Russell Brand, Revolution and The Audacity of Apathy (Revisited)


FIRST OFF, LET’S dispense with decorum and declare the obvious: Russell Brand is brilliant, and quite possibly a genius. In addition to his comedic and acting abilities, he is a first-rate thinker and a (surprisingly) superlative writer. Wipe that smirk off your face and read his tribute to Amy Winehouse. (My own tribute is HERE.)

Or, check out this paragraph from a remarkable piece on Margaret Thatcher, deconstructing both the hypocrisy and opportunistic destruction of the Thatcher/Reagan ethos and what it wrought:

Perhaps, though, Thatcher “the monster” didn’t die this week from a stroke; perhaps that Thatcher died as she sobbed self-pitying tears as she was driven defeated from Downing Street, ousted by her own party. By then, 1990, I was 15, adolescent and instinctively antiestablishment enough to regard her disdainfully. I’d unthinkingly imbibed enough doctrine to know that, troubled as I was, there was little point looking elsewhere for support; I was on my own. We are all on our own. Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher’s acolytes and fellow “Munsters evacuee,” said when the National Union of Miners eventually succumbed to the military onslaught and starvation over which she presided, “[We] broke not just a strike, but a spell.” The spell he’s referring to is the unseen bond that connects us all and prevents us from being subjugated by tyranny. The spell of community.

Brand’s most recent foray into sociopolitical observation is, justifiably and encouragingly, going viral and prompting all sorts of (justifiable, encouraging) commentary. Check it out:


So while Russell Brand’s eloquent and witty rant does some heavy lifting in the service of exposing the Royal Scam of manufactured democracy (etc. etc.), and I endorse much of what he says, I do take serious exception with the statement he thinks he’s making by declining to vote. Apathy, or better yet, the type of cultivated disgust that leads to “both sides do it” equivocation is almost certainly what the people pulling the proverbial strings want our default settings to be.

I always get nervous, and ultimately frustrated when I hear intelligent people asking the rhetorical question: Why bother?

Why bother getting invested in politics?

Why bother reading all those papers and blogs and magazines?

Why bother since politicians are all the same?

Why bother voting at all?

Well, there are lots of good reasons, some of which are immediately evident to anyone who is even moderately informed. Not to mention aware of not-so-complicated concepts like cause and effect. That the policies of our former administration combined with the ideology informing those policies bankrupted our nation and—this is the toughest one to grasp— made us less safe is not a matter of opinion. There is no room for any possible nuance. There is only one type of Socialism being practiced in America today and it has been in effect for longer than five years. It’s Corporate Socialism. For evidence to support this claim, I submit every action taken by every Republican politician since 1980.

There was probably not a more irascible yet articulate comedian who spoke the Truth to Power in the last quarter-century than George Carlin. He made you laugh, but the topics were often ugly and dead-serious. He dissected the greed, opportunism and collective culpability of a super-sized America as well as anyone has but, like Twain, his indignation eventually (inevitably) took a turn for the bitter toward the end. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that. If any famous public figure—an artist, no less!— went as ungently into that not-so-good night, I can’t think of one; eternal kudos to Carlin for keeping it real until he flat-lined.

The one beef I had with Carlin was similar: he famously refused to vote as well. And while it’s difficult to quibble with any of the points he makes in the video below (wherein he proves that he still had both his fastball and spitball up until the last pitch he threw), it is in the 21st Century—and after what we’ve just witnessed with one party fighting for the right to default—disingenuous to deny that the other party even bothers to pay lip service to working Americans.

I’m not certain if it has anything to do with what one studies in college, or the type of person one already is (of course the two are not mutually exclusive by any means) but speaking for myself, I suspect that if one is a certain age and not already convinced that God is White and the GOP is Right, reading a book like The Road To Wigan Pier changes you. Reading a book like The Jungle changes you. Books like Madame Bovary change you. Books like The Second Sex change you. Books like Notes From Underground change you. Books like Invisible Man change you. Then you might start reading poetry and come to appreciate what William Carlos Williams meant when he wrote “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” These works alter your perception of the big picture: agency vs. incapacity, history vs. ideology and the myriad ways Truth and History are manufactured by the so-called winners.

Put another way, even if one is open-minded and receptive to various sources of information, if your studies focus on economics, business or political science, you are already being inculcated into an established way of thinking. Liberal arts education, if it has anything going for it (and it has plenty, thank you very little!), reinforces and insists upon what Milan Kundera called a “furious non-identification.” This does not mean to imply that all, or most, or even some of the students who embrace (or abscomb from) the ivory tower remain inquisitive and objective. It does mean that reading works from different cultures and different times inevitably denotes facts, even if couched in fictional narratives, which are largely outside of time and agenda.

It is, therefore, easier to make connections between Irish immigrants who worked the coal mines in Pennsylvania and Lithuanian immigrants who worked in the meatpacking plants in Chicago and Mexican immigrants—especially the illegal ones—who labor in sweltering kitchens and frigid fields all across our country. It is impossible not to put human faces and real feelings alongside this suffering and start connecting the dots that define how exploitation works. All of a sudden, it’s less easy to espouse the impartial axioms of the Free Market and the immutable forces of commerce or especially the notion that (in America anyway) everyone starts out at the same place and those who work hard enough and say their prayers and drink their milk will attain vast fortunes without breaking laws, stepping on innocent faces, or engaging in the oppressive pas de deux with Authority. Then, presumably, it goes from being merely disconcerting to outrageous that the Weasels of Wall Street are back in business with billion-dollar bonuses (thanks taxpayers!) while unionized public school teachers and middle-to-lower class workers’ pensions are being blamed for America’s current deficits.

One must concede that when it comes to bumper-sticker braggadocio, no one sloganeers for the soldiers, country, and Christ like Republicans. Of course, we won’t count the ultimate cost of “Mission Accomplished” until we consider the lives lost and the walking wounded, tallied up alongside the untold billions of dollars our adventure in Iraq has put on the ledger. And isn’t it amusing how seldom the war that would pay for itself comes up during discussions of the big deficits racked up during the last decade? Remember this, when those hoping to drown government in a bathtub crawl out of their taxpayer-fortified foxholes to decry liberal “big spending” programs. Remember it’s these programs that, in addition to paving roads, building schools and providing health care, attempt to secure some support and solace for our broken soldiers.

The Democrats are not immune from the corrupting influence of their donors and corporate masters, but they can continue to ensure the people owed the most won’t get the least. It’s up to enlightened citizens to ensure the Dems don’t dance with the devil and sell out Social Security. It’s the obligation of those who know better to remind their disgruntled or oblivious buddies that Obamacare is almost entirely a plan designed by Republicans! Listen to right-wing radio or the rhetoric of men like the Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan, who will happily sign off on savage cuts to food stamps, and persuade their supporters to inquire, What Would Jesus Do?

There will be haters, and it’s easy enough to feel their pain, to a point. Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle. Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. More than ever, as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish, we don’t want any government interference. We don’t want to pay taxes and then wonder why the Free Market isn’t sorting out these pesky problems that won’t take care of themselves. Put still another way, if you don’t share the view that giving the wealthiest one percent even larger tax cuts is not an antidote for what ails us, you should vote and there is one party you should never vote for.

This is why we have to choose sides. This is why we can’t to let the super-affluent and well-insured with the least to lose lull us into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless class warfare they will instigate, their ultimate ambition is to render the literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.

Your vote matters, and is vital, so whether it’s the disarming charm of Russell Brand or the transparent mendacity of the puppet-masters, resist the temptation to walk away: the only hope to win what feels like a rigged game is to remain on the playing field.


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