Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Russell Brand's Politics

I want to look at a few things Russell Brand has to say - in print and on video (quotations below are from both).  As Elizabeth Renzetti said in yesterday's Globe & Mail, he's resonating with people.  But, as she also suggests, he's not going far enough clearly enough for others to follow.  It reminds me of the Canadian film The Trotsky in which a young rebel tries to encourage a student protest.  (*spoiler alert*)  In the end, they all decide that he hasn't really thought it through all the way, but who cares?  It's clear we so desperately need a revolution.  We might not know exactly how our world should look, but we know it's not like this.

We need guys like this.  
Renzetti refers to Brand's rant as a generational conflict, but she seems to forget that Brand is almost 40, and he's lived a long life.  Sure Paxman is older, but many people implicit in the system Brand condemns are not.  He's not a rebellious youth; Brand is practically middle aged!  And it's dangerous to frame the argument as about age because that alienates the older supporters and dismisses some important ideas as part and parcel of a childish naivete spewed by the adolescents of the day.

Brand's not a rebel without a cause.  He is saying something important, more than just a stance on voting, and people are starting to listen:

On The Left:

I've always thought the left is similar to feminism in that it's an amalgamation of many groups that sometimes have a hard time agreeing on the details, but they all understand the necessity of a far-reaching systemic change - and soon.  We're a motley crew of people precisely because we believe in celebrating difference.
"We have to be inclusive of everyone, to recognise our similarities are more important than our differences and that we have an immediate ecological imperative....We should include everyone, judging no one, without harming anyone." 
But we can't keep doing what we're doing while people are suffering.  We have to stop the exploitation of the people and the planet.
"Profit is the most profane word we have. In its pursuit we have forgotten that while individual interests are being met, we as a whole are being annihilated." 
But Brand raises a different issue that also bridges the left with feminism:  
"This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum."
fools speak truths
We won't win any converts if we don't have a sense of humour.  The fact that a leftwing facebook page keeps deleting any posts about Brand seems to merely illustrate his point further.  But, in times of difficulty, when the powers that be are getting too big for their britches, then the people best able to take them down are the fools, jesters, and tricksters.  When the news if full of lies, then look to the comedians and artists to speak the truth.  They're not to be toyed with, and they have more power than the 'establishment' imagines.

We can have a strong movement without it being moralizing.  In fact, it will be stronger and more unifying if we can stick to the big issues - that the system "shouldn't destroy the planet, shouldn't create massive economic disparity, shouldn't ignore the needs of the people" - and stop getting swayed by the little divisive issues along the way.  The exploitively powerful are hoping we'll just argue with each other over fluff and let them carry on:
"The system is adept at turning our aggression on to one another. My new rule for when I fancy doing a bit of the ol’ condemnation is: “Do the people I’m condemning have any actual power?....Now there is an opportunity for the left to return to its vital, virile, vigorous origins. A movement for the people, by the people, in the service of the land. Socialism’s historical connection with spiritual principles is deep. Sharing is a spiritual principle, respecting our land is a spiritual principle.”
We can have fun with one another while we take on this incredibly serious task.  Without that guarantee, nobody will want to join us for long.  We have to work on how we treat one another who are fighting the same fight.  It's a view we might blindly dismiss at our own peril.

On Unifying Myths:

Brand gets spiritual in his essay.  He calls us, "A people without a unifying myth."  I disagree.  I think we have a perfectly developed unifying myth, but it's taking us in the wrong direction.  It's a myth alluded to in Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety that suggests if we buy enough crap, we will become loveable.  Something like this:

There was a homely girl who lived in rags and couldn't get the attention of the prince with whom she was deeply in love. Then one day, seeing her tears and loneliness, a crow came and offered to eat away her insides until she became thin, and a jaguar took pity on her and offered fine furs and fancies from the forest. In the mornings, she’d wander the gardens of the castle hoping to be noticed by the prince, but in the evenings, the crow would start his feast, and the jaguar would bring beautiful clothes to soothe her pain. Then, one magical morning, the prince took notice of her taut bones under her fine clothes and jewelry. He offered to marry her, but warned her that she’d be out on her ass if she ever looked old – or refused to perform any bedroom tricks. The newly crowned princess laughed, swallowing down the lump in her throat.  And before the ink was dry on the marriage license, she conspired with the crow and jaguar to get the Prince's riches before her first laugh-line settled in as a permanent resident.

Our myths are about personal perfection through material gains.  And they're killing us.  We need different unifying myths that remind us about our connection to nature and the world and each other.  But they can't be created from scratch.  Myths live deeply in a culture; they don't create the culture.  We have to change the focus of our lives first.  Botton's book offers a solution:  to change the people we look to as role models.  Instead of admiring the wealthy, we have to admire those with character.  We have to look to the artists and writers, politicians and celebrities with something of value to say and who live admirable lives.  But we prefer to look to people who appear to have what it takes to be loved - to be popular.  We want to take a short-cut towards being admired without first becoming admirable.

On Atheism:

Brand hopes we can form a new kind of spiritualism:
"Atheism and materialism atomise us and anchor us to one frequency of consciousness and inhibit necessary co-operation....The Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years, the Industrial Revolution took hundreds of years, the Technological Revolution took tens, the Spiritual Revolution has come and we have only an instant to act." 
I've been an atheist since I was four, but there's a different type of atheism becoming popular that makes it all an either/or proposition.  Something I find powerful about a faith in God is the idea that there's something larger than us all - that we're not at the top of the pile controlling everything.  Because I don't think we are.  And the more we see it as a choice between God and nothing, the more we can sit comfortably with the illusion that we have it all figured out.  I think we just don't know - and can't know.  And that can be uncomfortable, but it can also be very inviting.  At any rate, it might do some good to accept that we don't know everything, and we can't control everything as much as we'd like to think.  We're just one of many species of animals hoping to survive, and we have to do that with great care.  But we've stupidly made a mess of our territory because we refused to believe it's finite.  And we've allowed a few to hoard all the goodies for themselves.  It's time for a new perspective and some retaliation.

Brand has hope that this spiritualism can bring the left to fruition:
But we are far from apathetic, we are far from impotent. I take great courage from the groaning effort required to keep us down, the institutions that have to be fastidiously kept in place to maintain this duplicitous order. Propaganda, police, media, lies. Now is the time to continue the great legacy of the left, in harmony with its implicit spiritual principles.

ETA:  Suzanne Moore is on the same page as I am.  I was almost totally alone in my praise for a bit there.   


karen said...

I am always annoyed when critics of various protests accuse the protestors of not having a solution. Whatever the solution is, it is not a simple sound bite. Was it Churchill who said, "I may not be able to lay an egg, but I am a better judge of an omelette than any hen in England?"

Marie Snyder said...

And maybe we'll end up with something good just by stopping or preventing anything that's particularly troubling.