“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Goethe
Russell Brand writing about revolution? Or ‘ReLOVEution’? He has something of a reputation as the ultimate Essex ‘bad boy’ no-brain no-talent rich celebrity who’s swallowed a dictionary, so I have to say I was expecting this book to be just a load of shallow nonsense and fluff. In fact, I was surprised: he spares no cringes with his autobiographical anecdotes; but in truth the book is about two things. First, enlightenment, or his escape from his multiple life-threatening addictions (self-harm, shopping, sex, booze, drugs, and fame – still working on the last one a bit, I think). Secondly, our failing economic and social paradigm, or system – basically the form of Capitalism that works very well for a priveliged few but not well enough for the rest of us, and it’s destroying the ecosystem to boot.Looking at other reviews of this book online, I am struck by how many criticise him – not too unfairly – for being a rich boy preaching some form of anarchy-cum-socialism, and indeed for his previous irresponsible and shallow behaviour. He does highlight these concerns candidly in the book, however. As he says, “I know too with each word I type I am building a bridge of words that leads me back to the poverty I’ve come from, that by decrying this inequality, I will have to relinquish the benefits this system has given me. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t frighten me.” He is aware of this and other problems and admits he has not fully dealt with them yet. But… he’s clearly getting there, and he’s a much more serious person than even his recent past antics would lead one to expect. And he’s been off the drugs for 11 years now, he says.
Mr Brand writes as he speaks: plenty of long words, plenty of foul-mouthed crudity, plenty of slightly humorous digressions… but give him time and he gets to the point: our system isn’t working and many people are, frankly, living lives of depression, desperately casting about for a solution the way he was – with shopping, drinking, mindless sex and other pointless substitutes for real happiness. He says his intention in writing the book, “is to make you feel better, to offer you a solution to the way you feel.”His solution is two-fold, reflecting his not unreasonable (to me) view that the problem is both inner and outer. In the inner realm, we have to understand that happiness does not come from material things and we need to find some connection with the spiritual, whatever that may mean for each of us: God, paganism, whatever. In his case, he does it with Transcendental Meditation – a method that did not work well for me (I prefer the Buddhist Mindfulness of Breathing method), but something like this is always going to be horses for courses (or YMMV, in Internet-speak). He understands the idea of enlightenment in general which is to, at least at first, silence the mind: “My understanding of most yoga is that the exercises connect mind, body and spirit and in so doing alleviate the suffering of incessant thinking. When relieved of this thinking, peace can come.” And then, “to learn to live beyond it, to calmly watch the chattering ego like clouds moving across a perfect sky, to identify with the stillness that is aware of the voice, that hears the voice, not the voice itself.” For those of you still searching, that is the secret of enlightenment in a nutshell.
On the outer level, the prevailing socio-political-economic system needs to be overthrown. How can it be right, he points out, that the reckless and greedy traders of the financial industry got bailed out – their debts were effectively cancelled by governments and charged to the populations as a whole, or just written off – yet, for example, 13.1 million Americans have had their homes foreclosed since the crisis? As he cynically puts it, “Because their debt, it turns out, was real; it was only the debt within the financial sector that was imaginary. It was only the people who generated the crisis who got three magical wishes from an economic genie. There was no abracadabra for ordinary people, they just got abraca-fucked.”How to overthrow the system? Not through violence, but through non-cooperation, Ghandi-style. Hence his belief that we should not vote. If politicians do not in truth represent us, and in truth they don’t, we should ignore them and get on with our lives. Society can be overthrown if enough people simply withdraw their support and start building their own systems for getting on with life: it is no use ‘The Powers That Be’ declaring a war if nobody turns up.
Of course, in real life we have to work to get money to eat… so something like this would require sufficient numbers to do this at the same time, but even so, in conversations with people without a political bone in their bodies, it is commonplace these days to hear them criticise the way things are. People by and large do understand that politics is a sham, that all the main parties represent nobody but wealthy vested interests, and that nothing really changes at our level. A high degree of cynicism is now almost ubiquitous, and The Powers That Be will have to do something soon.
That something will probably be violent or tyrannical, because that is what they have done for thousands of years, and it generally works. These days, rights are being restricted almost at the drop of a hat, typically with fearmongering excuses like ‘terrorism’, which in truth affects hardly anybody directly (if you do the maths). So we can see the route being chosen is tyranny first. How to deal with it? Russell Brand is optimistic. He points out that the police and soldiers who would have to enforce this tyranny are themselves being ‘shafted’ by the system as much as the rest of us. 25% of homeless men in London are ex-servicemen, and the stats are similar in the USA. In the end, he hopes, the state’s forces too will cease to cooperate – this will be easier for them if the opposition are studiously peaceful, of course, and he is very clear that violence must not be considered an option. Violence will not work for the straightforward reason that the existing powers are experts at it, they are fully armed and prepared, and the rest of us are no competition on that level. Simply dismissing them all as irrelevant seems a much more likely method, when the time comes. And this can be done incrementally in the meantime, for example, by not voting (where that is legal). I would add not watching their crap on the TV and elsewhere in the mass media might help too. Spending time reading intellectual books (even Russell Brand’s Revolution!) and learning to focus the mind wouldn’t hurt either. Russell suggests, “Given that the profound can be quite well hidden in the spritz, tits and glitz of the all-encompassing barmy mainstream culture, it is helpful to have stories, rituals and practices that attune us to less obvious but more important aspects of reality. Prayer, meditation and simple altruistic acts are behavioural portals to a neglected dimension.”
What goes in the place of the current system? Well, technically, it is anarchy, as he wants to get rid of, or at a minimum, redefine government. Communities would be self-governing, democratically run by the people living and working in them. Government, insofar as it exists, would be there only to provide admin support to the policies of the people – and not the other way around, as it is at present. When you look at it like this, it is easy to see how anti-democratic the current system actually is.
Similarly, workers would own their businesses, the majority of which would be run as cooperatives. If corporations were allowed to continue, they would be able to do so only on condition that their licence to operate would be taken away and their assets handed to the workers if they failed to conduct their business ethically (for instance, killing people (cigarette manufacturers knowingly selling harmful products, food companies knowingly selling sugary rubbish, and so on), or using built-in obsolescence to produce shoddy goods that will expire shortly and need a replacement).Could it work? Well, who knows? Russell Brand points out that it worked for the Spanish until the inevitable civil war that comes from violent revolution, plus Hitler’s assistance with military hardware, put paid to it. Mr Brand makes it sound plausible, certainly. He is optimistic that it will happen soon, as I think we can all see that consciousness of these issues is rapidly growing in the world. Personally, though, I think there’s rather a lot of mileage left in the current system. I think it will defend itself from isolated revolutions or reforms in the way it always does – these days, that means the US invading or subverting it so that, like with the recent Egyptian revolution, the people end up with a different group of the same types of sociopaths in charge as before. Unless the people understand from the outset that centralised government itself is the problem, no revolution, peaceful or otherwise, will produce the desired result.
If humanity can survive long enough – and that is a big ‘if’ with the West angling hard for a war in the Middle East or against Russia over Ukraine (or whatever other excuse they can think up) – the current system will also defend itself by extending globalisation. The solution to our problems will be presented as more and more of the same, until we end up with a one-world government. Only then could a planet-wide revolution really work, I think: when Capitalism and Imperialism have reached their logical, hopeless, destructive conclusion. Things move fast these days though. Maybe it is only a couple of generations away, after all.
Overall, then, is it a good book? Surprisingly perhaps, yes, I say it is. I will in fact give it a solid 5 out of 5. Never mind the coarse language: this is how Russell Brand gets his target audience of the most feral and uneducated to even consider the book, and they’re the ones who most need to read it.
“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.” – John Maynard Keynes