G.S. Bobroff thinks there is a damaging shadow side to Russell Brand’s righteous political outcry.
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” ~ Plato
Here’s a challenge to everyone who’s been getting high on Russell Brand’s New Statesman editorial and BBC interview. I agree with Russell that we need a revolution to save the planet and ourselves, but he’s missing a piece of the puzzle.
I applaud Russell for his courage in putting his truly felt concern for the planet and for the disparity between rich and poor on display. The world needs more folks like Russell Brand—a celebrity who’s willing to risk his coolness for saying something meaningful. That’s what makes his statement worth challenging, because his cause is true and his heart is in the right place. He’s speaking to the problem that the powerful in the world would like to continue to make unpalatable, but fighting back means more than just having the right set of words–it means sticking your neck out (as he did) and proposing a course of action (as he did not).
Saying that “there’s no difference” between the political choices might seem like a shrewd insight and while it’s also socially convenient (no uncomfortable political discussions necessary), it is even more psychologically convenient. The danger is that the kind of disengagement Brand is advocating stems not from passion for change, but for the desire to simply remain above it all.
Brand mentions the moral superiority of the Left and how their “seeking traitors” left him victimized, but he fails to see he epitomizes that superiority in doing what he’s doing—building a pillar for himself to stand on that keeps him from having to get his hands dirty in the mucky moral compromise of political choice. There is no more self-righteous a stance than the one that says “I’m too good for this whole thing, see ya later!”
It is a common psychological trait of Left-leaning folks to put together a platform of perfect ideas and then look down upon everyone else. Imagined moral impunity offers a false sense of accomplishment. The psychological term for this move is spiritual bypass: avoiding the world’s reality for the sake of your comfortable preconceptions. You don’t end up with a revolution by walking away from the world, you end up with a conveniently packaged pill for complete self-satisfaction: “Ah good now I can go back to my . . . [insert hipster pastime / white-people-problem here].”
Living in a democracy requires opening your eyes to seeing there’s a bunch of folks out there who want the exact opposite of what you want. What does one pro-Left young person not-voting accomplish? It ensures that there’s one Right (old person) vote that will count. Every time a pro-corporate party wins an election their agenda is (quite rightly) given the stamp of approval. So please don’t tell me that there’s no difference between Texas Republicans that make it harder for women to vote and having Sen. Elizabeth Warren asking why we don’t allow students the same borrowing rates as banks.
Revolution sounds great and might be the only thing that will save the planet, but around the world the Left regularly loses elections by simply failing to show up for the fight. Might the cleverness of Brand’s wit hide the archetypal shadow of the Left: an allergy to the kind of strategy-making required for winning elections and gaining power? If the youth of the Western world were engaged in the political process, the issues that Brand puts forward would certainly be more on the table than they are now. His solution–non-involvement is part of what is keeping the corporatist agenda going forward full steam.
Perhaps Marianne Williamson’s new candidacy for congress will epitomize the kind of revolution that Brand is seeking—a kind of Occupy party led by independents. But these type of candidacies, that push a center-Left party to the progressive edge, are only beneficial if they don’t come at the expense of power. In 2012, 47% of Americans (who voted) voted for Mitt Romney. You could have Superman-Einstein-Baby Jesus on the other side and if he was a Democrat they’d be against him. In other words, given the best and brightest person imaginable with all the solutions to every problem in the world almost half the voters would still disapprove. Figures like that should make it clear that politics is psychological not rational. Elections are a psychological struggle both personally and collectively, and moving the moral ball forward requires every possible voter to do their best with what is in front of them. Give me a hundred Bernie Sanders and a path to victory and I’m with you, but in the meantime the barn is on fire and half of the country thinks that’s a good thing! Put Revolution on the ballot and I’m there but only if its polling numbers are good enough—I’d like to actually try and change reality.
Is Russell’s course the right one? Do we get the next socio-political model by abandoning the current one? Or are we simply letting go of the wheel (for whoever else would like to grab it)? The danger is that we’re confusing some truly well-meaning, well-refined psycho-spiritual masturbation with actually doing something. Is Russell right or is he simply fiddling while Rome burns?
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