Oh for the love of God, he’s back. Russell Brand, Britain’s sophomoric revolutionary-in-chief, has written another call-to-something. At least this one is shorter than his previous manifesto. Alas it makes no more sense. What is interesting about Brand is not novel and what is novel is not interesting.
Tom Chivers is right to note that:
But those of you who are bothered, the Russell Brands and Occupy Wherevers of the world, don’t pretend that the political system doesn’t offer anything for you. It does. It offers lots and lots of things. The trouble is, most people don’t want it. Almost every time someone says “mainstream politics isn’t giving the people what they want”, what they actually mean is “mainstream politics isn’t giving me what I want, so we need a different system which does”. And the sound of rattles being hurled was heard throughout the land.
Brand wants to be taken seriously. Which is fine. But the difficulty is that his views are profoundly unserious. He lambasts politicians as crooks and liars in the pocket of Wall Street and the City of London. He complains that they’re all just the same and that there’s no difference between any of the rival political parties. It doesn’t matter who wins elections, nothing changes. And, anyway, they don’t or won’t or can’t address any of the real problems, can they?
Russell Brand hates politics and politicians but is oddly blind to the fact that the problems he spies can only be solved by politics and politicians. All the shouty tosspottery about revolution can’t change that.
Not that Brand is interested in hearing what his critics might have to say. His mind, which pretends to be open to creative solutions, is closed. His critics, you see, “have a vested interest in the maintenance of the system”.
Well, perhaps we do. All things being equal, I’m quite keen to keep liberal democracy going. It’s had a pretty good run and there may be life in the old girl yet. If there’s something worth being vested in, the peaceful prosperity that’s been among liberal democracy’s greatest virtues seems something worth hanging onto. But, hey, I guess that just makes me another dupe of the shady, globalised, financial elite.
Brand might be more convincing if he was capable of being at least a little more honest. With himself, I mean. He writes:
I don’t hate anyone, I judge no one, that’s not my job, I’m a comedian and my job is to say whatever I like to whoever I want if I’m prepared to take the consequences.
So, all this talk about lying politicians and corporate shills and everything else about the way politics is done in this country is just a joke not to be taken seriously? So why waste everyone’s time with it if it’s just a sillyness, a bit of fun, a laugh? Hey: look at me! But, hey, don’t think I’m harshing on anyone, don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m judging anyone! That would be uncool.
Except, actually, why won’t anyone listen? You see:
As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change.
[...] The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right. The lazily duplicitous servants of The City expect us to gratefully participate in what amounts to little more than a political hokey cokey where every four years we get to choose what colour tie the liar who leads us wears
[...] The reason not voting could be effective is that if we starve them of our consent we could force them to acknowledge that they operate on behalf of The City and Wall Street; that the financing of political parties and lobbying is where the true influence lies; not in the ballot box.
[...] I realised then that our treasured concepts of tribe and nation are not valued by those who govern except when it is to divide us from each other. They don’t believe in Britain or America they believe in the dollar and the pound.
[...] The people that govern us don’t want an active population who are politically engaged, they want passive consumers distracted by the spectacle of which I accept I am a part.
This is tinfoil-helmeted stuff. If I understand Brand (which, I concede, I may not), he doesn’t want you to vote and, blimey, the politicians don’t really want you to vote either. They’d rather you remained a “passive consumer” (whatever that is since it seems hard to be a consumer without making at least some choices).
But even if you do vote, you poor sap, you’re being conned. Because politics changes nothing. It’s not even supposed to change anything. Nothing matters! Because, hey, it’s only about serving the already rich and powerful.
Never mind that most of the world really has never had it so good. There is, of course, a long way to go. But that should not prevent us from appreciating what has been achieved. Millions of people across the developing world have been lifted out of absolute poverty. Disease has not yet been banished from the globe but astonishing progress has been made in tackling these matters. The average man on planet earth lives a life of length, comfort, security and prosperity greater than at any previous point in human history. The world really has become a better place.
Many things have contributed to this relative cheerfulness. Trade, obviously, but also, equally obviously, politics. Indeed the former is part of the latter.
Russell Brand either ignores this or simply takes it for granted. Of course inequality persists (how could it not?) and of course there remain many problems but, most of the time (and, certainly in the western world, in most places) these problems are less dreadful than those confronted, and in many instances, solved by past generations.
If we are experiencing a crisis of confidence – even of faith in democracy – this is at least partly, perhaps, because too many people share Russell Brand’s rancid, destructive, nihilism.
Like any ship, the ship of state sails best when it makes only modest corrections to its course. Violent upheaval or over-reaction retards the pace of progress. That’s not dramatic enough for Brand but that’s his problem, not the fault of politics.
Brand claims he’s interested in a debate of some sort. But he isn’t. Not really. Because it is impossible to have a debate with someone who refuses to grant the good faith of his opponents. Brand has delivered his judgement even before the evidence has been heard and the evidence, no matter how compelling, will not, cannot, change his opinion. In that sense, it does become a pointless discussion but this particular well has been poisoned by Russell Brand, not by his critics.
Take, for instance, his presumption that the only reason banks received a costly bail-out was to protect the interests of global fatcats. It may be that the financial system should have been left to collapse. It is possible that the bail-outs were mistaken. That’s a matter that may be debated.
But it is infantile – to put it kindly – to suppose that George W Bush, Gordon Brown and the leaders of every other western nation were solely motivated – all of them! – by their desire to do their financial benefactors a favour. It is ridiculous to presume that the interests of their peoples played no part in their decision-making process. And it is asinine to suppose that “the interests of those in government remain the interests of big business rather than the people they were elected to serve.”
Asinine because there is rarely any such clear divide. You need to live in a state of some startling ignorance to fail to see this. Consider, to take but one of a hundred recent examples, the brouhaha over the fate of the Grangemouth refinery. You might complain that elected officials failed to “stand up” to Ineos and that the company received an undeserved hand-out from the state but a fair or reasonable person might at least admit that doing whatever it took to keep Grangemouth open reflected at least some concern for the interests of the people who work their, some concern for the other companies that depend on the plant, some concern, in fact, for the interests of the people politicians were elected to serve.
Perhaps the politicians got it wrong. That, for the purposes of this argument, is beside the point. Brand, and those who agree with him, have no interest in the detail of any of this. They do not care whether good or bad decisions were made. They assume, without the scantest piece of supporting evidence, that no good or honest decisions can ever even be made. Nor can they recognise that choices often require making the best of an imperfect situation. The world is not always as we would wish it to be. But rather than recognise, far less accept, this it is better to throw a tantrum. Since not everything is the way I would wish it to be, everything must be rotten. This is pathetic.
Tags: british politics, Democracy, Russell Brand