If you want meaningful political and social change you have to work hard for it.
British celebrity Russell Brand has been in the news quite a bit lately. The comedian, turned television host, turned movie star, turned husband of Katy Perry is now styling himself a revolutionary. Brand has both published a lengthy diatribe in the normally serious British magazine New Statesman and recently appeared on the BBC news program Newsnight to talk in vague terms about revolution and demand that the show’s host Jeremy Paxman take him seriously.
Feel free to review Brand’s various manifestos if you’d like, but it all sort of boils down to this: Brand doesn’t like the current state affairs in British politics and he doesn’t think there’s any viable way to fix British politics through the current systems of elections and Parliament. As he puts it, “Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot.” In a narrow sense Brand is correct, “total revolution” is never actually on the ballot in a democracy. That’s because “total revolution” is a vague platitude while the democracy he lives in is a very old and complex system of laws, norms and duly elected officials.
In addition to not making a coherent argument, Brand is making a massive assumption as well. He is assuming that because he can’t get everything he wants, that is changing the entire social, political and economic system of British society, there’s no point to participate in British politics at all. Is he right?
I’d have to say no. The problem as I see it is that far too many people who want to see meaningful political and social change in their society spend far too much time talking and arguing about it, while forgetting that politics involves actually doing political things. What kind of political things? Well things like voting for candidates who support what you support, then convincing your friends and neighbors to vote for them as well. It involves things like volunteering to talk to people you don’t know over the phone to support your person. As well as things like giving money to campaigns and organizations you support so they can get their message out even further. Indeed a lot of politics isn’t very complicated at all; it’s so simple it’s pretty boring. That’s why more people don’t volunteer their Sunday afternoon to talk to strangers about the next city council election as I did recently, because it’s boring.
I suppose now is a good time to point out that Brand has never voted in his life.
Now I know what Brand would say to this, something along the lines that electing new people won’t help because as he puts it, “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.” To which I would respond, “Is everyone you know a fraud and liar? If not, find one that isn’t and have them run against the fraud and liar that represents them and volunteer to be their campaign manager. And if everyone you know is a fraud and a liar then just run yourself and get the least dishonest of your friends to volunteer to be your campaign manager.”
I eagerly await Russell Brand’s announcement as a candidate for Parliament.
But I doubt it will happen. Running your mouth on television is pretty easy, in fact Brand’s been getting paid to do it for over ten years now. Convincing thousands of people to vote for you is a lot harder. And even if you win, getting elected is just the start of politics when it comes to being an elected official. This is one of the reasons why I expect Brand to continue to talk a lot and not actually do anything. So I guess the British people will have to wait for the next celebrity to go on television and rant before they can have their revolution. Oh well. All of Parliament is up for re-election in 2015, so you can start working on that while you are waiting. In the unlikely event that the revolution doesn’t happen by then you might be able to change things the old fashioned way in the meantime.
Photo by Markus Schreiber/AP