Opinions

In Defense of Russell Brand’s Stab at a Revolution

“When_x000D_
I was poor and I complained about inequality, people said I was bitter. Now I’m_x000D_
rich, and I complain about inequality; they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m beginning_x000D_
to think they just don’t want inequality on the agenda because it is a real_x000D_
problem that needs to be addressed.”

There_x000D_
is no better quote to summarize the mainstream media’s response to Russell_x000D_
Brand’s recent entry into the political arena. From the centrist BBC to the_x000D_
conservative Independent to the_x000D_
left-leaning Guardian, Brand’s message—which_x000D_
boils down to an indictment of Western plutocrats and their political allies for_x000D_
crafting modern capitalism in a way that creates astonishing levels of economic_x000D_
inequality, ecological destruction and political disenfranchisement—has been_x000D_
disregarded as nothing more than fiery, misguided rhetoric coming from a former_x000D_
drug addict looking to stir up some trouble.

However, once past these knee-jerk arguments, there is much to learn from England’s wild_x000D_
child.

Brand’s_x000D_
self-proclaimed purpose is twofold: to help bring attention to the world’s_x000D_
multiple systemic crises and to amplify the voices of the world’s common folk. By_x000D_
forgoing the state and going to the masses themselves, Brand considers the current_x000D_
political structure’s ineffectiveness at dealing with systemic change.

All_x000D_
of this wouldn’t matter if Brand’s popularity as a political figure was_x000D_
minimal. But given that he is a New York_x000D_
Times
bestselling author with a new book out, has a YouTube news channel_x000D_
with 700,000 subscribers and continues to be interviewed by Britain’s_x000D_
finest, to dismiss Brand simply as a comedian looking for a pastime is dead_x000D_
wrong and, ultimately, elitist.

It’s the Inequality, Stupid!

According_x000D_
to an Oxfam report released earlier this week, “the number of billionaires in_x000D_
the world has more than doubled to 1,646 since the financial crisis of 2009.”_x000D_
The report also found that “the 85 richest individuals in the world_x000D_
have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.” In Britain alone, the five richest families have_x000D_
the same wealth as the 12 million poorest individuals.

Brand rightly sees the need for change in these outrageous statistics, and in his new book, Revolution,_x000D_
he speaks at length about the long-term effects of what such levels of_x000D_
inequality do to us all.

“When travelling in impoverished regions in galling luxury,_x000D_
as I have done, you have to undergo some high-wire ethical arithmetic to_x000D_
legitimise your position,” he writes. “If you can’t geographically separate_x000D_
yourself from poverty, then you have to do it ideologically. You have to believe_x000D_
inequality is OK. You have to accept the ideas that segregate us from one_x000D_
another and nullify your human instinct for fairness.”

Ultimately,_x000D_
Brand calls for the end of modern capitalist society in favor of a multitude of_x000D_
self-governing communities that practice ecologically sustainable agriculture_x000D_
with an emphasis on spiritual well-being.

Of_x000D_
course, Forbes and the Washington Post love to point out Brand’s_x000D_
current $15 million estimated net worth as an insurmountable trump against his_x000D_
utopian ideals. This common argument made against Brand is misleading. Inequality,_x000D_
as it stands today, is the result of the oligarchic rule that represents the_x000D_
interests of a fraction of the global population, not second-tier British_x000D_
entertainers.

But_x000D_
the importance of the book is not its feeble roadmap to heaven on Earth or Brand’s_x000D_
attempt at undermining his inherent hypocrisy. Rather, it is Brand’s ability to_x000D_
retake discussions of politics and economics from the unrelenting grip of ‘experts’ and politicians that shines through.

Vonny_x000D_
Moyes from The Guardian puts it best:_x000D_
“[Revolution] isn’t a manifesto—it’s the opening of a dialogue we all need to_x000D_
be having. Some of his ideas are flimsy but he’s not a politico—he’s just a_x000D_
man who’s thought long and hard about making the world a better place. If_x000D_
nothing else, this layman’s take on society’s ills reminds us that politics is_x000D_
not theirs—it’s ours. And that is an excellent place to start.”

News Flash: Unschooled People Think, Too

It_x000D_
would be hard to find anyone who could have foreseen Brand’s evolution from_x000D_
comic entertainer to modern revolutionary. Admittedly, I dismissed his first_x000D_
couple of politically charged articles and interviews as nothing more than the products of a_x000D_
rich white man with an overblown savior complex.

But_x000D_
as I began to pay attention to what the man was saying, I realized that my neglect came not from what Brand is but from what he isn’t. All too often, we college students demand to see credentials_x000D_
before anything else. It is easy for us to ignore entire arguments—regardless_x000D_
of their validity—by simply looking at the mouth from which they came. Brand,_x000D_
a college dropout with a reputation closer to Paris Hilton than Noam Chomsky,_x000D_
did not fit the image of an ‘intellectual,’ and that was all I needed to ignore_x000D_
him.

As critical thinkers attending a collection of some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, it is imperative that we realize that education is not only achieved through schooling. There’s a thing called life experience, something we will never be able to learn, study or analyze correctly within these campuses, but it’s just (if not more) important as learning about the Socratic method and Ancient Rome.

It is our duty, then, to reject our socialized understanding of who is and who isn’t intelligent. Whether or not you agree with Brand is not the point. The point is to understand that his critique of modern society cannot be dismissed solely upon who he is and where he came from. That, my friends, would be elitist. 

Through_x000D_
his wit and rigorous autodidacticism, Brand has been able to politicize thousands_x000D_
of young people throughout Britain and beyond by calling out the system’s_x000D_
bullshit while at the same time sticking up for common folk across the world. It is because of his lack of formal schooling that Brand is able to identify with the masses in ways that the majority of Ivory Tower intellectuals could never do. What Brand lacks in technical skill he makes up in guts and determination, and it doesn’t take a thesis adviser to recognize the latter. In_x000D_
this way, Brand is an existential threat to the status quo. He proves that you don’t need a Ph.D in economics to know when things are fucked up_x000D_
beyond belief and—more importantly—that not having one shouldn’t impede you from being heard.

When_x000D_
the richest man in the world would require 220 years to spend his entire fortune_x000D_
at a rate of $1 million a day all the while some 805 million people are chronically undernourished, something_x000D_
is wrong. You know it. I know it. And Russell Brand_x000D_
knows it, too. 

Carlos Ballesteros CM ’16 is a sociology major from Chicago, Ill.

Facebook Comments

Categories: Opinions

Leave a Reply