Russell Brand seems to have got everyone talking about politics, thanks to his call for slightly unspecified revolution in the New Statesman and his Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman. Predictably these provocative thoughts have led to him being praised and chastised in equal measure, but whilst I don't agree with everything he says and acknowledge that his call for change has no real plan or direction, I still think it's an exciting and important development. Sure he's a multi-millionaire in a position of extreme privilege and he has a tour to promote, but I don't think that precludes him from giving his views, like all rich people have to greedy and selfish and hate the poor. He is using his fame to, at least, provoke debate and though some of it may be idealistic, vague or naive (depending on your own personal view of the world), he is voicing concerns that many people have and at the heart of it there is a perceptive truth. Without change to the way we all live our lives we will destroy our world. And if politics is run in the interest only of the super-rich then eventually something is going to buckle and break.
Russell is eloquent and passionate and not afraid to say what he thinks, which immediately makes him far more scintillating than the professional politicians, talking in obfuscating platitudes and he is putting a voice to the problems and unfair inequality that many of us are feeling. And it's great, I think, that he's using his position to create a debate (and it's worked, at least on a short-term, Twitter based basis). Cynics say he's just promoting his tour or his own fame, but I doubt he has any tickets to sell and he couldn't be much more famous. He's a comedian and it's his job to pose questions rather than provide answers and for me, most of what he is saying is going to make people think about the issues in a positive way. Even if some of it is impratical or sixth-form common room then I still think it's great that he's provoking debate.
I don't agree with him about voting being pointless. If you've seen Hitler Moustache you'll know that I think it's very important to use your vote, if only to prevent the rise of far right parties. And I still feel that the democratic system, in spite of its many flaws, is the best way to effect change. To step aside from voting or spoiling your ballot doesn't send out any kind of message other than that you're allowing things to go on as they are. It's too easy to just dismiss all politicians as corrupt and selfish. Democracy still has the power change things and if we do this through evolution rather than revolution then it's less likely to result in anarchy and destruction and the replacement of one elite with another.
I fear that the apathy at the heart of the sweeping statement that there's no point in voting for anyone because they're all shit is the real problem though. If we're going to be idealistic, we all have it within our power to change the way the world works, either in a grand way, by setting up our own political party or on a day to day level, by choosing not to spend our money in shops that don't pay their tax or by favouring independent businesses rather than the big supermarkets, or by making an effort to use energy and transport more efficiently. If you are really intent on bringing down capitalism then you could set up businesses that undercut all their rivals by not working to make a profit, but just to break even or banks that did not charge huge amounts of money for their services or at least boycott the banks that were responsible for the recent crash. If you hate the power Rupert Murdoch has then it would be fairly easy to lessen it considerably if we all worked together - don't buy his newspapers or subscribe to his TV stations. Here's the kind of stuff people could be doing to change the world without too much effort, but they don't do it. But most people don't do any of these things. Is that from a feeling or powerlessness or because they are ultimately selfish and so go for the easiest route or the one that they think will financially benefit them? Or just because they don't care enough. I don't like the fact that Starbucks used loopholes to pay less tax than I feel they should, but I still buy Starbucks coffee sometimes, because it's easy. Similarly I use Amazon still and I have Sky TV. And I leave my TV on standby even though that means the world will soon by underwater. Life is difficult enough, right, without having to think of any of this stuff. Ultimately we don't want to be bothered with it all, we want someone to sort it all out for us. We can all voice our dissatisfaction, but how many of us are prepared to do anything about it? We're all hoping someone else will do it for us.
Even though it's easy to claim that the system is unfair and there's no point in working within it, we actually have a lot of freedom and the ability to make a change without any kind of out and out revolution, but we don't.
We all agree that something needs to be done, but none of us really want to be the one to do it.
I think things have to change to avoid a catastrophe on some level. I am not sure it will though. It's easy to feel the passion, but harder to want to get off our arses and do anything about it. The apathy can be overwhelming and make us think what's the point in anything? I started this entry quite positive and seem to have talked myself into giving up. But it's worth remembering that many great social changes have come about (in this country) via people giving a shit (and using democracy) including the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, child labour laws and massive strides forward in the causes of gay rights and racial and sexual equality. We can make a difference, bit by bit, vote by vote, Starbucks by Starbucks. And much of this comes about by one person changing two people's minds.
Passionate idealism leads to hopeful realism, as long as we don't let our innate apathy and cynicism destroy it. Those politicians and businessmen and bankers all rely on you and you have the power to let them know that. If you can be arsed.