Russel Brand’s biggest hypocrisy isn’t his sexism, it’s his spiritual infidelity.
I’ve been reading a lot about Russell Brand lately since his BBC Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman where he discusses radical politics as an answer to problems like extreme inequality and environmental destruction.
But I started following him earlier this year after finding out about his use of spirituality and yoga to help with his addictions. In that time I’ve found a lot of what he says to be very refreshing. He is definitely trying to do good and turn people onto, not new, but also not popular ideas that can provide benefit to society. In particular a lot of what he does comes from a place of love.
That was especially evident to me when he invited two members of the Westboro Baptist Church on his television show. While some of the audience members heckled or hollered at them, Brand had a discussion with them about what the Bible says about gay sex. He showed love towards people that are outspoken about their hate, er, God’s hate, towards others.
The ability to do this, to love those who hurt, comes from a place of great empathy for yourself, which is then carried over to others. I imagine Brand had to have a lot of empathy for himself and his drug and sex addicted past to get over it and believe he was worthy of being successful, in order to execute on it and continue as far as he has already come.
The ability to love those who hurt can also come from the realization that we are all interdependent, or even that we are all connected or that we’re just one. This realization, at least that we are interdependent, means if you want someone to change you have to work with them. You have to get comfortable with something you don’t approve of.
But Brand is spiritual and he has expressed his belief that we are all one in his description of himself as an “..aspect of total consciousness temporarily expressed through an individual.” Believing we are all one provides even greater ability to love those who hurt because no longer is this hateful person some asshole separate from you. It is you. Suddenly you just want to help yourself.
Maybe that’s too much to believe. Here’s a third understanding that I haven’t seen Brand mention — though he is likely aware of — which also builds empathy. It’s the idea that a lot of what grates us about others is really just about us. Even if the other is doing something bad, it reminds us in some way about ourselves. This awareness should create empathy for us, and then an empathy for others that allows us to see them with more clarity. We might see how their actions, given their history and situation, might make sense. Because it’s only when we remove context from someone’s actions that we can so easily judge them.
It’s clear to me that Brand is aware of these understandings. Not many people are. So when I say it’s refreshing to hear these ideas amplified through his increasing access to the mouthpiece of media, that’s what I mean.
But since his BBC Newsnight interview people have been pointing out his hypocrisy, especially over his attacks on classism and racism while taking part in sexism. This is true. In the very first sentence of The Newstatesman article he wrote, he said he took up the offer to guest edit the magazine because a beautiful woman asked him to. It’s hard to dismantle unfair systems of hierarchical power and control when you take part in the methods of those systems, eh Russell?
I get that, but to me his biggest hypocrisy isn’t his sexism, it’s the incomplete application of his spirituality: He believes we are all one but also identifies as separate the rich and powerful so he can angrily attack the hurt and destruction they create in order to receive benefits from being on top of a long ago, violently created, hierarchical power structure.
I wonder if his anger isn’t really just the outgrowth of unacknowledged pain and sadness from having been neglected for so long as a drug addict by his society? I wonder if he hasn’t fully grieved the loss of years of his life while he was addicted? In considering those possibilities I have empathy for him when he hypocritically talks about how useful the Occupy movement was in that it made people aware of our separateness, that a few people control more wealth than most on the bottom. But we are not the ninety-nine percent, and they are not the one percent. We just are. We are one.
In a video interview where Brand recounts the inspiring experience of introducing the Dalai Lama and hearing him speak he described “the things that he said that are actually important,” including this:
“Then he said but we mustn’t use things to separate. He said like, look at me. First he goes, I’m here in Manchester. I’m talking to you a lot, but if I regard myself as 1) I’m Tibeten, 2) a Buddhist 3) That I’m the Dalai Lama, then I’m separate from you. But we are all human beings, we all come into the world the same way, we all leave the same way. We’re all just kinda born, and dead. All the distinctions and the things that we put to separate ourselves from one another, these are transitory illusions. And you know there’s a lot of things we sort of hear all the time, like sort of catchphrases of spirituality, it’s all an illusion, we’re all one. So I’m always looking for ways that I can feel that.“
I don’t know if he can feel that oneness with the wealthy and powerful, or at least have empathy for them, but it’s clear he has the capacity to do so since he could for members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
He might find empathy for the one percent if he remembered how wealth, power and material goods have long been held up in Western culture as the answer to all our personal problems. As our symbols for success he could see how powerfully tempting they are. He might see how the draw the elite felt towards them was very similar to the draw he felt towards drugs and sex. He might remember how temporarily satisfying they were, how ultimately unsatisfying they were and yet still, how much hope he put in them anyway. Maybe then he could find empathy for himself, for them, for us.
If solving our biggest problems requires a radical shift, maybe we could start by infusing politics with the spiritual principle of oneness, or at least acknowledging our interdependence and need to work together, our need to get comfortable with that which we are uncomfortable: the other.