On Reason, Russell Brand, and Revolution

(Reading time: 5 minutes, 900 words)

For several months now, Russell Brand has been garnering more and more media attention with his call for a "revolution in consciousness." From appearing on numerous talk shows to using social media for promoting the Messiah Complex tour, Brand has been calling for a change in our current politico-socio-economic state. And his views are gaining traction.

Two nights ago Brand went on BBC's Newsnight with the pointed interviewer Jeremy Paxman to discuss his recent debut as guest editor of the New Statesman. Despite Paxman's antagonisms, Brand passionately and coherently defended his call for revolution. Since the interview, however, there has been much criticism of Brand and his intellectual vociferation. He has even managed to elicit the response of MP Michael Fabricant, who resorts to calling Brand a "twat." Leave it to a politician to resort to name-calling, whilst the former junkie offers a rational defense of his views and decently admits of his lack of a forward-moving plan. The fact that a MP has publicly responded to Brand should encourage everyone who shares these sentiments. Political engagement fuels the revolutionary fire.

Writing for the left-leaning online journal Salon, Natasha Lennard offers what seems to be a valid criticism of Brand and his efforts:

At the same time radical ideas might spread and resonate across mainstream and pop media platforms (and thus provide the potential for rupture), these ideas and images are recuperated immediately into capital. Brand calls for revolution, and online media traffic bounces, magazines sell, bloggers like me respond, advertisers smile, Brand’s popularity/notoriety surges, the rich, as ever, get richer. 

Then again, should we disregard every anti-capitalist article written for Salon because they have more pop-up ads than the entire Interstate 80 has billboards? I, too, question Brand's sincerity in light of all he stands to profit by tapping into the zeitgeist and selling tickets to a show where, from a safe and comfortable stage, he proffers peaceful revolution and utopia. But I also think that a revolution in consciousness will not abolish the means of monetary exchange, but rather who and what we reward with our money.

Perhaps the problem with society is not capitalism, but morality. Rational self-interest could work, if rationality actually dominated people's decision-making processes; if we lived in a society where everyone sought to produce products that actually were useful; if marketing and advertising didn't employ psychological tactics that rendered people's reasoning defunct; if everyone controlled their appetites and recognized that consumption is not constitutive of happiness. Brand is right in calling for a transformation of our values. This revolution in consciousness is a call to change our beliefs, to change the way we think, to let go of old paradigms. The forthcoming revolution is primarily "spiritual." The political, social, and economic changes that might result will be consequences of this internal change.

The fact that the desire for a revolution is so attractive to so many indicates that it has already started.

What Brand is espousing is not new. History is full of artists, sages, and philosophers who have called for a decrease in materialism and its discontents, and an increase in egalitarianism and humanitarian compassion. These historical ideas have not fallen on deaf ears, yet here we are—still consuming more and more, wasting and destroying more, while the rich get richer and the rest are wondering why the fuck they are unhappy.

If one is socially attuned, it should be clear that a revolution is underway. The fact that the desire for a revolution is so attractive to so many indicates that it has already started. What we typically refer to as revolutions historically are merely the 'tipping points' that are easy to identify. In reality, revolutions take time and grow slowly. Brand has made himself a mouthpiece for what millions are already thinking and feeling.

I am not suggesting that Brand's ideas be indolently swallowed because of his celebrity or attractive verbosity. But neither should they be rejected on the basis of his lack of political position or because others attempt to undermine his credibility with ad hominem attacks. The point is, if Brand's convictions have any intuitive resonance, then we should explore their implications through use of reason. And we should take action.

The unfolding of any social movement occurs organically, often not going according to plan. So, though I admonish rational discussion regarding revolution and the future of our world, I align with Brand in that the existent political structures only deceptively afford this. As such, I'd be willing to take on the possible negative consequences of social revolt under the belief that when the curtain is pulled down, then will we clearly see how best to construct a new world. Like a friend used to say, there are i-dotters and t-crossers, and there are people who shoot, aim, and then figure things out when the dust settles. So we can either depend on dirty bureaucrats and corrupt governments to lure us to an apathetic death with their inane spiels, or we can start kicking up dust with our words and with our decided opting out of prescribed modes of consumption and political involvement, thus bringing down the wall of oppression that is daily becoming less stable. Rebellion, after all, is an expression of love—love for what is higher than what we now know.