October 26, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
I have always been rather wary of people who wait until they become multi-millionaires before they start complaining about inequality. I have also been rather wary of someone who waits until multi-national corporations have given him a platform to sell millions of copies of his books and market his films to millions before railing against the pernicious influence of corporations. So you won’t be surprised to find that I am finding myself rather wary of the words and actions of Russell Brand.
And yet, and yet…his voice must be heard. His views on the way that the capitalist system is creating a worldwide ecological crisis and creating massive amounts of inequality are not actually that controversial and are backed up by plenty of evidence. If he wants to use the fact that the media will widely report what he says because of his profile to say what he feels is important and do what he feels he should be doing with his fame, then that is a fine use of our pluralist democracy.
But where I become a bit more concerned is when he insists on the corruption of the very democracy that is airing his views. Last year, he famously opined on Newsnight that he has never voted and never will. This was because of his “absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations”. Given that one of the reasons why the people who listen most to someone like Russell Brand are the young people whose lack of turnout at elections has caused successive governments to abandon taking care of them with their policies in favour of older people, this is rather irresponsible.
Brand, for his part, accepts this. He doesn’t feel, given how corporations rule governments, that a gradual, democratic change is possible. So instead he is demanding a revolution. This revolution will result in a new administrative system based on the ‘massive redistribution of wealth’ (including, I assume, but am suspicious, HIS wealth). He has written a book, entitled ‘Revolution’ and has been touring the newspapers and TV shows to market it.
His book raises issues that need to be addressed, but it also contains elements that shoot it, and him, in the foot. To suggest, as he does, that 9/11 was a US government conspiracy, makes anything serious he has to say be taken less seriously. Sometimes, people should be judged on the company that they keep, at other times peoples’ ideas should be judged on the company those ideas keep. This may seem unfair on Brand, who, as I have said, raises some important issues that deserve to be addressed, but it has to be said.
Some complain that Brand comes up with no actual policies. But that isn’t his job. He is a comedian, not a politician. Some argue that anyone who responds, when shown a graph with some actual facts in the Newsnight interview that “I ain’t got time for a bloody graph. This is the stuff people like you use to confuse people like us.” needs to learn that actually, facts are important and would help him with his arguments. Some argue that he is taking the easy road, which is to just throw out populist complaints because he doesn’t have to implement any solutions (a bit like Nigel Farage). But Brand could take an easier road, and not raise any of these issues at all. I argue that, much as the irresponsibility of his rhetoric frustrates me, people like Russell a Brand pay an important part in our pluralist democracy, and I hope he continues to do so.