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Tag Archives: Russell Brand

Talkin’ bout a revolution

Russell Brand – sometimes comedian, sometimes Christian, always a showman – is calling for a revolution. Russell’s Revolution is not about guns and bombs, it’s not about the people rising up to throw off the shackles of an oppressive government. Russell’s Revolution comes in the form of a willing disengagement from the political process, most clearly displayed in a refusal to vote. (Presumably in a country like Australia, with mandatory voting, he would be willing to settle for donkey voting.) Working in a variety of media, including an editorial in New Statesman magazine and a widely viewed interview with Jeremy Paxton on BBC’s Newsnight, Brand has pitched his message to the young and the disenfranchised. In doing so, he has hit a nerve. There are any number of copies of the video available on the web; the one I linked to has almost 9 million views in a little more than a week. Brand’s polemic has spawned a popular Facebook page, innumerable news and opinion articles, and a new kind of global conversation about politics. We should be so lucky.

As always several days late, Fairfax news has published an “article” about the phenomenon. The article serves as an introduction for those in the wider world – probably not the young and the disenfranchised – who may not have come across this particular strident voice for reform. The kind of people this article is presumably aimed at are the ones who might have little respect for anything which challenges the status quo. The article reads as a quizzical realisation, written on behalf of forty-year olds everywhere, that “People are listening to this guy, and we have no idea why.”

Well, I am forty and I feel, as this is the Independent Media Network, that I can give at least as considered an opinion.

Russell Brand’s basic contention is laid out in the first few paragraphs of his editorial.

Like most people 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… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance.

The editorial is well worth reading. It’s amusing and insightful, and it’s attacking the wrong target.

In his Newsnight interview, Jeremy Paxman asked: “You want a revolution to overthrow elected governments, but what sort of government would you replace it with?”

Brand’s answer is illuminating. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ll tell you what it shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t destroy the planet, it shouldn’t create massive political disparity, it shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

The problem is that what Brand is actually complaining about is not democracy. He is, instead, complaining about capitalism, and in this he is not the first.

Like socialism, democracy as a concept is good, it’s effective, it’s egalitarian and it works. It provides all citizens with a voice in how they should be governed. It is inherently equalising; whilst minorities of sexual preference or colour or social class may find their specific desires thwarted by the views of the majority, equally the rich, the powerful and the venal should find themselves constrained. Democracy gives us a chance as a society to force those at the top of the tree to support those at the bottom (force, because it is unlikely that this will happen without enforcement). Democracy is a good system of government. As Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

In practice, democracy is poisoned by capitalism.

Like the USSR’s dalliance with communism, like (dare I say it) China’s current dalliance with communism, any system of rule is open to abuse and corruption. The motivations behind corruption may be simple power – people gravitate to the corridors of power for all sorts of reasons, and the lust for control over your fellow man is a common and powerful driver. Or they may be for personal gratification and gain. In western democracies, the lure of profit that can spring from being in a position to influence the laws can turn many an honest politician into a bottom-feeding snouter.

It is an arguable contention, but supportable, that in our modern western democracies, rich interests have too much of a say; that the power of the rich can secure access to soapboxes and propaganda by which the opinions of the elite can influence the opinions of the poor; and that challenging the rich, the big corporations, is done at a politician’s peril.

When Russell Brand talks of our systems of government ‘destroying the planet’, provoking ‘political disparity’ or ‘ignoring the needs of the people’, these are behaviours driven by the interests of the rich and powerful. Against these forces stand integrity and idealism, and these are qualities eminently frangible. It is not fair to say that all parties in our political system are equally complicit in the continued subjugation of the downtrodden; the right and the left have very different approaches to the problem of power. (Where each party falls on the left-right spectrum I leave to the comments.) Both sides of politics, beholden to the votes of the people every three or four years, argue that they have the best interests of the whole at heart. The traditional preserve of the left is to talk about services, supported by the idea of taxing the rich in order to support the poor. The right relies heavily on the idea that when you allow the powerful to benefit, all boats will rise.

“Trickle-down economics” – the idea that improving the lot of the rich will result in an improvement for everyone – is an argument employed by the rich. It has little basis in fact. But it is so often the primary argument the electorate hears that enough will be convinced to give the conservatives another go at the reins.

Regardless of which side of politics you favour, however, all can see that our politics is broken. The argument is about degree. Whether you’re talking about the tendency of the right to remove any constraints that prevent the rich from subduing the serfs, or you’re bemoaning the latest revelations of cronyism within the left, modern politics is driven by the capitalistic system. Corruption, infighting, backstabbing, pandering and political inconsistency – these are driven not by public good, but by pecuniary self-interest. The corruption of politicians will occur as long as capitalism drives people to greater wealth, as long as it encourages people with wealth to even greater excesses, and as long as there’s a buck to be made.

By conflating democracy – a force for great good, rule by the people for the people – with capitalism – the benefit of the few at the expense of the many – Brand spoils the reputation of the one and gives the other a free pass. He is turning people off the one part of our current society that might possibly have a chance of addressing the very disparity he rails against.

In calling for a revolution, Brand has no alternatives to offer. “I don’t know,” he says, when asked what he would replace it with. As history has shown, time and again, overthrowing a system of power without having clear ideas of what should replace it leads to bad outcomes. Ambitious, grasping people will always seek to fill the holes; nature abhors a vacuum. If you replace your democracy, what you get will perforce be a government by the few at the expense of the many. In the current world where capitalism has so much sway, the likelihood of this coming to a good outcome is pretty much nil.

The need for some kind of revolution is evident, but it’s a revolution against capitalism and consumerism, rather than against democracy. Do I have an answer, an idea for a replacement? I do not. Democracy in my opinion is still the best form of government. Does this mean an overthrow of the capitalist system is required? Possibly, possibly not. Capitalism has some benefits that should not easily be dismissed; it is in untrammelled capitalism that we find the problems.

What we ideally want is a democracy that is free of the pernicious influence of capitalism. We live in a world which is not ideal, where power provides benefit to those who hold it, and it is unlikely we’ll see this kind of reform without a significant upset. I don’t know what kind of upset could bring about this change – it’s probably not going to be Russell Brand’s army of the disengaged. One thing I do know, however, is that Russell Brand does not have the answers. Do I have an answer? No. But until I do, I won’t go calling for any revolutions.

 

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We Can’t Afford to Waste Money on The Arts, We have Submarines and Planes to Buy!

“It’s important to note, especially for parents, that there just isn’t a straight line between what you do at school and what you go on to do. I argue in my new book it’s like being on the ocean. You keep correcting your course according to things that happen to you. And we end up writing a resume, which makes it look like it was a plan. There was a study by a professor at Duke University looking at the degree majors for leaders in 500 companies in Silicon Valley. Forty percent were in math, science, or engineering, but 60% were in the Arts and Humanities

It’s a really important point because the education system is being strangled by this culture’s standardized testing. It’s leading school districts to cut arts and humanities programs. There are lots of kids now who never get to pick up an instrument, never get to perform in a play. There’s a nationwide project called Art on a Cart, where people push these trolleys with crayons and papers because there’s no art in the schools. They go from school to school pushing the cart, do some art with the kids, and then move to the next school. Because there is this perception that somehow these subjects aren’t relevant: We’ve got to get the kids through the tests so that we can get competitive again economically.”

Ken Robinson

So when I heard that a couple of people were not only ignoring St Russell’s example in refusing to vote but were actually attempting to start the Australian Arts Party. I decided that it might be a good idea to interview them to see why they felt that they needed to do this rather than join the Facebook group supporting Russell’s Revolution. (That group sure looks like it has a lot planned to change the system!)

In order to be informed, I thought I’d brush up on the Liberal Party’s Arts Policy so that I could ask them why they needed to start a whole new party when they have so many points of similarity with the Liberals. So I tried Wikipedia. Nothing relevant there. Of course, I’ll try the Liberal Website.

Page 1 page 2 page 3

Mm, I can’t seem to see it. Let me know if I missed it.

Well, perhaps, I should find out what the Arts Minister’s been saying since the election. Who is Minister for The Arts? Oh, that’s right, it’s the Attorney General, George Brandis. Well, that shows how important Abbott regards the Arts – he’s given it to the same person who manages one of the most important portfolios, so that he can also manage Arts in this country. As Attorney General, he should have plenty of spare time. Oh, he’s made some statement about a decision on the royalty re-sale scheme when the review that Labor set up is finished.

Yep, I’m beginning to understand why some people may feel that there needs to be an Arts Party. I began by asking them that very question.

Why do you feel the need for an Arts Party?

“After the last federal election I, and many of my friends, felt incredibly disaffected with the state of Australian politics. It felt like inspirational thinking and positivity had disappeared entirely from this country’s leadership. Instead, unrelenting negativity appears to be the best way to gain power for the big players.

Yet looking closer, there were signs of hope in the system. The fact that our democracy can tolerate many voices is actually a sign of its strength. Small fringe parties were appearing, offering new voices and, sometimes, new ideas. As we’ve seen over the last couple of elections, small parties and independents can also have a completely disproportionate amount of influence in this country’s management.

We’ve got parties for sex, science, animal justice, bullet trains, drugs, mining, smokers, shooters and fishermen… but no voice for Australian art and creativity! So we decided to do something about it. We want to see a co-operative and solutions-based approach to running this country now, and a bright future for our children to inherit.”

Who exactly are you?

“If you’re talking about who I am as one of the founders, well then my name is PJ Collins. I work by day as a multi-platform product manager by day (an interesting mix of creativity and technology). In my spare time I love telling stories through the short films or plays I write or direct. I live in Kingsford, Sydney, under the flight path, with my beautiful wife and two daughters that I love to bits. You can find our more about me or watch some of my films in the links at the bottom.

If you’re talking about the Australian Arts Party, then we’re currently 130+ people who believe we need a fresh positive voice, not only for promoting and encouraging arts and creativity, but also for shaping Australia’s future. Once we find, at least, another 400 people who agree with that aim, we’re going to officially register as a party, and start to actually be the difference we want to see, in how this country is run.”

What’s your response when someone suggests that we can’t afford to give money to the Arts, or that if the Arts can’t pay for itself, why should we subsidise it?

“I don’t actually think that “giving” is the correct word – when the state funds Australians to focus their energy on turning ideas into new intellectual properties, it’s really acting as a venture capitalist in our creativity. I think the main purpose of paying taxes is so the state can invest that money back into our combined development and future as Australians.

These creative investments often also produce spectacular financial returns! There are many many examples of this – too many to list here. The other returns, of a strengthened community, and Australians thinking deeper and more united, is a less tangible outcome, yet even more important (in my humble opinion). Creative expression reinforces the bonds that hold us together, by tapping into our ideas, skills and cultures, to move and inspire us as a people. It acts as a mirror for us to share emotions and to better understand each other and ourselves. I make the odd film and direct the odd play, I spend most of my time in the audience like everyone else. Being in the audience and participating is just as important as being on the stage or the screen.

Finally, as for the ‘big money’, we spent 0.93% of the 2013 budget in supporting community events, culture, creativity the arts and the organisations that administrate them. So that tiny sliver of the cash pie also includes a lot of things other than actually funding Australians to be creative and artistic directly.”

How did the idea come into existence? And also, a lot of people feel the need to do something politically, but never get past the “we should” stage. What motivated/helped you to actually put a plan into action?

“The idea was born over a few beers! Then I canvassed the idea to as many friends as I could to get their feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive – “That actually sounds like a good idea PJ!”

I think the idea has actually been discussed thousands of times over the years by people across Australia, the only difference is that Nick and I decided to actually get off our arses and do something about it. Why? Well the idea felt good and the time is always right to create. One of my favourite sayings is ‘It’s not a dress rehearsal.’ I like putting that motto into action.”

What do you hope to achieve? Both your general aims and what will make you feel like it’s been a worthwhile exercise.

“Our clear vision is to bring a positive, humane and cooperative agenda back into our federal and state politics. We’re not interested in adding to problems, instead, we’ll work as hard as we can to find solutions that benefit everyone. We want hand ups not hand outs. We want every Australian to have to the tools and opportunity to develop and improve themselves through their entire lives. To be the best we can be in every sense.

In the short term of course, we need to find enough people who agree with this vision to help us become a legitimate voice in this country’s politics.

I ask anyone who’s read this far to please show their support by signing up as a founding member on our Indiegogo campaign page. That support costs as little as $20 for a three year membership. In the meantime we’ve announced creation of our foundation committee who have already started preparing our first policy document. You can also read more about our principles and values on our website of course.

There’s no clear end to the movement we’re trying to create here. We want to be a voice for reason and possibility ongoing in our national political conversation.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“Well only that Australian creativity is truly a primary industry that creates wealth purely a drawn from our imagination and hard work. We’re not digging it out of the ground, we’re using our minds, our greatest natural resource. The future of Australia will be depend on the quality of our ideas and creative thinking far more than the size of our mines. And if you agree with that, then join us!”

If people would like further information, or to contribute to the formation of the party see links below.

Links:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-australian-arts-party

http://theartsparty.org/

https://www.facebook.com/TheArtsParty

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Why Russell Brand Sux, and why I spelled it “sux”!

Ok, I guess I have a soft spot for the angry revolutionary. Bob Dylan made a lot of good points in his youth. Although one of my enduring memories was Dylan at the Live-Aid concert in the 80’s saying that maybe we could just take a million or so and give it to the American farmers. Yep, I thought, maybe you could just take a million or so and add it to the total to do just that. Or maybe you should have organised a concert for the farmers before we even began to help Africa.

Of course, relative deprivation is a real thing and farmers in the USA killing themselves because their farms are failing is just as tragic as people starving to death in Africa. It’s all to do with systems that fail to allow people to do what they can in order to survive.

I reposted the Russell Brand interview on my Facebook page – as did a lot of people. But I added this comment: “Don’t have a problem with Russell Brand. He is advocating a better system. But it worries me that too many people will watch this, say yeah, I won’t vote either. Then do absolutely nothing else.”

By the time several people had joined in my “condemnation” of Russell Brand, I started to feel that maybe I was a little too harsh. After all, I agreed with much of what he said.

And then, I suddenly realised that he just reminded me too much of the sixties. “Yeah, we’re not gonna listen to the man. The Establishment is so yesterday.”

Or as Joni Mitchell sang:

“We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

By the time we got to Woodstock,
We were half a million strong
And Everywhere there was song and celebration.

And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky,
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation”

We’re going to have a revolution says Russell. And we’re not going to vote, because voting offers us nothing. We’re an underclass.

Yep, I’ve become too old. Heard this before. The people of the 60’s – the half a million strong of Joni’s song – grew up and elected Thatcher and Reagan. Perhaps, there were a few passionate souls like Russell who didn’t vote for them. Who didn’t, in fact, vote at all in those elections. Good on them. By not voting against Thatcher and Reagan they created a whole underclass of people like Russell Brand who were prepared to tell everyone how little voting mattered. They sure showed all those people who sacrificed so much to get the vote that it just wasn’t worth it.

Better to wait for the “revolution”. You know the one that’s gonna change everything. Not getting involved in politics, coz politics sux.

Yeah, Dylan said it best when he said that he was just pointing out what was wrong – he didn’t have the answers. The trouble with the Russell Brand interview was that – in spite of all the “He really showed them” comments – I can’t picture any of the politicians he criticised will feel that it’s a problem if he discourages the people who agree with him from voting.

Or perhaps, The Skyhooks should have the last word.

Whatever happened to the revolution
We all got stoned and it drifted away
Whatever happened to the revolution
I think it died just yesterday

Well I remember back in Nineteen Seventy
The army wanted you and the army wanted me
There was a war goin’ on we were out in the streets
Wearin’ our badges and stampin’ our feet

There’s a hundred thousand people all on my side
We didn’t care if we lived or died
Hundred thousand people going to make it come
Hundred thousand people had the man on the run

*Whatever happened to the revolution (8 times)

Everybody thought we could win with a vote
So the band went home without playin’ a note
We forgot about that war but it still went on
I’m alright Jack see you round so long
I’m alright Jack see you round so long

And now today everyone’s a bit older
We’re gettin’ richer but we’re gettin’ colder
We’re lookin’ for somethin’ that just ain’t there
And it don’t mean nothin’ to have long hair
So when you’re ready to make a stand
Open your mouth and raise your hand
When you’re sick of your parties and sick of your sweets
Get off your arses I’ll see you out in the streets

And for those who’d like to hear it. Whatever Happened to the Revolution
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: Interview with Russell Brand
P. S. In case you haven’t worked it out, I spelled it “sux” to show solidarity with the other “revolutionaries”. I just happen to think that maybe one can vote from time to time. It may be satisfying to say that I didn’t vote for any of this. so I’m not responsible, but it’s also not true. When you don’t vote, you also don’t vote against anything. either.

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