intro: the revolution, today
The revolution that Russell Brand has been talking about and writing about probably won't happen; at least not as the idea of "revolution" has been expressed in the past. What the first world definitely does not need is for the socialist 99-percenters to rush the Capitol or Parliament and take over; that'd be just annoying. Instead, what we desperately need is for the moderate, level-headed, somewhat-politically-conscious people of all classes to stand up and start speaking their minds. What we need is much more akin to what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallied about: a louder, but good-humored, population of thinking persons.
There is a central theme in both messages that the media, the political system, corporations, and the very rich all do not accurately represent the will and general principles of the people. Yet they are the ones who have power (see: corporations, government) or are loud enough to appear to have power (see: the very rich, the media). However, to defeat these enemies of the good, the majority, who typically remain quiet, have to start speaking up. At the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, people held signs like "I'm Not Okay With Things and I'm Moderately Upset About It" and "Please Stop Yelling On TV". They represent the idea that the media and the people we elect actually are nothing but caricatures of extreme ideas, and that the majority of Americans are fairly level-headed, moderate people who don't understand why everyone thinks the world is ending tomorrow.
This moderate mindset is a problem, though: it is nearly impossible for it to defeat the extremist attitudes of the political system and the media because moderates inherently won't yell as loudly as their opponents will. And despite the fact that the majority of Americans aren't so loud and politically extreme, the only people who are running for Congress are people who seem to be rather extreme and loud or in the pocket of corporations. So in this situation, what is a centrist level-headed person to do? In Brand's case, the answer is simple: don't vote. But, as Paxman (and all "adults") are right to argue, the whole "don't vote" mentality is inherently contradictory.
Actually, both sides are rather contradictory. On the one hand, the argument that "you must vote, even if only for the lesser of a set of evils" is correct in that you have little right to complain if you reject the system altogether, because you are not contributing anything to fix your own complaint. A representative democracy, at its heart, is dependent on the idea of citizen participation. Democracy begins to fall apart when people don't vote. The argument of not voting can be taken to an extreme: if all people who didn't like the government didn't vote, the government would always be something they don't like because they take no active role in changing it. Meanwhile, not voting does have a point, because voting is indeed tacitly accepting that the system itself is somehow valid, therefore giving it power that the non-voter may not want to agree with. Voting for the lesser of a set of evils is still a vote for some kind of evil, and therefore morally wrong.
Basically, if you share Brand's position, you cannot vote or not vote. There is no solution. Either way, you are allowing a system you don't like to perpetuate itself. So is this an answer to the need for an all-out revolution that replaces democracy with something else? Thankfully, it's not. We could all take some of Gandhi's advice here and try to change ourselves to be what we want the world to be like, and then start using ourselves to promote the change elsewhere. Russell Brand in Britain and myself in America, we both live in a world where we can run for public office and start changing the system from within. Why is this not an option? The Pirate Party has been making major strides in Europe, doing exactly as I'm describing. Democracy has this self-correcting ability built-in as its primary feature, if only we got together and decided to use it to our advantage.
At one point in the interview, Brand mentions his potential ideal government as a "socialist egalitarian system" (and that maybe we shouldn't call it a "government"). This isn't an impossible goal, and I agree with pretty much everything he says about how it could be run (or rather, how it should not be run). There are countries which are actively pursuing that kind of society, or have already achieved some of it, and they're doing it through the use of their current democratic governments. My only problem with Brand is his insistence that his ideas aren't possible within the systems we currently employ.
What's most important for us to recognize in Britain and America is the response that the people in power have given to the idea of any even pseudo-socialist endeavor: fear-mongering, blatant misrepresentation of the facts, and hypocrisy. The call for any kind of socialistic/egalitarian idea (like universal health care, or civil rights, or environmentalism) is met with mocking hatred from American media and those with political power. For some reason, the mere loudness of this response is enough to make the American people believe that the ideas are not possible to implement. As if we don't live in a democracy where we can vote for whatever and whoever we want. Furthermore, nobody seems to agree on definitions for things like socialism, capitalism, democracy, and so forth.
Paxman is correct in his assessment that democracy only works by participation. Brand is incorrect in believing that this is somehow a limited idea; it's not. Indeed, I believe Paxman is totally correct in saying that the inherent problem with people like Brand is that they don't vote. I go one step beyond and say that the problem with people like Brand is that they don't run for office themselves to provide the alternative that they say doesn't exist yet.
Going further, the larger problem may be that the impoverished and under-represented classes need to band together, build leaders, and vote for them so they can start making the changes we all want to see. During former times of crisis when we had civil rights leaders doing the hard work of speaking for large groups of disparaged people, their response to both criticism against them and "what can we do to help?" was simple: go out and vote. Vote for the people who you think will change things in ways you want. And if you can't find anyone, vote for yourself.
Is it the responsibility of those in power to encourage this? Perhaps not. Brand argues that the burden of social responsibility is on those in power; but that's not how democracy works. So what system could ensure that those in power are responsible for representing every single person equally? There really isn't; the closest thing we come to is back to democracy, with the caveat that each individual citizen holds the responsibility to represent themselves. This is inherently a problem with Brand's argument: you cannot force anyone to represent something, even themselves or the impoverished. You could do so through compulsory voting, but that also contradicts any right to freedom a citizen may have, which should include the freedom to not vote. Eventually, some kind of compromise of principle has to be made to fit Brand's ideas as he has expressed them.
Another problem here is the impatience of young people who want and expect a revolution today. We could have a revolution today if the frustrated masses had the same level of conviction and self-certainty as the political and corporate elites they complain about, but the result of that revolution would be messy, imperfect, and poorly thought out. That revolution may very easily lead to a more anarchic and reactionary action, trotting out the rich to have their heads chopped off, creating new kinds of inequality and disparity. Instead, let's do what Paxman (and other conservatives) have challenged us with: create a thought-out ideal, a blueprint for the kind of society we'd like to live in. Furthermore, an acknowledgement of its problems and compromises, and maybe most importantly, elaborate on what stands in the way of accomplishing that ideal society today.
I'll be trying to do that, here. This is just the introduction. Stay tuned.
Read the next part here.