“The people have spoken, but it will take a while to determine exactly what they said”
- Bill Clinton
Comedian Russell Brand has initiated a debate in the UK about whether it’s worth voting. A significant stir was made on Her Majesty’s BBC when he called for a revolution and told the interviewer it’s not worth voting: “Why pretend? Why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”.
The Guardian newspaper carries an opinion piece from him, which Disinfonaughts might like to make an evaluation of: RUSSELL BRAND WE DESERVE MORE FROM OUR DEMOCRATIC SYSTEM.
From my point of view he seems sincere. Perhaps I’m sympathetic because he appears so well versed in the subcultures which Disinfo has faithfully served since the days of Netscape (ask your Grandad). Or maybe it’s that he’s talking in a manner which suggests he’s been paying close attention to his influences, the most prominent of which is a personal favorite of mine, reptilian conspiracy theory espousing ex-TV presenter David Icke.
However, so off message have Brand’s outbursts become that even members of the UK’s comedy establishment are taking issue with him. Revolution “ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder” fumes Oxbridge graduate and BBC star, Robert Webb, in a critique posted as an open letter to, The New Statesman, a “left leaning” political magazine Brand guest edited the previous week.
In fact Webb claims he was so horrified by Brand’s irresponsible message to ‘the kids’ that he’s joined the UK’s Labour party. Webb’s concerns, that to deny yourself the vote is to deny yourself a voice, are in my opinion alike to his decision to join the establishment and their political “left wing” The Labour Party: misplaced and out of date. The idea Brand is about to lead a violent revolution in Britain is more than a little absurd, proof that taking a comedian too seriously rarely pays off. However, even if he did, the nightmare scenario Webb describes is informed by the conditions of the past and ignores the new realities of our present and possible future.
Previously revolutions have been co-opted by the following mechanism:
someone with enough thugs on their side and a knack for mass communication steps up onto a soapbox and tells the people what the people want.
Thanks to the internet, this may no longer be possible because “the people” have a voice and need no one to speak for them. The technology I’m using is the closest we’ve ever had to a collective voice. The beauty of it is that unlike any previous manifestation in history you can use it to tell me, from your perspective, whether I’m wrong, or right, or almost there. As long as internet articles without comments sections look incomplete and search engines continue to provide a thousand different possible answers to a single question we’re on reasonably safe ground. The push for free expression online continues and if we all keep our nerve in the face of the authorities and their desperate attempts to silence us a new form of democratic engagement starts to look almost inevitable. Brand appears to acknowledge this in his Guardian piece, “I don’t need to come with ideas, we can all participate. I’m happy to be a part of the conversation”. Perhaps what’s starting to look inevitable in our future is what I’d term, for want of a better phrase, a “wiki-revolution”.
The fact of the matter is this, had the internet existed during the French Revolution the likes of Robespierre would never have prospered. Powerful counter narratives to his speeches would’ve appeared the moment his thoughts were impressed upon the world wide web. This is true of all the revolutions that have been betrayed by articulate demagogues and charlatans over the last few hundred years. If you claim your authority as a “voice of the people” you will require a standard of proof not previously available and in the long run I suspect that few will have the audacity to adopt such a pose. Those following developments in Egypt and the so-called Arab Spring are likely to have interesting perspectives on this.
Ironically this democratising force behind the communications era is one of the problems driving the zeitgeist Brand is a symptom of. The UK’s political establishment has, over the last fifty years or so, been able to pass a number of laws, in accordance with a wider agenda, without any apparent popular democratic support. For example, the European Union, which Britain is now part of, was never voted for by the general public, the most they signed up for was a trading agreement. The abolition of the death penalty was not supported by a majority of the British public, nor do a majority of Brits believe in man made global warming or have ever articulated support for anti-smoking laws. We were never asked about bank bail outs, the war in Iraq had over a million people on the streets marching against it. The list goes on and on. “The business of Government” in the UK ignores the will of the people as a matter of routine and few believe otherwise.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the agenda they’ve been following, or like the changes to your life that have been handed down by our political masters, one thing it’s hard to pretend is that the will of the people is reflected by these so-called leaders of men. This is because the political elites still live in a world where they think they can stand on a soapbox and tell ‘the people’ what ‘the people’ want. That world has vanished now and as a mode of control the technique is as absurd as me telling a grown adult to behave themselves or Santa won’t give them any Xmas presents.
If we all collude and collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete. The reality is there are alternatives. That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal. Even the outlet that printed this will tomorrow print a couple of columns saying what a naïve wanker I am, or try to find ways that I’ve fucked up. Well I am naïve and I have fucked up but I tell you something else. I believe in change. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty because my hands are dirty already. I don’t mind giving my life to this because I’m only alive because of the compassion and love of others. Men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws. This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.
In short it doesn’t matter if you agree with Brand’s statist orthodox-left tendencies, the sentiment driving him forward is coming from our subculture and as a result it’s one I believe the establishment will not be able to control.