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Why do you hate democracy so much?

Published by marco on

Russell Brand has been in the media of late, the first time because of an acceptance speech at an awards ceremony sponsored by Hugo Boss, during which he reminded everyone from whom their sponsor had gotten his inauspicious start (the S.S. in the 1930s).

In response to that hullabaloo, he responded with the relatively well-written essay Russell Brand and the GQ awards: ‘It’s amazing how absurd it seems’ (Guardian), in which he wrote,

“I could see the room dividing as I spoke. I could hear the laughter of some and louder still silence of others. I realised that for some people this was regarded as an event with import. The magazine, the sponsors and some of those in attendance saw it as a kind of ceremony that warranted respect. In effect, it is a corporate ritual, an alliance between a media organisation, GQ, and a commercial entity, Hugo Boss. What dawned on me as the night went on is that even in apparently frivolous conditions the establishment asserts control, and won’t tolerate having that assertion challenged, even flippantly, by that most beautifully adept tool: comedy.”

This is a theme to which he would return in a more recent essay, an editorial he wrote when at the helm of the New Statesman for a month. The theme being: endemic corporatism, subverted democracy and revolution as a requirement for upending the status quo (i.e. working within the system is a waste of time and energy, a sink that absorbs transformational fervor in its placative, treacly folds).

Brand went on,

“For example, if you can’t criticise Hugo Boss at the GQ awards because they own the event, do you think it is significant that energy companies donate to the Tory party? Will that affect government policy?”

His more recent essay, Russell Brand on revolution: “We no longer have the luxury of tradition” (The New Statesman) expanded on these ideas further, again in a very eloquent and well-informed manner. That is, this man is well worth listening to and a worthy sparring partner in any debate on the matters outlined above. He is to be taken seriously, even if he is very funny. That someone is funny does not mean that they have nothing serious to say (see Louis C.K. citation below). To the contrary, humor is used to attract attention to the more interesting undercurrents of thought. Interesting thoughts presented without humorous baubles tend to be ignored.

Brand: Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.””

In the video below, Brand elaborated on the reasoning behind encouraging people not to vote in his editorial.

NEWSNIGHT: Paxman vs Brand − full interview (YouTube)

Paxman’s first question set the tone: “what gives you the authority to talk about politics?” What a stupid fucking question. What an arrogant and rude question. In the conversation that would follow, it would quickly become obvious that it was Paxman who had nothing intellectually stimulating or informative to offer, not Brand. Paxman was very dismissive and almost deliberately obtuse – basically, a foil that represents the average idiot. He looked like a fool next to Brand.

Brand: Here’s what you shouldn’t do: shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity and shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

To this Paxman responds with an utterly simplistic question: “How do you think people get power? […] You get power by being voted in.” It cannot possibly be that Paxman is really this stupid. He cannot possibly believe in a democratic process that functions in so simple a manner. And he certainly can’t believe that he lives in such a society. Nevertheless, he continued to hector Brand about his abdication of democracy in not voting, to which Brand eventually responded,

Brand: It’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy, I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations and has now reached a fever pitch where we have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system.”

Paxman then provocatively—trolling—asked why Brand hates democracy, since he’s so ready for revolution? As if Brand were a quitter who just hadn’t given the current system enough of a chance. Paxman can watch his colleagues take democracy, wipe their arses with it, then hand it back and, when the recipient wrinkles his or her nose and moves to throw it away, says “What? Don’t you like democracy anymore?” For him, it’s the whining losers that are the problem, not the horrifically corrupt winners.

Brand had, by that point, more than adequately expressed his views in a succinct (for him, at least) and clear manner. Instead of refuting Paxman, he simply screamed that “yes, I want revolution!”, but at least unapologetically. It is the only conclusion to which one can come with his views – views with which Paxman concurred, by the way. Paxman is just a comfortable coward who doesn’t care one whit for the common man[1].

Paxman takes another classic tack, asking Brand “what’s the scheme? What’s the plan for revolution?” as one isn’t allowed to notice that something is total shit—the current politico-capitalist dynamic, in this case—before one has a fully evolved and bulletproof system ready to replace it. This is a classic bullshit position to take.

Still, Brand answers with an outline,

Brand: I think a socialist-egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and a massive responsibility for energy companies and any company exploiting the environment…I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced […]”

…to which Paxman dismissively crosses his arms, seeming as if he’s doing Brand a favor by even deigning to interview him.

As another answer to this question, in his essay in the New Statesman, Brand had cited Buckminster Fuller’s solution to everything,

“By spiritual I mean the acknowledgement that our connection to one another and the planet must be prioritised. Buckminster Fuller outlines what ought be our collective objectives succinctly: “to make the world work for 100 per cent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous co-operation without ecological offence or the disadvantage of anyone”. This maxim is the very essence of “easier said than done” as it implies the dismantling of our entire socio-economic machinery. By teatime.”

The point is that a revolution and a redesign/reboot seems like an impossible task, but then so does almost everything worth doing. That in no way means we shouldn’t embark on the journey and gracefully accept a “failure” that has still carried us a good way toward something better than what we have now. The percentage of people who can truly call what we have now “better” is very small. Around 1%, actually. Or even a tenth of that.

We currently have a system where suffering is endemic: without suffering, nothing works at all.

Brand: I could not wrench the phantom of those [African] children from my mind, in this moment I felt the integration; that the price of this decadence was their degradation. That these are not dislocated ideas but the two extremes are absolutely interdependent. The price of privilege is poverty.”

In order for your pocket of life to flourish, countless others suffer through their beleaguered days on Earth. It’s a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t have to be. However, since the winners wield so much power and they control the democratic process, there is no way a proper solution can realistically arise within the system. About that Brand is 100% correct and the ruling class knows it.

This reminded me of a recent special I’d seen Oh my God by Louis C.K. where he addressed the same issue, with very, very dark humor.

“Of course slavery is the worst thing. Every time it’s happened: black people in America, Jews in Egypt, every time a whole race of people has been enslaved, it’s a terrible…a horrible thing. Of course. … But maybe … maybe every incredible human achievement in history was done with slaves. […] There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a fuck about particular people. That’s where human greatness comes from: it’s that we’re shitty people, that we fuck others over. Even today! How do we have this amazing microtechnology? Because the factory where they’re making these, they jump off the fuckin’ roof because it’s a nightmare in there. You really have a choice: you can have candles and horses and be a little kinder to each other or let someone suffer immeasurably, far, far way just so you can leave a mean comment on YouTube while you’re taking a shit.”

This extremely political and highly judgmental point is made—and can be made—because it’s couched in the language of humor, of sarcasm, of “facetiousness”, as Paxman put it. Without the juxtaposition, without the reductio ad absurdum, people do not notice how horrible their system is. They are like fish who don’t know what water is, blissfully unaware of how much goes on around them to keep their little lives afloat.

Paxman is definitely one of these people, too comfortable in the current system, so he exhorts everyone to work within it, even while acknowledging that it’s all but irrevocably broken.

Still, Brand is game and goes on to explain why people shouldn’t vote—not just not bother voting apathetically, but actively resist voting because it’s a placative designed to keep the sheep from looking up. “[…] These little valves, these cozy little valves of recycling and Prius ” only serve to distract us enough so that we never try to change anything that matters.

The system we have now is a malignant tumor, settled into every organ of our collective body. And those that want it to continue aren’t necessarily evil. Some are, there’s no doubt about it. There are some who know exactly what’s going on and do not care one bit. But there are others who—and I feel that Paxman is a perfect example—truly and honestly do not see what the problem is. They know that something is wrong—Paxman admits as much—but they have roped off large parts of the system as untouchable, unchangeable, as sacrosanct and as enduring as the stars in the sky. Plus, the system works for them most handsomely—those for whom it does not work are simply lazy, jealous whiners. And so it goes.

But we have to just ignore our current lords of creation, ignore their mewling and continue with our work, going around them, giving them only as much notice as is due to dangerous and powerful creatures whose time is past.

“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. It’s not that they’re malevolent; it’s just that they’re irrelevant. Relics of an old notion, like Old Spice: it’s fine that it exists but no one should actually use it.

“[…] We can’t be led by people who have never struggled, who are a dusty oak-brown echo of a system dreamed up by Whigs and old Dutch racists.”

We have to wipe the slate clean and reëvaluate all of our ideas. We can’t just stick to “quaint, old-fashioned notions like nation, capitalism and consumerism simply because it’s convenient for the tiny, greedy, myopic sliver of the population that those outmoded ideas serve.” It would sometimes be far more comfortable for us to do so—look at the shiny new iPhone! Don’t you want one?! Of course you do. Now kowtow to your boss and the powers-that-be, take that horrible job doing horrible things to powerless people, put your nose to the grindstone and become one of the sheep again. Stop thinking so much.

Brand: Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in […] These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.”

And, while we’re choosing ideas, we have to acknowledge the horrendous mistakes, the obviously short-sighted choices made in building up the current system. There are certain parts we can keep—democracy should fit in there somewhere—but there are other parts that are so obviously unbalanced and untenable for any society even thinking of calling itself civilized, that they just have to go.

Brand puts forth preservation of the planet as one such idea, an idea to which only lip-service is paid by our current system.

Brand: 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.”

That sounds like a good, logical place to start. That even sounds like the nascent beginnings of a plan.

[1] Or at least he plays one on TV. I don’t know very much about him, but what I saw was an intellectually lazy man being deliberately frustrating and making what could have otherwise been a rollicking discussion quite turgid and unsatisfying.