Around a year ago, Russell Brand published what I believe to be a pretty good article in the New Statesman. He talks about ‘the system’. It is, in essence, a kind of hippy nonsense about ‘the man’ and ‘the corporations’ which have infiltrated our political system and held the wrong people accountable for the woes we face as a society. He calls for a revolution, but not a violent one, or a peaceful one: a spiritual revolution. Indeed, the idea of revolution – or at least a reification of the current system in which we are enslaved – could have the potential to better the lives of the 80%+ which suffer the brutal hand of the free market. But is this utopia Brand prescribes the one we need?
Brand’s idea of a spiritual revolution is one I like. The idea of us all coming together and directing our anger towards the powerful elite in order to change our system is one I am partial to. But this is because I’m a raving Lefty; a Trotskyite-Labour-voting Leninist-Marxist (according to my old history teacher), who wants the whole bloody system to collapse onto its own abstract arbitrary head. At the same time, though, I’m a realist and understand that my wants and needs aren’t universal. There are people who believe that inherent within human nature are greed, selfishness and the priority of self-preservation. This, I believe, is where Brand is flawed within his argument.
His whole view and proposal rests upon the supposition (premiss?) that we all want the same thing: an ecological preservation in which the earth comes first, and humanity second. He talks of sharing the view that the souls of the dead rest in the trees and so we would preserve the rainforest, and that the soil is sacred so we would never frack. Ultimately though, I believe we live in an age, as Brand probably recognizes, where spirituality is something of an archaic concept. Trying to explain to a 19 year-old from Tower Hamlets, who ultimately only cares about the prospect of having food on the table, that we need to have a spiritual revolution and direct our visceral inner consciousness towards the echelons of society is going to fall on deaf ears. Brand talks about all these abstract concepts that societal consensus deems outdated and useless, and provides an alternative that is ultimately the same.
Moreover, Brand’s view rests on the assumption that we all want the same thing. I recently had a conversation with someone who was essentially advoacting the same thing. He was of the view that we should all have the laws we all want; every law should go to vote and referendum and we would ultimately have the purest form of democracy. And we would – for those whose vote has the greatest number and support. The other half, though, who didn’t believe the feasibility of the law, or didn’t like it, don’t live in a democracy. This is what Brand would like: an ecological preservation and so does, apparently, everyone else. Indeed, I do believe we need to stop cutting down trees because they sustain us, and we need alternative renewable energy sources, because crude oil reserves are depleting at an alarming rate (not to mention the impact on the environment), but I also believe we can’t look to the future if we have no present. The stability of now is a more pressing issue. Let’s sort out Greece and youth unemployment; let’s make education of the utmost important and the finest it can be; then we can give people the tools required in order to achieve some kind of sustainable future.
Perhaps, though, I’ve missed the point of Brand’s article. I may be focusing on the wrong aspects of his proposal. Maybe I’m asking for the same thing as Brand and I just don’t realize it. And yet I still stand by the statement that it’s impossible to assume that everyone, when cultural relativism exists, wants all Brand is asking for. Another view someone suggested to me is that Brand is just doing what Connolly said: being a nuisance. He’s the voice at the back of the room asking a question of infinite regress: “WHY? PROVE IT!” That, as entertaining as it may be, isn’t beneficial to any one.