In Defense of Russell Brand’s Stab at a Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Inequality, Stupid!

According
to an Oxfam report released earlier this week, “the number of billionaires in
the world has more than doubled to 1,646 since the financial crisis of 2009.”
The report also found that “the 85 richest individuals in the world
have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population.” In Britain alone, the five richest families have
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,
he speaks at length about the long-term effects of what such levels of
inequality do to us all.

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

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

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

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

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

News Flash: Unschooled People Think, Too

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

But
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
before anything else. It is easy for us to ignore entire arguments—regardless
of their validity—by simply looking at the mouth from which they came. Brand,
a college dropout with a reputation closer to Paris Hilton than Noam Chomsky,
did not fit the image of an ‘intellectual,’ and that was all I needed to ignore
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
his wit and rigorous autodidacticism, Brand has been able to politicize thousands
of young people throughout Britain and beyond by calling out the system’s
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
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
beyond belief and—more importantly—that not having one shouldn’t impede you from being heard.

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

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

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