Russell Brand has been ridiculed and lambasted for his rage against The System, but the sharply politicised and spiritualised message of his new book may just have something from which we can all learn.
Many of us have had enough of things the way they are, but have been told that this is just how it is. That it’s is The System, and we are stuck with it, so we might as well distract ourselves with another mobile phone upgrade or pair of shoes.
Russell Brand, comedian, author, and would-be revolutionary, asserts “the most potent tool in maintaining the status quo is our belief that change is impossible.”
He is asking us to imagine not just change, but actual revolution.
So what would this look like? Brand’s version of revolution, set out in his new book of the same name — a highly entertaining, thought-provoking, rude and erudite read that simultaneously makes you laugh and feel angry, and should be read, especially by young people — is as follows:
“[Revolution] is defined and achieved by a sustained, mass-supported attack on the hegemony of corporations and the regulations that allow them to dominate us. It is the radical decentralisation of power, whether private or state.
“It is the return of power to us, the people at the level of community. It is the assertion of spirituality, of whatever form, to the heart of our social structures.”
Radical decentralisation of power and the assertion of spirituality? Why, that sounds almost identical to the structures of 12 step recovery fellowships all over the world, whose autonomous groups are entirely self-governing but all adhere to the same principals of leaderless equality based on non-denominational spirituality.
As if that would ever work.
Oh wait, actually it does work. It’s been working all around the world, anonymously, for millions of people, since 1935. It works beautifully.
Back to the future, and it’s a sharply politicised and spiritualised Brand who, having explored the world of celebrity and found it lacking, is calling for revolution.
“Money, fame — those are the crumbs,” he reports being told by ‘a fellow recovering drunk’ in New Orleans. “I want to be at the banquet.”
Brand recounts, in passing, his trajectory from a bleak Essex B&B in 2002, two weeks clean from overwhelming addiction, to starring in mainstream Hollywood movies and swanning around in limos with Tom Cruise.
“If some twinkling superficial fairy had flown in [to the B&B in 2002] and said, ‘You’ll be taking your mum to the Oscars in a few years, don’t worry’, I’d obviously have been surprised (I mean, a fairy) but what would have been incomprehensible to me would’ve been the veracious addition, ‘Oh, and by the way, you’ll both find the Oscars f***ing boring.”
This is what happened. Brand scaled the heights of celebrity from drugged-up TV presenter to clean and sober megastar, and found it all a bit empty. A bit meaningless. He had always been political, he says, but was too out of it to do much.
Finding stability and spirituality through a combination of 12 step recovery, yoga and meditation, he transcended the shallow confines of celebrity, while harnessing that same celebrity to present his ideas of taking political action.
His eloquence, fearlessness and ability to cut through what we are presented ‘the truth’ via our media outlets has made people sit up and listen — and predictably, to try and rubbish him.
The backlash started before the book ever hit the shops, led by John Lydon, the former anarchist in the UK turned butter advertiser, who suggests that Brand’s ideas are idiotic , and that Brand himself is a ‘bumhole’. Predictably, mainstream commentators joined in to dismiss Brand’s ideas of revolution as nonsense.
It is his call to stop voting en masse (“the infertile dry-hump of gestural democracy”) which has caused the most tutting, heckling and demonising; certainly, this seems counterproductive at the present time, given that old people tend to vote far more than young people, which is reflected in government policy everywhere.
But Brand is thinking ahead, and thinking big.
Big and beyond two party politics, and towards a peaceful, self-governing future where ecological destruction, social injustice and inequality — all caused, he says, by the capitalist system that benefits few beyond the ruling elite, and backed up with enraging statistics — are things of the past.
Asking us to look at how things are now, he references the cultural anthropologist Joseph Campbell: “If you want to understand what’s important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.” Banks and shopping centres. Young people are full of “X Factor ambition and Xbox distraction”, he says, and are “horribly misled by the dominant cultural narratives.”
He rails against “the unrelenting bombardment of consumer imagery, the intoxicating message that you are not good enough.” When young people tell him they want to be famous, it makes him wince.
Which is ironic, given Brand’s pursuit and achievement of fame, but he readily acknowledges that he’d been trying to fill a gaping spiritual hole with adulation and materialism, and found that it simply didn’t work. (As futile, to paraphrase comedian Doug Stanhope, as sellotaping sandwiches all over your body when you are hungry).
Instead, Brand urges us to connect with each other and realise how manipulated we are.
“Our collective consciousness, our individual consciousness, has been hijacked by a power structure that needs us to remain atomised and disconnected,” he writes.
“We want union, we want connection, and denied it, we delve into the lower impulses for sanctuary……I wanted connection, and with no map, no key, no code, I settled for sedation……We are subject to a mass hypnosis and believe our individual needs are more important and in conflict with our collective needs.”
Now Brand is wide awake and urging the rest of us to wake up and smell the community. The common unity. And the importance of guidance. “The initiation of youth by elders is a vital social ritual which is widely neglected in secular culture,” he writes.
Yes, this is the same fella who left that message on Andrew Sachs’ answer machine — proof that change is always possible.
Brand is not advocating anything non-peaceful.
“Revolutions require a spiritual creed,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter who is doing violence or to what end. Violence is wrong. All violence is wrong. This leads to some challenging and absolute ideas: capital punishment is wrong, torture is wrong, armed struggle is wrong, revenge is wrong. The only way to grasp this idea is by…regarding violence in and of itself as taboo.”
Meanwhile, the book is on sale for £20 (€25.39) hardback. Bloody hypocrite, shout his critics, why doesn’t he give it away for free? It’s not like he needs the money, right?
The proceeds from this Revolution book will be used, he says, to fund a centre for homeless young people in East London. (He tends to put his money where his mouth is — he recently successfully sued The Sun for libel, and gave the cash to the Hillsborough justice campaign).
The rest of us get to enjoy an interesting read and perhaps start, if not an actual revolution, then at least a good conversation.
And if you don’t have the spare cash, you can always download similar content for free — The Trews, or ‘True News’, is Brand dissecting current events in a way Jeremy Paxman would never. Whatever you think about him, Brand is worth a look and worth a listen — because unlike everyone else with a massive gob, he is that rarest thing. Genuine.
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