Friday, October 25th, 2013

I'm Gonna Take A Pass On Russell Brand's Bloody Revolution

I am glad that there is such a thing as Russell Brand, and I was as impressed with his recent conversation with Jeremy Paxman as everybody else was, for I share his egalitarian and environmentalist views. It is beyond refreshing to see someone in the public eye willing to speak out in this way. I've read Brand's books and seen some of his comedy and movies, too, and heard a little of his old radio program, and am generally a fan.

However I believe his calls for "revolution" are the absolute worst, even if he means the Velvet kind, as I hope and believe he must.

Brand is very far from being the first person ever to become utterly exasperated with the horrible condition of Western Civ.—so much so that he's ready go all "we don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn." Moving and sincere as he is in the Paxman interview, it is a little boggling, the way he appears almost to believe he's the bringer of some kind of revelation. In any case, this Burn It Down mentality has never worked, not ever, to secure a fair and just society. And it's been tried!

The chief problem is that revolutionaries never reckon with the survival of their ideological opponents. But they do survive, they always survive. For example, when I was a girl I was certain that John Lennon's generation was going to get in charge and fix everything by the time I grew up. They were so obviously in the right! Peace! Love. What could be more obvious. And look what happened! The Piggies are fatter than ever. George W. Bush is six years younger than John Lennon would have been, had he lived.

In the U.S.A. we now have many different gangs of ideological purists who no longer care what happens to a corrupt and incompetent government. Each of them believes so strongly in the rightness of its own cause that somehow or other everyone will, everyone MUST, come around eventually to their way of thinking, because it's so obviously true and right. The Tea Party is one such gang, and as I am sure Russell Brand knows, they recently tried and failed to take the world's economy hostage in order to subvert the constitutional operations of the U.S. government. This was a newly violent, destructive development in modern-day American politics, and it provoked general horror and dismay. Yet these people are doing exactly what Russell Brand suggested to Jeremy Paxman ought to be done.

In order to achieve an ideologically pure society constituted according to their convictions, the Teahadists would have to kill me (and millions and millions of others,) because I'll never agree with them and cannot be made to. When revolutionaries start getting their way, that's just what happens. This we have seen, over and over again, and it never results in a better world. It only results in a nightmare.

So the reason why the needle of our politics can hardly be made to move is that we have to share the world with our ideological opponents, and we just don't want to kill them. It's no more complicated than that. If we tried to get along with them a little better (and they with us), we could move it a little farther.

As for voting, I am in total agreement with Brand that it does little to nothing to alter the status quo. However it is sometimes useful for averting abject catastrophe. In the U.S., that is all that voting has been good for pretty much all my life. I am very, very angry over the broken promises of the Obama administration, particularly with respect to transparency and whistleblower protections, which were explicitly promised. I worked hard to get Mr. Obama elected, and I am real mad. But every time I think about the bare possibility of a President Palin I immediately begin to fan myself with relief and all my regrets vanish instantly. Sometimes it is worth voting. Faute de mieux! Isn't that basically the mantra of adult life?

My own hope is that it will be increasingly possible to field progressive candidates and fund them with grassroots money. In the U.S., I believe, the Man fears the very thing I hope for: hence all the frantic attempts to permit private money to influence elections, yet another of which currently awaits the uncertain verdict of Chief Justice John Roberts.

It seems to me that Brand has got a very warm nature, and he has this tendency to get all wound up and make a real mess. I was particularly disappointed in his attempt to cheapen Jeremy Paxman's appearance on "Who Do You Think You Are?"—in which he described the hard but admirable life of his grandmother, Mabel. Why couldn't he see that this was Paxman's way of drawing attention to the same things Brand claims to care about—oppression, inequality!! Paxman has always treated Russell Brand really well, so far as I know, kindly and respectfully. So this rant against Paxman was a real lapse in judgment, and I think that Brand should apologize to him. If he wants to involve himself in issues of politics and social justice—and I hope he does—Russell Brand will maximize the good he can do by trying to be a little more… politic.

Maria Bustillos is a journalist and critic in Los Angeles.

18 Comments / Post A Comment

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"we have to share the world with our ideological opponents, and we just don't want to kill them": Well, you may not want to kill them, but some of them certainly do want to kill you (and me). Spend awhile browsing right-wing websites if you're in any doubt about that. It's just that killing you isn't practical, for now.

By the way, a devil's advocate – and if ever that term fit an argument, it fits this one – might say the problem with old-fashioned purges is that they were so uninformed and therefore clumsy. Too many people got killed just for being from the "wrong" family or in the "wrong" occupation or whatever. The great thing about a new-fangled purge is that thanks to things like Facebook and Twitter, it could be ever so much more precisely targeted. And guess who has a treasure trove of that kind of information just waiting to be seized by extremist politicians? (Hint: see Snowden, E. J.)

deepomega (#1,720)

@Ralph Haygood Just a heads up: They say the exact. Same. Thing. About liberals. On their right wing blogs. Everyone is convinced their team is the rational, reasonable team, and the other team is the one who will ban free elections and murder the losers.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@deepomega Riiight. They have just as many videos of us carrying guns, running around the woods in fatigues, and practicing shooting, as we have of them. Sure thing.

@Ralph Haygood No Niko, but there is a right wing version of the liberal fear of militant libertarians. They fear that the government will take away your home, remove you from your family, seize your property and put you to work for the government supposedly for "the greater good."

Or the government will have bureaucratic panels that decide who gets to procreate, who gets to eat, deserves to live and who deserves to die. These fears are exaggerations based on actual facts about leftist ideology, just like the fear of a violently individualist wild west state is based on actual facts about much of right-wing ideology.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Niko Bellic They don't think liberals will do it with militias, they think liberals will do it with government agencies.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@deepomega Government agencies, just like militias, have to be made up of people who like shooting guns, if not to make it a hobby, at least enough to make a career of it. As we know (and they too know), cops and soldiers are by and large conservative types. So, it would still be THEM doing it.

Werner Hedgehog (#11,170)

Question for the Author: have you ever been of the revolutionary mindset? And how did you change your mind?

It's a v. thoughtful piece that allows you to calibrate your reformist position against a notable individual's revolutionary one.

katenka (#250,935)

It didn't seem to me that Brand was advocating any kind of ideological purity, or even suggesting that he had much in the way of ideology to offer (although he did ultimately plump for a sort of vaguely defined Green-Socialist vision). And, if anyone got a little uncivil (am I alone in not seeing this interview as all that hostile, for all that it got lively??? — maybe so…) I think it was probably right around a tie, given Paxman's "trivial person" jab.

Anyway, in general I think Paxman's line of "what gives you the right to complain if you don't have an answer for everything?" is considerably more dangerous than Brand's "things don't work and have to change no matter what." It is Paxman's line — and I don't mean to pick on the guy, as it is a standard response/criticism that certainly did not originate with him, even in the current age — that I believe sets us up for the really scary no-compromise, scorched-and-salted-earth scenario, because the hurdle that he establishes for change is impossible to get over. It is not just a complex question, it is actually an UNANSWERABLE one at this stage because there are too many unknowns and too much ambiguity (and even a plan along these lines that COULD work would certainly not be GUARANTEED to work). Deferring change, meanwhile, strikes me as an exceedingly unwise choice at this juncture. I think that the most successful societal changes come from *creative re-use* of (some of) the discarded modes, and I saw nothing in what Brand said to suggest he was opposed to this (and the loosey-goosiness of his future vision, while it has its limitations, lends itself well to cooperative and inclusive efforts), while Paxman's stance (for all that he seemed a basically decent and well-intentioned person) of demanding a ready-to-go solution would make it considerably more difficult.

I wonder if the difference in outlook here comes down to something as simple as belief in the efficacy of voting? I don't believe any more (although I still do vote), Brand doesn't, and I guess Paxman does and you do. I think that the time to start figuring out what we want to work towards and build and how we want to do it is…well, forty years ago, but, barring that, right now, and I believe we are going to have to build it from the ground up, and without much in the way of assistance or guidance from our power elites, who appear to have other concerns.

questingbeast (#201,738)

@katenka I don't think you can assume anything about what Paxman thinks. He has to always appear neutral, which he chooses to do by endlessly and belligerently playing devil's advocate. I don't think that always leads to particularly productive debates (although I've seem him take far stupider tacks in interviews than this one), but the opinions aren't necessarily his.
(I agree with what you've said generally though.)

katenka (#250,935)

@questingbeast A fair point! It is Brand being interviewed, after all, not Paxman.

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

Don't worry, everything is just gonna work itself out.

Monty Johnston (#243,596)

Note: If Democrats had been turning out to vote in anything approaching full numbers we would not be in our present fix. Obama as well as the rest of us would be noticeably further left.

That is, voting results in power. Obama got his second term because he got out the vote. Democrats definitely did not get out the vote in 2010 and I don't have to tell you the rest.

Revolution schmevolution. Get out the vote.

Inverness (#250,980)

@Monty Johnston Obama hasn't ever been remotely left, and has always been beholden to his fundraisers (Wall Street and health care companies). Even during Obama's first term, when he had a democratic majority in both houses, he failed to regulate the banks and pass legislation that would help poor and middle class families.

In Europe, it's arguably worse: whether you vote for the "right," or the "left," the results are the same: deep budget cuts imposed by the Eurozone. It's a game of musical chairs. France's Sarkozy gets replaced by a "Socialist-in-name-only" Hollande, who … cuts the budget!

The system is broken.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

It is pretty clear that the present U.S. ruling class, which seems to be dominated by finance capital (accompanied by the usual thugs), is incompetent now and continuing to deteriorate. This is unfortunate from my point of view because I was hoping things would last long enough for me and my anarcho-communist buddies to get something working on more than a microscopic scale before the crash. Get out the vote? I don't think so; capitalism has solved the problem of representative democracy by buying off or threatening away any representatives who stick their heads up. As a result the r.c. is cut off from reality — which is why they have constructed an enormous secret police apparatus and trashed the Constitution and started wars all over the world. Of course, we'll all continue to continue and hope for the best, but things do not look too good at the moment.

What's odd is that millions of people are aware that the system they live in has failed, but have only the vaguest of ideas what to do about it.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

Wholesale purge-based revolutions often turn out poorly, but a little terrorism shoring up the wing of a mass nonviolent resistance movement has often been a good thing for raising the profile of an issue and making nonviolent resistors appear more credible.

Shantie Villada (#251,082)

It seems to me that you are confusing the term 'revolutionary' with 'autocrat' and, just at the very end, 'politic' with 'polite'.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

There is nothing Russel Brand has said that "we" haven't said or heard before. It's pointless to repeat any related discussion here. The only value in what was said is that it was said by him being him, thus giving it a chance to be discussed by the "rest". "We" should just keep watching bear videos until (if ever) things get beyond the quality of the discourse into the quantity of it.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

This whole post seems to be attacking a weird strawman version of Russell Brand who wants an "ideologically pure society", but that doesn't really come through in the interview at all. I'm sure Brand would be fine with the existence of a vocal minority of people who don't believe in cutting carbon emissions, say, as long as the actual laws in place ensured that emissions would in fact be cut (and similarly for whatever other policies he would favor).

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