed in his interview with Mr. Jeremy Paxman...
Cameron, Osborne, Boris, all of them lot, they went to the same schools and the same universities that have the same decor as the old buildings from which they now govern us.
...is ace - mainly because I said exactly the same thing over a year ago here:
(which is available from the only good record shop: http://corpor.at/A345)
But then I read the rest and I watch the video going effortlessly viral and I read so very many people saying things like ‘this.’ and ‘wow’ and ‘I have so much respect for this man’; and I get very cross and then I get sad and then I do this because I think democracy deserves just a little bit of defending.
I think there’s probably a detailed rebuttal to be written to paragraphs like this...
The only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. Not out of some woolly, bullshit tree-hugging piffle but because we live on it, currently without alternatives. This is why I believe we need a unifying and in - clusive spiritual ideology: atheism and materialism atomise us and anchor us to one frequency of consciousness and inhibit necessary co-operation.
...that would question whether such systems are really all we can afford to employ, seeing as things like a legal framework giving rights to the disabled do not rationally serve the planet as they consume additional resources and only serve a relatively small subset of humanity; and that would next wonder what logical steps were taken between this first assertion and the conclusion that the solution would be a ‘unifying spiritual ideology’.
I don’t really know what a unifying spiritual ideology is, but I would imagine it to be something like that one of Glenn Hoddle’s. Leading me to the inevitable question: What have you got against the disabled, Russell? (Sorry, that was a bit facetious)
But detailed rebuttal is quite a boring and indulgent thing to do - so how about we just focus on the headline points.
I take these to be:
1. Democracy does not offer any possibility of effective social change and is a system that only serves an entrenched political class.
2. Revolution - largely undefined, but generally meaning a broad political action conducted outside democratic institutions with the intention of overthrowing and replacing them - would be a good thing to happen.
3. The replacement for democracy should be guided by ‘spirituality’ rather than ‘greed, selfishness and fear’
4. People need to ‘wake up’ to these facts.
Is that fair? The thing about people is that they treat all text a bit like a mirror. That’s why you can be super successful writing opaque song lyrics - the less meaning they actually have, the more people will find applicable meaning for themselves. These are what I take to be the key points - if you read Brand’s views more as an attack on the racism of the elderly Dutch and the realness of karate, then I apologise.
Perhaps it's because of this that Brand is excused for not proposing a concrete program. I’ve seen it argued that he shouldn’t have to come up with policies - he has a right to complain about the way things are. This is part of a general trend to read the fact that someone has been political, assume the content and then applaud them without engaging with what they’ve said.
There are new political bands, new political comedians - the columnists announce. Why is it important to be political? They ask. (It’s ‘cause of stuff, btw). No one ever seems to take the next step and actually talk about what’s being proposed. No one ever asks the fashionable socialist band making waves on the circuit with their Soviet inspired artwork and Internationale inspired lyrics how they square their ideology with the legacy of the Gulag. It’s just art being political, believing the things that political art always believes, immune to interrogation, glassily reflecting engagement.
So well done him. Except that, actually, he does come up with policies - he says you shouldn’t vote. He says you shouldn’t participate. He advocates spirituality over materialism. In his interview he calls for massive redistributive taxation. He thinks you should wake up.
Well here’s the thing. Democracy is a system that formalises the process of revolution and attempts to defang it. Sometimes it’s called the peaceful transfer of power. We can forget how unusual that is if we neglect history and the news. But unusual it is.
Democracy put an end to a world where only thirty years of war could decide between Yorkist and Lancastrian factions. Every election - even if between two rival members of an entrenched political class - condenses into a few bloodless weeks a power struggle the like of which would once have disfigured a country for two generations and cost 50,000 lives. Democracy allowed the great reforming government of 1945 to unseat no less a badass than Winston Churchill and to seriously, sensibly and effectively redistribute wealth via the welfare state without anyone’s head needing to be mounted on anything.
Democracy is revolution - but it is formal revolution that depends on the ability of an argument to persuade a population, rather than a competition of strength.
It is because of this that the right to stand for election is every bit as important to democracy as voting is. Because of this right, having no one to vote for is an irrelevance.
If you can find no candidate with whom you can compromise enough to cast a vote for - if there is no one at all to whom you’re willing to lend the small portion of power that your vote contains in order to achieve something you agree on - then there is always the option to stand yourself.
In that circumstance it may even be your moral obligation to do so.
Stand! Argue for what you believe. Massive redistributive taxation? Stand. Argue for it. Spiritual principles to be enshrined in law? Stand. Lynching as a punishment for executives who alter the charging cables on consumer electronics? Stand - I think that one would be popular.
Voting isn’t the last recourse, it’s not the only option. Form a party, find the others. It’s slow and a bit boring - it doesn’t have the pizzazz of a march of the iron will - but it’s available. You can stand and you can argue for what you want to happen - your job is to persuade people. That’s how it’s done. Voting is just the entry level.
Now of course, what people say, is that this won’t work because people need to ‘wake up’ first. They always need to wake up. These ignorant hordes, controlled by media and adverts and Derren Brown shit. Sheeple. Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Not me, obviously. Nor anyone I’m mates with, particularly. But them. If they were to wake up they’d realise.
I could be wrong. I could even be asleep. But I think that this argument - that the broad mass of humanity are falsely conscious servants of satanic deception, this last refuge of any case that fails in the court of opinion, this go-to conversation stopper of the young-earther and the conspiracy theorist - is horrible.
It’s arrogant, smug and fatally immune to being disproved. Is it really so hard to believe that people confronted with the same facts simply disagree?
Perhaps they know, deep down, that however nostalgic they feel, however unfair everything seems, however stark the (completely real and awful) problems of the world; that the lot of mankind has improved since democracy arrived. That the actual standard of living - the toothaches and infant deaths and mangles and dying at thirty-five and scraping to passing lords and drinking pissy beer because of the death in the water and public hangings and shit-stinking streets and putting your book down at night because candles cost more than you make in an hour and being stuck in your village because the town was day’s ride away and spending every hour bent into a spine shattering posture in the paddy field and eating the same staple sludge every day - has gone up and up, for nearly everyone, even though the unfairness of wealth distribution has grown.
Perhaps they see that this owes nothing much to spirituality. Perhaps they see a benefit in the peaceful transfer of power. Perhaps they just disagree.
But no, can’t be that, can it? They don’t see the need to rise up and overthrow everything so they must be sleeping. They must wake up. If they won’t wake up they can’t be convinced, so there’s no point in standing - democracy will have to go.
So it’s revolution then. Violent overthrow of the current political system by force of strength.
Oh no wait, not violent - because this will be a spiritual revolution not powered by fear and greed and all that other bad stuff. So I guess it won’t be violent.
Except that, at some point, you’re going to run into me. And I don’t want spirituality to have anything to do with government. I’m firmly convinced that that would be a terrible idea. I think Nehru contributed more to the Indian State than Ghandi did and I like the Virginia Statute on religious freedom. I think that the separation of religion from politics is the only guarantee of conscience available to both religious and non-religious people. I don’t believe that there can or should be any such thing as a universally inclusive spirituality. Furthermore, I might be persuaded of the merits of massive redistributive taxation but you are talking about imposing these taxes using a framework other than democracy. I’m happy to be taxed (given the state of my finances it’s practically a privilege) but to be taxed without representation? Fuck no. The vote is a condition of my consent to taxation, as it is for everyone.
On these two points, just to begin with, I am an immovable object to your unstoppable force.
You, Russell, are going to have to do something violent to get me to go along with you. Democracy would have given us a release valve. You could have stood for election and built a movement and persuaded people to vote with you and held a vote on the introduction of spiritual principles and the imposition of redistributive taxes and, agree or disagree I would have gone along with it. But no, you did it with revolution and I’m not budging. You can’t give me an exception without undermining the whole project. You can’t make me go along without force. What are you going to do? What are you going to do when it’s lots of us? What stops us fighting back? What stops everyone piling in and the winner being the hardest?
Are democracies sometimes externally and internally violent? Yes. Is everything unfair? Yes. Is Britain a shithole ruled by ugly class structures that damage us all every day? Yes. Is there an identifiable media/political class that limits social mobility and actively narrows the horizons of lots of people? Fucking A. Will a spiritual revolution do anything but make this worse?
People aren’t that great. They kind of suck. They can be afraid and greedy and all that other stuff. They respond to incentives, more or less. Sometimes they act against their own best interests in the service of an unlikely dream. They like to think they are spiritual, but they are more often just snooty or just kind. To me, your hope that they wake up to some indefinable new truth, that they shun the boring old vote and that they engage in (inevitably violent) revolution is a desire to have people be other than they are. Throughout history every idea that ever ended in slaughter has had that desire in common.
I don’t know who to vote for at the next election. If the Daily Mail accused me of hating Britain I’d take it as a compliment. I massively object to so much of what is being done by the current government and so much that’s being proposed by the party that want to make up the next one and so much that is posted and expressed by the people who will get to elect them that I look at the world and I feel like the Savage in Brave New World (the theme of another excellent song available here: http://corpor.at/A28) unable to participate, but unable to justifiably condemn. It hurts. But Revolution? If I’m allowed then everyone is and I won’t win.
So I have democracy. It’s imperfect and irritating and boring and difficult. But thanks to it, if I don’t like what’s happening, I know exactly what I can do. And if it doesn’t work, it will be because I didn’t persuade enough people and that’s just tough. And that’s fine.
And we should be more ready to defend it. We shouldn't leave it to the establishment - so easily shown up by subject changing and merry pranks. Democracy is deeper than Paxman and Boris and their stupid gothic house - it is precious and fragile and not theirs. We forget it at our peril.
by simon indelicate |